Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 Staff Book Picks, Part 2

As we mentioned yesterday, when we're not working with books, we're reading them for fun. Here are the favorites we've read in 2013.


As a publishing professional, my joke for many years when people ask me what I'm reading has been, "If it's been published then I'm not reading it." After all, who has time to read actual books when you're swimming in a sea of unpublished manuscripts? Indeed, sometimes I feel as though I'm barely treading water.  But the fact is, I'm constantly grabbing a hold of books as a lifeline, sometimes to escape from but more often than not to help me through my daily routine. So, among the various publications I found myself clinging to in 2013, two in particular have helped save me from the maelstrom: 

See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid. “See Now Then, See Then Now, just to see anything at all, especially the present, was to always be inside the great world of disaster, catastrophe, and also joy and happiness, but these two latter are not accounted for in history, they were and are relegated to personal memory.” Jamaica Kincaid's latest book is, among other things, a devastating meditation on the ways in which the voice, the life, the perspective of the outsider—the poor immigrant, the woman of color, the wife, the mother—is always and forever marginalized in relation to our official narratives, no matter what social status she may have achieved in her life. Instead she is characterized by others as difficult, troubled, or out of touch. She is always diminished, discounted, and erased. I don't think anyone else today writes with such lyricism, emotional depth, or painful precision.

Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities by Craig Steven Wilder. In terms of painful precision and scholarship, nothing that came out this past year comes close to Wilder's amazingly detailed research and accounting of the ways in which the earliest institutions of higher learning in colonial and nineteenth-century America benefited from—and often had a direct hand in—the removal and genocide of Native Americans as well as the importation and exploitation of Africans in the Atlantic slave trade. Early on in the book Wilder asserts, “The academy never stood apart from American slavery—in fact, it stood beside church and state as the third pillar of a civilization built on bondage.” And a bit later, he points out the following:

“Colleges were imperial instruments akin to armories and forts, a part of the colonial garrison with the specific responsibilities to train ministers and missionaries, convert indigenous peoples and soften cultural resistance, and extend European rule over foreign nations.”

Wilder then takes us deeply into the colonial archive to illustrate in explicit and horrific ways how the founders and benefactors of our highest institutions of learning also played a part in the traffic, exploitation, and extermination of other humans. Ebony and Ivy is particularly exciting to me as it resonates with Minnesota's own list of published and forthcoming works including Roderick A. Ferguson's The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference (2012) and our forthcoming collection of critical essays, The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent, edited by Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira.

—Richard Morrison, editorial director


Red Doc> by Anne Carson. This is a challenging book, ironically a follow-up to perhaps her most accessible book, Autobiography of Red, which took a minor character from Greek mythology, the red-winged Geryon, and cast him as a gay teenager in late 20th century America. Red Doc> checks in with Geryon decades later, now a middle-aged herder wandering with his former lover across a polar landscape. The tensile anxieties of the young gay teen have been replaced by PTSD, memory, and regret. 

Carson is one of our most important living writers. But she is also an innovative and fascinating literary theorist. Her poems and books explore the ontology and intent of grammar and language, showing us that meaning doesn't just reside in the words we choose to express ourselves, but that meaning also flows from the way we write. Line breaks and pauses, gaps and silences, adverbs and metaphor, all provide insight into human emotion.

—Jason Weidemann, senior acquisitions editor 


Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. Nothing is ever finite in Kate Atkinson's inventive, genre-bending novel. The story follows Ursula Todd, whose life ends over and over—then starts again in a slightly different fashion. In one life, Ursula is an air-raid warden in London during the Blitz. In another, she lives in Hitler's German mountaintop retreat with Eva Braun, his mistress. It's a story about reincarnation—a bona fide Groundhog's Day—that shows how one minor decision can affect an entire lifetime. It's a fascinating storytelling device, and gives readers some interesting insight into the historical and emotional consequences of life in London and Germany throughout the first half of the 20th century.

