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Had I Known: A Memoir of Survival

Joan Lunden, with Laura Morton. Harper, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-240408-4

In this memoir, Lunden, author (Wake-Up Calls) and former Good Morning America co-host, shares the details of her battle against breast cancer. In 2014, Lunden’s cancer was discovered via ultrasound; an initial mammogram showed nothing out of the ordinary, but she requested the additional exam upon learning that her breasts were dense. The veteran journalist, who has long been an advocate for women’s health, parallels her personal struggle with discussions of the importance of additional ultrasound testing for women with dense breasts, and she clearly describes the characteristics of triple negative breast cancer, which does not respond to treatments that target hormone receptors. Lunden emphasizes that each woman’s breast cancer is unique, and that each patient needs to work closely with a knowledgeable team. Lunden is well aware of the uncommon blessings of her notoriety; after some indecision, she agrees to pose bald on a People magazine cover, using her public persona as a means of connecting with and informing others. Despite her celebrity status, many will relate to her desire to maintain a sense of normalcy in her family, her fears about death and recurrence, and her courage and strength. Lunden’s forthright, informational, and intimate story will resonate with women from many walks of life, and particularly with those who have confronted this formidable disease. Agent: Ellen Geiger, Ellen Geiger Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Cat Is Art Spelled Wrong

Edited by Caroline Casey, Chris Fischbach, and Sarah Schultz. Coffee House, $16.95 trade paper (220p) ISBN 978-1-56689-411-1

Cat videos on the Internet are a cultural phenomenon, and this collection of essays takes the postmodern mediated feline more or less seriously. Most of the 16 essays are about cat videos or cats and art; the weakest ones are extended musings that address cats more generally. Carl Wilson’s contribution “East of Intention: Cat, Camera, Music” unearths the little-known history of cats on film. Sasha Archibald considers the aesthetics of cute in “Feline Darlings and the Anti-Cute.” Especially inspired is Elena Passarello’s “Jeoffrey,” an antiphonal collection of lines that interlock with “My Cat Jeoffry,” the best-known portion of a lengthy poem by 18th-century poet Jubilate Agno. Sarah Schultz, organizer of the first Internet Cat Video Festival, staged by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, offers a curatorial view of the event in “There Was a Cat Video Festival in Minneapolis, and It Was Glorious.” The reader may wonder about the sanity of a few of the writers, but that is part of the wryness of it all. This clever collection is highly recommended for people who watch cat videos, which is apparently nearly everyone. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Girl with Nine Wigs: A Memoir

Sophie Van Der Stap. St. Martin’s, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-05223-0

In 2005, at the time of this Amsterdam-based memoir, the author was a 21-year-old college student who was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Inspired by an episode of Sex and the City, Van Der Stap surmises that if the show’s Samantha can look fabulous wearing a wig, she can too. Though she experiences the customary cancer-related fears and trials during treatment for her aggressive disease, Van Der Stap discovers that her wig collection provides a way to engage in a “parallel life where cancer doesn’t exist.” Buoyed by the color and imagined characteristics of each wig (Uma is sensual, Sue is headstrong, Daisy is romantic, etc.), Van Der Stap undergoes 54 weeks of chemo and radiation while making time to fall in love, fantasize about an attractive physician, travel to the South of France, go dancing, and grasp what she can of life. While cancer is certainly not a gift, the experience deepens her bond with her sister, parents, grandmother, and friends, and helps her to learn that by changing just one letter, “live becomes love.” The author, now 32 and healthy, renders her tale with a poignant awareness of the joy that is possible even in the most dire circumstances. Readers will swiftly be drawn into this beautifully written story of a brave and quite fascinating young woman. Agent: Katrin Hodapp, Susanna Lea Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Chasing Dragons: An Uncommon Memoir in Photographs

