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Sandwich’d: My Life Between the Breads

Peter Roseman. Plum Bay, $15.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-0-9988617-6-0

Roseman and his family have been serving up sandwiches at Gourmet Galley in Stamford, Conn., for 25 years, and that experience, along with more than a dozen sandwich recipes, informs this slight memoir. His tales of work as a restaurateur echo that of many a restaurant owner: a litany of unreliable staff and no-shows (he realized a delivery driver quit only after a tow truck pulled up with the restaurant’s van), catered events that went awry (an outdoor Bastille Day tent party for a French company in Greenwich turned into chaos when the alcohol and water ran out), and longtime employees who became like family. Although his sandwich recipes are similar to those of other delis, Roseman shares personal stories with each, including the La Vache (a brie, tomato, horseradish sandwich whose roast beef Roseman ties and cooks himself); the Italian Combo (he recalls eating his first Italian at age 15, sharing it with a girl he had a crush on); a Peruvian Chicken Sanguchon of rotisserie chicken and fried eggs that their Peruvian cook developed; Sicilian Muffuletta (“like the Italian combo... only bigger” and with an olive tapenade). While this memoir doesn’t rise above others, Roseman earnestly recounts what it means to be part of a small family business. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Finding My Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward

Valerie Jarrett. Viking, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-52-555813-2

In this insightful political insider memoir, Jarrett, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, tells of her career in the government. Raised in a prominent black family in 1960s Chicago, Jarrett graduated from Stanford and the University of Michigan Law School, and returned home to work in private practice. Realizing that public service was her calling, Jarrett took a job in the office of Mayor Harold Washington (“the chance to work with incredibly talented public servants gave me a purpose and satisfaction I’d never felt before”). As Mayor Richard Daley’s deputy chief of staff in 1989, Jarrett hired Michelle Robinson, fiancée of Barack Obama, and the three forged a close-knit friendship; Jarrett later agreed to chair Obama’s Senate race finance committee and to be an advisor for his presidential bid. After Obama’s election, she became his senior adviser and writes proudly about how satisfying it was to have been part of an administration that addressed such issues as health care and passed a bill to allow “openly gay men and women in the military.” Along the way, she includes such memorable moments as when a speechless Michael Jordan learned he would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jarrett movingly captures life as a public servant in this detailed, well-told memoir (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity

Edited by Micah Rajunov and Scott Duane. Columbia Univ, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-231-18533-2

Gender is explored by a diverse group of 30 writers who identify neither as male nor female and use nonbinary pronouns in this mixed collection of first-person narratives. Sand C. Chang, a Chinese-American psychotherapist, tries to free themselves from their internalized gender conditioning; Christopher Soto, a brown person and former punk, reflects on the acceptance a rebellious community brought them. Caleb Wilvich “long[s] for a world where my actions weren’t gendered and I could just interact as a human... [without] the constant pressure of gender roles”; Genny Beemyn laments being misgendered by other trans people. Jaye Ware’s Christian faith is shaken when rejected by their church community, and activist Jeffrey Marsh faces death threats due to being visibly gender-nonconforming. One of the most moving pieces is by “Abigail,” a mother who struggles to understand, accept, and support her child when that child rejects their assumed place on the gender binary. Her account will be a boon to readers new to the topic. The essays sometimes lack finesse, but carefully chosen, particular, quirky details reveal the writers’ personalities, and all the essays evince a sincere desire to candidly share difficult feelings on a complicated topic. This well-meaning book will be an asset in college classroom conversations about queer theory. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Stranger at My Table: The Postcolonial Story of a Family Caught in the Half-Life of Empires

Ivo de Figueiredo, trans. from the Norwegian by Deborah Dawkin. DoppelHouse, $22.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-9997544-7-4

