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Smart Books for Smart Kids

by Kristen Greif

It is common knowledge that there’s a direct correlation between exposing kids to reading at a young age and increases in their comprehensive reading skills. Recognizing this, American public schools encourage reading by creating more time for reading during the school day. This certainly benefits students who may not have time to read otherwise or lack the resources to read at home, but in order to create more time for reading, schools have to cut time that had previously been allocated to other subjects, such as history. At the same time, schools face growing pressure to focus on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), often at the expense of spending time on social studies and literature. Cutting or reducing time for other subjects invariably damages the whole of a child’s education because it narrows their perspectives, which can limit their abilities to make larger connections. And limiting time spent studying a favorite subject or exploring new areas can create frustration or resentment among students.

Even more sobering is the fact that, even with allotting more time for reading during school hours, many American students are not reading at their expected grade level. Some of the reasons for this are outside of a teacher’s control, so what can teachers do to encourage children not just to read, but to read well?

One very effective option is to provide students with engaging books on a variety of interesting subjects that challenge them to improve their reading skills. Once a student is interested in a subject, they will naturally want to learn more about it, and as they read, they increase their reading and overall comprehension levels, and learn to think in different ways through exposure to various ideas. Nonfiction books that capture a student’s attention and imagination stimulate children’s interests in a wide variety of subjects. The Notable Missourians series, which is designed for fourth to sixth graders, provides students with the opportunity to learn about important historical events through the stories of people who were involved in those events.

Ever wonder why Charles Lindbergh named his plane The Spirit of St. Louis? Find out in our biography of Albert Lambert. Ever wonder about what happened to the Native American groups who lived in our area before American settlers moved in? Read Great Walker’s story to learn about the Ioway. We’ve all heard of Daniel Boone, but who was Olive Boone and what can we learn from the story of her life? Reading history teaches students to understand not only what has happened in our collective past, but why it happened and why it’s important. By reading biographies, students discover that the past was different, but that they are not so different from people in the past. And from that, children learn to understand what ways we are all similar and different. And knowing that makes them grow up to be better citizens in an increasingly globalized world. What could be more important?

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CSI History: Microhistories and why you should read them

by Erica Nolan

During my internship at Truman State University Press, my fellow intern and I worked on converting one of the Press’s older publications into an e-book. While coding the information for Noble Strategies: Marriage and Sexuality in the Zimmern Chronicle, I found myself wanting to stop what I was doing and read the text. With intriguing chapter titles like “Marital Happiness and Marital Breakdown,” “Concubines,” and “ Bastards,” I couldn’t resist. It sounded like its very own soap opera.

I ended up reading a few chapters on my own time, and was soon engulfed by the history of the Zimmern family and fascinated by getting a glimpse into the lives of early modern German nobility. This book hones in on an extremely specific set of people and events, and therefore falls into the category of “microhistory.” Wikipedia defines a microhistory as, “an intensive historical investigation of a well defined smaller unit of research (most often a single event, the community of a village, or an individual).” Many novels focus on a single event, a community, or an individual, but in a microhistory, everything you’re reading about actually happened.

Authors of microhistories are historical detectives, digging deeper than anyone has before them in the hopes of finding something new and increasing their understanding of the larger issues of social history by focusing on specific cases. Microhistories are often written for other historians; the average person might not think of reading one of these books. But my own experience with Noble Strategies made me wonder why more people don’t choose microhistories to read. As an English major, I’m always on board for a well-written story—and microhistories have great potential for being just that. What makes microhistories so much more interesting is the overall thematic focus within them. You get a better glimpse at the humanity within the history when it is concentrated on a certain theme. For example, the underlying theme of relationships within Noble Strategies demonstrates the disconnect between marriage and love in early modern Germany. It helps show how marriage was a financial and political arrangement that created the necessity for concubines as a source of affection, which explains the resulting bastards in the Zimmern family.

