Recent Books by Alumni
Also try Kenyon classics
Alan W. Cafruny, Class of 1974, and Magnus Ryner
Europe at Bay: In the Shadow of U.S. Hegemony
Lynne Rienner Publishers (2007)
When the celebrated Maastricht Treaty established the framework for what we now know as the European Union in 1993, hopes rode high. The treaty gave citizens the right to move to and live in any member state, led to a universal currency, and set out promising economic and social agreements. The EU would challenge the United States's dominance on the world scene, boosters said, and solidify a pan-European identity among the separate states.
In Europe at Bay, Alan W. Cafruny takes off the rose-colored glasses and investigates the current state of the EU. Working against orthodox analyses, Cafruny argues that various problems plaguing the EU--slow economic growth, high unemployment, and weakened social cohesion--reflect not a crisis of integration but rather the limitation of neoliberal policies and the fact that global economic structures work to maintain the pre-eminence of the U.S.
Cafruny, who is the Henry Platt Bristol Professor of International Affairs at Hamilton College, and his co-author render what Fred Block of the University of California, Davis, calls a "brilliant, polemical work of intellectual synthesis"-- one that those invested in the future of Europe would do well to ponder.
Matthew G. Rosenberger, Class of 1989
ABC Travel Guides for Kids
ABC TravelGuides for Kids (2007)
During a family trip to Boston in 2001, Matthew Rosenberger noticed that his two-year-old daughter was just as fascinated by her new surroundings as the adults were. If only, he thought, there were a travel guide to help kids learn about a new city's landmarks.
And so ABC Travel Guides for Kids was born. Full of colorful photos of iconic places arranged by the letter of the alphabet, the books guide kids through Manhattan (from the American Museum of Natural History to the famous Zabar's gourmet shop), Philadelphia (the Art Museum at Avenue of the Arts to the Zooballoon), and, in a brand new addition to the series, Boston (the Aquarium to Zakim Bridge).
Each book includes a map of the city that shows where the landmarks are located, and the Boston book features factoids along with the photos. The featured landmarks are chosen for their child-friendliness (Tadpole Playground and Whale Watch tours in Boston, for example). The sturdy little books make great souvenirs--and, who knows, they may just turn your child into a virtuoso globetrotter, one letter at a time.
Anthony C. Wood, Class of 1976
Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City's Landmarks
Routledge Press (2007)
It sounds like something out of a fairy tale, but a corner of East 79th Street on New York's Upper East Side was once home to a replica of a sixteenth-century Loire Valley chateau. Built by manufacturing magnate Isaac Brokaw in 1887, the mansion stood for nearly a century as one of what the New York Times called the city's "finest examples of the baronial and classical homes of New York's kingly merchants and bankers . . . extravagant, luxurious constructions designed with pride and pardonable ostentation."
Then, in 1965, the wrecking ball arrived. Preservationists lost the subsequent fight over keeping the mansion, but they won the bigger battle. That year, New York enacted its Landmarks Law and established the Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect sites "thirty years old or older" that had historical interest or value "as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, state, or nation."
In Preserving New York, Anthony C. Wood gives the background to this drama. While urban legend tells us that New York's Landmarks Law began with the fight over Penn Station, Wood unearths a far more interesting story reaching back to the 1800s, complete with historic photos of key players and landmarks. By giving the history behind the history, Wood has created a compelling document worthy of coffee-table browsing and deeper study.
Doug Wilhelm, Class of 1974
Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2007)
At school, ninth-grader Matt Shaw seems like a regular kid. He's a solid student, comes from a middle-class family, and lives in a good neighborhood in an all-American small town.
But behind the accent of normalcy, Matt's family life is falling apart. His older brother, who still lives at home, has begun using drugs, and Matt is afraid to tell anyone because he doesn't want his brother to go to jail. His parents, well-meaning but distracted, haven't caught on yet. And Matt, struggling with the implications of his secret, has become withdrawn, giving up his spot on the basketball team and pulling away from his best friend, KJ.
He wonders what life is all about, or even if it's worth figuring out--until he meets Katie, a sparkling fifteen-year-old classmate who loves to ask questions.
Falling, Doug Wilhelm's eleventh novel for young adults, takes on two tough subjects: falling in love and falling out of innocence. It's not new territory for Wilhelm, whose 2003 young adult novel The Revealers told the story of three seventh graders who are beleaguered by bullies and decide to confront their tormenters and the culture that fosters bullying behavior.
The Revealers was based on Wilhelm's research and his own experiences as an adolescent, and it touched a nerve across the country. Hundreds of schools, libraries, and communities have used the book as a platform for exploring the problem of bullying and how kids can deal with it, and Wilhelm has visited schools to talk with discussion and support groups.
Falling promises to have a similar impact. With authentic main characters and a plot as taut as a mystery novel, it depicts teenage turmoil with honesty and sensitivity. Matt's journey from disaffection to confrontation takes him through some pretty rough patches, but in the end, he discovers that there are some people you can trust. It's a lesson that will resonate with kids from all backgrounds.Katie Estill, Class of 1975
Dahlia's Gone: A Novel
St. Martin's Press (2007)
"The world is always evolving beneath the surface of things," sheriff's deputy Patti Callahan muses midway through Katie Estill's second novel. Patti might well be talking about the book she anchors along with two other vividly rendered female protagonists. Sand Williams, a former World Health Organization correspondent, has returned to the Ozarks after more than a decade away. She lives in her dead father's cabin, next door to born-again Christian Norah Everston and her family. Against the richly detailed backdrop of a Missouri summer, Norah asks Sand to check in on her son Timothy and stepdaughter Dahlia while the Everstons are in Myrtle Beach. The night of a cataclysmic storm, Sand discovers that Dahlia has been murdered in her own bedroom, stabbed repeatedly, drained, and posed bloodlessly in her bed.
