The end of the year is traditionally a time to take stock of accomplishments, so over the past few years U.S. 1 has taken a look back at new books from the region. The result is a visit to a world of ideas — one that offers some potential for holiday gifts from home.
Let’s start with I Hear My People Singing: Voice of African American Princeton. Here Princeton and University of Pennsylvania English professor Kathryn Watterson takes a look at “the North’s most Southern Town” and the lives of black Princetonians.
Incorporating a series of first-person recollections, the book was born when Watterson was looking to connect with the community with a project for a writing seminar. “What we really want is an oral history of our community. Before it’s too late,” Princeton resident Henry (Hank) Pannell told her.
Now with 55 Princeton voices preserved, Watterson says the book has transformed Pannell’s dream into a “collective dream” that “brings the historic Witherspoon neighborhood into view and to share the sweep of its rich history.”
It also allows readers “to see how African Americans have fought for self-determination in the face of continuing prejudice,” says Watterson.
The 360-page book also contains images of black Princetonians from the late 19th century forward. The result, writes scholar Cornel West in the foreword, is an opportunity “to learn of (Princeton’s black community’s) gallant efforts to forge meaning, preserve families and communities, sustain love, endure sorrows, and contribute to the making of modern-day Princeton.”
I Hear My People Singing: Voices of African American Princeton, Princeton University Press, $29.95.
Archaeologies of African American Life in the Upper Mid-Atlantic is a collection of 13 scholarly essays compiled by Michael Gall, a principal senior archaeologist at the Cranbury-based RGA, Inc., and Richard Veit, chair of archeology at Monmouth University and an authority on New Jersey archaeology (including research on Joseph Bonaparte’s Pointe Breeze mansion in Bordentown).
“Our work is part social history, part activism,” write the two in the introduction of the 288-page illustrated volume covering the historic period from the 1690s to the 1950s. “This book presents new archaeological data on the routinely muted and forgotten lives of the region’s historic free and enslaved African, African Caribbean, and African American populations. This book also calls attention to the historical contexts in which enslaved and free blacks live, the obstacles they faced in daily life, and the ongoing power struggles within white-dominated or-controlled communities.”
While the book covers several states, two chapters address New Jersey, including the Burlington County town of Timbuctoo (located south of Mount Holly), established circa 1825 by formerly enslaved migrants from Maryland.
Archaeologies of African American Life in the Upper Mid-Atlantic, edited by Michael J. Gall and Richard F. Veit, University of Alabama Press, $69.95.
Philosophy, Art, and Religion — Understanding Faith and Creativity is Princeton Theological Seminary professor Gordon Graham’s exploration of aesthetics and spirituality, religion and science, and the purpose of art.
“The book is the culmination of a decade offering courses in philosophical aesthetics to divinity students,” writes Graham, an Irish-born Anglican priest who in addition to the seminary taught philosophy in Scotland at the University of St. Andrews and was an adjunct professor of sacred music at Westminster Choir College.
While the ideas are lofty, the discourse is grounded, almost conversational. The reason, Graham writes, is his classes challenged him “to engage with (students) who generally had little or no background in philosophy and no knowledge of the traditional topics of aesthetics, while at the same time convincing them that philosophy in the Anglo-American analytical tradition could have interesting things to say about the subjects that interest them most — namely, Christian faith and practice.”
Starting with the idea that art rose from religion, Graham then follows with chapters on “Sacred Music, “Art, Icon, and Idolatry,” “Literature and Liturgy,” and “Glorious and Transcendent Places,” and their connections to deep human impulses. And while most of the references reflect European cultural traditions, Hebrew and Asian cultures are also included.
The book ends with “Rethinking the Sacred Arts,” where Graham offers some thoughts about the very human impulse to create art and religion and to explore personal assumptions about sacred art and reflect on those assumptions.
