The Best Books We Read in 2019

From literary fiction to graphic novels, we love to read at Duke University Press! In this post, our staff members share their favorite reads from the past year. We hope you enjoy their suggestions and maybe find a few gift ideas for the holiday season.

Courtney Baker, Book Designer, recommends Delores Phillips’s only novel: “The Darkest Child is a haunting, beautifully crafted story about love, loss, survival, and redemption. This story masterfully weaves together themes of mental health, racism, and poverty, and leaves you wishing there were 50 more chapters to know that it ‘all turns out okay,’ despite knowing the Quinn children will never, ever be okay. I could not put it down and finished it only days after starting it. It’s a difficult read, but worth every minute.”

Charles Brower, Senior Project Editor, recommends the winner of the 2019 Orwell Prize for Political Writing: “My favorite nonfiction book of the year, hands down, is Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, which starts as an investigation of a Belfast mother of ten’s disappearance in 1972 after being kidnapped in the middle of the night and dilates to become a history of the Troubles and some of its most striking personalities on all sides. It’s hugely informative but also as gripping and as full of memorable characters as any novel could be.”

Patty Chase, Digital Content Manager, recommends a writer’s yearlong experiment: “Ross Gay’s exquisite collection of short essays The Book of Delights delighted me repeatedly. I strive to express joy and gratitude in as wanton and unabashed a manner as Ross Gay has done in this book’s pages. In the world we live in, I think we could all use a little more delight. I’ll be keeping this book close.”

Jocelyn Dawson, Journals Marketing Manager, recommends two books: “This year I read both of Celeste Ng’s books, Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You. Ng’s characters are vividly drawn and the books have a quiet, muted tone but are so absorbing you won’t want to put them down. Highly recommended.”

Joel Luber, Assistant Managing Editor, recommends two graphic novels: “Two of my favorite books this year were the two most recent graphic novels from Tillie Walden, On a Sunbeam and Are You Listening? Both books follow women on fantastical journeys—the first through space in flying fish rockets ships, the second across West Texas chasing magical cats—and ask, ‘Who is family?’ and ‘How are those bonds created?’ At the age of twenty-three, Walden has already written three full-length graphic novels and is the leading voice in a new generation of young graphic novelists who have grown up entirely outside the influence of the super-hero comic book industry. I’m looking forward to what she does next.”

Chris Robinson, Copywriter, recommends a work of historical fiction: “Out of all the books I read this year, the one that stayed with me the most after I finished it was A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. It’s a massive, sprawling novel that takes on Jamaican social and political history in the ’70s and ’80s—everything from the rise of Bob Marley, gangs, and national politics to the CIA’s covert operations in the Caribbean and Latin America, bauxite mining, and the crack epidemic in NYC in the ’80s. It’s not an easy read—it’s violent, and it teems with characters and unfamiliar slang, but it was so good it ruined the next couple novels I read.”

Dan Ruccia, Marketing Designer, recommends a sci-fi trilogy: “My favorite book(s) of the year were N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky). She’s a master world-builder, so these books brim with fantastic details that enrich the story. Her narrators are super-conversational, which seems so much like an exception in the fantasy realm. And I loved the way in which she twists and contorts narrative threads in entirely unexpected ways. I devoured all three books in a matter of weeks.”

Nancy Sampson, Production Coordinator, recommends a memoir: “I enjoyed a book from another small publisher called Bobby in Naziland by Robert Rosen. (Full disclosure, he’s a friend of mine.) Rosen applies his dark but sentimental sense of humor to tell tales from his childhood. Rosen shares how his perspective was influenced global and local historic moments during the mid-1950s while he and his family lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY.”

Danielle Thibault, Library Sales and Digital Access Coordinator, recommends a New York Times bestseller: “My favorite book I read this year was Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett. A woman in Florida inherits her father’s taxidermy business following his suicide. As her mother begins making lewd taxidermy sculptures and her brother completely withdraws, Jessa-Lynn is forced to grapple with the realization that she doesn’t really know her family. An Entertainment Weekly review called it ‘very Florida, very gay, and very good,’ and I agree!”

