How to diversify the classics. For real. (Oxford UP blog)

Penguin Random House / Barnes & Noble’s “Diverse Editions” covers.

As last week’s failed attempt at diversifying classic literature recedes in your memory (the pace of news can overwhelm, I know), over at Oxford University Press’ blog today is a piece I turned in on Friday. I offer five better ways that publisher might bring diversity to the classic novels. Here’s an excerpt:

Publishers and booksellers might — as the We Need Diverse Books organization suggests — champion “new editions of classic books by people of color and marginalized people, particularly if those books have been largely ignored by the canon.” Need recommendations? Instead of consulting the company’s chief diversity officer, ask experts. Marilisa Jiménez García, a scholar of Latinx literature at Lehigh University, recommends the Nuyorican writer Nicholasa Mohr’s Nilda (1973), “the first novel by a Latina.” Professor Sarah Park Dahlen, co-editor of the journal Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, suggests Yoshiko Uchida’s Journey to Topaz (1971) “for the important work it does to inform young readers of the racist incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.” Katharine Capshaw, a scholar of African American children’s literature at the University of Connecticut, proposes June Jordan’s His Own Where (1971), “a poetic young adult novel about two teenagers in love, which was nominated for a National Book Award.”

Read the rest at Oxford UP’s blog! Comments & critique welcome, of course — preferably at their blog. Thanks!

And particular thanks to Marilisa Jiménez García, Sarah Park Dahlen, and Kate Capshaw for responding to my query so swiftly!


UPDATE, 12 Feb 2020, 2:10 pm:

The lists in the Oxford UP blog post are suggestive, not exhaustive. There are many more complete recommended lists out there. I gestured to one of those in the post: Christina Orlando and Leah Schnelbach’s “23 Retellings of Classic Stories from Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors.” But there are many other titles that could be included! If you send them to me, I’m glad to include other titles here, on this blog!

I’ll start with a recommendation I received this morning from Debbie Reese: Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Hearts Unbroken, which (in Dr. Reese’s words) “does critical work on Baum by making his desire to exterminate Native peoples part of the story.”

Other suggestions? Make ’em below, and I’ll add the titles here. Thanks!


Related writing (by me) on this blog and elsewhere

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No War with Iran

NO WAR with IRAN

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They Might Be Giants’ Flood is 30!

They Might Be Giants' Flood (1990): album cover
They Might Be Giants’ Flood (1990)

I thought I would begin 2020 with something joyous — the 30th anniversary of They Might Be GiantsFlood, the band’s first album with a major label (Elektra), and the one that launched them into mainstream Anglo-American culture. (“Birdhouse in Your Soul” reached #6 on the UK charts and #3 on the US Modern Rock charts.) I had been an ardent fan since I purchased the pink-jacketed cassette tape of They Might Be Giants (their debut, on Bar None, 1986). I subsequently taught myself to play “Ana Ng” (from their second album, Lincoln, also Bar None, 1988), and saw them on that tour.

But my favorite song from their 1990 record, “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” was too complicated for me to play then. I would later learn, from S. Alexander Reed and Philip Sandifer’s Flood (in Continuum’s 33 1/3rd series, 2014), that the song changes key eighteen times. And has a heck of a lot of chord changes. Now, however, I can play it — not at professional proficiency, but well enough to be recognizable. Anyway. In celebration of the album’s 30th anniversary, here it is — preceded by the a cappella “Theme from Flood” (as it is on the album)!

To shake my amateurish clanging from your ears, why not listen to They Might Be Giants’ version of “Birdhouse in Your Soul”? Here’s the video.

The whole album is excellent. Beyond its famous song narrated by a nightlight, the album covers a diverse array of subject matter, including (as Reed and Sandifer note) “pet rocks, the Young Fresh Fellows, racism, quantum physics, and the 15th-century renaming of Constantinople.”

They Might Be Giants’ Flood (1990)

As I’ve noted elsewhere on this blog, They Might Be Giants are my favorite band. They’re musically and lyrically inventive, and are still writing great songs. Here’s a 90-minute playlist that will offer you an appropriately idiosyncratic introduction to the band’s work.

They Might Be Giants: Filibuster Vigilantly (a 90-minute introduction to their work)

Here’s a more conventional, 3-hour compilation, presented in chronological order.

The Best of They Might Be Giants

And here’s nearly everything by They Might Be Giants available on Spotify. (At the time of this writing, this playlist runs 18 and a half hours.)

Like you, I have no idea what 2020 will bring. But I’ll continue trying to use this blog to shine some light amidst (what feels like) growing darkness in the world. Sometimes, posts will directly address some of the evils we face. Other times, they won’t. After all, celebrating joy is one way to oppose the rising tide of despair. And that’s what this post is about.

Not to put too fine a point on it:

say I’m the only bee in your bonnet.

Make a little birdhouse in your soul.


BONUS — TMBG’s original promo video for Flood.

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Best of 2019: Music

Covers to 2019 albums by Sleater-Kinney, Sundara Karma, And the Kids, Tones and I.
The Future Is Here: Best of 2019

Just under the wire, here’s my “Best of 2019” playlist. Have I missed some good music? I expect I have. That’s what the “comments” section is for. It’s also why I’m including a few other “Best of 2019” playlists here.

