Book Notes: Graphic Novel Greets a New Era

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/5/2017 12:04:55 AM
Modified: 5/5/2017 12:19:15 PM

Viewed from some angles, the desire to “Make America Great Again” also entails whitewashing a history marred by violence and hate, creating a simple “good old days” far more pristine than the actual messy past.

This nostalgia extends, regardless of political ideologies, to the baseball diamond, that field of dreams. But events as recent as this week, when Red Sox fans at Fenway Park shouted racist slurs at the Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones, remind us that the ballpark has also been a political battleground.

And, as illustrated in James Sturm’s graphic novel The Golem’s Mighty Swing, the things we glorify seldom hold up to scrutiny. First published in 2001, Golem comes out in a new edition this month from Drawn & Quarterly.

Sturm, who is the co-founder and director of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, lives in Hartland with his family.

Golem’s sparse black-and-white illustrations, accompanied by simple but elegant voiceover-style prose, tell the story of the Stars of David, a Jewish baseball team that barnstorms through Depression-era middle America, and whose primary draw for spectators is a chance to hurl anti-Semitic epithets.

Importantly, the team’s cleanup hitter is not Jewish at all; instead, he’s black, and so an outsider even among the already marginalized. After a slick-talking promoter offers to rebrand the Stars of David by billing their hitter as little more than a “gorilla” in costume, the game does not (spoiler alert) go well for the Stars.

The new edition features a wider trim size than previous editions, as well as an introduction by Gene Luen Yang, author of the acclaimed graphic novel American Born Chinese and 2016 recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant.

“(Sturm) shows us what America wishes it had been, and what America actually really was. By rubbing the rose tint from our memories, he uncovers our nation’s truest self,” Yang writes in the introduction.

But the most notable change in the new edition, Sturm said in a phone interview last week, is the “context in which the book will now be read.” The promoter character, who Sturm described as “Trumpian in his desire to win the newspaper headline,” serves as a grim reminder of the media’s power to amplify dangerous stereotypes, and how disastrous those consequences can be.

Golem was the last installment in a trilogy of Sturm’s that sought to revise the textbook narrative of American history. It was also a way for him to explore his relationship with his own Judaism, he said.

“I’d never thought about this before, but the home plate in baseball is shaped like a house,” he said. “That led to this idea of the barnstorming baseball team and the wandering Jew as one and the same.”

Sturm’s novel deftly illustrates that bigotry is not, and has never been, a spectator sport. It is an actively participatory one.

And, like baseball, it has long been one of America’s favorite pastimes.

The new edition ofThe Golem’s Mighty Swingcomes out May 16. James Sturm is slated to sign copies at the Upper Valley Nighthawks game on June 10 at 6:30 p.m.

Of Primary Interest

How did New Hampshire, a state that’s too small, white and weird to accurately represent anything but itself, become home to such an important political barometer as the first-in-the-nation presidential primary? And what can we learn from this unique electoral process that has historically served as a make-or-break test for would-be leaders of the free world?

In the frequently snarky and occasionally scathing Vote First or Die: The New Hampshire Primary: America’s Discerning, Magnificent, and Absurd Road to the White House, political reporter and documentarian Scott Conroy delves into these timely questions by tracing the history of how and why New Hampshire’s quirky political climate gave rise to a critical moment for the 2016 presidential candidates, especially Donald Trump.

Conroy, who has reported on three presidential campaigns, “picked up a sense that politics run through people’s bloodstream in New Hampshire in a way that’s markedly different than everywhere else,” he said in a phone interview last week.

One of these marked differences? “It provides the opportunity for candidates to win by a long shot,” he said, noting the relative success of more grassroots campaigning efforts like those of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Vote First or Die came out April 18 from PublicAffairs, an imprint of Perseus Books Group.

Author Appearances

K. Heidi Fishman launched her historical novel, Tutti’s Promise, at Crossroads Academy on April 27. The book is based on the life of Fishman’s mother, who was a child in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and survived the Westerbork and Theresienstadt concentration camps, along with her family.

“It just hit me like a ton of bricks one day that this has got to be written down. This history can’t be lost,” Fishman said in a phone interview this week.

Her initial proposal for Tutti’s Promise received the 2015 Joseph Zola Memorial Holocaust Educator Award from the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford.

Fishman, who lives in Norwich, is a retired psychologist who worked at Dartmouth before opening a private practice in Lebanon. More information about Tutti’s Promise can be found at

Gail Gibbons, who lives part-time in Corinth and has written and illustrated more than 170 nonfiction children’s books including Transportation and From Seed to Plant, will appear at Norwich Bookstore Saturday morning from 10:30 to noon as part of the 98th Annual Children’s Book Week.

This year’s theme for Children’s Book Week is “One World, Many Stories.” Attendants will receive a free activity poster designed by the award-winning illustrator Christian Robinson, as well as online access to book materials designed especially for Children’s Book Week.

Copies of Gibbons’ books will be available for purchase and signing. For more information, call 802-443-6630 or email

Aimee Phan, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop whose work has been published in the likes of The New York Times and Guernica magazine, will read a selection from her work in the Sanborn Library at Dartmouth College on Thursday. She will then present the undergraduate creative writing prizes, for which she was the judge.

Phan’s award-winning books, We Should Never Meet and The Reeducation of Cherry Truong, probe the traumas and complexities of the Vietnamese-American experience.

The event, which will run from 4:30 to 6 p.m., is free and open to the public. For more information call 603-646-3993 or email

Learning Opportunities

Saturday at the Canaan Public Library, Maria Sanders, a professor of philosophy at Plymouth State University, will hold a conversation on the ancient Greek notion of eudaimonia, or living life to the full extent that one can. She will also discuss how eudaimonia compares to modern ideas about happiness, and explore what factors contribute to happiness and why. The free event starts at 1 p.m. and is sponsored by the New Hampshire Humanities Council.

Writers across a variety of genres will discuss their work at the two-day Newport Native Writers Workshop next Thursday and Friday at Newport’s Richards Free Library. The events will include readings, conversations and workshops led by authors who trace their roots back to Newport. Scheduled speakers include children’s and young adult author-illustrator Christine Almstrom; history writer Derek Charles Catsam; fantasy and short story writer Susan Cunningham; Pushcart Prize-nominated poet Matthew Guenette; and poet and sports writer Robert Stanhope.

The event series is free, but registration is required for some events. To register or for more information call 603-863-3430 or visit

On May 15, the Hanover Town Library in Etna will host a discussion of I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban, by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. Etna Library Board member Ginger Boitnott and librarian Barbara Prince will lead the discussion, which starts at 7 p.m. Print and audio copies of the book are available.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at or 603-727-3216.

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