Archive for the ‘Voices from the Field’ Category
It is August! Oh my!
Our annual staff summer reading list is always fun to put together. This year it was a reminder for many of us of how quickly the season seems to be flying by and how many books there are still waiting to be read. But no worries: the cooler months make for cozy reading, too. As the novelist Stephen King said, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”
Here are a few of the books on our minds and in our hands right now! Happily, since a book is timeless, we think you’ll find recommendations from past years that inspire you, too!
From Meg: Summer is just racing by and I haven’t done anywhere near as much reading as I’d hoped. I’m halfway though “Little Faith” by Nickolas Butler and I’ve just picked up “This Storied River – Legend & Lore of the the Upper Mississippi” by former WHC board member Dennis McCann. “Little Faith” (also recommended by Gail below!) explores the family dynamic that emerges when different perspectives on faith clash over how best to care for a sick child. It sets this story in a richly detailed Wisconsin seasonal and cultural landscape as grandparents struggle to remain in the lives of their ill grandchild. I’m really enjoying it. I’ve only just begun to dig into “This Storied River,” which I was excited to read after hearing the author tell one of the stories in it. The unique stories about places along the Mississippi River, from effigy mounds to the button boom, speak to my love of rivers and history.
From Shawn: I’m reading a book that was a National Book Award Finalist in 2014 titled “Citizen, An American Lyric,” by Claudia Rankine. In parabolic prose poems, photos, art and essays, the book elucidates the raw impact of emotional injury the author personally experienced or witnessed from subtle and unexpected moments when racism surfaced – between she and friends, between she and colleagues, and among strangers on the train headed for Union Station. There is also the tumult of being rendered invisible (hence, insignificant) by society at large which shows up in the news every day, and in gestures and the facial expressions of neighbors in drugstore check-out lines. This book is a painful read no matter the color of your skin. Carve out enough time to process the shock of it.
From Carmelo: This summer I was up for light and fun reading. I finally took one of my wife’s reading recommendations seriously and picked up her beat-up pocketbook copy of “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (after 15 years of insistence on her part). A TV series based on the book is now streaming on Amazon Prime (I won’t be watching it until I’m through with the book!). This now-classic comedic novel tells the story of the attempts of Heaven and Hell to finally unleash the Apocalypse and the efforts of an unlikely alliance between an angel named Aziraphale and a demon named Crowley to thwart such prophetic attempts. Aziraphale and Crowley have both been living among humans for thousands of years, and have therefore developed an appreciation for all things humans and, in the particular case of Crowley, for earthly pleasures. The plan? To swap babies, so baby Antichrist be placed with a normal human family, instead of his designated Demon family, to sabotage the implementation of the book of Revelations prophecy. From page one I realized that the irony in this book is to die for. The humor in these pages reaches Apocalyptic proportions very quickly. Wonderful reading if you want to decompress or recharge through laughter!
From Jessica: For fans of Barbara Kingsolver’s characters and storytelling, it is a treat when a new book comes out. I loved her latest, “Unsheltered,” a story set in Vineland, New Jersey. The real city of Vineland was established by a property developer in the 1860s as an alcohol-free utopian society based on agriculture and progressive thinking. In the book, chapters alternate between a family living in a crumbling home of dubious historic importance in modern times with a family living in nearly the same spot in the early years of the city’s founding. Delightfully, the last two words of each chapter form the title of the next chapter, allowing the ideas in the two stories to weave together poetically. Characters in both families find their beliefs about the world coming unhinged just as the literal roofs on their homes collapse and threaten to make the families homeless, or unsheltered. I especially enjoyed learning about Mary Treat, a real-life botanist and entomologist who corresponded with Darwin, studied the carnivorous plants of the pine barrens, and brought new scientific ideas to popular audiences in her regular pieces in magazines like Harper’s. When visiting family in New Jersey this summer, I made a point of going to Batso Village to see where Mary Treat set off into the woods for her plant studies!
From Dena: What better time than summer to read something thoroughly addictive? I’m half-way into the second of the four Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante and will not stop until I’ve read them all (“My Brilliant Friend,” “The Story of a New Name,” “Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay,” “and “The Story of the Lost Child.”) Their driving force is the friendship between two women, beginning with their childhood in a working class neighborhood in Naples. Either character alone would be fascinating enough to carry an entire novel. The two together, and Ferrante’s brilliant depiction of their friendship and their struggles in life and with one another, are mesmerizing. The emotional complexity of the two characters is so convincing that I’m sure, like me, you’ll decide they must be real. Add a ton of great plot, great secondary characters, and some ocean…. Maybe you’ve heard that HBO did a version, but don’t even think of watching instead of reading!