First, here’s mine, named for Sleater-Kinney’s “The Future Is Here.” I probably listened to their The Center Won’t Hold more than any other record this year.

2019: The Future Is Here [Phil’s Best of 2019]

The above gives you 39 tracks, including Lizzo, Wilco, Big Thief, Big Lazy, Ex Hex, Lil Nas X, Lana Del Rey, Miranda Lambert, Karen O, Odette, Rapsody, Raphael Saadiq, Kate Tempest, Billie Eilish, The National, The Highwomen, Leonard Cohen, and clipping.

For something a bit more focused, give a listen to the 18 tracks on my friend Scott Peeples’ Best of 2019: “Not in Kansas” (also included on my playlist, and my favorite song from The National’s I Am Easy to Find).

19: Not in Kansas [Scott Peeples’ Best of 2019]

Now, let’s turn to Sound Opinions co-host Greg Kot’s carefully curated 2019 Mixtape. Listen to their whole end-of-year episode, too.

I love that President Obama continues to offer lists of his annual favorites. He reads and listens widely. This is his 2019 playlist — I assembled it from the list he posted on Instagram. In that post, he writes, “From hip-hop to country to The Boss, here are my songs of the year. If you’re looking for something to keep you company on a long drive or help you turn up a workout, I hope there’s a track or two in here that does the trick.”

Enjoy! Happy New Year!

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Children’s Literature, Comics/Graphic Novels, and Childhood Studies at MLA 2020

With thanks to Ramona Caponegro for creating the initial document, here are the panels devoted to Children’s Literature, Comics/Graphic Novels, or Childhood Studies at the 2020 Modern Language Association Convention in Seattle. Hope to see you there!

Also, if anything is missing, please alert me and I will add it. Thank you!


080. Diverse Destinies: Envisioning Futures for Youth of Color

3:30 PM–4:45 PM Thursday, Jan 9, 2020

WSCC – Skagit 5

Presentations

1: The Best of All Worlds: Empowered Multiracial Characters in Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Aleisha Smith, U of Minnesota, Twin Cities

2: Black Feminist Mythmaking and New Girlhood

Alvin Henry, St. Lawrence U

3: Kin-Making in Laurence Yep’s Early Science Fiction

Kai Hang Cheang, U of California, Riverside

Presider

Kaylee Mootz, U of Connecticut, Storrs

Sponsored by the Children’s Literature Association and MELUS: The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States

Session Information


120. Gothic Childhood

5:15 PM–6:30 PM Thursday, Jan 9, 2020

Sheraton – Willow A

Presentations

1: Gothic Pedagogies and Adolescent Development in Victorian Children’s Stories

Christie Harner, Dartmouth C

2: ‘The Stain Was Gone’: Taming the Gothic in Young Adult Literature

Maude Hines, Portland State U

3: ‘The Rest Is Confetti’: The Gothic in Family Therapy and The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

Michael Harwick, Georgetown U

Presider

Katherine Renee Henninger, Louisiana State U, Baton Rouge

Special Session

Session Information


315. Humanizing the Young Trans Body

1:45 PM–3:00 PM Friday, Jan 10, 2020

WSCC – Skagit 3

Presentations

1: ‘Take Advantage of the Pleasures’: Youthful Desire, Transness, and Seduction in Les Garçons Sauvages

Jacob Breslow, London School of Economics

2: Toward a Theory of the Human in #OwnVoices Trans Young Adult Literature

Gabrielle Owen, U of Nebraska, Lincoln

3: Transgender Girlhood and Fairyland Form

Annie Sansonetti, New York U

4: The Possibilities and Limits of Normalization in I Am Jazz

Mary Zaborskis, U of Pittsburgh

Presider

Julian Gill-Peterson, U of Pittsburgh

Sponsored by the MLA GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum

Session Information


325. Webcomics and/as Digital Culture

1:45 PM–3:00 PM Friday, Jan 10, 2020

Sheraton – Willow A

Presentations

1: Webcomics in India: Dissenting Voices at the Time of Hypernationalism

Debanjana Nayek, Presidency U

2: Player versus Player? Redefining Gamer Identity through Thirty Years of Webcomics

Anastasia Salter, U of Central Florida

3: Stonetossingjuice: Iterability, the Alt-Right, and the Webcomics of Online Culture War

Bren Ram, Rice U

4: Connecting Queerly: Queer Webcomics and the Alternate Archive

Misha Grifka-Wander, Ohio State U, Columbus

Presider

Leah Misemer, U of Wisconsin, Madison

Sponsored by the MLA GS Comics and Graphic Narratives Forum

Session Information


348. Futures and Pasts in Indigenous Comics and Graphic Novels

3:30 PM–4:45 PM, Friday 10 Jan. 2020

WSCC – 211

Presentations

1: Deer Woman Regenerations: Reactivating First Beings and Rearming Sisterhoods of Survivance in Deer Woman: An Anthology

