Sunday, March 25, 2018

Daniel Livesay

Daniel Livesay is associate professor of history at Claremont McKenna College.

His new book is Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Jamaicans in Britain and the Atlantic Family, 1733-1833.

Recently I asked Livesay about what he was reading. His reply:
I have been on something of an eclectic reading journey recently. I just finished Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life. I’ve always been a fan of Martin – The Jerk was my favorite movie as kid – and so I was interested in reading more about his meteoric rise to fame. In the memoir, Martin navigates the ups and downs of an early life in standup comedy. So much of that life was filled with rejection, isolation, and only temporary reprieves of audience appreciation. What stuck out so much to me was the degree of loneliness that Martin experienced while he was selling out arenas for multiple nights in a row. There were some brief moments of mild empathy that I shared with Martin – especially thinking about presentations and class sessions where I completely bombed, as well as ones that left me feeling exhilarated and on top of the world. At times, I think that teaching has elements of stand-up comedy, and it was interesting to see some of the other parallels around performing that Martin elucidates.

I’m currently finishing up an entirely different type of book: Njal's Saga. This is the longest, and perhaps most studied, of Iceland’s medieval saga literature. Written in the thirteenth century, it’s a combination of oral history, documented political history, and rousing fable. My wife and I visited Iceland a year ago, and we couldn’t go anywhere without hearing something about the sagas. I finally decided to curl up with one at night, and it’s been a wild journey. Most of Njal's Saga documents a series of blood feuds between chieftains, servants, and men on the make in Iceland. If you’re eager to read about men getting hacked through with axes, and you’ve already finished the Game of Thrones series, you should check out the sagas. What is perhaps more interesting, though, is the way in which the sagas document the regulation of honor and hierarchy in a society barely scraping by in the North Atlantic. It shows how central honor can be among humans, even as people fight for basic survival.
Learn more about Children of Uncertain Fortune at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Children of Uncertain Fortune.

--Marshal Zeringue