Staff Pick

From the assorted inks and fonts to the spacious pages, the gallery of vintage illustrations, the notes, the essays, the testaments by readers and scholars, and the stories, The Annotated African American Folktales (Liveright $39.95) is both beautifully presented and impeccably researched. Edited by eminent Harvard professors Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and American Research, and Maria Tatar, chair of the Program in Folklore and Mythology, both of whose detailed introductory essays could constitute a substantial book in themselves, the volume gathers close to two hundred tales. The editors build on the work of predecessors including Arthur Huff Fauset and Zora Neale Hurston, correct the distortions of popularizers like Joel Chandler Harris and Walt Disney, and extend the canon of African American folklore to embrace Caribbean and Latin American tales. The collection begins with its roots: four sections lay out African story-telling traditions, from trickster tales and the Anansi cycles, with their mischievous animal/human creature “who weaves webs of beautiful complexity and tells stories about the tangled webs we weave,” to today’s oral narratives. The editors follow Anansi and other foundational African motifs through the one-hundred-and-forty stories that follow, tracing a vital tradition as it changes and grows. Drawn from both songs and published texts, here are  familiar figures like the Tar-Baby, Brer Rabbit, and John Henry; people who can fly, heal, and disappear; casts of heroes, preachers, and shape-shifters; and here also are their descendants in the work of contemporary writers like Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison.

The Annotated African American Folktales (Annotated Books) Cover Image
By Henry Louis Gates (Editor), Maria Tatar (Editor)
ISBN: 9780871407535
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Liveright Publishing Corporation - November 14th, 2017

Staff Pick

Ezra Pound is perhaps St. Elizabeths most famous inmate, held there from 1946 to 1958. Indicted for treason after his pro-fascist radio broadcasts from Italy, Pound was found unfit to stand trial. His insanity saved him from facing the death penalty, but even now, nearly sixty years after his release, he remains one of the 20th century’s great enigmas. To see exactly how “the pieces do not fit,” Daniel Swift’s engaging third book follows Pound through his thirteen years in what the poet called The Bughouse (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27), but what sounds less like a hospital than like a writers retreat. If Pound was treated for a mental illness, the records have disappeared. In any case, doctors disagreed about a diagnosis. So was he really ill? Was he faking? Pound arrived with a collection of Confucius’ odes and a Chinese dictionary, and settled in to work, all the while entertaining a continual stream of writers, students, and “tourists.” Swift organizes his book around six of these pilgrims, giving us the great modernist as he was seen by Charles Olson, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Frederick Seidel. Each discussion is a nuanced blend of biography, literary criticism, history, and politics as Swift traces Pound’s appearances in his visitors’ poems, outlines evolving views of mental illness, and most of all deepens his examination of whether Pound should—or can—be judged on either solely literary or political grounds. Ultimately, Pound has it both ways: “you can call him the hero or the villain; both parts are his.”

The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374284046
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - November 7th, 2017

Staff Pick

Early in The Dawn Watch (Penguin Press, $30), Maya Jasanoff‘s multi-faceted and beautifully written biography of Joseph Conrad, the award-winning historian throws out the arresting proposition that “history is like therapy for the present: it makes it talk about its parents.” Heart of Darkness alone would qualify Conrad as one parent of the globalized 21st century, and Jasanoff views his life and writing through his main themes —nationalism, imperialism, capitalism, and immigration. Conrad, born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, was bound in the currents of history from the start. His parents were Polish nationalists fighting to free their homeland from Russia. They were sent to Ukraine for their efforts and both had died by the time Conrad was eleven. Virtually stateless and already distrustful of nationalism, Conrad went to sea. He loved sailing, and his many sea tales celebrate its special culture of “craft.” But he hated the crass steamship era that followed, and “instead of going into steam,” Jasanoff says, he “became a writer.” He wrote about his experiences as an exile and an immigrant, and Jasanoff brilliantly traces the genesis of his fiction, documenting the 1880s attacks on Britain by Fenian freedom fighters (who “wrote the script for modern terrorism”) that Conrad transformed into The Secret Agent; parallels Conrad’s outrage—indeed, his horror—at King Leopold’s Congo Free State with his depiction of it in Heart of Darkness (written in just seven weeks); and tracks the shift from British to American world dominance that Conrad captured in his most ambitious, and most prescient novel, Nostromo. “A tale of progress and its discontents,” the novel offered happy endings only to a steamship captain, a financier, and a railroad entrepreneur: “globalism’s three fates,” as Jasanoff memorably puts it.

The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World Cover Image
ISBN: 9781594205811
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Penguin Press - November 7th, 2017