If you’re interested in finding a microhistory to sink your teeth into, a few other options in our collection include Leonarde’s Ghost: Popular Piety and “The Appearance of a Spirit” in 1628 and Husbands, Wives, and Concubines: Marriage, Family and Social Order in Sixteenth-Century Verona. And there are a few classics out there to check out too. The Cheese and the Worms is a great example, and one of the best-known microhistories is The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davis (who authored our A Passion for History: Conversations with Denis Crouzet). The Return of Martin Guerre was also a movie (in French), and there is even an American adaptation of the story titled Sommersby, starring Richard Gere and Jodie Foster. Maybe someone should write a soap opera or miniseries based on the marital adventures of the Zimmern family. Their story makes great reading.

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The War In Words: An Interview with Michael Miller, author of The Different War

by Alex Reiser and Abbey Northcutt

Michael Miller, author of  The Different War, a finalist in the 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, compares the lives of soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq with soldiers in the Vietnam conflict. An award-winning poet and a veteran himself, Miller viscerally writes about the experiences of soldiers both in combat and returning home. Miller was gracious enough to share his insights and thoughts with us and describe his experiences in his own words.

What first drew you to poetry? What was your inspiration?MillerMichael

Words drew me to poetry, the words I read in Treasure Island, Alice In Wonderland, The Call Of The Wild, and other books of childhood. The words led me to write descriptions, dialogues, and my first poem when I was eighteen. For me, it all goes back to the words, the flow and rhythms of language, the inspiration it provided. When I read Dylan Thomas I was swept up by poems such as “Fern Hill,” “Poem on his Birthday;” then Hart Crane’s “Voyages” and “My Grandmother’s Love Letters,” and Richard Wilbur’s “The Beautiful Changes” and “For C.” Those poets were my strongest inspiration. Language was the first part of my inspiration, the second was a passionate feeling about a subject, an event, a person, a place.

How did your time in the military affect you as a poet? What about your interaction with other soldiers?

My time in the peacetime Marine Corps from 1958 to 1962 did not affect me as a poet, but like any institution it affected me as a young man—I enlisted at eighteen. What it did do was allow me to read whatever I was drawn to when I made time for it; there was often a base chapel that was open through the night and I found the silence and privacy I needed there. Wherever I was stationed—South Carolina, North Carolina, Okinawa, the Mojave Desert—there was always a library on base. The library at Camp Butler on Okinawa was in a Quonset hut. There I chanced upon Sartre who led to Camus and DeBeauvoir. I was in the perfect place to read Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific and Sayonara when I was on leave in Hawaii, Japan, and Hong Kong. Once again it was all sorts of books that kept me close to writing. There was also the discipline of military life, the organizing of free time when I had some.

My relationships with fellow Marines were, for the most part, good. Although there was a military draft at that time, no one was drafted into the Marine Corps, you had to enlist, which meant everyone wanted to be there. I knew men who had never worn shoes, others who went to Yale. There was always someone who had an interest in reading and talking about what we read. I had a friend who was reading Plato’s dialogues so I read them and we discussed them in the chapel. One night the priest came in and found us there and suggested we find another place because someone might get the wrong idea. Living in close quarters made everyone respectful of each other’s space. Men chose their close comrades—it was a special kinship in a special time of young manhood without women. Socrates advocated this stage in a man’s life. And then there were the books and books! I learned how to write by reading.

What was it about the war in Vietnam and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that made you want to compare them?

The sacrifices of young men who were led to believe they were fighting for a just cause has tremendous resonance. Those men who went to Vietnam, and those who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, if they survived, suffered from similar effects of war. The technology of those wars was different but they might have been the same war. With few exceptions, war is one form of insanity, not to mention the costly mistakes made by generals in the rear. One thing leads to another and it’s not always for the best. Would the Middle East be in its present stateDifferentWarCVR if we had not invaded Iraq? Would there be ISIS if some American troops had remained in Iraq?

Are the people in your poems based on people you’ve met?

No, the people in the poems are not based on people I’ve met. I’ve been around military people since l945 when my uncles came back from World War Two, and then from my own service and veterans I became friendly with. All of this was assimilated, quite unconsciously, and became a part of the well I draw from to write. I’ve always found it limiting to write from my own experience and found that the truth of imagination had a greater reach for creating a poem. There’s a mystery about writing poetry and I’ve always trusted it and let it lead me. It’s not always about what I’m trying to say but about what the poem wants to say.

