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

March 07, 2024

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How we name things in nature matters to all of us, according to my syndicated column published in 30 newspapers, including the Miami Herald, Kansas City Star, Charlotte Observer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sacramento Bee, and many more.


What We Do Next. This highly unusual drama featuring brilliant acting explores issues of class, race, ethics, and justice. It revolves around three characters: a Puerto Rican woman released from a New York prison after serving 16 years for killing her abusive father; an idealistic but ambitious Black city councilwoman; and a white corporate lawyer.

My Name is Emily. An endearing 16-year-old girl whose mother died when she was young sets out on a road trip with an equally endearing male classmate. Their goal is to find her loving father who has been institutionalized after a mental breakdown.

Learning to Drive. A white middle-aged writer whose husband has left her needs to learn to drive. Her instructor is a Sikh man from India who has just entered into an arranged marriage. Each of them can learn from the other.

Tall as the Baobab Tree. A teenage girl in a remote Senegalese village is the first in her family to attend school and dreams of a college education. When an injury to her older brother threatens the family’s survival, her father sees little choice but to sell her 11-year-old sister into an arranged marriage.

Godland. In the late 1800s, a young Danish priest with an interest in photography travels across harsh but stunning landscape to an isolated community in Iceland where he will preach in a newly built church. All does not go as planned.

Brother. A Caribbean single mother does her best to raise her two boys in a poor part of Toronto. The two sons are close but follow different paths in the face of overwhelming odds.


What Falls Away by Karin Anderson (Torrey House). In this exceptionally well written novel, a middle-aged woman who was cast out of her religious community as a pregnant teenager now comes back to care for her mother who suffers from dementia. Her presence leads to questions about the community’s secrets and unspoken hypocrisy and provokes a variety of reactions from her siblings and others.

The End of Drum Time by Hanna Pylvainen (Holt). An engrossing historical novel immerses us in a love story set against the arrival of Scandinavian ministers and settlers in the northland inhabited by Sami reindeer herders.

Ignition by M.R. O’Connor (Bold Type). A journalist became part of crews across the U.S. that fight wildland fires or manage controlled burns. She reports both on the crews’ internal culture and on the need in a time of climate change to learn from traditional indigenous use of fire to keep forests healthy and prevent or reduce mega-fires.

Homefront by Victoria Kelly (University of Nevada). Women and girls, many from military families, search for happiness in the face of life’s challenges in these short stories.

A Wounded Deer Leaps Highest by Charlie J. Stephens (Torrey House). Smokey is a non-binary kid who finds some solace in the nearby forest as they try to survive life with a poor single mom who can’t escape abusive relationships.

Israel’s Black Panthers by Asaf Elia-Shalev (University of California). From its founding, Israel has discriminated against Jews who came from Middle Eastern or African countries and not from Europe. In the 1970s, some of them rebelled, inspired by the Black Panthers of the U.S. Their movement helped to draw attention to social and economic inequality in Israeli society.

The Jail Is Everywhere edited by Jack Norton, Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, and Judah Schept (Verso). Organizers from a variety of communities share their experiences in opposing new or expanded local jails and promoting alternatives that more effectively address mental health, addiction, homelessness, and poverty.

The Manufacturing of Job Displacement by Laura Lopez-Sanders (NYU). A Mexican sociologist at Brown University did highly unusual fieldwork by getting hired as a bilingual supervisor at a manufacturing plant in South Carolina. The company assigned her to help displace the local white and Black workforce with Latinx immigrants who management believed would be easier to exploit. Before leaving the job she observed the tactics the company deployed to skirt anti-discrimination laws.

The Existential Toolkit for Climate Justice Educators edited by Jennifer Atkinson and Sara Jaquette Ray (University of California). Educators have discovered that only presenting apocalyptic information about climate change often results in apathy, not action. Students also need opportunities to discuss and process their feelings about the future. In this book, dozens of educators share lesson plans and activities. The book is geared toward college teaching but has ideas that will be useful at other levels as well.

Presente by Herb Mills (Hard Ball). A longtime local leader in the longshore and warehouse union (ILWU) wrote this novel based on his own experiences. It is centered on the decision by ILWU members in 1980 to refuse to load weapons the U.S. planned to ship to the military junta that ruled El Salvador. It shows that workers could successfully take on the government and big corporations by building community alliances, even when the action they were taking was illegal.

The Good Deed by Helen Benedict (Red Hen). An intense novel details the horrors faced by women and children from countries like Syria and Sudan who end up in refugee camps in Greece.

Hill Women by Cassie Chambers (Ballentine). A warm and thoughtful memoir by a woman who grew up in eastern Kentucky talks about how people in some of America’s poorest counties have tried to cope with the boom-and-bust cycle of the coal and tobacco industries.

The 9:09 Project by Mark H. Parsons (Delacorte). In this novel for teens, a high school junior with synesthesia who is mourning the death of his mother develops an interest in street photography and discovers friendships that run deep.

War Made Invisible by Norman Solomon (New Press). The United States is perpetually at war no matter which party is in power. It spends more on its military than the next ten nations put together, crowding out budgets for human needs. With at least 750 military bases abroad, it has three times more than all other countries combined. U.S. military actions take a huge human toll on other countries’ civilian populations as well as its own soldiers. Yet, government officials, military profiteers, and most of the news media combine to keep these impacts invisible through disinformation, spin, and silence.


American Patchwork Quartet. Some of America’s best-known folk songs are reinterpreted by a foursome that includes a Hindustani classical vocalist, an Issei jazz bassist, an African American drummer, and a white southern-born guitarist and vocalist.  

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