Erica Woods, Production Coordinator, recommends a mystery novel: “This year’s favorite for me was Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke. It’s a sequel to her 2017 bestseller Bluebird, Bluebird. Both are fantastic mysteries, yet the real beauty of Locke’s books is how she uses language to describe East Texas. You can’t help but be pulled into the actions and thoughts of Darren Matthews, her very flawed Texas Ranger, who’s trying to stop a race war in small town that barely exists on any map. Definitely go pick it up!”

Thanks to our staff for another year of great reads and recommendations! We look forward to expanding our collective literary minds in 2020.

A Fool for Christmas Will Be Back in Stock Soon

978-1-4780-0938-2_prA few weeks ago we were pleased to announce that, along with Horse & Buggy Press and the Duke University Libraries, we were bringing out a special limited edition of Allan Gurganus’s beloved short story “A Fool for Christmas,” which had never before appeared in print. Readers were excited and we sold out all the copies immediately. We are pleased to announce that a reprint is on the way. The book should be available for purchase on our website by Wednesday, December 14 and can be pre-ordered now by calling our customer service department at 888-651-0122. You can also check your local bookstores in the Triangle area. We’ll be offering them the opportunity to restock next week as well.

Harry Harootunian on the Ironies of the Armenian Genocide

Harry Harootunian is Max Palevsky Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Chicago; professor emeritus of East Asian studies at New York University; and the author of numerous books, most recently, Uneven Moments: Reflections on Japan’s Modern History. In this guest post, he discusses the challenges of uncovering the truth of his parents’ experiences in the Armenian genocide while writing his memoir The Unspoken as Heritage: The Armenian Genocide and Its Unnaccounted Lives and grapples with the multigenerational echoes of the event amidst a resurgence of political interest.

 

The recent resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize the Turkish massacres of 1915-1916 as a full-fledged “genocide” resurfaces the historical plight of an ethnic group designated for extinction as a “reviled” race—one that was nearly eliminated over a century ago. Since that time, its survivors and their descendants have lived with the memories of murder and mutilation scarcely acknowledged by world opinion. The events exist only as a living presence that continues to guarantee social solidarity in the shadowed diaspora communities scattered throughout the globe. Because the event faded into the background noise of 20th century political history, sovereign states failed to grant it the status of genocide. Successive U.S. presidents have routinely rejected the resolution whenever it has appeared for a vote, apparently in fear of alienating America’s Turkish ally. Even Barack Obama caved in to Turkish sensitivities after promising in his presidential campaign that he would approve of the resolution if elected. Obama was already on record for criticizing the firing of a former ambassador to Armenia for having used what he—Obama—believed was the “proper” word of genocide for describing the massacres of 1915-16. But in his presidency he failed to promote the resolution and see it through its acceptance. Turkey’s membership in NATO is cited a primary  reason for this continued campaign of disavowal in the postwar decades, and the initiative was constantly sidestepped because, as former president George W. Bush recently warned, supporting such a resolution would further complicate relations with the West Asia region (Middle East). Explanations for inaction towards resolution always comprised a paradoxical combination of appeals to American national interest and Turkish sensitivity. In the case of the latter, the insistence on coddling Turkish sensibilities when Turkey has continuously and confidently denied the existence of the event, while the former was apparently justified by the presence of American air bases in the region. With the current American president’s mysteriously slavish devotion to Turkey’s thuggish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdogan, business ties masquerading as a concern for national interest will undoubtedly lead to another veto.

The sudden resurfacing of the resolution and its recent genocidal recognition in the U.S. House raises the question of what circumstances prompted action after decades of indifferent rejection. Where did the political energy come from to exhume the long-ignored Armenian genocide and murder of 1,500,000 inhabitants of the empire? It occurred to me that The Unspoken As Heritage: The Armenian Genocide and Its Unaccounted Lives, my new memoir chronicling my parents’ escape from impending mass extinction and their subsequent migration to the U.S., might now seem relevant in understanding of the recent race to ratify the resolution. My account concentrates on the immense imperative of adapting from the pre-capitalist communities of a dysfunctional land empire to a modern capitalist social order and the impact 500 years of oppressive colonial rule as a “reviled” race had on this transition. Using the figure of the Armenian genocide to explain recent changes in U.S. Middle East policy, however, excluded the histories of those who suffered most from it. The Armenians perceived distance suggested that it was still unclear whether the stigmatic judgment of revilement remains an unerasable tattoo for those who survived its excesses or who came after.