From Gail: I’m also recommending “Little Faith” by Wisconsin writer Nick Butler. I was fortunate to work with Nick years ago and have read all his books. I can recommend them all. But this one I really enjoyed. It is subtle and powerful, and beautifully written. In an interview, he explained: “I don’t know how NOT to be influenced by the people I love, namely my family and friends. I also don’t know how to write about the world I’m struggling to understand, the world I’m trying to celebrate, the world I’m trying to critique, without incorporating my own feelings, perceptions, and history. So it often seems that my books very much have the fingerprints of real people all over their pages. ” As for the inspiration for this story, he said, “I’d been thinking about the Kara Neumann case since 2008 when her death came to light. It was just a horrendous story and something that still resonates with any adult who was alive at that time, but especially those with children.”
This summer, board member John Viste invited the Wisconsin Humanities Council to Wausau for our tri-annual board meeting. Wausau happens to be the home of the WHC’s founding board chair, Gerald Viste, John’s father. We were delighted to have his company at a reception in downtown Wausau and to honor his lifelong commitment to civic engagement, deep thinking, and building connections. In the photo above, Jerry is surrounded by the current and former board chairs who joined us that evening.
The WHC was created as an independent non-profit in 1972 by a congressional mandate. For the past nearly 50 years, the WHC has had board members who bring their individual strengths and collective wisdom to give the people of Wisconsin greater access to the humanities.
In this tradition, we welcome five new members to the WHC board: Nicole Brookshire, Jenifer Cole, Jan Larson, Carole Trone, and Kris Adams Wendt. And we also say farewell and thank you to retiring board members Reggie Jackson and Don Greenwood.
Welcome to our new board members!
Nicole Brookshire lives in Milwaukee, where she is Executive Director of Milwaukee County Office on African American Affairs. She brings decades of experience as a leading voice for positive growth in Milwaukee and has a passion for working with youth.
Jenifer Cole lives in Madison and is the Program and Policy Supervisor for the Bureau of Working Families, part of the State of Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. She also serves on the board of the Wisconsin Women’s Network and has spent her career committed to gender and social justice. She was appointed by Governor Evers.
Jan Larson lives in Eau Claire, where she is professor and chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism at UW-Eau Claire. She began her career as a journalist and was a member of the steering committee for a WHC initiative called Beyond the Headlines in Eau Claire.
Carole Trone lives in Madison, where she is the Director of Communications and Strategic Initiatives of the Fair Opportunity Project. She is committed to building partnerships between educational organizations to expand resources for all students. She was appointed by Governor Evers.
Kris Adams Wendt lives in Rhinelander, where she retired from Rhinelander District Library and now works as a Public Library Consultant for the Wisconsin Valley Library Service. She is committed to public service and building bridges between policy makers at municipal, county and state levels. She was appointed by Governor Evers and is serving her second term on the WHC board.
What does a WHC board member do?
Wisconsin Humanities Council members work hard. As volunteers, they review grant proposals three to five times a year. The also attend WHC and grant-funded events around the state serving as ambassadors for the Council and evaluating our programs. Board members are also critical in helping the WHC make connections and raise money. With their individual strengths and collective wisdom, our board contributes a great deal to make history, culture, and conversation happen all over Wisconsin.
We accept nominations. If you know someone who might like to join the WHC board, find out more here.
Board members who have completed their terms rotate off the board, but gratefully they don’t go far: former board members are invited to join our Alumni Circle, an informal group made up of past members.
The Alumni Circle channels their commitment to the Wisconsin Humanities Council into direct action. They put their energy into creating more opportunities for Wisconsinites to have access to the ideas and knowledge sparked through humanities experiences. Thanks to the passion of the Alumni Circle, for example, we partnered with the storytelling group Love Wisconsin to share the story of Jim Leary, a folklorist, to help broaden understanding of the humanities and their role in our lives. Find it here!
Our fifth annual Staff Summer Reading List is here! You’ll find a collection of enthusiastic recommendations for books that are wildly different. Isn’t that what is so great about books!? There is truly something on the WHC bookshelf for everyone. Happy reading!