Figueiredo’s touching, contemplative chronicle of loss and self-discovery documents his Norwegian childhood, adult reconciliation with his estranged father, and his search for his paternal roots in Goa. The narrative begins in 2011, when Figueiredo decided to learn more about his estranged father. Soon after reconnecting, however, his father exhibited signs of dementia, and the tale of reconciliation becomes one of seeking his roots and pondering identity by traveling to Goa. Poring over family history, tapes, and photographs, Figueiredo reconstructs the events preceding his birth: Figueiredo senior, descended from Goans, was born and raised in East Africa. Opportunity took him to England in 1958, where he studied engineering and fell in love with Marit, a Norwegian au pair. There were then “fewer than 150 people from Asia and Africa in Norway,” and he worried whether his future in-laws disliked “the idea... of Marit marrying a colored boy.” But Marit agreed to a Catholic wedding in a sari, and they settled in Norway. The marriage eventually fell apart due to his violent temper, as the author turned 10. This deeply realized personal narrative of a beloved mother and a distant father, finally understood from the perspective of adulthood, is a moving reading experience. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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How Change Happens

Cass R. Sunstein. MIT, $29.95 (344p) ISBN 978-0-262-03957-4

In this dense and technical, but illuminating, work influenced by behavioral science and political philosophy, legal scholar and policy theorist Sunstein (Nudge) further develops his ideas on how changes in attitude and behavior ought to happen. As in his previous works, Sunstein argues that, rather than relying upon blunt policy instruments such as bans and mandates, “choice architects” can often effectively accomplish their desired outcomes using less coercive mechanisms (“nudges”). He first explores how and why social norms regulate behavior, particularly how people who challenge social norms provoke shifts in attitudes and behavior after others discover that a previously constraining norm has lost its force. He considers the ethical ramifications of the “libertarian paternalist” approach toward policy, which seeks to promote individual and collective welfare while preserving choice, ultimately declaring that “choice architecture” is unavoidable: life itself nudges people. In the final, most accessible section, Sunstein engages a selection of more specific problems, including the potential flaws in relying upon mental shortcuts in moral decision-making. This is a work that demands—but rewards—the reader’s full attention. Readers who lack a background in behavioral economics or philosophy may find themselves questioning some of these disciplines’ assumptions about human nature, but Sunstein’s cautious and judicious discussion of these topics is worth consideration. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Win or Die: Leadership Secrets from Game of Thrones

Bruce Craven. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-25030-117-8

Craven (Fast Sofa), director of Columbia Business School’s Advanced Management Program, extracts intriguing management lessons from George R.R. Martin’s wildly popular A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels and the series’ smash hit television adaptation, HBO’s Game of Thrones, in this enjoyable and surprisingly relevant guide. He introduces various leadership tenets by analyzing turning points in the fantasy saga, such as the demise of one of its most noble and popular characters, Ned Stark, showing how Stark’s high standards and inability to consider the values of others led to his downfall. Craven also connects ideas on coaching, resilience, emotional and contextual intelligence, and adaptability to key decisions made by Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Daenerys Tagaryen, and other figures from the series. These examples are accompanied by useful exercises designed to determine one’s managerial strengths and weaknesses, such as writing a “resilience story,” with such stages as “Falling of the Hero” and “Hero Faces Internal Fears,” to help oneself visualize overcoming future challenges. This manual demonstrates a clever and fun way of understanding effective leadership, bringing new life to a tired topic and providing wisdom that readers—particularly Game of Thrones’ many avid fans—can put to use at the office. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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H.G. Adler: A Life in Many Worlds

Peter Filkins. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-19-022238-3

Filkins, a Bard literature professor and translator of several Hans Günther “H.G.” Adler novels, offers a powerful portrait of Adler (1910–1987), a scholar, novelist, poet, and tireless witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. The book focuses most effectively and eloquently on Adler’s experiences in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, which forever colored his work and beliefs—including his commitment to living a principled life devoted to the future yet cognizant of the lessons of the past. Raised in a German-speaking, largely secular Jewish community in Prague, Alder was never a practicing Jew, but did connect more deeply to Judaism while in the camps. There, he was sustained by his love of and intense engagement with literature and philosophy. Following the war, Adler became a passionate advocate for survivor reparations, and even provided an affidavit for the Eichmann trial. Perhaps most significantly, he wrote the monumental nonfiction works Theresienstadt 1941–1945 (1955) and Administered Man: A Study of the Deportation of the Jews from Germany (1974). Filkins could have better synopsized Adler’s fiction, or more thoroughly introduced supporting characters in the narrative, important figures in Adler’s own time, of whom readers may not have heard previously. But this vivid biography does create a convincing picture of a man who grappled with the unimaginable and, upon his death, was justifiably called righteous. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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About Gender Identity Justice in Schools and Communities

sj Miller. Teachers College, $24.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-8077-6125-0