The reason for the resurgence in interest in the Armenian genocide is the fear that the withdrawal of a small American force in Syria would lead Turkey to once more resort to genocide to rid the region of Kurds. What is interesting about this rapid shift is the willingness to forgo previous concerns for Turkish sensitivity by branding Turkey with an aptitude for unleashing mass murder. Americans had no trouble immediately remembering what modern Turkey had been socialized to forget. Neither policy makers nor self-styled defenders of human rights seemed aware that Kurds had been one of the principal, energetic forces (along with the Turkish military) in the execution of murders, massacres and massive theft of the very Armenians whose historical experience of near extinction was now being invoked to spare the Kurds from a similar fate. In The Unspoken as Heritage, I note the intensely eager role of the Kurds in carrying out the labor of massacre and mutilation under the Ottoman state’s sponsored encouragement. Ample scholarship shows evidence of attempts to make the Kurdish involvement in the Armenian genocide appear as common sense. This narrative, rooted in the struggle over acquisition of cultivable agricultural land, went back to the early 19th century when Kurdish brigades carried out systematic but unscheduled pogroms against Armenians. But again, ironically, once the state had successfully eliminated much of the Armenian population in the killing fields and mass deportations, it was replaced by the new Turkish nation-state, which, in the early 1930s, turned to the older strategy of ethnic cleansing by removing and annihilating the Kurds that has persisted to the present day. In view of this congestion of ironies, it now seems pertinent to explain how I’ve tried to construct my parents’ singular experience, which is the kind of ‘history’ tropic condensations invariably exclude.

The memoir attempts to re-compose what my two sisters and I could recall of our parents’ escape and migration from the perspective of our lives growing up in late depression Detroit through the years of World War II. Our parents, Ohaness Der Harootunian and Vehanush Kupalian, remained silent about what experiences compelled them to make such a long unplanned and perilous trek from their homeland, and my goal has been to construct an account that might reveal something about their early lives in Anatolia. Throughout our lives, they maintained a disciplined silence on their experience of the genocide, their collective loss, and the struggles of building a life in an alien country. As I look back to the years of our childhoods, their resolute silence, which first appeared as a mystery of origins, was transmuted into a permanent void that became our lasting heritage. My parents, like the names of the dead, were linked to experiences deposited in an unapproachable locked realm, what author Patrick Modiani, in another context, once described as “dormant memories,” forever unspoken and unawakened.

When I was younger, questions concerning our parents’ lives before the U.S. never occurred to me. When finding answers to these and other questions became a compelling imperative, I concluded that approaching them through the historical optic of the genocide would only perpetuate the Armenian genocide as a sideshow of Turkey’s involvement in World War I. Moreover, I had no qualifications to write such a history, even if I wanted to. My interests were guided by the recognition that I never really knew who my parents were. I was convinced that whatever prompted the desire to clear up the mystery might put an end to the void of this silent repression that had engulfed and dominated our lives and animated theirs.

This project stems from an intense concern with the long and multi-generational afterlife of the genocide that has remained at the heart of the Armenian diaspora. For Armenians of successive generations like mine, this concern has itself become a form of heritage that obliges each to prevent memories of the event from falling into permanent indifference and forgetfulness. As a result, I became preoccupied with understanding why the experience subjected our parents to a collective silence of the unspoken that became our inheritance. I began to sense how difficult this project had become, frustrated by the sudden realization of how little I knew of my parents and that my sisters and I never questioned what brought them to the U.S.

