Here are five that got me thinking this year.
1. Steven Taylor, Acts of Conscience: World War II, Mental Institutions, and Religious Objectors (Syracuse University Press, 2009)
A historical account of Second World War conscientious objectors who, having already taken a very brave and difficult stand, were assigned to civilian public service work in state mental institutions and proceeded to act on their principles once again, exposing the abuse of disabled people within those institutions and organizing for reform. True public service indeed.
2. Judith Stone, When She Was White: The True Story of a Family Divided by Race (Miramax, 2007)
If you’ve seen the recent biopic Skin, or if you haven’t, check out Judith Stone’s nonfiction account of the story. The daughter of “white” Afrikaaners, Sandra Laing got classified at age 10 as “colored,” then famously legally reclassified as “white,” living her life on the knife edge of the color line. Stone’s version of this story about the arbitrary nature of and harm done by racial categorization is deeper and sharper than the film’s.
3. Lisa (Tiny) Gray-Garcia, Criminal of Poverty (City Lights, 2009)
A challenging and affirming memoir of homelessness, poverty, art and activism by the founder of POOR magazine.
4. Bhanu Kapil, Humanimal: A Project for Future Children.
This short experimental volume of prose poetry from our local Kelsey Street Press (2009) follows the author’s trip with a film crew to “re-encounter” both her father and the story of wolfgirls Kamala and Amala, feral children found in the Bengal jungle in 1921. You can find out more about Kapul at her blog, which has a great title: “Was Jack Kerouac a Punjabi, http://jackkerouacispunjabi.blogspot.com/
5. Bob Blauner, Resisting McCarthyism: To Sign or Not to Sign California’s Loyalty Oath (Stanford University Press, 2009)
Fascinating story; important and much-needed model of intellectual courage.