A fine, taut follow-up to Estill's Evening Would Find Me, this novel distinguishes itself most through the subtle way it traces the effects of Dahlia's murder upon Norah, Sand, and Patti. At every turn, Estill shows us how these women's worlds evolve under the plot's surface elements. Norah's relationship with her unreligious husband Lyman crumbles under the strain of the murder investigation. Sand grapples with unresolved emotions toward the father who trained her to photograph horrific scenes fearlessly and left her feeling perpetually unable to please him. As the only female deputy in her county, Patti has revolutionized her police force's treatment of sexual assault cases but, years after a failed marriage, dreams of building a more fulfilling domestic life.
In the end, who killed Dahlia is almost beside the point. This novel's most gripping developments and haunting revelations lie in the complicated terrain of Dahlia's survivors' lives and the rural landscape that shapes and connects them.
For more on Dahlia's Gone, see www.katieestill.com .
Brian Groh, Class of 1995
Nathan Empson, a young man recently disappointed in love, takes a job as a companion to Ellen Broderick, an elderly woman summering in a sprawling house on the coast of Maine. Thinking the well-paid position will give him time to get out of his rundown Cleveland apartment and work on his graphic novel, Nathan instead finds that Ellen is so impaired mentally that he can leave her side only when she's asleep. Furthermore, the tight-knit beach community views him with suspicion. Gradually, Nathan unravels Ellen's troubled history, and stumbles into some serious trouble of his own when he falls for a neighboring family's nanny.
Nathan's outsider status makes him a convenient scapegoat for the status-conscious seaside gossip-hounds, but when the rumors lead to accusations of assault, neglect, and even arson, Nathan must draw on his own inner resources to defend himself. Groh's debut novel features a self-absorbed but ultimately likeable Updikean main character, a plot complex enough to draw readers in, and pitch-perfect naturalistic dialogue. Groh, who has written for The New Republic, National Geographic Traveler, and MTV, drew on his own experiences: he spent two summers caring for a widow in a coastal town himself. It took him four more years of writing while living on an inherited farm in Indiana to produce Summer People.
Scott Kenemore, Class of 2000
The Zen of Zombie: Better Living Through the Undead
Skyhorse Publishing (2007)
Zombies get a bad rap, but "few people stop to consider how much humans have to learn from zombies," writes Scott Kenemore. "What about all the good things zombies do?"
OK, maybe The Zen of Zombie is a little tongue-in-cheek, but it's brainy fun (ooh, brains). Broken down into two handy parts (ooh, parts), "The 24 Habits of Highly Effective Zombies" and "Your Guide to Complete Zombification in 90 Days," Kenemore's book mocks self-help and motivational tomes while forcing the reader to think about the advice they offer in new and creative ways. Maybe you feel beaten down by routine. Model yourself after the zombie: "Giving things power over it is not something a zombie does." Instead, the zombie takes for granted its power to change its world. Feeling old? Age means nothing to a zombie. Things getting complicated? "Simplicity is key to the freewheeling essence of a zombie. The more things you can eliminate from your routine (like personal hygiene, clothing, and complete sentences) the better."
Zen of Zombie hilarious, thought-provoking. Turns out, zombies have a taste for the funny bone, too.
Sheppard Kominars, Class of 1953
Write for Life: Healing Body, Mind, and Spirit Through Journal Writing
Cleveland Clinic Press (2007)
Years ago, when Sheppard Kominars found himself held hostage to crippling migraines, he turned to the page for escape. At the suggestion of his family doctor, he began keeping a journal.
At first, Kominars didn't see the point. "In my imagination," he writes, "I saw adolescent girls writing 'Dear Diary' in their notebooks. That's just not me! I thought. I can't do that!" As his writing sessions continued, however, he found that journal writing helped him "launch the day from a better place in myself." At last, he came to a realization that "I was not a migraine; I was merely having a migraine . . . In some mysterious way, journal writing helped me find my way not only through health issues but through [other] obstacles as well."
In Write for Life, Kominars maps out that mysterious way. Journaling, he writes, can be an act of confession, therapy, testimony, and self-discovery. Most remarkably, medical studies have found that keeping a journal can aid people struggling with illness, anxiety, or depression. Writing about trauma leads to improved immune function, lower blood pressure, and a more optimistic outlook.
Write for Life offers a wealth of journaling activities, designed to give readers permission to express themselves and find their way to health, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. "Beginning today," Kominars writes, "you can begin to care about what has already happened--not as a source of
worry, but as a basis for loving your life in a new way."
Readers may learn more about the book online at www.writeforlifeccp.com .
Cammie McGovern, Class of 1985
Penguin Books (2007)
Cammie McGovern '85 recently published her second novel, Eye Contact, an absorbing murder mystery in which Adam, an autistic boy, is the only witness to a child's murder. Adam's mother, Kara, works to unlock the mystery of her son's autism as she tries to learn the identity of the killer. The book has been well reviewed, and film rights have been purchased by actress Julia Roberts. McGovern, the mother of an autistic boy herself, is donating a portion of the movie-rights sales and book sales to Whole Children, an after-school therapeutic play center she started along with other parents like her. Whole Children has been successful in improving the lives and development of children along the autistic spectrum.
Greg Melville, Class of 1992, and Sarah Tuff
101 Best Outdoor Towns: Unspoiled Places to Visit, Live & Play
Countryman Press (2007)
After Greg Melville '92 and Sarah Tuff, former colleagues at a magazine in New York City, moved out of the city in search of open spaces, they decided to share their findings with anybody who might want to do the same. In 101 Best Outdoor Towns, they present their list of the best places in the United States for outdoor adventure.
