What was the beginning of law school like for you?

Neil Siegel writes:
Let’s discuss your impressions of the book so far, and I hope you will add any questions or comments below. To start, Scott Turow opens the book by describing his initial days in law school.  I recall feeling excitement and anxiety, but no particular memories come to mind, perhaps because I was already at Berkeley in graduate school.  What was the beginning of law school like for you?

First Thoughts from Neil Siegel on One L, by Scott Turow, our November-December selection:

I am teaching a small section of first-year Constitutional Law this semester. I enjoy teaching beginning law students, and I especially appreciate the more relaxed atmosphere of teaching them in a relatively small group (37 students this time). Among other virtues, the experience invariably encourages me to view the law from my the perspective of my students—and of myself when I began law school.

Scott Turow’s One L is considered a classic, but I had never read it before this semester. I was told not to read it before I began law school on the grounds that it would frighten me. So I listened and never revisited the matter.

I chose One L now in the hope that it would deepen my capacity to view the law and law school from the perspective of the beginner.  In some ways, my reading the book has served that purpose.  It has helped me to reconnect with the anxiety and excitement that I felt when I was beginning law school.  It has been especially helpful for me to remember my level of anxiety when I took my first set of exams.

To a much greater extent, however, the book is causing me to reflect on how much the general experience of the first year appears to have changed since the 1970s.  I graduated from Duke’s Trinity College in 1994 and from Berkeley Law School in 2001.  Just as I loved Duke, so I loved law school, and I loved it from the start.  My professors were overwhelmingly (although not invariably) nice people who were trying in good faith to help their students learn the law and think broadly and deeply about the law’s potential contributions to the solution of societal problems.

I hope my students would agree that it’s better to be at Duke Law School now than at Harvard Law School then.  For example, instances in which professors humiliate students in class are, I think and hope, unheard of here.  Law school remains a lot of work, as it any worthwhile academic or professional pursuit.  But judging from Scott Turow’s account (and other casual empiricism), the experience seems to me kinder and more caring now.

This apparent change in the nature of legal education may not be all for the good when I consider some of the challenges (and challenging judges, partners, and clients) that my students will sometimes face in the world of litigation once they graduate.  But given how I felt about being serially mistreated by one old-school professor, and given that one never knows what kind of day another person is having and why, I have never felt myself entitled to make my students feel bad about themselves, especially in the company of their colleagues.  My hope is to model for them what it means to treat others with respect, especially when one is in a position of power over them.  In this way, I am typical of Duke Law School’s faculty, not exceptional.  It is part of the Duke Law way.

Bob Bliwise interviews Margalit Fox

Bob Bliwise interviews Margalit Fox, an award-winning journalist trained as a linguist, a senior writer for The New York Times, and author of The Riddle of the Labyrinth, about her process in researching and writing the book—and about the large personalities who populate the book.

The book proceeds with a lot of narrative force.  What techniques of storytelling did you try to deploy?
I was very lucky to have been writing about a real-life narrative that was (to me, at least) inherently dramatic in two crucial respects: First, there was the “Indiana Jones”-style early-twentieth-century archaeology involved in the unearthing of the Palace of Minos at Knossos. I tried to open the book, which shows Arthur Evans unearthing the palace and bringing up the first clay tablets, with a kind of you-are-there approach, as in those old Mike Wallace history TV shows from the 1960s. Second, of course, was the larger, overarching story of the half-century-long quest to decipher the tablets themselves, with all its attendant guesswork, false starts, near-misses, and genuine advances.

That pretty much gave me a built-in narrative “through line” that I could keep running throughout the book, as we watch our three starring players move from an agnostic state to real, hard-won knowledge. And the lives of those three players, especially Kober and Ventris, whose personal stories were so very tragic, helped me to realize quite early on that I had to organize the book as a biographical triptych, with roughly a third of the narrative devoted to each of them in turn.

In and around that biographical stuff, I could weave the technical material—the account of the different types of writing systems used around the world, and how each of them is used to represent language in graphic form; a look back at Champollion’s decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphics; and the step-by-step forensics involved in cracking any unknown writing system from the ancient past. Happily, once I got done with all that, and with all the sanding, buffing, and polishing that followed, the whole structure seemed to hang together as a coherent narrative.

Are there carryovers from your day-to-day work in summarizing interesting lives and your effort, with the book, to describe the characters consumed by the mystery of Linear B?
I’m often asked whether there is a connection between the kind of storytelling in The Riddle of the Labyrinth and my work in “Obits” as a senior writer for The New York Times. There is indeed a connection, and it is actually nontrivial and very striking. Although we obit writers produce many pieces about the departed famous—the kings, presidents, and captains of industry who make history from the top down—the greatest joy in our work comes from writing about history’s unsung backstage players. These are the men and women who—though we may not know their names—by dint of having an idea or doing something in a new way or dreaming up an invention, managed, quietly but forcefully, to change the world.

Some of the most pleasurable obits I have written have involved people like the inventors of the Frisbee, Etch-a-Sketch, and the crash-test-dummy; the textile conservator who washed Napoleon’s nightshirt; and the woman home economist who invented Stove Top stuffing and who, in a master stroke of timing, died just before Thanksgiving a few years ago. In a very real sense, the story of Alice Kober, the long-unsung heroine of the Linear B decipherment, which is the centerpiece of Labyrinth, is of a piece with these, only gridded up a thousandfold.

You sketch those characters vividly and in considerable detail.  What research methods or sources were particularly helpful in leading you to the book’s insights?
Evans’ story and Ventris’ were already quite well known, so for those sections of the book I was drawing primarily on secondary sources. With Kober, I really struck gold: By a happy accident of timing, I was the first person to have access to the full archive of her private papers, which had become available under the aegis of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory at the University of Texas shortly before I started work on the book. The papers include not only Kober’s decipherment notebooks and her 180,000 hand-cut ersatz “index cards,” still stored in the tobacco-redolent cigarette cartons she used as file boxes, but also her letters—a good thousand pages of correspondence with scholars around the world relating to her progress on the decipherment.

Besides providing the first comprehensive overview of precisely HOW her role in the decipherment of Linear B played out, they also revealed the woman herself. Just as Helene Hanff (whose obit, by coincidence, I wrote some years ago) had sent postwar care packages to the staff of a London bookshop, as chronicled in her delightful epistolary memoir 84, Charing Cross Road, Kober, too, send off packages of coffee, soup, chocolate, and other scarce commodities to European colleagues she had never met.