In the absence of sufficient resources, I’ve resorted to a re-composition of what they separately went through, hesitantly trying to envision their accompanying thoughts and feelings based off what the three of us were able recall or thought they endured as they escaped imminent death. The re-composition I cobbled together resembles most an archaeological excavation that pries and sifts through loose, unrelated fragments to serve as an incomplete representation of a life lived. To wrest them from their silent confinement and imagine the details of their fractured lives, I assumed the fictive figure of an uninvited intruder in their thoughts. Though our parents rarely spoke of their individual encounters, the experience of genocidal witness, loss and escape stalked their efforts to rebuild their lives abroad. The shadow of their earlier experience followed them as they struggled to navigate through the barriers of chronic economic and social failure.

We inherited the political toll of destruction produced by the void and its aftermath. Our starting point is our father’s loss of his entire family, a large unit comprised of several brothers and sisters (the count and names remain unknown), mother, father, grandparents and even great-grandparents; our mother came from a smaller family and was left with no relatives: her father died when she was an infant, her brother perished in the genocide and her mother never returned after putting Vehanush into a German missionary school for safe-keeping even though she made it to Beirut and remarried. As children we confronted the namelessness of departed relatives since it was effectively disallowed to  speak of their past, as if it never existed. Yet we came to realize much later that naming something gives it life, which enabled us to recognize that the genocide powerfully altered and reshaped these people. Naming it allows us to enter its forgotten precincts and retrieve their repressed memories. The memoir details the lasting effects that are passed into our unasked-for legacy.

The lived irony of a genocide reproduced by its victims’ prolonged silences recalls how the Armenian genocide unintentionally (or intentionally) alludes to the Kurds’ possible fate upon the removal American troops in Syria. If the latter is ultimately an uninformed political tactic, involuntarily slipping from metaphor into momentary irony, its unwelcome contrast with the former further reinforces the truth of Marx’s observation that history, in the second time around, always appears as farce.

You can purchase a paperback copy of The Unspoken as Heritage for 30% off using the coupon code E19HRTNN.

 

2019 Foerster Prize Winner Announced

We’re pleased to announce the winner of the 2019 Norman Foerster Prize, awarded to the best essay of the year in American Literature: “Reconstructing Revenge: Race and Justice after the Civil War” by Gregory Laski, published in volume 91, issue 4. Read the essay, freely available through the end of March, here.

The prize committee had this to say about the winning essay:

“Gregory Laski presents an ambitious, thorough, and wide-ranging discussion of the vexed rhetoric of revenge and forgiveness in the postbellum South. His reading of diverse historical and legal documents concerned with vengeance demonstrates both the risks and utility of vengeance during this period; it also deftly sets up his persuasive reading of Pauline Hopkins’s understudied 1902 novel Winona. Laski dismantles the false distinction between justice and revenge through the notion of “righteous revenge” in paradigm-shifting ways. That this idea engages with larger ethical questions about the redress of (ongoing) wrongs perpetrated against African Americans is made explicit in the elegant coda.”

There were two runners-up for this year’s Foerster Prize: Sara Marcus’s “‘Time Enough, but None to Spare’: The Indispensable Temporalities of Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition” (volume 91, issue 1) and Julius B. Fleming Jr.’s “Transforming Geographies of Black Time: How the Free Southern Theater Used the Plantation for Civil Rights Activism” (volume 91, issue 3). Both essays are freely available through March. The committee had these comments to share about the two runners-up:

“Sara Marcus’s essay challenges the prevailing tendency to associate linear time with heteronormativity, capital, racism, and imperialism and—correspondingly—nonlinear time with queerness, resistance, refusal, and escape.  Although this association has been useful in some ways, Marcus argues that it sets up a simplistic binary. In an insightful reading of Charles Chesnutt’s The Marrow of Tradition, Marcus shows that both normative and nonnormative temporalities are utilized by white supremacists to maintain and assert power. Conversely, teleological concepts for time can be embraced by black characters in the name of progress, while blackness can also interrupt the violence of racism by suspending time. Marcus strongly and convincingly makes the case that neither linear nor nonlinear temporalities are inherently oppressive or liberatory and therefore that scholars working on time abandon these cut-and-dried associations.