In your poem “Missing,” you write powerfully from the perspective of a woman who has lost her arm. What kind of mindset did you have to focus on to write from a woman’s viewpoint?

I wasn’t thinking of a woman’s viewpoint in “Missing.” I had an idea for a poem, an opening sentence, and then I followed the language. Words lead to words, images to images, rhythms to rhythms. Once a subject appears in my thoughts, and it can be at any time, in any place, it’s a matter of—in this case a woman losing her arm—of developing it. I always ask as many questions as I can—how did she lose it, what will be the effects? The subject is the skeleton which has to be given flesh, blood, clothes, a sense of place, and by doing this with specifics you can evoke feelings. You may not feel them but because of what you’re writing about the reader might. I try to find subject matter that matters and then fulfill it, honor it, be true to it. These short poems about the effects of war were all long poems—by condensing you create depth, intensity. Language is the key, its the clay you mold through craft. Everyone who writes has to find the way that works best for them. My drafts, usually ten or more, evolve from the previous ones. I know poets who will think about a poem for three months, then write it in one draft, others develop their poems in workshops. Accurate editorial advice can be the final word on a poem. I was fortunate to have Jim Barnes read an earlier version of The Different War. He cut poems, deleted lines, changed others, and I listened because he’s a fine poet and editor. I really don’t know of any poets who can do it themselves unless they’re Shakespeare.

 How do you think veterans would respond to these poems? What about a civilian?

I would hope that veterans and civilians will be moved by the poems. My main concern is trying to write good poems that I feel a necessity to write. It’s always a pleasure when someone responds positively to my work and I learn about it. It makes me smile the way a warm piece of apple pie does when it’s placed before me.

What did you most want readers to take away from your book?

Reading poetry, like anything else, is a very subjective matter, so I have to respect the readers and not have any preconceived ideas of what I want them to take away from my poems. I hope my thoughts about war are in the poems, as are other things that I may not have intended. Poems have a life of their own, as does the process of making them. I’m just grateful for the readers that may find my book in their hands.

And I want to thank you both for asking important questions that I have never asked myself. Your questions and my answers made me aware of what was beneath the surface in my efforts to write. Now that knowledge will slip back into my unconscious and will serve me as I begin new poems. One of the things I’ve learned is that writing is a continual process and we never stop learning and growing if we keep on writing. The key is to be open to everything—ideas, feelings, advice. Young dogs and old dogs can learn new tricks.

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Reading Good Books: What’s the Point?

By Hannah Brockhaus

Nina Hale via flickr under CC license w/ attribution:

As a scholarly press, the Truman State University Press does not produce books that I would consider my go-to summer beach reads. A good number of the Press’s books fall within very specialized fields and are written for the purpose of contributing to a field of knowledge and to the education of scholars in that area—not necessarily with the goal of giving pleasure, or entertaining the reader, such as a Stephen King novel might.

But as both a student, and someone who loves to read, I wonder why these two purposes must be at odds? Why isn’t it just as possible to derive pleasure from learning more about the folk tradition of noodling, or by reading about the effect of war on soldiers in the poetry of a veteran, as from a book from the popular fiction rack?

While it may not be the same kind of pleasure, I think there can still be enjoyment in it.

Anna Holmes, an award-winning writer who has written for The Washington Post, Newsweek and The New Yorker online, recently contributed to The New York Times Sunday Book Review column called “Bookends.” Running across the column, I was drawn in by the question she was asked to debate: whether pleasure in reading is of trivial or vital importance. Holmes wrote:

But what is “reading for pleasure,” really? Does it mean burying oneself only in books or other forms of written material guaranteed to induce feelings of amusement or delight or serenity? Does it mean that pleasure is the point, rather than the pleasurable byproduct?

While reading about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq is not necessarily something pleasurable, there is something to be gained from increasing in understanding of another person and another time and place. The byproduct is the sort of pleasure you gain from knowing or understanding something you didn’t before.

When I first read Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, and as I approached the end, a friend asked me how it was. When I told her that it was the most emotionally difficult book I had ever read she was surprised because it appeared that I couldn’t put it down. Two years later and I still remember scenes vividly; the characters were all so imperfectly human, it made me think of many issues, and aspects of my own life, in a different way.

