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Joseph's Picks

Prom Night: Youth, Schools, and Popular Culture by Amy L. Best
Teen Nonfiction
For nearly half a decade, "the prom" has served as the most iconic high school spectacle in America. Yet, it has been notoriously absent from critical approach or cultural study, perhaps because of its monolithic status. In this thorough, well-theorized book, Amy L. Best deconstructs prom from its Cold War origins to its contemporary status. Best analyzes the prom as a highly elevated microcosm of social organization and uses it to formulate a series of really poignant conclusions about youth culture today, in all of its triumphs of the past decade as well where it might yet lead. From the pinning of the corsage to queer alternative proms, Best's rigorous and compelling prose will captivate readers, high school age and beyond.
Recommended by Joseph, September 2005

Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity: One Year in a Progressive School by Elizabeth Gold
What happens when a writer-by-trade, fueled by the prospects of connecting with youth and a steady paycheck, takes a job teaching ninth grade English? According to Elizabeth Gold, not learning. With surprisingly wry & wistfully hopeless language, Gold describes her experience teaching at New York's School for the New Millennium - a school that promises to develop "New York City's leaders of the future." In Gold's story, what we learn is that the school does not seem poised to deliver what it promises. Gold is the fourth teacher the students have had that year alone, and nobody seems to have any real control over the students. In fact, the only moment of control Gold seems to have is when she herself loses it. Although the book pushes along with great wit, Brief Intervals of Horrible Sanity itself doesn't seem to deliver what it seems to promise: a social treatise about teaching and the education system. The book rarely leaves the emotional landscape of the author. But please don't think about it as a critique rather than a simple caveat. If you are looking for a broader social survey or an immersion that attempts to extend itself more, then I suggest looking elsewhere. But if you are looking for an insightful look at a person who is flailing around when she is needed most, then look no further. Where else are you going to find a book about teaching that includes a chapter on the eroticism of firefighters?
Recommented by Joseph, December 2004

Small Avalanches and Other Stories by Joyce Carol Oates
This is a fantastic collection of short fiction that recounts tales of teens and adolescents navigating critical adult encounters. Oates develops a heightened sense of discomfort by revisiting and reframing description with every line. The teen and adolescent worlds often shift dramatically through outlook and perception -- not necessarily plot. Oates here presents a fresh way of looking at literature: through the eyes of a teen and the constant reframing of perceptual cognition taking place. Pick it up if you're looking for something both edgy and literary.
Recommended by Joseph, August 2004

The Wellspring by Sharon Olds
Olds' fourth collection is a nice series of poems detailing a woman on the crux of birthing and being born. Olds constantly twists and turns phrases and images into metaphor and back again until it's almost as though Olds is physically wresting meaning from these narratives with her bare hands. However, the poems don't hit as hard and aren't bursting with the detail and intensity of Olds' previous work. Rather, but rather creep slowly with a nuanced emotional claw. This book will appeal to fans of Olds, but doesn't serve well as a starting point.
Recommended by Joseph, August 2004