Joshua Anderson, Ohio State U, Columbus

2: Indigenous Futurisms and Graphic Narratives: Jeffrey Veregge’s Janus 1

Carrie Louise Sheffield, U of Tennessee, Knoxville

3: The When and Where of Haida Art: Time and Place in Michael Yahgulanaas’s Red: A Haida Manga

Jeremy Carnes, U of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Presider

Jeremy Carnes, U of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Respondent

Becca Gercken, U of Minnesota, Morris

Session Information


408. Bodies, Borders, and Boundaries: Embodiments of Multicultural and Transnational Children

5:15 PM–6:30 PM Friday, Jan 10, 2020

WSCC – Chelan 4

Presentations

1: Constructing Bicultural Identity through Comics and Cuisine: Quan Zhou Wu’s Gazpacho agridulce (‘Sweet and Sour Gazpacho’)

Jennifer Nagtegaal, U of British Columbia, Vancouver

2: Out of Time: Aetotemporalities and Hawaiian Young Adult Literature

Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo, U of Hawai‘i, West O‘ahu

3: ‘[S]he No Longer Recognized [Her Hands] as Her Own’: Bodily Transformation as Resistance in Latinx Youth Literature

Cristina Rhodes, Shippensburg U

Presider

Nithya Sivashankar, Ohio State U, Columbus

Tharini Viswanath, Illinois State U

Sponsored by the Children’s Literature Association

Session Information


431. Vision and Sight in Children’s Literature and Culture

8:30 AM–9:45 AM Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

WSCC – Skagit 5

Presentations

1: Angelic Instruments: Child Mediums and the Contradictions of Children’s Vision

Victoria Ford Smith, U of Connecticut, Storrs

2: Blindness as a Denial of Difference: Color-Blind Racial Ideology in Theodore Taylor’s The Cay

Yvonne Medina, U of Florida

3: Activism and the Hegemony’s Gaze: Visibility in Two Illustrated Texts by Duncan Tonatiuh

Cristina Rhodes, Shippensburg U

4: The Appreciative Documenting Child Gaze in Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family

Amanda M. Greenwell, Central Connecticut State U

Presider

Kate Slater, Rowan U

Sponsored by the MLA GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum

Session Information


447. Political Imagination in Iberian and Latin American Graphic Narratives

8:30 AM–9:45 AM, Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

WSCC – 203

Speakers

On Memory à la Spiegelman (or Not): A Millennial Reading of the Palace of Justice Massacre

Héctor Fernández-L’Hoeste, Georgia State U

Dystopian Steampunk: Politics and Intermediality in the Graphic Novel Policía del Karma

Eduardo Ledesma, U of Illinois, Urbana

Antonio Altarriba’s El ala rota and Ana Penyas’s Estamos todas bien: A Gender Approach to Historical Memory

Esther Claudio, U of California, Los Angeles

Presider

Xavier Dapena, U of Pennsylvania

Session Information


GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum: Business Meeting

10:15 AM–11:30 AM Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

Fremont Room of the Sheraton


519. Childhood and Violence in Latin America

12:00 PM–1:15 PM Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

WSCC – 212

Session Information

Description: The forced separation of children and families at the United States border has opened the question about how violence against children has been normalized. Panelists examine film, literature, and other cultural practices concerned with the roots of violence in Latin America embedded in colonialism, practices of extractivism and neoliberal accumulation, and link their effects to present-day cultures of violence. 

Speakers

Nadia Celis, Bowdoin C

Alberto Fonseca, North Central C

Tatjana Gajic, U of Illinois, Chicago

Ana Puga, Ohio State U, Columbus

Presider

Pablo Dominguez, Princeton U

Sponsored by the MLA LLC 20th- and 21st- Century Latin American Literature Forum

528. Graphic Narratives and Multiple Marginalities

12:00 PM–1:15PM, Saturday, 11 Jan. 2020

WSCC – Skagit 5

Description

Lately, perhaps following the success of the culturally and critically renowned Maus and Persepolis, the comics scene has seen a rise of intimate graphic memoirs that deal with diaspora, war, disability, and queerness. This panel is dedicated to graphic narratives that address such marginalized identities. What makes graphic memoirs and the image-textual form conducive to articulating complex liminal positions of their subjects?

For related material, write to sohini.kumar@stonybrook.edu

Speakers

Esra Mirze Santesso, U of Georgia

Susan Jacobowitz, Queensborough Community C, City U of New York

Martha Greene Eads, Eastern Mennonite U

Chase Gregory, Bucknell U

Helis Sikk, U of South Florida, Tampa

Tesla Cariani, Emory U

Sayanti Mondal, Illinois State U

Janene G. B. Lewis, U of Mary Hardin-Baylor

Mike Lehman, Emory U

Session Information


567. Critical Childhood Studies and Intersectionality: The State of the Field

1:45 PM–3:00 PM Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

WSCC – 619

Description: Panelists explore the current state of the field of critical childhood studies (CCS). Why is intersectionality so central to CCS? What kinds of generative possibilities emerge when we foreground childhood in literary and cultural studies? In what new directions is the field moving, and how might an articulation of its history and future trajectory invigorate conversations between CCS and such fields as queer studies, temporality studies, critical race studies, and disability studies? 

