Prairie Dog’s Summer Reading List 2018

Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2018 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. The Prairie Progressive is funded entirely by reader subscription, available only in hard copy for $12/yr. Send check to PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244.

by Prairie Dog

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
The most versatile and prolific writer alive today. These short stories are as funny, brutal, wise, and challenging as her essays, memoirs, New York Times columns, novels, and tweets.

The Dog Lover Unit: Lessons in Courage from the World’s K9 Cops by Rachel Rose
Picture a short, soft-spoken Canadian poet accustomed to living with little white dogs named Fluffy. Now see her allowing herself to be attacked by a large, snarling German shepherd learning to be a police dog. Rose turns what could have been a piece of superficial journalism about heroic cops and their canine companions into adventurous, insightful, and deeply personal exploration of fear, regrets, loss, America’s gun culture, women in a predominantly male profession, and law enforcement in other countries including France, where the dogs are always muzzled (the French haven’t forgotten that Nazis used dogs to round up Jews). Her account of job-shadowing an Iowa City police officer and his dog is particularly compelling and surprising.

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto
Poet and former University of Iowa creative writing teacher Kuusisto, nearly blind since birth and taught by his parents that it was somehow shameful and kept hidden, at age 38 decides to get a guide dog. As lyrical as his first book, Planet of the Blind, this account of the opening of an entirely new world thanks to a yellow lab also deals with societal attitudes toward blindness, the terminology associated with disabilities, and the history of guide dogs (dating back to soldiers blinded by gas during World War II).

The Negro Motorist Green Book by Victor Hugo Green
This travel guide for black Americans became popular during the years of the Great Migration, when millions of Black Americans took to the highways, venturing mostly from the rural South to the North and Midwest in search of jobs and a respite from racial terrorism. Its annual editions were widely used even in the late ’60s, helping to pass the word about motels, restaurants, stores, and gas stations not hostile to people traveling to find work or to visit families who had already made the move, a move that didn’t always result in the safety and security they sought. Reprints of the originals are now available, offering a small but vivid glimpse into the hatred so many citizens endured and coped with, in our lifetimes, in the Land of the Free.

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
Like John Green, Thomas stretches the boundaries of Young Adult fiction, giving us a poignant portrayal of teenagers in crisis. Here the crisis is especially relevant and powerful: teen-aged Starr Carter’s best friend is shot and killed by police. Readers of all ages and colors will be touched, and perhaps moved to action, by racial injustices experienced by high school students and how they respond. Equally intense is the juggling act Starr performs every day, balancing her life in a poor neighborhood with her life in an upscale, mostly white prep school.

The Rise of a Prairie Statesman: The Life and Times of George McGovern by Thomas Knock
32 years before Karl Rove swift-boated John Kerry, Richard Nixon successfully painted World War II bomber pilot George McGovern as an amnesty-loving peacenik, sending him to one of the worst presidential defeats in history and leaving him with the reputation of being too liberal and too far left to be taken seriously.The truth is that McGovern was a principled progressive and a skilled politician whose life may hold lessons for today’s Democratic Party.From predicting that President Truman’s red-baiting of Henry Wallace in 1948 would ultimately backfire on Democrats, to rebuilding the state party in South Dakota in the ’50s, to running the International Food for Peace program under President Kennedy, to his immediate diagnosis of the conflict in Vietnam as a civil war, not a Communist plot, McGovern was always practical, competent, and right. His lifelong vision could inspire alternative strategies badly needed by today’s Democrats.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
It’s a long way from Nigeria to New Jersey, especially for a young woman determined to finish college. A timely tale of an immigrant experiencing racism for the first time, complicated by her relationship with a man who loses his visa after 9/11. only to become a wealthy developer back home.

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
A Texas thriller packed with bizarre characters, family secrets, small-town back-stabbing, and country blues on the jukebox. “There were things you just didn’t do in Lark, Texas.”

Double Bind; Women on Ambition edited by Robin Romm
Men are ambitious, women are aggressive — hence the title of this lively collection of essays assembled by Romm, a former Iowa City resident and author of The Mercy Papers. From Alaskan dog-musher Blair Braverman to actress Molly Ringwald to Iowa Writer’s Workshop director Samantha Chang, each tells a complex story, sometimes angry and ambivalent but always honest and engaging.

The Power to Heal: Civil Rights, Medicare, and the Struggle to Transform America’s Health Care System by David Barton Smith
Smith documents how Medicare transformed American and became the most successful desegregation program in our history, all in 200 pages that read like a novel.Thanks you Lyndon Johnson, no thank you Richard Daley.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessica Ward
If a book as beautiful and affecting as Ward’s second novel can still be written, there is hope for our country.

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