In journalism school, professors always exhort you to look for the small, telling detail that reflects the character of the person you’re writing about, and I found just such a detail (and it couldn’t have been any smaller) in one of Kober’s letters to Johannes Sundwall, the Finnish scholar whose work she had long admired. Sending him a jar of instant coffee, she referred to it, in the accompany letter, as “some soluble coffee called Nescafe.” And there, on the typewritten page, she had taken the trouble to draw in the acute accent on the final “e” by hand—a minute gesture that, to me, spoke volumes about the rigor and precision with which this woman approached every aspect of her life.

You have an academic background in linguistics.  How big a role did that background play in your choice of this subject?
In both of my published books, Labryinth, which is my second book, and the first one, Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind (2007), I’ve sought to combine my present calling as a journalist with my original training as a linguist (I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field from the State University of New York at Stony Brook) to produce narrative nonfiction works about language.

I actually encountered (or re-encountered, really) the Linear B story nearly ten years, ago, when I was procrastinating while working on Talking Hands. I knew the tale of Linear B was a ripping good yarn, yet one with which relatively few Americans were familiar, and I filed the idea away as a possibility for a future book. Little did I know just how good a yarn it would turn out to be.

Before embarking on the book, how familiar were you with Linear B and its place in the history of civilization?
Because I’d always been interested in language and code-breaking, I’d known the vague outlines of the story since I was a teenager, without really knowing the specifics. About a decade ago, when I was supposed to be working on Talking Hands, I decided to kill some time by flipping through one of my all-time favorite reference books, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writings Systems, edited by Florian Coulmas. It’s a marvelous, thick, heavily illustrated tome documenting all the writings systems known in the world—more different kinds of alphabets, syllabaries, and logographic systems than you can shake a stick at.

Prophetically, the volume fell open to the story of Linear B, and I was reminded of how riveting it was. But at that point, because the full extent of Kober’s contributions was known to very few people, I, like almost everyone else, thought the story belonged exclusively to Ventris.

I phoned the archive at U. Texas, which is the primary repository in this country for papers relating to the Linear B decipherment, including some of Ventris’, to see if I might visit and do research there. I explained what my background was, and what I wanted to do. Tom Palaima, the eminent scholar of Mycenaean Greece who runs the archive, and who has since become a friend of mine, replied with words I will never forget. He said, “You know, it’s a godsend that you’ve called just now, because we’ve recently finished cataloguing the papers of Alice Kober.” To which I replied, “Who??”

I must confess, churlish as it sounds now, that I spent about twenty-four hours gnashing my teeth because my entire conception of the book—the tale of a tragic young English hero named Michael Ventris—had been upended and would have to be completely reworked. But once I had digested exactly who Kober was and exactly what, and how much, she had done, for almost no recognition, I realized that I had on my hands a far, far richer story than I had ever anticipated. And what a privilege is has been to have been able to bring her work to light at long last.

Talk a bit about Arthur Evans—do you consider him admirable in his doggedness, or is he someone whose ideas and methods never matched his celebrity status?
Evans, like most people, was a man of his time. His brand of archaeology, a field that then more than now was a stronghold of moneyed European man, was certainly not lacking in its imperial aspect: One has only to think of him running the Union Jack up the flagpole at Knossos in the spring of 1900 before he broke ground at the site, with his tins of plum pudding, brought carefully over from England, waiting to be eaten. We inarguably owe the discovery of the palace, and the Linear B tablets, to his doggedness, and to his almost unlimited economic resources.

Evans was certainly a magnificent archaeologist. The trouble came, as far as his burning desire to decipher the tablets went, with the fact that he wasn’t really trained in the kind of methodical linguistic and statistical analysis that might let a decipherer unravel an unknown script used to write an unknown language. But the point of the story is that no one really was trained in that kind of approach in those years: It took Alice Kober, after Evans’ death, to impose that kind of much-needed methodological order on the data, and on the field of archaeological decipherment as a whole.

What about Michael Ventris—seemingly a complex figure, and was he equally a self-doubter and a visionary, a depressive personality and a brilliant mind?
Ventris, as brilliant as he was, was clearly racked by self-doubt. There he was, a rank amateur—neither a philologist like Kober nor an archaeologist like Evans, but someone who had never even been to university—who in the wake of the decipherment was being called upon to speak before learned bodies all over the world.

In the four years of life that remained to him after he solved the riddle of the script, he was clearly beset increasingly by what contemporary psychologists have named the “imposter syndrome”—the feeling that one just doesn’t belong, is faking it, etc. And Ventris’ bizarre upbringing, in which his parents, patients of Carl Jung, were forbidden to touch him, plus his loss of both of them, his father to tuberculosis and his mother to suicide, by the time he was eighteen, could only have contributed to his melancholy, self-doubting cast of mind even in the best of times.

And, of course, Alice Kober—she seems to have been an incrementalist rather than a bold thinker, and how important was that quality to the mission of decipherment?
Kober, as both her published writings and her private papers make clear, was both an incrementalist AND a bold thinker—the two certainly weren’t mutually exclusive in her case. But because she was such a rigorous scientist, she confined her bolder, more speculative ideas to her private work, allowing herself to publish each new advance in the decipherment only when it met her rigorous standards of proof. As a result, most of her bolder innovations (many arrived at, independently and correctly, by Ventris) remained unknown until recently, when her papers first became accessible.

Was it your hope with the book to make clear Kober’s (long neglected) contribution around Linear B?  If she has been neglected in her decipherment role, is there an overarching explanation—her lack of publishing activity, her modest academic appointment, her standing as a woman when the academy wasn’t welcoming for female scholars?
Yes, absolutely, once I realized the full extent of her contribution. It was a thrill and a privilege to be able to restore a missing piece of American women’s history to light, and an immense surprise to wind up doing so in a book that I thought was going to be strictly about language, decipherment, and archaeology. History overlooked Kober for all the reasons you name, plus the very pragmatic one of her papers being unavailable for so long.

Just a couple of days ago, the Times reported on how fossilized pollen might suggest the factors behind the collapse of the Late Bronze Age. Are there mysteries from early civilization that continue to fascinate you?
I recently signed the contract to do my third book, also with Ecco/HarperCollins, who did such a fine job bringing out Labyrinth. I’ve decided to give language a rest for a bit, though, and the new book is a historical true-crime narrative. But there are certainly plenty of ancient mysteries out there that still beckon, including Linear A, the indigenous Cretan script that preceded Linear B, and which remains undeciphered.

A Q&A with Professor Carla Antonaccio, plus submit your question for author Margalit Fox!

