Your May 2023 Reads

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Hearts on the Hill

Cornellian Crossword: ‘Far, Far Above’

Is it Seasonal Depression—or the ‘Winter Blues’?

Featured titles include a debut novel, a look at ‘pay transparency,’ a memoir of life in Qatar, a poetry collection, and more

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 "Paper Names"

Paper Names

Susie Luo, JD ’14

Unfolding in New York and China over the course of three decades, Luo’s debut novel involves two families whose lives ultimately intertwine after a violent incident.

Told in alternating perspective and starting in 1997, the plot follows three main characters: a Chinese-born engineer who emigrates to the U.S. and takes a job as a doorman at an upscale NYC apartment building; his young daughter, who grows to adulthood as the book unfolds; and a wealthy white lawyer who lives in the building.

Kirkus calls the book—which Luo wrote at night while working in investment banking—“an entertaining and touching debut from a new voice in Chinese American literature,” noting that “the plot is propulsive, prompting the reader to keep turning the pages, and the novel as a whole is undeniably enjoyable.”


My Soul Is a Witness

Mari Crabtree, PhD ’14

Crabtree’s nonfiction book explores the enduring cultural and psychological impacts of historical lynchings on communities in the South.

“She unearths how African American victims and survivors found ways to live through and beyond the horrors of lynching,” says the publisher, Yale University Press, “offering a theory of African American collective trauma and memory rooted in the ironic spirit of the blues sensibility—a spirit of misdirection and cunning that blends joy and pain.”

The cover of "My Soul Is a Witness"

A scholar and essayist who earned a doctorate in history on the Hill, Crabtree is an associate professor of African American studies at South Carolina’s College of Charleston.

“Survivors of lynching were often haunted by traumatic memories that, like ghosts, refused to leave them in peace, but they also sometimes passed on stories about the vengeful ghosts of lynching victims to their families and friends,” Crabtree writes in the introduction. “To express their disgust with members of lynch mobs who evaded legal justice, they spoke of deathbed confessions made by lynchers tormented by their past.”


The cover of "The People Who Report More Stress"

The People Who Report More Stress

Alejandro Varela ’01

This collection of 13 interconnected stories—which the New York Times calls a “master class in analyzing the unspoken”—comes from the author of the critically acclaimed 2022 novel The Town of Babylon.

Publishers Weekly lauds the volume as a “searing collection about gentrification, racism, and sexuality”—comprising tales of Latinx characters confronting bias (unconscious and otherwise) in a variety of settings, from therapy to taxi rides to playdates to rapidly changing neighborhoods.

“Alejandro Varela is a singular voice,” the Chicago Review of Books says of the former government major, “a brilliant fiction writer whose work is wholly original, managing to be both important and completely entertaining.”

Varela’s The Town of Babylon was named to several best-of lists and was a finalist for the National Book Award.


Desert Wind

Peter Fortunato ’72

Fortunato’s memoir, subtitled My Life in Qatar, was published by Cayuga Lake Books, a small press based in the Ithaca area.

In it, he describes the time he spent in the Persian Gulf nation while teaching English at Weill Cornell Medicine’s then-newly established branch in Doha, just as Qatar was beginning to take a more prominent role on the world stage.

The experience was informed by the fact that Fortunato is a practicing Buddhist, while the emirate is Muslim.

The cover of "Desert Wind"

Stories You May Like

Hearts on the Hill

Cornellian Crossword: ‘Far, Far Above’

 “This surely was a transformational time for a traditional Islamic people,” he writes, “and I too was at a crossroads in my life, both personally and professionally.”

Fortunato—a poet and artist who is also a certified hypnotherapist and an ordained minister who practices what he calls “21st-century shamanism”—is also the author of the novel Carnevale, set in the Hudson Valley starting in the 1960s.


The cover of "Exposing Pay"

Exposing Pay

Peter Bamberger ’82, PhD ’90

Published by Oxford University Press, this nonfiction book addresses “pay transparency”—the increasingly popular concept that employers and their workers should openly discuss compensation.

 “Pay equity has become a hot topic in recent years, with pay transparency viewed as an important way to narrow gender and racial pay gaps,” notes the publisher.

“However, pay transparency policies and practices remain highly controversial, with divergent attitudes based largely on conjecture or anecdote.”

Bamberger covers such topics as the history of communication about pay, employee attitudes on the subject, the potential impacts of salary transparency on companies, and how shifting to more transparent practices could affect society.

An undergrad and doctoral alum of ILR, Bamberger is research director of its Smithers Institute, as well as the Domberger Professor of Management at Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management.


Loner Forensics

Thea Brown ’04

“In Loner Forensics, Thea Brown dreams up and dissects a city beset by unexplained disappearances, roving silences, and climate collapse,” says the publisher, Northwestern University Press.

The volume is the latest poetry collection from Brown, a former philosophy major on the Hill who’s based in Baltimore.

A past Truman Capote Fellow at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Brown previously published the chapbook We Are Fantastic and the poetry collections Think of the Danger and Famous Times.

The cover of "Loner Forensics"

Her third collection, the publisher says, “draws on parallel universes, 1980s video games, social media pop-speak, and ghost towns to immerse the reader in grief, utopia, disaster—and, ultimately, love.”

As she writes in a poem titled “Head South, Catafalque”: “A bell tower centers the glaring city, / beacon for ghosts stirring through. / What etiquette, reflection? Some / disappearance and the parks grow on, / filling skeletal vacants with new / cycling sprouts, hopeful in a last / warm gasp. All seasons at once, daily, / nightly, the silence, the noise.”


The cover of "The Hope Raisers"

The Hope Raisers

Nihar Suthar ’16

Suthar’s book is subtitled How a Group of Young Kenyans Fought to Transform Their Slum and Inspire a Community.

In what Kirkus calls an “eye-opening account of undeterred resilience and hard-won triumph,” he chronicles the lives of three people from the desperately poor Korogocho neighborhood of Nairobi.

Two are boys who form a group (called the Hope Raisers) to help their peers to aspire to a better life; the third is a girl who rebels against societal pressure to marry young and is determined to pursue her dreams.

“Suthar’s storytelling doesn’t sensationalize poverty, and it highlights the value of change that originates within communities,” says Kirkus. “He clearly respects his subjects.”

Suthar—a CALS alum who describes himself as an “inspirational storyteller”—previously penned Win No Matter What: A Guide to Hyping Up Your Life and The Corridor of Uncertainty: How Cricket Mended a Torn Nation. Part of the proceeds from sales of his new book benefit the Hope Raisers group.

Published May 10, 2023


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