Related Material: For related material, visit www.ccsproject.org after 16 Dec.

Speakers

Sarah E. Chinn, Hunter C, City U of New York

Brigitte Fielder, U of Wisconsin, Madison

Maude Hines, Portland State U

Kenneth Byron Kidd, U of Florida

Carol J. Singley, Rutgers U, Camden

Courtney Weikle-Mills, U of Pittsburgh

Presider

Allison Giffen, Western Washington U

Lucia Hodgson, independent scholar

Session Information


587. A Decade in Comics

3:30 PM–4:45 PM Saturday, Jan 11, 2020

Sheraton – Willow A

Description: On the tenth anniversary of panels sponsored by the MLA Forum for Comics and Graphic Narratives, established and emerging scholars reflect on the history, the present, and the future of the field of comics studies. 

Speakers

Jonathan W. Gray, John Jay C of Criminal Justice, City U of New York

Charles Hatfield, California State U, Northridge

Joshua Kopin, U of Texas, Austin

Martha B. Kuhlman, Bryant U

Rachel Kunert-Graf, Antioch U

Valentino Zullo, Kent State U

Presider

Margaret Galvan, U of Florida

Susan E. Kirtley, Portland State U

Sponsored by the MLA GS Comics and Graphic Narratives Forum

Session Information


659. Comics and the Digital Humanities

8:30 AM–9:45 AM, Sunday, Jan 12, 2020

Sheraton – Willow A

Presentations

Which Came First, Comics or Film or . . . ? A Media Archaeology of Comic Book Sequentiality

Roger Whitson, Washington State U

Comics Architected: Translation Augmentation with Structural Integrity

Madeline Gangnes, U of Florida

‘I’ll Figure It Out on the “Page”’: The Digitization of a Comics Methodology

Nicholas Brown, Texas Christian U

Born-Digital Comics in Academic Archives

Kathryn Manis, Washington State U, Pullman

Presider

Aaron Kashtan, U of North Carolina, Charlotte

Respondent

Patrick Jagoda, U of Chicago

Session Information


737. Here We Are Now: Grunge and the Humanities, Thirty Years On

12:00 PM–1:15 PM, Sunday, Jan 12, 2020

WSCC – Skagit 2

Presentations

1: From Grunge to Public Radio: Pedagogies of Authenticity in the Nineties

Douglas G. Dowland, Ohio Northern U

2: My Own Private Aberdeen: Grunge Celebrity and Gen-X Politics in the Films of Gus Van Sant

Mike Miley, Loyola U, New Orleans

3: Rebel Girls and Grunge Groupies: Feminist Activism in Young Adult Novels

Jill Coste, U of Florida

4: Black Lives and Dead White Guys

Deanna Koretsky, Spelman C

Presider

Alexandra L. Milsom, Hostos Community C, City U of New York

Special Session

Session Information


740. Romanticism and Idealism

12:00 PM–1:15 PM Sunday, Jan 12, 2020

WSCC – Chelan 5

Presentations

1: Natura Naturans: Restoring Nature in Literature and Philosophy

Steven Lydon, Durham U

2: E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Philosophical Poetics of Childhood

Lauren Stone, U of Colorado, Boulder

3: Emerson’s Radical Empiricism

Austin Bailey, Graduate Center, City U of New York

4: Literary Mechanology

Andrew Barbour, U of California, Berkeley

Presider

Lauren Stone, U of Colorado, Boulder

Sponsored by the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism

Session Information


766. Transmedia Storytelling in Children’s and Young Adult Literature

1:45 PM–3:00 PM Sunday, Jan 12, 2020

WSCC – Skagit 1

Presentations

1: Is There a Text (Message) in This Book? Premediation and the Digital Potentialities of Contemporary Kid Lit

Scott Diffrient, Colorado State U

2: Follow Me: Youth Participation in Transmedia Life Writing

Rachel Rickard Rebellino, Ohio State U, Columbus

3: Exploding the Canon for Fun and Profit: Fan Communities and Disney’s Transmedia Empires

Niall Nance-Carroll, U of Southern Indiana

Presider

Carrie Sickmann, Indiana U–Purdue U, Indianapolis

Sponsored by the MLA GS Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum

Session Information

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The Many Moods of Christmas: Playlists

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Just for you (yes, you!), here are some musical selections — in many genres. The mixes’ themes cover a range of moods, and the songs themselves are in many varieties.


Countdown to Christmas

An eclectic, mostly peppy mix — it winds down a bit at the end. Many genres: jazz, punk, big band, rock, R&B, and Rankin-Bass animated Christmas specials. Some songs you’ll recognize, and others you won’t. All are favorites of mine.

Countdown to Christmas

Cool Yule

Primarily swing, lounge, big band.  Mostly from the 30s, 40s, 50s, but a few from the 60s, and a few from even later — the Swan Dive and Squirrel Nut Zippers tracks. Featuring Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, the Andrews Sisters, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, and many others.

Cool Yule

A Very Jazzy Christmas

This one is all instrumental jazz. And by jazz, I mean real jazz. There is no Kenny G. on this playlist. Instead, you’ll find Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Duke Ellington, Vince Guaraldi, Oscar Peterson, Dexter Gordon, Earl Hines, Coleman Hawkins, Stanley Jordan, and many others.