—Katie Nickerson, Test Division marketing and training manager


The Dinner: A Novel by Herman Koch. This whole novel takes place over the course of one meal, where two couples have met to decide the fates of their fifteen-year-old sons who together have committed a horrible act of violence that is now under police investigation. As each course is served, conversation turns from the polite and banal to a heated "discussion" of the real matter at hand. It's a gripping and shocking look at how far parents would go to protect their children.

—Heather Skinner, publicist and assistant marketing manager 


Body Geographic by Barrie Jean Borich. “The body is a stacked atlas of memory,” writes Barrie Jean Borich. In these essays—a series of maps and insets, as she calls them—Borich explores the layers of memory, history, and place that make up her own personal geography, marking the physical coordinates of Chicago and Minneapolis—the dual skylines of these cities tattooed across her back serving as a reader’s legend, as she maps out her own Midwest in an attempt to understand the terrain of self. This gorgeous read had me lingering in its lush language, imaginative form, and in the unexpected meanderings in Borich’s journey. 

—Tami Brown, permissions and translations coordinator


Tenth of December by George Saunders. No surprise because it has appeared on many Best of 2013 books published. He's a master of the short story, which demands conciseness but also full-throttle "meaning," read "morality" for Saunders as his characters confront extreme situations demanding moral courage. His originality in character and plot creation is breath-taking. No chance that the question we'd prefer not to have posed after reading a book—"Was it worth the time?"—arises after reading Tenth of December.

—Beverly Kaemmer, associate director / test manager


The Third Man by Graham Greene. This is the kind of book you can lose yourself in, much like its setting in post-war Vienna. Because it was written for the screen, it retains much of the cinematic quality that made the 1949 film so captivating. You'll find it hard not to hear the film's famous zither score in your head as you turn the pages.

—Kristian Tvedten, editorial assistant


The Circle by Dave Eggers. I wanted to pick a not-so-mainstream book as tops for the year but just cannot in any year Eggers has something new out. This is a lively and believable cautionary tale about our contemporary tendency to give friends and total strangers alike unlimited access to our lives. (Runner up: This is Running for Your Life by Michelle Orange.)

—Maggie Sattler, direct and electronic marketing coordinator


The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Every so often characters from a novel haunt me long after I've read a book; Chava and Ahmad, monsters among humans, have haunted me for weeks. Each is attempting to create a fulfilling life while hiding their magical identity from the human communities in which they live. Eventually these two isolated beings cross paths. Chava's search for goodness tempers Ahmad's contempt for humanity while both come to understand and appreciate the mortal humans who have touched their lives. At its heart The Golem and the Jinni is an exploration of the influence of fate and free will, and the reckonings we face over the choices we make.

—Susan Doerr, operations manager


The Facades by Eric Lundgren. I enjoyed former University of Minnesota Press editorial assistant Eric Lundgren's highly praised first novel, an existential noir in which an opera singer goes missing, philosophy is banished to a nursing home, and armed librarians are the last defenders of high culture in a decaying midwestern city.
Another book that amazed me this past year is Melville House's rediscovery of Mary MacLane's scandalous 1902 diary I Await the Devil's Coming, in which a Butte, Montana, teenager longs for seduction, and damnation, after her affair with an older woman is abruptly (and for undisclosed reason) brought to an end. A bestseller in its time, and the basis of a now lost silent film, I Await the Devil's Coming makes you reconsider the American literary history's view of sexual liberation being worked out in the much more genteel turn-of-the-century works of elite writers such as Kate Chopin and Edith Wharton.   

—Doug Armato, director


MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. Although not as compelling as the first volumes in the trilogy, anyone who's anyone should be reading Atwood. She's fabulous.

—Danielle Kasprzak, associate editor 


Titus Groan, the first book in the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake. This is definitely not a 2013 novel—it was written in 1949. But I kept seeing this trilogy on lists of the best fantasy novels, so I decided to give it a shot this year and was not disappointed. The plot centers on the immense castle Gormenghast and all of its inhabitants, but namely the kitchen boy Steerpike, who connives to manipulate his way into power in the castle and overthrow the royal Groan family. The strength of the book is in rich character development and world building—it's easy to get sucked into daily life in the castle and invested in the fates of the castle's inhabitants. I'm always looking for new books and worlds to get lost inside of, and this one really fit the bill. 

