Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, chair of the performance studies department at New York University; past president of the American Folklore Society; editor of Speech Play: Research and Resources for the Study of Linguistic Creativity (University of Pennsylvania Press,1976).
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett likes books "that challenge folklore as a disciplinary subject." Chaseworld: Foxhunting and Storytelling in New Jersey's Pine Barrens, by Mary Hufford (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992), she says, "takes on a 'classic' folklore subject--one that deals with traditional stories, and is about a small world--and does a brilliant and unusual analysis. Hufford's subject is working-class fox hunters who use pickup trucks and CB's to follow the hunt. She writes like a novelist--the book is the story she tells about their stories."
Kirshenblatt-Gimblett also recommends John Dorst's The Written Suburb: An American Site, an Ethnographic Dilemma (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), a "subversive" and "postmodern" work about the town of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. "The book considers 'Wyeth country'--what kind of place it is and how it is constituted--but without documenting it," she says. "Rather, Dorst asks questions about how the place represents itself to itself and to tourists."
John Szwed, professor of anthropology, Afro-American studies, American studies, and music at Yale University.
Szwed, a pop music fan, is partial to books that explore both folklore and music: "Folklore was onginally about aural cultures, so pop music falls naturally in its province." Szwed praises Origins of Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music, by Peter Van Der Merwe (Oxford University Press, 1989), a "subversive and difficult" survey of the origins of twentieth-century music that, he says, "ignores the lines between high and low; folk, classical, and pop; European and African cultures. Haydn and Mozart emerge as pop appropriators, and Elvis comes off as the legitimate heir to the blues."
Wolfgang Mieder, professor of folklore and German at the University of Vermont; author of As Sweet as Apple Cider: Vermont Expressions (New England Press, 1988).
Mieder picks Folktales and Reality, by Lutz Rohrich, translated by Peter Tokofsky (Indiana University Press, 1991), which addresses the relationship of folk narratives to historical truth. "Many fairy tales have gruesome themes," he says, "and Rohrich establishes the reality behind them, arguing that some of these fictions are forms of once-real tortures."
"Controversy, to me, makes a book," Mieder notes as he recommends Alan Dundes's Life is Like a Chicken Coop Ladder: A Study of German National Character Through Folklore (Wayne State University Press, 1989). Tracing "the somewhat anal orientation of the Germanic people, as seen in a great many texts, from folk songs to proverbs to nursery rhymes," Dundes's work shows, Mieder says, how "that scatological fascination was used by the Nazi propaganda machine to degrade Jewish people."
Roger Abrahams, professor of folklore and folk life at the University of Pennsylvania; author of Afro-American Folktales: Stories From Black Traditions in the New World (Pantheon, 1985).
According to Abrahams, folklore theory has recently been leaning toward "understanding how the material we've traditionally studied--tales, myths, and so forth--is produced in actual settings." Rhetorics and Politics in Afghan Traditional Storytelling, by Margaret Mills (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991), describes an evening of taletelling by the men of an Afghan tribal group and gives, says Abrahams, a "fascinating" picture of the "politics of storytelling [that] includes riddles, conversation, and comments from the peanut gallery."
David Whisnant, professor of folklore, Latin American studies, and English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; author of Rascally Signs in Sacred Places: The Politics of Culture in Nicaragua (University of North Carolina Press, 1995).
Whisnant recommends two books, Douglas Cole's Captured Heritage: The Scramble for Northwest Coast Artifacts (University of Washington Press, 1985) and Jeanette Greenfield's The Return of Cultural Treasures (Cambridge University Press, 1990), which, he says, "treat, in a very detailed and illuminating and nuanced way, processes about which folklorists increasingly are--and must be--concerned: the expropriation of cultural capital and its use by powerful nation-states for purposes of political legitimization, and then its repatriation, as a result of growing pressure from those from whom it was taken."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.