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A few good reads: selections from the ASU Book Group


"The Cat's Table" by Michael Ondaatje
August 25, 2014

The ASU Book Group has enjoyed a variety of books in the last three years, including the titles listed below. For more information on the Book Group and this year's selections, go here.

“Code Talkers” by Laura Tohe
Tohe, whose father was a Navajo Code Talker, interviewed 20 Code Talkers, both in English and Navajo, and also some of their descendants. The Code Talkers provided battlefield details and revealed how their war experiences affected them and the generations that followed. Tohe is a professor of English.

“The Maid’s Daughter: Living Inside and Outside the American Dream” by Mary Romero
Romero, a professor in the School of Social Transformation, explores the complex story of Olivia – the Mexican-American daughter of a maid who worked in one of Los Angeles’s most exclusive and nearly all-white gated communities – who grew up surrounded by children of privilege. Based on more than 20 years of research, Olivia’s story points to the hidden costs of paid domestic labor that are transferred to the families of private household workers and nannies.

“The Work of Her Hands: A Prairie Woman’s Life in Remembrances and Recipes,” by Plynn Gutman
“The Work of Her Hands” is Plynn Gutman's effort to capture the stories of her grandmother's life and to recreate a way of life that has all but vanished from our memories. Marie Anne Lacaille would have said she was an ordinary woman, but to her granddaughter and her family, she was an inspiration, the source of her family's strength and an incredible cook. From her move to Saskatchewan from Quebec in the early 1900s, to her raising a family through the ’30s, to her reinvention as a working woman in the ’50s, Marie Anne Lacaille lived her life with style, humor and an ability to create spectacular meals out of thin air. Gutman is the former director of the Young Adult Writing Project at ASU.

“Parlor Games” by Maryka Biaggio
Maryka Biaggio was a professor of psychology for 30 years at a university in Oregon. “Parlor Games” is about May Dugas, branded by the Pinkertons as a crafty blackmailer, but whose Dutch Baron husband thought she was the most glamorous woman to grace Europe’s shores. Based on the true story of the woman who made headlines not only in her Michigan hometown, but also in New York and London.

“The Second Chasm: A Soul’s Troubled Journey from Despair to Healing” by Karen Kibler
Kibler is an assistant research professor and biosafety manager at ASU. The book tells of Kibler’s two journeys through depression, first after a devastating divorce, and then after the death of her second husband in an accident.

“A Religion, Not a State: Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq’s Islamic Justification of Political Secularism” by Souad T Ali
Ali is a professor of classics and Middle East Letters and Cultures, ASU. This book deals with the question of whether Islam is a religion or a system of government.

“Desert Wind” by Betty Webb
In “Desert Wind,” an old wrangler holds the key to hundreds of deaths in secretive Walapai Flats, Arizona, but the only person he’ll confide in is the ghost of John Wayne. Also in the mix: a uranium mine close to the Grand Canyon, a tie to a 1954 movie and secrets kept by the desert.

“Stephenie Meyer: In the Twilight” by James Blasingame, Kathleen Deakin and Laura A. Walsh
This book looks at the life and work of this author, beginning with her childhood and covering her teen years and life before stardom. This volume also profiles Meyer’s world since becoming a cultural icon. In addition to discussing Meyer’s writing style, the chapters also explore each of her books, with a final chapter focusing on her presence in social media and public events. Blasingame is an associate professor of English at ASU.

“The Cat’s Table” by Michael Ondaatje
In the early 1950s, an 11-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England – a ‘castle that was to cross the sea’. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly ‘Cat's Table’ with an eccentric group of grown-ups and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys become involved in the worlds and stories of the adults around them, tumbling from one adventure and delicious discovery to another, "bursting all over the place like freed mercury." And at night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner – his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever. (Ondaatje spoke at ASU.)

“Available Surfaces: Essays on Poesis” by T. R. Hummer
In “Available Surfaces,” T. R. Hummer explores the art of making both poetry and music, and of the concept of "making" itself. He draws on childhood experiences and experiences as an adult, as a poet and as an explorer of unworldly spaces to examine that "something ineffable about the process of making of which the poem is the exemplary artifact."

Hummer grew up in the Deep South, and spent many of his high school years playing saxophone in various rock and roll bands before he met poetry. This musical influence is visible in his work: he often discusses poetry together with music, or music with poetry, and his career has included both writing and performance. He is a professor of English at ASU.

“Innocent Until Interrogated: The True Story of The Buddhist Temple Massacre and The Tucson Four” by Gary Stuart
In this first book-length treatment of the Buddhist Temple Massacre, Gary L. Stuart explores the unspeakable crime, the inexplicable confessions and the troubling behavior of police officials. His research included a review of the complete legal records of the case, an examination of all the physical evidence, a survey of three years of print and broadcast news, and more than 50 personal interviews related to the case. Stuart is a professor of law at ASU.

“Amos” by Gary Stuart
“Amos” is about Angus, described as “the coolest cowboy ever,” who “rode the high mountain ridges and fast running rivers that form the border between Colorado and New Mexico during the 1880s."

“Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home” by Susan Pohlman
The remarkable true story of a couple on the brink of separation who finds love again while spending a year in Italy with their family. Pohlman is a Scottsdale resident.

“Palmerino” by Melissa Pritchard
This novella is the story of Vernon Lee, a British lesbian writer who lived in Florence during the Victorian age at an enclave called Villa il Palmerino. Pritchard is a professor of English at ASU.

“Capirotada” by Alberto Rios
Rios is Regents’ Professor of English. This book is his memoir about growing up on the Mexico-Arizona border. “Capirotada” won the Latino Literary Hall of Fame Award and was designated the OneBookArizona choice for 2009.

“Ninth Ward” by Jewell Parker Rhodes
“Ninth Ward” is a young adult novel about 12-year-old Lanesha who lives with her caretaker, Mama Ya-Ya, in New Orleans. They face Hurricane Katrina together. Rhodes is professor of English, artistic director of Piper Global Engagement, and Piper Endowed Chair, Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston
ASU Foundation Professor of English Neal Lester led a discussion of this book. Lester is the author of “Understanding Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents.”