Philosophy, Art, and Religion — Understanding Faith and Creativity, by Gordon Graham, Cambridge University Press, $26.99
Rouge is the book version of internationally known photographer Michael Kenna’s photography exhibition “Rouge” on view at the Princeton University Art Museum through February 11. Museum director James Steward wrote the main essay of the book and curated the exhibition.
The subject is the early-20th century Ford Motor Plant on the Rouge River in Michigan. As soon as it opened the plant turned into a symbol of American ingenuity and modernism and was the subject of an influential series of photographs by famed precisionist artist Charles Sheeler.
Kenna admired Sheeler and went to the same factory to revisit the images and the plant in the mid-1990s, when the auto industry was weakened and the plant’s prestige and power was diminished.
Kenna followed Sheeler’s starting point, the power plant chimneys, then continued photographing them and eventually imbued his work with what Steward calls “a profound and personal relationship with industry and the industrial landscape.”
Rouge, by Michael Kenna, with essay by James Steward, Prestel Press, $65.
Clarence H. White and his World: The Art & Craft of Photography, 1895-1925 also has a connection to the Princeton University Art Museum. It has been hosting the exhibition on view through January 7 and produced the 408-page volume of 15 essays focusing on different aspects of White’s career.
Museum director Steward calls White “one of the unsung heroes of early 20th century photography,” and the exhibition’s curator and the book’s editor, Princeton University professor Anne McCauley, seems to be intent on changing White’s status by showing the Ohio-born White as an individual determined to make the new and popular practice of photography his personal vehicle for artistic expression.
The book chronicles various phases of White’s progress from seeking the “poetry of the everyday” to becoming a founder of Photo-Secession, a group that promoted photography as a fine art, and shows work by White and fellow Photo-Secession member Alfred Stieglitz — with whom White both collaborated and quarreled.
The book also examines White’s various interests or commissions: providing photo illustrations for a novel, dance-related photos, nudes “with a Whitmanian celebration of the body,” and his constant effort to use the camera as “an instrument of science. But it is also revealing new beauties. Thus it is an instrument of art. It sees things that the artist does not see.”
Clarence H. White and his World: The Art & Craft of Photography, 1895-1925, published by Yale University Press, $65.
Subjective Objective: A Century of Social Photography is the book version of the exhibition currently on exhibit at the Zimmerli Art Museum in New Brunswick through January 7.
Created by the exhibition’s organizers, Zimmerli Art Museum curator Donna Gustafson and Rutgers professor and art historian Andrews Mario Zervigon, the 368-page book uses work drawn mainly from the Zimmerli’s vast photography collection and focuses on photographers who use the camera to educate, persuade, and effect social change.
Gustafson says the project is a first for the museum that has collections representing the cultural history of both the United States and the Soviet Union. “We had never really focused on the American photography that we have in the collection. Most of it is documentary based. So we came up with this idea to do a sort of survey of documentary photography incorporating the American and Soviet material together.” Together they allow the viewer to consider how propaganda and documentary images can be used to persuade.
The book includes images by Berenice Abbott, Walker Evans, Larry Fink, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, Gordon Parks, Alexander Rodchenko, W. Eugene Smith, and Weegee, as well as chapters on 1970 suburban American documentary photography and social documentary photography in the Soviet Union.
Yet the main attraction in this massive book and effort are the historic yet not often seen photographs that stress that documentary photographs have a soul and, as Gustafson says, are “only effective if the person who’s taking the photograph has a point of view that comes across through the photograph.”
Subjective Objective: A Century of Social Photography, Donna Gustafson and Andres Mario Zervigon, HIRMER, $55.
Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems of Ntozake Shange is latest work by the internationally known Trenton-born poet and playwright. A pioneering writer whose 1975 “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf” blended poetry, dance, music, spoken word, and drama to give voice to American women of African ancestry.
