When I was a senior at Purdue, I took a class on “American Regionalism” with Sean “Kip” Robisch, and it completely changed how I looked at literature. From delving into Ken Kesey’s underrated classic, Sometimes a Great Notion to discovering Willa Cather for the first time, Robisch opened a door for me into a world where the physical setting of a novel or poem mattered just as much as its contents and that writing about a place was the highest form of realism.
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Novella Carpenter is best known for her 2009 memoir, Farm City, wherein she details her decision to squat farm the empty lot beside her rental. That this land is located in one of Oakland, California’s worst neighborhoods only adds to the madcap quality of Carpenter’s choice.
Make no mistake, however, she is utterly serious about life off the grid in one of the country’s grittiest cities. Farm City won Carpenter a lot of readers with her humor, honesty, and earthy refusal of consumerist values.
Back when publishers still released books about Iraq, Thomas Ricks wrote a pair of them that were forward-thinking for the time but now look powerfully prescient. Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003 to 2005 (2006) was a damning an indictment of the Bush / Cheney / Rumsfeld crew’s excited rush to war and then seeming boredom with the details of actually managing it. It wasn’t the first book to lay out that case, but given the depth of Ricks’s reporting and his lack of ideological cant (which hampered a number of other books on the Iraq fisaco), it was one of the most definitive and difficult to dispute.
It was Fiasco’s less-celebrated 2009 companion volume, however, that truly stands out today.
When Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was first published in 1886 it became an instant sensation, eventually selling over a quarter of a million copies in less than two decades and inspiring countless adaptations (stage versions began happening almost immediately after its publication). More than that, the concept of a man split, and eventually destroyed, by the darker side of his personality has become a staple of fiction, to the point where “Mr. Hyde” is synonymous with anything that reduces us to our most basic, animalistic needs.
Excepting perhaps only Fats Domino, the Clash’s Joe Strummer had the greatest name in the history of rock and roll. Of course, it wasn’t actually his name. Nobody has a moniker that perfectly suited to their profession, especially in the business called show. After all, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame isn’t filled with people named John Smith or Ruth Adams.