Pain and Politics in the Heart of America
Jennifer M. Silva’s We’re Still Here is insightful, thoughtful, and necessary for anyone trying to understand contemporary American politics, especially in the wake of the 2016 election. It contains a wealth of information, stories, and theories about a critical voting group in the United States: the working class.
In the depreciating town of Coal Brook, Pennsylvania (name changed for anonymity), working-class men and women face disheartening circumstances. Physical and emotional pain, financial instability, and political distrust run rampant, directly affecting their politics and actions. Silva, a sociologist, interviewed a substantial selection of Coal Brook residents, absorbing and communicating their histories, struggles, and the way their circumstances influenced their votes in 2016.
While We’re Still Here‘s quality prose and engaging structure hold interest, its tender, deep dive into people’s lives is what makes the book spectacular. Silva collects bleak anecdotes from the people of Coal Brook, illuminating the constant suffering that occurs in areas like it, where people can’t afford medication for chronic illnesses, veterans suffer from untreated PTSD, and demoralizing labor dominates lives. Rather than attack the community, many of whom voted for Trump or otherwise express problematic views, Silva engages it, treating its people as people instead of political research subjects. The result is a particularly thoughtful, enlightening study that sheds light on today’s perplexing political realities.
Silva strays from other mainstream work about white working class America to unravel the complexities of race in places like Coal Brook, making sure to give voice to marginalized identities in her narratives. We’re Still Here combines sociological theory and intimate, personal research for a revealing look at the heartbreak in one of America’s forgotten communities.
MYA ALEXICE (June 27, 2019)
Reading Promiscuity and Race in the Secular Love Tradition
What do Madonna, George Michael, and Lady Gaga have in common with Petrarch? A lot, according to Melissa E. Sanchez’s new book, Queer Faith. The book unpacks the secular language that Western culture uses to talk about love and race and describes how love songs demonstrate the queerness at the heart of heteronormative culture.
Queer Faith makes the case that faith is queer because human desire and subjectivity are fundamentally promiscuous: omnivorous, malleable, adaptive. The Bible and other religious writings are “queer” in the sense that they tell the story of faith that defies convention and human law. Faith, like love, is disruptive.
Sanchez writes, “True love, as distinct from lust or infatuation, resembles religious faith in structure but is directed at love objects who are in the world rather than saints or deities beyond it.” Instead of worshiping God, the lyric poet praises a loved one. This beloved isn’t necessarily defined according to gender, and loving them transforms both the singer and the song.
Queer Faith is ambitious in scope. Its five dense chapters are academic, linking venerable texts like Martin Luther’s writings to modern events like the US Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, which affirmed the constitutional right to marriage for all couples. Sanchez’s arguments are eloquent and supported by extensive research—a “who’s who” of queer theologians.
From erotic accountability to procreation and orgasms, Queer Faith is an incisive exploration of human sexuality’s many manifestations. Although the work is not necessarily written for laypeople, Sanchez engages her subject with humor. Queer Faith is an enjoyable and outstanding piece of scholarship.
CLAIRE FOSTER (June 27, 2019)
As it turns out, it is simply not possible to keep an angry demon librarian down. The title librarian still wants Annie, his former child bride, as well as revenge against Cyn, the teen who saved her. Funny and action-packed, Curse of the Evil Librarian almost resolves all of the issues set forth in the series. The “almost” will excite longtime fans.
Initially, all seems well. Cyn and Ryan are together, and she is still friends with Ryan’s rival, Peter, who happens to be a demon. Les Miserables is the school play, though Ryan may have to compete to play Javert, his dream role. Cyn salivates at the prospect of building the famous barricade.
But then the demon Aaron, who is battered and bloodied, comes to warn Cyn: evil Mr. Gabriel has broken free and is gathering power. While Cyn runs to tell Annie, Gabriel attacks Ryan, threatening to kill him if Cyn does not agree to his terms.
The news plunges the group back into Hell where they must fight demons, protect each other, and figure out a way to kill Gabriel for good. Action-packed and suspenseful, the book moves from battle to battle without slowing. Knudsen never neglects the strained realities of teen life, including emergencies and homework that’s due the next day.
The dialogue is peppy and fun, spiced with sarcasm and snarky asides. Knudsen illustrates the monsters in the teens’ midst with gross specificity and intersperses musical references throughout, like happy, nerdy Easter eggs for fans of the genre.
Curse of the Evil Librarian is a fast, funny, and irreverent almost-end to the series.
CAMILLE-YVETTE WELSCH (June 27, 2019)
When bulldozers and loud construction threaten to tear down her idyllic seaside home and replace it with a highway, Lula finds an unlikely champion in the multi-tentacled resident of a nearby tidal pool. In this title that’s big on imagination, environmental conservation, and sandwiches, a friendship blossoms and grows in the coastal waters, as does the fast-growing creature—lovably depicted in soft colors and with a sunny smile—who’s soon as big as Lula’s house.
PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (June 27, 2019)
On Representing the Colorado River in the First-Ever American Lawsuit Seeking Rights for a Major Ecosystem
Will Falk’s touching ode to a major ecosystem How Dams Fall personifies the Colorado River.
This essay-length book has a big goal: to dramatize the plight of the Colorado River in its fight against human intervention. Falk, who brought the first federal lawsuit against a state on behalf of a river, veers away from discussing the case itself, instead imagining a conversation with the river: “She, like life, speaks in fluid, shifting patterns, gestures, and themes that must be teased out.”
The poignant story the river tells is one of enslavement by the Grand Valley Diversion Dam. Falk ponders the manner in which the Colorado River is manipulated by humans, considering the broader implications of slavery. He lyrically wonders whether “the end of human slavery led to an intensification of the enslavement of the natural world.” He describes how he visits the river, hears her speak, and shares her fears, empowering him to write and to pursue a legal case on her behalf.
In Falk’s view, the Colorado River is an ecological symbol. “Each generation accepts a more impoverished planet,” observes Falk. “Not only are species being destroyed at an accelerating pace, but the humans causing the destruction don’t even remember who they’ve destroyed.” These are strong words anchored in a harsh reality. The book’s fervent hope—and guarded optimism—lies in the permanence of the force of nature: “No dam can stand against the power of the Colorado River forever.”
There is a magical, mystical quality to these words, bleak though they are at times. How Dams Fall is a brief and impactful essay that celebrates the Colorado River’s majesty while cautioning human beings against further damaging its beauty and its purpose,
BARRY SILVERSTEIN (June 27, 2019)