September 6th is National Read a Book Day! To celebrate, our staff is sharing just a few of their favorite NYU Press reads. Browse a selection of staff picks below, and order your next read through one of our favorite New York City bookstores! To order from your own local bookstore, check out bookshop.org or indiebound.org.
Growing Up with Privilege in a Racially Divided America
By Margaret A. Hagerman
Recommended by Jonathan Greenberg, Digital Scholarly Publishing Specialist
Sociologist Margaret Hagerman explores how white kids think about race and privilege in their schools, families, and in the city where they live. For parents and educators, Hagerman’s probing and nuanced ethnography will be at once familiar and revelatory, as she illustrates how white children learn to protect their privilege through the choices and messages of their parents and through their segregated schools and neighborhoods. White Kids does not undermine the need for challenging the systems that maintain racism in our country; but it argues powerfully that the decisions that privileged parents make about housing, schooling, and leisure have a profound effect on how kids think about race. In a new era of exuberant antiracism, Hagerman’s work exhorts us white parents to demand changes in our own families in addition to changes in public policy.
Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games
By Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
Recommended by Sarah Bode, Marketing Manager
Have you ever been reading a YA, sci-fi, or fantasy book and wondered, “What’s up with all these white characters?” or “Why is this just a white world in [insert setting, i.e. spooky space, cavernous castle, Southern swamp]?” Yeah, me too, and a whole lot of other folk. It was questions like these that made Ebony Elizabeth Thomas write her book The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, which “reveals the diversity crisis in children’s and young adult media as not only a lack of representation, but a lack of imagination.” This last part, about the lack of imagination, I find particularly chilling. As a white reader with oodles of characters who look just like me, I’ve never had an issue with letting my imagination run rampant while imbibing books like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games or watching The Vampire Diaries or Merlin. But my privilege has not merely meant I can freely enjoy the fantasy bestsellers that defined the last twenty years, it also means I can see myself as the curly cleverness that is Hermione Granger or the furious warrior that is Katniss Everdeen or the thrumming strumpet that is Elena Gilbert. This privilege was checked when I read The Dark Fantastic. Thomas writes from a powerful place—the personal. Each argument she makes is rooted in her own experience as a Black woman as well as a Black reader and writer. I particularly enjoyed the delightful moments of watching Thomas write Harry Potter fanfiction and drive conversations in Yahoo chat rooms in the early 2000s in Chapter 5: “Hermione is Black: A Postscript to Harry Potter and the Crisis of Infinite Dark Fantastic Worlds.” Throughout her book, Thomas unpacks the harm that ingesting only white main characters causes to young Black female readers; how it hinders their imagination not just within the fantasy realms but also in their daily lived reality. Without examples to draw from, Thomas argues that young Black female readers don’t see themselves as heroines, as problem-solvers, as fighters, as champions, as survivors and thrivers. Instead, they insert themselves within those white worlds through fanfiction and other modes of counter-storytelling so that they can position themselves in those worlds and in ours—where they should have been all along.
An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli
By Ted Merwin
Recommended by Ellen Chodosh, Press Director
Like so many people sheltering at home, I spend a lot of time thinking about food. One of the things I often find myself craving is a pastrami sandwich—true comfort food—but on reflection, I realize that it isn’t the sandwich that I’m craving, but the experience of eating it in a Jewish deli, with its grouchy waiters, multi-generational families, and the smell of pickles in the air. In Pastrami on Rye, Ted Merwin relates the history of the Jewish deli and explains how it became such an indelible part of Jewish American life, as a community center and as a connection to a shared European culinary heritage. A mouth-watering story!
By ʿAntarah ibn Shaddād
Translated by James E. Montgomery with Richard Sieburth
Recommended by Lucie Taylor, Assistant Editor
When I tell non-Arabic-speaking friends that I love classical Arabic poetry—like, really love it—I get some funny looks. Lately though, explaining why I like it so much has gotten easier: I point my friends (and acquaintances, enemies, distant relatives, dating app matches, and anyone who will listen) to War Songs, a collection of poems by ʿAntarah, a warrior-poet who lived in Arabia in the sixth century. James Montgomery’s translation conveys the spirit of the original so aptly, so poetically, that much of what I love about early Arabic poetry shines through: the emotion, the metaphor, the energy. The opening line of one of ʿAntarah’s most famous poems is translated in War Songs as “Did poetry die in its war with the poets?” The answer, of course, is surely not—ʿAntarah’s voice is so alive that it could leap right off the page.
by Theodore Winthrop
Recommended by Mary Beth Jarrad, Sales and Marketing Director
Cecil Dreeme is one of the queerest American novels of the nineteenth century. It concerns the moral awakening of Robert Byng, who returns to New York from a long decade in Europe to discover his life’s work. He takes a room in a dorm on NYU’s campus (although it is thinly veiled) and inserts himself into society. Cecil Dreeme, an artist who lives in the same building, is the embodiment of all that is morally upright, and Densdeth, a rich socialite, is the embodiment of all that is an easy slide into moral decay. Between them, they present Robert a choice for the fate of his soul. There is much discussion of Art, and Character, Honor and Virtue, and, obviously, Temptation and Sin. There is also one murder, one suicide, one faked suicide, two additional deaths from weakness of character, two cases of financial ruin, mistaken identity, forged letters, disguise, multiple betrayals, and a lot of walking around New York after dark.
