2017 Berkeley Law Library
Holiday Reading List

The greatest gift is a passion for reading.
— Elizabeth Hardwick

Holipalooza! Faculty author. Staff Author. Law School Alum Author. Baking. Biography. Memoir. Mystery. Essays. History. Fiction. Kid Lit. Thanks to our many reviewers from the Berkeley Law community, big and small.

From all of us at the Berkeley Law Library, we wish you and yours a joyous holiday season.

The Berkeley Law Library

Click on book cover to read review.

A Kind of Freedom
The Astronomer & the Witch: Johannes Kepler's Fight for His Mother
A Tale for the Time Being
Autumn
Before the Fall
The Best We Could Do
The Cake Bible
The Confession
Das bewegte Buch von Die Krickelkrakels
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
The Dreaded Feast
Giovanni's Room
The Girls of Slender Means
The Great Treehouse War
The Gold Bug Variations
Hunger: A Memoir of (my) Body
Framed! A T.O.A.S.T.* Mystery by James Ponti
Habeas Corpus in Wartime
Lincoln in the Bardo
Long Distance Riding
Magpie Murders
The Marriage Artist
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy
Richard Nixon: The Life
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and The Endurance
Sin Against the Race
The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992
We Were Eight Years in Power

A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton (Law School Alum Author)

Trish Plunkett, Professor of Legal Writing

I am not an objective reviewer of Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s 2017 debut novel A Kind of Freedom. Margaret is a Berkeley Law alum and a former student, who I remember with great fondness. So it may come as no surprise that I loved her book and recommend it to everyone I know. But many unbiased, professional reviewers with no connection to its remarkable author have also raved about it, including the New York Times, which called it “luminous.” It was nominated for the National Book Award.

A Kind of Freedom is set in New Orleans, where Margaret grew up. Her deep affection for New Orleans is evident throughout, and her ability to evoke the local culture and dialogue is remarkable.

The novel traces the dreams, setbacks, and struggles of three generations of an African-American family: Evelyn, a Creole woman whose father is a doctor and who comes of age during World War II; her daughter Jackie, whose husband is caught up in the crack epidemic of the early 1980s, and T.C, Jackie’s son, whose story unfolds post-Katrina.

The title comes from a quote, the implications of which are woven throughout: “They were the children of once-upon-a-time slaves, born into a kind of freedom, but they had traveled down through the wombs with what all their kind had been born with – the knowledge that God had promised next week to everyone but themselves.”

The reader can feel the weightiness of racism and injustice borne by each character, and it is striking that in some ways, the first generation, exemplified by Evelyn, seems to have had an easier road than the most recent, despite ostensible advances in civil rights and race relations. The ongoing devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina is vividly portrayed through the loveable and poignant character T.C.. Although he reveres his grandma Evelyn and adores his baby boy who he wants to provide for, he seems unable to heal from, or make good decisions after, the heartbreaking death of his best friend, who perished in Katrina.

One of Margaret’s many storytelling gifts is her ability to portray the interior lives of her characters in a way that gives the reader insight into the myriad ways the deck is stacked against them. Their ability to hope and persist in the face of that evokes great compassion towards each character.

This beautiful novel will make any holiday flight go by faster, and it will make the fall semester’s cares recede, as you enter the lives of these vibrant characters who you will continue to care and think about long after you finish the book.

The Astronomer & the Witch: Johannes Kepler's Fight for His Mother by Ulinka Rublack

Monique Macaulay, Serials and Acquisitions Specialist

The Astronomer & the Witch: Johannes Kepler's Fight for His Mother tells the story of the famed astronomer, Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), defender of the Copernican Model, imperial mathematician and court advisor to Emperor Rudolph II, discoverer of the Three Laws of Planetary Motion, husband, father, son; and the accusation and trial of his mother, Katharina Kepler for witchcraft.

Here is a little background: Ursula Reingold, who may or may not have had an ongoing financial dispute with Katharina’s youngest son Christoph, accused Katharina of administering an evil brew causing her to fall sick. Witchcraft was a very serious charge for the entire family, as it was believed that there was a genetic component to the practice and susceptibility to witchcraft. The Kepler’s file a libel suit, which is ignored by the governor of the province whom is more interested in collecting evidence of witchcraft (illegally) against Katharina. All of which is happening against the social and political unrest that was arising in the run up to the Thirty Years War. And here I will give you the Reader’s Digest, Johannes, who was not a trained lawyer, manages to get the charges dropped after six years of legal wrangling. I breathed a sigh of relief for this woman who was so fortunate to have family that stood by her when so many other accused persons did not.