Shange’s 12 volumes of poetry, five novels, and 16 stage works are united by a music she hears “beneath the words.” And “Wild Beauty” combines the old with ones written over the past 18 months and when she faced a new challenge: “In 2004 I had a stroke and forgot how to read, how to use my mouth, and how to use my hands. It took years of physical rehabilitation and speech therapy along with the care of my daughter Savannah and my dear friend Claude Sloan.” Given the trail she has walked, her poem “a word is a miracle” is testament — like the book (which includes Spanish translations).
Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems of Ntozake Shange, Atria Books, $24.
The Seven, A Family Holocaust Story is Ellen G. Friedman’s exploration of family history. A professor of English and director of Holocaust studies at the College of New Jersey, Friedman says the book deals with “the least known yet most common of the stories of Polish Jews who survived World War II. Most Polish Jews still alive after the Holocaust spent the war in the Soviet Union.” And while the Poles escaped Nazi concentration camps, they were “sentenced by Stalin to ‘banishment’ in the remote prison settlements and gulags of the Soviet Union.”
Combining personal commentary about her visits to relatives who immigrated to the United States and travels to Europe, the Soviet Union, and to the Soviet Asian region where she was born, Friedman says the book has an “unconventional” form, a “pastiche of past and present, of (the seven) and me.”
Saying the book’s creation “was an organized process that began without a plan” sometime around 1980, Friedman began conducting a series of audio interviews that appear in the book in question-and-answer format. Yet, as indicated by the chapter “Itzak with Lola Interrupting,” the result is to catch her parents’ past experiences — chilling in the matter-of-fact relaying — and their presence years later.
Toward the end of 266-page book, Friedman writes, “Like the 29 pilgrim travelers in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales,’ the people in this book tell their stories, revealing themselves as they do. But Chaucer’s pilgrims, unlike my family, return home.” Now they live on the page.
The Seven, A Family Holocaust Story, by Ellen G. Friedman, Wayne State University Press, $29.99 (paperback).
Hot Mess: A Practical Guide To Getting Organized is New Hope home-organizing maven Laurie Palau’s 215-page guide to getting one’s house in order — literally.
After noting that the most successful methods are also the most simple and sustainable, she divides the book into three sections: clutter, solutions, and organizing by space. She then attacks each topic by breaking it down into smaller bits.
For example, Palau takes the general term clutter and breaks it down into types. Physical clutter is the “volume of stuff you have around you,” emotional clutter “holds us back from getting rid of something we no longer need or us,” and calendar clutter “has to do with how you account for your time” and when “finding time to organize your house doesn’t always seem doable.”
Palau’s writing is breezy and focuses on systems. There are self-tests, checklists, acronyms, and other mnemonic devises. One is ESP — empty, sort, and purge. Or empty the space completely, sort objects into various piles (keep, donate, recycle, relocate), and the purge, actually moving the assigned objects.
And the last section of the book takes a room-by-room look at problems and solutions. Nothing challenging here, except making the time to read the book — and then actually doing something.
“Hot Mess: A Practical Guide To Getting Organized, Laurie Palau, ZOLO Publishing, $19.99.
Ragged Sky Press, a Princeton-based independent nonprofit publishing venture, has released two volumes of poetry. Go Deep is a combination of poetry and art forged from somewhere deep in the human spirit. As a book note says, “Newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma, (Newtown, Pennsylvania, poet) Steve Nolan called every person in the country rumored to have the same form of cancer. He was misinformed about (Titusville painter) NJ DeVico’s leukemia; she had myelodysplastic syndrome. The initial phone call revealed his love of poetry and her love of art. A collaboration — and friendship — was born.” So too was this book of 53 poems and pastel images exploring the lightness and darkness of being. 110 pages, $25.
Silver Pirouettes is an English edition of the works by Gyorgy Faludy, “the voice of Hungarian resistance” who died at the age of 95 in 2006. As Warren, New Jersey, translator Paul Sohar writes in the foreword, “Faludy has a square named after him in Toronto as well as in London, but his poems in English translation are hard to come by. (This book) is designed to remedy this situation.”