For me, there was pleasure in the challenge of that book, in the way that it stretched me and made me think. The pleasure of learning and achievement is a pleasure that is lasting.

As Mortimer J. Adler writes in How to Read a Book, “Good books are over your head; they would not be good for you if they were not. And books that are over your head weary you unless you can reach up to them and pull yourself up to their level.”

I can easily get lost in a paperback mystery for a weekend, but it’s a similar encounter to the one I might have with the hairstylist. I know a few things about her life and I enjoy our interactions, but in an hour or so she moves on to a new client and I go on with the rest of my day. Our effect on each other has little lasting significance.

Working your way through a “good book”—though difficult in content or language—changes you.

Truman State University Press strives to offer the scholarly community and the reading public many different options of good books, including many different poetry and contemporary nonfiction titles. Browsing our books by category shows a diverse range in both subject matter and style, so there’s something for everyone.

For me, I know that this summer I won’t be afraid to include in my pleasure reading some titles that challenge and inform me, as well as entertain.

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The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

by Allison Bearly

This semester, while interning with the Truman State University Press, I noticed a small, slim book titled Valuing Useless Knowledge: An Anthropological Inquiry into the Meaning of Liberal Education by Robert Bates Graber. The title intrigued me and it kept catching my attention, so I finally picked it up to look at it. I knew I needed to continue reading the book after reading the prologue in which Graber states:

The liberal arts may be defined—impishly, but accurately nonetheless—as essentially those areas of knowledge in which practical-minded parents hope their children will not major. “But what are you going to do,” they cry, “with a major in ——?”

This struck a chord with me because I myself am one of those impractical students who decided to major in English and minor in French and anthropology. And with graduation approaching in just a few short weeks, the “But what are you going to do?” question arises more and more frequently—from my parents, friends, and mere strangers who have only just learned what my degree will be in.

In his book, Graber examines the historical and philosophical roots of the liberal arts, saying that it “is a kind of knowledge noted above all for being relatively useless.” Following this statement, it would be a reasonable assumption that a liberal arts education would not be valued by members of our society; however, that is not the case. Graber claims this mostly useless knowledge somehow has the most value of all for students. It is from this starting point that Graber makes his anthropological inquiry as to why we as a culture should place value on useless information.

An anthropologist himself, Graber cites a wide range of disciplines. He draws from religious figures like John Henry Newman, philosophers including Herbert Spencer and Democritus, scientist and naturalist Charles Darwin, and perhaps most importantly, anthropologist Marvin Harris. Within the field of anthropology, Harris is a cultural materialist, which, in his own words, is a concept that “is based on the simple premise that human social life is a response to the practical problems of earthly existence.” Harris is particularly well-known for his study of the sacred cow in India. It is from this research that Graber arrives at his answer to his inquiry about the value of a liberal arts education.

The gist behind Harris’s study of the sacred cow is that while it seems strange that there is a taboo in the Hindu religion against eating cows when so much of India is overpopulated and underfed, there is actually a nonreligious rationale behind the taboo. It is cows that provide oxen that plow the land that in turn grows the food for people to eat. Harris’s conclusion was that if farmers slaughtered their cattle whenever hunger struck, it would be detrimental in the long run because they wouldn’t have sufficient labor with which to plow their fields.

Graber applies this concept to liberal knowledge, equating it with the sacred cow. If one sees human knowledge as sacred, then, Graber says, there is a taboo against judging its usefulness. Human knowledge needs protection, just like the cow in India, because our judgment of what is useful or not is often narrowly defined and biased. In order to avoid this bias, Graber poses three questions to consider: useful for whom, useful when, and useful how? “We must then value ‘useless knowledge’ precisely because we cannot trust ourselves to know truly useless knowledge when we see it. Our vision is too limited, our judgments too archaically short-sighted, self-centered, and simpleminded,” Graber says.

In other words, what is useful is incredibly subjective. Rather than only valuing what we see as useful right now, we need to protect all human knowledge, or else face potentially grim repercussions — repercussions similar to those that Hindus in India would face if they chose to slaughter their cows. Rather than be faced with a hunger due to a lack of food, we would be faced with a hunger for knowledge and no way to satisfy it. Graber concludes by saying he cannot prove any of this—if he could, it would contribute to the repository of practical knowledge. And after all, he points out, a defense of liberal knowledge must itself be a contribution to liberal knowledge.

