I have a book coming out in August. It’s an academic monograph on girls’ reading activity in late nineteenth-century Prussia, so you are unlikely to see it at your local B&N or Chapters. That’s ok with me. I hope that historians of education read it, women’s studies folks, children’s literature researchers, and scholars interested in women’s writing and girlhood studies. There is some good stuff in there on nineteenth-century curriculum, on the role of reading in formal and informal education, on the power of fiction to bolster the stories that communities tell about their togetherness or separateness.
I worked on that project forever. First it was a dissertation, then it was neglected, then it expanded in my mind, then I wrote it all over again and it is–mostly, but not entirely–good. There are issues I didn’t see in the proofs. They only became visible when my words were single spaced on a book page–snuggled close to their friends from three paragraphs ago, offensive with their repetitiveness and verbosity. Those will not be the last words I ever write, so I can always improve.
The power of fiction and story to tell us who we are or want to be still compels me but I want to look at contemporary fiction. In particular, I’m fascinated by the enduring interest in Holocaust fiction and memoir. The Book Thief and Sarah’s Key are two 21st-century examples of the genre that does not appear to fade even as the the generation of the victims and the perpetrators dies out. Recently I read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, by Judith Kerr, written in England and The Old Brown Suitcase, by Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, written in Canada. I was struck by the contextualization of these memoirs as refugee stories–stories of disruption and displacement that can foster empathy and awareness for our own era’s displaced, hunted, and loathed populations. The Holocaust memoir or story is not the story of a horrifying singularity, then, but a story that can be re-told again and again–by Armenians, Rwandans, Bosnians or Serbs, or Sudanese.
So I’m on the prowl for an approach. Although it is tempting to sit down and do a literary analysis of these stories–or their marketing and contextualization by publishing houses–I want to connect with the readers, the kids who read the books. That’s pretty tricky business in academic publishing. Ethics boards, protocols, conflicts of interest. It might be tricky parenting business, too: Hey kid, read this book and tell Mommy what it made you think of!
Watch this space for developments. Anyone want to form a book club?