Education activist Miller (Teaching, Affirming, and Recognizing Trans and Gender Creative Youth) presents an illuminating guide for educators and administrators on creating a safe and welcoming space for gender-nonconforming students in schools. The author begins by highlighting the difficulties these students face, including microaggressions, “identity-based violence and social marginalization,” and fluctuating federal legislation regarding their rights. The concept of cisgender privilege is insightfully defined, allowing the reader a greater understanding of the many ordinary rights a cisgender person takes for granted that a gender-nonconforming person is often denied (such as adequate health care and appropriate bathroom facilities). Miller also notes some of the well-meaning but misguided tactics teachers should avoid, including promoting “diversity,” a term that posits a societal “norm” from which gender-nonconforming individuals are supposedly deviating, and offers concrete tactics educators can implement to include gender-nonconforming students. These include using personal introductions in which students are invited state their preferred names and pronouns, encouraging students to think critically about gender norms, and conducting “conversation about the flexibility of gender and gender identity.” Fundamentally, Miller explains, “Validation legitimizes [gender-nonconforming students’] existence and place in the world.” Miller’s guidance is comprehensive, nonjudgmental, and accessible to all readers. The balanced mix of pedagogical theory and practical advice should prove instrumental to educators seeking to make their classrooms more inclusive. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World out of Your Control

Massimo Pigliucci and Gregory Lopez. The Experiment, $18.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-61519-533-6

In 52 pithy and practicable lessons, Pigliucci (How to Be a Stoic), professor of philosophy at City College of New York, and Lopez, host of Stoic Camp New York, explain how lessons plucked from an ancient Greco-Roman philosophy can reshape one’s sense of self. The authors rest their thesis on two Stoic tenets: that cultivating character (not material wealth, achievement, or the actions of others) leads to a satisfying, virtuous life, and that focus should be placed on what is in one’s control, not on what is outside one’s influence. They then offer lessons that can be practiced over the course of a week or on an ad-hoc basis. The authors recommend readers take another’s perspective, strengthen oneself through “mild self-deprivation” such as fasting or exposure to elements, imagine future adversity, and start practicing minimalism. Each chapter contains a short, real-world example of how the skill or lesson in question is beneficial, and then a commentary on how the Stoics interpreted the concept. For instance, in “Cut out busyness,” they write, “The first question a Stoic would ask of someone who is too busy is whether they have their priorities straight.” This successful blend of knowledge and action items will entice readers looking for thoughtful prompts for self-reflection. (June)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Its Terrifying Times

Joseph Lanza. Skyhorse, $24.99 (228p) ISBN 978­1­5107­3790-7

This cultural history from critic Lanza (Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films) is focused in its specifics and clever in its conceit. Surveying the American cultural landscape of the early 1970s through the lens of Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Lanza portrays the era as one of turmoil, rapid change, and violence. Lanza profiles real-life analogues to the film’s psychopath villains, including the San Francisco Bay Area’s never-caught Zodiac Killer and Houston’s Dean Corll, “the Candy Man.” He also examines the zeitgeist more broadly with chapters on Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal, changing conceptions of family based around the work of Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, and even the relaxing of obscenity laws and the mainstreaming of pornography with 1972’s Deep Throat. Lanza finds many rich connections between these trends and Hooper’s movie, some literal—for instance, that it was released by the same mob-connected company responsible for that earlier porno hit. Others are more abstract, such as Lanza’s reflection on how the film’s two families—one besieged and hapless, the other unstable and violent—relate to Laing’s theories. This is a smartly written, well-structured survey worth the attention of both horror film fans and sociologists. (May)

Reviewed on 03/29/2019 | Details & Permalink

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