Here’s a Q&A—inspired by The Riddle of the Labyrinth—with Bob Bliwise and Duke’s Carla Antonaccio, professor of archaeology and department chair for classical studies. Professor Antonaccio is a field archaeologist whose research is focused on the late Bronze Iron Age and later phases in the Aegean and Mediterranean. Having worked on excavations in Greece and Cypress, she has devoted almost every summer over the past twenty years to excavations at a site in Sicily. She is particularly interested in uncovering social and cultural history through the study of material remains.

In the book, Margalit Fox offers this quote (from Maurice Pope): “Decipherments are by far the most glamorous achievements of scholarship. There is a touch of magic about unknown writing, especially when it comes from the remote past, and a corresponding glory is bound to attach itself to the person who first solves its mystery.” Would you assess the rewards of decipherment in similar terms?

I think this privileges the written word too much, because there are some spectacular discoveries and achievements outside of these feats. But I do think that lost languages are poignant and intriguing, since language is so much a part of human identity and culture, so intimate. In this time, literacy is so much taken for granted in the industrialized West that I think we just want to be able to read ancient texts and hear the words of the past.

How would you characterize the challenges that made Linear B especially hard to decode, given the fact that the decoding process dragged on for fifty years?

There was no key. In many cases (like Egyptian hieroglyphics), there is a bilingual text, and one language is known, helping to guide the decipherment of the other. The sample wasn’t that big either: We have many, many more texts in some ancient languages that had to be deciphered, like Akkadian or (again) Egyptian. We still can’t read Etruscan or Linear A.

Fox presents Alice Kober, a classicist at Brooklyn College, as a largely forgotten force in unraveling Linear B. How do scholars regard her contributions today, and how do they explain the fact that her contributions for so long have been unrecognized?

This book is the major corrective to how forgotten she had become. She died before success, and history loves victors; but also she was working at Hunter, alone, not in a major research university or part of a team excavating sites like Knossos and Pylos that produced this kind of material. With this book and the availability of her archives at Austin (a hub of Linear B and Bronze Age archaeology), this will change.

The average reader would have a pretty good sense of the legacy of Classical Greece, but not of Bronze Age Greece. Are there particular aspects of that earlier period–the crafts and decorative-arts tradition, the robust commercial relationships, the organization of civil society, etc.–that you find particularly compelling?

The Bronze Age on the mainland is best known through sites such as Mycenae, with its monumental fortifications and the wealthy tombs filled with gold and weapons. Most intriguing to people is the connection with Homer and his epic poetry, which talks of Mycenae and other places like it: What is the connection between these myths or legends, and history? On Crete, the Bronze Age culture is called Minoan, and the best-known site is Knossos; the question there is its connection to the myth of the Minotaur and labyrinth. Both cultures had vivid wall paintings, many styles of ceramics, and monumental architecture.

What mysteries remain around Bronze Age civilization (maybe including how it collapsed)?

Yes–why it ended, but also how it began, how it took off in about 1600 B.C.E. and had a zenith that then ended around 1200. What happened on Crete in the late Bronze Age? It seems to be under Mycenaean control at the end. How to interpret their religious practices, which seem so different in many respects to those of the later classical period? Yet we can read the names of many of the Greek gods on the tablets, so there is some cultural continuity. Whether there was a “king” or ruler at every citadel, who built the walls and why? Many questions.

As someone who has led archaeological excavations, how would you characterize changes in the field of archaeology since, say, the Victorian era and figures such as Arthur Evans? (Fox notes the famous Schliemann legacy, including excavation methods that involved “the wholesale hacking away of huge, potentially fruitful layers of soil.”)

Well, we don’t dig on that scale for the most part; we work hard to recover as much information as possible about ancient diet, environment, climate, and more. We save every scrap of evidence and are not so interested in moving mountains of earth in search only of spectacular finds. Archaeology is very much an interdisciplinary field, partnered not only with art history, philology, or history, but also now with science (for dating, faunal and floral analysis, environmental analysis, etc.).

What was your most exciting moment in excavating a site?

Excavating a late-sixth century cemetery in Greece and finding the actual physical remains of the people who lived in the ancient city, together with everything that they had been buried with.

Next up: A Q&A with Margalit Fox. What are your questions—about the themes she explores, the characters in her book, or her process of researching and writing—for the author of The Riddle of the Labyrinth? Submit them here!

A very long list of the latest Duke faculty books

Here are the latest titles written by the prolific Duke faculty, compiled by Duke’s Office of News and Communication. Many of them are available at Duke Libraries and The Gothic Bookshop, which is still taking orders as their renovations continue.

There are several novels on the list along with the variety of research conducted by Duke faulty members. Whether it’s a revised edition on HIV/AIDS in the South, an exploration of Buddhism in Korea and Japan, or an explanation of increasingly popular research on the genius of your pooch, there are plenty of options to pique your interest!

Julie Tetel Andresen: “French Lessons” (Kindle e-book)
Tetel Andresen, whose scholarship typically has her writing in the field of linguistic historiography, is also the author of works of historical fiction.  In her latest novella, the gently-bred Danielle Wemberly is forever changed when she discovers a book hidden in her town’s lending library.

Audra Ang: “To the People, Food is Heaven: Stories of Food and Life in a Changing China” (Lyons Press)
The Singapore-born Ang, who worked as a foreign correspondent for the AP in Beijing for seven years before coming to Duke as a senior writer for University Development, writes about her experiences eating and reporting in China. She discussed the book on a recent edition of WUNC Radios “The State of Things” and the Raleigh News & Observer, saying “I think Southerners are kind of like Chinese in their love of food.”

Jeremy Begbie, co-editor: “Art, Imagination and Christian Hope: Patterns of Promise” (Ashgate)
Through a range of authors, the volume attends to the contributions that architecture, drama, literature, music and painting can make in an exploration of Christian hope. Begbie is the inaugural holder of the Thomas A. Langford Research Professorship in Theology at Duke Divinity School, and founding director of the Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts.

Curt Bradley: “International Law in the U.S. Legal System” (Oxford University Press)
Bradley, a professor of law and public policy studies and senior associate dean for academic affairs at Duke Law School, explores topics at the intersection of U.S. law and international law, such as foreign sovereign immunity, international human rights litigation, extradition, war powers and extraterritoriality.

Jake Breeden: “Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits That Masquerade as Virtues” (Jossey-Bass)
Breeden, on the faculty of Duke’s executive education program, draws on his experience coaching thousands of leaders in 27 countries and new research in economics, neuroscience, and psychology as he reveals how to overcome the dangerous behaviors that masquerade as virtues at work. The author has a 21-question quiz for anyone curious about roadblocks to their own career at breedenideas.com/assessment.