The book covers a lot of ground, literally. Among the locales under review: Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, a New-England-style village with access to fly fishing, hiking, ghost towns, and even a canyon; Sheridan, Wyoming, a cowboy town near the Big Horn Mountains where backcountry hikers can begin their journeys and skiers can hit nearby slopes; and Port Townsend, Washington, a north Puget Sound town where, the authors write, a bicycle and a kayak are mandatory equipment. For visitors in need of either gear or a place to spend the night, the guide gives directions to nearby outfitters, lodges, and inns.
While Melville and Tuff have searched for places that are relatively free of crowds and close to outdoor playgrounds, they have two other criteria: the towns must have a diner for breakfast, and they need a watering hole for an evening drink--especially if that bar has a good microbrew or two on tap.
Debbie Robins, Class of 1978
Where Peace Lives
Cambridge House Press (2007)
Why can't people just get along? Debbie Robins takes up this question with a slender children's fable whose simple lessons invite further pondering. A nameless narrator who is "worried about the world" dreams that the angel Peace is imprisoned, whereupon a wise brown bear appears with a flying canoe. What follows is a fanciful quest in which a series of other animal-teachers offer the keys to quelling strife.
There's Mister Buddha, for example, a Siamese cat who offers a potion called Acceptance that magically ends enmity. Simplistic? Perhaps, except that the magic involves finding "a place beyond right and wrong" and learning to "watch one's thoughts"--elusive notions that can lead into deeper, more subtle territory. One of the messages here is that, even (or especially) in a world of so much external conflict, the way toward peace lies within. Robins ends her book with brief sketches of Martin Luther King Jr., Buddha, Gandhi, Christ, Moses, and Muhammad, and one can imagine young readers initially intrigued by the flying canoe who go on to learn more about these spiritual leaders.
Proceeds from sales of the book support City Hearts, a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that seeks to draw children away from gangs and drugs through art education.
David Meerman Scott, Class of 1983
The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to Use News Releases, Blogs, Podcasting, Viral Marketing and Online Media to Reach Buyers Directly
John Wiley and Sons (2007)
Technology has changed advertising. Consumers Tivo their commercials, read the Internet instead of newspapers, and get recommendations through social networking websites.
Far from being bad news for marketers, however, the tech revolution can charge up cheap, targeted, and powerful ads. That's the argument David Meerman Scott makes in his latest book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR. Under the old rules, says Scott, advertising had to appeal to the masses and rely on interrupting people to get their attention. Communication was only one-way. New marketing and PR means creating a conversation with the consumer via blogs, useful website content, and a concentration on niche needs. "Nontargeted, broadcast pitches are spam," Scott writes, whereas focused content "helps buyers see that you and your organization 'get it.' Content drives action."
Full of compelling case studies such as the Mentos/Diet Coke geyser Internet phenomenon and the Sony BMG CD copy protection software fiasco, The New Rules explains the use of tools like podcasting, social media tags, and viral marketing in a clear, humorous style.
Lettie Teague, Class of 1983
Of all the wine books sloshing around the world, Lettie Teague's Educating Peter has got to be the most fun. It's not that Teague, a 1983-vintage Kenyon graduate, isn't serious. For nearly a decade she has been the wine editor at Food & Wine magazine; her knowledge--of wines and the wine trade--runs deep.
But above all, she's a buoyantly entertaining writer, who wields her considerable expertise without pretentiousness or far-fetched metaphors. If you're interested in learning about wine, you'll find her an enlightening and amusing companion.
And you should read the word "companion" literally. In her book, Teague introduces the uninitiated into the mysteries of wine by taking one of her friends under her wing. The subtitle explains: "How I Taught a Famous Movie Critic the Difference Between Cabernet and Merlot."
The friend in question was Peter Travers, the film critic for Rolling Stone and a perfect pupil in that, while largely ignorant about wine, he was curious, eager to learn, and no stranger to the habit of forming opinions. "I'd often wondered what it would be like," Teague writes, "to teach someone enough about wine that he or she would be able to read a restaurant wine list without fear, approach a wine merchant with confidence, and perhaps even score a few points off a wine-snob friend."
From the reader's point of view, Peter also turns out to be a good pupil because he has personality. Part of the fun in the book comes from his witty observations and his ability to grasp wine concepts by drawing on cinema lore.
The fun makes the impressive quantity of information go down easy. Teague covers grape varieties, winemaking, and the importance of age and temperature. She introduces a tasting vocabulary. And she leads Peter on a quick tour of the world's wine regions, including an actual road trip to the Napa Valley.
John Weir, Class of 1980
What I Did Wrong
Most of the action in John Weir's superb new novel takes place on a single day, a Sunday during Memorial Day weekend, in 2000. The narrator, Tom--gay, fortyish, mordantly witty, self-mocking, alone, a writer and English professor who lives in Manhattan but teaches at working-class Queens College--is in a coffee shop that morning when in walks his old high school friend, Richie. Richie convinces Tom to accompany him on a blind "cyberdate"; that night he's supposed to meet a girl, whom he found on the Internet, in a club called hell in the
That description is about as adequate as saying that Joyce's Ulysses is about a June day of wandering in
On this Memorial Day, Tom is burdened--inhabited, really--by memories of his friend Zack, who died of AIDS some six years earlier. Zack's voice intrudes on Tom's own relentless thoughts, breaking into the present and drawing the story repeatedly from the foreground back into Tom's searing memories of the AIDS epidemic and further back to his teen years, his coming of age as a "faggot" suffering torment after bullying torment. One of the triumphs of the book is this interweaving of present and past, exterior and interior, inner voice and dialogue.
