Skip to main content

ASU Book Group puts readers in touch with authors

Monthly meetings feature books by ASU faculty, Valley residents, more

open book on table

September 27, 2016

ASU professor Martin Matustik discovered at the age of 40 that he was the child of a Holocaust survivor. It opened his eyes to a world of trauma and suffering he never realized was so close to him.

Matustik's journey led him to write “Out of Silence: Repair Across Generations,” one of the selections in the ASU Book Group's upcoming sixth season.

The group began in fall 2011 when it was established by now-retired ASU media relations officer Judith Smith, and very often the authors attend the monthly meetings.

It's a great learning experience, and just plain fun to hear the authors talk about what motivated them to write the book, and how it all took place,” Smith said.

ASU Book Group meetings are held from noon to 1 p.m. on the last Wednesday of every month at the Virginia G. Piper Writers House on the Tempe campus. After the book discussion, group members are encouraged to join the author for lunch at the University Club (attendees should be advised to bring their own lunch).

Other ASU authors featured this season include assistant professor of English Matt Bell, whose book “Scrapper” tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic Detroit; and associate professor of English Tara Ison, whose debut collection of short fiction “Ball” explores the darker side of love, sex and death, and how they are often intimately connected.

Past books have included “Gettysburg, 1913: A Novel of the Great Reunion,” by Alan Simon, lecturer at the W. P. Carey School of Business; “The Best of a Better View,” by Chris Benghue, ASU alum and columnist for The Catholic Sun; and “A World Apart,” by Camelia Skiba with ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Skiba is one of ASU Book Group’s most enthusiastic members.

“It’s free and at your feet; all it takes is a walk through the campus and you’re there,” she said. “Make friends, learn something, discover new subjects, enhance your imagination … the list can go on.”

The ASU Book Group is sponsored by the Department of English. It is free and open to all members of the ASU community.

The schedule for the ASU Book Group’s sixth year:

Sept. 28: “Crossing the Line: A Marriage Across Borders,” by Linda Valdez, editorial writer for The Arizona Republic

book cover
Not a typical immigration story, “Crossing the Line” is told by a middle-class American woman who falls in love with the son of an impoverished family from rural Mexico – a man who crosses the border illegally to be with her.

Married in 1988, Linda and Sixto Valdez learn to love each other’s very different families and cultures, raising their child to walk proudly in both worlds. “Crossing the Line” cuts through the fears and preconceptions that fuel the continuing political turmoil over immigration.

Oct. 26: “Scrapper,” by Matt Bell, assistant professor of English at ASU

book cover
Author of the well-received novel “In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods,” Bell returns to tell the tale of a post-apocalyptic Detroit in “Scrapper.” A devastating reimagining of one of America’s greatest cities, it forces the reader to confront the consequences of one’s actions, even when they are made with the best intentions.

Nov.  30: “Angela Hutchinson Hammer: Arizona's Pioneer Newspaperwoman,” by Betty E. Hammer Joy, ASU alum and Phoenix resident

book cover
In 1905, with her marriage dissolved and desperate to find a way to feed her children, Angela Hutchinson Hammer bought a handpress, some ink and a few fonts of type and began printing a little tabloid called the Wickenburg Miner. In her naïveté, she never dreamed this purchase would place her squarely in the forefront of power struggles during Arizona's early days of statehood. Betty Hammer Joy tells her grandmother’s story based on her prodigious writing and correspondence, newspaper archives and the recollections of family members.

Also Nov. 30: “Sam, The Freeway Isn't A Cattle Trail Anymore: Stories Of Early 1900's Rural Life In The Salt River Valley, Arizona,” by Sam Joy, ASU alum and Valley resident

book cover
Joy was born in Phoenix and raised on his dad’s farm along with a cattle operation on the north side of the Salt River Valley. This lavishly illustrated book tells the story of the ancient Hohokam, who developed an extensive irrigation system in the Valley; early rural life, farm practices, how the Depression and World War II changed the Valley, and much more.

Jan. 25: “At Home With the Aztecs: An Archaeologist Uncovers Their Daily Life,” by Michael Smith, professor of anthropology at ASU and director of the ASU Teotihuacan Laboratory in Mexico City

book cover
Smith begins his new book by discussing what the Aztecs weren’t: blood-mad maniacs compulsively slicing off heads or miserable faceless slaves dying on vast construction projects.

Ordinary Aztecs were well-to-do. They had nice things: bronze bells and needles, crystal jewelry, musical instruments. Noble households had nice things, too; they just had more of them. And everyone wanted the latest styles from Tenochtitlan, Smith says.

The book explores three stories simultaneously: the title subject; what it’s like working on a dig in Mexico; and his experiences raising two daughters while uncovering ancient towns.

Feb. 22: “Ball,” by Tara Ison, associate professor of English at ASU

book cover
“Ball” is the debut collection of short fiction by Ison, acclaimed author of the novels “Rockaway” and “A Child Out of Alcatraz.” In it, she explores the darker side of love, sex and death. The stories, set mostly in contemporary Los Angeles, feature a recently bereaved young woman, a cancer-stricken best friend and a dying uncle.

The Design Observer Group named the cover of “Ball” one of the 50 best book covers of 2015.

March 29: “Out of Silence: Repair Across Generations,” by Martin Beck Matuštík, professor and director of The Center for Critical Inquiry and Cultural Studies at ASU

book cover
In 1997, Martin Beck Matuštík made a dramatic discovery at the age of forty: He was the child of a Holocaust survivor. His mother's shocking secret came from the most unlikely of places: shoeboxes full of her literary and personal archives. These dramatic revelations changed his life forever and set him on a path to discover his true identity. His research unveiled his mother's remarkable life – and the truth behind her painful decision to reject her Jewish heritage and keep it hidden from her family.

April 26: “A Solemn Pleasure to Imagine, Witness, and Write (The Art of the Essay),” by Melissa Pritchard, professor emerita of English at ASU

book cover
In an essay contained in “A Solemn Pleasure,” Pritchard poses the question, “Why write?” The collection attempts to answer that question, among others, by proving the power of language. The various essays explore themes of imagination, literary figures past, Pritchard’s personal experiences and finding inspiration in our own lives.

May 31: TBA

Possible extra meetings (dates still to be determined):

book cover
book cover
Jewell Parker Rhodes, “Towers Falling” and “Bayou Magic.” Rhodes is director of the Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU and winner of numerous awards.


book cover
Patricia Murphy, “Hemming Flames.” Murphy is an ASU alum and a senior lecturer in the College of Letters and Sciences at the Polytechnic campus. The book won the May Swenson Poetry Award, a competition organized by University Press of Colorado and its imprint, Utah State University Press.


More Arts, humanities and education


Collage of illustrations from short stories

ASU collaborates with Horizon 2045 to explore a post-nuclear existence in 'Far Futures'

By Bob Beard For nearly a century, nuclear deterrence theory — a paradoxical concept that nuclear weapons somehow make the world safer — has dominated the geopolitical landscape, informing…

People sit facing each other at tables in a classroom setting

Maryvale students tackle community challenges through public policy lens in statewide showcase at ASU

Local middle school students saw their civics lessons go beyond textbooks as they proposed real policy solutions at a recent competition at Arizona State University. ASU’s School of Public Affairs …

Woman stands on a stage flanked by two high school students.

ASU Gammage celebrates young Valley artists at high school musical theater awards

High school graduates Max Perez and Nora Palermo were awarded Best Lead Male and Best Lead Female at the 2024 ASU Gammage High School Musical Theatre Awards (HSMTA) late last month. Their next stop?…