Skip to content

Essential Native Trees and Shrubs for the Eastern United States, by Tony Dove and Ginger Woodridge.

March 16, 2018

Essential Native Trees and Shrubs for the Eastern United States

Essential Native Trees and Shrubs for the Eastern United States, by Tony Dove and Ginger Woodridge. Bunker Hill Studio Books,  2018.  Series: The Guide to Creating a Sustainable Landscape.

4 stars

A beautiful little book providing information and photographs about nine native trees and shrubs to consider for creating a sustainable landscape.

Two longtime master gardeners have combined to write a very practical guide to choosing and growing plants and shrubs native to the eastern United States.  Each plant is given a long entry with extensive coverage about many aspects of its growth and use.  The amount of sun, water, and ph is shown in a simple chart.  Photographs display what the plant is like in different seasons. Text provides an overview of what the plant looks like and where it might be used, along with its mature form and culture.  Guidance for successful growth is included. For each entry, companion plants and how a plant may be used by wildlife. A few recommended cultivated varieties are listed.

Guides for cultivating trees and shrubs are seldom as beautiful and seldom give as much useful information as this book does.  My only problem with the book is how few species are included.

Feminist Freedom Fighters. Edited by Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Linda Carty.

March 12, 2018

Feminist Freedom Warriors

Feminist Freedom Fighters:  Genealogies, Justice, Politics and Hope.   Edited by Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Linda Carty.   Haymarket Publishing, 2018.  Forthcoming June 2018.


Available now online: :

5 stars

An amazing book by a group of activist scholars conversing and constructing a structural framework flexible enough to change and develop as we work in the universities and the streets against the varied oppressions of women—and the whole society.  A global anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism.

Feminist Freedom Warriors is more a book.  The book is one piece of a project to record and share the conversations which are occurring among some of most creative and radical women intellectuals active today.  As the group states on their website

Born out of an engagement with anti-capitalist, anti-racist feminist struggles as women of color from the Global South, Feminist Freedom Warriors (FFW) is a project about cross-generational histories of feminist activism addressing economic, anti-racist, social justice, and anti-capitalist issues across national borders. These are stories of sister-comrades, many of whom we have worked and struggled with over the years, whose ideas, words, actions, and visions of economic and social justice continue to inspire us to keep on keeping on.  We feel an urgency to tell these individual and connected/collective stories—to “speak what we live” for ourselves and the generations that will follow us.  FFW is a labor of love, dedicated to those who have come before us, and those who will come after.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Linda Carty are editors for this book. Both are women of color who teach at Syracuse University and have worked with others in the university’s interdisciplinary Democratizing Knowledge program.  Mohany is originally from India, and Carty is African Canadian.  In the Feminist Freedom Warriors, the editors interview a variety of scholars from around the globe.  Seven of these interviews have been transcribed in the book and over twenty are available online.  The scholar-activists interviewed in the book are Margo Okazawa-Rey, Angela Y. Davis, Minnie Bruce Pra, Himani Bannerjee, Amina Mama, Aida Hernandez-Castillo, and Zillah Eisenstein, with a postscript by Taveeshi Singh.

The interviews are structured to gather women’s stories of their own lives, activism, and analysis. All are asked big questions, such as how did you get involved in activism, what current work are you doing, and what have you learned from your activism and research.   Their stories are meant to “inform, inspire, and activate the imagination to explore what a just world might look like.”

Conversation rather than theory structure the FFW.  The women seek to establish a process that will allow various groups oppressed by the status quo to talk and work together.  They are strongly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, but they are not traditional Marxists.  Instead of producing a theory which is intended to be true everywhere, they look at particular, historical situations, emphasizing the “material” realities and then relating the particular story with other particular stories.

When the second wave of feminism gained prominence in the United States 1970s, white women often spoke and acted as if we had the answers for all women.  Globally, women resisted, pointing out our arrogance and lack of understanding of their oppression.  They pointed out that women can oppress each other.  Ever since, feminists have been trying to listen to each other.  We have been working to conceptualize how various oppressions intersect in the lives of all women.  Feminist Freedom Warriors is a major step forward in this endeavor.

This book puts together the pieces that I had been reading and collecting over recent years.  I finally have a coherent, oppositional, conceptual base from which to think and act.  And it does by focusing on concrete stories gather than jargon.  I hope it is widely read.

On the Other Hand, by Howard I. Kushner.

March 8, 2018

On the Other Hand
On the Other Hand: Left Hand, Right Brain, Mental Disorder, and History,
by Howard I. Kushner.  Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017.

3 stars

Howard I. Kushner (1943-   ) is Distinguished Professor of Science & Society Emeritus at Emory University and John D. Adams Professor of History Emeritus at San Diego State University.  He has worked extensively in interdisciplinary settings exploring topics that combine science and society, as he does in his new book on the science and social interpretation of left-handedness.