Readers should know that there's a healthy measure of profanity in the novel, as well as a good deal of graphic description--some involving sex but most involving illness. There's also poetry, music, and baseball. Indeed, frequent allusions to baseball call attention to one of the strongest themes of What I Did Wrong: the question of how to be a man, and by extension how to navigate relationships--how to connect--in a society that copes with fear, desire, and need by falling back on rigid categories.
Jeffery Wolin, Class of 1972
Inconvenient Stories: Portraits and Interviews with Vietnam War Veterans
Umbrage Editions (2007)
What do we expect to see in the faces of men who have survived war, psychological trauma, and a sense of abandonment by the nation they served? This collection of portraits by Jeffrey Wolin, the Ruth N. Halls Professor of Photography at Indiana University, confronts us with that question on every page by offering three distinct views of the persistence of the Vietnam War in the lives of men who served there.
Wolin's photographs show us middle-aged veterans who exhibit few visible scars of their wartime experience, but the brief interviews that accompany these portraits reveal that the real scars left by combat are hidden from the eye. Few have escaped their war without a sense of shame or betrayal, and many suffer from the lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Wolin's portraits are made more haunting by the third element: fading Polaroids showing the men as young soldiers, posing with their buddies at jungle firebases or in front of helicopters. Some stand before flags in their dress uniforms, gazing at the camera with the disciplined eyes of men who take pride in their service.
The book is timely: several of its subjects note a growing sense of despair as they watch a new generation of soldiers share their experience. Others speak of their renewed belief in the values of honor, patriotism, and service. But regardless of one's political convictions, the human cost of our nation's military engagements may be seen in these moving portraits of men who have been irrevocably shaped by the experience of war.
Paul L. Bates, Class of 1967
Five Star (2006)
Imprint takes place in a world not unfamiliar to futuristic narratives: the ruling elite, in an attempt to create an ideal society, has instead produced an over-policed, hyper-cleansed dystopia that survives on society-wide amnesia and the sweeping away of rats and the homeless. The lone dissenter, straining against the culture, is Wyatt Weston. The would-be rebel is hampered, however, by being poor and marginalized, not to mention consumed with thoughts of a past love that no one else remembers. Weston's mind is his sole and secret weapon against the state, and as he rises in social standing, it soon becomes the only thing that might help him stay alive and find what he's looking for. Bates has given us a story that captivates not only through plot but also through its surreal, lushly dark prose.
W. Hodding Carter, Class of 1984
Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization
Atria Books (2006)
W. Hodding Carter gets down and dirty in this exploration of the most important underground institution in history: plumbing. Tracing this often underappreciated amenity from the Indus Valley in 3000 BCE to his own modern-day high-tech Japanese Toto toilet, Carter illustrates that "a clean, modern water supply, working toilets, and environmentally safe sewage systems are what divide the successful from the unsuccessful."
Carter's subterranean voyage is flush with fascinating tidbits. Did you know that the tenth-century Welsh had a Minister of Urine? Or that the first recorded piped water supply to London began flowing in 1237? Or that two billion people in the world today live without toilets?
In the process of unearthing these facts, Carter tours a London sewage system that dates back to 1859, learns about Boston Harbor's rebirth via sewage treatment plant in the 1990s, proffers scatological stories from experienced plumbers, and travels to India, where plumbing is still a rarity. The result is a surprisingly entertaining and broad-reaching overview that does indeed plumb the depths, and span the breadth, of human ingenuity.
Adam Davies, Class of 1994
Riverhead Books (2006)
Readers of The Frog King, Adam Davies' first novel, have been waiting to see what he'd cook up next. Now, with the publication of Goodbye Lemon (Riverhead Books), we can savor the results. Davies '94 sets grief, dysfunction, and his protagonist's Oedipal sturm und drang against the redemptive qualities of love in a work that is sardonic, witty, and poignant by turns.
Jackson Tennant, thirty-three years old, has been on a downward spiral for years. After blowing his piano audition at Juilliard and, later, being expelled from a doctoral program in English, Jack is barely holding his own as an adjunct composition teacher at a college in Georgia. The best thing going for him is his relationship with his girlfriend, Hahva, whom he hopes to marry despite his inability to reveal his deepest secrets even to her.
The gaping hole at the center of Jack's existence dates back to the death in early childhood of his brother Dexter (nicknamed Lemon by their older brother, Pressman). Jack, unable to recover memories of his lost brother, has grown up blaming his father for Dexter's demise. Various kinds of dysfunction followed the tragic death: Jack's distant father and older brother Press self-medicate with alcohol; his repressed mother obsessively cleans; no one speaks of Dex.
Having stayed away from home for fifteen years, as the novel opens Jack returns to the family manse, where his father has suffered a stroke leaving him fully cognizant but completely paralyzed and unable to speak. There, Jack's confrontation with the past forces him to choose between giving in to utter dissipation or saving his hobbled relationships and redeeming his life.
Danny and Katherine Dreyer, Class of 1982
ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running and ChiWalking: The Five Mindful Steps for Lifelong Health and Energy
Fireside (2004, 2006)
ChiRunning, the Dreyers' 2004 book, scored the authors a kind of cult status in the distance running world. Combining techniques drawn from yoga, Pilates, and, most importantly, the traditional Chinese strengthening exercise t'ai chi, ChiRunning offered methods to help runners become aware of their posture, how they breathe, where they hold their tension, even mental motivators.
