July 6, 2005: Features
For the third year, PAW offers a selection of summer reading. Here, PAW books editor Katherine Federici Greenwood presents notable books published during the 2004—05 academic year by Princeton alumni and faculty. She includes a range of topics and genres, from poetry to memoir to history.
Vanishing Acts – Jodi Picoult ’87 (Atria). Set in rural New Hampshire, Picoult’s 12th novel centers on Delia Hopkins, who works on search-and-rescue missions to find missing persons. Raised by her father after her mother died, Delia is engaged to a lawyer and recovering alcoholic who is the father of her young daughter. As she prepares for her wedding, Delia begins having flashbacks that don’t fit with the life she knows. Meanwhile, her father is sent to prison for kidnapping her at age 4. Her dad claims he took Delia to save her from her unstable, alcoholic mother – a revelation that starts Delia on a quest for her history and her mother, and leaves her wondering how her adored father could have lied for so many years.
Little Earthquakes — Jennifer Weiner ’91 (Atria). While Weiner’s first two novels, Good in Bed (2001) and In Her Shoes (2002), took a witty look at the trials of being single, her latest novel focuses on the challenges of new motherhood. Set in Philadelphia, Little Earthquakes follows four new mothers, their friendship, and their sometimes-messy lives. Becky, Kelly, and Ayinde meet at a prenatal yoga class. An overweight chef, Becky has a job at a chic bistro, an adoring husband, a beautiful daughter, and an annoying mother-in-law. Kelly, who had a high-powered career before getting pregnant, is forced to rejoin the rat race when her husband is laid off. A former TV reporter and wife of an NBA star, Ayinde has her own problems – she suspects her husband of infidelity, and her baby develops a heart condition. The fourth mother is Lia, a young actress who has left Hollywood and her husband to return to her native Philadelphia.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — Jonathan Safran Foer ’99 (Houghton Mifflin). Foer, whose first novel, Everything is Illuminated (2002), propelled him into the limelight, hit the New York Times best-seller list again with his second novel. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close follows 9-year-old Oskar Schell after he returns to his family’s apartment on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, to find five messages from his father, trapped in the World Trade Center. A precocious child, Oskar narrates the novel as he searches for the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his dead father. Woven into the novel is the story of Oskar’s grandfather, who lived through the firebombing of Dresden during World War II. The book has an unusual presentation, with photographs, graphics, colored highlights, and some pages printed with a single sentence or illegible text.
Flight — Ginger Strand *92 (Simon & Schuster). In her debut novel, Strand explores the tensions of family relationships and changes in American culture and business in a post-Sept. 11 world. The story opens as Will, a commercial airline pilot loosely based on Strand’s father, and his wife, Carol, prepare for the wedding of their younger daughter. Set at the family farm in Michigan, the story takes place over three days leading up to the wedding. Flight focuses on Will, who reluctantly is anticipating forced retirement at age 60; discontented Carol, who has sacrificed her dreams by moving back to Will’s family’s farm; and their two daughters: one who is organized and ambitious, and whose marriage to an academic colleague is sputtering; and another who is free-spirited and unsure whether to go through with her wedding. The novel’s central theme is movement — the human urge to keep moving forward, even as life is messy and uncertain.
The Falls — Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco/Harper Collins). Oates, the Roger S. Berlind ’52 Professor in the Humanities at Princeton, sets her latest novel in the 1950s in Niagara Falls, not far from the town in upstate New York where she grew up. The novel begins with tragedy, as a newlywed and closet homosexual plunges into Niagara Falls, leaving behind his wife, Ariah Littrell, on their wedding night. Ariah comes to be known as “the widow bride of the falls.” Before long she finds love again with a local lawyer, and they marry and have three children. But their marriage is difficult, and he is killed after alienating the city’s power structure. Ariah responds by banning his memory, but the children eventually resurrect both that and his reputation.
Borderlines: A Memoir — Edmund Keeley ’48 (White Pine Press). In this memoir, Keeley writes about his childhood in Greece, where his father served in the American consulate in Salonika. The author recalls his German school, the family’s Armenian maid, and his home on the grounds of the American Farm School, which trained Greek villagers in modern methods of farming. Keeley looks back on his family’s return to the U.S. in 1939, his years during wartime in Washington, D.C., when he felt almost an exile in his own country, and his student years at Princeton. Keeley became a novelist, translator, and critic often focused on Greece. He is a professor of creative writing and Straut Professor of English, emeritus.
