The Greater New Haven Literacy Coalition, an all-volunteer organization, is launching this blog as part of its mission to promote, support, and advance literacy in our region. The blog complements Cheryl Manciero’s monthly New Haven Register column, Reading Along.
We invite readers to tell us about books they’re reading, recommending, delighting in, deploring, learning from, teaching with, laughing about — whatever may be the case.
To get us started: I most recently read J.M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year, which was disappointing — inferior to Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace, the two other of his novels that I’d read, years before. I would recommend those other two and still plan to explore his fictionalized memoirs about his childhood and youth.
I am currently reading Migrant Imaginaries, by Alicia Schmidt Camacho of the Yale faculty (also a board member at Junta for Progressive Action), and Toward Excellence with Equity, by Ronald Ferguson, who studies achievement gaps. I’ve just begun the first and have read a few chapters of the second.
In February, I read The Most Famous Man in America, by New Haven’s own Debby Applegate, about Henry Ward Beecher. Beyond her treatment of debates over slavery and abolition, the Civil War and Reconstruction, her vivid portrayal of 19th-century media culture, popular religion, commerce, sin, and redemption resonates as the U.S. reckons with the costs and consequences of another, even more gilded age. Beecher’s family — including his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe — and characters ranging from Lincoln and Victoria Woodhull to Twain and Whitman are part of the book’s appeal. Debby Applegate writes, for example, of Beecher and Whitman: “Both men shared a bottomless enthusiasm for New York, with its vast variety and primal energy, and both insisted that love was the only meaningful bond between the heterogeneous human atoms and the great cosmos.”
Of local interest, she recounts how Beecher’s father, Lyman Beecher, sent young Henry to Amherst College rather than Yale partly because he “regarded[ed] his safety greater in Amherst than in New Haven,” where Yale was susceptible to the “Southern influence” of “honor and spirit.” This, in the author’s words, “often led to dueling, gambling, and other dangerous hobbies that could easily corrupt his impressionable boy.” (Amherst tuition also was a relatively inexpensive $40 per semester, with board $1.50 a week.)
In March, the work of another New Haven author — Jennifer Baszile — drew me. Her The Black Girl Next Door combines powerful insights about social class, family, and race with sharply witty observations about adolescence and the humorous juxtapositions of life. Hers is such a personal book that any quotation would lack context; do read it for yourself.
Thanks to the New Haven Free Public Library, recently my wife and I have been reading various books to our children, ages three and and one. Among the titles: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods and, now, Little House on the Prairie.
That’s plenty for this blog’s initial post. Now let’s invite neighbors of all ages — anyone who is interested, from the home, school or workplace, the private, public, or nonprofit sectors — to tell us what you’re reading. Later this spring, with the approach of the Arts and Ideas Festival in June, we’ll especially encourage discussion of poetry in connection with the “Favorite Poem Project.”
Josiah Brown, for the Greater New Haven Literacy Coalition