Monday, July 29, 2013

Author Spotlight: Jeffery P. Bonner

Written in a lively, accessible style, Sailing with Noah explores the role of zoos in today’s society and their future as institutions of education, conservation, and research. Along the way, Bonner relates a variety of true stories about animals and those who care for them (or abuse them), offering his perspective on heavily publicized incidents and describing less-well-known events with compassion and humor in turn. By bringing the stories of the animals’ lives before us, Bonner gives them a voice. He strongly believes that zoos must act for living things, and he argues that conservation is a shared responsibility of all mankind. This book helps us to understand why biodiversity is important and what it means to be a steward of life on earth.

Q: Why did you choose the name Sailing with Noah for this book?
In the last chapter I talk about how much I hate it when people refer to zoos as arks.  But the Biblical story of Noah always seemed important to me.  I’ve always viewed it as a parable that speaks to our obligation to care for all living things.  I think of the world as the ultimate ark – a small, fragile sphere that holds all of life as we know it.  In the end, we’re all Noahs of a sort.  All of us hold the ability to steward life on Earth in our hands.

Q: You cite a visit to an aquarium and the awe an electric eel inspired in you as the moment you were changed for good. Can you think of any other moments like this where things seemed to just “click” for you? 
I can think of a lot of times where things just clicked.  The first that pops to mind was when I took my first anthropology course.  I went to the first class and then came back to my dorm and began to read the text.  I don’t know how much of it I read in one sitting, but I flipped open the book to find out where the author worked (Columbia University) and decided on the spot that I would go to graduate school there.  Of course, there’s also the first date with my wife…

Q: What did you find to be the most challenging thing about writing this book? 
The real challenge writing this book turned out to be available time.  I really didn’t have any.  I wound up working on it pretty much every Sunday that I was in town.   The stories were the easy part.

Q: How do you feel about the current expansion plans for the St. Louis Zoo? 
I guess I’d have to say that I’ve never been busier in my life.  Part of that is due to the expansion plans, but you also have to consider that we’re still building projects that resulted from our current fund-raising effort, “The Living Promise Campaign.”  I don’t travel as much as I used to, but I still have two trips that I’m leading up to Churchill, Manitoba, to see polar bears this fall.  There seem to be so many things happening all at once.  But I love working on the expansion; the only problem is that I already have a full-time job.

Q: What would you like readers to take away from this book?    
I hope they’ll gain a better understanding of the role of modern zoos.  More important, I hope that this book will make people care more about living things. I want people to feel a sense of responsibility and understand that even the smallest of things, if we all do them, can have a huge impact on our environment.

Q: What are you currently working on? 
In terms of books, I’m writing fiction now.  The problem is more one of time than anything else, so I’m not making much progress.  Work pretty much has overtaken me and my work/life balance seems to be more than a little out of whack.  But I’m collecting some story ideas for a sequel.  Who knows?  Maybe another is coming (someday).

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Mark of the Twain

I've lived in Missouri for twenty years, and I've never read a Mark Twain book. I realize this is near-blasphemous to say. I still don't know how I squeezed through the Missouri public school system without laying a finger on a well-worn copy of Huck Finn. To be clear, this is not a point of pride for me; I'm downright ashamed.

Instead of actually reading his books, I've spent most of my life wondering if Mark Twain would be a cool guy to hang out with. It's probably just a consequence of the state of photographic technology around the turn of the twentieth century, but to me, Mark Twain always looks like some forlorn steamboat captain who strokes his mustache and stares wistfully off into the distance. You know, the type of guy who stands by the chip bowl at a party and accidentally dips his hand in the salsa for too long because he's not thinking about the chips; no, he's thinking about something deeper than that. Now, this portrait of Twain doesn't exactly paint him as the party god he'd probably rather be remembered as, but this is exactly the kind of person I like to be around. Mark Twain and I likely would have gotten along just fine.

But I've recently been reconsidering my lack of actual Twain knowledge. Working at the University of Missouri Press tends to do that to people, I think. The Mark Twain & His Circle series published by the Press explores facets of the writer's life I didn't even know could be studied: his thoughts on living in the city, the use of gender play in his work, even hypothetical conversations between Twain and the hottest philosophers of the modern world. And surprisingly, looking at all these Twain books for twenty hours a week sparked my interest enough that I picked up a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer at the bookshop next to my laundromat the other day.

The Mark Twain & His Circle series is a nearly twenty-strong team of books on the beloved humorist and his work. Below are just a few offerings from the series, but Mark my words: you will find a Twain tome in here that's to your liking.