Paul Carrington: “American Lawyers:  Public Servants and the Development of a Nation” (ABA Publishing, April 16, 2013)
Law professor Paul Carrington’s new book illustrates the role lawyers have played in the development and preservation of democracy and social order in America. He also notes their missteps, from the perpetuation, by some, of slavery to the American Bar Association’s demand for “loyalty oaths” during the McCarthy era, to Watergate.

Norman L. Christensen: “The Environment and You” ( Benjamin Cummings)
Christensen, a research professor and founding dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment, has authored an introductory environmental science book that offers students a reliable science foundation and inspires them to connect the course to the choices they can make as citizens.

Dr. Richard H. Cox: “Rewiring Your Preaching : How the Brain Processes Sermons” (InterVarsity Press)
Cox, adjunct professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, shows that a better understanding of the brain can help ministers be more effective in their preaching. The book opens with a forward by psychiatry department vice chair Dr. Dan G. Blazer.

Peter Horry: “The Journal of Peter Horry, South Carolinian: Recording the New Republic, 1812-1814,” edited by Roy Talbert Jr. and Meggan A. Farish (University of South Carolina Press)
Farish, a graduate student of history and African & African American Studies, and her co-editor have restored to print all of the Georgetown rice planter’s extant journal entries, offering the modern reader detailed insights into the daily life, agricultural practices, and the culture of South Carolina during its early statehood years.

Laura Florand: “The Chocolate Kiss” (Kensington)
Florand, a romance novelist who teaches French at Duke, is back with another of her chocolate-inspired novels, detailing the chocolate-making scene in Paris and the romance and intrigue that are naturally a part of it.

Erdag Goknar: “Orhan Pamuk, Secularism and Blasphemy: The Politics of the Turkish Novel” (Routledge)
In this first critical study of all of Pamuk’s novels, Goknar, an assistant professor of Turkish studies and an award-winning literary translator, asks larger questions about recent transformations in Turkish history, identity, modernity and collective memory.

Kristin Goss: “The Paradox of Gender Equality: How American Women’s Groups Gained and Lost Their Public Voice” (University of Michigan Press)
Goss, an associate professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy, traces changes in women’s “civil place.”

Mitu Gulati and Robert E. Scott: “The Three and a Half Minute Transaction: Boilerplate and the Limits of Contract Design” (University of Chicago Press)
Using the case of the an equal treatment or pari passu clause in international contracts as a launching pad to explore the broader issue of the “stickiness” of contract boilerplate, law professor Gulati and his co-author have sifted through more than 1,000 sovereign debt contracts and interviewed hundreds of practitioners to show that the problem actually lies in the nature of the modern corporate law firm.

Markos Hadjioannou: “From Light to Byte: Toward an Ethics of Digital Cinema” (University of Minnesota Press)
Hadjioannou, an assistant professor of literature, contrasts digital and celluloid cinema.

Bruce Hall: “A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600-1960” (Cambridge University Press)
Hall, a co-winner of the American Historical Association award for best book in African history in 2012, provides a deep historical background to the ongoing conflicts and civil wars in present-day Mali. In a live “Office Hours” webcast interview earlier this year, Hall explained the cultural history of the fabled desert city of Timbuktu.

Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods: “The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think” (Dutton Adult)
Brian Hare, dog researcher, evolutionary anthropologist and founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, and research scientist Vanessa Woods offer revolutionary new insights into dog intelligence and the interior lives of our smartest pets. In this essay in The Wall Street Journal, the authors present part of the case for why dogs are far savvier than we ever thought.

Peg Helminski: “Daughter of a Thousand Pieces of Gold” (self-published, Amazon)
A freelance writer and executive assistant in the Department of Radiology, Helminski has published her second book and first novel for middle-school students. Set against the rapidly changing Chinese social landscape brought on by the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping and China’s one-child family planning policy, the book tells the story of 11-year-old Zhong Mei Lin’s journey from her life as a the cherished daughter of a Chinese farm couple, to orphan, to adopted teen-aged daughter of a middle-class, American couple.

Deborah Hicks: “The Road Out: A Teacher’s Odyssey in Poor America” (University of California Press)
Hicks set out to give one group of girls in Cincinnati something she never had: a first-rate education and a chance to live their dreams. A contemporary tragedy is brought to life as she leads us deep into the worlds of Adriana, Blair, Mariah, Elizabeth, Shannon, Jessica, and Alicia — seven girls coming of age in poverty.

Currently a research scholar at the Social Science Research Institute, Hicks was recently a guest on “The State of Things,” talking about her book and her work as the founder and director of Partnership for Appalachian Girls’ Education.

Donald Horowitz: “Constitutional Change and Democracy in Indonesia” (Cambridge University Press)
In his latest book and the first of a trilogy related to constitutional design for severely divided societies, law professor Horowitz offers a case study of Indonesia’s transition to democracy after almost 50 years of authoritarian rule. By and large, he says, the process was successful; Indonesians have held three free elections and experienced two turnovers of presidential power since the fall of Suharto in 1998, while largely avoiding ethnic polarization and violence.

James C. Howell: “What Does the Lord Require?: Doing Justice, Loving Kindness, Walking Humbly” (Westminster John Knox Press)
Howell, a Duke alumnus, part-time lecturer at Duke Divinity School and the senior pastor at Myers Park United Methodist Church, illuminates one of the most powerful verses in the Old Testament, Micah 6:8, which speaks to what God requires of humans in living a just and humble life. The veteran pastor illuminates the original context in which this verse was written, while demonstrating how it can still guide us in our lives today.

Hwansoo I. Kim: “Empire of the Dharma: Korean and Japanese Buddhism, 1877–1912” (Harvard University Press)
Kim, an assistant professor of religion, explores the relationship between Korean and Japanese Buddhists in the years leading up to the Japanese annexation of Korea.

Kenneth Land, editor: “The Well-Being of America’s Children: Developing and Improving the Child and Youth Well-Being Index” (Springer)
Land, the Duke sociologist who developed a new national composite index on the health and well-being of American children, examines the evolution of the index over the last 14 years and what it promises for understanding the progress — or lack of progress — in enhancing the life prospects of all American children.

Frank Lentricchia: “The Accidental Pallbearer” (Melville International Crime)
The literature professor sets his new novel, a celebration of Italian-American culture, in Utica, N.Y., his hometown. A reviewer for The Philadelphia Inquirer said the downtrodden upstate city “is as much the main character of literary critic Frank Lentricchia’s gripping, complex detective story as the depressive shamus Eliot Conte, whose series debut this is.”