A Very Jazzy Christmas

1980s Christmas

Christmas songs from the 1980s! Kurtis Blow, U2, Prince, Ramones, RUN-DMC, Wham, Squeeze, Bruce Springsteen, Hall & Oates, Madonna, Pretenders, Siouxsie and the Banshees, John Denver and the Muppets, and more! Yes, I’m counting the Springsteen as 1980s: I know it was recorded in 1975, but its first commercial release was 1981.

1980s Christmas

Blue Christmas

Melancholic holiday music. John Prine, the Pilgrim Travelers, Hem, Shawn Colvin, Gregory Porter, Mark Kozelek, Aimee Mann, Lyle Lovett, Bruce Cockburn, Regina Spektor, Madeleine Peyroux and k.d. lang, and others.

Blue Christmas

Thank God It Isn’t Christmas Every Day

Unusual holiday selections named for a Mitch Benn song not available on Spotify. If you enjoy slightly off-beat and/or weird Christmas music, then this is for you.

Thank God It Isn’t Christmas Every Day

Rockin’ Through the Holidays: Classic Christmas Mix

This is a version of a mix that I gave my sister some years ago. Of all that is represented here, this includes the highest percentage of Christmas Songs That You Will Recognize — if you’re from the U.S., at any rate.

Rockin’ Through the Holidays: Classic Christmas Mix for Linda

Duke Ellington’s The Nutcracker Suite

This is not a mix. It’s Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky, recorded in 1960. And it’s fantastic, of course. (I’ve included “Sugar Rum Cherry” on the Jazz mix and “Peanut Brittle Brigade” on both Countdown to Christmas and Cool Yule.)

Duke Ellington’s The Nutcracker Suite (1960)

Merry Christmas from Sesame Street

Also not a mix. It’s the classic Sesame Street Christmas album from 1975! As Kermit would say, yaaaaaay!

Merry Christmas from Sesame Street (1975)

Finally, to encourage singing, may I present someone who should really not be recording himself singing? That’s right — it’s me, in December 2016, singing. So, now you can feel much better about your own singing voice.


image source (for musical-staff trees at top of blog post): “Free Finale Holiday Music,” The Finale Blog, 9 Dec. 2014.

Enjoy the holidays!

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Concentrate: Instrumental Playlists

image credit: VectorStock.

As those of us in North American academe stare down the final weeks of the term, it can be hard to sustain focus. Heck, whatever your job may be, there is much to distract you — in your environment, in your life, in your own head. So, here are some playlists to help you attend to the task at hand.

Inspired by Victoria Ford Smith‘s “Butt in Chair Mix” and Stephen Thompson‘s “Thinkin’ Songs” (both embedded below), I’ve created what is currently a 16+ hour playlist featuring jazz, classical (both older and contemporary), ambient, soundtracks, electronica, some rock. Whether all of it helps you focus will be partially a matter of taste, I know. But I offer it in the hopes that it does help!

Concentrate. Instrumentals.

Victoria Ford Smith’s “Butt in Chair Mix” inspired the above, and I included some of her selections in mine. Her playlist — and other such playlists — help me concentrate not only because of their selections, but also because they are not mine. When I listen to my playlists, somewhere in the back of my mind, I start thinking about how to improve it — what other tracks I might add, where I might add them, whether some tracks should be cut or moved, etc. When I listen to Victoria’s playlist, I just work.

Victoria Ford Smith’s Butt in Chair Mix.

As I say, NPR cultural critic Stephen Thompson’s “Thinkin’ Songs” was another inspiration; indeed, I incorporated nearly all of his selections into my (much longer) playlist.

Stephen Thompson’s Thinkin’ Songs

Depending on the sort of work you’re doing, you may also seek more uptempo music. For instance, I often find myself grading exams to the music of Raymond Scott — tunes you will know from their frequent use in classic Warner Brothers cartoons. (Carl Stalling, who scored the cartoons, loved to use Scott’s compositions.) Here’s a playlist featuring both Scott and a bit of Leroy Anderson — who, like Scott, enjoyed music that evoked an idea.

Raymond Scott and Leroy Anderson

I am inclined to say that this Scott-Anderson playlist is less “music for concentration,” and more “music to sustain my energy through a stack of exams,” but in sustaining my energy it actually does help me focus. I couldn’t write to this music. But I can grade exams to it.

Fans of 1980s music might enjoy this mix of mostly uptempo instrumentals from that era. Some are songs you’ll know but absent their usual vocals. Others were released without lyrics.

1980s instrumentals

If you enjoy post-rock, I recommend the soundtrack to Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica (2007) — which I have assembled via the music named in the film’s credits. (No soundtrack was officially released.)

soundtrack to Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica (2007)

That’s all! May you be as productive as you need to be. And don’t forget to take a break, too!