Non-fiction teaches something about a subject or many subjects. However, non-fiction that reads like fiction draws you in and makes you care for the people involved. Ulinka Rublack succeeds in both of these endeavors. The Astronomer & the Witch is a highly detailed account of the social, cultural, political, and legal climate in 17th century Germany. It is an interesting examination of how a witch trial was conducted, the methods for collecting and refuting evidence, and Johannes Kepler’s very modern point-by-point review and rebuttal of the said evidence, which leads to the withdrawal of the charges. This book is located in the library’s regular collection at KK270.7.K46 R82 2015.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Robert C. Berring, Jr., Walter Perry Johnson Professor of Law

An incredible mash-up of two stories, the diary of a Japanese teenager and the struggles of the woman who finds her diary, this book presents much about Japan, about the kamikaze pilots of World War II, about Buddhism and even quantum physics. I have been urging this book on everyone in recent months. The woman is the story is very much like the author, down to the isolated island on which she lives. Some are put off by the first fifty pages, but charge forward, you will be rewarded. Loved the ending and all the possibilities it holds out.

Autumn by Ali Smith

Chris Tarr, Head of Cataloging

Ali Smith’s odd little novel, Autumn, was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. It’s about a dying old man, his friend, a 32-year-old adjunct lecturer in art history struggling for attachment to anything in post-Brexit England (which feels quite a bit like post-Trumpian America), and her mother, who turns out to be more interesting than we, and Elisabeth, expect. While Daniel Gluck wanders somewhere between life and death in a care home, Elisabeth Demand visits him, and in doing so, spends more time with her mother than she has in years. My favorite parts – Elisabeth’s trips to the Post Office to renew her passport and the spray-painted house near Elisabeth’s mother’s house.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Robert C. Berring, Jr., Walter Perry Johnson Professor of Law

If you seek a compelling book to pull you into its clutches, this one is a fine choice. Though it won the Edgar Award as the best mystery novel of the year, it is not what I would call a mystery. Centered on the crash of a private jet, the book has traces of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder’s classic that explores the lives of people killed in a bridge collapse. The character sketches are terrific and several real life people appear. The chapters on Jack LaLanne were worth the trip on their own. There is a lightly fictionalized Bill O’Reilly as well, part of a jaundiced portrait of the media. I read it in two sittings.

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

Kathy Hashimoto, Copyright Research Fellow

Artist and local author and teacher Thi Bui uses the graphic novel form to great effect to interweave stories of her family over generations in Vietnam and the United States, as the author tries to reconcile past and present. The Best We Could Do is an intimate, complex portrait of a family traumatized and uprooted by events occurring both within the home and across a war-torn nation. The hand lettering and illustrations are richly expressed in black and white with a single-color wash of reddish orange (in contrast, the endpapers fixed to the inside of the hardcover are in blue).

The subject is difficult, but the book is an important addition towards a fuller understanding of a tumultuous part of the history of Vietnam and the Vietnamese-American experience; in the end it leaves the reader with feelings of hope. For adult and young-adult readers, The Best We Could Do will not take long to read through the first time. But as with many graphic novels, multiple readings will enhance one’s appreciation of how much is being depicted here: complex settings and emotions are movingly rendered in images full of detail.

The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum (1988)

Marci Hoffman, Associate Director & International and Foreign Law Collections

I hate to bake (or cook, for that matter), but I do love to eat. When I do venture into the kitchen, it’s usually to try to bake a birthday cake for my husband (who is a professional chef). My go to cookbook for baking cakes is The Cake Bible. This book has so many yummy recipes, but my favorite (and thus the one I make for my husband) is the “All Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake” (with chocolate buttercream frosting). Now since I hate all things in the kitchen, I need a recipe that I can actually follow and not get too frustrated trying to decipher terminology. The recipes in this book are easy to follow and Rose makes complex techniques approachable for the person who bakes once a year. The Cake Bible comes through each time. This cake is so delicious, you’ll want eat this right out of the cake pans and skip the frosting.

