Sunday, January 16, 2011

James J. Connolly

James J. Connolly is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Middletown Studies at Ball State University and the author of The Triumph of Ethnic Progressivism: Urban Political Culture in Boston, 1900–1925.

His new book is An Elusive Unity: Urban Democracy and Machine Politics in Industrializing America.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Like a lot of academics, I usually have two stacks of reading, one for work and one for fun. For work I’ve been reading about the history of reading. The fun pile generally includes lots of mysteries, spy novels, and a little nonfiction.

The reason I’m reading about reading involves my current research. I’m collaborating with my colleague Frank Felsenstein on a book called “What Middletown Read.” It uses recently uncovered library circulation records to explore print culture in Muncie, Indiana (the city best known as the subject of Robert and Helen Lynd’s Middletown books) during the 1890s. I’ve been working through Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1940, volume 4 of the History of the Book in America series. Edited by Carl Kaestle and Janice Radway, it’s filled with terrific essays on topics such as the place of public libraries in the community (Wayne Weigand), local print cultures (Kaestle), and clubwomen’s reading (Elizabeth Long and Elizabeth Henry). The best parts of the book are the overviews Kaestle and Radway provide to open each section. Together they constitute a sophisticated account of the interplay between the modernization of American life and the evolution of print culture. I’ve also learned a good deal recently from Christine Pawley’s Reading on the Middle Border and Radway’s Reading the Romance. Up next is Robert Darnton’s The Case for Books. This is a new field for me, so I find all of this work fresh and exciting.

Away from work, I’ve been reading Alan Furst’s spy novels, most recently Spies of the Balkans, Dark Voyage, and The Foreign Correspondent. Furst recreates the tense, churning environment of life in Europe during the early part of World War II. His characters tend to be antifascist outsiders—émigrés, sailors, journalists—navigating through the upheaval of that time. That process provides the reader with a compelling portrait of life at this fraught moment, one that historians can only envy.
Read more about An Elusive Unity at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: An Elusive Unity.

--Marshal Zeringue