“Julius B. Fleming Jr. assembles a wide-ranging and unique archive to theorize what he terms ‘black patience,’ a concept whose contours, uses, and misuses he traces with meticulous care and bold insight. In the process, he advances a methodological approach to black patience (and to other useful notions, including time and timing more generally) that should deeply inform scholarship in African American culture, political organizing, and performance. This essay is a feat of original research, syncretic analysis, and inventive theorization.”

Congratulations to Gregory Laski, Sara Marcus, and Julius B. Fleming Jr.!

Trans Futures

In TSQ’s newest issue “Trans Futures,” edited by micha cárdenas and Jian Neo Chen, contributors introduce times and spaces of trans critique, experience, and imagination that challenge conventions of discipline, genre, method, and perception. They examine the state’s capacity to control trans lives and to render trans futures less than possible, and they also envision trans and queer practices of survival, reproduction, and transformation that move beyond these limitations.

Articles include:

and much more. Explore the full contents here and check out the introduction, freely available.

New Books in December

‘Tis the season for brand new books! This month, we’re releasing a variety of compelling titles from a wide range of disciplines—art, history, music, theory and philosophy, cultural studies, and many more. Check out these great reads available in December.

Andrea Smith examines the racial reconciliation movement in Evangelical Christianity through a critical ethnic studies lens in Unreconciled, evaluating the varying degrees to which Evangelical communities that were founded on white supremacy have attempted to address racism and become more inclusive.

In Picasso’s Demoiselles, eminent art historian Suzanne Preston Blier uncovers a previously unknown history of the influences and creative process of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of the twentieth century’s most important, celebrated, and studied paintings.

In The Sonic Episteme Robin James examines how twenty-first-century conceptions of sound as acoustic resonance shape notions of the social world, personhood, and materiality in ways that support white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

In Listen But Don’t Ask Question Kevin Fellezs traces the ways in which slack key guitar—a traditional Hawaiian musical style played on an acoustic steel-string guitar—is a site for the articulation of the complex histories, affiliations, and connotations of Hawaiian belonging.

Militarization: A Reader, edited by Roberto J. González, Hugh Gusterson, and Gustaaf Houtman, offers an anthropological perspective on militarization’s origin and sustained presence as a cultural process in its full social, economic, political, cultural, environmental, and symbolic contexts throughout the world.

Originally published in French in 1997 and appearing here in English for the first time, David Lapoujade’s William James: Empiricism and Pragmatism is both an accessible and rigorous introduction to and a pioneering rereading of James’s thought.

With topics that span the sixteenth century to the present in Latin America, the United States, Australia, the Middle East, and West Africa, the contributors to Ethnopornography show how ethnopornography—the eroticized observation of the Other for supposedly scientific or academic purposes—is fundamental to the creation of race, colonialism, and archival and ethnographic knowledge. This volume is edited by Pete Sigal, Zeb Tortorici, and Neil L. Whitehead.

In Otaku and the Struggle for Imagination in Japan Patrick Galbraith examines Japanese “otaku,” their relationships with fictional girl characters, the Japanese public’s interpretations of them as excessive and perverse, and the Japanese government’s attempts to co-opt them into depictions of “Cool Japan” to an international audience.

In Mafalda: A Social and Political History of Latin America’s Global Comic—first published in Argentina in 2014 and appearing here in English for the first time—Isabella Cosse examines the history, political commentary, and influence of the world-famous comic character Mafalda from her Argentine origins in 1964 to her global reach in the 1990s.

In The Licit Life of Capitalism Hannah Appel uses a case study of U.S. oil industry in Equatorial Guinea to illustrate how inequality makes markets, not just in West Africa but globally.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for our e-mail newsletters, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Save 40% During Our Cyber Monday Sale

CYBER40_SaleDec2019_Blog

Today only! Save 40% on all in-stock books and journal issues during our special one-day-only Cyber Monday sale.

To get the discount, shop our website and enter the coupon code CYBER40 when you check out. Please note that the discount does not apply to journal subscriptions or society memberships. See all the fine print here.

Stock up on books for next semester’s courses or get your holiday shopping done. Books ordered today will arrive in time for Hannukah and Christmas if shipped to a U.S. address. We cannot guarantee holiday arrival for international shipments.

