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Laurentian Reviews
Winter 2006

Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives, By Robert Thacker (McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2005)

A new biography of acclaimed author Alice Munro, by Professor of Canadian Studies and Molson Research Fellow Robert W. Thacker, is the first such volume that has received Munro's cooperation. Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives was published in November by McClelland & Stewart Ltd., Toronto, who calls it "the book about one of the world's great authors, which shows how her life and her stories intertwine."
The publishers state, "For almost 30 years, Thacker has been researching this book, steeping himself in Munro's life and work, working with her cooperation to make it complete. The result is a feast of information for Alice Munro's admirers everywhere. By following 'the parallel tracks' of Munro's life and Munro's texts, he gives a thorough and revealing account of both her life and work."

Thacker is the editor of The Rest of the Story: Critical Essays on Alice Munro (1999). He received the 2003 Edith and Delbert Wylder Award from the Western Literature Association and is a former editor of The American Review of Canadian Studies. Thacker was awarded a grant from the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., to support research on the Munro biography, as well as the Molson Fellowship, funded by a gift from Eric Molson, chairman of Molson Inc., and his wife, Jane Molson, of Montreal, through the Lincolnshire Foundation. They are the parents of new St. Lawrence Trustee Geoffrey Molson ’92.

Widely regarded as among the best contemporary writers of short stories in English, Munro has published a novel, Lives of Girls and Women (1971), and numerous the short story collections. Since the 1970s, Munro's stories have appeared frequently in periodicals such as The Paris Review, Atlantic Monthly and, especially, The New Yorker.

A review of Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives in the December Quill & Quire states that Thacker provides "an extraordinary wealth of detail on Munro's progress as a writer," and that he "brings together much illustrating commentary on what Munro does and how she does it."                                                                                                --MD

The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning and Power of Red Hair, by Marion Roach '77 (Bloomsbury USA, 2005)

A new book described as "part history, part cultural commentary, part memoir" by Trustee Marion Roach '77 explores the role that redheads have held in society. The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning and Power of Red Hair was published by Bloomsbury USA last July.

According to the publisher, "A redhead rarely goes unnoticed in a crowded room. From Judas Iscariot to Botticelli’s Venus to Julianne Moore, redheads have been worshipped, idealized, fetishized, feared and condemned, leaving their mark on us and our culture. Such is the power of what is actually a genetic mutation, and in The Roots of Desire, Roach takes a fascinating look at the science behind hair color and the roles redheads have played over time."

Among the tidbits revealed: in Greek mythology, redheads become vampires after they die; Hitler banned intermarriage with redheads for fear of producing “deviant offspring”; women with red hair were burned as witches during the Inquisition; in Hollywood, female redheads are considered sexy while male redheads are considered a hard sell; and in the 19th century, it was popular belief that redheads were the strongest-scented of all women, smelling of amber and violets.

Roach is also the author of Another Name for Madness, a memoir of her family’s struggle with her mother’s Alzheimer’s disease, and the co-author of Dead Reckoning: The New Science of Catching Killers. A commentator on National Public Radio’s "All Things Considered," she has been published in the New York Times Magazine, Prevention, Vogue, Newsday, Good Housekeeping, Discover and American Health. Roach's St. Lawrence degree is in government; she studied in Kenya through the University's program there. Roach also teaches a memoir course at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. She was guest on "Martha," Martha Stewart's daytime television show, in September.                                                              --MD          

St. Lawrence University, by Dana Professor of Biology David Hornung and Peter Van de Water ’58 (Arcadia Publishing, 2005) and State University of New York at Canton by Douglas Welch (Arcadia Publishing, 2005)

A chronological conjunction has caused St. Lawrence to celebrate its sesquicentennial and SUNY Canton its centennial at the same time.  Both have noted the occasion with books in Arcadia Publishing’s Campus History Series of books that consist largely of old photographs with brief captions. The St. Lawrence volume has sections on the campus, academic programs, campus life, athletics, Greeks, other campus organizations and the village of Canton.

