Front Table - 10/14/21

October 14th, 2021

On our Front Table this week, explore the inner lives of resistance, from a pedagogy of complaint, to a study of the myths and realities of a Mexican independence icon, and epistolary meditations on what it means to break with the past and imagine new futures. Find the following titles and more at semcoop.com.


Along Came Google: A History of Library Digitization
(Princeton University Press)
Deanna Marcum and Roger C. Schonfeld

Libraries have long talked about providing comprehensive access to information for everyone. But when Google announced in 2004 that it planned to digitize books to make the world’s knowledge accessible to all, questions were raised about the roles and responsibilities of libraries, the rights of authors and publishers, and whether a powerful corporation should be the conveyor of such a fundamental public good. Along Came Google traces the history of Google’s book digitization project and its implications for us today.Deanna Marcum and Roger Schonfeld draw on in-depth interviews with those who both embraced and resisted Google’s plans, from technologists to the heads of leading publishing houses. Along Came Google sheds light on the transformational effects of the Google Books project on scholarship and discusses how we can continue to think imaginatively and collaboratively about expanding the digital availability of knowledge.


The Breaks (Coffee House Press)
Julietta Singh

In a letter to her six-year-old daughter, Julietta Singh writes toward a tender vision of the world, offering children's radical embrace of possibility as a model for how we might live. In order to survive looming political and ecological disasters, Singh urges, we must break from the conventions we have inherited and begin to orient ourselves toward more equitable and revolutionary paths. The Breaks celebrates queer family-making, communal living, and Brown girlhood, complicating the stark binaries that shape contemporary U.S. discourse. With nuance and generosity, Singh reveals the connections among the crises humanity faces--climate catastrophe, extractive capitalism, and the violent legacies of racism, patriarchy, and colonialism--inviting us to move through the breaks toward a tenable future.


Broken Ground: Poetry and the Demon of History (Columbia University Press)
William Logan

In Broken Ground, William Logan explores the works of canonical and contemporary poets, rediscovering the lushness of imagination and depth of feeling that distinguish poetry as a literary art. The book includes long essays on Emily Dickinson’s envelopes, Ezra Pound’s wrestling with Chinese, Robert Frost’s letters, Philip Larkin’s train station, and Mrs. Custer’s volume of Tennyson, each teasing out the depths beneath the surface of the page. The book also presents the latest run of Logan’s infamous poetry chronicles and reviews, which for twenty-five years have bedeviled American verse. Logan believes that poetry criticism must be both adventurous and forthright — and that no reader should settle for being told that every poet is a genius. Among the poets under review are Anne Carson, Jorie Graham, Paul Muldoon, John Ashbery, Geoffrey Hill, Louise Glück, John Berryman, Johnny Cash, James Franco, and the former archbishop of Canterbury. These essays and reviews work in the deep undercurrents of our poetry, judging the weak and the strong but finding in weakness and strength what endures.


Complaint! (Duke University Press)
Sara Ahmed

In Complaint! Sara Ahmed examines what we can learn about power from those who complain about abuses of power. Drawing on oral and written testimonies from academics and students who have made complaints about harassment, bullying, and unequal working conditions at universities, Ahmed explores the gap between what is supposed to happen when complaints are made and what actually happens. To make complaints within institutions is to learn how they work and for whom they work: complaint as feminist pedagogy. Ahmed explores how complaints are made behind closed doors and how doors are often closed on those who complain. To open these doors---to get complaints through, keep them going, or keep them alive---Ahmed emphasizes, requires forming new kinds of collectives. Following a long lineage of Black feminist and feminist of color critiques of the university, Ahmed delivers a timely consideration of how institutional change becomes possible and why it is necessary.


Czesław Miłosz: A California Life (Heyday Books)
Cynthia L. Haven

Czesław Miłosz, one of the greatest poets and thinkers of the past hundred years, is not generally considered a Californian. But the Nobel laureate spent four decades in Berkeley—more time than any other single place he lived—and he wrote many of his most enduring works there. This is the first book to look at his life through a California lens. Filled with original research and written with the grace and liveliness of a novel, it is both an essential volume for his most devoted readers and a perfect introduction for newcomers. Miłosz was a premier witness to the sweep of the twentieth century, from the bombing of Warsaw in World War II to the student protests of the sixties. He maintained an open-minded but skeptical view of American life, a perspective shadowed by the terrors he experienced in Europe. In the light of recent political instability and environmental catastrophe, his poems carry extra weight, and they are ripe for a new generation of readers to discover them. This immersive portrait demonstrates what Miłosz learned from the Golden State, and what Californians can learn from him.


