Short Takes: News and Reviews

Lots of great reviews for our books of late, several of which we’re featuring in Short Takes this week.

However, first some poetry news. We want to congratulate Kyle Dargan on being named a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for his collection Honest Engine. The winners will be announced in April. Also, if you haven’t already seen the blog post, we have just announced the very first recipient of the Georgia Poetry Prize! Congratulations to Christopher Salerno, whose winning collection Sun & Urn will come out next year.

Finally, there are many great events our authors will be a part of this spring across the country. Take a look at our events calendar and try to make it out to one of them if they’re in your area!

Radiant essays inspired by ‘slivers and bits’ of real women’s lives. The Dreamland was both a real dance club that burned down in 1923 and a dreamscape, where Livingston reunites women as disparate as activist Susan B. Anthony, tightrope walker Maria Spelterini, artists’ model Audrey Munson, and poet Adelaide Crapsey. The author calls her startlingly original essays literary nonfiction, but some read more like historical fiction, spun as they are from documented sources; and some—a brief evocation of Virginia Dare, for example—read like lyrical prose poems. Livingston is taken with wild women: daredevils and rebels who do not ‘stick to crosswalks and curfews and submit to regular cholesterol testing.’ Human wildness, she writes, ‘is a precious and fleeting thing,’ worth celebrating. Among the subjects in her panoply are schoolgirl Alice Mitchell, who fell in love with Freda Ward and proposed that they elope, Alice dressed like a man. Freda’s family quashed the plan, leaving Alice so bereft that she cut Freda’s throat. Insanity was the verdict at her trial: her love for a girl, in turn-of-the-century Memphis, ‘was considered more outrageous than the act of murder.’ Based on scanty correspondence given to Livingston by her mother-in-law, she revives the mysterious Manuela Grey, who sailed on the Saturnia for Bologna, to be treated at an orthopedic hospital for arthritis in her hip. It is 1935, and Livingston pictures her as Claudette Colbert, a fashionable sophisticate who reads Edna St. Vincent Millay. In portraits of 15-year-old May Fielding, a white slave; Krao, a girl exhibited as Charles Darwin’s missing link; and a shunned Filipino classmate, the author displays uncommon empathy: ‘Aren’t we all looking for something to connect us to others while locating the truth of who we are?’ Wise, fresh, captivating essays.”

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

The author’s main argument is that veganism is both an identity category—just like religion, sexual orientation, or national origin—and a practice, as it reflects itself in many choices ranging from shopping to cooking. As such, its manifestations are far from univocal, and it would be a mistake to focus uniquely on the experience of white vegans. Wright frames veganism within an ecofeminist approach, examining forms of oppressions that place nature, the body, and women in direct opposition—and in an inferior position—against culture, the spirit and men.”

Huffington Post


After Montaigne
Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays
Edited by David Lazar and Patrick Madden

Many people write essays, but not as many read the works of the form’s creator, Michel de Montaigne. Lazar (Columbia College, Chicago) and Madden (Brigham Young Univ.) collect 28 essays—by men and women and representing diverse cultures and backgrounds—that are “covers” of specific works written by Montaigne. Each essay begins with a quote from Montaigne’s essay and ends with a coda that explains how the writer was inspired by the original. The contributors write in a variety of styles, from the humorous to the deeply thoughtful. Wayne Koestenbaum’s “Of Smells” comprises a series of brief vignettes connected only by the concept of smell. In “Of the Education of Children,” Brian Doyle imitates, even in his coda, the rambling sentences and parenthetical interruptions characteristic of Montaigne. The collection is accessible and invites readers to dip in anywhere, to read all or only a few. Reading these “covers” alongside Montaigne’s originals would make an engaging activity for aspiring essayists or composition students. This entertaining, vibrant collection belongs its inspiration, the work of Montaigne.

—P. J. Kurtz, Choice


A Memoir
Sarah Einstein
Selected by John Philip Santos

What shines, here, is Einstein’s solid prose. The author has a firm grasp of her own emotions, which allows her to veer off with Mot’s unintentional broken thoughts. This is a book that portrays illness in all of its sad disrepair. . . . makes it clear that some questions are worth asking even if we know we won’t receive answers.”

