Attorney General Eric Holder (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
Our country's shoulder-shrugging acceptance of rape in prisons has made it to the U.S. Department of Justice. Last week, the public comment period on new federal standards to eliminate sexual assault in prisons closed. The standards, released by the Justice Department in February, fall far short of the tools needed to confront the pervasive problem.
Rarely are older women centered as protagonists in American fiction, a fact that mirrors their marginalized role in society. In If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, her new collection of stories, author Robin Black pushes back against this trend. Black's bright and nuanced tales make protagonists of those who, in life as well as in art, are more often caricatures. We meet a 70-year-old artist who grieves the end of a romance while painting a dying man's portrait, a woman in her mid-60s who makes an unexpected connection with a stranger in Italy, and another older woman who lies about her recent stroke while coming to terms with her daughter's marital infidelity.
"When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." So said Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch priest born less than 20 years after the printing press was invented. This holiday season, publishers might like to see his ilk in bookshops. Traditionally, the book industry depends upon the December gift-giving season to buoy its entire year. Many publishers shape their catalog around the six-week window of intensified shopping that carries particular urgency in the depths of a recession.
But this "make or break" bookselling strategy is one holiday tradition that a handful of innovative publishers are eager to end.
A. Van Jordan is the author of Rise and M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, the last of which imagined the life of MacNolia Cox, the first black finalist in the National Spelling Bee. In that highly praised volume, Jordan played with the written forms of film, jazz and blues to tell the story of how Cox's life was shaped by racism and poverty in 1936 Ohio.