Other recent music posts you may enjoy, including their length at the time of this posting (when I originally posted these playlists, about half were shorter):

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Barnaby, Vol. 4: 1948-1949

Barnaby, vol. 4: 1948-1949 [not final cover]

Where is the fourth volume of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby (co-edited by yours truly and Eric Reynolds)? Wasn’t it supposed to be out a year or two ago? What happened?

In 2017, I submitted my Afterword and notes, Trina Robbins gave us her Foreword, and Jared Gardner contributed his Introduction. We hoped the book would be out in 2018, but delays at Fantagraphics pushed the publication date forward to 2019 and now I am told that… Fall 2020 is the release date. So, mark your calendars!

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, 26 May 1948

The above strip — shown in its unrestored form, but which, like all of the strips, has been restored to pristine condition for the published volume — directly refers to the politics of 1948 and 1949. But such strips are more rare in this volume. Why? Well, here’s a sneak peak at my Afterword — specifically, its opening paragraph —

        What do you do when the political culture shifts, exchanging hope for fear, abandoning evidence to embrace innuendo? Crockett Johnson faced this question when, in September of 1947, he returned to writing Barnaby. He and his characters inhabited a different landscape than they had at the end of 1945 — when Johnson gave up his role as the strip’s sole creator and, for twenty months, served primarily in an advisory capacity. As Anti-Communism replaced the Popular Front, his support for progressive causes now marked him not as a patriot, but as a person of interest.  In 1948 and 1949, his comic strip is less directly confrontational, and — though there are moments of specific, acerbic satire — typically gestures towards this new culture of paranoia indirectly, such as when O’Malley observes (in August of 1949), “Barnaby, your Fairy Godfather sometimes wonders about people. How they can believe in Sea-Serpents is beyond me.” After all, there’s “not one shred of scientific evidence to prove that Sea-Serpents exist.” Or, in November of that same year, O’Malley says, “I’ll never understand, m’boy, how intelligent people like your parents can make these broad generalizations about Pixies. Or people—  There are good Pixies and bad Pixies. Just as there are good people and bad people.”  Pixies are not Communists, and Sea-Serpents are not Progressives. (Johnson was affiliated with the Progressive Party in the 1940s and the Communist Party in the 1930s.) But it’s notable that O’Malley presents both as examples of poor reasoning, or of assuming that each individual embodies all characteristics of an entire group. The illogic has real-world parallels, even if the metaphor lacks a specific real-world referent. During 1948 and especially 1949, Barnaby moves towards expressing its politics mostly (though not exclusively) through metaphor. This choice is notable because these years provided what might otherwise have been irresistible targets for Johnson’s satire.

In addition to my Afterword, you also get some draft material and other art by Crockett Johnson, the Foreword by Trina Robbins, Introduction by Jared Gardner, and notes by me! For example…

Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, 17 & 18 1949

We can enjoy the above strips without knowing the specific “SOCIALIZED MEDICINE” reference, but if any readers are curious they can turn to the back of the book for my note:

SOCIALIZED MEDICINE (18 Jan.).  Johnson was a strong advocate for national health care. In support of the Wagner-Murray-Dingell Bill (which appeared in several versions between 1943 and 1946), he even illustrated For the People’s Health (1946) — the Physicians Forum’s pamphlet advocating for passage of the bill. That effort failed. President Truman’s surprising election in 1948, which included restoring the Democratic Party’s control of Congress, seemed to augur well for the creation of a National Health Insurance System. As would later be the case in America’s most recent debates on the subject (2009-2010s), opponents caricatured socialized medicine as a dangerous government takeover of health care that would deprive doctors of freedom and limit patients’ choices of physician.  The month prior to this strip’s appearance, the American Medical Association retained a publicity firm to continue its campaign to (in the words of its general manager) “alert the American people to the danger of a politically controlled, compulsory health system” (“Medical Association Moves Against Socialized Medicine”).  Johnson here refers to political cartoons that caricatured socialized medicine as a dragon.

That’s the news, posted on the 113th anniversary of Crockett Johnson’s birth. So, find the nine kinds of pie you like best, cut yourselves some slices, and let’s wish Barnaby’s (and Harold’s) creator a very happy birthday!


Crockett Johnson birthday posts from previous years

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Ruth Krauss, Sergio Ruzzier, and… the Beatles?

For the first time in 32 years, there is a new book by Ruth Krauss!  Roar Like a Dandelion, with art from Sergio Ruzzier, was published on the first of the month.  Krauss began writing the book in around 1960, just after she began to focus more on writing poetry or poem-plays and less on writing children’s books. The poetic ear she had once turned to children’s speech, she now turned towards the broader world. One result was avant-garde poetry and poem-plays, and another was… this book!


For more on how the book came to be, check out the latest episode of Jennifer Laughran’s Literaticast podcast! (I, Sergio Ruzzier, and Harper editor Nancy Inteli are all guests on this episode. Here’s the iTunes link — show will appear on Apple Podcasts site later today.)


But wait. How do the Beatles enter into this?

Moments after we finished recording the podcast, I realized something.  The book’s working title — Running Jumping ABC — is likely an allusion to Richard Lester’s 11-minute absurdist film, Running Jumping & Standing Still (1959, starring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan).

