Woodworking: Here’s literature to liberate your mindBack in the Middle Ages when I was a kid, literature majors had to plough through anthologies of American Literature and read colonial poems and essays written in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, many of which we had been forced to read from second grade forward.
By: Dave Wood, columnist , River Falls Journal
Back in the Middle Ages when I was a kid, literature majors had to plough through anthologies of American Literature and read colonial poems and essays written in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, many of which we had been forced to read from second grade forward.
Like “The Last Snowfall,” by James Russell Lowell and memorize “The Chambered Nautilus.”
It’s a wonder we didn’t all switch majors to something really fun, like abnormal psychology.
So I wasn’t too excited to receive a paperback big enough to sink The Titanic.
It was a reissue of a 2009 book, “A New Literary History of America,” edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors (Harvard University Press, $20 paper).
But a perusal of its table of contents was rather startling. Surely, the old warhorses like Samuel Sewall, Melville and Hemingway made appearances.
But a whole passel of new subjects which would never have appeared a generation ago grace this interesting book of essays.
One that caught my eye was written by an old acquaintance, Philip Furia, who used to teach at the University of Minnesota. His essay was on the Tin Pan Alley great, Irving Berlin, and the genesis of his very popular tune, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”
Editor Greil Marcus, the cultural anthropologist who writes of popular music in books like “Lipstick Traces,” explains in a preface that America’s “literature was not inherited but invented, as if it were a tool or a machine, and discovered, as if it were a gold strike or the next wonder of the Louisiana Purchase.
No tradition has ever ruled; no form has ever been fixed; American history, literary, social, political, religious, cultural and technological, has been a matter of what one could make of it, and of how one got across what he or she meant to say to his or her fellow citizens, as they no less than the speaker struggled to define themselves as individuals, and as part of a whole.”
Thus the new book contains essays about Mickey Mouse by the University of Minnesota’s Karal Ann Marling; Franklin Roosevelt’s first Fireside Chat by Paula Rabinowitz; Douglas McGrath on madcap movie director Preston Sturges; and, finally, an essay on Hurricane Katrina by editors Marcus and Werner Sollors.
And let’s not forget a nod to Linda Lovelace of “Deep Throat,” the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous and Henry Ford’s River Rouge industrial plant.
It’s a liberating book all the way round and doesn’t ignore the likes of our puritan forefathers or warhorses like Henry James or Ralph Waldo Emerson or Walt Whitman or Herman Melville.
Instead it merely lets in lots of fresh air and redefines the boundaries of what literature is.
“Condos in the Woods,” by Rebecca Schewe, Donald Field, Debora Frosch, Gregory Glendenning and Dana Jensen (University of WisconsinPress, $29.95, paper) answers lots of questions I’ve had about the trend to turn over forested lands into havens for city folks who come to stay a few weeks every year.
A case in point is our old 40-acre hobby farm in Trempealeau County. We bought it for $3,500 in 1972, sold it for a fair profit in 1979.
It lay fallow for years, a mountain of a place with a woodlot and not much else. A few years back it was sold for more than $100,000.
A city fellow bought it, tore all the farm buildings down, built a villa for himself, two artificial lakes, an asphalt road through it, as well as movie monitors in the woods so he could see where the deer were hanging out.
That’s happening all over in Wisconsin, according to “Condos in the Woods,” a scholarly book written by a quartet of University of Wisconsin researchers.
It’s a landmark study which sports a questionnaire response technique that’s being imitated by other academic researchers, around the country.
The University of Wisconsin crew sent out questions to a goodly percentage of permanent residents and vacation owners. If they didn’t respond, they sent it out again and again and achieved over 80% response from the test group.
The book is chock full of their responses to questions like, “Do you like it better or worse than when the neighborhood was gentrified?”
The responses are interesting as is the terminology used. The areas in question, mainly Washburn and Burnett counties in Wisconsin, are called “extractive” because timber and iron ore and agriculture was extracted when first settled.
Now, nothing much is extracted but lots of expensive vacation homes have taken their place.