Front Table Newsletter 10/14/2023

October 14th, 2023

On This Week's Front Table, revel in radical boundary-breaking art, cutting edge research about the effect of climate change on our species and natural world; explore a collection of original behind the scenes materials from legendary filmmaker John Waters and a meditation on the mysteries and intricacies of the writing life from poet Carl Phillips. Explore these titles and more at

John Waters: Pope of Trash
(Delmonico Books)
John Waters

Known for pushing the boundaries of good taste, John Waters (born 1946) has created a canon of high-shock-value, high-entertainment movies that have cemented his position as one of the most revered and subversive auteurs in American independent cinema. John Waters: Pope of Trash accompanies a landmark exhibition at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the first dedicated solely to Waters' films. The book presents costumes, props, handwritten scripts, concept drawings, correspondence, promotional gimmicks, production photography and other original materials from all of the filmmaker's features and shorts. Spotlighting many of his longtime collaborators, it also features a new interview with Waters and texts by curators Jenny He and Dara Jaffe, film historian Jeanine Basinger, film critic and cultural theorist B. Ruby Rich, and author-writer-producer David Simon that explore how Waters' movies have redefined the possibilities of independent cinema.

On Repentance and Repair
(Beacon Press) 
Danya Ruttenberg

On Repentance and Repair presents a crucial new lens on repentance, atonement, forgiveness, and repair from harm--from personal transgressions to our culture's most painful and unresolved issues. American culture focuses on letting go of grudges and redemption narratives instead of the perpetrator's obligations or recompense for harmed parties. For Maimonides, forgiveness is much less important than the repair work to which the person who caused harm is obligated. The word traditionally translated as repentance really means something more like return, and in this book, returning is a restoration, as much as is possible, to the victim, and, for the perpetrator of harm, a coming back, in humility and intentionality, to behaving as the person we might like to believe we are. Maimonides laid out 5 steps: naming and owning harm; starting to change/transformation; restitution and accepting consequences; apology; and making different choices. Applying this lens to both our personal relationships and some of the most significant and painful issues of our day, On Repentance and Repair helps us envision a way forward. Rooted in traditional Jewish concepts while doggedly accessible and available to people from any, or no, religious background, On Repentance and Repair is a book for anyone who cares about creating a country and culture that is more whole than the one in which we live, and for anyone who has been hurt or who is struggling to take responsibility for their mistakes.

Henry David Thoreau 
(USA Oxford University Press) 
Lawrence Bell 

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was a leading figure in the American Transcendentalist movement and the era of U. S. literary emergence, an intellectual with worldwide influence as essayist, social thinker, naturalist-environmentalist, and sage. Thoreau's Walden, an autobiographical narrative of his two-year sojourn in a self-built lakeside cabin, is one of the most widely studied works of American literature. Thoreau is also a controversial figure. From his day to ours, he has provoked sharply opposite reactions ranging from reverence to dismissal. Scholars have regularly offered conflicting assessments of the significance of his work, the evolution of his thought, even the facts of his life. He was an advocate for individual self-sufficiency who never broke away from home, a self-professed mystic now also acclaimed as a pioneer natural and applied scientist, and a seminal theorist of nonviolent protest who defended the most notorious guerrilla fighter of his day. The esteemed Thoreau scholar Lawrence Buell gives due consideration to all these aspects of Thoreau's art and thought, framing key issues and complexities in historical and literary context.

The End of Eden
(Bloomsbury Publishing) 
Adam Welz

The stories we usually tell ourselves about climate change tend to focus on the damage inflicted on human societies by big storms, severe droughts, and rising sea levels. But the most powerful impacts are being and will be felt by the natural world and its myriad species, which are already in the midst of the sixth great extinction. Although we can never really know what a creature thinks or feels, The End of Eden invites the reader to meet wild species on their own terms in a range of ecosystems that span the globe. Combining classic natural history, firsthand reportage, and insights from cutting-edge research, Adam Welz brings us close to creatures like moose in northern Maine, parrots in Puerto Rico, cheetahs in Namibia, and rare fish in Australia as they struggle to survive. An exquisitely written and deeply researched exploration of wild species reacting to climate breakdown, The End of Eden offers a radical new kind of environmental journalism that connects humans to nature in a more empathetic way than ever before and galvanizes us to act in defense of the natural world before it's too late.

Seeing Others
(Atria/One Signal Publishers)
Michele Lamont 

In this capstone work, Michèle Lamont unpacks the power of recognition--rendering others as visible and valued--by drawing on nearly forty years of research and new interviews with young adults, and with cultural icons and change agents who intentionally practice recognition--from Nikole Hannah Jones and Cornel West to Michael Schur and Roxane Gay. By prioritizing material and professional success, we have judged ourselves and others in terms of self-reliance, competition, and diplomas. The foregrounding of these attributes of the upper-middle class in our values system feeds into the marginalization of workers, people of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and minority groups. The solution, Lamont argues, is to shift our focus towards what we have in common while actively working to recognize the diverse ways one can live a life. Building on Lamont's lifetime of expertise and revelatory connections between broad-ranging issues, Seeing Others delivers realistic sources of hope: By reducing stigma, we put change within reach.

Questions to Ask Before Your Bat Mitzvah
(Harvard University Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts)
Morgan Bassichis 

Edited by comedic performance artist and activist Morgan Bassichis with artist and educator Jay Saper and writer Rachel Valinsky, Questions to Ask Before Your Bat Mitzvah invites 36 writers, artists, scholars and activists to offer accessible reflections on 36 questions to help young Jews--and anyone else who picks up this book--feel grounded in the Jewish radical tradition, unlearn Zionism and deepen their solidarity with Palestinians. With a foreword by seminal scholar-activist Angela Y. Davis and illustrations by artist Nicole Eisenman, this essential volume offers an accessible and challenging set of personal and collective responses to critical questions for our time. Questions included range from "What even is a Bat Mitzvah?" and "I'm queer/nonbinary/secular/old/not even Jewish--are Bat Mitzvahs for me?" to "What do Palestinian kids do when they turn thirteen?"

My Trade is Mystery
(Yale University Press)
Carl Phillips

In these intimate and eloquent meditations, the award-winning poet Carl Phillips shares lessons he has learned about the writing life, an "apprenticeship to what can never fully be mastered." Drawing on forty years of teaching and mentoring emerging writers, he weaves his experiences as a poet with the necessary survival skills, including ambition, stamina, silence, politics, practice, audience, and community. In the tradition of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, and Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, this is an invaluable companion for writers at every stage of their journey. Phillips's book serves as a partner in speculation and an invitation to embrace mystery.

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