Now the Dreyers have followed up with ChiWalking, which applies the same techniques to a less niche sport. Everyone has to walk; surprisingly, everyone does not know how to do so efficiently. Part of the answer lies in managing one's chi, or flow of energy. The Dreyers offer a "menu" of fitness walks that focus on different mind-body connections: a walk that will relax you when you're stressed out, a walk that will focus you when you're feeling spacy, and so on.
"Almost everyone I know has a body," they write, "and yet most of the time we move through life without being aware of how we treat it." ChiWalking hopes to change that.
Richard D. Ginsburg, Class of 1989, and Stephen Durant, with Amy Baltzell
Whose Game Is It, Anyway? A Guide to Helping Your Child get the Most from Sports, Organized by Age and Stage
Houghton Mifflin (2006)
It's easy to condemn the pressures, destructive values, and misplaced priorities besetting youth sports today. Richard Ginsburg and his coauthors know them well as clinical psychologists and educators who specialize in sports psychology. Both among their patients and in the culture at large, they have seen a good deal of misery surrounding sports, much of it rooted in the "overscheduled, driven, quasi-professional athletic life" of
But this book is not about easy condemnation. The authors of this wise and practical volume see competitive sports as an essentially healthy and passionate experience that can nurture "skillful, resilient, confident, coachable, team-oriented kids." What's needed, they argue, is balance, along with perspective and sensitivity. Whose Game Is It, Anyway? is full of realistic examples and scenarios, from the preschool years through college, presenting common problems and conflicts. Throughout, the authors stress that parents must know their child as an individual, know themselves, and understand the "sports environment" of their community.
The book is useful as a manual, presenting excellent information about childhood development, both physical and emotional, as well as suggestions for dealing with frustration, tips for coaches, and notes on further reading. But it is also a philosophical argument in which the leading theme is the importance of character. Character enables kids to deal with adversity and pressure, to balance their individual desires against the needs of the team, and to master their emotions even as they master the skills of their sport. Competitive sports involve striving to excel and win; character involves "caring about doing the right thing."
Ginsburg, who played both lacrosse and soccer at Kenyon, and who went on to teach and coach at the high school level before pursuing his doctorate, is on the faculty of the
John Green, Class of 2000
An Abundance of Katherines
In the author's note to this, his second novel for young adults, John Green writes that he chose to attend Kenyon in part because it had no math requirement. But the main character in An Abundance of Katherines is obsessed with math. Having been dumped by nineteen consecutive girls named Katherine, Colin Singleton finds solace in a road trip with his best friend, Hassan, and in his ongoing Theorum of Underlying Katherine Predictability, a formula for forecasting the future of any relationship--or so Colin hopes.
A former child prodigy who recently graduated from a Chicago high school, the nerdy Colin is afflicted with the feeling that he's missing out on a life that matters.
The road trip, in a gray Oldsmobile called Satan's Hearse, takes him and Hassan to a tiny town called Gutshot, Kentucky, where a tourist attraction ostensibly holds the body of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but where the real attraction turns out to be a girl named Lindsey. Offered summer jobs by Lindsey's mother, Colin and Hassan find that Gutshot is just the place to learn about love, fear, and friendship.
Green's debut novel, Looking For Alaska, won the 2006 American Library Association's Printz Award For Excellence in Young Adult Literature; An Abundance of Katherines was named an honor book for the same award. The author creates wry, lively, and original characters; Colin, for instance, is something of a contemporary Holden Caulfield. And like Salinger's famous book, An Abundance of Katherines offers a rewarding read for adults as well as teens--even those who don't like math.
David Goodwillie, Class of 1994
Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
Algonquin Books (2006)
After graduating from Kenyon in 1994 and briefly trying to make it as a professional baseball player, David Goodwillie hit New York with vague literary ambitions, an appetite for pleasure, a knack for stumbling into eccentric jobs, and a self-consciously ironic stance--but also with an appealing, persistent innocence and the need to find something meaningful in life. He recounts the ensuing adventures and misadventures in an engaging, often funny memoir, Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, published this year by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
Goodwillie tells us what it's like to work as a private investigator and as a sports-memorabilia expert at an auction house. He takes us into Chinatown sweatshops and palatial hotel suites. He offers us glimpses of the club scene, the fashion world, the dot-com boom, and the wrong side of a paddy wagon. Drink, drugs, sex, privilege, and struggle all figure in Goodwillie's often careless life. But care keeps edging its way in, as Goodwillie circles back to memories of childhood and reflections on his parents' broken marriage. And on friendship. And on the allure of literature. And, above all, on a deeply felt, seemingly fated connection to the city.
Perry Lentz, Class of 1964
Private Fleming at Chancellorsville: The Red Badge of Courage and the Civil War
University of Missouri Press (2006)
The Red Badge of Courage has long been a staple of high school and college English courses, but what about the history behind it? Perry Lentz, the Charles P. McIlvaine Professor of English, looks at this question through the lens of thirty-five years of teaching the novel to Kenyon students, rereading it yearly, and considering student responses.
"The more extensive my research," Lentz writes, "in order to better explain the military realities in which the novel is set, the more the novel proved capable of sustaining even the most detailed historical scrutiny, the richer and more expansive became the experience of rereading it."
Private Fleming at Chancellorsville distills these riches in a blow-by-blow account of the Battle of Chancellorsville, the presumed setting for The Red Badge of Courage, as well as a deeply sensitive analysis of the novel itself--an analysis informed, and enhanced, by Lentz's expertise in American literature and breadth of literary knowledge. Lentz brings to his study an interest in the Civil War that is both scholarly and imaginative (he is himself the author of two excellent novels set in that period). In addition, through insightful allusions to authors ranging from Homer and Shakespeare to Melville and Hemingway, he reminds us that the larger concern of all great literature is the human condition.
Because the battle is never named in Red Badge, and because author Stephen Crane himself never fought in the American Civil War, many critics have glossed over the story's historical accuracy, praising instead its psychological authenticity, conveyed through Crane's impressionistic style. Lentz, armed with impressive knowledge about infantry tactics, artillery, and uniforms, effectively dismisses critical doubts about the extent of Crane's Civil War knowledge and at the same time draws the reader into the event that has been called General Robert E. Lee's "perfect battle."
He affirms the truth of some of Crane's most intimate details about the battle, such as the wounded Private Conklin's all-too-real fear of being run over by "them damned artillery wagons." He also notes some of the shortcomings of Crane's research, such as his reliance on Major General Darius Couch's inaccurate study of Chancellorsville in Battles and Leaders.
Considering Crane's style and narrative strategies, Lentz examines the novel's power to draw in the reader--he calls Red Badge "the narrative as mousetrap." He contrasts that power with the often sterile efforts of the Naturalist movement, in which authors frequently seem to present their hapless characters as specimens, and call for the reader's attention through a "constant tapping of the pointer on the pane of glass."
Crane's book, Lentz argues, is not a "study of 'the mind of a soldier in combat,' but, rather, a study of the human tendency toward solipsism, toward perceiving the world in some congenial because comprehensible fashion, toward myth-making."
David H. Lynn, Class of 1976
Year of Fire
Harcourt, Inc. (2006)
In one of the stories in this fine new collection, the protagonist, an African-American judge, finds himself pondering the boundaries that have strayed into his life. "He was thinking," writes
This idea, the allure and difficulty of boundaries, finds expression throughout Year of Fire . In "Children of God"--which, like a number of the other stories, is set in
Dividing lines of race, class, religion, and the Detroit cityscape also underlie the tensions in "Chrysalis," in which the African-American judge--alone, aging, unlucky in love--meets a strange sort of twin when an elderly Jew appears at his door, intent on rectifying a wrong lodged in his own story of lost love, and in the judge's house.
Jim Reisler, Class of 1980
A Great Day in Cooperstown: The Improbable Birth of Baseball's Hall of Fame
Carroll & Graf (2006)
Baseball is the sport for nostalgia buffs.
And the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is the cynosure of the game's memories. Jim Reisler's lively book tells the story of June 12, 1939, the day the Hall of Fame opened.
Memorialized by one of baseball's iconic photos--the posed shot of all but one of the original living inductees (Ty Cobb [who else?] snubbed the others)--the day was perfect in every way. Under a smiling sun, the New York hamlet put on a classic small-town-America festival, national figures arrived to lend their dignity to the occasion, and the "immortals" themselves savored their opportunity to banter with old friends and rivals even as they lavished autographs on awe-struck kids and adoring adults alike.
But Reisler's story is more than the chronicle of a happy occasion. Interspersed with his narrative of the events of the day are flashbacks that allow the reader to see how the Cooperstown myth was propagated and how the Hall of Fame project was launched and guided to completion. He examines the role of sportswriting and sportscasting in this pre-World War II era. Most memorably, he includes evocative verbal portraits of the returning heroes--stiff-collared Connie Mack as "a church deacon," Honus Wagner as "your favorite eccentric uncle," Eddie Collins looking "positively dude-ish," and Babe Ruth trailing a kindle of kids as he made his way down Main Street.
Rich with anecdotes and explorations of the byways of baseball history, A Great Day in Cooperstown seems a sure bet to please any baseball fan who savors the history of the game. Giants truly walked the earth of Cooperstown that magical day in 1939.
Pierce Scranton, Class of 1968
Death on the Learning Curve
Elite Books (2006)
Life as a medical resident at a teaching hospital is a seemingly endless cycle of sleep debt, split-second decisions, and gore. Somewhere in there, aspiring surgeon Ned Crosby finds time for love, humor, and insight.
Crosby is the protagonist of Pierce Scranton's fictionalized memoir of first-year residency. It's a gripping, fast-paced, often heart-warming, and above all realistic account, brimming with stories of burn victims, broken bones, and brain tumors. In one episode, a ninety-two-year-old man who was changing a light bulb falls off a ladder and breaks his neck. As the man sits in the examining room, carefully holding his head up, Crosby realizes that any movement could result in paralysis or death. Suddenly, the man falls backwards and turns blue; and, without guidance, Crosby must decide if it is safe to intubate the patient. His decision, and the outcome, affect not just the patient's life but Crosby's own.
Scranton's own medical career has been an impressive one. An orthopedic surgeon, he has served as president of the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society and done volunteer medical work in Vietnam. For seventeen years he was also the team physician for the Seattle Seahawks football team, an experience that led to the nonfiction book Playing Hurt. This new book is just as fascinating as it moves from story to riveting story. But it's the character of Crosby, with his doubts, desires, and drive, that really stitches the stories together. Scranton has created a scalpel-sharp picture of residency that peers behind the surgical mask.
C.L. Watson, Class of 1974
Eating the Shadow: a Memoir of Loss and Recovery
Fenn Books and Media (2006)
When the phone rings late at night in the bed-and-breakfast that Celia ("C.L.") Watson Seupel and her husband own, and she hears her sister Caroline's voice on the answering machine, she knows it's bad news. Her family has had its share of hardships: a niece who developed schizophrenia, a sister with cancer. This time, it's C.L.'s brother Carter, who has long struggled with obesity. Carter now tops 400 pounds and can barely get out of bed. His wife has to help him bathe. He sleeps with an oxygen machine. His heart is overloaded. It's now or never, Caroline tells C.L.: you should visit him before he dies.
In trying to get Carter to confront his food addiction, C.L. finds herself facing a host of demons, including the effects of her father's alcoholism, her son's night terrors, and her own difficulty with weight. Episodes from the family's past are interspersed with scenes of Carter moving in and out of the hospital, and in and out of denial about his problems. "Addiction in the family is a cold shiver in the genes," she writes, "and the question sits in my consciousness like a cocked gun: Will I find a way to break the cycle?"
Written with sensitivity as well as self-deprecating humor, Eating The Shadow explores how addiction can affect a family for decades and how the ways we try to comfort ourselves can end up causing us terrible harm.
Peter White, Class of 1966
Ecology of Being
All In All Books (2006)
One reader has compared Ecology of Being to Joseph Campbell's works, and it's easy to see why. This holistic study of how we as humans can "go beyond ourselves" delves into Buddhism, the ideas of psychoanalyst and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl, and the author's own search for meaning.
"My joy in life is in helping people blossom," White once said in an interview with the Chronicle of Philanthropy. White was referring to his distinctive approach as an advisor/consultant to wealthy families. Rather than focus on money per se, White helped guide his clients to ponder greater human issues--commitment, beauty, relationships, meaning.
White's own career may be seen as a kind of blossoming. He started out as a hard-charging Washington lawyer, who attracted headlines for his work with the Congressional investigation into the Koreagate scandal. With time, however, he found himself drawn increasingly to the challenge of "finding meaning amid materialism," as the Chronicle story put it. White, who is now the vice chairman of U.S. Trust, one of the nation's leading wealth-management companies, finds meaning in part through service. For example, he currently serves on the board of trustees of the Kenyon Review.
Ecology of Being reflects the wisdom gleaned from this wide-ranging experience. Seeker, ponderer, observer of the self, White has written a penetrating book that describes a path toward truth, nonviolence, solitude, and service.
Nancy Zafris, Class of 1976
Unbridled Books (2006)
Nancy Zafris's quirky but sobering second novel is set in 1950s Utah, where the Cold War's most lucrative and mystical product, uranium, has fired the imaginations of fortune seekers from all over the country. All sorts of people head west with dreams of becoming the next "uraniumaires." Among them are Jean Waterman and her two young children, Beth and Charlie, fleeing a painful past in Ohio. Here in the desert, they encounter an array of other seekers, all wrestling with their own versions of alienation and loss. Harry Lindstrom, estranged from his Mormon roots, now peddles Geiger counters. Lonely Belinda Dazzle runs a lonely motel. Josephine Dawson struggles through marriage with a man who bullies her--they roam, making a string of temporary homes as squatters in the campsites of uranium-hunters. Each is groping for connection in a lost land caught up in a kind of warped Gold Rush fever.
Zafris, the fiction editor of the Kenyon Review, tells these stories with wit as dry as the western landscape. Above all, though, Lucky Strike immerses us in rugged emotional territory, where monumental effort is required to surmount one's past and find empathy with others. In this distinctively American frontier, the hardships are ultimately internal, the conflicts poignant, and the treasure--rather than some mineral with a half-life--a stable sense of self.
E.L. Doctorow, Class of 1952
Random House (2005)
One of the characters in this powerful, many-stranded novel of the Civil War reflects on how, as she follows Sherman's army through Georgia, the very sense of a stable life has shifted. Instead of "the rooted mansions of a city," she finds a kind of civilization in the "floating world" of the march. Doctorow captures the suffering and numbness of displacement, as well as a kind of surreal hopefulness, through the figures he portrays--soldiers, deserters, former slaves and former owners, a brilliant but eerily dispassionate Union Army doctor, a "white Negro" daughter of a slave and the Massah, a free black traveling the battlefields as a photographer's apprentice. The book is masterful on many levels. The characters are engaging, the language deeply evocative, the history (including real historical figures like Sherman and Lincoln) compelling. There is, moreover, a terrific rhetorical momentum that emerges from both tour-de-force description and rich sensory detail, from the rush and drama of action as well as the subtle exploration of states of mind. "Fly tents in every yard, on every green, were like a crop of teeth sprung up from the earth": such sentences infuse the particular with the mythic. And there is suggestive exploration of the American character. "On the march is the new way to live," says the novel's basest figure, a Confederate deserter who manages survival by improvising identities, and whose comically mordant philosophy evolves into a chilling amorality. The March reminds us that he, too, no less than the soldiers and nurses, is part of our heritage.
Christopher Obetz, Class of 1989, illustrated by Anthony Ravielli
Classic Golf Instruction
George Plimpton once said of sports writing: the smaller the ball, the better the literature. Golf is a case in point--very small ball, terrific literature. We can add to the body of golf literature this handsome and unique book, which readers can savor for its artistry as well as its information. Classic Golf Instruction features the line drawings of the late Anthony Ravielli, whose illustrations graced the pages of Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated for forty years. It was Ravielli who provided the sketches for the best-selling instructional book of all time, Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf. Christopher Obetz '89, an art history major and varsity golfer while at Kenyon, found the original works of Ravielli in an antiques store in New York City and acquired the entire collection. He selected the most appropriate sketches to demonstrate all aspects of the golf swing, from grip to stance, from hip turn and weight shift to finish--from the full swing, moreover, to pitching, chipping, and putting. Accompanying these compellingly interpretive drawings (Ravielli was himself a golfer) is commentary by some of the best players and teachers in golf today, including Greg Norman, David Leadbetter, Jim McLean, and Butch Harmon. Norman has also written one of three forewords; the other two are by Tom Watson and Nick Seitz. Jack Nicklaus has contributed the preface. Obetz has given us a rare work, as strikingly beautiful as it is immensely useful.
