Preaching from the Choir
Once, when she was twenty-six and newly divorced, Stacy Horn, J78, sat on her apartment floor and wrote a list of things that would make her happy again. She recalled the joy she had felt singing in a boyfriend’s church choir one Christmas, so she joined the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York City. In IMPERFECT HARMONY (ALGONQUIN), a book filled with fascinating history, science, and personal revelations, she tells the story of how she and countless others have found happiness and strength in singing together.
“Singing is the one area of my life where feeling good is pretty much guaranteed. It alleviates suffering and elevates joy. If you feel bad, you’ll feel better. If you feel great, you’ll feel even greater.
Our director made us rehearse in quartets—one soprano, one alto, one tenor, one bass. It was absolutely terrifying, because you can’t fake it. You have to know the piece. Because he did that, everyone worked really hard to learn their parts beforehand. When we sing that way, I get to really feel the harmony in a way I wouldn’t if I was just singing with other sopranos. There’s nothing like it.When you sing, the brain releases all these neurochemicals like oxytocin and dopamine that are associated with feeling good. One study showed that singing triggered endorphin release, which alleviates pain. But it turns out that it’s the active performance of music that generates the endorphin high, not just listening to music.
I was very insecure about my voice, so I took some private lessons from the choir’s associate director, and the first thing she did was play me a recording of our choir singing. I was blown away by how good it is. “Your voice is in there,” she said. Realizing that I was contributing to that amazing sound gave me a lot more confidence.
When you sing a masterpiece, you become the masterpiece. When you sing a requiem you’re channeling whatever the composer felt through your body. Requiems are often the best of a composer’s work. They’re an awesome responsibility—they need to commemorate a life, comfort the living, and touch on the infinite. The composer puts everything into trying to communicate these magnificent concepts. When I sing requiems, I feel the infinite, that possibility that there’s something more than what I perceive. It’s ironic that when you sing about death, you feel more alive.
I’m an agnostic, but I believe in the glories of the universe and the glories we possess. I think that singing sacred music elevates us, encourages us to live kinder, better, more compassionate, more appreciative lives. It is worship to me—I’m just worshipping everything short of God.”
Note to Self (Faber and Faber)
At first glance, Anna might be just another self-centered young Brooklyn hipster, mired in extended adolescent angst and halfheartedly searching for the perfect shabby-glam job. But it turns out she’s pushing middle age, was recently fired from a clerical job at a law firm, and lives with a Craigslist roommate who’s ten years younger. To make matters worse, she’s a hard-core Internet addict who escapes her pathetic life by reading about people who have it worse. Alina Simone, J97, expertly taps into the sources of modern desperation: an obsession with the appearance of success, and the ultimately empty virtual connections that rob people’s lives of true meaning.
Defiant Brides: The Untold Story of Two Revolutionary-Era Women and the Radical Men They Married (Beacon)
Abigail Adams’ plea to “remember the ladies” goes largely unheeded where Revolutionary War history is concerned. Nancy Rubin Stuart, J66, bucks this trend by unearthing the parallel stories of Peggy Shippen Arnold and Lucy Flucker Knox, the audacious wives of Benedict Arnold and Henry Knox. Peggy, an affluent Philadelphia belle who defied her family to marry Arnold, endured a lifetime of persecution, thanks to her husband’s treason, but she used her social savvy to spare her own reputation. Lucy, also abandoned by her family after her marriage, followed her husband through army camps, birthed thirteen children, and was declared “one of the heroines of the Revolution.”
The Icarus Deception (Portfolio-Penguin)
The Icarus myth has always been a lesson in caution: fly too far from your comfort zone and get burned. But in an economy where job stability has become as precarious as Icarus’ wings, the business guru Seth Godin, A79, says we need to fly higher than ever. Whether you’re a sculptor or a marketing consultant, this requires thinking of your work as art. In other words, be bold, be creative, and challenge the status quo. He profiles unlikely “artists,” such as Cynthia Carroll, a mining company CEO who voluntarily shut down the world’s most profitable platinum mine to improve safety, and San Persand, a low-level employee at an aquaculture facility who invented a better fish pen.
Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters (Princeton)
Many critics of today’s news media yearn for the measured authority of Walter Cronkite and the respect he and other mid-twentieth-century journalists inspired. Confidence in the media is at record lows, and it’s affecting our nation’s political functioning. Marshaling historical evidence, experiments, and public opinion surveys, Jonathan M. Ladd, A00, argues that the public’s trust in institutional media waned as competition intensified, both among news outlets and among political parties. People increasingly sought out partisan news sources, with the result that political beliefs and voting behavior grew more polarized. Ladd doesn’t advocate returning to the monolithic media of the 1950s. Instead, he considers how we might strike a balance between an unchallenged media establishment and fragmented partisanship.
Taking What I Like (Black Sparrow)
These sly, whimsical stories by Linda Bamber, an associate professor of English at Tufts, read like the daydreams of an English professor nodding off during a faculty meeting. In “Casting Call,” she reincarnates the cast of Othello amid the sexual, racial, and academic politics of a college English department whose head, Desdemona, grapples with an affirmative action hire, her resurgent feelings for Othello, and the creepy machinations of Iago. Bamber shakes up another Shakespearian cocktail in “That Was Then,” which finds a bored Rosalind stepping out of the pastoral As You Like It to date the three male principals in Henry IV. Bamber weaves scholarly commentary into her inventive plots, but she ultimately makes you realize that after all the theory has left us, it’s the characters that remain. From them we take what we like and spin our own stories.
Wintersweet Running Press
In the cold, hungry days of January, endless piles of parsnips, chard, and potatoes can make even the most committed seasonal epicure long for summer. Tammy Donroe Inman, J95, invites you to turn on the oven and turn those winter staples into heart-warming, mouth-watering desserts. Her tantalizing recipes transform apples, pears, quince, pomegranates, nuts, chocolate, citrus, and yes, even those ubiquitous root vegetables into luscious confections like rosemary Meyer lemon tart (shown at far left), rosy poached quince, chocolate-pomegranate pavlova, and chai-spiced squash pie. Perhaps best of all, Inman counts dishes like blue cheese fondue as dessert. If you can end a meal with a cheese course, she reasons, what’s the harm in melting it? No arguments here.
A prolific composer, arranger, and jazz pianist, Roberta Piket, J88, adds her talents to the drummer Billy Mintz’s debut recording. Mintz has played in the Roberta Piket Trio for the past ten years. Along with acclaimed saxophonist John Gross and bassist Putter Smith, they recorded the entire CD in one night, and their easy rapport shines through. Piket’s technical virtuosity is evident in numbers like “Dit” and “Ugly Beautiful,” and she gets to show off her husky alto in “Destiny.”
ALSO OF NOTE
Strategically situated between China and Russia, Mongolia has forged closer commercial and diplomatic ties with the United States in recent years. JONATHAN ADDLETON, F82, former ambassador to Mongolia, traces the course of this relationship in Mongolia and the United States: A Diplomatic History. In the memoir Gone Too Soon, JONATHAN BAER, A87, wrestles with his grief following the unexpected death of his baby daughter, Samantha. The Self in Schooling: Theory and Practice—How to Create Happy, Healthy, Flourishing Children in the 21st Century, by HENRY B. BRZYCKI, G03, presents an interdisciplinary approach to education that prioritizes children’s mental health. MARK COHEN, G83M, looks at how the comedian Allen Sherman brought Jewish humor into the comedic mainstream in the biography Overweight Sensation. BETTE JOHNSON, J65, a retired MIT associate director of admissions, presents a wry sendup of the college admissions process in Admission Lottery. The Gamification Revolution, by Gabe Zichermann and JOSELIN LINDER, J98, looks at how the principles behind popular video games can help businesses retain talent, motivate workers, grow sales, and generate customer loyalty. Bombs and Believers, by KEN SONENCLAR, A76, F79, is a suspenseful thriller, complete with international terrorism, art theft, and murder. In The Children of 1965: On Writing, and Not Writing, as an Asian American, MIN HYONG SONG, G93, G98, explores representations of race in the writing of a new generation of Asian-American authors. Christopher Parish, the protagonist of Hawkweed and Indian Paintbrush—the fourteenth novel by JONATHAN STRONG, lecturer in English at Tufts—confronts the Balkanization of his own life as he attempts to create a Serb-Croat-Slovene historical atlas.