Your November 2023 Reads

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This month's featured titles include a literary novel, a cookbook, a murder mystery, a WWI memoir, and a STEM story for kids

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 Apology"

The Apology

Jimin Han ’88

The narrator of Han’s novel is a recently deceased 105-year-old woman named Hak Jeonga, who unspools the tale from the afterlife. “Jeonga’s narration is sharp and witty and a touch sly,” says the New York Times, “as she describes her present, disembodied state—the in-between, purgatory-like space her consciousness now occupies—as well as the events that led to her death.”

The plot follows Jeonga’s memories of family drama and immigration from South Korea to the U.S., including her long-ago decision to send a relative abroad to conceal an out-of-wedlock birth.

“Whether dead or alive, Jeonga is a larger-than-life character, stubborn, judgmental, always active,” says a review in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. “Even when trying to materialize through the video screen on the back seat of a plane, her ghost cannot resist commenting on the tackiness of economy class: ‘Unlike the business-class seats that my sisters occupied, the accommodations here were cheap. Itchy polyester in a tweed cross-hatch of royal blue, yellow, and lime green.’”

The novel—Han’s second—landed on several seasonal “must read” lists including in the San Francisco Chronicle, Goodreads, Apple Books, and the L.A. Times.

(Serious) New Cook

Leah Puidokas Quiroga ’94

An Arts & Sciences alum, Quiroga studied at the Culinary Institute of America and was a chef at Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse. Her co-authored volume won the 2023 Best Cookbook Award (in the children, youth, and family category) from the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Intended for readers aged from the mid-teens to mid-twenties, it offers ambitious but doable recipes—from garlicky kale crostini to “bricked chicken” to mochi ice cream.

The cover of "(Serious) New Cook"

“Inexperienced cooks are often faced with choosing between beginner books teaching mundane recipes or standard cookbooks that are more enticing but also overwhelming for newcomers,” says Library Journal. “Into the mix comes this book written by chefs who are sisters, based on the food they learned to cook in their mother’s multicultural kitchen, with recipes designed to teach and inspire.”

The book also garnered praise from NPR, which raved: “These recipes attend to texture and flavor with chef-like finesse and eclecticism (Bulgogi meatballs! Handmade arepas! Biscuit-topped chicken pot pie!) while also including painstaking process photos and taking no skills or steps for granted. It’s a delicate balance to pull off cringe-free. This one’s well worth gifting to your 20-something, along with their first good knife.”

The cover of "Deep Roots"

Deep Roots

Sung J. Woo ’94

Woo’s second mystery novel continues his series, begun with 2020’s Skin Deep, featuring Korean-American private eye Siobhan O’Brien. This time, O’Brien is hired by an elderly billionaire—a genius in A.I. who lives on a private island with his toxic family—who claims that one of his children is an impostor. Is her client losing his grip on reality—or could he actually be right? And might O’Brien have been lured to the island under false pretenses?

Woo is the author of four novels including Everything Asian (2009), which won the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association Literature Award.

An MFA grad of NYU, he has published widely, including in the New York Times (in the “Modern Love” section, magazine, and elsewhere) and McSweeney’s.

Violence and Mental Illness

Eric Elbogen ’92

The Arts & Sciences alum is on the behavioral sciences faculty at Duke’s medical school and serves as a psychologist at the Veterans Administration.

His nonfiction book, from NYU Press, is subtitled Rethinking Risk Factors and Enhancing Public Safety.

Accessible to both academic and general audiences, it explores the relationship between violent acts and mental disorders—a connection frequently cited in the media in the wake of a horrific crime, but in many cases without substantiation.

The cover of "Violence and Mental Illness"

And as Elbogen and his co-author argue, that can have dangerous repercussions, by both stigmatizing people with mental illness and ignoring other causes of crime.

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“Think of each act of violence like a jigsaw puzzle made up of a number of different pieces,” they write.

“When violence occurs, people frequently think the puzzle is formed by one big piece: mental illness. … The reality is that mental illness is most often not a piece of the puzzle, and when it is, it is a small one. When present, mental illness often links with other puzzle pieces, such as alcohol abuse or poverty. The danger of exaggerating the role of mental illness is that it downplays the role of other important puzzle pieces, such as hate, anger, and past antisocial behavior.”

The cover of "Lady Ref"

Lady Ref

Kate St. Vincent Vogl ’87

Vogl’s latest, subtitled Making Calls in a Man’s World, is a co-authored memoir of Shannon Eastin, who served as an NFL referee during a 2012 labor dispute that locked out the regular staff.

“This made her the first woman to officiate an NFL game, and she faced sexual harassment and misogyny in the sport,” observes a review in Library Journal. “All this she recounts in her highly personal memoir, told in a raw, first-person narrative ... This recommended story is one that needs to be told. It will inspire many people, especially girls and women, to overcome obstacles to their success.”

Vogl previously published the books Lost & Found: A Memoir of Mothers and Iron Horse Cowgirls: Louise Scherbyn and the Women Motorcyclists of the 1930s and 1940s.

Mazie’s Amazing Machines

Sheryl Haft ’86

Haft’s picture book is aimed at kids aged four to eight, especially those with an interest in STEM-related activities. It stars a girl (and budding engineer) named Mazie McGear, who uses her imagination to create gizmos that solve everyday problems—from feeding the dog to helping her mom carry boxes to waking up a sleepy brother. Says Publishers Weekly: “Pulsing with friendly energy, this STEM-starter conveys the sense that engineering is something any child can do.”

The cover of "Mazie’s Amazing Machines"

The Human Ecology alum previously published three children’s books including I Love You, Blankie and Goodnight Bubbala. She’s also the founder of the kids’ STEM program Let’s Engineer!

“Haft builds upon each Mazie-engineered success with one culminating project that incorporates each of the devices used in Mazie’s previous inventions,” says the New York Journal of Books. “It’s all so sweet, smart, satisfying, and surprising.”

The cover of the book "This Ghastly War" written by Dr. Mary Crawford.

This Ghastly War

Mary Crawford 1904, MD 1907

In October 1914—during an era when women comprised less than 5% of U.S. medical doctors—Crawford left her private surgical practice in Brooklyn to work in a hospital near Paris just a few months after World War I broke out, becoming one of the first female MDs to treat its troops.

Her memoir is subtitled The Diary and Letters of a Woman Doctor in the American Ambulance Hospital in France, 1914–1915. It offers a contemporaneous account of one of history’s bloodiest conflicts through Crawford’s journal entries and correspondence.

It partly unfolds as daily narrations of her life on the Western Front, but it’s also a multilayered portrait of its author: a woman resolved to find her purpose and see the world, while also struggling to juggle her roles as a daughter, doctor, and romantic partner.

“I’m … so torn between the two sides of the Atlantic,” she wrote to her future husband. “The work I love, and the people I love. I’m too much of a woman not to choose the people, and I’m too much of a man not to mourn bitterly the work.”

Published November 14, 2023

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