—Heather Scott Partington, Electric Literature


After Montaigne Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays
Edited by David Lazar and Patrick Madden

It is not the aim of this book to make a sustained argument or historiographic intervention. And yet the contributors do uncover the extent to which photographs have variously preoccupied, inspired, and even challenged us as historians—and the degree to which they have informed our interpretations. Too, they reveal that photographs so often capture for us the war’s inherent contradictions. . . . Civil War aficionados looking for personal and sometimes poignant reflections on the war’s participants and their legacies will want this book on their coffee tables.”

—Brian Matthew Jordan, Civil War Book Review

Though relatively short, To Live and Dine in Dixie packs a
considerable punch with its connection of modern Southern dining attitudes to their Jim Crow predecessors, substantiated by wide-ranging research and refreshingly informed by Cooley’s expertise on legal matters. It’s an eye-opening read for anybody,
but those who either live or were raised in the “post-racial” South might find it an especially educational experience, the early history of still-active regional chains like Hardee’s and Cracker Barrel, and perhaps readers’ own personal memories and experiences, testifying to the seeming permanence (and protean forms) of a fundamental Southern divide.”

—Wendell McKay, Repast

This book is an unusual gem. Like a strange piece of jewelry, it may be difficult to find where it fits best, yet it always seems to draw interest. Capture a variety of stories that reflect the ways we handle death and mourning in America. The stories are well written as they are unusual—an obituary writers conference, a woman who sells cremation urns directly to consumers online, a memorial pho-tographer, a woman carefully attending a roadside memorial, and a burial at sea. All in all, eight chapters that cast a light on some of the ways that Americans mourn. In doing so, Sweeney raises some interesting questions on the ways we really continue bonds with our deceased.”


While many historians have built upon the work of Leonard Richards in describing the slave power’s domination of US politics in the antebellum era, none have explained it as thoroughly as Patrick Rael has in his synthetic, yet path-breaking, work on antislavery in the Atlantic. Rael puts the US antislavery movement into an international context to describe just how powerful the slaveholding interests were. After showing how strong the slave power really was and how likely it was to win the fight to spread slavery, he illustrates how difficult abolition was in a nation ruled by such a strong special interest group. His goal is to explain why it took eighty-eight years and a civil war to end slavery in the United States, and he achieves this through tight, yet thorough, analysis and the elegant, yet clear, prose his works are known for.”

American Book Review


Cornbread Nation 7
The Best of Southern Food Writing
Edited by Francis Lam
John T. Edge, General Editor

The secrets of southern cooking are continually whispered from one generation to the next, like in a game of telephone. Rayna Green calls southern cooking a ‘complex mélange,’ and these essays offer many visions of that combining process—it is a melding and juxtaposition of flavors that expose and obscure the many cultures that have contributed to its signature flavors, embracing history, resisting history, oblivious to history, making history. The premise of the collection is to examine the way southern food looks from the outside, but the writers of these essays position themselves simultaneously as insiders and outsiders, writing lovingly of tradition and of its transformations. But most consistently, they write of the discovery of self in the broad-ranging traditions of southern food and the fluidity of that regional definition. Just as the authors range from academics to chefs, journalists, poets, and home cooks, the theme that binds the volume together is the vibrancy of the conversation. Southern food, these authors tell us, is inflected with history and with literature; perfumed by the soil and by the spices of global networks, it engages all the senses.”

Journal of Southern History

If success is measured by Oscars, Grammys, or Golden Globes, Johnny Mercer was a more successful songwriter than Irving Berlin or Cole Porter. Mercer’s work on Broadway disappointed him—no Tonys–but his work on records, television, and movies served his music better. As Glenn Eskew argues in his new Mercer biography, ‘no other songwriter appears so successfully involved in so many facets of America’s entertainment industry in the twentieth century as Johnny Mercer’. . . . Johnny Mercer: Southern Songwriter for the World is an extraordinarily detailed biography, enriched by placing Mercer, this most successful of songwriters at center in a singular history of American popular music, based on Mercer’s work with interpenetrating musical genres carried across the country by the southern diaspora.

—John Presley, Journal of American Culture

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