Books, Music & Film

Gathering Voices

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward, ’99, MA ’00; Scribner, $25. Drawing inspiration from James Baldwin’s 53-year-old meditation on race, The Fire Next Time, Ward, a former Stegner fellow (2008-10), enlists 17 noted writers to share essays and poems in a ranging and nuanced exploration of the discontent with race relations in America today. Kevin Young, also a former Stegner fellow (1992-94), contributes a comical critique of Rachel Dolezal’s attempt at passing for black, while Ward shares the discomfiting experience of ordering personalized genetic testing that illuminated her complex racial ancestry.


Mandelstam in the Transit Camp
Near Vladivostok, 1938

his body a starved
and emaciated flute
his fingers turning into
gloves of cracked ice

tapping out the rhythm
of a poem

while the peasant-slayer
drums the “thick worms
of his fingers” on a table
in Moscow—

while the white wolf
the ice fangs of history
bear down on them both

—SUSAN KELLY-DEWITT, Stegner fellow 1989-91, in Spider Season; Cold River Press, $14.95.


“In short, the man who in the late 1830s was brutalized by Irish workers at Baltimore’s Fell’s Point had no problem in casting at least some of the blame for the poverty exacerbated by the famine on the Irish workers themselves.” 

—ROBERT S. LEVINE, MA ’77, PhD ’81, in The Lives of Frederick Douglass; Harvard University Press, $29.95.


Gemini, SONYA MUKHERJEE, ’92; Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $17.99. Conjoined twins Clara and Hailey have reached the age at which most teens are preparing to break away from their families. They’ve lived parallel lives, often too close for comfort, for 17 years. As the young women dream about what the future could look like, each begins to consider what a life without the other would mean.


Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes & Shifts of Los Angeles, edited by NEELANJANA BANERJEE, DANIEL A. OLIVAS, ’81, and RUBEN J. RODRIGUEZ; Tía Chucha Press, $24.95. This anthology includes work from 160 poets representing the diversity of voices in Los Angeles, including both well-known and fledgling writers. Their poetry reveals a wider awakening brought on by decades of unrest in the city.


Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors & Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City, KATIE PARLA and KRISTINA GILL, ’95; Clarkson Potter, $30. Roman food—cucina romana—has always been defined by its local, traditional dishes and is increasingly enhanced by modern twists. Tasting Rome channels the city’s colors, characters and cuisine with Gill’s photography and offers recipes both contemporary and traditional, tracing particular flavors back through history. 


How to Drink Like a Billionaire: Mastering Wine with Joie de Vivre, MARK OLDMAN, ’91, MA ’93, JD ’98; Regan Arts, $28.95. Oldman brings a congenial spirit and wry humor to this guide to selecting, drinking and appreciating wine. Organized as 120 installments with titles like Wine Is Not Mouthwash (about the practice of aerating wine in your mouth) and Insider Lingo They Don’t Tell You, the book is a useful reference and an enjoyable lark.


Beauty and the Breast: A Tale of Breast Cancer, Love, and Friendship, MERRILL JOAN GERBER, Gr. ’63; Coffeetown Press, $14.95. Gerber has penned a primer for holding fast to everything dear in the face of a terrifying diagnosis. The author, a former Stegner fellow (1962-63), handles cancer’s curveballs with candor and a sense of humor, reaching clarity amid the confusion. Her frank and funny narrative of the discovery, biopsy, surgery and treatment makes the experience relatable.


Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior, JONAH BERGER, ’02, PhD ’07; Simon & Schuster, $26.99. How much does the urge to imitate others drive our behavior—and why are we sometimes compelled to do the opposite? Berger, a marketing professor at Wharton, discusses the science of motivation and how greatly we are influenced by those around us in this in-depth look at why we do what we do.


Dreidels on the Brain, JOEL BEN IZZY, ’81; Dial Books, $17.99. Ben Izzy tells of being a 12-year-old magician and the only Jewish boy at his L.A. school. What happens to his family during the eight nights of Hanukkah (which the author spells 75 ways in the book) is worse than he could have imagined. Yet when the last candle is lit, he’ll be a changed kid in the best of ways.