So it is this new-to-me point of view, this seemingly useless information in my brain that I must keep in mind in the weeks, months and years to come after graduation. While many may see my degree as impractical and useless in comparison to, say, nursing or engineering, it is up to us as humans to value knowledge for its own sake. I hope that others, future employers in particular, will value my love of the pursuit of knowledge, and I know that post graduation I will continue attempting to satiate my hunger for “useless” knowledge.


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The Force of Words: An Interview with Laura Bylenok, Winner of the T. S. Eliot Prize

By Allison Bearly and Hannah Brockhaus

Warp by Laura Bylenok is the winner of the 2015 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, awarded annually by the Tr State University Press to the best unpublished book-length collection of poetry. This year’s judge, Arthur Sze—most recently author of Compass Rose—called Warp “a distinguished book of poems that combines imaginative verve with longing to create a rich tapestry across space and time.” See the rest of Dr. Sze’s comments on Warp.

Bylenok talked with us about Warp, providing insight into her creative process and award-winning collection.

What first drew you to the word warp? All poets have an attention to word choice, but yours is particularly evident, and shows a poignant consciousness of the etymology and different definitions of the word. Do you have a background in linguistics or the sciences that may have prompted this approach?

I came across warp by happy accident. I recall I was sifting through the Oxford English Dictionary one afternoon—something I love to do, to start with a word and trace out a net of etymologies—to see how I might flex the meaning in an image of the near-incandescent effect of glacial silt discoloring a lake in the poem “Vessel.” But there, in the entry for the verb warp, I found 54 definitions, a few familiar and many more absolutely startling: ones such as “To lay eggs” or “To trample underfoot” or “Of wind: to rise up.” I found them irresistible because of their strangeness and because of how many of them already contained and suggested scene, tension, and movement. I couldn’t have invented a more compelling interplay of themes: trajectory, impact, distortion, slow accumulation, loss and transformation, reproduction.

The last one—reproduction—is perhaps the most unexpected and the most consequential for my work. In particular, the definition “Of bees: to swarm,” allowed me to visualize reproduction as an act of simultaneous self-splitting and self-preservation, of creation and destruction. This is quite literal: when a hive swarms, which is its method of reproduction, one part splits off, leaving behind the old queen and establishing a new colony with a newly fertilized queen. This splitting happens in our human bodies, as well, with our DNA during meiosis to create the sperm or egg. The gift of warp was that it allowed me to imagine DNA as only one kind of strand on a much larger loom—of identity, of history, of time, of language.

And of course, this brings me to the second part of your question. My first dream was not poetry but genetics. These two are not, I believe, incompatible. I can’t claim a true background in the sciences, but I did study molecular biology as an undergraduate, and for several years I did research in a medical genetics lab. That experience imprinted in me the spirit of scientific inquiry, which is not so different from poetic inquiry. Both share a necessity for imaginative leaps and for searching beneath the visible surface of experience to access a deeper, more hidden reality.

Did you find the quote for your epigraph (“what is a word but wind? … a puff of wind, a word, may warp her”) in the OED as well, or somewhere else? How do you see it resonate with the collection as a whole?

The quote itself was not in the OED, though the entry for warp does reference several other passages from the Ancrene Wisse, the text from which the epigraph is taken. So in a way, the OED did lead me to the epigraph, because I started reading the Ancrene Wisse with an eye to how warp was used in Middle English.

The passage resonates in two ways. First, it unites breath and language with wind, so the natural world becomes a vehicle for the force of poetry. Second, it bestows power on language: language has the power to shape a person and the power to break her. I take seriously Ludwig Wittgenstein’s notion that “the limits of my language mean the limits of my world,” and here not only are we cast by language, with this passage we are warped—distorted, thrown down, even put to death—by it.

I should mention I have taken a small liberty with the translation in the second part of the passage: “a puff of wind, a word, may warp her.” The original Middle English “warpen” has been translated into modern English variously as “fell,” “throw,” and “cast down”—which makes sense because those meanings of warp are now obsolete. However, I wanted to restore the plurality of meanings that warp contained.