Richard H. Schmidt, Class of 1966
Life Lessons from Alpha to Omega
Retired Episcopal priest Richard Schmidt has a gift for recognizing contemporary theological currents in mainline Protestantism and applying them to lived experience in ways that are thoughtful, humorous, and often intensely personal. His newest book, Life Lessons from Alpha to Omega, is a good example--an engaging work of popular theology presented through autobiographical vignettes.
The title gives away his intention. The Greek letters alpha and omega are a traditional Christian symbol for Jesus Christ, signifying that Christ embraces everything from A to Z. Fittingly, then, Schmidt's reflections are incarnational: they are rooted in the totality of lived experience and concerned with ideas of God that arise from everyday life.
The biographical short form reflects Schmidt's suspicion of rigid theological systems. "I once thought that theological precision and purity were critical, and I plowed through theological books seeking to understand the key teachings of the Christian faith," he writes. But experience has led him to see Christianity as "a living thing, always growing and evolving." Rather than insisting that experience conform to a fixed theology, he has allowed the people and situations he's encountered to change what he thinks, a key life lesson that is one of his book's major themes.
Schmidt does not shy away from some of the controversies rocking the contemporary church. He discusses homosexuality, marital infidelity, money, and the decline in Sunday-service attendance in mainline churches. His positions, however, are personal, not didactic. The section on homosexuality tells us how he came to change his mind about the ordination of gay priests through interactions with a friend who is gay, but his relationships with those vehemently opposed to the Episcopal church's recent consecration of a gay bishop preclude any easy partisanship on his part. Such issues are messy, Schmidt implies, because experience itself is messy, and a theology rooted in experience must acknowledge this fact.
There is a necessary humility in Schmidt's thought. He does not pretend to know all the ultimate answers, yet his doubts do not leave him feeling insecure. In the essay on doubt, he relates how his student days at Kenyon brought him into contact with "students and faculty who didn't believe any of the things I believed." This caused a crisis in his faith that, to his distress, wasn't resolved by the time he was ordained as a priest. Yet the anxiety has diminished over time. He writes that he has "concluded that doubt is not really opposed to faith. The opposite of faith is indifference, and I've never been indifferent to God."
The vignettes in Life Lessons from Alpha to Omega are rooted in Schmidt's life within the community of the church, but in the preface he expresses the hope that people from all walks of life will find them useful. Indeed, readers of every background should find his reflections accessible, down to earth, and enjoyable.
David Meerman Scott, Class of 1983
Cashing in with Content: How Innovative Marketers use Digital Information to Turn Browsers into Buyers
Information Today (2005)
It's hard to imagine a successful enterprise of any sort nowadays that neglects the potential of the World Wide Web. But, as marketing and communications consultant David M. Scott demonstrates in this insightful book, effective Web sites don't just happen.
Through twenty detailed case studies, ranging from lumber giant Weyerhaeuser to the band Aerosmith--and including Kenyon--Scott shows how good marketers "turn browsers into buyers" (or, in Kenyon's case, applicants) by creating "content-smart" Web sites.
The best sites, Scott argues, may not have the fanciest graphics, but they serve users by anticipating their needs and providing pathways reflecting the way people think and browse. Booz Allen Hamilton, the global consulting firm, recognizing that people are its key resource, tailors the content and architecture of its Web site to the goal of recruiting job candidates from a variety of audiences. Audience is also a driving force for Kenyon, which revamped its site in 2003, replacing a structure that simply mirrored the college's organization with links and "gateways" catering to the needs of users, especially prospective students. Scott, who interviewed former Vice President for Development Kimberlee Klesner, a leader of the Web redesign effort, points out that Kenyon's site also appeals to applicants by emphasizing community through its homepage "Meet Kenyon People" profiles.
Scott highlights his themes in sections summarizing "best practices" and "lessons learned." Consistency in tone, browser-friendliness, the importance of "self-select paths" for different groups of users, and, above all, the primacy of content--these and other points, buttressed by the compelling case studies, make Cashing In with Content vital reading for any organization with a presence on the Web.
Bill Watterson, Class of 1980
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
Andrews McMeel (2005)
For fans of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes--and it's hard to imagine anyone who isn't a fan--one of the great events of the fall was the publication of a three-volume boxed set containing every strip in the cartoon's ten-year run. Weighing in at twenty-three pounds but irresistibly light in spirit, The Complete Calvin and Hobbes includes every strip that appeared between the cartoon's launch on November 18, 1985, and its retirement on December 31, 1995. That's 3,160 strips in all, including the large-format color Sunday panels.
Some of us have read many of the strips before, either in the newspaper or in repeated sittings with one or more of the seventeen smaller Calvin and Hobbes albums. It doesn't matter. The mischievous, wildly imaginative boy and his tuna-loving tiger still spark amusement along the entire spectrum--from knowing smile to helpless, hilarious outburst--as well as the occasional quiet pang.
But this collection is more than the sum of its laughs. The volumes are elegant, with handsome bindings and sturdy pages that do justice to the strip's brilliance. The set also includes a fine introduction by creator Bill Watterson, who recalls his early struggles to establish a career and discusses his refusal to license his creation for use in products like greeting cards and stuffed animals. Of particular interest are his reflections on the rewards, limitations, and artistic possibilities of the comic-strip form. The most interesting strips, Watterson notes, have "a genuine sensibility--a quirky, individual take on life." Like folk art, he suggests, comics can transcend their peculiar charm, becoming "as interesting and significant as any 'fine' art."
What emerges most clearly, perhaps, is Watterson's commitment to a "vision of what a comic strip should be." Also, his affection for the characters he created. "Without exactly intending to," he writes, "I learned a lot about what I love--imagination, deep friendship, animals, family, the natural world, ideas, ideals . . . and silliness."