Books, Exposed

Scott McLemee highlights some of the new books coming out this fall and winter that are likely to be of general or topical appeal.

May 31, 2017
 
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Book Expo, the annual trade show for the publishing industry, is underway in New York City from Wednesday through Friday. University press folks will be unpacking their wares and settling into their booths not long after this column goes up.

This year I’m unable to attend, because it turns out that the expression “feeling anemic” is not just a figure of speech. (Doctors have tested my blood with some frequency in recent weeks and found it wanting.) I’m sorry to miss the chance to meet with press representatives but have been combing through the available catalogs and noting books likely to be of general or topical appeal -- and in the spirit of the event will point out a few now.

Many more titles are of interest than can be crammed into one survey of manageable length. I’ll return to others later in the summer, as currently delayed catalogs become available. Please note that the quotations and publishing dates given here are taken from the presses’ descriptions of the books. The publishing dates in particular may differ from what is given by online publishers, and the dates may be subject to change in either case.

Quite a few titles focus on the current political conjuncture. Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America by John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck (Princeton University Press) is “a gripping in-depth account … that explains Donald Trump’s historic victory.” It is due out in January, which also happens to be the pub date for Patrick J. Deneen’s book explaining Why Liberalism Failed (Yale University Press). The short answer is that it “trumpets equal rights while fostering incomparable material inequality; its legitimacy rests on consent, yet it discourages civic commitments in favor of privatism; and in its pursuit of individual autonomy, it has given rise to the most far-reaching, comprehensive state system in human history.”

What looks like liberalism’s failure might be described, from another angle, as neoliberalism’s triumph, which seems to be the common perspective of two volumes from the University of California Press: Scott Kurashige’s The Fifty-Year Rebellion: How the U.S. Political Crisis Began in Detroit (July) and Laura Briggs’s How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics: From Welfare Reform to Foreclosure to Trump (September). Briggs understands reproductive politics to apply not just to childbearing but also to “the work we do to keep ourselves and families alive,” which includes the labor of maintaining the domestic sphere or of finding housing in the first place.

The Great Regression (Polity, June), a symposium edited by Heinrich Geiselberger, brings together essays by Arjun Appadurai, Nancy Fraser, Bruno Latour and a dozen other contributors to discuss the apparent eclipse of globalization and cosmopolitanism by nationalism and xenophobia. George Hawley explains one American manifestation of the shift in Making Sense of the Alt-Right (Columbia University Press, September), which considers “the movement’s “origins, evolution, methods, and its core belief in white identity politics.” Federico Finchelstein offers what sounds like a timely clarification of political nomenclature with From Fascism to Populism in History (California, September), which argues that, despite belonging to “the same history and [being] often conflated, fascism and populism actually represent distinct political and historical trajectories.”

One common denominator across the political spectrum today is frustration -- sometimes breaking into rage -- at entrenched, ineffective and unaccountable political establishments. That means a potentially broad audience for Ron Formisano’s American Oligarchy: The Permanent Political Class (University of Illinois Press, October), which “delves into the work of not just politicians but also lobbyists, consultants, appointed bureaucrats, pollsters, celebrity journalists, behind-the-scenes billionaires and others.” Armed with concepts from game theory and military strategy, James I. Wallner analyzes one theater of political combat in On Parliamentary War: Partisan Conflict and Procedural Change in the U.S. Senate (University of Michigan Press, November).

The role of weaponized ignorance in political life will surely be among the topics covered in Misinformation and Mass Audiences (University of Texas Press, January), a collection of studies edited by Brian G. Southwell, Emily A. Thorson and Laura Sheble, with contributors drawing on “communication research, public health, psychology, political science, environmental studies and information science.” It is worth noting that in Celebrity Influence: Politics, Persuasion and Issue-Based Advocacy (University Press of Kansas, December), Mark Harvey finds evidence that “when celebrities speak about issues of public importance, they get disproportionately more coverage than politicians.” Once that would have seemed like a symptom of political dysfunction rather than a cause; with a game-show host sitting in the White House, there may be room for debate.

Sorry for that long wallow in the quicksand of politics; there is more to scholarly publishing, let alone life. I’ll round off this survey of attention-grabbing titles with a few books that look more diverting. For example, there is Lynn Comella’s Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure (Duke University Press, September), which is surely an account of an increase in the sum of human happiness.

The forthcoming scholarly book most likely to inspire a cable TV reality series is undoubtedly John Hoberman’s Dopers in Uniform: The Hidden World of Police on Steroids (Texas, November). Making the trip in the opposite direction is In the House of the Serpent Handler: A Story of Faith and Fleeting Fame in the Age of Social Media (University of Tennessee Press, November) by Julia Duin, who reports on how two ministers “featured in the 2013 series Snake Salvation on the National Geographic Channel … attempted to reinvent the snake-handling tradition for a modern audience,” especially via Facebook. It sounds like the effort did not, on the whole, end well.

Finally, zombies. At least three titles are on the way, with Zombie Theory: A Reader (University of Minnesota, October) being perhaps the most high-profile. The editor, Sarah Juliet Lauro, has written one scholarly book on zombie culture and co-edited another; her third outing is “an interdisciplinary collection of the best international scholarship on zombies.” Dahlia Schweitzer’s Going Viral: Zombies, Viruses and the End of the World (Rutgers University Press, February) “identifies three distinct types of outbreak narrative, each corresponding to a specific contemporary anxiety: globalization, terrorism and the end of civilization,” while Chera Kee’s Not Your Average Zombie: Rehumanizing the Undead From Voodoo to Zombie Walks (Texas, September) examines the zombie corpus (sorry) to identify walkers who still have a bit of soul left in them. There’s no reason to suppose these three titles exhaust the zombie monography coming in the months ahead, of course. If The Walking Dead teaches us anything, it’s not to overestimate the reliability of a quick look around.

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