Your July 2023 Reads

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Acclaimed Horror Writer Forges Bright Paths Through Dark Worlds

Works of Art, Inside and Out: The Johnson Museum at 50

Board of Trustees 101

Featured titles include a novel ripped from the headlines, a delectable baking book, and a guide to the wilds of Philly

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

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

The cover of "Lucky Dogs"

Lucky Dogs

Helen Schulman ’83

The latest entry from the bestselling novelist is torn from the headlines of the #MeToo movement; the New York Times calls it “deeply knowing, properly indignant, and—maybe the best revenge—very funny.”

It was inspired (as the author notes) by a further betrayal that the actor Rose McGowan suffered as she sought to bring Harvey Weinstein to justice for sexual assault: the efforts of a female private investigator to gain her confidence and funnel info to Weinstein’s defense team.

Here, the assault victim is a TV star named Merry. She develops a close friendship with an older woman named Nina—who purports to work for a women’s rights group—after they meet in a Paris ice cream shop. It proves, of course, to be a set-up: Nina is really Samara, a former Bosnian war refugee working for a shady agency hired by the creepy director whom Merry is accusing of rape in an upcoming memoir.

“You might think that a book inspired by the role of Rose McGowan in the fall of Harvey Weinstein would have a fairly predictable story arc,” Kirkus says in a starred review, “but this barn burner of a novel handily incinerates that assumption.”

Schulman’s previous novels include This Beautiful Life, named one of the New York Times’s 100 Notable Books of 2011. She’s also a tenured professor at The New School, where she serves as fiction chair of the creative writing program.

More Than Cake

Natasha Pickowicz ’06

A multiple James Beard Award nominee, Pickowicz is an NYC-based pastry chef with an avid following. Her debut cookbook has garnered widespread praise from the food press, with nods from Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Eater, and more.

“Celebrated for her fine-dining pastry work and fundraiser bake sales,” says Vanity Fair, “Natasha Pickowicz brings a community spirit to this soulfully precise book.”

The cover of "More than Cake"

Indeed, the book is subtitled 100 Baking Recipes Built for Pleasure and Community. In it, she offers instructions for such tasty (and unconventional) treats as Citrusy Macaroons, Nubby Granola Shortbread, Shoyu Peanut Cookies, and a dramatic-looking biscotti dubbed Fennel, Chocolate, and Hazelnut Spears—and that’s just in the cookie section.

Raves Booklist: “Pickowicz’s melodic prose makes you want to curl up with her book, a cup of tea, and one of her pecan and black cardamom buns and revel in the originality of such outside-the-box recipes.”

In summer 2022, Pickowicz and bestie Alison Leiby ’06 were featured in the Washington Post for their “Friendship Sandwich”—a concoction they’ve made and shared since their undergrad years.

The cover of "Undershore"


Kelly Hoffer, MA ’21

A doctoral candidate in English on the Hill, Hoffer holds an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She won the Lightscatter Press Prize for this first volume of poetry; its publication is part of the award.

“Alive with formal daring, the poems in Undershore examine the speaker’s ongoing grief following the loss of her mother,” explains the publisher.

“The book engages the botanical world, shorelines, desire, intimacy, and grief, all to reveal the unexpected and inevitable way these concerns merge into one another through language’s alchemy.”

As Hoffer writes in a poem titled “Visitation”: “my mother sitting at a table opening / bread her fingers moving with a bitter / hiccup. the table shines under the torn food / she breaks open for / me and she pulls a hyacinth from the center— / her breeding seed, counting each piece / my eyes shine with bluepetals and / she asks me if / my brothers are all right if my sister / is still afloat in the giant sad sea / of losing a lover to heroin.”

Wild Philly

Mike Weilbacher ’78

The CALS alum is executive director of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, located on 365 bucolic acres in the city’s northwest. His book is a guide to the natural offerings in and around Philly, with spots for birding, hiking, and more.

The volume includes a look at the city’s history and how its development was shaped by its geographic features, as well as a primer on the Lenape people who were the region’s original residents.

The cover of "Wild Philly"

Weilbacher details the many animal and insect species that can be found in Philly—from coyotes to bald eagles to monarch butterflies—and offers more than two dozen nature walks to spot them; he also warns of ongoing threats to the city’s natural treasures and ways that residents can help combat them.

