From the Bookshelf notable books from Fall 2018

The Tragedy of Brady Sims

By Ernest J. Gaines

Published by Penguin Random House.

In The Tragedy of Brady Sims, Ernest J. Gaines’ first book-length publication in 12 years, UL Lafayette’s writer-in-residence emeritus offers a story of race and power in the fictional Louisiana town of Bayonne.

After his son is convicted of robbery and murder, Brady Sims shoots him in the courtroom. The incident leads a newspaper reporter to approach the denizens of a local barbershop in search of details about the shooter’s life.

Barbers and shop regulars narrate the story with empathy, sadness and humor.They portray Sims as an honorable, but unsparing man who, in a self-appointed role, beat the town’s children if he believed they had misbehaved.

Learning good behavior as children might ensure good behavior as adults, he reasoned. In the often violent Jim Crow South, a person’s behavior could mean the difference between life and death.

The 114-page novella is “a taut and searing tale about race and small-town justice,” a reviewer wrote in the American Library Association’s Booklist.

“The history the men recount is, indeed, riveting in its insights into how racism harms everyone, crystallized in (local sheriff) Mapes’ heartbroken tribute to his friend: ‘Hell of a man, that Brady Sims.’ Gaines tells a hell of a story.”

Field Guide to the Fishes of the Amazon, Orinoco, and Guianas

Peter van der Sleen and James S. Albert, editors

Published by Princeton University Press.

The Amazon and Orinoco river basins and the Guianas region in northern South America contain the highest concentration of freshwater fish species on Earth. Piranhas, electric eels and stingrays are among more than 3,000 species and 564 genera.

Field Guide to the Fishes of the Amazon, Orinoco, and Guianas is the first comprehensive overview of the fishes in Greater Amazonia, an expanse of more than 3.2 million square miles.

The region’s size and its fish diversity have long defied even the most basic standardization of names. The guide offers a remedy. With 700 drawings, 190 color photos, 500 maps and an illustrated glossary, it provides descriptions and identification keys for all known fish genera in Greater Amazonia.

Dr. James S. Albert and Dr. Peter van der Sleen are the volume’s editors. Albert is a UL Lafayette biology professor; van der Sleen is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Marine Science Institute.

The guide’s more than 50 contributors include four doctoral candidates in UL Lafayette’s Department of Biology: Maxwell J. Bernt, Jack M. Craig, Lesley Y. Kim and Brandon T. Waltz, and one former Ph.D. candidate, Dr. Kory M. Jackson.

Novel Ventures: Fiction and Print Culture in England, 1690-1730

By Leah Orr

Published by University of Virginia Press.

Dr. Leah Orr’s debut book offers a compelling portrait of 18th-century English publishing. She considers all 475 works of fiction printed during a 40-year period, including new texts, translations of foreign works and reprints of older fiction.

Readers meet printers and booksellers; see how publishers manufactured, priced and advertised volumes; and learn how imitations of popular works drove fiction’s development.

The Licensing Order of 1643 imposed restrictions on printing, including strict censorship, in Parliamentary England. The act lapsed in 1695, an event that scholars previously argued freed authors such as Daniel Defoe and Henry Fielding to write masterpieces Robinson Crusoe and Tom Jones, respectively.

Orr offers a counter narrative. The UL Lafayette assistant professor of English suggests that publishers, and not authors, capitalized on the lack of limitations and fueled the genre’s growth. Orr concludes publishers ultimately had more influence on the 18th-century “rise” of the English novel than writers did.

Novel Ventures “challenges orthodoxy at almost every turn,” one reviewer noted. Another concluded that “the trailblazing study ... will help shape the contours of 18th-century fiction studies for decades to come.”

This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of La Louisiane, The Magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

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