A perusal will bring back memories to alumni of many eras: images include Herring-Cole when it was a library, the Gaines Open Air Greek Theater, Marie Curie when she dedicated Hepburn Hall, Vetsville, Laurentian Hall, Ward Priest’s lab, Professors Romer and Bloomer, Kirk Douglas ’39 in a Mummers play, Winter Carnival snow sculptures, the Canton Creeper, Vietnam War protests, women’s archery and fencing teams, outdoor hockey before Appleton Arena was built, the Beta fire truck, Derby Day, the Banjo Club, the Navy V-12 unit, KSLU and the Canton Town Hall/Opera House, where Commencements took place. This is a march through time, showing how St. Lawrence progressed into the institution it has become today.

What is now SUNY Canton was for many years part of St. Lawrence, known affectionately as “the Ag School.” SUNY Canton librarian and local rare book dealer Douglas Welch has followed the Arcadia formula. One thing that comes through is the school’s affiliation with St. Lawrence, starting with the cover photo of Cook Hall, which came to St. Lawrence with other buildings when the agricultural college built a new campus across town in the 1960s and is today Piskor Hall. Aerial photos show that professors were teaching animal husbandry and how to grow hybrid corn where St. Lawrence is now building a $37 million science education complex.                                                                                                                                       --NSB

The Lake, the River & the Other Lake, by Steve Amick ’86 (Pantheon Books, 2005).

This may be the only book you’ll ever come across that has a Helpee-Selfee Laundromat (along with a lot of other small-town things) on the cover, which the multi-talented Steve Amick created. There are some other similarities to Canton in Weneshkeen, Michigan, a fictional resort town he invented for his first novel. “Weneshkeen,” which he places on the shore of Lake Michigan, means “who are you?” in Ojibwe, and Amick probes the notion of identity throughout the book, as well as the relationship between identity and place.

The book has gotten lots of favorable press, with Publisher’s Weekly calling it “a smalltown soap opera, burning and churning through the summer of 2001”; Kirkus Reviews says it’s “fond, wise and thoroughly enjoyable.”
Weneshkeen is peopled by summer people and other tourists (“Fudgies”), townies, migrant workers, a porn-addicted retired minister, a bigot whose kids marry foreigners, and, primarily, a no-nonsense Ojibwe veteran of Vietnam who hates the noise of jet skis. They all have their good points, and their bad – in other words, they’re human.  There’s some Keillor-like humor in all of this, but it’s a little darker – not everyone’s kids are above average.

Michigan native Amick has an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. A college instructor, playwright, advertising copyrighter, songwriter and musician, he has published several short stories. He continues to live in Michigan.                                                                                                         --NSB

The Next Hedgerow: A Correspondence, by Peter Rutkoff ’64 and Harry Rutkoff
(xoxox Press, 2004).

Peter Rutkoff ’64, professor  of American studies at Kenyon College, talks about this book this way: “He died, my father, when I was seven and he thirty-nine. It took five years from the time he was wounded, terribly wounded, in the fields of France, in the fierce hedgerow fighting, till the dark winter night they told me that he had died. Years—decades—later, a brown, brittle cardboard folder, marled and scarred, opened to reveal a packet of onion skin paper. There it was—three stories and a poem, all written by my father—his legacy lying asleep on a dusty shelf in an attic in New Jersey, now in my hands, his voice.”
Rutkoff's father died when Peter was a child, so the memories are faint. In 1949, Harry Rutkoff succumbed to wartime wounds, having been machine-gunned on a battlefield in France five years before. Peter's yearning was always for his father's voice—as he says in his introduction, he could never quite bring back the timbre of it, the sense of a soul there, speaking to him.

But with his father's wartime stories, found years later, Peter had more to go on. They comprise a thread of Harry's experience and attentions, as slender as life can be. And in correspondence here is Peter's own story, rich remembrances of young eyes, finding the father that life would bring him. This is a poignant tale of the search for one’s own identity, for one’s roots.

