Review: All Good Books Are Catholic Books by Una M. Cadegan

Library of Congress

Discussed in this review: All Good Books Are Catholic Books: Print Culture, Censorship, and Modernity in Twentieth-Century Amercia by Una M. Cadegan; Cornell Press, 2013, 240 pages. Buy at Cornell Press or Amazon.

What was it like to be an American Catholic reader of American literature in the 20th century? Those who have had no contact whatever with Catholic issues, except through news stories about the elections of new popes and church opposition to abortion and so on, have very little grasp of Catholic literary culture. We might read about notable Catholic writers such as Flannery O’Connor and note that she was occupied by spiritual matters that secularized non-Catholics might find quite alien, puzzling or, to be honest, boring. Was there a Catholic literary sensibility in America, and did the church have a deleterious impact on the freedom of all Americans to read and view what they liked in the 20th century? These are the kinds of questions examined in the book All Good Books Are Catholic Books: Print Culture, Censorship, and Modernity in Twentieth-Century America by Una M. Cadegan. Continue reading →

Review: Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture by Elizabeth Carolyn Miller

19th Century Printing Press

Discussed in this review: Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture by Elizabeth Carolyn Miller; Stanford University Press, 2013, 392 pages. Buy at Stanford UP or Amazon.

Will we live to see printed books and print periodicals become merely novelties for diehard fringe cultures? Will scholars even be able to study print culture if the books and periodicals they once were able to access in libraries and archives are discarded or lost because they have been deemed unworthy of digitization?

Continue reading →

Review: “Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age” by Alice E. Marwick

Status Update

The status update is a major part of our daily lives. But how did Silicon Valley’s “Web 2.0” subculture make its way into the mainstream so quickly? Alice Marwick’s latest, Status Update, gives us a clue.

Discussed in this review: Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age by Alice E. Marwick. Yale University Press, 2013, 368 pages. Buy at Yale UP and Amazon.

Let’s look back to the second half of the 2000s: a time period that, on the one hand, feels so recent, but on the other, seems like eons ago. In terms of technology, a lot has changed since then. In 2006, for example, most Americans owned flip phones, but not smartphones; the iPhone was just a rumor. The first generation iPad wasn’t on the market in early 2010, and the tablet market (that is, what little of it existed) consisted of a small subset of early adopters. Twitter was not yet mainstream, and Facebook was only starting to make waves among college students and teens.

Continue reading →

Review: “Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire’s Periphery” by Sylvia Sellers-García

In this fascinating book, Sylvia Sellers-García describes a period of history — and an archival process — lost to time, yet relevant to our modern era.

Discussed in this review: Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire’s Periphery by Sylvia Sellers-García. Stanford University Press, 2013, 280 pages. Buy at Stanford UP and Amazon.

A library. A document.  Accusations of witchcraft. Historian Sylvia Sellers-García came across an account in the Bancroft Library in Berkeley of the investigation of four elderly mixed-race women for witchcraft in early 18th century Guatemala. The local priest had compiled page upon page of testimony, and referred the case to the Inquisition in Mexico City. Approximately nine years later, a tribunal issued an arrest warrant for all four of the women. They had all died by then.

Continue reading →

The Best Books of 2013

Moby Dick

Our best books of 2013? We have a few from our reviews section to share.

This year, Critical Margins expanded our review content, and thanks to generous contributors like Hope Leman, we now cover a new, nonfiction book review each Thursday.

If you want to check out a rolling list of our favorite reviews and download a copy for offline reading, check out our new reviews Readlist. To read our latest reviews, go to our review page.

Continue reading →

Review: Music, Authorship, and the Book in the First Century of Print by Kate van Orden

Hofner Sheet Music

Discussed in this review: Music, Authorship, and the Book in the First Century of Print by Kate van Orden, University of California Press, 2013, 256 pages – buy at Amazon or UC Press.

Read any good music lately? When you think of music, do you think first of a particular composer or of a type of music? What was the impact of the development of printing on the ways audiences and musicians thought about music? These are some of the questions that came to me as I perused the book, Music, Authorship, and the Book in the First Century of Print by Kate van Orden. If you care about history, music, or culture in general, put this book on your shopping list.

Continue reading →

Review: Asian American Women’s Popular Literature: Feminizing Genres and Neoliberal Belonging by Pamela Thoma

Commonplace book

Discussed in this review: Asian American Women’s Popular Literature: Feminizing Genres and Neoliberal Belonging by Pamela Thoma. 2013, 236 pages, Temple University Press. Buy at Temple UP or Amazon.

Always follow up on the curiosity piqued by the first few words of the title of a book. For example, what is encompassed under the phrase “Asian American Women’s Popular Literature?” All I could come up with in the privacy of own head was a feeble, “Amy Tan?” Pretty lame.

Continue reading →

Review: The Immaterial Book: Reading and Romance in Early Modern England by Sarah Wall-Randell

Early Modern Book

The Immaterial Book informs us of a time in history when books were seen conceptually, rather than seen as material objects.

Discussed in this review: The Immaterial Book: Reading and Romance in Early Modern England by Sarah Wall-Randell; University of Michigan Press, 2013, 195 pages – buy at U of Michigan P or Amazon.

“This is a book about imaginary books…” So we read in the acknowledgments section of this real book by Sarah Wall-Randell. She uses the term “romance” in this case to refer to literary works of Renaissance England such as Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and The Tempest, saying that such works were for readers and theatergoers the rough equivalent of today’s fantasy novel. It is always fun to read about books and about how the act of reading has been portrayed throughout history and Wall-Randell’s discussion of imaginary or “immaterial” books seems especially relevant today, given the endless discussion of the future of the book and whether reading e-books is really “reading” at all.

Continue reading →

Review: A Spy in the Archives by Sheila Fitzpatrick

Book Spiral

Discussed in this review: A Spy in the Archives by Sheila Fitzpatrick, Melbourne University Publishing, 2013, 193 pages. Buy at Melbourne UP.

“Being outed as the next thing to a spy would really have upset me if I had known about it.” That sentence captures the charming mix of self-deprecating humor and sense of career-threatening menace in this memoir by the distinguished Australian-American historian of Soviet Russia, Sheila Fitzpatrick. This is a riveting memoir and timely reading in an era when surveillance of average people worldwide is much in the news, and Russia’s relations with the West are going through yet another rough patch (such as over the detention of 30 Greenpeace activists).

Continue reading →