Other favorite recipes in this book include: Chocolate Bread, Perfect Pound Cake, and Sour Cream Coffee Cake. The pound cake reminds me of the Sara Lee pound cake we used to buy in the grocery store (that is before my husband went to culinary school, of course).

Our copy of The Cake Bible is falling apart with many chocolate and butter stains throughout. For me, this is an indication of a heavily used and much-loved cookbook. It reminds me of my mom’s old copy of The Settlement Cookbook. Of course, my mom was a wonderful cook and baker and she swapped many recipes with my husband.

The book also gives good information on equipment and baking tips. Here’s my tip (okay, it’s from my husband), before you run to the kitchen to start baking a delicious cake, read the recipe three times!

I also love to look at Rose’s other books (see below) and I may opt for a pie rather than a cake on my birthday. Of course, I can never decide on which one, so I put post-it notes on many recipes. Just looking at the pictures will make you hungry.

Rose has many other books for you to consider:

I read that in 2018, Rose is going to publish Rose’s Baking Basics. With hundreds of photos, I will have my post-it notes at the ready.

By the way, I’m pretty sure our dean, Erwin Chemerinsky, has a copy of The Cake Bible in his kitchen. And if that’s not enough to make you want to buy this book, read the NYT review from October 1988.

The Confession by John Grisham (Audiobook)

Ramona Martinez, Circulation

Recently, I found myself having to do a lot of driving. Listening to a fascinating story made sharing the road with masses of traffic and a bunch of Google buses bearable. The Confession is the story of how an innocent man landed on death row. Unfortunately, we have seen all too many stories like this. What sets Grisham’s book apart is the depth of his character development. I got to know the innocent man and his family. I could feel his mother’s grief and sadness and I saw her strength and wisdom. I felt his father’s fear and frustration when he went to the police station but was unable to see or talk to his son. I started to understand how someone might be coerced into a confession by deceitful police officers after long hours of interrogation. I almost felt bad for the police officers when Grisham described them having to tell the victim’s mother some bad news. Grisham also digs into the motivations of an ambitious Governor and his cronies going along for the ride. I got a peek into the lives of so many of the characters involved: an appellate judge, his wife, his secretary, all with differing emotions and attitudes. A prosecutor having an affair with the judge presiding over the trial of the innocent man.
There’s a lot going on here!

The central story is of a Lutheran pastor who meets with a parishioner looking for counseling. That parishioner, as he tells it, is the real killer. Should the pastor believe him? Should he try to convince him to come forward to exonerate the innocent man? If he came forward just days before a scheduled execution, how could he prove his story and what good would it do? Anyone who’s worked on a death penalty case will recognize the frantic filing of last-minute appeals and the media circus of the days leading up to the execution.

The Confession is a great story that will keep you in suspense. I found myself sitting in the garage still listening. Grisham’s portrayals of the various judges, attorneys and other court personnel are vivid. Have fun listening!

Das bewegte Buch von Die Krickelkrakels

Joe Cera, Legal Research Librarian for Information Technology & Scholarly Communications

You have surely found yourself thinking 'reading is great but I would like it to be a little more interactive - and in German.' Well, good news for you because I have found that book for you. This book follows some adventures of the Krickelkrakels and even explains the age-old question of 'Where do eggs come from?' The book includes activities such as singing, shaking pears from trees, kissing frogs, calling Martians, and much more. While this book is intended for children you can't argue with the idea that your law school textbooks would be better if they involved doing any of the above activities.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, words and pictures by Mo Willems (Pre-K and Up)

Josephine Kramer, Age 5, Monte Gardens Elementary School

It’s about a pigeon wanting to go on a bus, but he can’t because he says he will just go around the corner, just one block. BUT THEN he actually does another block and then another block and another block. So, that’s why we keep saying no. That’s it. I like it because it’s funny. My favorite part is when he says, “I’ll be your best friend.”

The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays edited by Michele Clarke and Taylor Plimpton

Edna Lewis, Reference Librarian

Thus far in the 2017 Holidays vs. Me Smackdown the holidays are clearly winning, so when I picked up this collection of essays in a used book store last week (first published in 2009), I felt as if it had been written for me. Everyone from Mark Twain to James Thurber to Hunter Thompson to David Sedaris takes on the holidays and the holidays triumph every time. This is the perfect stocking stuffer or, better yet, to stuff down the throat of whoever puts you over the edge this holiday season.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Emily Bruce, Research Fellow and sometime Lecturer

This novel is about a young American man living in Paris in the 1950s. In his heart he knows that he is attracted to men, but he is trying to pass as straight. His efforts crumble when he meets Giovanni, a young Italian bartender, and they begin an intense, bittersweet, and ultimately tragic relationship.