I suspect Krauss is alluding to Running Jumping & Standing Still for many reasons, one of which is that another working title — The Running Jumping Shouting ABC — includes a third term, and thus more closely parallels the three items in Lester’s film title. More importantly, Krauss’s poem-plays and poems explore comparably absurdist juxtapositions. At least some of the avant-garde writers and artists she was hanging out with from 1959 (when she became a poetry student of Kenneth Koch‘s) on would have known Lester’s film. I’m thinking here of New York school poets Koch and Frank O’Hara, Fluxus pioneers Dick Higgins and George Brecht, filmmakers Willard Maas and Marie Menken,* and choreographer-artist Remy Charlip. She might also have encountered the film on her own: Running Jumping & Standing Still gained sufficient acclaim to receive an Academy Award nomination that year (it did not win).

And this is where the Beatles come in.  They so admired Running Jumping & Standing Still that they asked its director to direct their A Hard Day’s Night (1964) — which he did, and which, in turn, popularized Lester’s visual grammar. (Ever seen an episode of The Monkees?)

Whether or not Roar Like a Dandelion and Hard Day’s Night share a common ancestor, both works have a slightly surrealist sense of humor — curious juxtapositions and nonsensical improvisations that produce the smiles (or laughs).  When Krauss writes, “Jump like a raindrop,” I think of Ringo jumping in A Hard Day’s Night.  Or “Butt like a billy-goat,” to which Ruzzier has added a tiny billy goat head-butting a much larger rhino — head-butting the rhino in the butt, of course. The visual pun puts me in mind of the many linguistic (and a few visual) puns in A Hard Day’s Night.

So, that’s the heretofore unexplored connection between Ruth Krauss, Sergio Ruzzier, and the Beatles.** In the spirit of the mashups in Krauss’s The Cantilever Rainbow and in the (mostly) Lennon compositions “I Am the Walrus” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Revolution No. 9” (which takes this idea to its extreme), here’s a little Krauss-Lennon-Ruzzier-McCartney mashup I’ve made for you:

Crow like a rooster, make the sun come up.

And of course Henry the Horse dances the waltz!

Eat all the locks off the doors.

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain where rocking-horse people eat marshmallow pies.

Go like a road.

Help yourself to a bit of what is all around you.***

And check out Roar Like a Dandelion. It’s classic Krauss with a Ruzzier twist!


* Willard Maas (1906-1971) and Marie Mencken (1909-1970) inspired the characters of George and Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962).

Front cover by Chris Ware for: Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, Sept. 2012)** Or it’s one connection. If we wanted to pursue this further, we might note that Krauss was also one degree of separation from John Lennon. She and her husband Crockett Johnson were friends with cartoonist Mischa Richter and his son Daniel Richter. Dan lived and worked with Lennon and Yoko Ono from 1969 to 1973. For that matter, Krauss and Ono both hung out with the Fluxus group — though Ono was an active group member (inasmuch as Fluxus had “members”) and slightly earlier than Krauss. So, I cannot verify that they ever met. Nor can I verify that Krauss and Andy Warhol (who was also a friend of Lennon’s) ever met, though they have more potential points of intersection. Both Krauss and Warhol attended the parties given by Willard Maas and Marie Menken — parties that were, as I note in my biography of Krauss and Johnson, a who’s who of the culturally influential. Warhol also published four of Krauss’s poems in Instransit: The Andy Warhol Gerard Malanga Monster issue (1968), which featured work by Lou Reed, John Cale, Nico, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara (who had died two years earlier), Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, John Hollander, James Merrill, May Swenson, Charles Bukowski, and Warhol himself. An intriguing connection, I think! Make of it what you will.

*** Sources for C, E, G: Roar Like a Dandelion. Source for D: “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Source for F: “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Source for H: “Martha, My Dear.”

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Trump is a liar. Tell children the truth. (Public Books)

Anne Villeneuve, illus. from Dear Donald Trump (2018)

Public Books (logo)Over on Public Books today, my essay “Trump is a liar. Tell children the truth” recommends some good books for educating young people about “President” Trump, and brings in a few examples of the type of books that ought to be avoided — indeed, that a conscientious publisher would have never published in the first place.  (Also: given the pace of news these days, I should add that I turned in the piece back in August….)

I had more to say than Public Books could use. Here are the most important bits that got cut, woven together with a few additional reflections.

“Rich Rump”: Trump’s first appearance in a children’s book

Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski, Christmas in July (1991)

Public Books didn’t publish the image (above) from Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski’s Christmas in July (1991) — a whimsical picture book featuring Rich Rump, a thinly disguised version of Donald Trump. As I say in the essay, the earliest children’s books in which he appears “depicted the basic truths of the man: selfish, vain, heartless, dishonest.” After he became “President,” children’s literature strove for a more “balanced” approach. However, the “both sides” approach to representing Trump — in children’s books or any media — is a very dangerous lie.

Destroying the boundary between truth and falsehood disorients us

It’s become something of a cliché to quote Hannah Arendt, but we should keep quoting her until more people heed her warnings. So: “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.”[1]

This quotation comes up a lot these days. But I also think not enough people are paying attention to this fact. Because Trump’s prolific lies damage the psyche — both individually and collectively.

