Front Table 10/27/23

October 27th, 2023

On This Week's Front Table, find fresh voices that write a road map towards repair - whether it's through the unique lens of horror cinema to grapple with alienation, reframing consent as an ally of pleasure, tracing back the devastating effects of educational reform, or rewriting what it means to be Black and disabled. Explore these titles and more at
Punished for Dreaming: How School Reform Harms Black Children and How We Heal
(St. Martin's Press) 
Bettina L. Love 

In Punished for Dreaming Dr. Bettina Love argues that Reagan's presidency ushered in a War on Black Children, pathologizing and penalizing them in concert with the War on Drugs. New policies punished schools with policing, closure, and loss of funding in the name of reform, as white savior, egalitarian efforts increasingly allowed private interests to infiltrate the system. These changes implicated children of color as low performing, making it all too easy to turn a blind eye to their disproportionate conviction and incarceration. Today, there is little national conversation about a structural overhaul of American schools; cosmetic changes, rooted in anti-Blackness, are now passed off as justice. Punished for Dreaming lays bare the blistering account of four decades of educational reform through the lens of the people who lived it. Detailing its devastating effect on 25 Black Americans caught in the intersection of economic gain and racist ideology, Dr. Love simultaneously writes a road map for its repair.

The Joy of Consent: A Philosophy of Good Sex
(Belknap Press)
Manon Garcia

In the age of #MeToo, consent has become the ultimate answer to problems of sexual harassment and violence: as long as all parties agree to sex, the act is legitimate. Critics argue that consent, and the awkwardness of confirming it, rob sex of its sexiness. In The Joy of Consent, French philosopher Manon Garcia upends the assumptions that underlie this very American debate, reframing consent as an ally of pleasure rather than a legalistic killjoy. Drawing on sources rarely considered together--from Kantian ethics to kink practices--Garcia offers an alternative framework grounded in commitments to autonomy and dignity. While consent, she argues, should not be a definitive legal test, it is essential to realizing intimate desire, free from patriarchal domination. Cultivating consent makes sex sexy. By appreciating consent as the way toward an ethical sexual flourishing rather than a legal litmus test, Garcia adds a fresh voice to the struggle for freedom, equality, and security from sexist violence.

With Bloom Upon Them and Also with Blood: A Horror Miscellany
(Coffee House Press) 
Justin Phillip Reed

In 2019, Justin Phillip Reed's romantic maiden voyage through the waters of American poetry and its communities ran aground in the barrens of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when he found himself with two years of writing time on the horizon and no social context to keep him afloat. In anxiety and estrangement soon deepened by global pandemic, popular fascism, virtual being, intestinal distress, and the obscenity of his own privilege as a university pet, he retreated to the comforts of horror films with no intent but diversion. What happened instead was this reckless, unprecious, in-process reckoning. With Bloom Upon Them and Also with Blood is a chase and a trip where lyric essays, ekphrastic poetry, and lectures grapple with alienation, professional disillusionment, perversion, and internal contradiction under racial capitalism through playful and critical encounters with horror cinema and cultural iconography.

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store: A Novel
(Riverhead Books) 
James McBride

In 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows. Chicken Hill was where Moshe and Chona lived when Moshe integrated his theater and where Chona ran the Heaven & Earth Grocery Store. When the state came looking for a deaf boy to institutionalize him, it was Chona and Nate, the Black janitor at Moshe's theater and the unofficial leader of the Black community on Chicken Hill, who worked together to keep the boy safe. As these characters' stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town's white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community--heaven and earth--that sustain us.

Aster of Ceremonies: Poems
(Milkweed Editions)
JJJJJerome Ellis

Aster of Ceremonies asks what rites we need now and how poetry, astir in the asters, can help them along. How can the voices of those who came before--and the stutters that leaven those voices--carry into our present moment, mingling with our own? When Ellis writes, "Bring me the stolen will / Bring me the stolen well," his voice is a conduit, his "me" is many. Through the grateful invocations of ancestors and their songs, he rewrites history, creating a world that blooms backward, reimagining what it means for Black and disabled people to have taken, and to continue to take, their freedom. By weaving a chorus of voices past and present, Ellis counters the attack of "all masters of all vessels" and replaces it with a family of flowers. He models how--as with his transduction of escaped slave advertisements--we might proclaim lost ownership over literature and history. "Bring me to the well," he chants, implores, channels. "Bring me to me." In this bringing, in this singing, he proclaims our collective belonging to shared worlds where we can gather and heal.

Blackouts: A Novel
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Justin Torres

Out in the desert in a place called the Palace, a young man tends to a dying soul, someone he once knew briefly but who has haunted the edges of his life: Juan Gay. Playful raconteur, child lost and found and lost, guardian of the institutionalized, Juan has a project to pass along, one built around a true artifact of a book--Sex Variants: A Study of Homosexual Patterns--and its devastating history. This book contains accounts collected in the early 20th century from queer subjects by a queer researcher, Jan Gay, whose groundbreaking work was then co-opted by a committee, her name buried. The voices of these subjects have been filtered, muted, but it is possible to hear them from within and beyond the text, which, in Juan's tattered volumes, has been redacted with black marker on nearly every page. As Juan waits for his end, he and the narrator recount for each other moments of joy and oblivion; they resurrect loves, lives, mothers, fathers, minor heroes. In telling their own stories and the story of the book, they resist the ravages of memory and time. A bold exploration of form, Torres's Blackouts mines the stories that have been kept from us. The past is with us, beside us, ahead of us; what are we to create from its gaps and erasures?

Medicare for All: A Citizen's Guide
(Oxford University Press)
Abdul El-Sayed & Micah Johnson 

There are few issues as consequential in the lives of Americans as healthcare--and few issues more politically vexing. Every single American will interact with the healthcare system at some point in their lives, and most people will find that interaction less than satisfactory. And yet for every dollar spent in our economy, 18 cents go to healthcare. What are we paying for, exactly? Healthcare policy is notoriously complex, but what Americans want is simple: good healthcare that's easy to use and doesn't break the bank. Polls show that a majority of Americans want the government to provide universal health coverage to all Americans. What's less clear is how to get there. Medicare for All is the leading proposal to achieve universal health coverage in America. But what is it exactly? How would it work? More importantly, is it practical or practicable? This book goes beyond partisan talking points to offer a serious examination of how Medicare for All would transform the way we give, receive, and pay for healthcare in America.

Posted in: