Shelf Life

September/October 2005

Reading time min

Shelf Life

Dancing with Ghosts: A Critical Biography of Arturo Islas
Frederick Luis Aldama, PhD ’99
UC Press, 2005 $19.95

Novelist, poet, beloved professor, and Chicano and gay activist Islas “spent his life challenging . . . restrictive roles—intellectual, filial, sexual, and racial,” writes Aldama. Islas, ’60, MA ’65, PhD ’71, grew up sensitive in the macho borderland of El Paso. At Stanford, he developed from a closeted undergrad into an Yvor Winters protégé into a scholar who helped bridge Latin American and European storytelling styles. Aldama is forthright about Islas’s accomplishments (achieved despite childhood polio, a colostomy, and the AIDS that killed him in 1991) and his soul-troubling addictions.

Stop that Girl
Elizabeth McKenzie, MA ’87
Random House, 2005

Ann Ransom, in nine connected short stories, is surrounded by implacable people: a mother who won’t make nice with neighbors, a physician grandmother so domineering that even her family calls her Dr. Frost, partners unaccustomed to sharing, and employers who think they might like to rear Ann’s son. Ann soon intuits that “there was no one in the world who would ever understand my version of things.”

Inside the Passion: An Insider’s Look at The Passion of the Christ
John Bartunek, ’90
Ascension Press, 2005

Bartunek is a former drama director and actor who became a Catholic priest in 2003. He was involved in the Mel Gibson film on location in Rome and subsequently spent weeks with him and the crew in Los Angeles, interviewing them for this authorized explanation of the film’s production, as well as its historical and theological context.

Taste: A Literary History
Denise Gigante
Yale U. Press, 2005

Gigante, an assistant professor of English at Stanford, re-examines 18th- and 19th-century aesthetics by considering their connection with gastronomy. She explores how the vocabulary of food and eating was used metaphorically in the works of poets and philosophers such as Milton, Wordsworth, Lamb, Keats and Byron, revealing the evolution of social attitudes toward appetites, consumerism and human nature.

A Mile Down: The True Story of a Disastrous Career at Sea
David Vann, ’90
Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005

Vann’s series of unfortunate events makes most people’s financial missteps pale. The shoddy construction of his dream sailing boat, chartered by Stanford Continuing Studies and others, led to successive mishaps and bankruptcy. Vann takes heart in his emotional survival—mindful of his father, who suicided years earlier—and decides to launch yet another seafaring venture.

Dams and Development: Transnational Struggles for Water and Power
Sanjeev Khagram, ’90, PhD ’99
Cornell U. Press, 2004

Huge dam projects were a mainstay of global economic development for much of the 20th century, backed by big business, politicians, the World Bank and other international organizations. Khagram discusses how the dynamics of such projects—and development itself—changed as dissenting social and environmental groups gained influence.

Freedom’s Sword: The NAACP and the Struggle Against Racism in America, 1909-1969
Gilbert Jonas, ’51
Routledge, 2005

In 1949, Jonas helped form a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at Stanford; he continued working for the NAACP for half a century. This comprehensive study of its achievements, political battles and leaders is written from the unusual perspective of a white man immersed in a black institution.

The Immortal Bobby: Bobby Jones and the Golden Age of Golf
Ron Rapoport, ’62,
John Wiley & Sons, 2005

This book details the life and career of a revered golf icon and follows the game’s rise from obscure club sport to worldwide sensation. Jones overcame a volcanic temper to become golf’s first great ambassador, an international superstar and the only person ever to win the Grand Slam. Rapoport also depicts the physical and psychological toll that led Jones to retire at 28.

Gangs of America: The Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy
Ted Nace, ’78
Berrett-Koehler, 2005

Americans and their lawmakers used to be wary of corporations: the British East India Company and the Virginia Company were close-to-home examples of corporate power’s threat to the public good. Nace describes how times changed and corporations acquired more rights than citizens.

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