The Book Corner: Travels with Charley, Step Aside Pops, & The Quartet

Learn what some of your colleagues are reading in this month’s Book Corner. The three works recommended by Duke Harrist, Emily Barney, and Scott Vanderlin happen to deal with American history – through memoir, quirky comics, and historical biography.

If you would like to write up a review of a recent read or an old favorite please submit it to StaffNews@kentlaw.iit.edu.

Travels with Charley (In Search of America)

by John Steinbeck

Recommended by Josiah “Duke” Harrist
Travels-with-charley-coverEven though it’s arguably been debunked as an actual piece of nonfiction, Travels with Charley is one of my favorite books. I picked up a copy in a dusty little back-alley bookstore in Chiang Mai a few years back, and reading it made me fall in love with America all over again.

The book is a travelogue of John Steinbeck’s epic roadtrip across the U.S. in 1960; Steinbeck’s portrait of America is of a country I’ve never fully known, but have had glimpses of in small towns and antique stores across the nation. He sets out in a trailer named Rocinante with his poodle Charley and drives from the East Coast to the Midwest, through the Dakotas, down through California and across the Mojave back through Texas.

Throughout the journey, Steinbeck describes what he sees beautifully: the “bedlam of color” in a New Hampshire forest, the Redwoods of California are “ambassadors from another time.” Steinbeck’s portrait of an America on the cusp of change, full of sundry conversations with locals and pithy remarks about national consciousness, is a classic. Read it if you haven’t already.

Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection

by Kate Beaton

Recommended by Emily Barney

StepasidepopsI’ve been enjoying Kate Beaton’s irreverent hand-drawn webcomic Hark! A Vagrant for years, so it makes me very happy to be able to purchase them in book form now.

Her comics feature pop culture, literature, and history – pretty much anything that she finds intriguing or that catches her imagination. For example:

This is the second collection by Kate Beaton and I’ve seen it on many of the “Best of 2015” book lists. I’m not surprised to find her work has been immediate best-sellers, since I’ve purchased multiple copies of each as gifts. I would recommend them for anyone who enjoys oddball humor combined with nuggets of historical and literary insight.


The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789

by Joseph J. Ellis

Recommended by Scott Vanderlin

The QuartetSo, we’re all obsessed with Hamilton, right? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, stop wasting your time reading blog posts (or books), and go listen to the original broadway cast recording of this amazing musical. This post will still be here when you come back.

Having gotten swept up in the first wave of Hamilton obsession, I have spent the last few months devouring any information I can on the subject of the musical and his contemporaries–our founding fathers. While I haven’t yet gotten around to reading Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (it’s next on the list), I did get a chance to read this incredible book by Joseph J. Ellis.

The titular “Quartet” featured in the book includes four of the most famous figures in our nation’s early history–George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. In the time period being discussed, the “United States” were really a collection of largely independent colonies who had joined together against a common enemy “Britain,” but were ill-equipped or inclined to view themselves as a united nation moving forward. The four men featured in this book were instrumental in moving the nation forward as a single entity and drafting a new Constitution to govern that entity.

Part history and part biography, Ellis has managed to take the musical Hamilton off the stage, remove the music, write the entire story out, and still make it almost as captivating as Lin-Manuel Miranda throwing and/or not throwing away his shot. If you are interested in history, or are just a recent convert to the cult of Hamilton, this is well worth your time and the couple of $10 bills that it will cost you (or you could borrow it from the library).

Kim Koppen

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