You play with form quite a bit in this collection, not sticking to any one in particular throughout the work. When you set out to write a poem, do you do so with a particular form in mind or does the form come out naturally as you’re writing?

I almost never have a specific form in mind before I begin a poem. Form often comes, for me, from the first line, or from a muscular phrase that from its inception suggests or demands an echo in rhythm or in rhyme. That said, I try to resist the deterministic impulse of inherited form, to break away from the expectation and closure that may seem to be predetermined by a given rhythm or structure. I’m deeply interested, too, in idiosyncratic rhythms and shapes, and much—most—of the book depends on these.

I love that you say “play,” because there is delight in the word and in the act. I delight in the sheer variety of rhythms available in the English language: hypnotic, insistent, incantatory, fragmented, syncopated. Some of the most delightful iambic lines are not iambic at all, and it is their breaking away from the lull of a regular rhythm that thrills me. Whether within (or against) inherited form or not, sonic play becomes a kind of self-perpetuating engine on the tongue and in the mind.

How do you approach revision? How do you decide when a poem is finished?

That’s a difficult question, I believe, for many poets. In revision I allow full range and departure from any formal or other constraints I might have imposed on a poem. I read a poem many times out loud. I’m an incurable tinkerer, and I will return to poems, sometimes years later. I may keep only a phrase and rewrite the rest, or I may fiddle over a single line break. Calling a poem finished is perhaps as simple as letting go of the impulse to control if or how it will live on in the world. But in practice, when I read a poem out loud and feel satisfied in my blood with the music of the piece—when I no longer feel the desire to tinker—that’s when I know it’s done.

What poets or writers do you read? Are there any you have found particularly influential on your own poetry or on Warp in particular?

For poetry, Gerard Manley Hopkins holds the place of first love—for his wild music, his sprung rhythm, his consonants, but also for his metaphysics, and for his anxiety about utterance and inscription. There are many poets I return to continually. To Elizabeth Bishop, for her calm. To Marianne Moore, for her meticulous eye. To Federico García Lorca, for duende. More recently, I’ve been startled awake by Marina Tsvetaeva, especially Jean Valentine’s and Ilya Kaminsky’s translations of her poems in Dark Elderberry Branch. Her work is elusive, irresistible, radically lyrical in her conception of the poem as “a created and instantly destroyed world.”

For prose, I can’t and don’t want to escape the gravity well of Jorge Luis Borges’s fiction, and I share his preoccupations with infinities, labyrinths, and paradox. During the period I was writing many of the poems for Warp, I became interested in quantum physics and began reading essays by Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, J. Robert Oppenheimer. At the same time, I was reading a cross section of theoretical and historical texts concerned with the perception of time, including Henri Bergson, Bertrand Russell, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, alongside mystical texts by Simone Weil, Teresa de Ávila, and Julian of Norwich. Each of these inflected the poems and will continue to inflect my investigations (through reading, through writing) into both the failures and the pleasures and possibilities of language.


About the author:  Laura Bylenok is currently pursuing her PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah, where she is also a new media editor for Quarterly West. Her poems have appeared in North American Review and Guernica, among other journals, and her chapbook, a/0, was published by DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press in 2014.

Warp will be released from the Truman State University Press in September 2015.

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The Girls of Usually isn’t just for girls

by Corbin Kottmann

“It’s in literature that true life can be found. It’s under the mask of fiction that you can tell the truth.” — Gao Xingjian

The Girls of Usually follows the life of the author Lori Horvitz, giving the reader snapshot insights into her family life, her travels, and the relationships she develops along the way. The first part of her book, which comes together as collection of personal essays, grounds the reader in a setting filled with Jewish culture and a search for sexual identity. The inner dialogue present in the essays, along with the image of herself that Horvitz makes so prominent, immerses the reader in the life of the auHorvitz-photothor. However The Girls of Usually is more than just a collection of details surrounding a young, single Jewish girl who struggles to stay afloat in the dating scene while she discovers if she is straight, gay, or somewhere in between. The journey that Lori Horvitz takes, not simply from America to all over Europe, but within herself, calls out to any reader who glances at the page and reads what Horvitz has written about her experiences with past lovers.