The novel itself is as brief and intense as the love affair. Because James Baldwin was a master craftsman of language, the reader feels viscerally the oppressive atmosphere of every aspect of the narrator’s life: Giovanni’s room, their relationship, the bar where they met, and even the streets of Paris. The narrator’s romantic interactions with women just increase the sense that this is a man with no way out of his situation. The narrator is not a particularly noble or strong person, and his personal struggle ends up harming the people he cares most about, but his failings almost make him more sympathetic. Although Baldwin’s choice of a white narrator allows him to focus primarily on the issue of sexuality, one imagines that the novel’s pervading sense of marginality has roots in Baldwin’s experience of race, as well. And his female characters, though not central, are written with care and empathy. This is not a light read, but it is masterfully done, and well worth the emotional effort.

The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark

Dean Rowan, Director, Reference and Research Services

The “girls” are young women living in London in 1945 at the May of Teck Club, which exists “for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London.” Spark weaves together their lives, personalities, and quotidian concerns—surviving on rations, finding entertainment, cultivating talents, seeking romance—and punctuates these accounts with brief flash-forward episodes featuring a former May of Teck resident turned successful journalist, Jane Wright. Nearly twenty years later, Jane is preparing an article describing the life and presumed martyrdom of a curious young man, Nicholas Farringdon, whom she knew through his visits to the Club. She spreads the news of Nicholas’s recent death to her former Club mates and hopes to solicit their recollections. He had been a self-proclaimed anarchist and struggling poet peddling a manuscript. Self-assured, aloof, even condescending, he was to some of the “girls” an attractive antidote to the austerity of their circumstances.

In addition to the tableau of characters, each presenting her and his own appetites, ideologies, and quirks, Spark seems to have elaborated an allegory of some sort, a psychomachia set against the winding down of World War II. It must be significant that she situates a source of the novel’s climax in a garden at the Club, and that the crisis motivates Nicholas to join a Jesuit order. I also want to believe that Spark is enjoying an extended ironic pun on “slender” as she depicts her characters’ frequent worries about their figures and focuses important episodes on a narrow lavatory window in the Club through which only a select few of the “girls” can make escape from emergencies, for romantic assignations… In a précis in his 99 Novels: The Best in English since 1939, Anthony Burgess admires yet resents Spark’s ability to “look down on human pain and folly with a kind of divine indifference.” More sympathetic, and to my mind more apt, is Virgilia Peterson’s praise (in her 1963 New York Times review of the book) of Spark’s talent for “sedulous avoidance of sentiment.”

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff (Ages 9-12)

Leah Klein, Grade 5, Fairmont Elementary

The Great Treehouse War is about a girl named Winnie whose parents get divorced. She lives with her Mom on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays, and with her dad on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Since her parents are weird and want everything exactly “even”, on Wednesdays Winnie gets to live in a treehouse by herself with her cat Buttons. The treehouse is exactly in between her parents’ houses. The problem is that Thanksgiving is on a Thursday, and that is the only holiday that the parents really celebrate, so the mom thinks it’s unfair. The mom picks another holiday, Flag Day, to celebrate with Winnie. Winnie even tells her mom a white lie and says Flag Day is even better than Thanksgiving to make her mom happy. Then things start getting crazy because her parents compete with each other about having the best holidays with Winnie. So on the days that Winnie isn’t in her treehouse her parents come up with really weird holidays to celebrate with her. For example: Bad Poetry Day, Caramel Popcorn Day, National Raisin Day, Vitamin C Day and Zipper Day. Things get so bad that Winnie is in danger of failing 5th grade because her parents are obsessed with celebrating holidays! Winnie gets mad at her parents because they are just thinking about themselves and don’t even care about her. She refuses to come down unless they come up to the treehouse at the same time to talk to her. Soon after Winnie’s friends start to move into the treehouse because of their own problems with their parents. I don’t want to give away the end of the story, but I think this is a fantastic book. It is funny but also serious, and I really liked the characters of Winnie and her friends. This book is a great book for ages 9-12 and I highly recommend it.

