Your September 2023 Reads

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Two Truths and a Lie: Alumni Authors Edition

Alum Aimed for Zero Waste—And Wrote a Book About It

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Featured titles include an exploration of the Adirondacks, a guide to combatting ‘microstress,’ and a novel set under the sea

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

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The cover of "In the Adirondacks"

In the Adirondacks

Matt Dallos, MA ’20

Dallos is a PhD candidate in history on the Hill, studying (as his Arts & Sciences bio notes) “how Americans have viewed plants and the natural world in various contexts during the 20th century.”

He’s also the founder of an Ithaca-based, ecologically focused landscape design firm and a contributor to the 2022 Cornell Council for the Arts Biennial with a work comprising a “wild garden” on Libe Slope.

His book is subtitled Dispatches from the Largest Park in the Lower 48.

It’s part travel memoir, part Adirondack history—delving into the region’s evolution, landscape, people, and culture.

“To get there from any direction, go up,” he writes. “Higher than the valleys all around, the Adirondacks is a place set apart. Where boreal plants venture south to meet temperate. Where the air is chill and the summer short. … Up there, where the frontier held on until the 20th century. Some people are convinced it still does and always will.”


James Sturz ’87

Sturz’s novel is a fantasy set entirely underwater. It concerns an intelligent civilization divided into tribes, each with its own culture and dialect—a society that’s upended and driven into conflict after one tribe discovers a sunken, decomposing human corpse.

“Deep below the surface, our world is cold, dark, and content,” he writes. “Colors are fickle. Red disappears first as you descend, followed by the yellow of the sun. The hundred shades of blue last the longest, but eventually there is only black—and the candied ooze of the ocean floor. Where the pressure is constant, it clings to you as an embrace.”

The cover of "Underjungle"

Sturz is a journalist whose coverage of the ocean and other topics has appeared in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the New York Times, and Outside. After getting certified in scuba as an English major on the Hill, he went on to become a dive master, free diver, and ice diver.

Praise for Underjungle includes a blurb from fellow Cornellian (and Pulitzer Prize-winning author) Junot Díaz, MFA ’95, who calls it a “brilliant novel” that’s “luminous, strange, thought-provoking, and as profound as the seas.”

The cover of "The Microstress Effect"

The Microstress Effect

Karen Dillon ’86

This self-help guide, published by Harvard Business Review Press, was named one of the best books of summer 2023 by the Financial Times.

It’s subtitled How Little Things Pile Up and Create Big Problems—and What to Do about It.

Dillon and her coauthor explore an “unrecognized epidemic” of microstresses—seemingly small, daily issues and conflicts that can add up and harm productivity, wellbeing, and personal relationships.

The authors include numerous case studies and examples of microstresses, distinguishing them from stresses. For instance: navigating a contentious and expensive divorce is a stress. Having to call your spouse and say you won’t be home in time to keep your promise to attend your daughter’s softball game? That’s a microstress.

“And of course, you’re never coping with just one or two microstresses,” they write. “You’re likely to be facing dozens in a given day. And they pile on, week after week and month after month. So, you’re exhausted and burned out, but you can’t quite put your finger on why.”

An Arts & Sciences alum and a former editor at Harvard Business Review, Dillon is a motivational speaker and the coauthor of several self-help books including the New York Times bestseller How Will You Measure Your Life?

An Eye in Each Square

Lauren Mukamal Camp ’88

“With the gifts of a visual artist and poet’s attention, An Eye in Each Square confronts our era’s barbed and shifting networks of power and atrocities,” says the publisher, the small poetry press River River Books.

As the press goes on to state, the volume “asks the reader to hold the conscience of the world and also to claim what we might need most—the risky and urgent space of comfort found within the artist’s line.”

The cover of "An Eye in Each Square"

The collection is the sixth book of poetry for Camp, a Human Ecology alum who is Poet Laureate of New Mexico and has served as astronomer in residence at Grand Canyon National Park. Her previous publications include Took House (winner of the American Fiction Award in Poetry), and her work has appeared in such journals as Kenyon Review and Poet Lore.

As she writes in a poem titled “Into This Absence”: “What is available to us? / Simple routines: fault and moments. / Between building and building, dark fogs / drizzle. The world is enormous. Unfathomable salt. / A slug on the path posits its feelers to figure which way / to turn. Some slow work to go forward.”

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Two Truths and a Lie: Alumni Authors Edition

Alum Aimed for Zero Waste—And Wrote a Book About It

The cover of the book the English Experience featuring an umbrella with the Union Jack flag on it

The English Experience

Julie Schumacher, MFA ’86

This comic novel rounds out Schumacher’s celebrated trilogy, which began with the bestselling 2014 novel Dear Committee Members and continued with The Shakespeare Requirement.

