May 24, 2016

New Publication - Gender and Work Book Chapter

Gender and Work: Exploring Intersectionality, Resistance, and Identity

Edited by Miglena Sternadori and Carrie Prentice

"In the context of this social change, this collection offers valuable insights into the work-related intersections of gender, class, and race by using a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches. Case studies of the gendered workplace are presented side by side with manuscripts that weave the literary and historical contexts needed to understand contemporary patterns of labor market discrimination and equity. We hope these essays will inspire new research agendas and spark future scholarship that embraces and theorizes social justice for women and men alike." -- Introduction: On Modern Workplaces and Old-Fashioned Sisterhood

The best kind of book mail to receive is the kind containing your own writing!

Last week I received my copy of Gender and Work: Exploring Intersectionality, Resistance, and Identity. The volume is edited by Miglena Sternadori, Associate Professor and Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Affairs in the College of Media & Communication at Texas Tech University, and Carrie Prentice, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of South Dakota. The chapters constitute some key presentations from the 2015 Women and Gender Conference (you can read my post about presenting at the conference here). The listing is not yet complete on Amazon, but you can order a copy direct from the publisher.

Here's the official book blurb:

Recent years have witnessed growing scholarly interest in efforts to advance women’s work and in exploring the implicit obstacles to gender equity – such as the “glass floor,” “glass ceiling,” and “glass walls” – that have persisted in most career fields. This interdisciplinary collection contributes to this new field of knowledge by curating scholarly essays and current research on gendered work environments and all the nuanced meanings of “work” in the context of feminism and gender equality. The chapters represent some of the most outstanding papers presented at the Women and Gender Conference held at the University of South Dakota on April 9–10, 2015.

The unifying focus of this collection is on the work-related intersections of gender, race, and class, which are investigated through a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches. Some of the essays provide historical and literary contexts for contemporary issues. Others use social-scientific approaches to identify strategies for making the contemporary Western workplace more humane and inclusive to women and other disadvantaged members of society.

Advanced undergraduates and graduate students in women’s studies, sociology, history, and communication could use this book in courses that address the gendered workplace from an interdisciplinary perspective. Scholars from various disciplines interested in gender and work could also use the book as a reference and a guidepost for future research. Finally, this collection will be of interest to human resource professionals and other readers seeking to expand their perspectives on the gendered workplace.

 The volume consists of an introduction and three sections: (1) Historical Underpinnings of Gendered Workplace, (2) Case Studies and Social Scientific Approaches, and (3) Gendered Work in Literature and Popular Culture. Articles in the first section address issues including Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In philosophy, the Equal Rights Amendment, Diana Garcia's labor poetry, work within caregiving institutions, and the Young Women's Christian Association. The second section includes presentations regarding women in higher education, online gender equality, work-life boundaries, gender wage gaps within the mining industry, and parental leaves. The third section--of which my chapter is a part--includes essays on representations of women's work in the writing of Barbara Kingsolver, Clara Viebig's factory girl artwork, employment within Hannah Webster Foster's novels, women's bonds within the Disney film Brave, and reproduction within Downtown Abbey. As you can see, the topics are quite diverse and interesting and I really enjoyed listening to them at the conference.

I'm pleased my presentation was chosen for inclusion within the volume where it appears as Chapter Twelve, "The Intersection of L. T. Meade's Professional and Domestic Victorian Celebrity." The presentation developed from my research on L. T. Meade for my dissertation. Within the book chapter, I detail the author's public success as a prolific writer and editor, her private roles as a wife and mother, and the way in which interviewers reframed this dynamic in solely domestic terms. Though she authored over 250 novels in the course of her lifetime and served as editor of Atalanta magazine, interviews often dismissed the value, impact, and prolific nature of her work and instead focused on aspects of her home, its decor, and her duties as wife and mother.

Reasons to read the book chapter? First, L. T. Meade is a truly impressive historic figure whose work helped shape the writing of future authors and generations and yet she remains largely overlooked within literary history and scholarship. Second, the public/private divide and conversations regarding work-life balance are still extremely important topics of debate. Third, there are pictures! I included three original photographs included within Meade's 1894 interview with London's The Sunday Magazine.

Information about some of my other academic publications is listed below:

May 17, 2016

Book Review - Snappsy the Alligator by Julie Falatko

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!)

by Julie Falatko
illustrated by Tim Miller

"Snappsy the alligator wasn't feeling
like himself.
His feet felt draggy.
His skin felt baggy.
His talk wouldn't swish this way and that.
And, worst of all, his big jaw wouldn't SNAP."

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!) is a new picture book debut from writer Julie Falatko and illustrator Tim Miller. Snappsy is a cute and funny story that begins by following an alligator who's hungry and needs to find some food.

The narrator and Snappsy are at odds with one another, which provides a clever way for readers to interact with the alligator throughout the story: while the narrator keeps describing Snappsy as a violent, cruel, hungry monster, Snappsy tries to show audiences that he's really just a normal guy.