Chinua Achebe once said that, “once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation… this is one great thing that literature can do—it can make us identify with situations and people far away.” Mostly throughout the first part of the book, as we go through Horvitz’s early life, we are introduced to the character of Joseph. While for the author Joseph is a real-life bad ex-boyfriend, to the reader he is every bad ex-boyfriend or girlfriend sitting there on the edge of our memories. We don’t know Joseph, but we know a Joseph, and so feel right at home in Horvitz’s memories of an emotionally chaffing relationship.

Horvitz’s story doesn’t end there, just like our own stories don’t usually end after just one bad relationship. We find more stories to pile on, and Horvitz does so in bulk. Through her essays we are given a first row seat to witness her exploration of the boundaries of human connection. If you were to skim the page you would find simply a story of a girl coming to terms with her sexuality. While that is an important detail in and of itself, a thorough devouring of her story tells us more than what it’s like to be single and gay. It tells us how it is be human, single, and searching not only for yourself but for your place in the world, be it a country, city, or another person. The Girls of Usually not only speaks to the closeted or confused, but to anyone who has felt out of place in a relationship, or even in their own skin.

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A Futile Debate

by Jessica Chiodini

The great e-book versus print debate has been raging since the introduction of the Kindle, the first e-reader, in 2007. The digitalization of our reading experience was right on par with the disappearance of CD collections in favor of invisible MP3 libraries and streaming capabilities of favorite television shows that sent TV Guide right out the window. Listen anywhere, watch any time, read everywhere became a mantra that has replaced the need to make a date with our culture because dates take time, and in our fast-paced world, people only have the length of a subway ride, the wait in a doctor’s office, or the walk to class to digest what’s on a screen before the subway doors swoosh open, the nurse says she’s ready for you, or you realize you forgot about the assignment due in ten minutes. And life starts again.

E-books seem to fit right in with this new mantra. E-books become immediate new additions to our online libraries; they don’t weigh anything or take up space, they allow us to read in the dark or search on a whim–all while engaging our fingers. In the beginning, their success in the marketplace was evident as they were propelled by the technology’s early adopters that made the move to e-books happen quickly.

Despite the early success of e-books, with increases in the triple digits for several years, 2013 saw e-book sales stabilize into single digits. In fact, the first half of 2014 saw printed books outsell e-books, according to a survey by Nielsen Books & Consumer. Hardcover books made up 25 percent of unit sales and paperback books made up 42 percent, for a combined 67 percent of unit sales. E-books constituted 23 percent of unit sales for the first six months of 2014, lower than both hardcover and paperback books on their own. The digital wipe-out of printed books that was predicted to happen hasn’t, and it looks like it probably won’t.

Printed books, while cumbersome in our back pockets or hefty in our bags, still manage to hold a place in our hearts that motivates our wallets. Paper books have no need for electricity. They can survive a coffee spill. You can resell them or give them away without inciting a battle over copyright infringement. Pop-up e-mails and other apps will never be a distraction glowing by the page number. Paper books can’t disappear from your library due to company policy or technical malfunction. And no matter how handy an e-book is, its intangible nature can’t elicit the same sentimental feelings of returning to a dog-eared page or scribbling in the margins.

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Looking in the Mirror: Children Need More Diverse Books

by Melissa Bradford

Vampires don’t have reflections. When these “monsters” look into a mirror, they see no image of themselves staring back at them. I recently read an analogy by Pulitzer Prize–winning author Junot Diaz who compared a vampire’s lack of reflection to how some people cannot see themselves reflected in the books they read.

Those people include the young children—children who are African American, Asian, Latino, and Native American—who visit a library looking for books with characters like them on the cover only to find shelves and shelves of white protagonists.

When these children don’t see themselves represented in media, they begin to ask themselves the same questions Diaz asked himself growing up: Is there something wrong with me? Does society think that people like me don’t exist? They begin to think that since they have no reflection, they must be monsters too.

This of course is not true, and the blame for lack of diverse publications falls onto the publishing industry. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, out of 3,200 children books published in 2013, only 93 were about African Americans, and the numbers are even lower for Asian, Latino, and Native American children’s books. The number of children’s books published about non-white characters adds up to less than 10% of the total, yet the U.S. Census reports that minorities make up almost 40% of the U.S. population and that figure is only expected in increase over the next few decades.