Some humans have favored their left hand for centuries, a trait that has often been understand as displaying negative or deviant character. Kushner traces the various meanings associated with left-handedness and the ways it has been explained in the past. Remarkably such explanations continue into the science the 20th and 21st centuries, with claims that the use of the “wrong” hand is an indication of autism, schizophrenia, or homosexuality. As Kushner shows, such theories may utilize sophisticated statistical analysis but the lack of comparable definitions of what is non-right-handedness and homosexuality makes the findings unacceptable.

Proving a negative, like the absence of a link between hand preference and behavior, is problematic.  I also found it difficult to read allegedly scientific theories and the scientific reasons that they are inadequate. Perhaps those more conversant with the history of science would appreciate this book more than I did.  Those who are left-handed, as is Kushner, might also find it to be relevant.  I am glad that the Johns Hopkins University Press books about medical problems are branching out, but for me this was a branch too far.

House of Rougeaux: A Novel. Jenny Jaeckel.

March 1, 2018

House of RougeauxHouse of Rougeaux: A Novel. Jenny Jaeckel.  Raincloud Press, 2018.

3 stars

A collection of warm stories about eight generations of a family of African descent as they move from the Caribbean to cities in Canada.

Jenny Jaeckel earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from Evergreen college in Washington state and a M.A. in Hispanic Literatures from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  She has written and illustrated several non-fiction books and worked at a variety of book-related jobs.  This is her first novel to be published.

The first, and earliest story, is about a slave family on the island of Martinique.  When a brother and a sister are left parentless, they turn to each other for survival.  The woman has special healing and prophetic powers which are passed down through the family.  Each generation has at least one person with these gifts, which can be a blessing or a source of unique pain.  A detailed family tree in the front of the book makes it easy to trace the time and place of each family member although the stories are not told in chronological order.

The different generations of the family all face pain and losses, but overall the book offers a sense of hope and survival. Becoming free does not end their troubles.  At times they redefine the meaning of family.  I was particularly touched by the story of the man whose wife dies after having born him six children.  In his despair, he finds love again, this time with a man as his partner.

I gladly recommend this book for readers who welcome another version of what it has meant to be black in North America.

Somos Latinas: Voices of Wisconsin Latina Activists. Andrea-Teresa Arenas and Eloisa Gomez.

February 24, 2018

Somos LatinasSomos Latinas: Voices of Wisconsin Latina Activists. Andrea-Teresa Arenas and Eloisa Gomez. Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2018.  Introduction by Dolores Huerta


5 stars  FAVORITE

An impressive and much-needed collection of stories by older Latinas telling about their lives and their community building in a midwestern state.

Somos Latinas is much more than a single book by two individual women.  Instead, it is one result of a larger project involving numerous women to create an historical archive about Latinas in Wisconsin and to analyze and celebrate their achievements and inform future generations of their work.  Anyone who has done research in U.S. Women’s History knows how few sources exist about Latinas.  The creation of the archives from which this book was drawn significantly expands our knowledge and can service as an example of what is possible for others.  The book they have produced can only help us all have a better understanding of the role of Latinas in our national history.

Andrea-Teresa Arenas and Eloisa Gomez have worked together to improve the lives and opportunities of their communities since the 1980s.  “Tess” Arenas left a boring job to return to college and eventually earned her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin.  In doing so she also became involved in a series of high-level projects to address the problems of race and diversity at the university.  Since 2004, she has been the Director for the College of Letters and Science’s Service Learning and Community-Based Research Initiative, which is designed to involve college students with communities where they pursue research.  Gomez has also worked in a variety of community projects and now directs the Milwaukee County Cooperative Extension Office.

Phase I of the Somos Latina project included University of Wisconsin students in planning to collect oral histories and then actually doing the interviews. Under the guidance of Arenas, they learned the techniques to insure that the tapes meet exacting academic standards and would be taken seriously by other scholars.  After two years, the group collected and organized 46 digital interviews, primarily of Latinas over the age of 55, now available at the Wisconsin Historical Society.  Phase II involved the production of audios from the original interviews and the publication of twenty-five of them as the book, Somos Latina.  The book includes extensive accounts of the processes followed.

The major section of the book contains the life-stories of twenty-five of those interviewed.  The women were chosen because they were involved in community building. The stories recount how and why they expanded their activities, often in small steps, to hold positions of responsibility, sometime in local government or NGOs. Their lives directly challenge any stereotypes of Latinas as shy women submissive to macho men.  These are women who were aware of the needs of their families and neighbors and took the necessary steps to provide them. Gradually they were given expanding responsibilities.  Often they tell of mothers or other relatives who served as role model for them.  They prided themselves on their resilience and how they quietly but firmly defended themselves in the face of demeaning treatment.  The women were usually willing to take to the streets in protests, but generally worked to bring about changes from within the structures and by building coalitions within and outside their won racial groups.