You Can’t Win a Fight with Your Boss, And 55 Other Rules for Success, by Tom Markert ’81 (HarperCollins, 2005)

College cannot completely prepare anyone for what it takes to succeed in the corporate environment.  Office demands and corporate politics are often difficult to decipher because they are learned only from experience.  Now, top ACNielsen executive Tom Markert ’81 has finally assembled these unwritten rules in a book meant to guide readers through every challenge of the corporate game.  You Can’t Win a Fight with Your Boss clearly advises employees on how to ascend the corporate ladder, without having to give up on their personal morals and ethics.  Understanding that a sense of humor is a key element in managing the stress of a job, Markert writes his short nuggets of advice in an energetic and inspiring tone that will motivate any employee to perform better in the office.

Markert’s concise one- to two-page rules are practical advice for both recent graduates and seasoned executives.  Employees new to the corporate world will want to focus on rules such as “Put in the Hours,” “Become an Expert” and “Find a Mentor.”

While much of Markert’s book focuses on those who are green, some of his tongue-in-cheek style of advice is geared toward middle managers and executives. Markert’s book also includes chapters on ways to “Take Care of Your Best People,” “Surround Yourself with Talent” and “Hire Right, Fire Fast.” 
Markert notes that business ethics and corporate responsibility issues have headlined nationwide newspapers, from the collapse of Enron to the investigations at Worldcom.  The “Do It by the Book” rule states simply that “honesty, integrity, and ethics are a vital part of business and life.  Never be tempted by an ‘opportunity’ that might cause a breach in these areas in your own chase for personal gain or record profits.”  The direct and to-the-point advice stresses that there is no flexibility to these rules.

An English major at St. Lawrence, as well as a member of Beta Theta Pi fraternity and the basketball team, Markert is global chief marketing and client service officer with ACNielsen in New York. He has held leadership positions at Citicorp and Procter & Gamble and has held positions on the board of directors of the Australian professional basketball team the Sydney Kings and the American Chamber of Commerce in New South Wales.

The Attention-Deficit Workplace: Winning Strategies for Success in Today's Fast-Paced Business Environment, by Mitch Thrower '90 (The Lyons Press, 2005).

A new book by a Class of 1990 alumnus has received praise from one of the authors of the enormously popular "Chicken Soup for the..." series. The Attention-Deficit Workplace: Winning Strategies for Success in Today's Fast-Paced Business Environment, by Mitch Thrower '90, was chosen as Book of the Week recently in Tom Hill's "Eaglezine" electronic newsletter. Hill stated that Thrower "takes readers on a breezy, insightful journey filled with lessons on how to successfully navigate the attention-deficit maze that is so familiar in today's workplace."

Thrower, a self-described "serial entreprenuer," has completed 13 Ironman triathlons and started several successful businesses. His book's chapters include:

  • How to persuade others to accept and implement your ideas
  • How to handle office romances
  • How to manage your personal "ATM" (Attention Time Machine)
  • How to make multitasking more effective
  • How to handle office nuisances such as "spam people"
  • How to get your resume noticed
  • How to manage the daily onslaught of e-mails
  • How to avoid stress and workplace conflict

At St. Lawrence, Thrower was president of the senior class, and he holds an MBA from the University of San Diego, where he is "entrepreneur in residence."
How to Buy and Sell Your Home in Hawaii, by Frances Durham Britten ’64 (Mutual Publishing, LLC, 2005.

Data suggest that Hawaii is the safest place in the U.S. to live in terms of natural disasters, those looming volcanoes notwithstanding.  And the author does point out that things negatively affecting property value include flooding and the occasional tsunami. Even so, if you are determined to buy a house there (or if, on the other hand, you’re a real risk-taker and want to sell one so you can live somewhere more dangerous), this may be the book for you.

Britten moved to Hawaii shortly after graduating, and has been a realtor there ever since, so the advice in the book is grounded in experience. Much of her advice about buyer-seller-broker relationships applies not just in Hawaii but anywhere, although she does also delve into local customs and unique social conventions. This is a practical guidebook; it doesn’t say much about how to cope with the climate, though.         --NSB

The Tale of the Not-So-Perfect Christmas Tree, by Frances Pixley Cruikshank M’48 (self-published, 2005).

The author is a journalist and freelancer of boating articles; this, her first children’s book, is about a fir tree with an attitude, and was inspired by a tree farm her husband runs. It’s wonderfully illustrated by Tom Olson.  Part of each book’s profit goes to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, N.Y.

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