Need more convincing? Hungarian novelist Peter Hargitai sums him up as “a political prisoner who resisted the violent spasm inherent in the ‘ism’ of ideology,” an individualist “who defied all forms of tyranny,” and a “quintessential poet.” 160 pages, $15.
And let’s not forget the following books covered in U.S. 1 during 2017:
Soft Corruption: How Unethical Conduct Undermines Good Government and What To Do About It by former New Jersey lawmaker William Schluter is a wake-up call for action. (U.S. 1, May 31.)
Here the former Pennington town council member and New Jersey state assemblyman shows corruption’s invisible toll on state taxpayers.
Take for example Republican Governor Chris Christie scheduling a special election in 2013 to replace the late Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg less than a month before November’s gubernatorial election. It not only improved Christie’s chance for re-election but cost taxpayers an additional $12 million.
Other “soft” infractions include “wheeling,” a way to get around New Jersey’s campaign finance laws, pay-to-play practices, and the annual “Walk to Washington” train excursion where “opportunities are afforded lobbyists to gain the favor of and consummate deals with government lawmakers, deals that are both good and bad.”
While the 296-page book may give readers high blood pressure, its chapter “Agenda for Reform” may offer some insight to better health — just as a new administration arrives in Trenton.
Soft Corruption: How Unethical Conduct Undermines Good Government and What To Do About It, Rutgers University Press, $35.
Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition is Dutch-born Princeton novelist and essayist Pia de Jong’s 255-page personal account of discovering her daughter, Charlotte, had congenital myeloid leukemia — a disease without any cure — and her to “wait for what will come.” (U.S. 1, July 12.)
De Jong says her book is a level of stories. “There is the superficial story about a sick baby who got better, and a mom taking care of the baby. (Yet) there is something in the fabric in your life that works for you if you see it. You have to be open.”
As the book shows, De Jong’s openness led her to both her daughter’s natural recover and creating a testimony to the magic quality of life and imagination — a world inhabited by every day angels and wizards, including her physicist husband, the director of the Institute for Advanced Study, Robbert Dijkgraaf. The book is the stuff of life and hope.
Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition, by W.W. Norton & Company, $25.95.
Draft No. 4 is prominent American essayist and Princeton-based writer John McPhee’s latest — and 32nd — book. (U.S. 1, October 18.)
It is based on eight essays on the writing process that McPhee created for the New Yorker magazine — a publication that he has been connected with since his 1963 story on Princeton University basketball great Bill Bradley.
The book is also based on his Princeton University writing course and the observation that “First drafts are slow and develop clumsily, because every sentence affects not only those before it but also those that follow,” but the subsequent revisions to the arrive at the fourth and final draft suggests psychological differences where “it seems as if a different person is taking over. Dread largely disappears. Problems become less threatening, more interesting. Experience is more helpful, as if an amateur is being replaced by a professional.”
Other experience-informed topics-as-chapters include structure, elicitation, frame of reference, checkpoints, omission, and more. By addressing each point by example, observation, and anecdote, McPhee turns the book into an ongoing class where the enrollment is open to anyone willing to create the dreaded first draft.
Draft No. 4, John McPhee, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25.
Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking by Joy Stocke and Angie Brenner continues their culinary travel writing established with their earlier “Anatolian Days and Nights.” (U.S. 1, April 19.)
Stocke is a professional editor, journalist, book publisher based in the Princeton area, and co-founder of the Wild River Review.
Brenner is a California-based former travel bookshop owner who has a passion for traveling and writing. Together they have been touring the Mediterranean for tastes and tales.
Now their new 256-page book — chocked with photographs and research — takes the reader on a colorful journey through Turkish history and society and explore the region’s impact on food.
But best of all, the book fulfills the authors’ intent to celebrate the culture, and its 100 recipes make the book come alive — on the table. It’s a mouthful in more than one way.
Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking, Burgess Lea Press, $30.