Here’s the latest World Wide Work update.
Chemical Valley by David Huebert (Biblioasis). These 11 short stories are unusual both in the choice of characters and in the use of language. They include workers who depend on the local petrochemical industry even as it ruins their future, a long-term care nurse, a dishwasher, a hockey team brawler, high school students overwhelmed by climate change and looking for hope, and parents dealing with the stresses of raising little ones and sustaining their marriages.
The Reindeer Hunters by Lars Mytting (Overlook). This is the engrossing sequel to the spectacular novel “The Bell in the Lake” which should be read first before this one. Both follow families and communities in a remote part of Norway more than a hundred years ago.
Brooklyn Supreme by Robert Reuland (Overlook). This controversial crime novel was written by a white lawyer who worked as a prosecutor early in his career and now is a defense attorney for people wrongly accused of serious offenses. The main character is a white police union staffer whose job is to represent officers accused of wrongdoing. When a Black female officer shoots and kills a Black robbery suspect, the union staffer grapples with questions about truth and justice.
Funeral Train by Laurie Loewenstein (Akashic). In a small Dust Bowl town in Oklahoma in the 1930s, a train derails, killing 15 passengers, and the next night a local resident is strangled to death. Against a backdrop of Depression-era desperation, the sheriff investigates a long list of suspects who have something to hide.
Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa (Overlook). Through the story of one family this novel is an introduction to obstacles and injustices faced by Kurds in Iran (and by Kurdish women even more so). There are about 40 million Kurds whose home region was divided after World War I among Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, leaving a legacy of conflict that continues today.
Your Kingdom by Eleni Sikelianos (Coffee House). An unusually inventive poetry collection explores the close biological relationship humans share with other living beings.
The Holy Vote by Sarah Diefendorf (University of California). A sociologist spent two years immersed in a mostly white evangelical mega-church in a relatively well-off suburb of Seattle, studying how the church as an institution and its individual members are dealing with an ongoing dilemma. She found that they want to attract wayward young people who associate the church with racism, sexism, and homophobia, but they also want to continue to identify the traditional white family as the norm and avoid action on inequality of wealth and power. One device they use is the concept that they “hate the sin” (including gayness, for example) but “love the sinner” (meaning they are open to everyone else learning to be like them). To avoid looking at structural inequality, Diefendorf says, they teach that if you aren’t succeeding, it’s because of your own personal failings. They stress each individual’s personal relationship with Jesus, she says, in contrast to an emphasis on the well being of the whole community and larger society that is the focus of many Black churches and other kinds of religious institutions.
Our Lives in Their Portfolios by Brett Christophers (Verso). The fate of housing, transportation, water, food, energy, health care, education, and other essential components of society increasingly is decided by asset manager speculators like Blackstone and BlackRock that are concerned only with short-term profiteering and not with social outcomes. At least 40 percent of global wealth is now controlled by these firms that look to temporarily buy housing or other assets at low prices, drain away whatever they can, and sell at a profit. These speculators now have far more influence on our future than public officials do.
Waiting for an Echo by Christine Montross (Penguin). A psychiatrist who works with incarcerated people with mental illness describes how the U.S. prison system actually makes many inmates less likely to be able to function outside. She also takes a detailed look at Norway’s system that achieves far better results by emphasizing rehabilitation and treatment rather than retribution.
After Black Lives Matter by Cedric Johnson (Verso). A professor of Black Studies argues that Black Lives Matter protests would make more progress by putting more emphasis on the underlying problem of social and economic inequality. Police are deployed to address the symptoms of that inequality, he says, and therefore focusing only on police behavior will not lead to necessary change.
Our Team by Luke Epplin (FlatIron). In 1936, the best Black baseball pitcher, Satchell Paige, and a team of Black players faced off in the first of many exhibition games against one of the best white pitchers, Bob Feller, and an all-white team. Twelve years later, Paige and Feller would be teammates on the first American League team to hire a Black player. This account of baseball’s very reluctant and slow process of integration is centered on those two, another groundbreaking Black player named Larry Doby, and an eccentric white team owner named Bill Veeck.
Elderflora by Jared Farmer (Basic Books). An environmental historian looks at modern civilization through the lens of how ancient trees have been treated. His writing is Thoreau-like in the way it goes far afield to make edifying connections.
Birds and Us by Tim Birkhead (Princeton). With help from interesting illustrations, a biologist looks at humans’ changing relationship with birds from the days of cave dwellers to today, including periods when birds have been worshipped, hunted, driven to extinction, and now (sometimes) protected.
The Peanut Butter Falcon. In this feel-good feature film, a young man with Down Syndrome (played by Zack Gottsagen, who himself has Down Syndrome) escapes from an institution where he is housed and by chance connects with two people (played by Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson) who appreciate his strengths and are searching for a new life themselves.
The Last Suit. An 88-year-old Argentinian man defies his grown daughters and travels to Poland to search for the man who saved him from the Holocaust.
Australian Rules. A white Australian teenager whose best friend and soccer teammate is aboriginal has to decide where his loyalties lie when racism in his family and his community rears its ugly head.
Utama. As climate-fueled drought makes their isolated community unlivable, an old Bolivian couple who herd llamas have to decide whether to cling to the only home they have ever known.
Nudo Mixteco. Ways that women are impacted by poverty, homophobia, and out-migration to the U.S. are the focus of this feature film in which three women return to their remote Mixtec village in Oaxaca.
Workin’ on a World by Iris Dement. In her first album of original songs in many years, Dement holds nothing back as she searches for hope:
I don't have all the answers
to the troubles of the day
but neither did all our ancestors
and they persevered anyway
When I see a little baby
reaching out its arms to me
I remember why I'm workin' on a world
I may never see
Love and Rage by Carsie Blanton. Blanton’s cutesy voice makes a surprising combination with her straight talk about the state of the world.
Boomerang Town by Jaimee Harris. Harris has a way with words that make her music and lyrics fresh, whether she is mining familiar themes like “Love is Gonna Come Again” or more challenging subjects related to addiction, suicide, or rejection of “others” by supposed Christians:
“Are you free, or are you hiding. from the things you don’t agree with or believe in?
Skim the text, find the lines that feed your purpose,
It’s so easy to love your brother on the surface”
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