Portable Prairie: Confessions of an Unsettled Midwesterner — M.J. Andersen ’77 (Thomas Dunne Books). Andersen, an editorial page writer for the Providence Journal, explores the meaning of home in her memoir, Portable Prairie. Raised in a newspaper family in South Dakota, Andersen ruminates on a range of subjects connected to her Midwestern roots, including agricultural history, lawn care, and L. Frank Baum, creator of the Wizard of Oz. At the same time, she recounts her nomadic personal journey from small-town life to Princeton and beyond. Her yearning for her childhood home lingers, and it forms the center of her emotional and intellectual quest. Praising the book, Garrison Keillor said that “when you come to the end ... you’ll feel that you grew up here on the prairie. Or if you did grow up here, you’ll get teary-eyed.”
A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit — Alan Lightman ’70 (Pantheon). In this collection of essays, Lightman, a physicist turned novelist, describes the dueling passions of his life – science and writing – and explores the human dimensions of science in essays both abstract and personal. A most appropriate read for summer is Lightman’s final essay, “Prisoner of the Wired World,” in which he laments the almost constant and expected access to phones, faxes, and laptops that has stolen people’s silence and privacy. As a result of the noise of the wired world, he writes, “I believe that I have lost something of my inner self. ... that part of me that imagines, that dreams, that explores, that is constantly questioning who I am and what is important to me.” Lightman is an adjunct professor of humanities at MIT.
Coach: Lessons of the Game of Life — Michael Lewis ’82 (W.W. Norton). In this slim book, the author describes his irascible and often terrifying high school baseball coach, Billy Fitzgerald, who changed his life. The story, marked by Lewis’ eye for detail, begins at a turning point in the coach’s life, as a new generation of parents — more demanding and less comfortable with Fitzgerald’s old-school lessons about hard work — are complaining that their children at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans aren’t getting enough playing time, that Fitzgerald is too harsh and yells too much, and that he should go. Lewis, who played under “Coach Fitz” in the 1970s, reflects on what he and other players learned from him about self-respect, sacrifice, fear, and failure. A contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine, Lewis also wrote Moneyball (2003) and Liar’s Poker (1990).
Interglacial: New and Selected Poems & Aphorisms — James Richardson ’71 (Ausable Press). A finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, Richardson’s latest collection includes poems from his previous books and new poems about war, death, TV news, ghosts, snow, and the end of the world. Daisy Fried of the Threepenny Review wrote: “In short lyrics, one-liners, and long multi-part poems, Richardson is concerned with what’s in front of him: things in themselves, the life he’s living. His treatment is economical and direct; these are poems of rigorous observation. Yet he’s always got an oblique angle, a kind of bent thinking.” Richardson is a professor of English and creative writing at Princeton.
Walking Softly in the Wilderness: The Sierra Club Guide to Backpacking (Fourth Edition) — John Hart ’70 (Sierra Club Books). In this backpacking guide geared for wilderness expeditions that leave nature undisturbed, Hart, a poet, conservationist, climber, and backpacker, offers advice on preparing for a trip, making and managing camp, and dealing with the unexpected, from bears to flash floods. Written for both newcomers and experienced backpackers, the guide includes information on new “ultralight” gear and technological tools, including a global positioning system receiver that can calculate one’s position and indicate the direction and distance to other points on a map. Hart also includes lists of wilderness agencies, gear suppliers, and information sources.
The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy — T.R. Reid ’66 (Penguin Press). The author argues that the European Union is emerging as the new superpower of the 21st century. Reid traces the rise of European unification in post-World War II Europe and its development into an economic, political, and cultural powerhouse — the EU — with 25 countries, poised to rival the United States. “While this historic transformation has been taking place,” writes Reid, “Americans have been asleep.” The euro has overtaken the U.S. dollar as the world’s strongest currency, he writes, and “it is the ‘Eurocrats’ in Brussels, more and more, who make the business regulations that govern global industry.” Reid, the Rocky Mountain bureau chief for the Washington Post, headed that paper’s London bureau for several years.
Return of the “L” Word: A Liberal Vision for the New Century — Douglas S. Massey *78 (Princeton University Press). A professor of sociology and public and international affairs at Princeton, Massey looks at liberalism’s decline over the last 25 years and what can be done to revive it. In the preface, he says he wrote the book after congressional Democrats lost the 2002 elections — and were unable to articulate what they stood for to voters. In what one reviewer called “an unabashedly partisan work,” Massey lays out the liberals’ mistakes and sketches a framework for a liberal realignment.