The last section of the book analyzes some major themes in the book; role models and support systems, motivation for becoming active, and the willingness to take risks.  Generalizations are supported with brief excerpts from the interviews.  The women also express their understanding that the gains they have achieved are fragile and will need to be defended.  Appendixes include a list of tangible gains from the work of the women interviewed and the guidelines for future contributions to the Somos Latina collection.  An extensive bibliography is also included.

Somos Latinas and the project that created it are an important contribution to our national story and stories by the women are moving and enjoyable on many levels.  They suggest to teachers the way to collect local stories in a way that will insure they are taken serious.  They provide raw data for scholars who know little about this group. And they provide inspiration and hope that many of us need to keep up the fight.

We have long used the idea “created by a committee” to belittle projects.  This book, and Feminist Freedom Warriors (book and review forthcoming) suggest that “committees” may be the best way to move beyond the polarization that threatens to destroy us all.

I strongly recommend this book to others who are curious about others and open new conceptualization of social movements.

Lighting the Fire of Freedom: Women in the Civil Rights Movement, by Janet Dewart Bell.

February 21, 2018

Lighting the Fires of Freedom

Lighting the Fire of Freedom: Women in the Civil Rights Movement, by Janet Dewart Bell.  The New Press, 2018.


4 stars

A compelling collection of first-hand accounts by nine women who played supportive, under-recognized roles in the Civil Rights Movement.

The black women of the Deep South have become legendary for the on-the-ground work they did for the Civil Rights Movement, but little is known of their actual work and feeling.  We know even less about the women working for civil rights elsewhere in the country. Janet Dewart Bell brings us the stories of a surprising variety of such women in this collection.  Bell defines herself as a social justice activist working in organizational and management consulting.  She herself was part of the movement and is the wife of the late Derrick Bell, an African American leader and legal expert who taught at Harvard.  She earned her Ph.D. from Antioch University at the age of 64.  The accounts she has published in Lighting the Fire of Freedom were part of her dissertation research.  With these stories, Bell offers a new, broader sense of the work it actually took to gain the successes of the Movement.

The women whose accounts Bell has brought together reveal the diversity among the black women who worked for civil rights. Leah Chase ran a family restaurant in New Orleans where civil rights workers, black and white, could come together to make plans and eat gumbo.  June Jackson Christmas was a New York psychiatrist who offered her home and her professional expertise to those seeking respite from the front lines in the South.  Aileen Hernandez was involved in labor organizing.  Kathleen Clever held leadership of the Black Panther in San Francisco when her husband and other leaders were all in hiding or jailed.  Myrlie Evers recounts how she dealt with her husband’s assassination.  Diane Nash, Judy Richardson, Gay McDougall, and Gloria Richardson each tell of the particular part of the Movement in which they were part.  All of the women’s oral histories are long and touch on a variety of issues in their lives, giving the book a sense of the depth and breadth of black life.

Bell provides a brief introduction for each woman identifying the basic facts of her life.  The stories themselves offer  new perspectives from which to think about black women’s lives.  I suspect that in her dissertation Bell explored those perspectives.  I wish that she had included more of such analysis in this book.

This is an important book. I recommend that it be widely read by students and teachers and by anyone simply interested in black women or in organizing.

Pearls on a Branch: Tales from the Arab World Told by Women. Najla Jraissaty Khoury.

February 17, 2018

Pearls on a BranchPearls on a Branch: Tales from the Arab World Told by Women. Najla Jraissaty Khoury. Archipelago Books, 2017.  Translated by Inea Bushnaq.  First published in Arabic in 2014.

4 stars

Delightful Middle Eastern folktales collected, translated and edited by two women from the region.

Najla Jraissaty Khoury was born in Beirut in 1949.  Her early work focused on education of children and adults and on folk tales.  During the Lebanese Civil War she began a traveling theater troupe.  They used puppets to tell folk tales in remote areas without electricity such as air raid shelters, isolated villages and Palestinian refugee camps.  The theatre troupe continued to perform for 20 years with Khoury collecting oral stories for them to perform from the old women in the villages.  In 2014 she chose 100 of the folk tales to publish in Arabic.  Later she worked with Inea Bushnaq, a respected Palestinian folklorist, to select the 30 stories in this book and translated them for publication in English.

Pearls on a Branch begins with an account by Khoury about the collection of the tales.  She explains how in Arab countries, women and men have separate storytelling traditions.  The men gather in public spaces to share stories of public events, while the women tell stories to each other and to their children.  The women’s stories tell of strong women who manage to get what they want by circumventing obstacles.  Poor girls attracting rich and famous men to marry them, for example, is a popular theme.  A separate essay by Bushnaq describes the formal literary patterns in the stories, such as the use of short stories to introduce the major ones.

The folktales found in this book are simply fun to read.  They left me wishing I had children to read them to.  They are similar to folktales from other cultures, but have their own subtle distinctiveness.

I strongly recommend this volume to all readers who enjoy folktales and appreciate how they differ across cultures.