Sense of Place

Finding Fontainebleau: An American Boy in France, Thad Carhart, JD ’77; Viking, $27. The author’s enduring engagement with all things French began early: In 1954, when Thad was 4, his father was posted to Fontainebleau for three years as a NATO officer. French was the language he first learned to read and write; that Gallic grounding informs his droll but affectionate accounts of schoolyard games and bullies, uncompromising teachers, the imperious landlady. Interspersed with the family’s immersion in postwar French life are rich vignettes about the nearby castle’s royal history and a Cook’s tour of its 21st-century restoration. 

The following did not appear in the print version of Stanford.


In Dylan Town: A Fan’s Life, David Gaines, ’72; University of Iowa Press, $17.
A Bob Dylan devotee and an English professor at Southwestern University, Gaines discusses the enduring influence of the enigmatic songwriter and recent Nobel laureate’s music. What begins as a journey into the life of a superfan emerges as a love letter to lyrics and literature.


Uplift Cinema: The Emergence of African American Film and the Possibility of Black Modernity, Allyson Nadia Field, ’98; Duke University Press, $26.95. In the 1910s, pioneering filmmakers in New York and Chicago showed African-Americans making upward moves via higher education and economic self-sufficiency. Field, an assistant professor of cinema and media studies at UCLA, brings together clips and pieces of these films—none of which survived in their entirety—for a cohesive story about the push for progress.


God, Belief, and Perplexity, William E. Mann, ’62, MA ’64; Oxford University Press, $85. A companion to Mann’s God, Modality, and Morality (2015), this book offers 14 of Mann’s essays on Augustine, Anselm and Peter Abelard. The author explores the theories in their writings and discusses the often unresolvable questions that arise during their examination.


Noble Rider, S. BRET BRENEMAN, ’65; Balboa Press, $17.99. The founder of the Baha’i faith, a 19th-century prophet named Baha’u’llah, is the subject of this epic poem. Noble Rider is the first volume in a projected trilogy and is written in alliterative verse.


Gift of Darkness: Growing Up in Occupied Amsterdam, CRAIG K. COMSTOCK, Gr. ’82; Willow Press, $16. Robbert Van Santen was a teenager when the Nazis occupied Amsterdam. His firsthand experiences are preserved in this biography by Comstock, with whom Van Santen shared the terrifying details as well as his determination to find joy after the war ended.


Enlarging Our Comfort Zones: A Life of Unexpected Destinations, CRAIG K. COMSTOCK, Gr. ’82; Willow Press, $16. Midlife takes a turn in Comstock’s memoir and guidebook to growth, beginning with an unwelcome Thanksgiving revelation. Only when his comfort zone was demolished, he learned, could he open his mind to a discover a new, more satisfying life.


The Writer’s Process: Getting Your Brain in Gear, ANNE JANZER, ’84; Cuesta Park Consulting, $12.99. Janzer discusses cognitive science and the writing process in this guide to getting the words out of your head and into workable form. The chapters on flow and mindset will intrigue anyone who has ever lost paragraphs to a tenacious inner critic.


The Trapped Girl, ROBERT DUGONI, ’84; Thomas & Mercer, $15.95. In Dugoni’s latest book in the Tracy Crosswhite series, Detective Crosswhite is led on a wild and dangerous search for a murderer after a woman is found dead, submerged in a crab pot in the Puget Sound. Only after they learn her identity—which an autopsy reveals she took drastic measures to conceal—can they begin tracking down the killer.


Notable Women of China: Shang Dynasty to the Early Twentieth Century, edited by Barbara Bennett Peterson, MA ’65; Routledge, $52.95. Nearly 100 scholars collaborated on this book, which offers detailed biographies of important women in Chinese history from the fifth century BCE to the early 20th century.


First Things First! Creating the New American Primary School, RUBY TAKANISHI, ’68, PhD ’73; Teachers College Press, $31.95. Hoping to help level the educational and economic playing field for all children, Takanishi argues against small reforms in the primary school system, instead supporting a plan for a more extensive redesign. She discusses the benefits of integrating early education and primary education, and includes profiles of schools that are experiencing positive results after having done so.