“Though far better known for Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross, cheesesteaks and hoagies, M. Night Shyamalan and Patti LaBelle, opinionated sports fans and a funny brogue,” Weilbacher writes, “William Penn’s proposed ‘greene Country Towne’ has become exactly that.”

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Acclaimed Horror Writer Forges Bright Paths Through Dark Worlds

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The cover of "The New Civil Rights Movement Reader"

The New Civil Rights Movement Reader

Traci Parker ’03

Parker, an associate professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, previously penned Department Stores and the Black Freedom Movement: Workers, Consumers, and Civil Rights from the 1930s to the 1980s.

Here, she co-edits a compilation geared toward both classrooms and a general readership—spanning from the labor struggles of the 1930s to midcentury sit-ins and boycotts to the modern-day Black Lives Matter movement.

The volume gathers such documents as speeches, newspaper and magazine articles, flyers, activist manifestos, posters, oral histories, and legal decisions.

The editors take a broad perspective, decentralizing well-known figures and recognizing the contributions of women, LGBTQIA+ communities, and others historically left out of similar narratives. The end result, says the publisher (University of Massachusetts Press), is “the most diverse, most inclusive, and most comprehensive resource available for teaching and learning about the civil rights movement.”

The Dragon’s C.L.A.W.

Gerold Yonas ’61, BEP ’62

An engineering physics alum, Yonas holds a doctorate from Caltech. He served as chief scientist for the Strategic Defense Initiative (commonly known as “Star Wars”) and blogs as SDI Guy; he was also a vice president at Sandia National Labs.

Yonas draws on his extensive scientific background for his debut novel, a techno thriller in which rival nations jockey for control of technology that could provide unlimited clean energy. His protagonist is based at Los Alamos, famed site of the World War II-era Manhattan Project that created the nuclear bomb.

The cover of "The Dragon’s C.L.A.W."

The researcher leads the team developing the novel energy process—and he’s under government pressure to channel the tech into weapons of mass destruction. But after a mysterious lab accident and the disappearance of two colleagues, he joins forces with a female FBI agent in a race to stop possible Armageddon.

The cover of "Stay Cool"

Stay Cool

Aaron Sachs

NYU Press published this nonfiction work, subtitled Why Dark Comedy Matters in the Fight Against Climate Change.

Sachs, a history professor in Arts & Sciences, contemplates how “gallows humor” can help humans confront global warming—endorsing the age-old tradition of using jokes to cope with horrors as a way to raise climate activists’ morale and spur solidarity against a crisis that seems increasingly insurmountable.

Sachs cites a wide variety of examples of laughter serving as a balm in our very darkest hours.

They include medieval jokes about the Black Death; humor from Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust; and a 2012 routine by comedian Tig Notaro, in which she mined laughter and pathos from her recent cancer diagnosis.

“Dark humor can be an incredible spur to resilience,” Sachs writes. “No amount of progress on any front will negate the need for good, humane communities to stand together and support each other in the effort to laugh.”

Classic by a Cornellian


Stewart O’Nan, MFA ’92

Faithful is ultimately a quasi-religious book,” novelist Dennis Lehane wrote in Entertainment Weekly, “about what all great religions should be founded upon: love—in all its blindness and terror and euphoria and purity and, yes, addiction.”

Nearly two decades ago, the oft-published O’Nan teamed up with another famously prolific fiction writer—horror master Stephen King—to chronicle the 2004 season of their beloved Boston Red Sox, from spring training to the final game.

The cover of "Faithful"

It would prove to be a historic one: the first time in 86 years that the Sox won the MLB championship. “Of all the books that will examine the Boston Red Sox’s stunning come-from-behind 2004 ALCS win over the Yankees and subsequent World Series victory,” said Publishers Weekly, “none will have this book’s warmth, personality, or depth.”

With baseball season in high gear, it’s a fine time to revisit the two New Englanders’ 2005 homage to their home team and America’s pastime, which comprises both sweeping analyses of the season and minute dissections of individual innings.

Faithful isn’t just about the Red Sox,” said the Boston Globe. “It’s also about family, friendship, and what it truly means to be a baseball fan and to be—well, faithful, come hell or high water.”

O’Nan has penned more than a dozen novels, plus short stories and nonfiction works, including a wrenching study of the 1944 Hartford circus fire. His first novel, Snow Angels, became a 2007 film starring Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale.

Published July 5, 2023

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