This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press’ book lovers pick the titles they read or want to receive this year.
Mary Rose Muccie, Director
Of all the books I read this past year, Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, by Lucy Crawford, was the one that stuck with me. The novel, written by a college admissions coach, describes such a coach working with five high-school seniors on their applications to top-tier schools. Their parents are overly involved, elitist, and pushy, and the kids struggle with achieving perfection in all areas IDed as key for admission to the college of their (or mom and dad’s) dreams. They’re caught up in balancing the need to stand out with not stepping too far outside the lines of expectation. As the mother of a high-school senior, this was a well-written cautionary tale. The book was poignant and, for me, depressing. It was the roadmap of a route I never intended to, and didn’t, travel.
I just finished reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a really intriguing, moving story, about the converging lives of a blind French girl and German boy during World War II. It is written beautifully, with such compelling detail, I was mesmerized.
Joan Vidal, Senior Production Editor
I hope to receive Mr. Boardwalk, by Louis Greenstein, the author’s debut novel about a boy’s infatuation with the wonders of summers on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the 1960s and 1970s and his subsequent nostalgia for Atlantic City in his adult life. Having spent many happy family vacations at the Jersey shore during the same era, I look forward to sharing in that nostalgia.
Micah Kleit, Interim Editor-in-Chief
Between Bettina Stangneth’s new book on Eichmann and the recent revelations of Saskia Sassen’s “missing chapter” of her childhood in Argentina, Hannah Arendt has been in the news a lot this year, which lead me to re-read her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. I am amazed at how much of what she wrote, about the ironies of the trial and her description of totalitarianism (more contradictory than banal, as I read her), still remains essential today. Arendt was concerned, I think, with what it took to be moral and, perhaps more urgently, where morality could be found in world without absolutes, and her quest for both underpinned her reportorial and philosophical work, much of which was distilled through this excellent long essay. George Santayana famously said that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” As Arendt shows (as did Philip Gourevitch and others who write in her shadow), we always forget history and are always repeating it. The challenge we face isn’t so much the fight to preserve memory to prevent more genocides, but to recognize the human impulses behind them, and to identify humanity wherever it persists.
Aaron Javsicas, Senior Editor
I’m late to the party on this one, but this year I finally got around to reading Gary Kinder’s 1998 book Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. It’s a gripping popular history about the 1857 sinking of the SS Central America, a steamboat laden with California gold bound for New York, and heroic efforts to recover the wreck more than 100 years later. The loss of the Central America is thought to have been a significant contributing factor in sparking the Panic of 1857. Highly recommended!
Karen Baker, Operations Manager
The book I want to receive/read is The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R. R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson. Yes, I am ‘one of those Game of Thrones fans, and I would like to read this book to get the history behind the story, worlds and characters in the show.
Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director
I was reading Cosby: His Life and Times by Mark Whitaker, and enjoying recalling “Fat Albert” cartoons, the “Huxtable” family, and reading how America’s favorite dad grew up in Philadelphia, attended Temple University, and tried his hand playing jazz. I rejoiced in his climb to the top of one of the hardest industries—television. As an African American, I took pride in his accomplishments. I cried as I read about his only son being killed senselessly. Then, the news stories broke and I put the book down. I just couldn’t read it while the horrific stories circled; the book briefly mentioning his escapades as “womanizing.” Resolved that the news was never going to end, I finished the book hurriedly this weekend. I have never been more happy to put a book back on the shelf.
Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager
Perhaps the best non-fiction book I read this year was Brando Skyhorse’s exceptional memoir, Take this Man. Skyhorse, who wrote one of my favorite novels, The Madonnas of Echo Park, chronicles his childhood, living with his mother and grandmother in Echo Park, LA. He describes the series of men his mother married and dated during his youth, and his interactions with them. Skyhorse’s adolescence was complicated by his mother lying to him about being Native American, when he was in fact, Mexican. When he learns the truth, Skyhorse searches for his biological father and constructs his own identity. Take this Man speaks volumes about family and fatherhood, identity and passing as well as how one copes with dysfunction. These are themes that fascinate me, and Skyhorse’s story is as astonishing as his writing.
The best fiction book I read in 2014 was Tom Spanbauer’s I Loved You More, which explores the intense bond between two writers — the gay Ben Grunewald and the straight Hank Christian—over two decades. Each chapter reads like a magnificent short story, but they are even more powerful as a novel. Spanbauer masterfully controls his characters’ romantic and dramatic experiences, right up to the book’s sucker-punch ending.
Happy Holidays and Happy Reading from everyone at Temple University Press.
We promise more great books in 2015.
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