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Here is the shortlist for the 2021 Cundill History Prize.

Snigdha Koirala

September 23, 2021, 1:30pm

Today McGill University announced the shortlist for the 2021 Cundill History Prize, prestigious nonfiction award that goes to a book that, alongside historical scholarship, “offers originality, literary quality, and a broad appeal.” The jury—chaired this year by Michael Ignatieff—will reward the winning historian a generous $75,000, and will honor two runners-up with the $10,000 Recognition of Excellence Award. Previous winners have included Thomas Laquer, Susan Pedersen, and Lisa Jardine.

Below are the shortlisted titles.


The Loss of Hindustan

Manan Ahmed Asif’s The Loss of Hindustan: The Invention of India (Harvard University Press)

Rebecca Clifford’s Survivors: Children’s Lives After the Holocaust (Yale University Press)

The Horde
Marie Favereau’s The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press)

Underground Asia
Tim Harper’s Underground Asia: Global Revolutionaries and the Assault on Empire (Penguin Press)

Martha Jones’s Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (Hachette Book Group)

Blood on the River
Marjoleine Kars’ Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast (The New Press)

An Infinite History
Emma Rothschild’s An Infinite History: The Story of a Family in France over Three Centuries (Princeton University Press)

White Freedom
Tyler Stovall’s White Freedom: The Racial History of an Idea (Princeton University Press)

Sigh: Kansas parents are protesting a library over a children’s book about puberty.


September 23, 2021, 1:25pm

Parents outside of Kansas City have been protesting Cass County Public Library Board of Trustees meetings for two months in the hopes of banning a children’s book about puberty from the library, KKTV reported yesterday. One protestor held a sign that claimed the book is “cartoon porn creating prey for child predators.”

The book, It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender, and Sexual Health by Robie Harris, has been in the library since 1998. Intended for children, It’s Perfectly Normal explains the reproductive system, puberty, sex, pregnancy and birth, as well as the serious decision-making that goes into choices around sexual acts and having children, including factors like consent and STIs. (The 2014 anniversary edition includes new sections about sexual orientation and online safety.) Harris says on her website the book “includes the most up-to-date information that today’s kids and teens need to have to make responsible decisions about sexual health.”

The “pornographic” drawings are drawings of naked bodies in a chapter called “Our Bodies,” which teaches children about the parts of their bodies and the reproductive system. Protestor John Webb was also concerned by the “definitions and instructions on all types of different sexual behaviors,” which seems to refer to the section on how babies are conceived, as well as the section which defines sex. “Sexual education is not a child’s world,” said protestor Connie Kidd, exemplifying the problem.

Banning books is a censorship issue. But in this particular case: children’s bodies begin to change as early as 7 or 8. Children have bodies and they see their own naked bodies; they develop sexual curiosity; so teaching tools that allow them to understand and feel comfortable in their bodies, as well as make responsible decisions, are critical rather than harmful. Preventing minors from learning about bodies and sex will not stop them from thinking about their bodies or having sex; it will only stop them from being able to make informed decisions. Attempting to ban a book that tells children their bodies are normal already implies the consequences.

[h/t KKTV, NPR, Robie Harris]

Oh god: nonsensical conservative polemic American Marxism has sold a million copies.

Jonny Diamond

September 23, 2021, 12:47pm

Here is some grim news: conservative freedom fighter Mark Levin’s latest book, American Marxism, which came out in July, has surpassed one million copies sold. No, American Marxism isn’t an SDA how-to, it’s a fearmongering screed that “seeks to rally the American people to defend their liberty, traditions, families, and the Constitution from a counterrevolution to the American Revolution that seeks to destroy the existing civil society.” (Got that?) Basically, American Marxism is one more iteration of the conservative culture warriors’ call to arms, warning the good (white) people of America that “the Leftists are coming and they’re going to turn all your kids gay. Or teach them about slavery. Or make you drink rosé.”

