My Holiday Non-Fiction Reading List
My semester is over (one more and I’m done!) and of course there are now other things to focus on. One thing in particular is my Master’s thesis in creative writing. My thesis committee chair fussed at me the other week for deciding to work on a collection of three short stories instead of a novella. Before she gave me her final approval, she asked what the stories would be about, raised an eyebrow when I told her, and then she told me to give her a few sources for background research.
All this means that I will have to incorporate a little non-fiction into my self-made required reading list this holiday break. Here are my top titles:
This text addresses the misrepresentations that often attend national monuments, historical sites, and museums. In this work the author presents 95 specific historic sites. In each instance the current presentation of facts as memorialized at the site is reviewed. Then, a careful reconstruction of the true facts behind the scenes is presented. What unfolds as the reader progresses through this book is a jarring reminder of how skewed our memories of the past can be. For example, several sites related to the Civil War stand out in the overt manner in which issues such as slavery, the massacre of African-American soldiers, and the avoidance of any memory of the horrors of war are subverted. In the area of Native American peoples it is systematically pointed out that many monuments and place names currently still in use are overtly racist in their structure. Labor history sites are also described which re-write or white out the issues of labor oppression in a manner that smacks of censorship. Taken as a whole, or in discrete segments, this is a powerful indictment of how our society chooses to remember the nation’s past.
Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen
No blacks allowed, especially after dark. This was the unwritten rule in a “sundown” town. In his trademark revelatory style, bestselling author James W. Loewen explores one of America’s best-kept secrets as he unearths the making of sundown towns and discloses the fact that many white neighborhoods and suburbs are the result of years of racism and segregation. Anna, Illinois; Darien, Connecticut; and Cedar Key, Florida, are just a few examples of the thousands of all-white towns established between 1890 and 1968, many of which still exist today. White residents of these towns used any means possible — including the law, harassment, race riots, and even murder — to keep African Americans and other minority groups out.
Medical Apartheid is the first and only comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. Starting with the earliest encounters between black Americans and Western medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience that resulted, it details the ways both slaves and freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments conducted without their knowledge—a tradition that continues today within some black populations. It reveals how blacks have historically been prey to grave-robbing as well as unauthorized autopsies and dissections. Moving into the twentieth century, it shows how the pseudoscience of eugenics and social Darwinism was used to justify experimental exploitation and shoddy medical treatment of blacks, and the view that they were biologically inferior, oversexed, and unfit for adult responsibilities. Shocking new details about the government’s notorious Tuskegee experiment are revealed, as are similar, less-well-known medical atrocities conducted by the government, the armed forces, prisons, and private institutions. The product of years of prodigious research into medical journals and experimental reports long undisturbed, Medical Apartheid reveals the hidden underbelly of scientific research and makes possible, for the first time, an understanding of the roots of the African American health deficit.
Jaspin exposes a shocking history of racial cleansing in the United States, and one that, alarmingly, continues to effect the geography of race in America to this day. The culmination of nearly a decade of research in regional archives and census bureaus, Buried in the Bitter Waters presents irrefutable evidence of brutal attacks on blacks by ordinary white Americans. The property-burnings, assaults, and killings occurred between the period of Reconstruction and the Great Depression, and no part of the U.S. was immune. The violence was largely successful in its aim of driving blacks out of areas. More troubling, Jaspin’s research indicates those areas most effected remain largely white, making his findings not merely an interesting historical exposé but a troubling commentary on the ongoing state of race relations in the U.S.
And I recognize that none of these titles really tell you what I’m researching or planning to writing about. Well, it will be an interesting short story collection. Believe and leave it at that.
Happy holiday reading, right?