Your February 2023 Reads

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In a Posthumous Memoir, Famed Prof Recalls a Turbulent Childhood   

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Chris Pavone ’89 Pens Globe-Trotting Tales Packed with Twists and Turns

This month’s titles include a management guide, an X-Men comic, puzzles, poetry, and the latest from a bestselling thriller author

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

And for more books by Big Red authors, peruse our previous round-ups.


Barry Eisler ’86, JD ’89

“Dox,” a supporting character who has appeared in the bestselling author’s John Rain and Livia Lone series, leads his latest thriller.

Set in 1991, the book launches a new series while offering something of an origin story for Dox, a.k.a. Carl Williams, a former Marine sniper.

Back home in Texas after tours in the military and as a CIA contractor, the 26-year-old is drawn by money and boredom to fight as a soldier-for-hire in Southeast Asia, where he encounters both romance and moral conflict.

The cover of "Amok"

“The overall tone can be lighter and bouncier than in the Rain and Lone series, but the speedy pace and skillful scene-setting remain Eisler trademarks,” says Publishers Weekly. “Readers will eagerly await the sequel.”

Eisler’s many thrillers include 2002’s A Clean Kill in Tokyo (originally published under the title Rain Fall), which was made into a 2009 film featuring Gary Oldman as one of Rain’s adversaries.

The cover of "Unreasonable Hospitality"

Unreasonable Hospitality

Will Guidara ’01

The Hotelie is the former co-owner of two notable Manhattan restaurants, NoMad and Eleven Madison Park—the latter of which was named the best restaurant in the world in 2017.

This inspirational volume and management guide, subtitled The Remarkable Power of Giving People More Than They Expect, earned kudos from Kirkus for its “sage advice about leadership.”

In it, Guidara offers lessons that are drawn from his experience in hospitality, but applicable to many industries.

“Whether a company has made the choice to put their team and their customers at the center of every decision will be what separates the great ones from the pack,” he writes. “Unfortunately, these skills have never been less valued than they are in our current hyperrational, hyperefficient work culture.”

He goes on to posit a solution: creating a culture of hospitality. “Which,” he writes, “means addressing questions I’ve spent my career asking: How do you make the people who work for you and the people you serve feel seen and valued? How do you give them a sense of belonging? How do you make them feel part of something bigger than themselves? How do you make them feel welcome?”

Marseille, Port to Port

William Kornblum ’61

“Marseille is a city for lovers, especially those with a sense of adventure and some historical imagination,” Kornblum, a professor emeritus of sociology at CUNY’s Graduate Center, writes in the intro.

“In Marseille you’ll discover an ancient and joyful French seaport, bathed in Mediterranean sunshine and shaded in the ochre hues of Provence. It’s also a city that exhibits many of the social and political fault lines of contemporary French society, along with some of its very own.”

The cover of "Marseille, Port to Port"

The CALS alum is an urban sociologist, and his book, published by Columbia University Press, is no ordinary travel guide—taking a people-centered look at the history and culture of France’s “second city.” France Today calls it a “captivating and thoughtful portrait of the city and its citizens.”

Kornblum is the author of numerous sociology texts as well as such general-interest books as At Sea in the City: New York from the Water’s Edge and International Express: New Yorkers on the 7 Train.

The cover of the Healthy Brain Book of Word Puzzles

The Healthy Brain Book of Word Puzzles

Fred Piscop ’70

A longtime luminary in the puzzling world, the Engineering alum is particularly known for crosswords and for his “Split Decisions” puzzles in the New York Times. About a third of his new book is devoted to the latter (which challenges solvers to find common letters among word pairs).

The book also offers five other styles, appealing to a range of tastes.

“Two By Two” features mini “crisscrosses,” where solvers must fill in a grid with consonants using only vowels as clues. In “Clueless Crosswords,” players contend with blank squares to form seven-letter words, with multiple correct possibilities for each word—but only one solution to the grid.

For word jumble fans, “Mixagrams” has sets of four- and five-letter words mixed up in correct letter order, which come together to answer the puzzle’s punny title question. Similarly, in “Double Exposure,” solvers use common words among columns of letters to form phrases at the end. And cruciverbalists who love hints might enjoy “Bits and Pieces,” where sets of connected letters share crossword-esque clues.

