Outstanding Academic Titles 2022: Women’s History Month Part 2

This week we highlight the second installment of 2022 Outstanding Academic Titles selected to commemorate Women's History Month

1. Joan Didion: substance and style
Vandenberg, Kathleen M. SUNY Press, 2021

In her introduction to this volume Vandenberg (rhetoric, Boston Univ.) notes that Didion’s biographical details have “likely commanded as much attention as her prose, if not more.” Earlier critical works offer themes and chronologies of her life, but Didion is a “writer with enormous reserve.” In this book Vandenberg examines Didion’s nonfiction prose of the past four decades through the lens of rhetoric, dissecting its power and charm. Whether looking at aging, delving into grief, or inspiring other women journalists and writers, Didion is a model and iconic essayist. Vandenberg shows the reader the ways in which Didion elegantly lifts the curtain on popular culture and political events while keenly aware of “the control that sentences exert over content” (p. 5). With her hallmark repetition, placement of commas, vivid metaphors, cadence, and parenthetical asides directed at the reader, she maintains precise control of form. Vanderberg offers a unique examination of how Didion’s later nonfiction and essays are constructed. She offers close readings of Salvador (1983), “New York: Sentimental Journeys” (The New York Review, January, 1991), Political Fictions (2001), The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), and Blue Night (2011), providing an engaging look at how Didion’s recent work mirrors an urbane style yet continues familiar patterns in her writing. View on Amazon.

2. Toni Morrison and the natural world: an ecology of color
Wardi, Anissa Janine. University Press of Mississippi, 2021

Also author of Death and the Arc of Mourning in African American Literature (2003) and Water and African American Memory: An Ecocritical Perspective (CH, May’12, 49-4936), Wardi (Chatham Univ.) here advances her acclaimed critical studies in African American literature and ecocriticism. By linking the ecology of colors in the natural environment with the work of Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison’s fiction, Wardi traces a direct line between racism and ecocide. The introduction, “All of Them Colors Was in Me,” links embodiment with material ecocriticism and Morrison’s vision of sustainability and color theory with bodies of color. The chapters that follow focus on a particular color and the corresponding fiction. For example, brown, the color of skin, dirt, and compost, is used to explain meaning in Paradise and The Bluest Eye. Green, the color of life and healing, applies to Beloved, Home, and Song of Solomon. “Blue, the color associated with islands, swamps, water, and other ecotones” applies to Tar Baby and Love. This fascinating, insightful study concludes with the “colors” black and white, the epitome of no color and all color and the historical foundation of racial prejudice signified in A Mercy and Jazz. View on Amazon

3. The Oxford handbook of Virginia Woolf
ed. by Anne E. Fernald Oxford, 2021

The very existence of The Oxford Handbook of Virginia Woolf bespeaks Woolf’s centrality in the modernist canon and demonstrates her preeminent, radiating influence on the modern literary landscape. Comprising 39 essays organized into six parts (“Life,” “Texts,” “Experiment in Form and Style,” “Professions of Writing,” “Contexts,” and “Afterlives”), the collection will be a necessary resource for any discussion of modernism, modern book reviewing practices, or the etiology of many current theories grounded in social justice, including feminism, queer studies, trans studies, and disability/ability studies. Fernald’s careful, cohesive editing choices provide a text rich in brief expository essays (for those new to Woolf) and longer critical pieces positing provocative readings of Woolf’s corpus. The contributors include giants in Woolf studies, such as Madelyn Detloff, Anna Snaith, Vera Neverow, Kathryn Simpson, Helen Southworth, and Alice Staveley, so the text becomes a master class in Woolf scholarship. Newer voices provide fresh insights, among them gems by Eleanor McNees and Chris Coffman. This collection proves that Woolf helped define modern critique and creative writing as it is currently known. View on Amazon

4. Girl archaeologist: sisterhood in a sexist profession
Kehoe, Alice Beck. Nebraska, 2022

The ironic title of her autobiography is an instant clue about what Kehoe (emer., Marquette Univ.) faced during her distinguished career as an anthropologist-cum-archaeologist. Throughout her Depression-era childhood and high school years, she exhibited an independent spirit and inquiring intellect. She later managed to win over a resistant father who maligned college women, and she found rewarding intellectual and personal experiences at Barnard, a women’s college. This experience contrasted markedly with the harassment, disrespect, and disregard she endured as a PhD student at class-ridden, sexist Harvard University, where she was once ousted from a seminar because she was pregnant and where she was once raped. Job discrimination, inferior pay, the mother’s double duty, and a husband who resisted domestication were part of her life but never defined it. She packed up her three children and went every summer to the field, accomplishing original, recognized research in the archaeology, history, and ethnography of the Native people of the northern plains. Kehoe’s gift for friendship shines in her enduring relationships with students, colleagues, and her Native teachers. Hers is an accessible, absorbing book suitable for all readers and for a variety of courses in women’s studies, cultural anthropology, and archaeology. View on Amazon

5The Women who changed architecture
ed. by Jan Cigliano Haertman Princeton Architectural, 2022

This volume charts the biographies and career trajectories of 121 women architects, starting in the 1850s, and presents examples of groundbreaking work. Women have expanded architecture as a field, weaving together new forms of working and engaging with different populations, media, and sites. But though women have been working as architects for more than 100 years, they have been absent when it comes to awards and industry accolades. Traditionally, women architects were relegated to drafting in large architecture firms or designing interiors, kitchens, public housing, and landscapes and gardens. The book traces some of the shifting frames of this struggle over many generations. These women designed large bold projects and lived long, productive, and complex lives. Just like their male colleagues, they taught and wrote and engaged in other professions (e.g., photography). The book’s co-publisher, the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, asks that readers use the book not as a chronology per se but rather as a framework for understanding generational shifts of power. As such, it serves as an extensive catalog of women architects that is far more exhaustive than other recent, similarly themed books. One cannot help but be encouraged and inspired by the vivid professional and personal life stories. View on Amazon

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