The humorous back-and-forth dialogue reminded me of B.J. Novak's best-selling picture book, The Book With No Pictures, in that parents who read the book to their kids can act as the narrator while kids can join Snappsy's side and laugh along at the interplay.

While the narrator waits for Snappsy to lure his innocent prey and feast on cute, baby birds and little bunnies, Snappsy is just headed to the grocery story to buy some of his favorite foods, most of which start with the letter P: pickles, pretzels, pears, peanut butter, pita bread, and pasta.

When Snappsy arrives home and shuts the door hoping for some privacy, the narrator continues to sit and wait for something to happen. In an effort to appease the narrator (and the audience), Snappsy plans and throws a party and guess who shows up uninvited? The narrator, of course.

I thought this picture book was quite funny and while the premise is simple, I chuckled several times. Snappsy is a very likable character, the narrative is clever, and Tim Miller's brightly-colored ink and brush illustrations are very entertaining. I particularly liked how each picture had so much to look at and how there were several jokes hidden within the illustrations for grown-up readers.

If you're looking for a picture book for pre-school to second grade readers, absolutely check out Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!). I look forward to seeing what else Falatko will write and I'm particularly hopeful that Miller's illustrations will appear in numerous additional picture books as he clearly has a knack for entertaining audiences.

(Ages 4-8)

[Book copy from the publisher.]

May 16, 2016

Happy Birthday, L. Frank Baum!

Yesterday was L. Frank Baum's birthday. Here is my copy of The Wizard of Oz with my absolute favorite bookmark that I bought from the Etsy store Oops, I Craft My Pants (great name, right?).

Did you know that Baum wrote fifteen Oz books?

1. Wonderful Wizard of Oz
2. Marvelous Land of Oz
3. Ozma of Oz
4. Dorothy & the Wizard in Oz
5. The Road to Oz
6. The Emerald City of Oz
7. The Patchwork Girl of Oz
8. Tik-Tok of Oz
9. Scarecrow of Oz
10. Rinkitink in Oz
11. Lost Princess of Oz
12. Tin Woodman of Oz
13. Magic of Oz
14. Glinda of Oz
15. Royal Book of Oz (co-authored)

Additional authors have added volumes beyond that, but that's quite the series.

I must admit I've only read The Wizard of Oz and Glinda of Oz, though I can brag that I've actually been to the Wizard of Oz museum in the tiny town of Wamego, Kansas. It's very small-town adorable and they display a lot of memorabilia from the book and movie's fan base. Travel tip: if you go, across the street you'll find a yellow brick road which leads to an old home that's been converted to a bakery. The pastries are delicious!

If you reread the book, take note at how many parallels there are to Harry Potter (I've been meaning to publish an article on this for years but life keeps getting in the way).

Happy belated birthday, Mr. Baum!

Here is my favorite quote from the book: “Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don't you think?”

Which Oz book or character is your favorite? Have you been to the Oz museum?

May 11, 2016

Book Review - The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

The High Mountains of Portugal

by Yann Martel

"Grief is a disease. We were riddled with its pockmarks, tormented by its fevers, broken by its blows. It ate at us like maggots, attacked us like lice--we scratched ourselves to the edge of madness. In the process we became as withered as crickets, as tired as old dogs. Nothing fit right in our lives anymore. Drawers no longer closed cleanly, chairs and tables wobbled, plates became chipped, spoons appeared flecked with dried food, clothes started to stain and tear--and the outside world was just as ill-fitting."

The famed author of Life of Pi delivers a truly conversation- and study-worthy read in his part fantasy, part magical realism, part fiction tale The High Mountains of Portugal. I have no difficulty imagining literature graduate students and professors across the world discussing this book in the classroom and during professional conferences (in part because that's my day job). It would be sad if you didn't hear a lot about this book.

Reading The High Mountains of Portugal is like encountering a mix of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude and Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated, and yet Martel's prose style is completely his own. Not everyone enjoys this style of fiction and many early reviews are responding to the difficulty in reading the prose, but the novel demonstrates the craft of writing at its finest. There were moments when I was confused and lost (as often occurs in prose that has magical realism elements), parts when I laughed, and significant passages when I had to stop and process the depth of what I'd just read (the quoted passage above was one of those moments). The book consists of three parts, but really is a matter of four stories.

The first section "Homeless" follows a Portuguese man named Tomás. In the course of one week, Tomás loses his father, his lover, and his son. He is understandably overcome with intense grief and begins walking backwards as a way of turning his back on God. He wanders Lisbon and encounters a man who owns one of the first automobile models which he uses to travel the country. Having discovered a seventeenth-century journal of priest who worked to minister among slaves, Tomás uses the car to set out on a personal quest hoping to find something to distract himself from the pain he carries.

