Your April 2024 Reads

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Featured titles include the latest by an acclaimed novelist, a chronicle of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and a mystery series debut

Did you know that Cornell has an online book club? Check it out!

For more titles by Big Red authors, peruse our previous round-ups.

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The cover of "The Morningside"

The Morningside

Téa Obreht, MFA ’08

“Readers will once again be beguiled by Obreht’s lyrical imagination,” says Publishers Weekly of the author’s third novel.

Named by Time as one of the most anticipated books of 2024, it’s set in a dystopian near-future where costal cities are underwater due to rising sea levels.

The story is narrated by an older woman who, at age 11, is brought to Island City (seemingly NYC) with her mother from a war-torn country as part of a repopulation program.

Her aunt is manager of the high-rise building where they live, a formerly luxe residence for which the book is titled. It’s now occupied by a variety of characters that fascinate the new arrival—including one who may have supernatural powers.

“Obreht is offering a cautionary vision of what our future might look like, but she’s also asking questions that are as old as storytelling. What do we want to tell ourselves about ourselves? What do we try to hide from ourselves? And what’s the cost of our lives?” says Kirkus, calling the novel “a captivating blend of science fiction and magical realism with a wonderfully engaging protagonist.”

Obreht’s first novel, The Tiger’s Wife, was a finalist for the National Book Award.


Playing Place

Chad Randl, PhD ’14 & D. Medina Lasansky

Two Cornellians—a doctoral alum and an architecture professor—serve as editors for this collection of essays that contemplate the relationship between board games and the built environment.

Published by MIT Press, the book was inspired by a class Lasansky teaches on how architecture and design intersect with popular culture.

The cover of "Playing Place"

Says the publisher: “Although board games are often recreational objects, their mythologies and infrastructure do not exist in a vacuum—rather, they echo and reproduce prevalent cultural landscapes.”

The richly illustrated volume features some three dozen essays, many of which were penned by Big Red faculty or alumni. They focus on such games as Masterpiece, Scrabble, Life, Settlers of Catan, and Monopoly, as well as others less familiar to general audiences.

Playing Place takes games seriously as primary sources that suggest how cultures and communities see the world around them,” the editors write in the intro. “At the same time, our contributors take the lessons of games to heart by embracing playful scholarship. Their essays draw from numerous academic disciplines … yet are united by a belief that games matter and are worth examining.”


The cover of "Make College Your Superpower"

Make College Your Superpower

Anna Esaki-Smith ’83

This nonfiction book offers an alternative to traditional college-prep guides.

Subtitled It’s Not Where You Go, It’s What You Know, it aims to help readers make informed decisions about where to study—based not on name recognition but on the more meaningful basis of how a school will prepare them for life and work in the current economy.

Esaki-Smith is the co-founder of a research consultancy that serves universities and edtech companies, and is a contributing writer for Forbes on higher ed topics.

In her book, she weaves data with her own personal story to help guide future college students in finding the school that’s right for them.

“College can represent the most exciting and stimulating time of your life. So it’s important that you focus on what you want and not just follow the herd,” she writes in the preface.

“You’re probably already being bombarded by test-taking tips and essay-writing prompts. The problem with that is that you can’t see the forest for the trees, meaning that you’re too bogged down with details to see the big picture. This book will give you the forest.”

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Brooklyn Bridge Park

Michael Van Valkenburgh ’73

Van Valkenburgh is the founder of one of the nation’s leading landscape architecture firms. In this photo-laden coffee table volume, he and his colleagues chronicle their more than two-decade-long process of creating a prominent 85-acre park in NYC.

“Reclaimed from 1.3 miles of New York’s postindustrial waterfront, Brooklyn Bridge Park is a place for escape, recreation, and immersion in the natural world,” notes the publisher.

The cover of "Brooklyn Bridge Park"

“Transforming parking lots and crumbling piers into a living ecosystem, the project is an exemplar of climate resilience, fiscal innovation, and joyful public space.”

Van Valkenburgh’s firm, which has more than 100 employees, has designed parks and landscapes for cities, firms, and institutions around the country—including Cornell’s Bailey Hall plaza. His previous books include Designing a Garden, about a project at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.


The cover of "Ill-Fated Fortune"

Ill-Fated Fortune

Jennifer Ng Chow ’01

Chow launches a new mystery series with this tale of a woman named Felicity Jin who takes over her mother’s magical bakery, creating fortune cookies that may predict or even shape people’s futures.

But when a customer (who’s also the owner of a rival bakery) dies, Felicity is the prime suspect—prompting her to solve the mystery and clear her name.

Chow’s “Magical Fortune Cookie” series is her latest in the cozy mystery genre, again featuring Asian cultural themes and protagonists.

She also pens the “Sassy Cat” series, featuring heroine Mimi Lee and her talking kitty, and the “L.A. Night Market” series, about two cousins who solve crimes while running a food stall.

The CALS alum has been nominated for several major mystery awards including the Agatha and the Anthony.


A Revolutionary Woman

Donna Tesiero ’76

Tesiero, a former government major who holds a JD from Columbia, offers a biography of Elizabeth Freeman, who spurred a 1781 court case that established the legal precedent for abolishing slavery in Northern states. Born into bondage in New York, Freeman (then known as Mum Bett) was a widow with a child when a prominent Massachusetts attorney agreed to represent her in her fight for freedom.

Hers became a test case in the post-Revolutionary era—demonstrating that the principles of liberty enshrined in the Massachusetts state constitution meant that slavery was unlawful there, and by extension in other Northern states.

The cover of "A Revolutionary Woman"

After her legal victory, Bett changed her name to Elizabeth Freeman and became a paid domestic worker in the household of the lawyer who represented her.

Tesiero previously penned The Choosing Time, a YA historical novel set in the 16th-century French court of King Francis I.


The cover of "Safe Colors"

Safe Colors

Thaddeus Rutkowski ’76

Dubbed a “novel in short fictions,” Rutkowski’s latest book is a collection of dozens of short stories, divided into three sections, that follow its protagonist from northern Appalachia to NYC and from childhood to maturity.

The first-person narrator chronicles such challenges as growing up with a father who’s both a frustrated artist and an abusive alcoholic; coping with racism as a half-Chinese boy in a heavily white small town; and not fitting in with the traditional masculine stereotypes of his rural community.

Rutkowski, who teaches at NYC’s Medgar Evers College, is the author of seven previous books, including the novel Haywire and the poetry collections Border Crossings and Tricks of Light.

Published April 15, 2024


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