Jessica’s pick: My friend was deeply engrossed in a book when I came upon him sitting on a bench in the woods. I left our encounter with his sincere recommendation to read “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The call felt urgent and I bought the book on my way home. In her commencement speech at Northland College, where she received an honorary degree, Kimmerer said, “for the world to stay in balance there is an ongoing exchange of gifts between people and the living world.” It is fitting that I was given the ‘gift’ of this book while hiking in the woods.
Kimmerer beautifully braids stories from her life as a mother, a botanist, a professor, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. The essays, or vignettes, are clustered progressively in sections called planting sweetgrass, tending sweetgrass, picking sweetgrass, braiding sweetgrass and burning sweetgrass. One of my favorites is titled “Learning the Grammar of Animacy.” It is a humorous and humble story about learning to speak a new language and all that is revealed about culture and oneself through language. For Kimmerer, the lessons come while learning Potawatomi, an Anishinaabe language. She writes, “now my house is spangled with Post-it notes in another language, as if I were studying for a trip abroad. But I’m not going away, I’m coming home.”
Language is important to Kimmerer. Her words flow, making this an easy read, though the ideas are deep and held up with solid science. Quoting the commencement speech again, Kimmerer says that gratitude reminds us “we are not alone in the world [and] that our very existence relies on the gifts of others.” So if this recommendation strikes you at the right moment, then consider it a gift and read up. Braiding Sweetgrass is a perfect story for summer.
Carmelo’s pick: I have recently begun reading the book “Craeft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts ” by the British archaeologist and medieval historian Alexander Langlands. This wonderful book grabbed my attention by the end of the first paragraph of the introduction. In “Craeft” Langlands invites the reader to reflect on the cultural meaning of more than a thousand years of art, craft, and manual labor history in the British Isles. The book describes the many techniques and traditions that went into making stuff by hands for millennia (literally everything) before the Industrial Revolution and the vocabulary associated with them. Most of this vocabulary has fallen out of use in our Modern era.
According to Langlands, the word “craeft” (not its modern iteration: Craft) is nearly untranslatable to us, since it encompassed “a form of knowledge, not just a knowledge of making but a knowledge of being.” Based on what I’ve read so far, I sense that Langlands is persuading his readers to think beyond the words and tools that have fallen into disuse since we stopped making everything with our hands, in order to rediscover what has been lost in our age of mass-produced manufactured goods. As the director of the Working Lives Project, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
Mike’s pick: Bobby Kennedy, A Raging Spirit by Chris Mathews is an engaging, though not too heavy, biography. Matthews is the anchor of MSNBC’s Hardball and and expert on the Kennedy family. As a fan of history, I appreciated reading about the early years of Bobby’s life, his start in politics, and his role as attorney general in his brother’s administration. I recommend this summertime read for those interested in the Kennedy clan, Camelot, and the politics of 1950’s and 60’s.
Dena’s pick: There are some novels that I love better, but for none of these would I make the claim that they are better as novels than George Eliot’s Middlemarch. I belong to a very large club of admirers. Middlemarch is reasonably and widely considered the greatest of the Victorian novels. And oh, those Victorians! So if you, like me, somehow missed reading this classic, don’t put it off a moment longer. You’ll find a book full of endlessly complex characters that is rich in ideas, compassion, poetry, and sly humor. It was my most enjoyable read of the past year.
Shawn’s pick: I recommend a novel titled The Girl Before by JP Delaney. It’s a top-notch who-dun-it psychological thriller that will keep you turning the page. Although I was reading it while traveling on the Glacier Express through the stunning Swiss Alps, I couldn’t put it down.
Meg’s pick: As we were planning Wisconsin’s Water Future, our Beyond The Headlines program in Madison, I kept hearing mention of several books related to water issues that I’m very much enjoying – if you can use “enjoy” about stories with such dark themes running through them. Dan Egan’s, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, UW’s latest Big Read selection, tells a highly readable and compelling history of the Great Lakes. I’m only a few chapters in and already a theme of decision-making made based on cheapest and quickest, without much research or thought to long-term impacts, is playing out. Such decisions led to the arrival of multiple invasive species in the Great Lakes that have collapsed fisheries and imperiled ecosystems.
