Dog Days Classics: Harry Turtledove Goes to War


Harry Turtledove has written more than fifty alternate history novels, and has been described by one book critic as “the standard bearer” of the genre. For the uninitiated, his premises can sound absurd. One of his most popular works, The Guns of the South, imagines that time-traveling South Africans armed Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia with AK-47s. His World War series finds the combatants of World War II forming uneasy alliances to repel invading aliens. It is thus no surprise that he doesn’t register on many professional historians’ radar. But those historians are missing out. I’ve read his Great War series, a version of World War I where a wounded U.S.A. seeks revenge against … [Read more...]

Settin’ the Woods on Fire in the Countercultural South


I recently contributed an essay to a volume that’s forthcoming from UNC Press called The Bohemian South.  You can count me as one who is skeptical of a tradition of bohemianism in the South, at least as it is now manifested and understood. Whatever bohemianism means, it is not skinny jeans and food trucks—a familiar scene one can find in the trendier lanes of Atlanta or Durham or Richmond these days.  Sure, there was North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, where Robert Creeley and John Cage cavorted in the 1950s, as well as a smattering of other avant-garde cultures in the history of the South. But the bohemianism of today’s urban creative class seems like just a hipper … [Read more...]

No, American Citizenship Is Not Necessarily Inclusive

american crucible

The rise of Donald Trump has induced a collective shudder through much of America.  For many, the GOP nominee is jeopardizing our most cherished ideals, a broad and capacious sense of who could be an American citizen, and norms that forbid open and outright expression of racist sentiment. The last Republican president at least had the decency to insist that Islam is a “religion of peace,” however destructive his policies might have been to actual Muslims, at home and abroad. Liberals and more than a few conservatives find themselves saying, This is not us.  This is not the America we know. Michael Gerson recently penned one of the more impassioned statements in this genre, looking aghast … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Digging Joan Didion in the Age of Feelings


In her review of 2015’s The Last Love Song, Tracy Daugherty’s biography of famed writer Joan Didion, Meghan Daum noted the influence that the California essayist and novelist cast upon many a writer over the years. That The Last Love Song serves as the only biography of Didion, she noted, seemed odd. “Given the number of writers who, especially early in their literary lives, go through a period of Didion-mania intense enough to put most of her vital statistics permanently at their fingertips (the rain-soaked silk curtains in the apartment on 75th Street! the house on Franklin Avenue! the Corvette!),” Daum wrote, “you would think we’d have seen at least as many biographies of her in the past … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Rethinking Wowee Zowee


Back in 1997, Stephen Malkmus was asked in an interview when it was that Pavement sold out or tried to make their sound more accessible. To the interviewer's surprise, the indie hero said Slanted and Enchanted, the band's celebrated 1992 debut. “We made a bunch of singles before that,” Malkmus recalled. Slanted might seem dissonant and avant-garde in retrospect, he said, “but then I felt it was such a pop album.” Indeed, songs like "Summer Babe" and "Zurich Is Stained" were actually lovely pop nuggets in comparison to the crazy, caustic noise rock that Pavement offered in the very earliest years of their career. To Malkmus, if not to many critics and fans, Slanted was just the first step … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Tolkien and Martin in Love and War

tolkien and martin

By the time I gave up on finishing The Lord of the Rings, I like to think that I had outlasted a good portion of those who try. It was early on in The Return of the King, the third book of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy series, when the cumulative weight of the sheer number of pages, the chapters full of elf poetry, and the walking—God, the endless walking—finally beat me down. My middle-school-aged brain, prompted by nothing in particular, told me that I was done. This was unexpected. I had cruised through The Hobbit, a compact fairy tale that was divided into neat little easily digestible episodes. It was fast-paced, exciting and, though ostensibly a children’s book, contained hints … [Read more...]

What Does Woodward’s Origins of the New South Have to Say to the Twenty-First Century Reader?

c vann woodward imdb

Less than a decade after C. Vann Woodward’s epic tome, Origins of the New South (1951), had been published, the author was already lamenting the passing of the geographic/political/economic unit he had dedicated his life to studying. In “The Search for Southern Identity,” an article originally published in 1958 in the Virginia Quarterly Review and reprinted in The Burden of Southern History, Woodward explained that every identifiable marker of southern distinctiveness—“the one-horse farmer, one-crop agriculture, one-party politics, the sharecropper, the poll tax, the white primary, the Jim Crow car, the lynching bee”—had been either destroyed or were “on their way towards vanishing.” A … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: John Brooke on Joseph Smith, Alchemy, & the Longue Durée

sunstone mormon

I entered my first semester of graduate school with supreme overconfidence. It was August 2001, three weeks before the terrorist attacks of September 11. I had just graduated from a tiny liberal arts college in central Illinois in May. The school was initially founded by self-exiled Kentucky abolitionists around 1848, at a time of antebellum experimentation. At this little campus with historic red-brick buildings dating back to the 1850s, I had gotten used to being a big fish in a little pond: out of fewer than 500 students, I was one of three honors graduates that year. I worked in the college archives. I knew a lot of history. I thought I was good. Grad school changed all that. All of a … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: Why I Love Michael Holt, His Bowties, & the Whig Party

Academic celebrity death match

As an undergraduate student in Professor Michael Holt’s “Coming of the Civil War” class at the University of Virginia, I felt rather lost for the first part of the semester. It was a large lecture class that made it intimidating to ask questions or make comments (not that I would have anyway). Moreover, Dr. Holt was the quintessential university professor – impeccably dressed in a sport coat and bowtie (this was UVa after all) with a shock of white hair – and he treated us as though we already had an intensive handle on the history of antebellum America. Which I definitely did not. The central texts for the course were Holt’s own book, The Political Crisis of the 1850s and Eric Foner’s Free … [Read more...]

Dog Days Classics: The Shadow over Lovecraft

lovecraft - the lurking fear

The flimsy, Ballantine paperback edition of The Lurking Fear and Other Tales, an oddball collection of short stories spanning much of the career of H.P. Lovecraft, sports what has to be one of the least frightening cover illustrations in horror fiction. A leering monster, the face of which looks like the lovechild of a unidentified primate and a vampire bat, peers through the broken shards of a window. The candle clutched in its hand illuminates bared teeth and scraggly hair. The more I think about that cover, the more fantastic it becomes. It is a throwback to the 1920s and 30s pulp magazines that were Lovecraft’s bread and butter, a time of adventure fiction that was painted in broad … [Read more...]