James M. Childs Jr. and Richard Lischer, editors: “The Eloquence of Grace: Joseph Sittler and the Preaching Life” (Cascade Books)
Lischer, the James T. and Alice Mead Cleland Professor of Preaching at Duke Divinity School, and co-editor Childs examine the work of renowned preacher Joseph Sittler who often explored faith through fiction and hymns.  The review of 25 of the renowned preacher’s speeches and sermons includes many never before published.

Randy L. Maddox, editor: “The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, Volume 12, Doctrinal and Controversial Treatises” (Abingdon Press)
Maddox, William Kellon Quick Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Duke Divinity School, devotes this volume, the first of three, to four of John Wesley’s foundational treatises on soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Gordon Mantler: “Power to the Poor: Black-Brown Coalition and the Fight for Economic Justice, 1960-1974” (The University of North Carolina Press)
Mantler, a lecturing fellow and associate director in the Thompson Writing Program, writes about the Poor Peoples Campaign, an attempt to get poor folks from across the nation and racial lines to join together for common cause.

Sandi Metz: “Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby: An Agile Primer” (Addison-Wesley)
Metz, a senior IT analyst with 30 years of experience working on projects that survived to grow and change, has distilled a lifetime of conversations and presentations about object-oriented design into a set of Ruby-focused practices for crafting manageable, extensible, and pleasing code.

Carol Meyers: “Rediscovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context” (Oxford University Press)
Drawing on archaeological discoveries and ethnographic information as well as biblical texts, religion professor Carol Meyers depicts Israelite women not as submissive chattel in an oppressive patriarchy, but rather as strong and significant actors within their families and in their communities. The book features a fully revised version of Meyers’ groundbreaking 1988 “Discovering Eve.”

Carol Meyers, Eric Meyers, editors: “Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media”(Eisenbrauns)
Archaeological controversies normally confined to the pages of obscure journals are considered newsworthy when they touch on biblical themes, but scholars are not always equipped to handle this sort of attention. A 2009 conference at Duke opened a dialogue between scholars and the media and the resulting essays offer lay communities who learn about archaeology and the Bible through the popular media information that will make them more sensitive to the way discoveries and issues are presented. In an online “Office Hours” in 2011, professors Carol and Eric Meyers responded to viewer questions about the charged combination of biblical archaeology, politics and media.

Claudia Milian: “Latining America: Black-Brown Passages and the Coloring of Latino/a Studies” (University of Georgia Press, The New Southern Studies series)
Milian, an assistant professor of Romance Language, challenges previous boundaries of “Latinidad.”

Martin Miller: “The Foundations of Modern Terrorism: State, Society and the Dynamics of Political Violence” (Cambridge University Press)
In a study of the history of terrorism, integrating the violence of governments and insurgencies, history professor Martin Miller considers why it is that terrorism has become such a central factor in our lives despite all the efforts to eradicate it.

Negar Mottahedeh, editor: “Abdu’l Baha’s Journey West: The Course of Human Solidarity” (Palgrave, April 2013)
Mottahedeh, an associate professor of literature, has edited this book about the influence of the early 20th century Iranian visionary on the emergent civil rights and suffrage movements in America and on his prescription for a lasting peace only three years before the outbreak of WWI.

Mark Anthony Neal: “Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities” (NYU Press, April 22, 2013)
Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African & African American Studies, examines depictions of black men in popular culture. He talks about the book in this interview with WFPL-Louisville.

Erdman Palmore: “Older Can Be Bolder” (Amazon)
Palmore, professor emeritus at the Duke Center for the Study of Aging, provides 101 answers to common questions about aging, mixed with humorous sayings and quotations.

Dr. Claude A. Piantadosi: “Mankind Beyond Earth: The History, Science and Future of Human Space Exploration” (Columbia University Press)
Piantadosi, a professor of medicine (Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine), evaluates the potential for colonizing Mars by the end of the century.

William Reddy: “The Making of Romantic Love: Longing and Sexuality in Europe, South Asia and Japan, 900-1200 CE” (The University of Chicago Press)   
Reddy, a professor of history and cultural anthropology, contrasts the dualism of love and desire in the Western tradition with the blending of both in Bengal and Orissa, India, and in Heian Japan. A panel discussion of Reddy’s book, jointly hosted by the Duke University Libraries and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, is slated for March 20.

Staci D. Bilbo and Jaclyn M. Schwarz: “The Immune System and the Developing Brain” (Morgan & Claypool Life Sciences)
Staci Bilbo, psychology and neuroscience assistant professor, and Jaclyn Schwarz, a postdoctoral fellow in Bilbo’s lab, review the growing evidence indicating that there is a strong link between many neuropsychiatric disorders and immune dysfunction, with a distinct etiology in neurodevelopment.

Guillermo Trejo: “Popular Movements in Autocracies: Religion, Repression and Indigenous Collective Action in Mexico” (Cambridge University Press)
The assistant professor of political science focuses in his book on poor indigenous Mexican villages, showing that the spread of U.S. Protestant missionaries and the competition for indigenous souls motivated the Catholic Church to become a major promoter of indigenous movements for land redistribution and indigenous rights.

Daniel A. Vallero and Trevor Letcher : “Unraveling Environmental Disasters” (Elsevier)
Vallero, an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering, writes with his co-author about the science behind the most threatening current and potential environmental disasters. They treat disasters as complex systems and offer predictions, such as what the buildup of certain radiant gases in the troposphere will do, or what will happen if current transoceanic crude oil transport continues.

Steven Vogel: “The Life of a Leaf” (University of Chicago Press)
Vogel uses the leaf as a model for examining an organism’s adaptation to its environment. A companion website with demonstrations and teaching tools can be found here.

Gennifer Weisenfeld: “Imaging Disaster: Tokyo and the Visual Culture of Japan’s Great Earthquake of 1923” (University of California Press)
Weisenfeld, an associate professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, focuses on the Great Kanto Earthquake that devastated Tokyo and surrounding areas in 1923 and the cultural responses it triggered.

Kathryn Whetten and Brian Pence: “You’re the First One I’ve Told: The New Faces of HIV in the South” (Rutgers University Press; Second Edition)
This revised edition provides new details on the HIV/AIDS in the U.S. South while bringing to life the stories and voices of people infected with the disease. Whetten is a professor of public policy and global health and the director of the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research. Pence is an associate professor of community and family medicine and global health at the center.

William Willimon: “Thank God It’s Thursday: Encountering Jesus at the Lord’s Table as if for the Last Time” (Abingdon)
In this prequel to Willimon’s “Thank God It’s Friday,” the professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School reflects on Jesus’ teaching of his disciples prior to his own death but also before their own hour of decision.