The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers

Catherine R. Albiston, Faculty

The Gold Bug Variations by Richard Powers is a metaphor-packed novel contrasting emotion and reason, art and science, history and (relatively recent) present in an accessible riot of fantastical language with a recognizable plot (i.e., this is post-modern but not Pynchon). The title is a play on Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which feature in the book both explicitly and structurally, and The Gold Bug by Edgar Allan Poe, about solving a puzzle, which also drives the narrative. Perhaps because my sister is a librarian and I’ve always been fascinated by libraries and books, I love the librarian protagonist whose mother propped her up with encyclopedias to keep her occupied, leading to a career answering queries to the reference desk. The narrative alternates between scientist Stewart Ressler in 1957 decoding DNA in a University of Illinois lab and our librarian meeting the same Stewart Ressler in 1980s Manhattan working night shifts in obscurity maintaining a mainframe (remember those?).

Although the characters are quirky and engaging, the plot is merely a metaphor for exploring the tension between knowledge and emotion. Characters are structural; the story turns around itself like a double helix, or variation, that only becomes apparent as the book unfolds between two couples, one past, one present, as they grapple with modernity. All the while Powers displays a stunning, witty mastery of language that explores codes, metaphors, and displays linguistic virtuosity and playfulness. For example, Powers cleverly expresses post-modern skepticism about progress through subtle metaphors about the negative consequences of too much faith in science and technology. Not for everyone – the book is over six hundred pages and starts slow, with many digressions – but with patience and attention it pays off, especially for those who enjoy the clever simile, pun, or turn of phrase. Powers has written many novels worth a read – he won the National Book Award for the Echo Maker – but this is the one I’d pick to be stuck with on a dessert island because of its many layers and linguistic entertainment value.

Hunger: A Memoir of (my) Body by Roxane Gay

Nancy Donovan, Event Planner

Roxane Gay is a contemporary cultural critic and writer who has published five books in the last seven years, all acclaimed, all addressing social issues defining our current society, like feminism, race, body image, racial and sexual violence, and the immigrant experience. Her memoir Hunger—was a national bestseller.

Hunger tells the honest and intimate story of her rape, her body, her hunger and her survival. This book is not a triumphant Before and After story of weight loss, but rather the story of how a young girl’s experience of an act of violence changes her life. Gay was the daughter of well-off Haitian immigrants living in the middle of America when she was raped at the age of 12. Unable to turn to her parents or anyone else for help, she built her body into a fortress to protect herself from further assault. Roxane Gay weighed more than 600 pounds at one point.

This incredibly honest, brilliant and brave writer explores the realities of living in a world where anti-fat prejudice is one of the last socially acceptable prejudices. Our culture is obsessed with women’s bodies, weight loss, consumption, power and sex, and Roxane Gay’s beautifully written and compelling story is sad, triumphant, honest, real and necessary.

In our current cultural moment powerful sexual harassers are being called out and brought down every day. Hunger is one woman’s story of how the truth, her truth, matters. “The Silence Breakers” on the cover of Time Magazine as persons of the year for 2017 are evidence that women will no longer be silent about the assault that robs us of our potential to be all we want to be. It is about time.

Framed! A T.O.A.S.T.* Mystery by James Ponti (Grades 6-8)

Jacob Klein, Grade Eight, Korematsu Middle School

The book, Framed!, by James Ponti, is about a boy named Florian Bates, who gets hired by the FBI as a twelve-year-old. He uses T.O.A.S.T, the Theory of All Small Things, to solve mysteries and find out information about people basically just by looking at them. He also teaches T.O.A.S.T. to his friend Margaret, who practices it on people on the weekends. His parents work in art museums and before he gets recruited by the FBI, three paintings get stolen from the gallery where his dad works. Florian and Margaret manage to solve the theft on their own, using T.O.A.S.T. and evidence that the police and FBI thought was unnecessary. He then gets employed by the FBI as a special recruit and when he is brought into the FBI office, he solves a mystery that was confusing the FBI for weeks.

I recommend this book for ages nine to twelve for its exciting action. I liked this book especially for its addictive plot that totally brings you in. The elements of mystery make you want to solve the art theft for yourself and you won’t want to put it down. This book is part of a series and the second book, Vanished! is equally good.

