Thu Jun 26th, 2008 at 11:26:31 AM EST
This is an attempt to start an occasional feature where interested visitors can highlight books that they think might be of interest to a wider audience.
I don't think there are any ground rules, the books could be recent or classics, fiction or not, and in any language with or without translations.
I guess there could even be suggestions for books to avoid. Right now in the US there is a rash of what I call BSO's (book shaped objects) which are appearing at a great rate to piggyback on the implosion of the Bush regime, or to justify the author's role in it. I've read a few and not one should have been more 1500 words long.
My first contribution is not a specific book, but a neglected genre: books of the Harlem Renaissance and it's immediate antecedents.
First two by James Weldon Johnson:
The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man - here's a nice review
Along this Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson - the Google page
The first is based upon a person he knew, but the circumstances were altered. An anthology of his works is out in a Library of America edition, and is now easily available.
Second is Zora Neale Hurston whose collected writings are also available from the Library of America. Her most popular book is Their Eyes Were Watching God which was made into a TV movie a few years ago.
What makes these writers interesting is not only the books, but their life stories. Johnson did everything from writing Broadway shows to being a US diplomat, to help found the NAACP. Hurston was an anthropologist when neither blacks nor women where accepted in the field.
There are about another half dozen writers worth reading from the period. What I find interesting is that all the books transmit a sense that the world is changing and that opportunities are opening up, even in the face of discrimination and hardship.
They are a variant on the Horatio Alger formula that was popular at the time, but more realistic and less mythic. Not all were as hopeful. The Marrow of Tradition by Charles Waddell Chesnutt from 1901 details the rise of Jim Crow and lynching from a time when prospects were not promising. Perhaps what it shows is that it is hard to predict the future from current circumstances.
Over to you...