Possible Future Readings

Here are some of the books that have been suggested as readings for the #storypast group.

If you have another suggestion, why not post it in the comments?

Sydney Padua, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage 

Byron: mathematician, gambler, and proto-programmer, whose writings contained the first ever appearance of general computing theory, a hundred years before an actual computer was built. And Charles Babbage, eccentric inventor of the Difference Engine, an enormous clockwork calculating machine that would have been the first computer, if he had ever finished it.

But what if things had been different? The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage presents a delightful alternate reality in which Lovelace and Babbage do build the Difference Engine and use it to create runaway economic models, battle the scourge of spelling errors, explore the wider realms of mathematics and, of course, fight crime. Complete with historical curiosities, extensive footnotes and never-before-seen diagrams of Babbage’s mechanical, steam-powered computer, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage is wonderfully whimsical, utterly unusual, and, above all, entirely irresistible.

 

Zachary Leader (ed.) On Life-Writing

Life-writing’ is a generic term meant to encompass a range of writings about lives or parts of lives, or which provide materials out of which lives or parts of lives are composed. These writings include not only memoir, autobiography, biography, diaries, autobiographical fiction, and biographical fiction, but letters, writs, wills, written anecdotes, depositions, marginalia, lyric poems, scientific and historical writings, and digital forms (including blogs, tweets, Facebook entries). On Life-Writing offers a sampling of approaches to the study of life-writing, introducing readers to something of the range of forms the term encompasses, their changing fortunes and features, the notions of ‘life,’ ‘self’ and ‘story’ which help to explain these changing fortunes and features, recent attempts to group forms, the permeability of the boundaries between forms, the moral problems raised by life-writing in all forms, but particularly in fictional forms, and the relations between life-writing and history, life-writing and psychoanalysis, life-writing and philosophy. The essays mostly focus on individual instances rather than fields, whether historical, theoretical or generic. Generalizations are grounded in particulars. For example, the role of the ‘life-changing encounter,’ a frequent trope in literary life-writing, is pondered by Hermione Lee through an account of a much-storied first meeting between the philosopher Isaiah Berlin and the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova; James Shapiro examines the history of the ‘cradle to grave’ life-narrative, as well as the potential distortions it breeds, by focusing on Shakespeare biography, in particular attempts to explain Shakespeare’s so-called ‘lost years’.

Keith David Watenpaugh, Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism

This book ‘breaks new ground in analyzing the theory and practice of modern humanitarianism. Genocide and mass violence, human trafficking, and the forced displacement of millions in the early twentieth century Eastern Mediterranean form the background for this exploration of humanitarianism’s role in the history of human rights. Watenpaugh’s unique and provocative examination of humanitarian thought and action from a non-Western perspective goes beyond canonical descriptions of relief work and development projects. Employing a wide range of source materials literary and artistic responses to violence, memoirs, and first-person accounts from victims, perpetrators, relief workers, and diplomats Watenpaugh argues that the international answer to the inhumanity of World War I in the Middle East laid the foundation for modern humanitarianism and the specific ways humanitarian groups and international organizations help victims of war, care for trafficked children, and aid refugees. Bread from Stones is required reading for those interested in humanitarianism and its ideological, institutional, and legal origins, as well as the evolution of the movement following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the advent of late colonialism in the Middle East.’

Helena Michie and Robyn Warhol Love Among the Archives: Writing the Lives of George Scharf, Victorian Bachelor

Part biography, part detective novel, part love story, and part meditation on archival research, Love Among the Archives is an experiment in writing a life. This is the story of two literary critics’ attempts to track down Sir George Scharf, the founding director of the National Portrait Gallery in London, famous in his day and strangely obscure in our own.

After discovering Scharf’s scrapbook of menus and invitations from England’s most stately homes, the authors began their adventures in the archives of London, searching Scharf’s diaries, sketchbooks, and letters for traces of the man who so loved dining out. Addicted to Victorian novels, the authors looked for a marriage plot, but found Scharf’s passionate attachment to a younger man who had hidden from him a secret engagement; they looked for a Bildungsroman, but found that Scharf never left his beloved mother.

Always short of money, self-educated, talented, irascible, gregarious, prolific, and snobbish, this son of a poor immigrant artist was to become the right-hand man of an earl he called “my best friend.” The written record of his nightmares, debts, gifts, and dinner parties comes together to produce a rich Victorian character whose personal and professional lives challenge what we think we know about sex, class, and profession in his time.

Jennifer Sinor, The Extraordinary Work of Ordinary Writing

Exciting and beautifully crafted, The Extraordinary Work of Ordinary Writing provides an entirely new way of viewing “ordinary writing,” the everyday writing we typically ignore or dismiss. It takes as its center the diary of Jennifer Sinor’s great-great-great-aunt Annie Ray, a woman who homesteaded in the Dakotas in the late nineteenth century. Diaries such as this have long been ignored by scholars, who prefer instead to focus on diaries with literary features. Reading diaries through this lens gives privileged status to those that are coherently crafted and ignores the very diaries that define the form through their relentless inscription of dailiness.

Annie Ray’s diary is not literary. By considering her ordinary writing as a site of complex and strategic negotiations among the writer, the form of writing, and dominant cultural scripts, Sinor makes visible the extraordinary work of the ordinary writer and the sophistication of these texts. In providing a way to read diaries outside the limits and conventions of literature, she challenges our approaches to other texts as well. Furthermore, because ordinary writing is not crafted for aesthetic reception (in contrast to autobiography proper, memoirs, and literary diaries), it is a productive site for investigating how both writing and culture get made every day.

The book is truly original in its form: nontraditional, storied, creative. Sinor, an accomplished creative writer, includes her own memories as extended metaphors in partnership with critical texts along with excerpts from her aunt’s diary. The Extraordinary Work of Ordinary Writing will be a fascinating text for students of creative writing as well as of women’s studies and diaries.

Francis Spufford Red Plenty

Red Plenty, was published by Graywolf Press in February 2012. 

Is it a novel?  Is it non-fiction? It all depends on your definitions.  It tells a true story, but it tells it as a story. Whatever you call it, it’s about the moment in the mid-20th century when people believed that the state-owned Soviet economy might genuinely outdo the market, and produce a world of rich communists and envious capitalists.  Specifically, it’s about the last and cleverest version of the idea – central planning via cybernetics – and about how and why, in the 1960s, it failed.  To give the economics some human depth, Red Plenty generates a miniature Soviet Union on the page, peopled by scientists and politicians, fixers and managers, dreamers and cynics.  

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