Habeas Corpus in Wartime: From the Tower of London to Guantanamo Bay by Amanda Tyler (Faculty Author)

In her new book, Habeas Corpus in Wartime: From the Tower of London to Guantanamo Bay, UC Berkeley Law School Professor Amanda Tyler traces the Anglo-American legal and political history of habeas corpus and the role of the courts as a check on executive power during wartime. Building on Professor Tyler's extensive research in both the English and American archives, the book traces the development of the habeas privilege from its roots in English law through the course of American history. In do doing, the book covers a series of important wartime episodes in English and American history, including the Glorious Revolution and Jacobite Wars, the American Revolution, the Civil War and Reconstruction, World War II, and the War on Terror. After making the case that the English suspension framework greatly influenced the development of early American habeas jurisprudence, Tyler then turns to examine how later Presidents have -- or have not -- respected that framework during important episodes in American history, calling into question decisions made by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II (particularly with respect to the Japanese American internment), and George W. Bush during the War on Terror. In the end, the book reveals that many of the questions that arise today regarding the scope of executive power to arrest and detain in wartime are not new ones.

Authored by our own Amanda Tyler - way to go Professor Tyler! And the publisher Oxford University Press is offering this 30% discount.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Audiobook)

Chris Tarr, Head of Cataloging

Here’s a book you should read – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Forced to read it by my book group, and as usual having left it way too late, I listened to the audio version on my way to a birding class late this summer. It’s amazing, and the fact that it’s made up of a chorus of voices means it’s perfect for audio book. Possibly the best part of it is figuring out what’s going on, so I don’t want to give away too much, but it’s about Lincoln. It’s about the death of his son Willie, and about the Civil War. It takes place in the “bardo,” which appears to be a sort of limbo between life and death. It’s about how unreliable people are, but how, in listening to many voices, you can figure out what’s going on. And the stories are great.

Long Distance Riding by Marcy Drummond (Ages 5 and up)

Xingyue Zoea, Age 5, Global Montessori International School

This book is about horses - horses that were bred for people riding them, not for racing. They do long distance riding, which I mention to you just in case you didn't see the title. My favorite thing in the book is the chapter about health.

This is a really good book. It has lots of horse pictures: pictures of winning horses and healthy horses, pictures of horses that are good for endurance riding, and pictures of horses that are not as good at it. My favorite picture is one of a horse having its temperature taken. You can borrow the book from me if you want. If you don't like this review, though, you don't have to borrow the book.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (Audiobook)

Edna Lewis, Reference Librarian

Magpie Murders is an homage to the British mystery genre as well as a satisfying mystery on its own. The prolific Horowitz, whose TV writing credits include Foyle’s War, Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Midsomer Murders, has crafted a mystery within a mystery. Book editor Susan Ryeland is reading the latest manuscript by popular mystery author Alan Conway (whose mysteries feature a Poirot like detective named Atticus Pund), when Conway himself dies under mysterious circumstances. Ryeland attempts to solve 2 mysteries - the missing ending of Conway’s book and Conway’s possible murder. Everything is connected and character names, place names, and plot points all have a double meaning. This is a fun one and a great holiday gift for any mystery lover.

The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer

Charles Cannon, Senior Assistant Dean and Chief Administrative Officer

I enjoy a flawed masterpiece. Andrew Winer's second novel, ​The Marriage Artist, is nearly overwhelmed by its author's ambition to tell parallel stories with the Big Themes of love, truth, beauty, and the mysteries of consciousness. Two intense biographies gradually converge, however awkwardly: we enter the minds of a modern Manhattan sculptor and a young Katubah artist in 1940’s Vienna. Winer risks a great deal in defying the jaded, relativist aesthetics of the twenty-first century. Arguably old fashioned in its scale, and for occasionally lapsing into Third Reich and contemporary neurotic social tropes, Winer’s work succeeds in leading the reader through a truly remarkable concluding Apotheosis of Beauty. It is a literary moment of enduring impact. The extent to which he succeeds philosophically defines Winer’s success in making love and beauty the aching center of human existence.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Monique Macaulay, Serials and Acquisitions Specialist

Mill Valley, California: an eighth-grade boy who always seems to be the target of abuse and ridicule from his fellow students is desperate to feel understood, to belong, and to find a friend. Unfortunately, his one bold gesture goes very, very wrong causing him more humiliation at the hands of his peers. What comes next changes everything.