The Jester and the Sages approaches the life and work of Mark Twain by placing him in conversation with three eminent philosophers of his time—Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Karl Marx. Unprecedented in Twain scholarship, this interdisciplinary analysis supplements the traditional appreciation of the forces that drove Twain’s creativity and the dynamics of his humor by exploring how his reflections on religion, politics, philosophy, morality, and social issues overlap the philosophers’ developed thoughts on these subjects.

In Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor, James M. Cox pursues the development of Mark Twain’s humor through all the forms it took from “The Jumping Frog” to The Mysterious Stranger. Instead of seeking the seriousness behind the humor, Cox concentrates upon the humor itself as the transfiguring power that converted all the “serious” issues and emotions of Mark Twain’s life and time into narratives designed to evoke helpless laughter. In those sudden moments of pleasurable helplessness, we glimpse the great heart of a writer who imagined freedom in the slave society of his youth and discovered slavery in the free country of his old age.

Delving into the psychological aspects of metaphor to reveal Twain’s attitudes and thoughts, John Bird shows how using metaphor as a guide to Twain reveals much about his composition process. From “The Jumping Frog” to the late dream narratives, Mark Twain and Metaphor considers Twain’s metaphoric construction over his complete career and especially sheds new light on his central texts. He reconsiders “Old Times on the Mississippi” as the most purely metaphorical of Twain’s writings, goes on to look at how Twain used metaphor and talked about it in a variety of works and genres, and even argues that Clemens’s pseudonym is not so much an alter ego as a metaphorized self. In addition to dealing with issues currently central to Twain studies, such as race and gender, Bird also links metaphor to humor and dream theory to further illuminate topics central to Twain’s work.

Mark Twain in Paradise is the first comprehensive study of Samuel Clemens’s love affair with Bermuda, a vivid depiction of a celebrated author on recurring vacations. The book sheds light on both Clemens’s complex character and the topography and history of the islands. Donald Hoffmann has plumbed the voluminous Mark Twain scholarship and Bermudian archives to faithfully re-create turn-of-the-century Bermuda, supplying historical and biographical background to give his narrative texture and depth. He offers insight into Bermuda’s natural environment, traditional stone houses, and romantic past, and he presents dozens of illustrations, both vintage and new, showing that much of what Mark Twain described can still be seen today.

A century after Samuel Clemens’s death, Mark Twain is still thriving. His books are widely cherished, and fans flock to his homes in hopes of learning more about the first true American writer. Literary historic sites have long pinned their authority on the promise of exclusive insight into authors and texts, but Hilary Iris Lowe encourages readers to think critically about this celebration of Clemens. As tempting as it is to accept the authenticity of Clemens’s homes, Mark Twain’s Homes and Literary Tourism argues that house museums are not reliable critical texts but are instead carefully constructed spaces designed to satisfy visitors.

Searching for Jim is the untold story of Sam Clemens and the world of slavery that produced him. Despite Clemens’s remarks to the contrary in his autobiography, slavery was very much a part of his life. Terrell Dempsey has uncovered a wealth of newspaper accounts and archival material revealing that Clemens’s life, from the ages of twelve to seventeen, was intertwined with the lives of the slaves around him. Carefully reconstructed from letters, newspaper articles, sermons, speeches, books, and court records, Searching for Jim offers a new perspective on Clemens’s writings, especially regarding his use of race in the portrayal of individual characters, their attitudes, and worldviews.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Author Spotlight: Stephen W. Hines

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist: Writings from the Ozarks edited by Stephen W. Hines

Before Laura Ingalls Wilder found fame with her Little House books, she made a name for herself with short nonfiction pieces in magazines and newspapers. Read today, these pieces offer insight into her development as a writer and depict farm life in the Ozarks—and also show us a different Laura Ingalls Wilder from the woman we have come to know.

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder is the sort of writer who captures your heart. Her writing was tempered with wisdom and kindness. The Little House books are still read again and again by children all over the world; she’s inspired so many people. What will readers who remember her fondly from The Little House days learn about her from the newspaper columns you have collected in this book?

In Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist, Mrs. Widler's fans will encounter the adult Laura, and they will hear her as a slightly different voice. Here is a woman deeply involved in the day-to-day work of helping to run an Ozark farm, but she is also a woman interested in the world, politics, and the social issues of her day.

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder may not have identified herself as a feminist, but she undoubtedly influenced countless people who would. Do her Missouri Ruralist columns offer any further insight into her views on equality?

