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THE ANNOTATED AFRICAN AMERICAN FOLKTALES

An exhaustive, informative, and entertaining survey of African-American folklore, its centrality to American culture, and...

This anthology of African-American folk tales, edited by Harvard professors Gates (In Search of our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Pasts, 2017, etc.) and Tatar (Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World, 2017, etc.), gathers more than 100 folk tales from the African diaspora into an exhaustive collection for both academic and casual audiences.

Gates and Tatar combine critical essays on the origins of black folklore collections, primary sources, and essay-length statements from past archivists—including Joel Chandler Harris, Zora Neale Hurston, and Sterling A. Brown—in order to give readers a comprehensive sense of black folklore's unique role in American literary and political culture. Casual readers can simply enjoy the anthology's extensive sampling of familiar tales. An entire chapter is dedicated to variations on "The Tar-Baby Story," and Brer Rabbit appears in dozens of stories. Harris' Uncle Remus tales get considerable attention, as do the tales in Hurston's towering folklore collection, Mules and Men. The edition's useful annotations clarify these tales' language, making them more accessible to a wider audience. The editors also make room for analogous stories from Latin American traditions and black adaptations of European fairy tales, demonstrating how myths and folk tales are often universal in nature. As convenient as it will be for casual readers to have these tales collected into one volume, this anthology will be of greatest interest to an academic audience. Gates' and Tatar's introductions provide essential critical frameworks for understanding black folk culture's centrality to wider American culture, while the secondary sources shed light on the various methodologies and philosophies that have informed how scholars gather folklore.

An exhaustive, informative, and entertaining survey of African-American folklore, its centrality to American culture, and the universality of myth.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-87140-753-5

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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