World Wide Work: Books, Films, Music You May Have MIssed

September 15, 2023

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Here’s the latest World Wide Work update.


Project 562 by Matika Wilbur (Ten Speed). This beautiful book is a good introduction to Native American cultural and political activism today. A Native American photographer spent a decade taking portraits of a wide variety of indigenous community leaders, artists, and activists all across the U.S. In nearly 400 pages she presents their stories in their own words along with the photos.

The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade (W.W. Norton). Members of the multigenerational Padilla family in a poor small town in New Mexico are all trying their best in life. But it’s not easy without the wealth and privilege they see that others have. Brilliant writing helps readers identify with each character, even if their circumstances may be very different.

Weave Me a Crooked Basket by Charles Goodrich (University of Nevada). When a family farm passes to the next generation who find it’s hard to make a go of it, it is tempting to sell out to corporate interests who are partnering in a money-making scheme with the nearby university. Will these likable siblings and their allies give in, or can they find creative ways to carry on with the farm?

This Other Eden by Paul Harding (W.W. Norton) A small, self-reliant community of formerly enslaved people as well as refugees from Ireland and other places lived for decades on Malaga Island off the coast of Maine. This evocative historical novel gets inside their lives and their feelings when they were evicted by the state in 1912.

A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande (Atria). This novel is rooted in a hidden but fascinating part of U.S. history. When the U.S. invaded Mexico in 1846, ultimately taking more than half of Mexico’s territory in what is now California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and other states, nearly half of the invading army was made up of poor immigrants from Ireland and other European countries. As the war got going, hundreds of them switched sides, finding they had more in common with their Mexican counterparts than with the native-born officers who abused them. Grande focuses on the leader of what was called the San Patricio Battalion, as well as on the experience of women impacted by the war.

The Two-Headed Whale by Sandy Winterbottom (Greystone). An environmental scientist spent six weeks in Antarctica, and in the process became interested in the lives of the mostly poor men who served on the boats that decimated the whale population to generate huge profits for absentee industrialists. Weaving her experience and theirs together, she asks whether humans will learn from past mistakes.

Clean Air and Good Jobs by Todd E Vachon (Temple). Although academic at times, this book provides useful information for climate and union activists about challenges and opportunities in trying to work together.

Radical Acts of Justice by Jocelyn Simonson (New Press). A former public defender gives examples of four tactics that communities across the country are using to challenge mass incarceration, including community bail funds and campaigns to abolish the money bond system; publicizing what actually goes on in court proceedings through social media and other means; participatory defense in which community members help overstretched public defenders to gather evidence and tell the defendant’s story; and campaigns to shift budget priorities to alternatives to incarceration.

Just Action by Richard Rothstein and Leah Rothstein (Liveright). Two long-time advocates discuss what could be done at the local, state, and national level to promote racial integration and affordable housing, citing examples from across the U.S. and examining the pros and cons of solutions that are often put forward.

A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire (New Press). A network of corporate profiteers, billionaire funders, and right-wing political forces is working to undermine public education through attacks on teachers, school boards, and education unions and through school vouchers, money-making virtual schooling, and other ways of using public funds for private gain.

Atrocity Fabrication and Its Consequences by A.B. Abrams (Clarity). Whenever the U.S. goes to war, the public is told that the enemy is committing horrible atrocities, in contrast to America’s supposedly pure motives and conduct. In many cases, documents and other evidence come out later showing that these atrocities were exaggerated or didn’t happen at all and that U.S. intentions and tactics were not as clean as portrayed. Examples explored in this book include the Vietnam War, Tiananmen Square, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the war on Libya, and more.

Fever in the Heartland by Timothy Egan (Viking). In the 1920s, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in the Midwest was positioning himself to become president of the U.S. by scapegoating Blacks, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants, in collaboration with money hungry ministers and white supremacists in law enforcement. He was eventually brought down by his penchant for brutal sexual abuse and by the courage of those who stood up to the Klan’s power.

Instrument of the State by Benjamin J. Harbert (Oxford). A music professor spent years interviewing people imprisoned at the Angola state penitentiary in Louisiana who play in bands with other inmates. He also researched the role music has played at the prison for the past century.


Gossamer Folds. A young white father who moves to a small town with his wife and 10-year-old son freaks out when he discovers that a 25-year-old Black trans woman lives next door. It turns out that his own family is falling apart while his son bonds with the new neighbors who are facing their own challenges.

Palmer. A former high school football star who has just come home after 12 years in prison becomes responsible for a young neighbor boy who prefers tea parties and princesses to traditional masculine pastimes.

Broker. Two good-hearted but desperate Korean men go outside the law to sell orphaned infants to couples who want them, and two child welfare officers tail them, hoping to catch them in the act. When one of the young mothers who had to abandon her baby returns, life gets more complicated for all these characters as they reach out for human connection.

The Pencil. In an apparent commentary on Russian society today, this feature film by a Russian director follows an art teacher from St. Petersburg who takes a job at the school in a small, remote community where the main jobs involve working at the pencil factory or at the prison. The teacher shows how much better life could be for the local children as she introduces them to the world of art and brings out their talents and curiosity. But her efforts bring her into conflict with the ruthless criminal who has the whole town bullied.

Official Competition. Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas star in a clever feature film that has the feel of a mockumentary about wealthy actors and film directors.


White Trash Revelry by Adeem the Artist. A non-binary singer/songwriter who once was on a path to be a pastor eloquently sings about a changing South and about working class experience without the romanticizing found in so much country music.

Nuevo South Train by Larry and Joe. Two accomplished musicians, one an asylum seeker from Venezuela and the other a North Carolina native who spent ten years living in South America, have fun blending their musical styles.

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