Years ago, when I began to learn a foreign language, I recall hearing that one of the milestones of language acquisition would come to me in my dreams. That is, when I started dreaming in French (for example), then I was really getting somewhere. The premise, I think, is that the sounds and symbols and concepts would become so familiar that I could use them even in my sleep. I used to dream in French; I don't anymore. Now, I dream in dissertation. I wouldn't say that all aspects of the stories I have learned and retell are absolutely, crystal clear to me (just like a foreign-language learner can never shed her accent). But I do think I've achieved some sort of fluency in my dissertation. The strange thing is that now I have no one to talk to.
One of the clearest signs of my emerging fluency is dreaming. But what I welcomed in language learning, I dread with the dissertation process. I don't want to work out the issues I'm struggling with - like state versus federal forms of colonial citizenship - while I sleep because doing so keeps me from sleeping. So, I've been looking for ways to cut the stream of thought and leave my dissertation only to waking hours. I've been lucky to find not one, but two great histories that I can read before going to sleep that allow me to leave everything behind while resting. They're so good they're worth recommending because both are histories that tell engaging stories. Peggy Pascoe and Glenda Gilmore use different styles to tell their tales but they provide enough personal and contextual detail to make for a very engaging read. I like how What Comes Naturally connects the seemingly simple and personal process of getting married to the policing of racial, gender, sexual, and economic boundaries that shored up white supremacy. Laws, lawmakers, and administrators worked hard to make the racial order seem so effortless. Defying Dixie is equally as fascinating because Gilmore connects a vast web of revolutionaries throughout the South to the rest of the U.S. and beyond. Then, she connects that to the modern CRM and shows how it was made possible but also stymied by a radical past. How could I not enjoy reading about a hushed-up revolution? I will take months more to finish these great histories but I am not hesitant to add to my list. I welcome all recommendations for other ways to temper my burgeoning fluency.