One of the reasons big name publishers aren’t producing more culturally diverse books is because they believe that those books won’t sell as well or that there isn’t a market for them. However a recent social media campaign has set out to prove them wrong. After scrolling through the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag on Twitter for the first time, I saw people from all different races sharing their personal experiences and explaining why their cultures deserve to be published too.

This is why, when I first started interning for Truman State University Press, I was thrilled to find out about their Notable Missourians children’s book series. The series focuses on the stories of significant people who have contributed to Missouri’s history, including former slave Sam Nightingale and Native American leader Great Walker. Whereas some history books only highlight the triumphs of white people, this series makes a point of featuring people not found in the typical textbook, showing young Missouri students that everybody—whatever their skin color, religion, or ethnic background—is part of our state’s history.

In an industry where it’s easier to find more children’s books featuring talking animals than multicultural protagonists, every book counts. Each diverse book published has the chance to be a young child’s mirror. Children will pull the book off of the library shelf, open the pages, and see themselves reflected back at them, reassuring them that they are not the monster here—they never were. They just needed the right book to show them.

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Our Prison Fixation

by Heather Ernst

Prison life and the practice of incarceration has been a subject of interest among the public for years. When public executions and punishments were no longer a public spectacle, interest in the subject did not falter. People began to wonder: What is life like behind prison bars?

It’s part of the human condition to be curious. Prisoners are outliers, the ones who broke societal rules and expectations. A prison has a distinct culture, but over the years, the barred doors have swung open to let us see what life is truly like for the convicted. Many prisons, like Alcatraz and the Tower of London to name a couple, have become tourist hot spots, drawing crowds from all over the world.

Prison life has been featured in many popular movies: Cool Hand Luke (1967), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and The Green Mile (1999). More recently, television shows about prisons like Oz, Prison Break, and the popular Netflix show Orange Is the New Black have used prison and its inmates as subject matter. Documentaries have covered numerous prison-related topics, from daily life to psychological makeup of high-profile felons, to haunted/abandoned prisons. Why do inmates behave the way they do? How do they act once they’re locked up?

In Unguarded Moments, maintenance worker Larry Neal presents an alternative, first-person account of his interactions with inmates at the Missouri State Penitentiary in the 1980s. In contrast to melodramatic presentations in media and television about prisons, this down-to-earth account focuses on Neal’s daily interactions with felons whose crimes aren’t notorious enough to merit a “high-profile” status. Neal’s candid narrative about his interactions with inmates sheds light on these “everyday criminals.”

Since Neal was, in convict slang terms, a “square man” (a staff member who is not an officer), he developed a different kind of relationship with the inmates. He was not a threat; he was there to improve their quality of life in the prison. Often maintenance workers and inmates pulled pranks on each other and would work together on maintenance projects all over the penitentiary. In one instance, a confident younger prisoner continued to bet against an older, more seasoned one, and the stakes were much higher than the normal currency of push-ups.

“One of the bets that became popular for a while was for losers to do a song and dance. That consisted of a shuffling of the feet, a clapping of the hands, and a rendition of the “Quack quack! I’m a duck!” song in a high, quiet, embarrassed voice. … It’s an amazing sight to see some time-hardened, rough, old convict, red-faced and humiliated as a crowd gathered at the plumbing shop door to cheer and whistle.” (58–59)

Stories of harmless practical jokes fill the pages of this memoir, which is surprisingly lighthearted for a work about a major state penitentiary. However, Larry Neal does delve into the more macabre in the chapter “The MSP Gas Chamber.” Even with his inside experience, Neal is not exempt from preoccupation about the room where 40 inmates were executed. He writes:

“I found the chamber fascinating and wondered if that meant I had a twisted mind (something most people took for granted), but I later realized that if so, there were a lot of other similarly warped people. Almost every public tour given of the pen would bog down at this place where men and women had been forcefully launched from the here and now into eternity.” (154)

Our appetite for knowledge on prisons will probably never be satiated. There will always be a burning curiosity about incarceration and the inner workings of a place where society’s worst are kept locked away from the rest of the world.