I missed a couple posts. Here’s what I was reading and working on in the first part of the month.
What I’m Working On
We awarded the Creaties this week. These annual awards honor the best new web sites and blog posts in the OU Create Domain of One’s Own project. To announce the winners, Andy Vaughn, our graphic designer, produced this wonderful video:
In addition to the video, I also started a series of blog posts about the winners:
- Best Student Portfolio or Blog: Alice Calmon
- Best Student Portfolio or Blog: Kevin Thiel
- Best Faculty/Staff Portfolio or Blog: Heather Bedle
- Best Course Blog: Nick Lolordo
- Best Blog Post: Anna Margret Sverrisdottir
- Best Solo Project: Imran Hasnat
- Best Group Project: Jen Blair & Jack Broach
I’m still working with Keegan Long-Wheeler and Maddie Shellgren on a big project for this summer. Unfortunately, I still need to write up introduction to the project. I’m so excited about it and think it’s such a big deal that I’m having a hard time finding ways to even describe what it is. Hopefully, I’ll get that up this week.
What I’m Reading
I’m trying to read a book every week this year. By my counting, these were the 19th and 20th weeks of the year, and I’ve read 26 books. In the past two weeks I finished reading:
- Andrew Sean Greer’s Less
- Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion
- and Michael Eric Dyson’s What Truth Sounds Like
Less by Andrew Sean Greer won the Pulitzer in 2018 for fiction. Normally, I associate these big prestige prizes with deep, philosophical tomes that challenge the reader. Less on the other hand was much closer to a summer beach read.
The book focuses on Arthur Less, a gay minor-novelist who is about to turn 50. On learning that his former lover is about to get married, Less decides to accept every invitation he has received as an academic and author and sets out on a world tour to find himself.
Less is extremely like-able, both for the characters he meets within the novel and for the reader. He is self-aware enough to recognize his privilege and relatable for academics and writers who feel like lesser lights compared to their genius friends and colleagues. His adventures provide both comic relief and an excuse for him to reflect on his relationships and his own desires. This was the most enjoyable and easily recommendable novel that I’ve read so far this year.
The Female Persuasion
Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion hits a lot of the same notes at Sally Rooney’s Normal People and Conversations with Friends, but with a much more like-able protagonist. I read this right after Less, while also reading a little bit of Pride and Prejudice to my daughter, which helped me to realize how much I like novels to have a relatively friendly protagonist and a happy ending.
As with Rooney’s books, The Female Persuasion is a coming of age story for a millenial woman. We follow Greer Kadetsky and her boyfriend, Cory Pinto, as they transition from high school to college and then their first jobs. Meg Wolitzer is less explicit in her focus on class than Rooney, but she covers similar ground as Greer and Cory struggle to balance chasing money, purpose, and familial obligations in their early careers. While Greer goes through ups and downs in each of her relationships, the twists and turns feel less contrived and easily avoidable than those of Rooney’s protagonists.
While Rooney is explicit in her exploration of class, Wolitzer is more interested in the history and current state of feminism. In the book, Greer admires a second wave feminist leader modeled on Gloria Steinem. However, Greer grows to recognize the datedness and failures in relation to inclusivity/exclusivity in her mentor’s work. She also struggles with the ways that money can both support and control the work. At the interpersonal scale, all of the relationships in the book also ask questions about how women are treated and how they treat each other.
Structurally, I had a few qualms with how the book was written. Some of the chapters are told from the perspective of other characters, which felt both jarring and slightly clumsy. One of the big turns in the book also felt a bit tacked on. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed this book and suggest adding it to your summer reading list.
What Truth Sounds Like
Michael Eric Dyson’s latest book, What Truth Sounds Like, uses the 1963 meetings between Bobby Kennedy and James Baldwin as a focal lens for studying black intellectualism and the struggle for racial equality in the last 50 years.
Here at OU, Jim Ziegler organized a guided reading centering on James Baldwin last year. Through those readings of Baldwin, his contemporaries, and his influence on modern writers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, we covered some of the same topics that Dyson studies in this book. Dyson’s book would be a great central text in similar reading groups in that he presents a sort of annotated guide to the black intellectuals in Baldwin’s networks.
Michael Eric Dyson provides a series of little biographies on the people who accompanied Baldwin in his meeting with Kennedy. I learned a lot about Harry Belafonte, Kenneth Clark, Lorraine Hansberry, Lena Horne, and Jerome Smith.
Surprisingly for a book on intellectualism, I found this book really accessible. It’s very short and well written, so it serves as a great primer on black intellectualism. While reading this, I was making a lot of notes on what I want to read, watch, and listen to next.