Every 36 hours, Trump lies more than Obama did in eight years

As of August 12, 2019, Trump had made over 12,000 false and misleading claims during his presidency, averaging over thirteen lies per day. In contrast, Barack Obama made eighteen false or misleading statements during his eight-year presidency. Every 36 hours, Trump lies more than Obama did in eight years.[2]

Trump “children’s books” for adults

There are some fun satirical works in the guise of children’s books — one of which, Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal’s A Child’s First Book of Trump (2106), also works as a story for children. Black’s ersatz Seussian verse and Rosenthal’s sketches represent Trump as part unreformed Grinch and part Sylvester McMonkey McBean (the salesman who profits from the Sneetches’ prejudice). As in all allegorical children’s picture books about Trump, he is a negative example.

P. Shauers, Donald and the Golden Crayon

Since they are adult satires delivered via the medium of the picture book, too much of the humor in Ann TelnaesTrump’s ABC, Erich Origen and Gan Golan’s Goodnight Trump, P. Shauers’ Donald and the Golden Crayon (all 2018) and Faye Kanouse and Amy Zhing’s new If You Give a Pig the White House (2019) may go over the heads of children under ten, but all remind us that the humor in allegorical Trump picture books is a vital part of their truth-telling. And anyone over that age — such as most people reading this post, I imagine — might find the books’ dark humor restorative. (If you want recommendations, my favorite three of these picturebooks-for-adults are Trump’s ABC, Donald and the Golden Crayon, and Goodnight Trump.)

Slice through the fog of lies

One of the surprises of writing this piece was that the work actually proved restorative and clarifying. Facing the prospect of writing this (for the Children’s Literature Association Conference, in June), I dreaded reading lots of children’s books about the evil orange bloviator. But reading them — all of the good ones, but especially Martha Brockenbrough’s Unpresidented — helped me awaken from the nightmare in which we are living. It helped me slice through the fog of lies. It reminded me once again that this is not normal.

This is not normal

To any who may find my truth-telling advice too partisan, I would cite historian Dave Renton’s point that “one cannot be balanced when writing about fascism, there is nothing positive to be said of it.”[3] And yes, Trump lacks sufficient belief in the state to be a fascist in the traditional sense; he is more an authoritarian kleptocrat who uses fascist tactics. But my point is this: if identifying evil as evil is now a partisan behavior, then children’s books and publishers must take a side.

This position challenges the “marketplace of ideas” approach we learn in school — the liberal idea that, to quote Mark Bray, “the key to combatting ‘extremism’ is to trust in the allegedly meritocratic essence of the public sphere: If all are allowed their say, then the good ideas will float to the top while the bad sink to the bottom, like live-action Reddit.”[4] But, historically, the public sphere has not triumphed over totalitarian movements. And some topics — such as people’s humanity — should not be subject to debate.

That our shared humanity is now subject to debate shows how Trump’s poisonous ideas have become normalized.  Remember when, in the early days of the regime, people used to say “This is not normal”? Even as Trump’s behavior grows stranger and more dangerous, we hear this far less often.

Only the truth can liberate the lie-entangled mind

Motivating this essay — though absent even from its draft versions — is postwar Germany’s need to reeducate children raised under the lies of the Third Reich. For the past few years, America’s children have been growing up in a country whose leader is a kleptocratic white-supremacist sociopath — a man who not only brags about sexual assault, but who appointed sexual-assault-hobbyist “Blackout Brett” Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. They’ve been living in a world where this sort of behavior gets normalized — where a pathological liar’s lies get treated as if, perhaps this time, they may have some truth value, and so on tonight’s program, we invite an expert and a con artist to debate the cloak of lies in which the Trump administration has swathed the day’s cruelty.

Enough! Trump is and has always been a liar. Draw on this irrefutable basic fact of the man’s character when you report on, write children’s books about, or say anything at all about Trump. Call out his lies. Tell the truth. As Michael Chabon recently wrote in a different context, “Truth lives. It can be found. And there is no encounter more powerful than the encounter between the slashing, momentary blade of truth and a lie-entangled mind.”[5]

In sum: Children’s books can be that blade of truth.


Thanks…

For the Public Books article, thanks to Nina Christensen for introducing me to Dumme Donald bygger en mur i børnehaven (Stupid Donald Builds a Wall in Nursery School), and for translating the title. Thanks to Elina Druker for translating the book’s original Swedish title. Thanks to Jules Danielson for introducing me to The Wall and to both Jules and Betsy Bird for confirming that Christmas in July is the first children’s book to feature Mr. Trump.


Related posts:


[1] Hannah Arendt, “Truth and Politics,” Between Past and Future (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 252-3.

[2] Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo, and Meg Kelly, “President Trump has made 12,019 false or misleading claims over 928 days,” Washington Post , 12 Aug. 2019.

[3] Dave Renton, Fascism: Theory and Practice (Pluto Press, 1999), 18.

[4] Mark Bray, ANTIFA: The Anti-Fascist Handbook (Melville House, 2017), 146.

[5] Michael Chabon, “What’s the Point?” The Paris Review, 23 Sept. 2019.

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