Review: The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class

The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class by David R. Roediger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roediger's text is a fascinating and powerful read in thinking about whiteness and its implications for the 21st century. While it is focused on the 18th and 19th century, it seems like so much of its discussion around how whiteness itself is fused into conceptions of work and identity and purposely contrasted against non-white identities (primarily African American in this case but applicable beyond that). Through the book, he identifies interesting tensions that were parsed out through language, law, and even violence to meld together a white consciousness with American conceptions of working class. He shows in innumerable examples a conscious effort by whites who often performed the same labor as African Americans to assert their distinctness in a game of "I may be working class but at least I'm not black"--a refrain that has historically been inten…

Review: Bring Back the Bureaucrats: Why More Federal Workers Will Lead to Better (and Smaller!) Government

Bring Back the Bureaucrats: Why More Federal Workers Will Lead to Better (and Smaller!) Government by John Diiluio
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is one of those small books that manages to say a good deal in order to start a meaningful discussion about untried or reconfigured ideas. Diiluio puts forward an argument that while, numerically, it looks like the government is massive, the reality is quite different. When one accounts for all people that receive some type of check for services, the number is large but when you actually look at how many people are actual government employees, this number has been stagnant at best for decades. He argues that part of why we have so much waste is because we have contracted and subcontracted work out further and further while adding on more and more responsibilities to so many agencies as well as increasing demands for accountability measures (which in themselves, require more time and effort to manage). He argues that the rise in professionalism o…

October's Bookshelf

Well, I may not have gotten to as many physical books as I wanted (I'm almost done with one--does that count--also, it's 700+ pages, so it's slowing my average--hahaha), but I definitely reviewed a lot more books this month, finding that if I write up the reviews right after listening, I've got a lot to say (no surprise there, right?).  It's another month of fascinating reads and I invite you to try some of these great books!
Powers of Darkness: The Lost Version of Dracula by Bram StokerShortly after the original Dracula was published, it was translated and published in Iceland. However, this version is a significantly different version of Dracula than what readers are familiar with. This version focuses about two-thirds of its time on Thomas Harker (as opposed to Jonathan in Stoker's original novel) and his time spent traveling to and in Dracula's castle. Within the castle, readers are exposed to entirely new plot threads that include a seductive female vam…

Review: American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Note: This review was originally written in the early 2000s and published for a no longer running website: AudiobookCafe. 

This review is focused on both the book and audiobook. Poor Shadow can’t catch a break. After doing three years in prison, he is released early to find that his wife died in a car accident. He also discovered that his wife wasn’t entirely faithful to him during his time in prison. The car accident also took his best friend’s life; the same friend who had lined up a job for Shadow upon release and the same friend, Shadow discovers was sleeping with his wife. In a matter of days, Shadow has lost his love, his best friend, his job, and pretty much all hope. That is until he meets a god who seeks Shadow’s employment as his personal liaison.

Neil Gaiman weaves an amazing tale of gods and goddesses, new and old who are battling each other to gain a higher peg on the metaphorical totem pole of god-worshipping. Their strugg…

The Monster In the Closet: A Film Essay

So a few months ago, I did an article for The Brattle Theatre's blog on Vertigo that examined the role of driving. I rather enjoyed the process of writing a film essay and recently, I had another opportunity to do so recently and this one was on Gods and Monsters.

I don't know if it's because I better understand the editorial process at Brattle or because I felt more confident and comfortable with this film or because I just hit upon something that spoke to me more coherently, but I found the process of writing one much easier and it came together much more coherently (at least for me--please let me know what you think!).  I mean, I've certainly talked about films on this blog, including my top 100 films series or when I explored horror tropes within the film, The Orphan, or even the two pieces I wrote about seeing movies at the Cabot (Catching a Classic at the Cabot and Cabot Offers Magical Experience).  However, I feel like I was able to write a film essay that delves…

Review: We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To listen to Coates contextualize eight essays published over the course of President Obama's run for and performance of President is powerful, insightful, and damming. Powerful in the ways in which Coates pulls together the strands of history, policy, culture, and politics to explain in different ways how white supremacy has been so woven into the fabric of American culture that it is nearly impossible to extract. That he shows this through the lens of the first African American president's candidacy and terms is what makes it damming because, in hindsight, it seems so clear how we got from Obama to Trump. Coates insights into the portrayal of Michelle Obama, reparations, birtherism, and the rise of Trump put words to the growing thrum of hate and white resentment that has been present before, during, and after Obama's presidency. It's a must-read for anyone trying to understan…

PhD Chronicles: Feedback & Relief...

It's about 6:00am and I read the words:  "I’m VERY impressed with the changes in your QPP, very! You have certainly done way more than what was required…great job!"  My Qualifying Paper Proposal (known as the QPP) has been accepted.   

The words hit me like a ton of bricks.  I'm not quite ready to hear such positive feedback and if it weren't the quiet of morning, I'd do a happy dance right there.  I reread it again to make sure that I'm not misreading it, but there it is, I've done a "VERY" impressive job from an advisor who is overall friendly but not necessarily given to exaggerations in his feedback.  

The email gave me tremendous relief.  I had revised my first draft substantially--not because I had to but because as I unraveled one thread of thought, it impacted others and I felt I needed to redo a bit of tapestry in order to more clearly communicate my thought.  I did so, as they say, without a net.  I delved into it and revised it with…

Teaching Popular Culture Online and #NEPCA18

As some of you know, I've been teaching a popular culture course online for years now at North Shore Community College.  It started as a face-to-face course back in or around 2009 or so and then transitioned to an online course in Spring, 2012.  Since then, I've only taught it online and have had continually looked to update it and change how I approach it with each passing year. 

This past spring, I was the recipient of a Course of Distinction award from Massachusetts Colleges Online for my course.  As a result, I had to do a presentation and also video tour of my course.  I figured I'd include them in this post since I'm also discussing my presentation on Saturday, October 20 at the Northeast Popular Culture Association 2018 conference.

I've also been a part of NEPCA for a long while now and will be soon stepping up to be the Executive Secretary of the organization.  In recent years, I took on the Area Chair for Teaching and Popular Culture to use it as a vehicle f…

Review: Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like many other of his books, Johnson takes what we think are sometimes disposable threads of history and crafts them to help us consider how ephemera can help us understand who we are as humans. Thus, he uses things such as coloring in clothes to illustrate how trading pattern changed and gave way to empires as well as how taverns produced the third spaces that gave way to political revolutions and the idea of public space. Each artifact he looks at (spices, music, games, etc) unpacks powerful ways such things have significantly changed the modern world. His point isn't necessarily to pay homage to the spice rack or worship the almighty chessboard but rather to help us understand that the flights of fancy imbued with such things as games or music are part of what makes us human and drive us; that is, our non-essential human elements can direct us in powerful ways that produce important (and yes, pr…

Review: The Hall of Lost Footsteps

The Hall of Lost Footsteps by Sara Douglass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sara Douglass's last book is a collection of short stories that will resonate with any reader of her work. A chunk of the book includes stories and background on the world of Tencendor from her most popular series. It's a nice final piece from the Australian author who was doing some great things with epic fantasy before many others who have risen to fame or before Game of Thrones made everyone else aware of how fascinating epic fantasy is. The other stories in this collection, to no surprise to those familiar with her, take place mostly in medieval times and England. The collection is a quick read, owing much to Douglass's style of prose that never linger and even when pausing to describe things, always seems to capture the moment's essence without inundating the reader. There are some repeated elements (the titular Hall shows up in two stories as do certain names) but each tale has its own appreciative…