Like most university publishers, Indiana University Press provides something of an odd hodge-podge of titles, many terrific, a great many on the far ends of the obscure – in terms both of its literary presence and its literary practice –, but none quite add up to a cohesive whole, a singular sensation of what this publisher is or seeks to produce. It presents a tremendous array of works within a tremendous array of academic fields, but even within these fields there is often little in the way of a sense of authoritative or aesthetic oversight; this is all for the better, considering this publisher's emphasis on the academic, as opposed to – and definitions here are quite nebulous, of course – the artistic: their works seek elucidation and provocation above all else; what they elucidate or provoke is secondary, so long as the thought that leads to elucidation or provocation is substantial and coherent.
One of the most extraordinary works of literature that I've ever read comes from IU Press. It is called Who Will Write Our History?; written by Samuel D. Kassow, the historical work traces the efforts of Emanuel Ringelblum, then living in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, to create an archive of the social and cultural life – and personal lives – of the ghetto, and of their connections to Jewish society beyond the ghetto. Ringelbaum's narrative is tremendous, and Kassow does well to not sentimentalize the heroism of his endeavor and allow – as objectively as words may allow – the archive-building and the events and lives behind and within it to account for themselves. It is immensely moving, and Ringelblum emerges as one of the most human heroes of modern times. What Kassow also quite naturally and profoundly teases out of this is the nature of history-telling and scholarship, of how archives are created and what purposes they serve. The work is stunning and expansive and thoroughly engrosses and challenges the emotions and the intellect.
A work of an entirely different sort is Rachel Peden's wonderful Rural Free: A Farmwife's Almanac of Country Living: Peden chronicles a year in her life, tracing, on a month-by-month basis, both events that would usually constitute a farmer's almanac and more personal accounts and anecdotes of her family and their responses to these events and conditions. It is presumably a reliable text for those who pursue farming in Indiana, but it is also a treat to any city-dwellers who often have abstract reveries of forgoing their present lives and investing instead in a more rural existence; by no means a convincing affirmation of these reveries – this "simple" life is, of course, quite tremendously more difficult than the "hard and fast" life of the city –, the book is instead a record of her – and notably not the – life as a farmer, and she shies away from neither its simple pleasures – those that would tantalize the urban disaffect – nor its forbidding toils. Like much of IU Press' output – and much of that of any university publisher –, this is a reprint of an earlier published text; it is now outfitted with drawings by Sidonie Coryn, which are lovely but – particularly in their evocation of the drawings of Margaret Wise Brown –seem less interested in accurately reflecting Peden's account than in reducing it to the charming and fantasied work of rural life that many – certainly I – had hoped it may be. I am now grateful that it turned out to be quite more than that; that said, it is also immensely charming.
IU Press is responsible for far more works than I have space to recount here. In a more literary vein, they have been particularly drawn to the work of Booth Tarkington and Cynthia Ozick, of whom they produce many literary analyses; these, like Rural Free, are reprinted from earlier versions, as is their English-language translation of George Sand's novel Lélia, a remarkable work that, I'm embarrassed to say, I wouldn't have known existed were it not for the curiosity and integrity of this terrifically varied publisher.