Like those two, it stars a beleaguered English professor named Jason Fitger, who navigates the absurdities of academia—a subject near and dear to the author, who teaches at the University of Minnesota—at a fictional institution of higher learning, while maintaining a fierce devotion to the humanities.

Here, Fitger is reluctantly chaperoning a three-week tour of the U.K.—and overseeing a motley assortment of students, including one who desperately misses her cat and another who has decamped to continental Europe. (Kirkus calls them “a wonderfully weird mix of exiles from the Island of Misfit Toys” and praises the book as “feather-light, affable, and sweet.”)

Meanwhile, Fitger has carried many of his troubles across the pond with him; in particular, he’s still obsessing over his ex-wife, a fellow academic who may be taking a new job and moving away.

“It must be said that The English Experience cannot be appreciated without having read the previous volumes, and, although entertaining and bittersweet, it is not as mordantly funny as its predecessors,” says the Washington Post. “But those of us who have followed Jason Fitger through the pages of those wonderfully sharp, witty comedies will want to learn the professor’s fate. And that is, in its small, melancholy way, an illustration of the fate of the humanities in the 21st century: dumped upon, pushed to the side, ranks dwindling—and still stubbornly limping along.”

No Longer Radical

Christy Brown Teal ’88

The Human Ecology alum is surgical director of the breast care center at George Washington University. In this self-help guide, she teams up with a colleague to offer insights for patients and their families on the once “radical” option of surgical mastectomies—either for breast cancer treatment or to prevent the disease in women at significant risk of developing it.

As the authors note in the guide, subtitled Understanding Mastectomies and Choosing the Breast Cancer Care That’s Right For You, their knowledge is not only professional, but also deeply personal.

The cover of "No Longer Radical"

They each have family histories of the disease, and first-hand experience with weighing treatment options. Teal, whose mother died of breast cancer after battling it for many years, decided to have preventive mastectomies; her coauthor, radiologist Rachel Brem, underwent treatment for it.

“No matter where they live, or who their doctor is, women deserve to know that they may have access to a procedure that has brought relief, freedom, and even joy to both of us personally,” they write. “As female doctors who have had mastectomies ourselves, we want to share with you the same critical information we give our patients every day.”

The cover of "Making Camp"

Making Camp

Martin Hogue

Hogue, an associate professor of landscape architecture in CALS, offers (in the words of the subtitle) a “visual history of camping’s most essential items and activities.”

The book, published by Princeton Architectural Press, traces its genesis to Hogue’s first-ever foray into the pastime more than two decades ago.

“I set out to write this book to help recapture some of the shock and wonder I experienced when I first laid down a friend’s tent at a KOA campground at the edge of the Badlands in June 2000,” he writes in the intro.

“I expected to be set loose on the property to find my own shady spot. What I found instead was a highly structured spatial setting, rows of parked, humming RVs, lawn chairs, and the like. How can I square the mythical image of camping that many of us hold in our minds with the reality I later experienced? Are they even connected?”

Hogue’s fascination with camping also inspired his book Thirtyfour Campgrounds, published by MIT Press in 2016, in which he compiled photos of nearly 6,500 campsites around the country.

Classic by a Cornellian

Player Piano

Kurt Vonnegut ’44

As Cornellians noted in a recent round-up of alumni’s swim test memories, Vonnegut’s debut novel includes a satirical reference to that Big Red rite of passage.

Published in 1952—but unsettlingly current in our age of ascendant A.I.—it’s set in a dystopian future following a third world war, when human labor (both manual and skilled) has largely been supplanted by machines.

That leaves most people unemployed and idle, except for an elite class of engineers needed to repair and fine-tune the system.

The cover of "Player Piano"

“It is a little like Brave New World, except that Mr. Vonnegut keeps his future closer to the present than Aldous Huxley succeeded in doing,” said a New York Times review at the time, “and his satire therefore focuses more sharply on the contemporary situation.”

The story involves, among other plotlines, an engineer named Paul Proteus from a powerful family. After getting an up-close look at the meaninglessness of most people’s everyday lives, he becomes disillusioned and winds up embroiled in a revolutionary movement.

“When Paul [and his friends] had graduated from college, early in the war, they had felt sheepish about not going to fight, and humbled by those who did go," Vonnegut writes in the first chapter. “But now this elite business, this assurance of superiority, this sense of rightness about the hierarchy topped by managers and engineers—this was instilled in all college graduates, and there were no bones about it.”

The novel, which was inspired in part by Vonnegut’s time working at General Electric, was later released under the more sci-fi-friendly title Utopia 14.

Published September 6, 2023

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