Hewing to the water theme, as well as the consequences-of-bad-decisions theme, I am about halfway through The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. It’s a gritty future dystopia that examines what happens when something we all need to survive – water – becomes a commodity that most people can’t afford. One of the protagonists is a burned out Pulitzer-award winning journalist who could move away from a virtually waterless Phoenix, but she feels compelled to cover the stories of the people navigating the collapse of the Southwest. But knowing too much is dangerous. Water wars wage between states and corporate water owners over the waters of the Colorado River and other sources. Their militias create water refugees who become an exploited and oppressed underclass scrambling for ounces of recycled wastewater as the wealthy, foreign or disaster tourist classes consume water at an extravagant rate. Both books are certainly reminders that water is life.
Gail’s pick: Do yourself a favor this summer and pick up The Driftless Reader, edited by Curt Meine and Keefe Keeley. It is a wonderful selection of excerpts of literary, journalistic, and scientific writings created to present a beautiful mosaic of the region. The Driftless Area is a rugged land, reaching into four states. It has been home to an extraordinary group of people: Ho-Chunk, Sauk, Dakota, Norwegian farmers, Dominican nuns, Buddhist monks, Cornish miners, African American barn builders, Hmong and Amish farmers, Shakespearean actors and more.
There are eighty texts in the book, including the writings of Mark Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Aldo Leopold, David Rhodes, Fabu, Wallace Stegner, Patty Loew, Pedro Guerrero, John Muir, and so many more –Native people, explorers, historians, scientists, and poets. There are also maps, paintings and illustrations scattered throughout this beautiful book.
One of my all-time favorite books, The Land Remembers by Ben Logan, is excerpted and sums up, for me, why the best way to understand this region is by looking at it through different lenses. Logan wrote, “There is no neat and easy way to tell the story of a farm. A farm is a process, where everything is related, everything is happening at once. It is a circle of life; and there is no logical place to begin a perfect circle. This is an unsolved paradox for me. Part of the folly of our time is the idea that we can see the whole of something by looking at the pieces, one at a time. Yet, how else tell the story of the farm?”
That is the best way to enjoy this reader: one story at a time. It is a rich and delicious read on a summer day or anytime throughout the year!
By Alison Staudinger
Why do you work?
How can a daily activity like work be both the worst and the best of life? Perhaps it is in part because humans have come to expect meaning from their work, in addition to material or social benefits. To understand this development, the humanities offer a unique lens. They offer records of the everyday and methods to study them.
On Poetry and Memory
by Karla Huston
I never saw a Purple Cow
I never hope to see one
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one
Those lines are from a poem by Gelett Burgess. It is a poem I remember my father reciting to me when I was a child. I remember imagining that purple cow mooing through my past, swishing her purple tail.
I’m more serious about poetry now. Read More
Years ago, a friend of a friend was telling a story about a local horse deal, when she said something that took me aback. Describing the deal, she said she had been “jewed down.” Not only had I never heard a neighbor make a reference to Jews in any context, I had never in my life heard someone standing right in front of me say something anti-Semitic.
Puzzling over it later, I was sure of two things: 1) that the person who used it was unthinking in her incorporation of an ugly stereotype into her vocabulary, and thus at some level into her worldview, and 2) that if she were asked to think about what it meant for Jewish people like me for such a phrase to be used, she would see the darker significance and gladly stop using it.
When I saw reports of white supremacists with Nazi flags marching in Charlottesville, Read More
This is a question we love to ask, and answer.
In a conversation with my seven-year-old recently, I casually but deliberately mentioned that there are books about any question you could possibly ask.
“You mean there are books about where the first seeds came from, and who planted them?” she immediately replied. She was incredulous.
Yes, there are so many books. More than we’ll ever read in one lifetime. And isn’t that wonderful!?
Every summer we indulge ourselves in the fun of sharing some book recommendations with you. Here is our list for summer 2017, though these books will hold there own into 2018 and beyond. Enjoy!
On this day in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that segregation of public schools “solely on the basis of race” denies black children “equal educational opportunity.” Thurgood Marshall argued the Brown v. Board of Education case before the Court. He went on to become the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court.
Emily Rock is curator at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, where she manages the artifact collection, coordinates educational programs, and curates exhibits. She is passionate about community building and works to make history come alive with creative approaches to storytelling.
Asylum: Out of the Shadows, open through May 20th at The History Museum at the Castle, is the result of Emily’s and others’ effort tell the story of the Outagamie County Asylum. With this exhibition, the museum ambitiously sought ‘truth and reconciliation’ for past abuses and aimed to personalize the stories of the residents and employees. We are proud to be a funder of this community exploration as part of our Working Lives Project.