Ronald Witt: “The Two Latin Cultures and the Foundation of Renaissance Humanism in Medieval Italy” (Cambridge University Press)
Witt, a professor emeritus of history, traces the early emergence of humanism in northern Italy in the mid-13th century to the development of a lay intelligentsia in the region, whose participation in the culture of Latin writing fostered the beginnings of the intellectual movement which would eventually revolutionize Europe. The book will be the panel discussion at the Duke Medieval & Renaissance Studies Colloquium on March 29.


Reflections on Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems

The spring semester has been a busy one at Duke, especially for Dean of Trinity School of Arts & Sciences, Laurie Patton. We hope you have been enjoying reading her DukeReads selection for the past several weeks, and below she offers her reflections on the influence of the natural world in Mary Oliver’s poems. Please share your thoughts by leaving a reply!

I chose Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems because, as someone whose scholarly career has focused on the role of the poet in society, I have been fascinated by her Pulitzer success combined with her Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman-like popularity. Known for its simple, contemplative quality, much of her poetry begins and ends with the flora and fauna she encounters on daily walks near her native Provincetown.  Indeed, some feminists have criticized her work for being too focused on nature, thereby reinforcing the stereotype of nature being traditionally identified with woman. Wherever one lands in this debate, her poetry is lyrical and simple at the same time, and reintroduces us to the natural world in a more complex America than that of Thoreau and Whitman. As a result, Oliver’s nature poetry mixes prayer and ironic question in equal measure.

As she writes of the vanishing species of bees in the poem “Hum,”

What is this dark hum among the roses?
The bees have gone simple, sipping,
That’s all. What did you expect? Sophistication?

Yet a theme that runs throughout her more recent poems is one both far and near from nature: work. To paraphrase the anthropologist Clifford Geertz, the natural world is both a “model of” and a “model for” work, for all kinds of labor. In a praise poem, “Meanwhile,” she writes,

Meanwhile my body is rustic and brash.
The world I live in is hedges, and small blossoms.
Lord, consider me, and my earnest work.
A hut I have made, out of the grasses.
Now I build the door, out of all things brash and rustic.
Day and night it is open.
Have you seen it yet, among the grasses?

How it longs for you?
How it tries to shine, like gold?

A temporary almost hidden dwelling space consisting of grass in the hedges and blossoms is the testimony to earnest work. And, for Oliver, such work is “brash and rustic,” similar to the human body itself.

In another new prose-poem, “Work, Sometimes,” Oliver juxtaposes the labor of the writer and the poet with the natural world outside that beckons her.

I was sad all day, and why not.  There I was, books piled
on both sides of the table, paper stacked up, words
falling off my tongue.
The robins had been a long time singing, and now it
was beginning to rain.

She then asks the question that perhaps all intellectuals do, the deep and common doubt about of the value of such work, which has been occasioned in this poem by the rain.

What are we sure of?  Happiness isn’t a town on a map,
or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work
ongoing.  Which is not likely to be the trifling around
with a poem.
Then it began raining hard, and the flowers in the yard
were full of lively fragrance.

And in this poem, the resolution of such questioning is the temporary abandonment of the work in the room, for the “wordless singing world,” which, she also implies, could save her life:

You have had days like this, no doubt.  And wasn’t it
wonderful, finally, to leave the room?  Ah, what a
As for myself, I swung the door open.  And there was
the wordless, singing world.  And I ran for my life.

And yet by virtue of the fact that the abandonment of the work of poetry is itself enshrined within a poem, Oliver reminds us that the relationship between work and nature is in fact a dialogue, a constant return back to one and the other. She, and we, move between “the books piled on both sides of the table” and the “wordless singing world,” over and over again.

Finally, in an earlier poem, “The Builders,” Oliver uses a cricket to remind us that nature can in fact be the near-perfect reflection of work. As she sees a cricket moving the grains of the hillside, she writes,

How great was its energy,
How humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.

There is no evident reason for the cricket to be moving the grains on the hillside, but its work is honorable, even dignified, in Oliver’s assessment. And so too, the poem implies, all of our labors, whether it be a tiny Sisyphean work of an insect, or the larger, equally Sisyphean work of the writer, will be great in energy and humble in effort.

Dean Laurie Patton’s Selection: New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2 by Mary Oliver

Our January/February Selection is New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2 by Mary Oliver, presented by the dean of Arts and Sciences, Laurie Patton.

Read why Dean Patton wanted to share this book with you:

I chose Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems Vol. 2 because it gives us the recent arc of a major American poet’s work. Oliver’s poetry is simple, direct, and deeply identified with the natural world of New England, and earlier, Ohio. She has been compared with Thoreau and Emerson in her delight in the minutiae of the natural world. And while I think it is fair to say she belongs to that American tradition, she also brings a contemporary female voice to that very spare, even patrician form of contemplation. While her Pulitzer Prize might make one think of her work as somehow inaccessible, this is not at all the case. The down-to-earth register of her writing allows it to be woven into the every day lives of countless readers. You will find her work read and recited at weddings, funerals, graduations, bar mitzvahs, birthdays, all in the precise and attentive manner that poet Robert Pinsky hoped for when he started “The Favorite Poem Project,” about the role of poetry in ordinary American life.

And Oliver’s observations are tinged with a slight sense of irony, even as they carry on that delight in the sensuous and sensible world. As she writes in “Work, Sometimes”: “What are we sure of? Happiness isn’t a town on a map, or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work ongoing. Which is not likely to be trifling around with a poem.”

What do you think of this month’s selection? Please share any comments or questions you have for Dean Patton!

The latest books from Duke faculty

Here is an extensive list of books written recently by Duke faculty, compiled by Duke’s Office of News and Communication. See the original article here. Many of these books are available at Duke Libraries and The Gothic Bookshop! Let us know if you pick one up!

Rita-Marie Conrad, co-author: “Continuing to Engage the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction” (Jossey-Bass)
Conrad, an educational technology specialist, offers 50 new examples of activities in this model for engaged learning that can be applied in a wide range of online learning environments and across age levels.

Richard Durrett: “Essentials of Stochastic Processes,” 2nd ed. (Springer)
The mathematics professor’s new book is for a first course in stochastic processes — a statistical process involving a number of random variables — taken by undergraduates or master’s students who previously have studied probability theory. A large number of examples and more than 300 exercises show the subject “in action.”

Karen Fields, co-author: “Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life” (Verso)
Most people assume that racism grows from a perception of human difference. Sociologist Karen Fields, a visiting professor of African & African American Studies, and her sister, historian Barbara Fields, argue otherwise. They write that the practice of racism produces the illusion of race, through what they call “racecraft,” a phenomenon entwined with other forms of inequality in American life.