—Erin Warholm-Wohlenhaus, editorial assistant


The Baby Book by William Sears, M.D., and Martha Sears, R.N. It will keep you up at night.

—Emily Hamilton, marketing director and assistant director for book publishing 


If I'm lucky, I'll have six days in 2013 to read The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton because someone will give it to me for Christmas. (Hint, hint!) A book I read and loved this year that was published earlier is The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

—Anne Carter, external relations coordinator

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013 Staff Book Picks, Part 1

It is no easy task to pick particular recommendations among the books you work with.

We think all of the books that we have published this year are pretty fantastic. These stood out to us in different ways and for different reasons. We present them here as our first Staff Book Picks of the Year.

When we're not working with books, we're also reading them for fun. As such, our list of 2013 favorites grew lengthy, so we're splitting it up a bit. Today we present books of ours; tomorrow, you'll get a sense of what we read outside the office.


I've been thinking and talking all year about Timothy Morton's Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World and its revelation that while the world has changed, our perception of it has not—that we still cling to a romantic vision that unspoiled nature exists somewhere, that it can be preserved or even regenerated. To Morton, we live instead in an epoch of "hyperobjects," systems and entities bigger than we can see, at the limits of our comprehension, and beyond our control. Yet, for a book that posits (on page seven!) that "the end of the world has already occurred," it is remarkably engaging and, often, ruefully funny.
—Doug Armato, director

I have the inside advantage here, but the best Press book I read this year is Sigrid Undset's Marta Oulie: A Novel of Betrayal, written in 1907 and available for the first time in English translation in February 2014. No wonder Undset won the Nobel Prize in 1928! Marta Oulie is written as a diary, relating the experiences of a young woman in Oslo at the turn of the century as she falls in love, marries, raises a family—and then slowly unravels as she becomes bored and frustrated with her domestic life. Was this really written one hundred years ago? It’s a haunting and compelling story, so look for the book later this winter and dare to accompany Marta on her tragic and riveting psychological journey.
—Laura Westlund, managing editor and development officer

Minnesota's Bounty: The Farmers Market Cookbook by Beth Dooley. Dooley's latest cookbook gives casual and experienced chefs alike an endless supply of tasty, seasonal ideas. As a new member of a local CSA, I pored over The Farmer's Market Cookbook, looking for ways to prepare everything from brussels sprouts to tomatillos. The book is alphabetically organized by food type, making recipe-hunting even easier. Better yet, it keeps the ingredients simple and includes beautiful photographs, which helped me identify some of my more obscure veggies. It's the perfect gift for family and friends who shop local and love to get creative with their kohlrabi.
—Katie Nickerson, Test Division marketing and training manager 

Ola by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. Everyone loves a good children's book and it's hard to go wrong with any of the timeless works crafted by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire. This 1932 book was the spark that ignited their distinguished and award-winning career. It's the kind of book that gets stuck in the back of your mind. I first discovered it when I came across a nearly disintegrated copy among the stacks at the library. Like so many of the d'Aulaires' books, this is a story that has been well-loved. The many adventures of the intrepid young boy have delighted readers for more than 75 years. A classic from the golden age of picture books, Ola is a delightful picture of old Norway and a fitting tribute to the country the couple knew so well.
—Kristian Tvedten, editorial assistant

We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger's Daughter by Rachael Hanel. Hanel's writing is evocative and gently humorous. The book is surprisingly easy to read despite tackling such difficult subject matter.
—Maggie Sattler, direct and electronic marketing coordinator

Vacationland by Sarah Stonich. This book is a wonder to read. In each chapter we get wildly different and interesting stories about various people, yet they are all beautifully woven together by one common thread: each character's connection to Naledi Lodge, a run-down mom-and-pop resort in northern Minnesota. Some of these characters' paths cross; some do not, but each individual story is so good, it makes you eager to move on to the next to see how it all fits together in the end.
—Heather Skinner, publicist and assistant marketing manager

