organizing in novels (was best organizing books)

colist at colist at
Tue Sep 20 15:35:36 CDT 2005

[ed:  thanks to Hillary for the additions.]

From: Hillary Aisenstein <hillarya at>

sorry to chime in late on this thread.  I have been in a fiction and
social change reading group for a few years.  some of these have more of
an organizing theme than others, but so far, we've read the following:

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver * Looking Backward by Edward
Bellamy * Two Cities by John Edgar Wideman * Call It Sleep by Henry Roth
* Ripening by Meridel Le Sueur * Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach * I, Che
Guevara by John Blackthorn * Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee
* Germinal by Emile Zola * Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver *
Cities of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif * 1919 by John Dos Passos *
Blindness by Jose Saramago * Christ in Concrete by Pietro di Donato *
Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig * To Make My Bread by Grace
Lumpkin * Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko * The Street by Ann Petry *
Continental Drift by Russell Banks * The Rebellion of the Hanged by B.
Traven * The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy * A Tree Grows in
Brooklyn by Betty Smith * The Price of a Child by Lorene Cary * We by
Yevgeny Zamyatin * Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison * Hard
Times by Charles Dickens * Pillars of Salt by Fadia Faqir * Never Come
Morning by Nelson Algren * Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri *
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy * Push by Sapphire
(Ramona Lofton) * A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry * Boyhood:
Scenes from Provincial Life by J. M. Coetzee * The Day of the Locust by
Nathanael West * When Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe * The Ecstacy
of Owen Muir by Ring Lardner, Jr. * The Color of Water by James McBride
* The Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska * The Human Stain by Philip Roth *
Native Son by Richard Wright * Daughter of Fortune by Isabelle Allende *
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton * A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali
by Gil Courtemanche * The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin * The Things
They Carried by Timothy O'Brien * Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora
Neale Hurston * The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
* Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald * One Man's Justice by
Akiro Yoshimura * The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck * The Darling by
Russell Banks

the most relevant to this thread that stick out in my mind are:
I, Che Guevara
To Make My Bread
The Rebellion of the Hanged
The Grapes of Wrath

> From: Amy Hubbard <amyshubbard at>
> A book that had a tremendous impact on me was Burger's
> Daughter by Nadine Gordimer (See mini-review below
> from  I read it at a time when I felt
> enormous pressure to save the world single-handedly
> and it helped me understand better how to move forward
> one step at a time when the world around me seemed so
> dark with oppression of one sort or another.
> Amy Hubbard
> From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Holly Smith
> Rosa Burger grew up in a home under constant
> surveillance by the South African government. Her
> parents were detained for their political beliefs; her
> father died in prison, and her mother, whose health
> suffered from her time in jail, eventually dies. Rosa,
> a white South African in her early twenties, is left
> the only surviving member of her family. Yet even
> after her parents' deaths, the history of their
> anti-apartheid beliefs and practices have a daily
> impact on her life: it seems everyone has expectations
> of her and the government is still watching. A quiet,
> private person, Rosa constantly searches her memories
> to find herself, to grasp this heritage that weighs
> her down. Over a period of several years Rosa comes to
> understand the impact of the South African political
> climate on her and how she became who she is. Take
> time to read this novel; the political realities it
> describes are complicated. The narrative style varies
> from straightforward storytelling to Rosa's most
> personal thoughts. In Burger's Daughter, Nobel
> Prize-winner Nadine Gordimer takes a situation most
> read about in newspapers and makes it real, creating a
> memorable story of coming to terms with circumstances
> over which we have little control, yet which directly
> affect our lives.
> **********************
> From: "Lee Winkelman" <lee at>
> One other organizing novel I am quite fond of:  "Great Neck" by Jay 
> Cantor.
> It is a long, sprawling work that follows a group of African-American and
> Jewish young people as they grow up in Long Island in the late 
> fifties/early
> sixties, get involved in the civil rights movement, SDS and the Weather
> Underground.  Among the many themes in the book are the role in the civil
> rights and anti-war movements played by comic books/popular culture,
> Freudian analysis, and Jewish/Black relations in the civil rights 
> movement
> (and the role of the Holocaust in motivating Jews to fight for social
> justice).  The book is slowing going in spots (especially the first 
> couple
> of chapters), but in other places flies by like a thriller.
>> From: "Lee Winkelman" <lee at>
>> OK, these aren't exactly organizing books.  Can we start a new
>> thread about novels and mystery stories with organizing as a theme or
>> backdrop?
>> I am nearing the end of "Smoke Filled Rooms", the second book in the 
>> Smokey
>> Dalton series by Kris Nelscott, and I am loving it.  Smokey is an
>> African-American detective in the late sixties.  The first book, 
>> "Dangerous
>> Road", was set in Memphis in 1968, with Smokey providing security for
>> demonstrations in support of the sanitation workers strike (needless 
>> to say,
>> his efforts did not prevent the assassination of MLK).  The second 
>> book is
>> set among the events surrounding the Democratic convention in 
>> Chicago.  The
>> books deal explicitly with race and racism and the movements for social
>> change at the time.  Historical characters (most notably MLK) put in 
>> cameo
>> appearances.  The books are very entertaining, and I look forward to 
>> reading
>> the later books in the series.
>> I also recommend "The Rackets" by Thomas Kelly, a sort-of thriller 
>> set in
>> the world of NYC politics and union movement.  The hero of the novel 
>> starts
>> as a key advisor to the mayor and ends up running as a reform president
>> of a Teamsters local.  Another quick, good read.

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