The second section "Homeward," takes place thirty-five years later and was actually the reason I picked up the book in the first place. I'd read in the book summary that this section contained a character who is a bit obsessed with Agatha Christie's mystery novels and as a devoted fan myself, I was curious to see how and why Martel would include this storyline. Dr. Loroza--himself a widower--performs an autopsy on Maria Castro's husband while Maria is present. During this unbelievably abnormal scene examining the corpse, Maria grieves for her husband and muses on the connection between Agatha Christie's fiction and the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Maria wonders why it is that a reader can be so drawn to a Christie mystery novel, and yet after finishing it can rarely remember whodunnit? She's bothered by the fact that the New Testament accounts of the life of Jesus are written decades after the fact and are second-hand stories. She questions why Jews (whose religion is very text- and reader-oriented) were not entrusted with what she wishes were a stronger and more direct account of Jesus' life and ministry. She connects this to Christie's mysteries, the finger-pointing that occurs within them, the narrative style, and what all of this really means. In the end, a simplified summary of her argument is that the manner in which these texts are written indict humanity at large. As a collective group, we cannot remember the name of the individual man or woman who was the murderer in the mystery novel no more than we can name the man who physically nailed Christ's body to the cross because for her it is essential to feel that we are all of us equally guilty. She proposes that it wasn't one of us but rather all of us that brought about the crucifixion of Jesus: we all have blood on our hands and need to learn to deal with the burden of death and what it means. Her thought process is complicated and undeniably controversial and I'm not doing it justice by recalling it off-hand without a copy of the book in front of me, but I do have a copy of the passage wherein she draws parallels between Christie's stories and Jesus and the apostle Paul and the Belgian detective detective Hercule Poirot:

"The only modern genre that plays on the same high moral register as the Gospels is the lowly regarded murder mystery. If we set the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie atop the Gospels and shine a light through, we see correspondence and congruence, agreement and equivalence. We find matching patterns and narrative similarities. They are maps of the same city, parables of the same existence. They glow with the same moral transparency. And so the explanation for why Agatha Christie is the most popular author in the history of the world. Her appeal is as wide and her dissemination as great as the Bible's, because she is a modern apostle, a female one--about time, after two thousand years of men blathering on. And this new apostle answers the same questions Jesus answered: What are we to do with death? Because murder mysteries are always resolved in the end, the mystery neatly dispelled. We must do the same with death in our lives: resolve it, give it meaning, put it into context, however hard that might be.

And yet Agatha Christie and the Gospels are different in a key way. We no longer live in an age of prophecy and miracle. We no longer have Jesus among us the way the people of the Gospels did. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are narratives of presence. Agatha Christie's are gospels of absence. They are modern gospels for a modern people, a people more suspicious, less willing to believe. And so Jesus is present only in fragments, in traces, cloaked and masked, obscured and hidden. But look--he's right there in her last name. Mainly, though, he hovers, he whispers."

While my beliefs differ from this theory, but it was interesting to read about.

The third section "Home" follows the grieving Canadian politician, Senator Peter Tovy, who takes a trip to a chimpanzee refuge in Oklahoma, adopts one of the chimps, and the two become friends. This part may sound rather random and ridiculous, the connection they form became one of the most touching and tear-provoking relationships within the entire text. My eyes well up just thinking about it.

You're right if you guess that the fourth story in the novel is that of grief itself. Each character carries and responds to overwhelming grief in unique and memorable ways. While on the surface their actions seem absurd--walking backwards, buying a chimpanzee and taking a cross-country roadtrip, attending your husband's autopsy and examining each part of his body in turn--they each are tremendously powerful because anyone who has experienced great grief can relate to the way it tears you assunder. Martel writes "Grief is a disease" and his examination of this disease within The High Mountains of Portugal is truly memorable.

May 9, 2016

J. M. Barrie's 156th Birthday

J. M. Barrie's 156th Birthday

Today is J. M. Barrie's birthday. I love Peter Pan, but not for the usual reasons.

When I've taught the book in the past, there are often a few female students who say they're excited to read it because they think the movie is so romantic. I just silently nod and smile and let them read it and decide for themselves if they still think that after reading the book.

In one of my favorite classes I created, I taught 20th-century British and American literature and started the semester by using Peter Pan as our guide for the entire course and literature within the whole century. The students and our discussions were off-the-chart fantastic. I cannot wait to teach that course again.

The story and Peter himself had so many reincarnations before evolving into the Peter and Wendy novel we now call Peter Pan. Not to be a downer, but the book raises so many issues about gender, racism, colonialism, childhood, and imagination that I love discussing it and could for hours. Furthermore, the life of J. M. Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys are so tragic and full of unanswered questions. I'm a firm believer in studying texts in their full context and when students talk about what happened with each of the boys there's always a somberness to our class, the same as when we talk about Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the speculations about Alice Liddell (whether you believe the rumors about Carroll or not--I always keep my opinions about author's biographies to myself--the fact that she refused to talk about him or to him has to be part of the conversation).

Here are four editions of Peter Pan I readily had on hand, but I think I have at least three or four other copies embedded within larger anthologies.

If you're a book nerd and you've never checked out Maria Tatar's editions I highly recommend them! They're not really suited to child audiences or casual readers, but if you like footnotes and learning about cultural context they're fantastic.

So "Happy Birthday" to J. M. Barrie! Thank you for a story worth talking about for over one hundred years!