Lindsey Lee Johnson’s The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is an enthralling read with plenty of twists and turns in the action. The story brought me back to my own middle and high school days of cliques, awkwardness, and the struggle with whether it’s better to remain invisible or to take the heat for putting oneself out there. The very same concerns are still relevant today - bullying, drugs, alcohol, and the threat of predatory teachers being sexually involved with students. However, with technology the experience has been taken to a different level where social media can immediately broadcast bad situations or taunt less the popular classmates.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth will be a compelling read for those who like young-adult lit, or who may be interested in what today’s kids face in their day-to-day lives. Sadly most of us will recognize the scenarios and be so very thankful that we don’t have to traverse them in today’s completely connected environment. The characters are all unlikeable, from the kids to the adults, but the action is fast-paced and keeps the reader engaged despite the repugnance of the characters.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg

Claudia Polsky, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law

Eleven years into marriage, with two children under eight, a perky Silicon Valley billionaire with a branding empire, a domestic staff worthy of an org chart, and a book that topped the New York Times bestseller list for 200+ weeks loses her circa 50-year-old husband to a heart attack incurred at an elite Mexican resort while he toned quads on an Elliptical Trainer. Question: Do you care? This is the threshold issue facing potential readers of Option B, Sheryl Sandberg’s recovery-from-grief chronicle that is part therapeutic journal and part self-help book.

If you are ever less noble than you aspire to be, a certain schadenfreude, combined with an aversion to the self-conscious packaging in which any Sandberg advice necessarily arrives (the text is sprinkled with qualifiers like, “I’m well aware of how fortunate we are to have a wide support system of extended family, friends, and colleagues and access to financial resources that few have”), you may be highly tempted to bypass this book. Especially: if you are told that among Sandberg’s domestic coping strategies in widowhood was instituting a weekly event named “Family Awesome Fun” that was accompanied by a group cheer.

Nevertheless. In exploring how one can best rebound from life’s inevitable deaths, decays, and disappointments, Sandberg has collated useful data and advice from numerous resilience experts, such as the insight that our “affective forecasting” abilities are crummy, and we can usually reclaim joy after adversity much sooner than we predict. We likewise underestimate the chance that traumas will produce unexpected and ultimately welcome dimensions of personal growth (labeled “bouncing forward”), rather than merely diminishing us.

Most helpful, however, is Sandberg’s candid advice on how best to engage those grieving a loss or confronting imminent death (it’s not by asking, “How are you?” . . . although this ranks above avoidance), based on her experience managing others’ reactions to her tragedy. Also interesting is Sandberg’s discussion of dating after spousal death, and navigating the gendered double-standard still surrounding it (women are expected to stay in mourning singledom for years, even where not culturally required to throw themselves atop a funeral pyre).

For me, this thoughtful, authentic advice about how to – in Sandberg’s words – “Lean In to the suck” of life’s worst episodes was well worth the minimal commitments involved: time for a mere 176 pages, in a generous font size, available for as little as $1.97 (used on Amazon).

Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell

Marci Hoffman, Associate Director & International and Foreign Law Collections

There are many books about Nixon and I’ve read my fair share of them (I especially love stuff about Watergate). This exhaustive book (737 pages) covers the history and evolution of the man through a mostly chronological journey. Many of us know the contours and some facts about the events covered in this biography, but Farrell managed to unearth quite a bit that’s new. His research uncovered many new facts from secret reports, notes and diaries from White House staff, interviews, and so much more. In fact, the notes (all 558, 121 pages of them) are my favorite part of this book. My librarian senses tingle when I think about doing the research for this biography. Librarian senses are like Spidey-senses.

The book is easy to read and Farrell keeps the story alive and moving with good writing and a balanced approach to a very complicated man and an equally complicated set of historical events. It shows all sides of this complex human – his intelligence, paranoia, ambition, viciousness, corrupt tendencies – the list could go on and on. In the chapter called “Not Fish nor Fowl,” Farrell referred to Nixon as a “shape-shifter” and I cannot think of a better description.

Farrell does point out some of the good things that came out of the Nixon administration. These include the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and Budget, the signing of several key pieces of civil rights and environmental legislation, and his foreign policy initiatives with China and the Soviet Union. Of course, there is also a very long list of bad things. The good and evil are both recounted in this biography.