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Shifting Currents

Karen Lichtenbaum Carr ’85

Subtitled A World History of Swimming, Carr’s book traces aquatics through the ages, exploring its racial, gender, and political aspects—including, for example, how the ability to swim has been connected to witchcraft and even used as justification for enslavement.

As she notes in her introduction, while swimming was ubiquitous around the globe millennia ago, today most people on Earth don’t know how—and the ability to do so often relates to race, income, and education.

The cover of "Shifting Currents"

“Swimming is well suited to the establishment of cultural identity: it is fairly difficult to learn, especially as an adult, and impossible to fake,” she writes. “As a shibboleth, swimming is very effective.” An associate professor of history emerita at Portland State University, Carr previously penned Vandals to Visigoths: Rural Settlement Patterns in Early Medieval Spain.

“Readers coming to this social history of swimming expecting light-weight beach fare might be surprised by both its scope and the depth of its analysis,” BBC History Magazine says of Shifting Currents. “Drawing on archaeological, documentary, and visual sources from ancient cultures to the 20th century, it sketches the ways in which the ability to swim—or, conversely, a suspicious inability to do so—became markers of class, status, and moral virtue.”

The cover of "Sabretooth: The Adversary"

Sabretooth: The Adversary

Victor LaValle ’94, BA ’95

LaValle, an acclaimed writer of literary horror, leaps into the Marvel universe as the author of comics centered around the villainous X-Men mutant. The five-issue first series is available as a paperback compendium (a second series, Sabretooth & the Exiles, is also unfolding).

In this tale set on an island nation that was supposed to be a paradise for mutants, LaValle deepens the character of Sabretooth—a killer-for-hire historically written off as one-dimensional—by viewing his wickedness through the lens of his lifelong imprisonment.

The Arts & Sciences alum has garnered numerous awards and honors, penning such novels as The Ballad of Black Tom, The Ecstatic, Big Machine, and The Devil in Silver. His 2017 horror-fantasy tale The Changeling—which Kirkus lauded as a “smart and knotty merger of horror, fantasy, and realism”—was recently adapted for an Apple TV series, likely launching in fall 2023.

The Devil’s Fools

Mary Gilliland ’73, MAT ’80

Says the publisher, Codhill Press: “Infused with eco-logic, informed by feminism, and taking cues from Eve, Cain, Proserpine, Ulysses, Parsifal, and selves present and past, the 50 poems of The Devil’s Fools question and illustrate myths of nature and the nature of inherited myth.”

The poetry collection is the latest from Gilliland, a retired Cornell faculty member who also penned 2020’s The Ruined Walled Castle Garden and whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals. (In addition to teaching on the Hill, she has taught writing to pre-med students at Weill Cornell Medicine–Qatar.)

The cover of "The Devil’s Fools"

As she writes in a poem titled “The Bargain”: “I forgive the young doe for eating the blackeyed susans, / For hosta tops bitten just as the flowerheads formed. / So intelligent—she waited for the sweetest morsels.”

Classic by a Cornellian

The cover of "Pitch Perfect"

Pitch Perfect

Mickey Rapkin ’00

Rapkin’s 2008 work of nonfiction, subtitled The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, follows a season’s worth of onstage and backstage drama in the quirky subculture of competitive university singing groups. (The author has experience with the art form, having sung on the Hill with Cayuga’s Waiters.)

A fictionalized take on Rapkin’s book—which focuses on acts at the University of Oregon, Tufts, and the University of Virginia—formed the basis for the 2012 film starring Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, plus two sequels. A spinoff TV series, “Pitch Perfect: Bumper in Berlin,” is currently streaming on Peacock.

Rapkin’s other titles include Theater Geek: The Real Life Drama of a Summer at Stagedoor Manor—which explores the famed performing arts camp whose alumni include such stars as Natalie Portman and Robert Downey Jr.—and the children’s books It’s Not a Bed, It’s a Time Machine and It’s Not a School Bus, It’s a Pirate Ship.

Published February 14, 2023

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