Margaret Wilkerson Sexton ’04
A Kind of Freedom
In her debut novel, Sexton illuminates the intergenerational struggles of an African American family in her native New Orleans, a territory whose customs, landmarks and dialects she knows well. The characters in A Kind of Freedom are chained to the indignities of segregation, job discrimination and police harassment. Lines of color and class further divide them. But the characters also revel in Mardi Gras and gumbo and lean on their (sometimes frayed) loyalties to one another.
Sexton’s narrative weaves skillfully back and forth across three time periods and social contexts: the era of World War II and Jim Crow, the crack epidemic of the 1980s and the shattered post-Katrina city of 2010-11. Within each era, the story adopts the perspective of a single character.
We first meet Evelyn, a bright doctor’s daughter, as she falls for Renard, a man whose pants with an “uneven hem” mark him as a misfit. Beset by quotidian humiliations, he seeks a path to manhood by volunteering for war. A generation later the couple’s daughter, Jackie, marries another well-meaning but ineffectual man, Terry, who struggles with crack addiction. Their son, Evelyn’s grandson, T.C., having grown up mostly fatherless, develops a weakness for weed and a knack for cultivating it. Careless and unlucky, he becomes yet another victim of a war on drugs that targets even penny-ante dealers. From a prison cell, he hopes desperately that his son will have a better life.
Though anchored in history, A Kind of Freedom is more intimate than epic, a tale of disappointment, displacement and loss. But it is also a testament to the persistence of family bonds in an increasingly matrilineal community. For Sexton, romantic love can be redemptive, but also destructive and unreliable. Sisters may be both best friends and bitter rivals. The most lasting and truest bonds seem to be those between parent and child. Written with a sure feeling for shifting cultural norms and the distinctive patois of each period, this piercingly lovely novel asks whether the future can shake off the bonds of the past. —Julia M. Klein
Peter Maeck ’71
Remembrance of Things Present: Making Peace with Dementia
Writer and photographer Maeck offers a rhyming, photographically illustrated account of his experience caring for his father, William ’43, Tu’46, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The book follows his TedX talk of the same title, easily found online.
John Mugglebee ’77
Neespaugot: The Legend of the Indian’s Coin
(Brandt Street Press)
Mugglebee draws on the real-life exploits of his ancestors across three centuries—drawing on his Native American, African American, Scots-Irish, Chinese and Russian Jewish roots—in a sweeping historical saga.
Emily Katz Anhalt ’80
Enraged: Why Violent Times Need Ancient Greek Myths
(Yale University Press)
Sarah Lawrence College classics professor Anhalt examines how classical Greek literature can teach us to recognize violent revenge as a marker of illogical thinking and poor leadership. She uses works by Homer, Euripides and Sophocles to demonstrate the foolishness of celebrating those who indulge in violent rage.
Erika Katz ’94
(River Grove Books)
Parenting expert Katz turns to Big Green football coach Buddy Teevens ’79 and former NFL quarterback Jay Fiedler ’94—plus NFL luminaries such as Tom Coughlin, John Harbaugh and Mike Shanahan—to gather techniques and advice to help parents with the challenges of raising teenagers.
Ray Padgett ’09
Padgett shares the inside stories behind 20 iconic cover songs and the artists who turned them into classics—including Jimi Hendrix’s take on “All Along the Watchtower,” the Beatles rocking out with “Twist and Shout” and Aretha Franklin demanding “Respect.” The book is a spin-off of his Cover Me blog (covermesongs.com), and includes musician interviews and photos.
Additional books that were not listed in our print edition:
Thomas Kong ’54, based on decades spent researching the history of his family, starting with his great-grandfather in 1880, weaves together the trials and triumphs of Chinese immigrants who settled in California in the historical novel, Tian Ming: Destiny: 100 Years in California, A Chinese Family Saga (self-published posthumously by his widow, Patricia).
Former geologist David Bennett Laing ’62 has self-published two books this year, on topics as varied as climate change and a love story set in the 1960s. With In Praise of Carbon: How We’ve Been Misled Into Believing that Carbon Dioxide Causes Climate Change he burrows beneath doomsday propaganda in search of the science behind the theory of greenhouse warming; in Eustacia’s Secret: A Love Story, Laing follows two boys, one of whom is actually a transgender girl, as they fall in love despite the complications in a fictional tale set in Hanover.
Former Union College president Roger Hull ’64 offers a handbook based on the principles and words of historic and present-day leaders for those who want to lead organizations with The Leader’s Manual: Leaders on Leadership (self-published).
Former Navy commander Dave Muller ’70 recalls the highlights of his career—including building and running the U.S. Navy’s worldwide intelligence collection network and tracking Soviet and Chinese operations—in his memoir, Knowing the Enemy: An Intelligence Officer’s Memoir, 1966-2014 (self-published).
Michael Leong ’00, an English assistant professor at the University at Albany, SUNY, offers a collection of 99 fragments, aphorisms and typographic poems—plus color-coded pages that allow for multiple pathways of reading—in his third book of poetry, Who Unfolded My Origami Brain? (Fence Digital).
Kabir Sehgal ’05 shares 34 poems and 12 songs inspired by a diverse group of American immigrants—from Yo-Yo Ma to Audrey Hepburn, Albert Einstein to Celia Cruz—who have made significant contributions to the United States as coauthor (with Deepak Chopra) of Home: Where Everyone Is Welcome (Grand Central Publishing).
Writer and style expert Natalie Wise, Adv’10, offers advice on making the most of daily life, from cultivating an inner self to creating community and the perfect homemade latte in Happy Pretty Messy: Cultivating Beauty and Bravery When Life Gets Tough (Skyhorse). For more hands-on tips, she has also published Gifts in Jars: Homemade Cookie Mixes, Candles, Lotions, Teas, and More! (Skyhorse), a guide to making dozens of unique gifts.