Scuppernong Bookshelf

Liberty for All

July’s releases include reflections on the state of the republic

Compiled by Brian Lampkin

We’re still hanging on. Two hundred-forty-three years later and the republic continues to function. These July books help us imagine a way forward while acknowledging a past both admirable and devastating.

July 2: It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art (Atria Books, $19.99). When Donald Trump claimed victory in the November 2016 election, the U.S. literary and art world erupted in indignation. Many of America’s pre-eminent writers and artists are stridently opposed to the administration’s agenda and executive orders — and they’re not about to go gentle into that good night. In this “masterful literary achievement,” more than 30 of the most acclaimed writers at work today consider the fundamental ideals of a free, just and compassionate democracy through fiction in an anthology that “promises to be both a powerful tool in the fight to uphold our values and a tribute to the remarkable voices behind it” (Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU).

July 2: A Dream Called Home: A Memoir, by Reyna Grande (Washington Square Press, $17). As an immigrant in an unfamiliar country, with an indifferent mother and abusive father, Reyna had few resources at her disposal. Taking refuge in words, Reyna’s love of reading and writing propels her to rise above until she achieves the impossible and is accepted to the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Through it all, Reyna is determined to make the impossible possible, going from undocumented immigrant of little means to “a fierce, smart, shimmering light of a writer” (Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild.

July 2: Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II, by Svetlana Alexievich (Random House, $30). For more than three decades, Svetlana Alexievich has been the memory and conscience of the 20th century. When the Swedish Academy awarded her the Nobel Prize, it cited her for inventing “a new kind of literary genre,” describing her work as “a history of emotions . . . a history of the soul.”

Bringing together dozens of voices in her distinctive style, Last Witnesses is Alexievich’s collection of the memories of those who were children during World War II. They had sometimes been soldiers as well as witnesses, and their generation grew up with the trauma of the war deeply embedded — a trauma that would change the course of the Russian nation.

July 9: When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom, by Asma Uddin (Pegasus, $27.99). Religious liberty lawyer Asma Uddin has long considered her work defending people of all faiths to be a calling more than a job. Yet even as she seeks equal protection for Evangelicals, Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Jews and Catholics alike, she has seen an ominous increase in attempts to criminalize Islam and exclude American Muslims from their inalienable rights. 

July 16: The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, $24.95). As the civil rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Florida, Elwood Curtis is abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother. Although he enrolls in the local black college, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future for a black boy in the Jim Crow South. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy. 

Based on the real story of that reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.

July 30: Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism, by Terry McAuliffe (Thomas Dunne, $24.95). In Beyond Charlottesville, McAuliffe looks at the forces and events that led to the tragedy in Charlottesville, including the murder of Heather Heyer and the death of two state troopers in a helicopter accident. He doesn’t whitewash Virginia history and his discussion of the KKK protest over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee is a hard, real-time, behind-the-scenes look at the actions of everyone on that fateful August 12, including himself, to see what could have been done. OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

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