As risible as all this grift-ready palaver is, it has real world consequences, from out-of-control local school boards to draconian state laws; and though they’d blanch to hear it, American Marxism exists in a continuum with that particular crowd of centrist intellectuals who only ever seem to care about illiberalism to their left. (But not Jonathan Franzen! Over whom we have recently fawned!)

I hate this timeline.

This “human library” in Copenhagen allows visitors to check out people.


September 23, 2021, 12:36pm

I keep hearing that “stories make us human.” Now, a Copenhagen-based project has skipped the middleman; at Ronni Abergel’s “Human Library,” visitors can “check out” a person to hear their life story.

At the Human Library, visitors can read one of eight “books”; each human book (this is the terminology the Human Library uses) gives a brief overview of their life story, and then readers are able to ask any question they’d like, no matter how difficult. On the chalkboard, the “Titles of the Day” are listed for potential readers to check out: on the day news organization France 24 visited the Human Library, the titles were Victim of Sexual Assault; Borderline; Complex PTSD; BDSM & Asexual; Deaf & Blind; ADHD; HIV+; and Victim of Incest.

Though these are reductive titles for each human “book”, part of the point of the Human Library is creating a safe space to discuss and learn about difficult and stigmatized human experiences. “[At] the Human Library . . . we can explore diversity, learn about ways in which we’re different from each other, engage with people we would normally never meet, and challenge our unconscious bias,” said Abergel, who created the project in 2000, to France 24. “A reading truly is a conversation.”

Recently, Abergel heard from a reader who borrowed a human book back in 2004. “She was telling us about the impact the book had on her view of Muslims,” Abergel told France 24, “and she has used that information in the seventeen years that have passed. So that has been to the benefit of the community. [But] we run a neutral learning space where there is an opportunity for you to engage, learn about yourself and other groups. What you learn and what you do with your learning is entirely in your hands.”

When visitors check out 46-year-old Iben, who’s worked as a human book for four years, they can choose between three of her oral books: sexual abuse survivor, borderline personality disorder, or severe post-traumatic stress disorder. ““It’s such a gift being a book. You can self-reflect,” said Iben to France 24. “When I started, I was in a totally different place. I’ve been working on myself for years.” Occasionally, Iben is asked a question she doesn’t want to answer: when that happens, she says, “I have said that that page wasn’t written yet. So they just smiled and said okay.”

[h/t France 24]

This new vending machine will provide New Yorkers with short stories on the go.

Vanessa Willoughby

September 22, 2021, 2:38pm

Struggling to read more but just can’t find the time? Well, Brooklyn’s Center for Fiction may have the solution (for free!). The staff at the not-for-profit is curating short stories for NYC’s first Short Story Dispenser, which is scheduled to be in commission starting October 2nd.

Visitors to the Center can pick from three categories, and then a randomly chosen story will appear with the push of a touchless button. One of the three buttons will always feature children’s stories, and the other two will have different themes throughout the year. According to Time Out New York, the stories are sourced from the Center’s publishing company/creator Short Édition’s global database of literature as well as work from the organization’s network of affiliated authors, emerging writer fellows, award winners and nominees, teachers, and students.

Short Édition describes these dispensers as “stand alone kiosks delivering fiction to the public, while breathing new life into the art of storytelling.” As of now, there are more than 300 of these kiosks installed around the world. Stories can have 1 minute, 3 minute, or 5 minute reading times, by audience or language.

And if you’re a writer who wants in on this innovative technology, you can learn how to submit your work here.

I have yet to see one of these nifty things out in the wild, but I hope the stories are actually diverse and contemporary rather than the usual suspects we all had to read in school. I must admit that my uncontrollable to-read pile doesn’t currently feature any short story collections, but I did just zip through Samantha Irby’s Wow, No Thank You, which could be a goldmine for a future vending machine that only dispenses creative nonfiction. But, strictly speaking short stories, perhaps some of these new collections could fit the bill?

[via Time Out New York]