Deborah Rigling Gallagher: “Environmental Leadership: A Reference Handbook” (SAGE)
Gallagher gathers contributions on environmental leadership from more than 90 authors, including several from Duke.  Overarching themes in the two-volume set include taking action in the face of uncertainty on issues such as mitigating climate change impacts, protecting coastal ecosystems and protecting critical aquifers. Gallagher is an associate professor of the practice of environmental policy and executive director of the Duke Environmental Leadership Program at the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Dr. Geoffrey Ginsburg and Huntington Willard: “Genomic and Personalized Medicine” (Elsevier Inc.)
The two-volume work promises to be a one-stop shop for doctors and other health professionals as they face the rapid growth of genetic and genomic testing in the clinic. Edited by faculty of the Duke Institute for Genomes Sciences & Policy, the comprehensive resource is one solution to an increasingly obvious problem: the health care workforce on the whole lacks the background to make personalized medicine a reality for patients.

John Graham, co-author: “Introduction to Corporate Finance” 3rd ed. (South-Western Cengage Learning )
Graham, a professor of finance at The Fuqua School of Business, says students with experience in economics, accounting and statistics may be better prepared than they think to study corporate finance. His book, which comes with six-month access to an educational version of Thomson Reuters financial content, introduces students to the subject.

Mark Goodacre: “Thomas and the Gospels: The Case for Thomas’s Familiarity with the Gospels” (Eerdmans, 2012)
The professor of religion and New Testament blogger explores the long-standing debate over the connection between the author of the Gospel of Thomas and the Synoptic Gospels.

Stephen Gunter: “Arminius and His ‘Declaration of Sentiments’: An Annotated Translation With Introduction and Theological Commentary” (Baylor University Press)
Divinity School professor  Gunter’s new book is the first direct translation from Dutch to English of the 16th century theologian’s work. Gunter’s introduction situates this work, important in the history of Christian theological debates, within its historical context and the debate over predestination.

Alex Harris and Edward O. Wilson: “Why We Are Here: Mobile and the Spirit of a Southern City” (W.W. Norton)
From a collaboration between the Center for Documentary Studies professor and the Pulitzer Prize-winning evolutionary biologist emerges a book that captures the rhythms of the storied Alabama Gulf region through a swirling tango of lyrical words and breathtaking images.

Harris’ “intimate pictures beautifully capture quotidian moments” that define Mobile today, according to Publishers Weekly. The Atlantic says “this uncommonly effective marriage of photographs and text” reveals “a place at once deeply southern and more than a bit foreign.” The book made The New York Times list of “heavyweights for the holidays” — this year’s best coffee table books.

Reinhard Hutter: “Dust Bound for Heaven: Explorations in the Theology of Thomas Aquinas” (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.)
Hutter, a professor of Christian theology at Duke Divinity School, shows how Thomas Aquinas’ view of the human being as dust bound for heaven weaves together elements of two questions without fusion or reduction: Does humanity still have an insatiable thirst for God that sends each person on an irrepressible religious quest that only the vision of God can quench? Or must the human being, living after the fall, become a “new creation” to be readied for heaven?

William Mitchell, co-author: “Build, Borrow, or Buy: Solving the Growth Dilemma” (Harvard Business Review Press)
The Fuqua professor of international management, writing with Laurence Capron of the INSEAD Executive Education Program, offers decision makers research-based guidance on how to select the best course of action when pursuing corporate growth opportunities. Examples show how large and small companies around the world have developed sustainable growth strategies

John Poulsen, Connie Clark, editors: “Tropical Forest Conservation and Industry Partnership: An Experience From the Congo Basin” (Wiley-Blackwell)
In the 10th book in a series on conservation science and practice, Poulsen, a Nicholas School of the Environment assistant professor, and Clark, a research scientist, spotlight an emerging conservation model that holds promise for relatively small but ecologically vital areas.

Drs. Holly Rogers and Margaret Maytan: “Mindfulness for the Next Generation: Helping Emerging Adults Manage Stress and Lead Healthier Lives” (Oxford University Press)
Rogers and Maytan, both clinical associates in the Department of Psychiatry, offer an easy-to-use guide that details their four-session mindfulness-based program, called “Koru,” aimed at helping young adults cope with anxiety, navigate the tasks they face and achieve meaningful personal growth.

Mari Miller: “When the Whistle Blew” (WinePress Publishing)
Miller, a certified professional coder with Duke Health System’s Community Care Partners of Northern Piedmont Community Care in Henderson, bases her new novel on the true story of a whistleblower who reveals fraud at a nursing home, only to find her own reputation on the line.

James Salzman: “Drinking Water: A History” (Woodstock Overlook)
Salzman, professor of law and Nicholas Institute professor of environmental policy, shows how an essential resource highlights the most pressing issues of our time –from globalization and social justice to terrorism and climate change — and how humans have been wrestling with these problems for centuries.

Salzman discussed these challenges on a recent edition of WUNC Radio’s “The State of Things.” The Environmental Law Society presented a lunch talk on his book, which Scientific American says “makes the liquid seem as mythic as the fountain of youth.” Publishers Weekly says Salzman “puts a needed spotlight on an often overlooked but critical social, economic and political resource.”

Beth M. Sheppard: “The Craft of History and the Study of the New Testament” (The Society of Biblical Literature)
Sheppard, associate professor for the practice of theological bibliography and director of the Duke Divinity School Library, explores how historians and New Testament scholars probe the past.

The textbook provides overviews of the philosophy of history, common historical fallacies and the basics of historiography, as well as three original textual studies that illustrate the various historical methods for New Testament interpretation.

John Staddon: “The Malign Hands of the Markets: The Insidious Forces on Wall Street That Are Destroying Financial Markets — And What We Can Do About It” (McGraw-Hill) Staddon, an emeritus professor of psychology and neuroscience, discusses the “invisible mechanisms” that drive markets today and offers up solutions to stop what he describes as a boom-and-bust cycle. Staddon wrote about the financial sector’s role in income inequality in this op-ed for the Raleigh News & Observer. He recently talked about his book at the Museum of American Finance on Wall Street in New York, and in other settings.

Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz, editors: “Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings,” 2nd ed., revised and expanded. (Berkeley: University of California Press)
Art, Art History & Visual Studies professor Kristine Stiles has updated this resource, first published in 1996, to represent 30 countries and more than 100 new artists. She added 40 images and a diverse roster of artists, including many who have emerged since the 1980s, such as Julie Mehretu, Carrie Mae Weems, Damien Hirst, Shirin Neshat, Cai Guo-Qian, Olafur Eliasson, Matthew Barney and Takashi Murakami.