The Deportation Machine: America's Long History of Expelling Immigrants
(Princeton University Press)
Adam Goodman

Constant headlines about deportations, detention camps, and border walls drive debates about immigration and what it means to be an American in the twenty-first century. The Deportation Machine traces the long and troubling history of the US government’s systematic efforts to terrorize and expel immigrants, from Chinese and Europeans to Central Americans and Muslims. It discusses how authorities have singled out Mexicans, nine out of ten of all deportees, and removed most of them not by orders of immigration judges but through coercive administrative procedures and calculated fear campaigns. Exposing the pervasive roots of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, The Deportation Machine introduces the politicians, businesspeople, and ordinary citizens who have pushed for and profited from expulsion. This revelatory book chronicles the devastating human costs of deportation and the innovative strategies people have adopted to fight against the machine and redefine belonging in ways that transcend citizenship.


How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch (Doubleday Books)
Harry Cliff

Carl Sagan once quipped, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” Finding the ultimate recipe for apple pie means answering some big questions: What is matter really made of? How did it escape annihilation in the fearsome heat of the Big Bang? And will we ever be able to understand the very first moments of our universe? In How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch, Harry Cliff —a particle physicist and researcher on the Large Hadron Collider—sets out in pursuit of answers. He ventures to the underground research facility, deep beneath Italy’s mountains, where scientists gaze into the heart of the Sun; he visits CERN in Switzerland to explore the “Antimatter Factory”; and he reveals what the latest data from the Large Hadron Collider may be telling us about the fundamental nature of matter. Along the way, Cliff illuminates the history of physics, chemistry, and astronomy that brought us to our present understanding—and misunderstandings—of the world. A transfixing deep dive into the origins of our world, How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch examines not just the makeup of our universe, but the awe-inspiring, improbable fact that it exists at all.


How to Start Writing (and When to Stop)
(New Directions Publishing Corporation)
Wisława Szymborska

In this witty “how-to” guide, Wisława Szymborska has nothing but sympathy for the labors of would-be writers generally: “I myself started out with rotten poetry and stories,” she confesses in this collection of pieces culled from the advice she gave—anonymously—for many years in the well-known Polish journal Literary Life. She returns time and again to the mundane business of writing poetry properly, that is to say, painstakingly and sparingly. “I sigh to be a poet,” Miss A. P. from Bialogard exclaims. “I groan to be an editor,” Szymborska responds. Szymborska stubbornly insists on poetry’s “prosaic side”: “Let’s take the wings off and try writing on foot, shall we?” This delightful compilation, translated by the peerless Clare Cavanagh, will delight readers and writers alike. Perhaps you could learn to love in prose.


La Guera Rodriguez: The Life and Legends of a Mexican Independence Heroine 
(University of California Press)
Silvia Marina Arrom

María Ignacia Rodríguez de Velasco y Osorio Barba is an iconic figure in Mexican history. Known by the nickname “La Güera Rodríguez” because she was so fair, she is said to have possessed a remarkably sharp wit, a penchant for defying the status quo and utilized gold and guile in equal measure to support the independence movement—or so the stories say.In La Güera Rodríguez, Silvia Marina Arrom approaches the legends of Rodríguez de Velasco seeking to disentangle the woman from the myth. Arrom uses a wide array of primary sources from the period to piece together an intimate portrait of this remarkable woman, followed by a review of her evolving representation in Mexican arts and letters that shows how the legends became ever more fanciful after her death. How much of her story is rooted in fact, and how much is fiction sculpted to fit the cultural sensibilities of a given moment in time? La Güera Rodriguez will prove a resource for those searching to understand late-colonial Mexico, the role of women in the independence movement, and the use of historic figures in crafting national narratives.


What Storm, What Thunder (Tin House Books)
Myriam J. A. Chancy

At the end of a long, sweltering day, as markets and businesses begin to close for the evening, an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude shakes the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. Award-winning author Myriam J. A. Chancy masterfully charts the inner lives of the characters affected by the disaster—Richard, an expat and wealthy water-bottling executive with a secret daughter; the daughter, Anne, an architect who drafts affordable housing structures for a global NGO; a small-time drug trafficker, Leopold, who pines for a beautiful call girl; Sonia and her business partner, Dieudonné, who are followed by a man they believe is the vodou spirit of death; Didier, an emigrant musician who drives a taxi in Boston; Sara, a mother haunted by the ghosts of her children in an IDP camp; her husband, Olivier, an accountant forced to abandon the wife he loves; their son, Jonas, who haunts them both; and Ma Lou, the old woman selling produce in the market who remembers them all. Artfully weaving together these lives, What Storm, What Thunder gives witness to the desolation wreaked by nature and by man, and—at the same time—is a testimony to the tenacity of the human spirit.

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