But act fast, because this sale is over at 11:59 PM EST.

Author Events in December

During the first half of December, you can catch your favorite Duke University Press author at various locales across the US and Australia. And since books make great gifts, you can pick up signed copies at these events.

December 1: Marsha Gordon, co-editor of Screening Race in American Nontheatrical Film presents a selection of short 16mm films from the 1960s and ʼ70s engaged with the topic of race at the North Carolina Museum of Art.
2:00pm, East Building, SECU Auditorium, 2110 Blue Ridge Rd, Raleigh, NC 27607

December 3: Grand Central Library will host a book talk with Robert Christgau, author of Book Reports.
6:00pm, 135 E 46th St, New York, NY 10017

December 4: Nicholas Boggs will read from James Baldwin’s Little Man, Little Man, which he edited, at The Studios of Key West.
6:00pm, 533 Eaton St, Key West, FL 33040

December 5: Sacred Men author Keith L. Camacho will talk about his book at Asian/Pacific/American Institute moderated by fellow Duke University Press author Dean Saranillio.
6:30pm, 8 Washington Mews, New York, NY 10003

December 5: See E. Patrick Johnson present his latest book Honeypot at Women and Children First.
7:00pm, 5233 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640

December 5: Australian National University will host a keynote lecture from What’s the Use? author Sara Ahmed.
5:30pm, Bldg 188, Fellows Lane, Australian Centre on China in the World, Canberra ACT 2601, Australia

December 7: Honeypot author E. Patrick Johnson will discuss his new book in conversation with Dr. Beverly Guy-Sheftall at Charis Books.
7:30pm, 184 S. Candler St, Decatur, GA 30030

December 10: Love, H. author Hettie Jones will give a lecture at The Cooper Union.
7:00pm, Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, at 41 Cooper Square (on Third Ave. between 6th and 7th Streets) New York, NY 10008

December 12: Allan Gurganus will read his beloved story “A Fool for Christmas” at The Regulator Bookshop. We are distributing a new limited edition of the story with Horse & Buggy Press and the Duke University Libraries.
7:00pm, 720 9th St, Durham, NC 27705

We look forward to seeing you at these exciting events taking place throughout December!

Legacies of ’68: Histories, Geographies, Epistemologies

In the newest issue of Cultural Politics, contributors discuss the historical significance and cultural legacies of 1968 from the vantage point of contemporary politics. “Legacies of ’68: Histories, Geographies, Epistemologies,” edited by Morgan Adamson and Sarah Hamblin, maps out the transnational connections between the various 1968 movements and traces the legacies of these ideas to see how the year continues to shape political, cultural, and social discourse today.

Topics covered include the Third World student strike at San Francisco State College, the decade-long revolution known as May ’68 and its connection to anticolonial struggle and the emergence of “the world university system,” and radical feminist author Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex.

Check out author Quinn Slobodian’s article, “Anti-’68ers and the Racist-Libertarian Alliance: How a Schism among Austrian School Neoliberals Helped Spawn the Alt Right,” made freely available for three months.

Browse the issue’s contents and read the introduction, freely available. Be sure to sign up to receive email alerts about new issues of Cultural Politics!

Archives, Archival Practices, and the Writing of History in Premodern Korea

In premodern Korea, archives were gathered and housed not only in official or state storerooms but also in unofficial sites such as libraries of lineage associations and local academies. Contributors to the newest Journal of Korean Studies, “Archives, Archival Practices, and the Writing of History in Premodern Korea,” edited by Jungwon Kim, take these archives beyond their usual definition as collections of historical documents of the past by revealing how these archives cast light on what and who were left out of the conventional historiography of premodern Korea.

Topics addressed include how premodern Korean record-keeping was used to shape contemporary historiographical knowledge of Chosŏn Buddhism, the role of the Catholic Archives in documenting life in Chosŏn Korea, and whether the term “archive,” as used in European traditions, is relevant to premodern Korean traditions.

Browse the issue’s contents; and read the editorial note and the introduction, both freely available. Be sure to sign up to receive email alerts about new issues of the Journal of Korean Studies!