Vacationland by Sarah Stonich. It saved my sanity during a recent exhibit where all attendees completely cleared out of the hall to attend sessions for 2 and 3 hours at a time. Stonich's lovely writing spirited me away from the empty exhibit hall during those down times. Her episodic, character-driven chapters were the perfect escape.
—Matt Smiley, sales manager

Speech Begins after Death by Michel Foucault. Want to know what it would be like to sit down with Foucault and have a nice little chat? Read this. It's short, accessible, and surprisingly autobiographical.
—Danielle Kasprzak, associate editor

The Thoughtbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Secret Boyhood Diary. This is a charming little book that is not only fun to read, but gives readers a rare glimpse into the early life of a local literary legend—who happens to be the author of one of my very favorite books. 
—Anne Wrenn, advertising and promotions coordinator 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

9 unforgettable moments in the history of Northwest Airlines

Download the infographic timeline.


My book Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines covers NWA’s history from its first flights as an airmail carrier in 1926 to its final sad days before its acquisition by Delta Airlines in 2010. Along the way, the book tells countless stories — important and incidental, famous and obscure — that reveal the airline’s changing challenges and successes over the decades. Here’s a listing of some of the events that strike me as especially memorable, one from each of Northwest’s nine decades in the air.

A postal official weighs parcels en route to Chicago
from St. Paul after the resumption of airmail service in 1926.

Northwest Airways, Inc., launches its maiden flight on October 1 in a leased plane loaded with postal sacks stuffed with airmail letters. From the Twin Cities, it heads into the east toward Milwaukee, with Chicago as its final destination. Nobody knows it at the time, but Northwest’s inaugural flight marks the initial moments of an airline that for decades would rank as the U.S. air carrier with the longest history under a single, continuous name.

Lewis Brittin in 1929.
Lewis Brittin, Northwest’s founder, is convicted of contempt of the U.S. Senate in a rare trial at the United States Capitol after he destroys papers subpoenaed in an investigation of airmail corruption. He serves ten days in prison and occupies a cot “between a bootlegger and a burglar,” he says. He loses his position at Northwest.

Northwest’s city ticket office
in Portland, Oregon, 1940s.

Northwest hires Ernest Washington Yoris, a former homicide detective with the Seattle Police Department, to direct security at its war-era bomber modification facilities in St. Paul. His job is to keep espionage and sabotage at bay. After the war, his responsibilities shrink to chasing down customers who pass bad checks. Owner of a famous collection of colored and rubber-soled deck shoes, he denies that he wears them to sneak up on people from behind.

Northwest’s publicity stunt to install
a Lowrey organ in a Stratocruiser cabin.

The Northwest Organ Company of Minneapolis installs a Lowrey organ in the spacious lounge of a NWA Boeing 377 Stratocruiser aircraft, marking a high point of sorts in the era of luxurious air travel. A year later, Northwest retires the last of its beloved Stratocruisers because of the excessive cost of fueling and maintaining them.

A first-class meal, circa 1960.

By the late 1960s, Northwest is serving seventy tons of tenderloin steak and sixty tons of New York strip steak to customers every year, along with a monthly offering of ten tons of coffee. Its food service has evolved considerably from its first offerings of boxed sandwiches in the 1930s.

The FBI’s sketches of D.B. Cooper,
whose case remains the only unsolved
one in the annals of American air piracy.

A customer who buys a ticket from Portland to Seattle under the assumed name of Dan Cooper — later identified in error as D.B. Cooper — hijacks the Northwest flight, demands a ransom and parachutes, and asks to be flown to Mexico City. He straps on a parachute and leaps from the rear of the aircraft with his cash and is never seen again. His case remains the last unsolved instance of air piracy from that era of plentiful aircraft hijackings.

A Republic Airlines 727-200
in flight during that company’s
growing years of the 1970s.

