2021 Outstanding Academic Titles: Poems and Poetry

Five selections from the Choice Reviews 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight Choice 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles about poems and poetry.

Doubtful readers book cover, a 2021 Outstanding Academic Title
1. Doubtful readers: print, poetry, and the reading public in early modern England
McCarthy, Erin A. Oxford, 2020

Doubtful Readers offers a much-needed corrective to received notions about the importance of print collections of poetry in early modern Britain. Whereas recent scholarly trends prefer the manuscript, McCarthy (Univ. of Newcastle, Australia) argues well for the importance of print lyric collections in the development of English poetry, both its composition and reception. In discussions of the organization and paratextual elements of print poetry collections—particularly those associated with Shakespeare, Aemilia Lanyer, and John Donne—McCarthy demonstrates how printers and publishers concerned with profitable enterprise designed and presented their books in a way that they hoped would appeal to the widest possible public. The author makes a strong case for dismissing the “stigma of print” concept, the commonly accepted notion that has long cast a shadow over published poetry during this time. Instead this book reveals that authors were anxious, sometimes even excited, by the prospect of not knowing who was reading their works or how they were being read. View on Amazon.

2. The Beats: a literary history
Belletto, Steven. Cambridge, 2020
The Beats book cover, a 2021 Outstanding Academic Title

Also the editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Beats (CH, Jul’17, 54-5047), Belletto (Lafayette College) argues for a broader, more diverse definition of the Beat movement by examining and comparing texts by a wide variety of authors associated with several postwar avant-garde communities, including Black Mountain, the San Francisco Renaissance, the New York School, and the Light Years Poets. Beginning with the central roles played by the Beat generation’s founders—Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs—Belletto ranges outward to explore the “diffuse literary and cultural movements” (p. 133) the founders inspired. He also discusses less-known but deserving authors within the Beat orbit, including David Meltzer, Bob Kaufman, Ted Joans, and a host of women writers, among them Lenore Kandel, Barbara Moraff, Sheri Martinelli, ruth weiss, Elise Cowen, Janine Pommy Vega, and Kay Johnson. Separate chapters focus on the movement’s hostile reception in academia and its treatment in mass media (including the invention of the beatnik); the role Little Magazines played in Beat publishing; and the response of Beat writers to the Vietnam War. View on Amazon.

3. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Adler, Jeremy D. Reaktion Books, 2020
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe book cover, a 2021 Outstanding Academic Title

Adler (emer., Kings College London, UK) provides a welcome, eminently readable summary of Goethe’s astounding life, work, and lasting influences. Delightfully illustrated, with acknowledgement of the strengths of translations cited, this carefully documented book covers an impressive range of academic fields with erudition and insight, providing a rich symbiosis of literary history and the history of science. Goethe’s splendid education, together with a trove of varied experiences, allowed him a life of productivity and self-conscious reflection. Never losing sight of Goethe’s unequaled literary accomplishments (poetry, drama, prose long and short, autobiography), Adler traces sources and outgrowths of Goethe’s thinking and writing in—to mention only some of his areas of study—philosophy, history, economics, physics, chemistry, and, of course, contemporary and ancient literature. Especially welcome is an update on the status of Goethe’s groundbreaking theory of color, long considered erroneous. Adler considers Goethe’s numerous major works, providing carefully considered summaries of research along with valuable observations on past and contemporary meaning. View on Amazon.

4. Pleasure in profit: popular prose in seventeenth-century Japan
Moretti, Laura. Columbia, 2020
Pleasure in Profit book cover, a 2021 Outstanding Academic Title

Focusing on what was commercially published in 17th-century Japan, Moretti (Univ. of Cambridge, UK) discusses what scholars have left unread: Confucian and Buddhist teachings; lessons on etiquette, cooking, courtship, and letter writing; advice on how to make money or accept poverty, how to cope with disasters, and so on. Moretti explains how the complex writing systems in use in the 17th century accommodated varying degrees of literacy, and she analyzes publishers’ catalogs to show that inexpensive books were available to a diversifying reading public. The many texts Moretti analyzes are characterized by intertwined narrative and non-narrative prose, which is non-normative today, and she suggests that this “discontinuous writing” was met with reading strategies that included both “purposive and digressive curiosity” (p. 291). Moretti dismantles the age-old, simplistic contrast between what is entertaining or aesthetic versus what is instructive or didactic when she concludes that books that were issued for monetary gain provided their readers with the pleasures of other kinds of profit, such as the self-confidence and even joy that can come from learning new and useful things. View on Amazon.

5. In plain sight: nineteenth-century American women’s poetry and the problem of literary history
Socarides, Alexandra. Oxford, 2020
In plain sight book cover, a 2021 Outstanding Academic Title

Socarides (Univ. of Missouri) begins her work with a simple yet intriguing question: Why have 19th-century women poets who were so visible in their time become so invisible now? Socarides says that sexist 19th-century practices are not to blame, nor are experimental 20th-century reception practices, which draw the poets out of their time and refuse their own agency. She proposes that the authors’ own poetic constructions and conventions contributed to their erasure from literary history. The author draws on work by Meredith McGill (American Literature and the Culture of ReprintingCH, Jun’03, 40-5669), Virginia Jackson (Dickinson’s MiseryCH, Jul’06, 43-6387), and others to reestablish the complicated literary marketplace of the 19th century, paying close attention to the relationships between material culture and poetic form in order to reveal the ways in which market conventions produced such conditions of invisibility. Studying conventions such as the anthology, the preface, the collaboration, and the ballad, Socarides attends to how such conventional practices defined these writers and then explains how Emily Dickinson’s conflicted position in this marketplace led to her canonization in American literature. On Amazon.

Read more about Choice Outstanding Academic Titles.

Sign up for the weekly 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles enewsletter

Between December and August you’ll receive a weekly enewsletter from Choice highlighting a themed snippet from the 2021 Outstanding Academic Titles list.

Sign Up Now

Enjoying our reviews? Academic librarians may sign up for a complimentary trial of Choice Reviews for their institution.

*Trial limited to academic institutions that have not had a trial/subscription to Choice Reviews in the past 24 months. The offer is limited to institutional trials only, not available to individuals/students/publishers.

Read previous Outstanding Academic Title list snippets.