What We’re Reading

We have not visited this occasional series in a while, so let’s give an update on  what some folks at the Press have read recently or are in the middle of reading. I just started All the Sad Young Literary Men, a novel by Keith Gessen I came upon in a dollar store. I needed to pick up something else that day, but the title caught my eye as I cut through their “literature” section. I am entertained in the early going, even though it carries some Ivy League/Manhattan pretension throughout the prose. Still, I’m a sucker for coming of age stories, especially when they only cost me $1.

Here’s what some of my colleagues are reading, including a couple of JHU Press books:

Rosa Griffin
Office Assistant, Rights & Permissions

Ms. Letitia Stockett, a Baltimore writing teacher, was successful at giving a cultural view of how Baltimore, Maryland came into existence in her 1928 book, Baltimore: A Not Too Serious History (JHU Press). Ms. Stockett’s tour of the Baltimore region, which  covers the years 1500 to 1900, begins on Charles Street at Mount Vernon Place. There is a great deal of overlapping and repetition in the book, which helps to connect events and people.

Ms. Stockett’s anecdotes are about real Baltimore citizens, including Hetty Cary, a famous female Confederate spy; Betsy Patterson, who married Jerome Bonaparte without Napoleon’s permission and was refused entrance to France in her pregnant condition; and John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln, who had a proud family lineage in Baltimore. Fires, riots, inventions, the cemetery at North and Greenmount Avenues, music, art, trees, the origin of the Jones Falls, and bouts of yellow fever add to the book’s imagery and dispel some mysteries.

But there are also times when you can’t tell if quotes belong to Ms. Stockett or someone else. In addition—despite the fact that Ms. Stockett believed that something historic always had to be destroyed for progress to come—by her own account, no other religious group except Christian (in a time of “freedom of religion”) and no other race except white accomplished anything.

Mary Lou Kenney
Manuscript Editor

I’ve just finished up The Cairo Triology, three novels by Naguib Mahfouz that were written in the 1950s but translated into English in the 1990s. At a time when Egypt has been in the news and all of us should be better acquainted with Arab cultures, this deep look into three generations of one family offers a glimpse into social structure as well as politics and history.

The three separate volumes are all named after streets where the characters live: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street. As the story unfolds (roughly between 1919—1944), the reader is immersed in the lives of parents, children, and grandchildren. Issues of Islam, women, society, learning, philosophy, and growing old are all discussed. Parts of the trilogy I found fascinating and applicable to today’s events. Other parts I had to force myself to slog through. But even if I skipped a paragraph or two occasionally, the books were well worth the investment in time.

Ann Snoeyenbos
International Sales,  Project MUSE

I grew up near an Amish community, so I’ve read most of the Hopkins Press books on the Amish. When I first started reading Train Up a Child: Old Order Amish and Mennonite Schools,  by Karen M. Johnson-Weiner  (JHU Press),  I thought “Oh no, way too much detail,” but now I am totally into it.

Talking about education involves so much more than just how and when kids learn to read, write, and do math. All our social concepts are pushed in the educational experience. Reading about Amish schools in this much detail makes me wonder about mainstream public schools and other parochial schools. What do the games kids play at lunchtime tell us about their perceived role in the world? What does it mean when a cubby for personal items is considered to be too individualistic? This anthropologist is helping me think about education from a new angle.

Patty Weber
Journals Production Coordinator

I am about to start reading Naomi Novik’s seventh book in her Temeraire series, Crucible of Gold. I’m not sure I should be counted on to pitch books, since every time I have described this series to someone I get skeptical looks, but stay with me.


This series is set during the Napoleonic Wars, and follows the main character, William Laurence, who was a captain in the British Navy until he came across a dragon egg that bonded to him after hatching. After that, Laurence is more or less conscripted into the Aerial Corps, where he and his dragon, Temeraire, and their crew join other dragons to fight for their country against the French and their own dragons, and have lots of exotic and amazing adventures along the way. Dragons! And history! And Napoleon! There’s swashbuckling, romance, aerial battles, adventure, intrigue . . . The list goes on.

I have really enjoyed the series; each book has been fun and engaging. This latest book has Laurence and Temeraire traveling to Brazil to parley with the Incan empire and attempt to thwart the French in South America. If this sounds like something you’d like, I suggest starting with the first book, His Majesty’s Dragon.