Bill Hayward. Glitterati, $60 (240p) ISBN 978-0-9891704-9-9

Photographer and filmmaker Hayward (Bad Behavior) crafts a Künstlerroman from fractured, poetic text and decades of his own portraiture projects. Starting with his childhood spent road-tripping in the back of the family’s Chevy, Hayward uses the metaphor of “chasing dragons” in his youthful imagination to present his aesthetic philosophy—the “smoke of dragons” which he “inhaled” to find “the essence and enchantment of play, permission, and possibility.” Beginning with fairly standard portraiture, Hayward’s practice moves into photographs of the human body ruptured and made ethereal, the print bent or rent and paint applied to the surface. His later work explores dance and film, as well as “portraits of the collaborative self” in which the subjects (often artists and writers) draw upon and tear apart paper backdrops, creating varied sculptural objects that become as much a part of the work as Hayward’s own technique. The text Hayward runs alongside the images can at times distract with its broad swagger, as when his “way of portraiture opens unlimited possibilities of heart, experience, and a bounty of unexpected truths.” His engagement with literary influences, however—including recurring quotes from Virginia Woolf and Emily Dickinson—adds some thoughtful complexity to the project. Though there are some weaker moments across the five decades of practice, later images are captivating, and fans of Hayward will appreciate seeing the development of his style so clearly rendered. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Where Everybody Looks Like Me: At the Crossroads of America’s Black Colleges and Culture

Ron Stodghill. Amistad, $26.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-232323-1

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have long served as “the backbone of America’s black middle class” but today face declining enrollment, eroding federal support, weak endowments, and stiff competition from mainstream colleges. Award-winning journalist Stodghill (Redbone: Money, Malice and Murder in Atlanta), who teaches at Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black university in North Carolina, chronicles the immense hurdles facing HBCUs through in-depth interviews with their leaders, professors, students, and trustees. In an episodic narrative, Stodghill gives starring roles to Howard University’s trustee, Renee Higginbotham-Brooks, and the battle she waged to replace the university’s ineffectual president; Savannah Bowen, a student athlete from Westchester County who chooses Howard over Macalester College, which Stodghill calls a “bastion of white privilege”; John Wilson, Morehouse College’s transformative new president; and Johnny Taylor, the “blunt” CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, who would like to see more black alumni contributing to their alma maters. Though too many pages are devoted to the Howard University trustee battle, Stodghill’s vivid reporting and sense of story highlight the continuing value of HBCUs and clarify the tough decisions being made to ensure their survival. Agent: Leah Spiro, Riverside Creative Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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No Freedom Without Regulation: The Hidden Lesson of the Subprime Crisis

Joseph William Singer. Yale Univ., $32.50 (224p) ISBN 978-0-300-21167-2

Harvard law professor and property law expert Singer composes a fascinating treatise on property regulation that illuminates conundrums plaguing homeowners and bankers alike. Singer shows how the liberties Americans cherish are actually the products of a complex infrastructure of laws and regulations dating to pre-colonial times. Governments, laws, and regulations, in his view, do not restrict freedom, but allow it to flourish. A simple liberty like home ownership would not be possible without laws ensuring fair access to housing, safe construction, responsible use, and neighborhoods without blight or eyesores. To Singer, the subprime crisis of the Great Recession is an excellent test of this theory. After cutting corners and transferring titles to property without keeping good records, banks could not foreclose and recover the value of their loans. Likewise, homeowners could not prevent the foreclosure of the properties in which they lived, as there was no clear record of the party with whom they might renegotiate their loan. Singer suggests that Libertarians and Tea Party members who favor severe limits on government hold a view of governmental power that is romantic, naive, and ultimately detrimental to freedom. His book persuasively argues that the opposite of government is not freedom, but anarchy. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Xbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civic Renewal

