After my first look Nearly 30 more catalogs were published in the autumn events of the university press around Memorial Day. So here’s another quick scan of the horizon looking for patterns or themes. Many important and interesting books are scheduled for publication. No claim is made for a representative overview, let alone for completeness – just a brief reference to a few volumes of general interest.
Many titles feel ripped out of today’s headlines The Peaceful Transfer of Power: An Oral History of American Presidential Transitions (University of Virginia Press, October) as a case in point. Throughout the year through January 2021, the writers – David Marchick, Alexander Tippett and AJ Wilson – ran a podcast titled transition lab featuring “interviews with scholars, journalists, officials and—most importantly—participants in each Ford-Carter to Trump-Biden transition.” (All quotes cited here are from the publishers’ catalogs or websites.) Her book blends the podcast exchange into a narrative about “the long history, complexity, and current best practices associated with this most important of all democratic institutions.”
The federal judiciary was once considered virtually immune to election pressures, but Paul D. Moreno How the Court Became Supreme: The Origins of American Juristocracy (Louisiana State University Press, September) focuses on the Supreme Court’s growing integration with the executive and legislative branches. Despite the constitutional provision of “a variety of safeguards to prevent judicial abuse,” the court now “effectively has[es] the ability to monitor elections and elect presidents,” which arguably “damages rather than strengthens constitutional democracy.” The author “tells the story of the origin and evolution of this problem and proposes solutions that might force the Court to assume its more traditional role in our constitutional republic.”
Let’s take a closer look at the ballot box itself, Don Waisanen, Sonia R. Jarvis and Nicole A. Gordon States of Confusion: How our voter ID laws are failing democracy and what to do about it (NYU Press, January) notes that “voter ID laws have skyrocketed, limiting the ability of nearly 25 million eligible voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote.” The authors examine “hundreds of online -Surveys, audits of 150 polling stations, community focus groups and more” in 10 states with strict voter identification requirements; They call for “uniform national voter identification standards that are simple, accessible and free”.
As far as counter-intuitive titles go, Cynthia Burack’s would be hard to improve on How Trump and the Christian Right Saved LGBTI Human Rights: A Mystery of Religious Freedom (SUNY Press, August). For the Christian right, the treatment of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as a concern that needs to be addressed in U.S. foreign policy was another atrocity of the Obama administration — one that its 2016 nominee of choice would surely end once he is in office. And yet he didn’t. It has never been a priority, nor have “Christian conservative US officials and elites done everything in their power to publicize, contain, undermine and undermine US support for SOGI.” The book offers a case study of “the indifference, mendacity and political interests at play in Trump’s alliance with Christian right-wing elites.”
A book born of dire need by Jaclyn Schildkraut and Amanda B. Nickerson Lockdown exercises: connecting research and best practices for school administrators, teachers and parents (MIT Press, September) argues for the importance of such drills as part of a K-12 system’s contingency planning. The authors combine “discussions about the perceptions and psychological effects of lockdown exercises with scientific research on how far lockdown exercises improve individuals’ effective response to a potential threat.” Today’s worst-case scenarios are too common to ignore.
While the weather is currently set for broil, it’s worth remembering the effects of going to the other extreme. David A Calls Superstorm 1950: The largest simultaneous snowstorm, ice storm, storm and cold snap of the twentieth century (Purdue University Press, January) reports how in November 1950, “the greatest storm of the twentieth century crippled the eastern United States, affecting more than 100 million people.” exceeded its death toll,” it was “the costliest weather-related disaster when it occurred” — and a repeat in the present “would probably be the costliest weather-related disaster of all time in the United States.”
Moving from the particular to the general, we have a translation by Jean-Pierre Dupuy How to Think About Catastrophes: Towards an Enlightened Theory of the End of the World (Michigan State University Press, Nov.). The author—a co-thinker of the late René Girard, whose concepts of mimetic desire and sacrificial violence have had an interdisciplinary impact—“explores different types of disasters, ranging from natural disasters (e.g., earthquakes) to industrial disasters (e.g., Chernobyl). concludes that the traditional distinctions between them are becoming more blurred by the day.” We need “a general catastrophe theory—a new form of apocalyptic thought, grounded in science and philosophy,” capable of “a new to advance the way of thinking about the future as it examines catastrophes and human response”.
Ezra Pound once characterized Literature as “news that stays news” and Bob Dylan’s apocalyptic cable “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” remains as urgent today as it was when he wrote it 60 years ago. Alessandro Portellis Hard Rain: Bob Dylan, Oral Cultures, and the Meaning of History (Columbia University Press, May) originally came out in late spring, but it belongs in this fall summary given the conspicuous production of university press coverage of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. Dylan’s surreal juxtaposition of images in the song, though “relevant to the post-nuclear nightmares and youth movements of the 1960s Years’ also informs ‘contemporary concerns about environmental crises, racism and mass migration’, while also drawing on ‘the traditional British ballad ‘Lord Randal’ and the 17th-century Italian ballad ‘Il testamento dell’avvelenato’.’ Portelli addresses this , “how Dylan managed to use the folk tradition of the ballad combined with a modern sensibility to creatively question the meaning and direction of the story.”
Coincidentally, the four Dylanologists with books this fall also focus on his poetics and historical flair. Raphael Falcos No One to Meet: Imitation and Originality in Bob Dylan’s Songs (University of Alabama Press, October) draws on the songwriter’s “previously unpublished manuscript excerpts and archival materials” to “explain the resemblance between what Renaissance writers called imitation and the way Dylan borrows, processes, and… transformed, to trace”.
in the Bob Dylan in the Attic: The Artist as Historian (University of Massachusetts Press, December) Freddy Cristóbal Domínguez recalls a warning from Dylan’s early mentor Dave Van Ronk: “You only become a history writer if you do these things. An anachronism.” Domínguez celebrates what Van Ronk regretted by offering “an in-depth look at the musician’s historical influences and practices” and Dylan’s role in “helping listeners think about history and history-making in new ways.” .
Dick Weissmans Bob Dylan’s New York: A Historical Guide (SUNY Press, November) “places Dylan’s early career in the turbulent history of Greenwich Village, a hotbed of new developments in the arts,” as well as “the many areas of the city where Dylan lived and worked,” and his time upstate , at Woodstock. The author provides 10 “easy-to-follow trail maps and historical photographs that allow the reader to retrace Dylan’s footsteps while experiencing Dylan’s New York and contemporary New York.” contains.
Finally Greil Marcus’s Folk Music: A Bob Dylan Biography in Seven Songs (Yale University Press, October) draws inspiration from “Dylan’s ability to see myself in others” and to empathize with the “rich history of American folk song.” The author not only offers “a heartfelt narrative of the life and times of Bob Dylan,” but pays tribute to his example at a time when “such comprehensive, imaginative identification with the other is in short supply.”