Our Gang: A Racial History of the Little Rascals by Julia Lee
The cherubic innocence of Hal Roach's Our Gang series delighted children and adults throughout the nation in the early years of cinema. But as racial politics changed the adventures of Alfalfa and his friends were criticized for their past connections to racism. Author Julia Lee attempts to debunk the cries of Our Gang's fraught past by looking at the series from a racial angle. Blending individual episode analysis with the history of the series, Lee tells the tale of Roach's desire to make a series about real children having fun and, in so doing, created an idealized world of racial harmony in a time that was anything but. Though the book reads rather academically there's no denying Lee's assertions that, yes, for the time things were problematic but Our Gang was by far the most inclusive world for both African-Americans and white people. If you've enjoyed an Our Gang short or two, this is a must read.
Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture -- And What We Can Do About It by Kate Harding
As a woman writer I try to stay updated on feminist texts - one can't talk about the issues unless they know the issues, right. Kate Harding's harrowing (and sometimes hilarious) book, Asking for It, skewers rape culture with a sharp eye and a sharper wit. Harding explores various rape cases in the popular lexicon, as well as the history of rape culture in our country. She elaborates on the harsh world women face when they accuse someone of rape, and how the legal system picks and chooses the "right" cases that are winnable. At times the entire dissertation sounds incredibly depressing because that's the nature of being a woman in today's society. But Harding pulls off the impossible - dispensing information while still making you smile. She lambasts the poor choices of our prosecutors and government operatives, as well as uses common sense logic to destroy the various "rape myths" that still live on today. Whether you're a woman or a man who rocks his feminist card with pride, Harding's text informs while leaving you, oddly enough, smiling about the stupidity of it all.
Crane: Sex, Celebrity, and My Father's Unsolved Murder by Robert Crane and Christopher Fryer
Despite having Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane on the cover, Crane isn't actually about him, which, to many readers, will cause them to put the book down. Misnomer notwithstanding, this is about another Crane, Bob's son...Bob. Actually, Robert Crane boasts his own unique story in the morass of Hollywood as he documents his fruitful, if ultimately sad relationship with his wife, his work as a freelance writer for Playboy magazine, and a lengthy bit of time as John Candy's assistant. You might say death follows Crane around, yet he spends a lot of time celebrating the lives of those he knew. In the midst of everything, yes, he does talk about his father. No, he grew up not fully knowing about his father's lifestyle, and the book delves into his own theories about his father's murders as well as presence during the attempts to bring a killer to justice. There is a bit of a self-congratulatory feel early in the book - almost as if Crane's patting himself on the back - but it's removed as Crane goes deeper into his own story, emphasizing the people who've touched his life. This is the tale of a Hollywood kid who wasn't tainted and came out the other side, a bit sad and beaten down but never out.