Here’s the latest World Wide Work update on films, books, and music you may have missed.
Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson (Scribner). An extraordinary novel sympathetically portrays working- class families in northernmost California who are dependent on redwoods logging but suffer from exposure to herbicides their employers use in the woods.
The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels (Hub City). It is 1986, and a young man who had to leave his small Appalachian community because he was gay now has AIDS and decides to come home. Each member of his family has to come to terms with how welcoming to be.
Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia (Flatiron). Two threads run through this vivid novel: the challenges faced by multiple generations of Cuban women in a “man’s world”, and the trauma caused for Central American women and girls by U.S. immigration policy.
There’s No Such Thing as An Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura (Bloomsbury). The young Japanese woman who is the main character in this novel moves from job to job, each more dehumanizing and meaningless than the last. And yet even these absurd assignments can’t drum out of her and her coworkers the desire to do a good job and have work with a purpose.
Telephone by Percival Everett (Graywolf). Just as a geologist learns that his eight-year-old daughter has a rare fatal disease, he finds a note in Spanish in a jacket he ordered online that is a mysterious plea for help. The two storylines progress side by side.
Madstone by Paul Fattig (Hellgate). When the U.S. established a draft for World War I, two brothers in southern Oregon who did not believe in the war hid out for three years in remote mountain terrain. Their nephew, a veteran journalist with a knack for storytelling, uses their experience as a starting point for a wide-ranging and entertaining exploration of the history of the region, its people, and his own family.
The Water Defenders by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh (Beacon). When a global mining company threatened the water supply that communities in El Salvador depended on, a coalition of local and international allies won unexpected and precedent-setting victories to stop it. This account describes the successful campaign and draws lessons for others fighting to prioritize human needs over corporate greed.
The Caring Class by Richard Schweid (ILR Press). More than 2 million people work each day as home health aides, helping seniors and people with disabilities to stay in their homes. Nearly all are paid poverty wages, often while generating substantial profits for financial speculators. And this doesn’t count the millions of people who aren’t paid but somehow fit caring for a loved one into their already stressful schedules. Schweid focuses on the experience of a large home health aide cooperative in South Bronx that is trying to make improvements for both aides and clients.
Not a Nation of Immigrants by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (Beacon). A historian argues that liberal politicians make progress more difficult by describing American history as a continual process of immigrants coming from all over the world to achieve freedom and prosperity. In separate chapters, she reviews the actual history of indigenous people, African Americans, Latinx, and Asian Americans, as well as oppressed poor people who originally came from Ireland and Italy and had to fight discrimination here for generations before they were rebranded as “white.”
The Chinese Must Go by Beth Lew-Williams (Harvard). After Chinese workers provided much of the labor to “settle” the West, a violent movement that aimed to expel and exclude them from particular communities and from the U.S. in general laid the groundwork for anti-immigrant policies that continue to this day.
Trees in Trouble by Daniel Matthews (Counterpoint). Many people have assumed that climate change would progress slowly and incrementally, and that western pine forests would be able to naturally heal themselves after increasingly intense fires. Not so, says this call to action.
Sidelined by Julie DiCaro (Dutton). With some frequency, sexism in the sports industry is briefly spotlighted after a particularly outrageous case of rape or domestic violence, and then mostly fades from the public eye. A former sports broadcaster makes an important contribution by breaking down the recent history of women facing discrimination and harassment as athletes and as journalists covering them.
Ending Parkinson’s Disease by Ray Dorsey, Todd Sherer, Michael Okun, and Bastiaan Bloem (Public Affiars). In a highly readable book that will be of interest even to people with no Parkinson’s currently in their family, four medical researchers ask why Parkinson’s is growing faster than any other neurological disorder, including Alzheimer’s. They cite scientific studies showing that the disease is linked to specific pesticides as well as solvents in well water and lay out an action plan for keeping the number of cases from doubling again in the next two decades.
Soul Full of Coal Dust by Chris Hamby (Little Brown). While conservative politicians claim to be great friends of the coal industry, thousands of miners continue to be needlessly exposed to deadly coal dust that causes a slow and painful death from black lung disease. Activist miners and allies who continue to fight for prevention and compensation are up against politically powerful corporations who pay wealthy lawyers and doctors to shield them from responsibility.
Someday I’ll Miss This Place Too by Dan Branch (Cirque). A new law school graduate from California committed to a year as a Legal Services lawyer in a small Yup’ik community in Alaska and ended up staying in that area for more than a decade. He came to love the place and its people and to mourn the impact of colonization.
Broken Horses by Brandi Carlisle (Crown). The popular singer songwriter provides a candid memoir about growing up poor, the process of coming out as gay, and finding her way in the music field.
Course of the Empire by Ken Light (Steidl). A masterful black-and-white photographer traveled to U.S. communities, large and small, rich and poor, to document social disintegration and injustice stemming from racism and profiteering by the rich.
Squint by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown (Shadow Mountain). A boy with a talent for creating comic books has an eye disease that could eventually take his sight. He is teased by other kids, except a new girl at the school who has both talents and challenges of her own.
Colin in Black and White. Colin Kaepernick was raised as the adopted biracial son of white parents -- a corporate executive and a nurse – in a California suburb. This six-part Netflix series directed by Ava DuVernay focuses on Kaepernick’s teen years to show how class privilege did not prevent him from being subject to racial discrimination, especially as he tried to realize his dream of becoming a major college quarterback as a step toward a career in pro football.
Hive. This feature film is based on the actual experience of women whose husbands were disappeared during the war in Kosovo. Fifty widows came together, over fierce patriarchal opposition in their community, to support themselves by forming a cooperative food business.
Bone Cage. In this brilliantly acted feature film, the last forest in a Nova Scotia logging community is being clearcut, and young people are out of options.
On This Side of the World (A este lado del mundo). The main character in this feature film, an engineer in Spain, is sent by his company to the city of Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the coast of North Africa. His assignment is to help strengthen giant walls designed to keep immigrants from entering Spanish territory and thus gaining access to Europe. In a matter of days, he is forced to confront the realities of migration that have never been his concern.
Daughter of a Lost Bird. A documentary follows a young woman and her mother, both of Lummi heritage and both of whom were taken from their tribe and adopted by white families, as they explore reconnecting with their roots.
Orchestrating Change. A world-class conductor whose career was derailed by mental illness decided to start an orchestra made up of others with similar conditions. They now perform at concert halls, prisons, and youth facilities and are helping to start similar orchestras in multiple cities.
How They Got Over. Black gospel groups in the 1930s and 1940s overcame racism to pave the way for rock and roll and rhythm and blues.
Georgia Blue by Jason Isbell. Isbell and other well known singers put together this album of covers of songs first recorded by Georgia musicians and are donating the proceeds to three nonprofit organizations: Black Voters Matter, Fair Fight, and Georgia STAND-UP.
Hand Me Down by Kate Rusby. The English folksinger brings her beautiful voice to covers of songs from a variety of eras by an eclectic selection of artists, including Prince, Lyle Lovett, Kirsty MacColl, Bob Marley, Taylor Swift, Coldplay, James Taylor, and many more.