Northwest acquires Minneapolis-based Republic Airlines in a merger that at the time was the largest merger of air carriers in history. All at once, Northwest gains Republic’s 168 aircraft, 65 new destinations, and 13,400 employees. The new Northwest has 30,000 employees and a fleet of 312 planes — and suddenly ranks among the five largest U.S. airlines in operating and the top three in route miles.

In an early December fog, two Northwest aircraft collide on the runway of the airport in Detroit, killing eight people and injuring 24 more. The government’s investigation of the accident blames it on poor crew coordination, with slow air traffic control direction, poor signage, and inadequate training by Northwest contributing to the tragedy.

"Decades after becoming
Northwest’s first official ticketed
passenger, Byron Webster was
still the airline’s customer."

On the last day of the year, the Federal Aviation Administration merges Northwest’s and Delta Airlines’s operating certificates, allowing Delta to impose its code on all Northwest flights and officially removing Northwest’s name as a government-sanctioned carrier. When the airlines join their reservation systems two weeks later, Northwest Airlines finally and unalterably ceases to exist. The company that had begun 83 years earlier ends as the second hand of a clock moves upright to complete the largest airline merger in history.


Jack El-Hai is author of Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines. His other books include Lost Minnesota: Stories of Vanished PlacesThe Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness; and The Nazi and the Psychiatrist. He has written about business and history for the Atlantic, Scientific American Mind, History Channel Magazine, American Heritage, and Utne Reader.

"Jack El-Hai faithfully propels us through the history of a company we all took for granted. From rickety planes delivering mail to one of the largest and most respected airlines in the world, El-Hai lays it out through the highs and lows. At the beginning, heroic pilots and primitive gear, all the way to D.B. Cooper and the Underwear Bomber, the intriguing leadership and crafty politicians, to the final day when the lights went out at Northwest Airlines—all here presented in masterful style."
—Don Shelby

Friday, December 6, 2013

Bonnie and Clyde: What does our collective fascination with crime say about us?

Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, sometime between 1932 and 1934.

Assistant professor of communication and journalism at Oakland University

This weekend, Lifetime Television, A&E, and the History Channel will simultaneously air a two-part television “event” – a miniseries documenting the lives of infamous Depression-era American bandits, Bonnie and Clyde. Publicity for the series draws on the parallels between the their story and contemporary American culture, including our obsession with celebrity, crime, guns, and gender, race, and class relations during an era of extreme political, economic, and cultural instability.

While the series promises historical accuracy, this telling will say more about our own concerns than the lives of the criminal couple. Because, of course, our public fascination with crime always says more about us. Criminality serves as a fertile ground for exploring social, cultural, and economic norms and the stories we tell are themselves interpretive battlegrounds over the meaning of “crime.” For close to a century now, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow have been part of broader symbolic struggles that far exceed their historical existence, and even the very nature of their crimes.

During the destitute years of the Great Depression, cultural producers, citizens, and various state authorities waged battle over the symbolic meaning of the couple’s crime spree and violent death. As the giddy heyday of the 1920s gave way to the desperate years of the Depression, public fascination turned from the glamorous urban gangster to fugitive rural bandits, celebrated for their bravado, mobility, and populist attacks on the state and industry. While romance and critiques of state power suffused newspaper, magazine, and film reel accounts, radio carved a different interpretive space. By the 1930s, regional and national networks looked to capitalize on public fascination with crime, but without incurring the wrath the film industry faced for romanticizing gangster culture. Instead of telling stories about criminals, why not tell stories about police, a move that dovetailed with the PR efforts that police forces themselves were undertaking as part of their own efforts at professionalization.

In 1936, a mere two years after their violent end, the CBS radio series Gang Busters tackled the legend of Bonnie and Clyde. Correspondence, production notes, and scripts housed at the Library of Congress lay bare the aim of producer, Phillps H. Lord: arrest the promiscuous populism on display in the public’s enthusiastic consumption of bandit lore. Gang Busters would celebrate legendary Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer as the true hero of the story and portray Bonnie and Clyde to deviant psychopaths. In a dizzying reversal of populist logic, the real “guilt” for the criminal activities of the pair is laid firmly in the laps of the listeners themselves, who are admonished to roll back cumbersome legal protections like parole.

