Best Wellers Pick for July-August 2018
An overlooked classic, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter follows five people living in the American South prior to World War II. Each loves humanity deeply, but for one reason or another, they are severed from those who might understand them.
The first is Mick Kelly, a music lover from a poor family who, given her class and gender, is barred from opportunities to learn an instrument or musical composition. No one in her family understands her, so she is resigned to listening to classical greats on the radio, laboriously plunking them out during the scant minutes she has access to her school’s piano. Gifted but poor, her dream might escape her.
The second, Jake Blount, is a labor agitator, passionately advocating for the rights of workers wherever he drifts, but tragically unable to foment change or even connect with other people. His failure to realize justice and find like-minded workers and thinkers in the South sends him searching for consolation in liquor. His search may be endless.
The third, Biff Brannon, owns a local diner. He silently observes the movements and tussles of this small town from behind his counter. Recently a widower, he’s left to wonder what he’s doing with his life, even though his marriage was unhappy, and if there’s a life worth living anymore.
The fourth is Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland, the only Black physician in town. Apropos to America’s historical and current grapples with race and violence, his tale is punctuated by hostile interactions with white lawkeepers. However, what haunts Dr. Copeland most is the inability of his Black neighbors and family to unite with him and stand against bigotry. Well-read, philosophical, and radical, he is singular, and lonely for it.
Our fifth character is the linchpin that might quilt our motley crew of dreamers together. John Singer is a deaf and mute man, thus society consigned him to lonely margins early on. Each of the other four thinks of Singer as the only person who understands their hearts, their desires, and their loneliness. They meet him and find that he is the most sympathetic human to live. None realizes that Singer can't sympathize with them as much as they believe; he can't read their lips quickly enough, and besides, he has his own struggles and desires, and is physically unable to communicate these to his frequent callers. The only thing to do, in his mind, is bring these four people together somehow.
One can name the structural forces pushing these people to the margins of society: race, class, ability, age, gender, education, and so on. Yet, these margins are solitary places where they gain a sharper understanding of the world's machinations than most people. So then, is there a deeper relation between them that binds them together but cleaves them from others? Some intellectual and emotional genealogy, invisible to us and them? Are these dreamers punished or rewarded for their courage?
This book has a tragic verisimilitude to our world, afflicted by an illusion of connectivity that only alienates us further. My words do it injustice.
A timely reflection on the Russian Revolution. This is a great read for veteran lefties, curious pinko neophytes, and skepics alike. Mieville emphasizes how this history is especially relevant in our time when fascist elements seem to be resurging. Rejoice, as well, for this is no dry academic study (although I find those interesting); Mieville captures the adventure, intrigue, and peculiarity of this harrowing tale. I feel Mieville presents a balanced depiction of the revolution, not shying away from the violence, but neither offering facile condemnations. If for nothing else, I think one should read this book to dip their toes into an accurate education of the history and philosophy of communist thought.
This is a postmodern buddy-cop novel. In 1980, literary critic Roland Barthes is killed in an accident. Yet, what if it isn't an accident? What if Barthes was killed because he held knowledge about a secret function of language that could allow the speaker to control others. This odd premise fits the setting; French intellectuals of this era were doggedly fascinated by language and its foibles. So, this madcap mystery follows these intellectuals around in an almost surreal criminal investigation. It's fun, funny, and philosophical. I can't stop thinking about it; I'm tempted to read it a second time.
Zadie Smith is a wonderful writer! I love her style, and the content here is engaging and eclectic. Topics here range from jazz to bookstores, Justin Bieber to Martin Buber, and J.G. Ballard to Brexit. Creative and slick, Smith has won this reader's heart.
You've probably heard of and even read The Stranger by Albert Camus. You likely know of it as the quintessential existentialist novel. I strongly disagree; The Mandarins is more interesting, more politically engaged, and more timely than Camus's book. Beauvoir explores the dilemmas of French intellectuals in the aftermath of World War II. Told through the words of Robert and Anne, the narrative shifts and slides between different episodes, each one illustrating the difficulties these people face navigating the tension between their ideals, desires, and the facticity of their lives. I describe this book as timely, because the issues these people faced eerily echo those we face today: What should the role of newspaper journalists be today? What is woman's situation, how does it define her, and what should women do to make their own way in the world? What is love and how does one practice it? The list goes on. This books asks important questions of us. Read it!
The story of Genesis is caught in a history of fictions and storytellers, or so argues Greenblatt. The image of Eden saturates western culture's literature, poetry, and philosophy as allusions to the human obsession with origins. Smart and light, Greenblatt's prose delivers a testament to research in the humanitites today. He covers so much ground in such a deft manner; I envy his talents.
Cassara has done something bold, inventing a rich narrative surrounding some of the most famous figures of the underground Harlem ballroom scene of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Dorian Corey, Hector Xtravaganza, Venus Xtravaganza, and more make appearances. (Watch the cult documentary Paris Is Burning if you want to hear and see these people with your own eyes and ears.) Chronicling their lives through the AIDS epidemic and the early years of the balls, Cassara allows us to witness their hopes, trails, and joys.
I actually listened to the audiobook via libro.fm, an audiobook provider that supports independent bookstores like us. You can access and explore the service yourself by going to libro.fm/wellerbookworks and making an account. In audio or print format, this is a great book.
“It took me a long time to understand that she wasn’t being incoherent or contradictory, but rather that it was I myself, arrogant class renegade that I was, who tried to force her discourse into a foreign kind of coherence one more compatible with my values—values I’d adopted precisely in order to construct a self in opposition to my parents, in opposition to my family…”
The End of Eddy is a semi-autobiographical account of growing up in a poor, rural village in northern France. Eddy is gay, but is thrown into a world where to be a man is to be a tough guy who does not finish school, does not eat well, and does not care about sexual modesty or safety. One cannot be gay in Eddy’s world. Of course, what Louis illustrates for us is that, in that/this world, people do not choose who they are and who they can be; they are forced into roles.
Poignant and sheer, The End of Eddy is a topography of a discourse that seems to contradict itself: a ‘lower-class, right-wing’ discourse. The unthoughtful analyses on current political climates can be forgotten; here is something that gets to the compassionate, obscene heart of the matter. This book caused heated debate when it was published in France. Many on the right saw it as a leftist attack on French culture. This narrative is anything but an attack. If you like Fyodor Dostoyevsky or Marguerite Duras then you will find something to like about Édouard Louis.
This is one of the most original approaches to living and thinking well. Tired of overwrought, inherited theories of duty and rights? Nonplussed by the mothballs of classical liberal and conservative theory? Badiou makes a claim that hinges on imagining ourselves beyond ready-made ideas and seizing the power of our situations. It's an erudite, lucid, and necessary book.
Perhaps you've heard of "deconstruction:" an approach to writing, thinking, and truth that pushed philosophy in new directions. Derrida was the philosopher who crafted this methodology. Most of his work is loquacious and complex, but Cinders is accessible and serves as the best introduction to this important thinker's work. Derrida poetically self-analyzes his major arguements, his style, and his thinking, laying out the important features of his philiosophy for professionals and newcomers alike. It reads like a dance; pirouetting around illuminations of a radical kind.
This book changed the course of thought, and it changed my life. This book is about the history and origins of prisons, but really it's about so much more: our 'postmodern' condition; what binds us to social norms; what happens when we transgress those norms; and what that punishment says about us. Foucault's radical thesis is that despite centuries of prison reform efforts, we've only heightened the degree to which we punish, imprison, and regulate one another. This book is a veritable garden of thought.