Dizzy: The Life and Times of John Birks Gillespie — Donald L. Maggin ’48 (Harper Entertainment). In this biography of Dizzy Gillespie, the author chronicles the trumpeter’s life from the racist South of his youth in the 1920s through his emergence as a jazz giant. As a creator of the bebop and Afro-Cuban jazz revolutions, Gillespie fundamentally changed the way jazz improvisation was done. Maggin shows how Gillespie and four colleagues — Charlie Parker, Kenny Clarke, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Christian — radically expanded the rhythmic and harmonic foundations of jazz and were criticized until those innovations were accepted into the mainstream. Maggin also explores Gillespie’s personal life, warts and all. Gillespie died in 1993 at age 75. Maggin also wrote Stan Getz: A Life in Jazz (1996).
de Kooning: An American Master — Mark Stevens ’73 and Annalyn Swan ’73 (Knopf). Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in biography, de Kooning plumbs the artist, his art, and the cultural history of the times. A key member of the surrealist and abstract-expressionist movements in the 1940s and 1950s, de Kooning arrived in New York as a stowaway from Holland in 1926 and became one of the most important artists of the 20th century. A reviewer for the New York Times wrote, “One of the great strengths of this book is its sense of an artist in his studio. ... Rather than just read about de Kooning we watch him apply paint, scrape it off and attack again, trace sections of a painting and pin them on other parts to see how they work, stare at pictures for hours, destroy canvases, fly into rages of frustration, and fling furniture about.”
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty — Bradley K. Martin ’64 (Thomas Dunne Books). The author offers an in-depth examination of North Korea, its closed society, and the father and son despots, Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, who have run the country and terrorized their people for decades. Martin describes the near-religious cult of personality that the leaders promoted, the nation’s descent into poverty and famine, and the mind control fostered by social and political indoctrination and tight restrictions on information. Martin, a journalist who has visited the nation four times since 1979, interviewed defectors, academics, and diplomats, and tries to describe what life is like for ordinary North Koreans. Martin teaches journalism at Louisiana State University.
Israel on the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s through the Civil War — Melvin Patrick Ely ’73 *85 (Alfred A. Knopf). A history professor at the College of William and Mary, Ely writes about a community of 90 slaves liberated by Richard Randolph, Thomas Jefferson’s cousin. In his will, Randolph begged forgiveness for his part in the practice of slavery and left his slaves 400 acres in Prince Edward County, Va. The former slaves worked closely with their white neighbors, running cargo boats with them on the Appomattox River and joining forces to found a Baptist congregation. Ely demonstrates that the community, called Israel Hill, not only survived but thrived, and proved that free people, both black and white, could live harmoniously, even against the harsh backdrop of slavery. Israel on the Appomattox won the Bancroft Prize, awarded for distinguished work in history and diplomacy.
Online book club
Next fall the Alumni Association will launch an online reading group focusing on books written by Princeton alumni and faculty. A Web site will include reviews of the book of the month, author interviews, and an online discussion group. Scheduled for the fall are these books:
September 2005: The Rule of Four, by Ian Caldwell ’98 and Dustin Thomason
October 2005: In Her Shoes, by Jennifer Weiner ’91
November 2005: The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy, by T.R. Reid ’66
For more information, alumni may sign up to receive the Alumni Association’s education newsletter at: http://tigernet.princeton.edu/Education/Education InfoRequest.asp.
About Princeton and Princetonians
Hobey Baker, American Legend — Emil R. Salvini, with a foreword by Bill Bradley ’65 and introduction by Charles Scribner III ’73 *77 (The Hobey Baker Memorial Foundation). A phenomenon in his time, Hobey Baker ’14 was a star college athlete and World War I hero — the epitome of athleticism, sportsmanship, and character. In this biography, historian Emil R. Salvini looks at the man and his legend. Baker, who played hockey and football at Princeton, is the only individual to be inducted into both the College Football Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame. A pilot in World War I, Baker shot down three German planes, but was mysteriously killed at age 26 while testing a repaired aircraft, just after the war ended.
The Professor’s Daughter — Emily Raboteau (Henry Holt). Like the main character in this coming-of-age novel exploring race and family in America, the author was raised in Princeton, attended Yale, and is biracial. Raboteau, the daughter of Princeton religion professor Albert Raboteau, writes about Emma, the daughter of Bernard Boudreaux, an esteemed academic and the first black dean at Princeton. Set at Yale and Princeton, among other locations, the novel follows Emma as she struggles with her biracial identity, the death of her brother, and her strained relationship with her emotionally absent father. Raboteau is a recipient of a Pushcart Prize (awarded to fiction, poetry, and essays that have appeared in literary magazines) and teaches creative writing at the City College of New York.
Unholy Death in Princeton — Ann Waldron (Berkley Prime Crime). The third in a murder mystery series, Unholy Death in Princeton features Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist McLeod Dulaney, who moves to Princeton from Tallahassee, Fla., to teach the University’s Literature of Fact course. In this tale, Dulaney teams up with her friend Fiona to solve the murders of a contentious seminary student and a professor working on the Dead Sea scrolls. In the first of the series, The Princeton Murders (2003), Dulaney investigates the mysterious deaths of three Princeton English professors; in the second, Death of a Princeton President (2004), she uncovers the murderer of the University’s president.