Certainly, she believed in a kind of equality, but that equality probably did not extend as far as it would in some quarters today. I doubt that Mrs. Wilder would have entertained the idea of a house husband, yet she certainly wanted to vote and hated the idea that when improvement organizations were formed, they were often constructed so as to have a "woman's auxiliary," which did a lot of work for which it did not get credit. She didn't want to be an auxiliary anything. She enjoyed political discussion. She was well-read and made so by her daughter Rose.

Q: How did compiling these essays expand your view of Wilder as a pioneer and a writer?

The essays gave me a more complete "biography" of Laura. I learned about a whole part of her life with which I was unfamiliar. The children's stories were great, but Mrs. Wilder continued to have a fascinating life after she left the Dakota prairie. The mature woman was a joiner, an organizer, a doer, a force in her community. No wonder she writes so much about simply coping with being busy!

Q: Wilder is known to have had a strained relationship with her daughter. Does she write about her role as a mother?

There is a fair amount of material concerning her and Rose, but very little that is negative. They didn't wash their underwear in public in those days. Laura was proud of Rose's accomplishments as a writer. And Rose had a penchant for wanting to look after her mother. They spent a good deal of time trying to mother each other

Q: Laura Ingalls Wilder is renowned for having been a hard worker, and she also had a great sense of humor. What is something fun that readers can learn about her from this book?

She fed turtles that came to her back door and tied notes to the dog's collar to tell Almanzo when it was time for lunch. She liked to tell jokes on herself.

Q: What is next for you? Do you have any upcoming books or projects we can anticipate?

Well, my book on the Titanic, Titanic: One Newspaper, Seven Days, and the Truth That Shocked the World, is readily available at the Titanic museum in Branson and at other Titanic locations, and I am busily at work on another title called Treasures in Heaven.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Allow me to pitch you a question, straight down the line, no knuckle, about as slow as the trajectory of a throw by the person covering third base in your local church's slow-pitch softball league: What is the absolute most American thing? This is not meant to be a curve ball. After careful consideration of what exactly might best represent our country, some might say, well, hamburgers and hot dogs. This is a fair answer. Hollywood? Sure, that's good, too. It's clearly open to debate. But one of the safest answers is the sport often referred to as "our nation's pastime": baseball. I don't follow baseball closely, but I'll admit that it pretty much tops the list of the stars-and-stripesiest things I can think of. Here is that list:

1) baseball
2) cowboy hats
3) cherry pie
4) monster trucks
5) reality television
6) owning several Great Danes
7) motorcycle gangs
8) patriotism
9) country music
10) media conglomerates

We at the University of Missouri Press have published many books about baseball. In fact, three of our fall paperbacks are about the sport, and they're all grand slams. So in the interest of keeping the Fourth of July spirit going, let's take a look at these baseball books and get our America on.

Branch Rickey, one of baseball’s foremost innovators and talent scouts, once said that in 1922 George Sisler was “the greatest player that ever lived.” Sisler played with Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Rogers Hornsby, all of whom considered "Gorgeous George" their equal. Yet Sisler has faded from baseball's collective consciousness. Now in The Sizzler, this “legendary player without a legend” gets the treatment he deserves. Rick Huhn presents the story of one of baseball’s least appreciated players and studies why his status became so diminished. Huhn argues that the answer lies somewhere amid the tenor of Sisler’s times, his own character and demeanor, the kinds of individuals who are chosen as our sports heroes, and the complex definition of fame itself.

Bob Gibson remains one of the most unique, complex, and beloved players in Cardinals history. Gibson's Last Stand places his final years on the team within the context of American history and popular culture. During the late 1960s, exorbitant salaries and free agency were threatening to change baseball forever, and Gibson’s pitching success caused team owners to think fans wanted only base hits and home runs. The action of the game, both on and off the field, is interjected with interesting and detailed tidbits on players’ backgrounds that often tie them to famous players of the past, current stars, and well-known contemporary places.

“If You Were Only White” explores the legacy of one of the most exceptional athletes ever, Leroy “Satchel” Paige. Paige was arguably one of the world’s greatest pitchers and a premier star of Negro Leagues Baseball, but in this biography Donald Spivey reveals Paige to have been much more than just a blazing fastball pitcher. Through chronicling Paige’s life from his birth in Alabama to his death in Kansas City, Spivey reveals a man who not only battled the color line but was intertwined with many of the most important issues of the times in U.S. and African American history. With baseball as his platform, Paige pushed the boundaries of segregation and bridged the racial divide, and his performance refuted the lie that black baseball was inferior to white baseball. His was a contribution to civil rights of a different kind—his speeches and demonstrations expressed through his performance on the mound.