The first episode is relentless in stripping any shred of glamour and romance from the pair. In the face of all manner of historical evidence, including letters to Lord from various police authorities and the well-known evidence, Bonnie and Clyde are portrayed as calculating, ruthless killers. Are there any sparks between the pair? No. Listeners hear the description of a weak chinned, small framed, practically doltish Clyde joining forces with an aggressive, take-charge, stylish Bonnie. Gender reversal stands in as a clear sign of the pairs’ pathology. Clyde explains to Bonnie that it is easy to get away with crime as long as they flee the scene by car right away, thus circumventing the complex layers of legal jurisdiction in the U.S. He tells her to shoot first and ask questions later and not worry if she ever gets sentenced to jail; she’ll get out on parole. These are not desperate fugitives motivated by state failure. There is no hint of fear, romance, or even humanity in this “Bonnie and Clyde.”

Enter Texas lawman Frank Hamer. He is everything that Clyde Barrow is not and Bonnie Parker can never be. Tall, rugged, smart, violent only in support of the state, steeped in the lore of the sharp-shooting Texas Rangers, Hamer is the epitome of normative, heroic masculinity the show aims to bolster. While most episodes of the series work to represent the police as trained professionals beholden to an agency, these episodes drew on the lore of the Old West lone gunman sheriff to consciously replace one American romance with another. The two-part episode ends with yet another admonishment of the public for romanticizing criminality at the expense of law and order.

Splayed across newspaper pages, featured in film reels, and dramatized in true crime radio series, early twentieth-century gangsters and bandits are today joined by serial killers, mass shooters, and a new generation of gangsters in capturing our imagination and serving as a new symbolic battleground. Depression-era audiences reacted to rural banditry through populist lenses and were fascinated by Bonnie’s masculine persona and the romantic relationship between the pair. In our contemporary television era saturated with rogue cops and criminal anti-heroes, it is easy to see the appeal of Bonnie and Clyde. The official website for the pair pictures them directly staring into the camera, their faces splattered with blood. In many ways, it bears a striking resemblance to publicity shots for the Showtime series Dexter, a fictional account of a serial killer who targets serial killers.

Yet, so many of our TV anti-heroes remain men, and it is striking how much the contemporary telling already signals its attention to Bonnie’s gender crossings. The tagline on the page boldly teases that “He held the gun. She called the shots.” Both characters are smoking cigars, but Bonnie’s is significantly larger. Promotional videos emphasize the lustful, embodied, flirtatious, and romantic relationship between pair. Their romance will take center stage in this telling. In the hands of Gang Busters, Bonnie and Clyde were reduced to caricatures while their “fans” were provided a stern “What for?” Today’s fans are encouraged to identify with the pair through videos promising sex, violence, and romance. This enduring fascination with romantic desperados Bonnie and Clyde reminds us that while Hamer won the gun battle, the war over their greater symbolic value lives on.


Kathleen Battles is author of Calling All Cars: Radio Dragnets and the Technology of Policing. She is assistant professor of communication and journalism at Oakland University.

"Calling All Cars provides the most in-depth research to date on this overlooked genre."
—Journalism History

"A highly detailed case for the parallels between 1930s broadcast radio and police radio."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Highly regarded author and professor José Esteban Muñoz dies

Muñoz's work was foundational to studies of race, gender, and sexuality

The University of Minnesota Press is saddened to learn of the untimely death of José Esteban Muñoz. Muñoz authored and edited several books and numerous scholarly articles. His first book, Disdentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, was innovative and groundbreaking, and has proven to be foundational to the critical study on the nexus of race, gender, and sexuality. It continues to serve as a model for much of the scholarly work in this area that has followed since its initial publication in 1999.

The Press extends its sympathies and condolences to Muñoz’s friends, family, colleagues and students. The loss of his expertise and perspective to the fields of queer studies, performance studies, and critical race studies is profound. His contributions will continue to influence these areas of inquiry for many years to come.