What I love about this novel is that it’s so overheated. So much is at stake, with every conversation and encounter! I don’t think anyone will really find the ending all that surprising, but you may rest assured that Goodness triumphs over Evil. And isn’t that reassuring in these unsettled times?
By Eric Thurm
Recommended by Laura Ewen, Marketing Manager
Avidly Reads is a cool new series we recently launched that offers short books designed to start conversations about culture. The authors choose a certain cultural object or experience and then approach it from all different kinds of surprising perspectives, often weaving in their own unique relationship to the object or idea they’ve chosen. There are three fantastic books available right now (and more forthcoming!) but my personal favorite is Eric Thurm’s Avidly Read Board Games. This book asks the questions “How we should think about board games, and what do they do to us as we play them?” Board games usually aren’t taken as seriously as other forms of entertainment, but Thurm asks us to consider games as complex narratives that can exert a powerful pull on our lives. The book reveals fascinating facts about games—chess was originally conceived of to teach war strategy, while Chutes and Ladders began its life in India as a representation of the karmic cycle. I was surprised to learn that many historical games that were developed as means of modeling different social systems and teaching children and adults about the social mores of the time. They often teach us things about the world we don’t even realize we’re learning, like the rules of capitalism from Monopoly or totally outdated gender roles from the game of Life. Thurm digs deep to show how games can serve as cultural artifacts in their reflection of the (sometimes startling) norms or values of their time. This wonderful book is lighthearted and funny but filled with thought-provoking ideas—it’s a perfect read for board game enthusiasts of all kinds who will find many fascinating details to enjoy and who will wholly relate to the author’s own love of games.
Race, Inequality, and the Testing of New Pharmaceuticals
By Jill A. Fisher
Recommended by Veronica Knutson, Editorial Assistant
As I was processing this manuscript to be sent to production, I read a paragraph here and there. And then I read more. And more. Within an hour I had gone from knowing nothing about the Phase I industry to not being able to get enough of this strange and fascinating underbelly of society. Jill A. Fisher’s one-on-one interviews give voice to “professional guinea pigs,” making them active characters in an industry that requires passivity. Adverse Events illustrates how what should be a strict gatekeeper often operates as a conveyor built, whose parts and accomplices are incentivized to push drugs from back doors to medicine cabinets as fast as possible. At once fascinating but unsurprising, Adverse Events shows what happens when Big Pharma meets private, for-profit centers, which then meet desperate, marginalized individuals. As hopes for a vaccine for COVID-19 abound, Adverse Events will leave you thinking about those whose bodies will be used to screen for adverse events, the politics of consent at play, and just how sound the results can be.
By Jane Ward
Recommended by Ilene Kalish, Executive Editor
Do you know how you can laugh and cry at the same time? That’s what reading this book, especially as a straight, cisgendered, White, married woman, is like. There are moments of profound recognition here—oh, I know what she means, or, yes, I’ve felt exactly that—and also moments of deep insight and revelation about the institution we call heterosexuality. As an outsider to heterosexuality, Jane Ward brings such great insight and she asks such smart questions about why heterosexual men and women behave as they do, and the real tragedy that patriarchal culture has brought to bear on us. I also loved hearing more about lesbian relationships and how much more equitable and kind and loving they can be—not that there aren’t difficulties, all relationships are tough, but there are lovely moments here of thinking about how things could be better for straight women. Lastly, I just love Jane Ward’s humor. She is deeply funny, and it’s a pleasure to read a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
A History of Hair Removal
By Rebecca M. Herzig
Recommended by Lucie Taylor, Assistant Editor
Did you know that in the 1920s, women deliberately exposed themselves to radiation to make their facial hair fall out? (The treatment was advertised as harmless, because the rays were invisible and painless.) Or that Gillette, looking to expand the market for razors beyond men who shaved their faces, ran an ad campaign to convince women that they needed to shave their armpits in order to be desirable? How about the fact that women in the US generally didn’t shave their legs until rationing during World War II made it hard for them to obtain the thick stockings they were used to wearing? Plucked: A History of Hair Removal is full of surprising facts like these, and the things I’ve learned have come in handy at trivia nights and cocktail parties. What’s more important: Plucked opened my eyes to how society’s expectations, shaped by advertising, govern my relationship to my own body.