Andrea E. Woods Valdes, translator: “Where Love and Hope Rein: 14 Love Poems for February 14th” by Joan Francisco Valdes Santos, Spanish and English on facing pages. (Durham, N.C.: Souloworks)
Valdes, an associate professor of the practice of dance and artistic director of the modern dance company Souloworks/Andrea E. Woods & Dancers, has translated 14 of her Havana-born husband’s poems. First self-published for Valentine’s Day in 2011, Valdes says she hopes “Where Love and Hope Reign” will become a work that people will enjoy every February.

Bill Verner, contributor: “The Minus Times Collected : 20 years, 30 issues,” edited by Hunter Kennedy (Featherproof Books)
Verner, a Duke Libraries acquisitions staff member, began contributing to a friend’s hand-typed literary magazine in the early ’90s while working for Europa Books, a now-defunct bookstore in Austin, Texas. He continued contributing after he moved to Durham to work as an independent publisher’s representative. Among his five contributions, “Stop Watch” is a new piece he wrote specifically for the anthology. Other contributors include Sam Lipsyte, David Berman, Patrick DeWitt and Wells Tower, with illustrations by David Eggers and Brad Neely and interviews with Dan Clowes, Barry Hannah and a yet-to-be-famous Stephen Colbert.

Vivek Wadhwa: “The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent” (Wharton Digital Press)
Wadhwa, director of research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization of the Pratt School of Engineering, draws on his own research and that of two colleagues to show the United States in the midst of a historically unprecedented halt in high-growth, immigrant-founded startups. He offers a framework for understanding the immigrant exodus and offers a recipe for reversal and rapid recovery. The Economist’s review, republished by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is here.

Lise Wallach and Michael A. Wallach: “Seven Views of Mind” (Psychology Press) Psychology research professor Lise Wallach, writing with her husband, emeritus professor Michael A. Wallach, examines seven different answers to the question, “What are we talking about when we talk about the mind?” The dualistic view that there is a non-material world in addition to the physical world is considered together with six non-dualistic views. The language is in a relatively nontechnical, informal manner designed to appeal to psychology students and their instructors.

Will Willimon: “Incorporation” (Cascade Books)
Willimon, the widely published former dean of Duke Chapel and current professor of the practice of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School, has written his first novel, which portrays the saints and sinners in a large fictional church.

Published in October, the novel takes readers on a ride through the Sundays of Easter in a Midwest church called “Hope.” Squabbling clergy, staff meeting slap-downs, sins of the spirit and sins of the flesh come together at Hope with divine revelation, mystery and moments of gentle grace. Read an excerpt of “Incorporation” (pdf).

Kelly Wooten and Lyz Bly, editors: “Make Your Own History: Documenting Feminist and Queer Activism in the 21st Century” (Litwin Books)
Wooten, a librarian with the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, brings together activists, archivists, librarians and scholars to address the practical material challenges of documenting and archiving contemporary activism, “third wave” cultures and subcultures. She also considers the move from paper to digital archives, among several other topics.

First Thoughts on Canada from Deborah Jakubs

I have been reflecting on why this novel touched me so much, got under my skin as I read it, and continues to stay on my mind.  When we read, we naturally empathize and imagine how we would act in one situation or another, how we (or in this case our children) might respond to whatever fate throws in the path of the protagonist.  I think it is Dell’s innocence that got to me, his way of quietly rearranging his hopes each time they have been dashed, of figuring out how to cope with the sad reality and serious uncertainty of his young life.  He longs to go to school and have friends, to play chess, to have his father’s attention, to learn about bees, to go to the State Fair – and at every turn even these modest desires are thwarted.

Telling a story through the eyes of a child is not easy, and yet Ford channels Dell perfectly.  Even though Dell is relating the story from a temporal distance, now retired and reflecting back on his life, the vulnerability of the young Dell comes through clearly.  Children take in much more than adults give them credit for, and Dell’s observation of the details of daily life with his family and his inner commentary and interpretation of remarks, behaviors, and events give this book its powerful mood.  Children can also be very vigilant if they feel that somehow things are not right, are not going well, and try to make sense of what they are seeing, as Dell does.  He is uneasy as he tries to figure out where their family might be heading, literally and figuratively.

Dell and his twin sister Berner have moved many times, been uprooted from anything familiar, and their life with their parents is only barely stable when very unfortunate events throw them into even more tragic circumstances for which they bear no responsibility.  Their parents’ mistakes shape them and continue to color their lives even when the parents are long gone.  Dell and Berner take, or are taken on, different paths, both very lonely ones.  The separation of the siblings soon after their parents are arrested and their loss of contact over so many years is one of the saddest parts of Canada for me.  The last familiar person is gone, and there is no knowing if they will ever see each other again.

By the end of the book, Dell has been able to scavenge some good from his life, and apparently to make peace with his history.  Berner was not so lucky.  Is Canada, in the end, a hopeful book?  What lessons can we take from it?

 Deborah Jakubs

Read more about Deborah and her selection on the DukeReads website.

Bob Bliwise shares his final thoughts

In the course of our ongoing conversation, I’ve thought about what makes this most unlikely of tales—The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry—so compelling. Basically, the book is packed with classic elements of storytelling: memorable characters and an evocative landscape, struggle and triumph, and, of course, ultimate redemption and self-discovery.

I’m now onto another book, Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Gottschall, in his consideration of the storytelling imperative, observes: “Humans are creatures of story, so story touches nearly every aspect of our lives. Archaeologists dig up clues in the stones and bones and piece them together into a saga about the past. Historians, too, are storytellers. Some argue that many of the accounts in school textbooks, like the standard story of Columbus’s discovery of America, are so rife with distortion and omissions that they are closer to myth than history. Business executives are increasingly told that they must be creative storytellers: they have to spin compelling narratives about their products and brands that emotionally transport consumers.”

Legal scholars, he adds, “envision a trial as a story contest, too, in which opposing counsels construct narratives of guilt and innocence—wrangling over who is the real protagonist.” And he makes an observation appropriate to this political season: “Political commentators see a presidential election not only as a contest between charismatic politicians and their ideas but also as a competition between conflicting stories about the nation’s past and future.”

At its essence, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry touches us through the enduring, and somewhat mysterious power of the good story—a story in which we can see large themes at work, but in which we can also see something of ourselves.

Thank you Bob for choosing such an interesting book and for starting us out on our own voyage on the DukeReads blog!