Overall, I thought the book was quite interesting and I enjoyed reading the new revelations about the man and the times. While the book didn’t change my feelings toward our 37th president, I did feel a bit more sympathy for Pat Nixon.

By the way, if you are interested in Watergate (and who isn’t?), check out Slate Magazine’s new podcast miniseries called “Slow Burn”. The first episode is about Martha Mitchell, the wife of John Mitchell, Nixon’s first attorney general. This is an intriguing story of a “woman who knew too much.” There is only one mention of Martha Mitchell in Farrell’s book, so listen to this podcast to refresh your memory (or hear about her for the first time).

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and The Endurance, by Jennifer M. Armstrong

Xingyue Zoea, Age 5, Global Montessori International School (Ages 5 and up)

This book is about going to Antarctica and having a hard time of it. All of the people survived, because they ate penguins and seals, and hoosh. The weather was very, very cold sometimes, and it was warm sometimes (though not hot), like up to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

I don't have a favorite thing about this book because I just like the whole story. My favorite picture in the book is of a person carrying two baby penguins, since they are so cute. I wish I could be the baby penguin in the foreground. They look like they are getting a nice cuddle. My favorite person in the story is the person in the picture holding the two baby penguins. I don't remember his name but I like what he did in the story, which was that he was carrying two baby penguins. My second favorite person in the story is Sir Ernest Shackleton, because he was a good leader. I like leading but I don't mind that he was the leader of this expedition since I was not alive yet. He was a good leader because he went fast and kept all the people together. If you like this review, you can borrow my copy of the book.

Sin Against the Race by Gregory “gar” Russell (Staff Author)

Alfonso Rutherford Berry III—son of a city councilman, grandson of the state’s first African American legislator—believes that history has ordained for him but one life, and it ain’t his first love: dancing. But after a series of tragedies, starting with the death of his fierce, out cousin Carlton, his assumptions explode in his face along with his closet door.

In the process, he makes new friends, finds love, and discovers his own voice. However, his new life sets him on a collision course with his father, his church, and the family legacy established by his revered late grandfather.

Written in taut prose steeped in history and current events—and seasoned with the blues—Sin Against the Race follows the coming-of-age journey of a young black gay man as he progresses from an invisible councilman’s son to a formidable presence in his community.

Written by our own gar- cheers gar!

The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992 by Tina Brown

Edna Lewis, Reference Librarian

This is a top shelf wallow. As editor of the reincarnated Vanity Fair, Tina Brown captured the excess of the 1980s in the pages of the magazine and her diaries marvelously recreate that time. The 80s - Reagan in the White House, Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken and their Wall Street shenanigans, the first rise of Trump in all his tawdriness, Princess Diana’s fairytale marriage collapse - it’s all there. Brown zeroed in on then Hollywood icons (e.g. Demi Moore pregnant and nude on the cover) and reflected the growing obsession with “celebrity” that continues today. Brown’s Vanity Fair also focused on bigger issues of the time - the AIDS crisis and its devastation in the arts and fashion community, Iran Contra and rising tensions in the Middle East, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Brown’s diaries pulse with the cutthroat nature of succeeding in New York’s corporate culture and the prevailing sexism that set the bar higher and judged her more harshly than her male counterparts. This is a splendid recollection of a certain place in time with more than candid portraits of many names you’ll recognize. Pour a glass of wine, curl up on the sofa and harken back to a time when print magazines were big business.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Michael Levy, Associate Director, Law Library; Lecturer in Residence

I was in two minds about whether to recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates's latest book because I thought that everyone in the Bay Area must have devoured it as soon as it was published in the Fall. As I thought about other books I'd like to recommend I kept on coming back to We Were Eight Years in Power as the one book that I couldn't let go of. Coates is the national correspondent for the Atlantic, National Book Award winner and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. This latest book is a collection of eight essays published in the Atlantic, one for each year of the Obama presidency as he charts the progress, or lack thereof , on issues of race in America. His essays range from an extended critique of Bill Cosby's conservatism to "The Case for Reparations" and ending with "My President was Black."

While all of the essays were previously published in the Atlantic, Coates prefaces each of his selections with an extended essay giving the context for the piece, the thought processes behind the article and a good deal of self-reflection given the passage of time. They show the development of a writer and thinker who is fiercely intelligent, incisive and in these political times much needed.