Robbie Bach. Brown (Ingram, dist.), $24.95 (232p) ISBN 978-1-61254-848-7

This debut from Microsoft’s former chief Xbox officer is an entertaining and refreshingly honest, if sometimes overreaching, exploration of business strategy, personal growth, and civic responsibility. Bach, now retired, sets out lessons learned in 22 years of leading Xbox and other Microsoft businesses, and shows that they can be applied to various societal issues. In fluidly assembled chapters, Bach tells the captivating story of Xbox, starting with a demoralized, fragmented team and the console’s disastrous launch at a trade show (where the “on” button malfunctioned); despite a press junket that coincided with news of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the console eventually achieved blockbuster success. While showing how he grew as a manager and leader, Bach explains that he simultaneously gained new personal skills while collaborating with his wife to save their marriage after overwork took a toll. He goes on to present his “3P Framework”—Purpose, Principles, Priorities—as a clear, commonsense way to look at problems. Unfortunately, when Bach transitions halfway through the book to discussing the U.S.’s civic challenges—including the need for education reform and a general lack of principles—the tone of the work falters. Readers who don’t share his opinions will not be enthralled, but they should still appreciate the useful business tips and frank, suspenseful narrative. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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An Improbable Friendship: The Remarkable Lives of Israeli Ruth Dayan and Palestinian Raymonda Tawil and Their Forty-Year Peace Mission

Anthony David. Skyhorse/Arcade (Perseus, dist.), $24.99 (312p) ISBN 978-1-62872-568-1

If it hadn’t actually occurred, the friendship between Ruth Dayan (born 1917), the first wife of Israeli politician Moshe Dayan, and Raymonda Tawil (born 1940), the mother-in-law of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, would seem not merely improbable but impossible. This joint biography from David (coauthor of Once Upon a Country) traces the women’s lives prior to 1970, the year of their meeting, and the collaboration that followed, one peppered with “standard quarrels” but forged by a mutual commitment to peace. In addition to noting the preeminence of politics in Dayan and Tawil’s lives, David opens up their personal lives: their childhoods, their children, their travails (Dayan’s divorce, Tawil’s house arrest), and their enterprises (Dayan’s Maskit, a craft and design collective employing immigrant women; Tawil’s news agency). David, who wrote the book at the women’s request, had access to Dayan’s many cassette tapes and letters and to Tawil’s diary, along with the many interviews he’s conducted with them since 2009. At times, the biography has an “as told by” tone; in other sections, a novelistic tone creeps in, obscuring the difference between recreated conversation and recorded interviews. Some readers may find the admiring tone overly lacking in objectivity and critical distance, but David has succeeded in creating a vivid portrait of two very feisty women. 20 b&w photos. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism

John Norris. Viking, $28.95 (340p) ISBN 978-0-525-42971-5

In this sensitive and engrossing biography, Norris (Disaster Gypsies) draws on archival material and personal interviews to present the life of journalist Mary McGrory (1918–2004) and her long, illustrious career as a Beltway newspaperwoman. McGrory, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1975 for her columns on the Watergate scandal for the Washington Star, was “a self-made woman in a man’s world,” having earned her ascent from book reviewer to, as Norris deems her, “the grande dame of Washington reporters.” This admiring tone is typical of the book, and it feels justified by her accomplishments. McGrory wrote more than 8,000 columns and covered 12 presidential campaigns in her career, along the way developing relationships with those contenders and presidents and exhibiting remarkable influence as “one of the most important liberal voices in the country,” her “lovingly crafted words” brimming with “magnificent anger” and “pointed personal insight.” Over the course of her career, McGrory covered major American events spanning from the Army-McCarthy hearings to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2003. The book is a rich portrait, and will likely encourage readers to seek more of McGrory’s groundbreaking writing. Agent: Gail Ross, Ross Yoon Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Fracture: Obama, the Clintons, and the Democratic Divide

Joy-Ann Reid. Morrow, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-230525-1

Lay readers interested in the background of rifts within the Democratic party—both before and during the Obama administration—will find this concise summary from MSNBC correspondent Reid to be illuminating and accessible. Beginning with Lyndon Johnson’s efforts against discrimination, which culminated with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Reid traces the demographic shifts within the Democratic Party as Southern whites began to feel increasingly threatened by government policies. She highlights the significance of Jesse Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns anticipating Obama’s eventual successful one, then moves on to an overview of the Clinton administration and how its triangulation strategy alienated the party’s left wing. Reid pulls no punches in describing the disappointments some prominent African-Americans felt with the country’s first black president, and the tensions that emerged between centrist and liberal Democrats. Those looking for a refresher on the tensions of the 2008 Obama-Clinton primary battle, and their implications for the 2016 race, will find the salient points covered. Reid, despite her service as a Obama press aide in 2008, presents a balanced view of him and his administration’s internecine quarrels. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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