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A Time, a Place, a Family
Not so long ago, the Rock Island Railroad was a household name, the Great Depression was a recent memory, and family farms dotted the landscape. Today, the great railroads have nearly disappeared, the Depression is a chapter in history books, and family farms are hard to come by. Yet this time is not forgotten.
In Central Standard: A Time, a Place, a Family, Patrick Irelan vividly recaptures a remarkable era in midwestern history in twenty-four beautifully crafted and often witty essays. Beginning with his parents’ marriage in 1932 and continuing into the present, Irelan relates the many wonderful stories and experiences of his Davis County, Iowa, family. In “Country Living,” he describes his parents’ disheartening life as farmers during the worst years of the Depression. “The CB&Q” then relates the happiest years of his family’s life when his parents lived and worked in the Burlington Railroad depots of rural Nebraska.
Irelan’s tales of hard times and harder work, family meals and talkative relatives, depots and farmsteads paint a brilliant yet deceptively simple portrait of one rural, working-class family. At its heart, Central Standard carries a greater message: it reminds us of the enduring strength of the American family.
“These essays exemplify all the virtues of interdisciplinarity in consideration of that most multidisciplined of writers, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The contributors simultaneously clarify and complicate our understanding of some of the more vexed areas of Gilman's work by engaging saliently with her theories of ethnicity, class, prostitution, and the dynamics of gender; posing difficult questions to contemporary feminist scholars; and providing sensitive and insightful guidance to a well-chosen and wide range of texts.”—Janet Beer, author of Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Studies in Short Fiction
The Moby-Dick Marathon; or, What Melville Means Today
The experimental artist Peter Fischli once observed, “There’s certainly a subversive pleasure in occupying yourself with something for an unreasonable length of time.” In this same spirit, David Dowling takes it upon himself to attend and report on the all-consuming annual Moby-Dick Marathon reading at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
The twenty-five-hour nonstop reading of Melville’s titanic epic has inspired this fresh look at Moby-Dick in light of its most devoted followers at the moment of their high holy day, January 3, 2009. With some trepidation, Dowling joined the ranks of the Melvillians, among the world’s most obsessive literary aficionados, to participate in the event for its full length, from “Call Me Ishmael” to the destruction of the Pequod. Dowling not only survived to tell his tale, but does so with erudition, humor, and a keen sense for the passions of his fellow whalers.
The obsession of participants at the marathon reading is startling, providing evidence of Ishmael’s remark that “all men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift, sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life.” Dowling organizes his savvy analysis of the novel from its romantic departure to its sledge-hammering seas, detailing the culture of the top brass to the common crew and scrutinizing the inscrutable in and through Melville’s great novel.
Chasing the White Whale offers a case study of the reading as a barometer of how Melville lives today among his most passionate and enthusiastic disciples, who include waterfront workers, professors, naval officers, tattooed teens, and even a member of Congress. Dowling unearths Moby-Dick’s central role in these lives, and by going within the local culture he explains how the novel could have developed such an ardent following and ubiquitous presence in popular culture within our technology-obsessed, quick-fix contemporary world.
Chronicle of a Texas River Valley
“There was so much space.” These words epitomize ecologist Joe Truett's boyhood memories of the Angelina River valley in East Texas. Years and miles later, back home for the funeral of his grandfather, Truett began a long meditation on the world Corbett Graham had known and he himself had glimpsed, a now-vanished world where wild hogs and countless other animals rustled through the leaves, cows ate pinewoods grass instead of corn, oaks and hickories and longleaf pines were untouched by the corporate ax, and the river flowed freely. Truett's meditation resulted in this clear-sighted portrait of a place over time, its layers revealed by his love and care and curiosity.Truett celebrates his family's heritage and the unspoiled natural world of the Piney Woods without nostalgia. He recreates an older, simpler, more worthy age, but he knows that we have lost touch with it because we wanted to: he laments the loss but understands it. What makes his prose so moving and so redeeming is this precise combination of honesty and sorrow, overlaid by a quiet passion for both the natural and the human worlds.
New Views of an Old Subject
Many dogmas regarding Greek theatre were established by researchers who lacked experience in the mounting of theatrical productions. In his wide-ranging and provocative study, Clifford Ashby, a theatre historian trained in the practical processes of play production as well as the methods of historical research, takes advantage of his understanding of technical elements to approach his ancient subject from a new perspective. In doing so he challenges many long-held views.
Archaeological and written sources relating to Greek classical theatre are diverse, scattered, and disconnected. Ashby's own (and memorable) fieldwork led him to more than one hundred theatre sites in Greece, southern Italy, Sicily, and Albania and as far into modern Turkey as Hellenic civilization had penetrated. From this extensive research, he draws a number of novel revisionist conclusions on the nature of classical theatre architecture and production.
The original orchestra shape, for example, was a rectangle or trapezoid rather than a circle. The altar sat along the edge of the orchestra, not at its middle. The scene house was originally designed for a performance event that did not use an up center door. The crane and ekkyklema were simple devices, while the periaktoi probably did not exist before the Renaissance. Greek theatres were not built with attention to Vitruvius' injunction against a southern orientation and were probably sun-sited on the basis of seasonal touring. The Greeks arrived at the theatre around mid-morning, not in the cold light of dawn. Only the three-actor rule emerges from this eclectic examination somewhat intact, but with the division of roles reconsidered upon the basis of the actors' performance needs. Ashby also proposes methods that can be employed in future studies of Greek theatre. Final chapters examine the three-actor production of Ion, how one should not approach theatre history, and a shining example of how one should.
Ashby's lengthy hands-on training and his knowledge of theatre history provide a broad understanding of the ways that theatre has operated through the ages as well as an ability to extrapolate from production techniques of other times and places.
Archaeology at the Rivas Site, Costa Rica
Racial Formation in Katie Chopin's "Youth's Companion" Stories
Coloring Locals examines how the late nineteenth-century politics of gender, class, race, and ethnicity influenced Kate Chopin's writing for the major family periodical of her time.Chopin's canonical status as a feminist rebel and reformer conflicts with the fact that one of her most supportive publishers throughout her life was the Youth's Companion, a juvenile periodical whose thoroughly orthodox “family values” contributed to its success as the longest-running and, at one time, most widely circulating periodical in nineteenth-century America. Not surprisingly, Chopin’s Youth’s Companion stories differ from her canonical texts in that they embrace and advance ideals of orthodox white femininity and masculinity. Rather than viewing these two representations as being at odds with each other, Bonnie Shaker asserts that Chopin's endorsement of conventional gender norms is done in the service of a second political agenda beyond her feminism, one that can help the reader appreciate nuances of identity construction previously misunderstood or overlooked in the body of her work.
Forty Essays on Philip Levine