In this continuing series, Annie Roach ’22, an English and Italian studies major from Middletown, Del., reviews alumni books and offers a selection for those in search of knowledge, insight, and inspiration. The volumes, sent to us by alumni, are forwarded to Olin Library as donations to the University’s collection and made available to the Wesleyan community.
Edwin Hill ’93, Watch Her (Kensington, 2020)
As the third installment in Edwin Hill’s mystery series, Watch Her is a sophisticated and gripping psychological thriller with sharp attention to character- and world-building. Protagonist Hester Thursby, a Harvard librarian and renowned researcher, is pulled into a murder mystery that starts when she and her friend Detective Angela White are summoned to investigate a break-in at a house belonging to the owners of a for-profit university, the Matson family. Readers are swept into addictive prose as Hill unravels a complex history that explains the unusual circumstances of the Matsons’ break-in. Hill manages to keep the plot moving at a fast and engaging pace, while still paying special attention to detail and suspense. The cast of characters is strong and eclectic, featuring compelling LGBTQ+ and female voices, and Hill builds on both new and old characters in his third novel. Readers will appreciate the book on its own, but will undoubtedly be eager to pick up (or revisit) the first and second books in the series as well.
Edwin Hill is the author of the Hester Thursby mystery series, which includes the books Little Comfort, The Missing Ones, and Watch Her. He graduated from Wesleyan with a BA in American Studies and earned an MFA from Emerson College. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, he worked in educational publishing. He lives in Roslindale, Mass.
Zach Schonfeld ’13, Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020)
Zach Schonfeld’s first book is a gripping profile of 24-Carat Black’s elusive but fascinating 1973 soul-funk concept album Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth. The book is one of over 150 volumes in a series entitled “33 1/3,” with each volume centering around one music album. In the introduction of the book, Schonfeld describes Ghetto as “legendary,” despite the fact that “its story has been shrouded in deep mystery for forty-seven years.” Schonfeld investigates some of these mysteries through a set of interviews with people who were proximate to 24-Carat Black during their prime (including a few surviving members of the band), disentangling a rich story about the band and revealing larger truths about the music industry in the 1970s. Schonfeld also draws attention to the often-underappreciated brilliance of the band, prompting readers to go and have a listen to their album. Schonfeld’s meticulous reporting and appealing writing style make the story mesmerizing, as he compels readers to not only focus on the album at hand, but also on the musical atmosphere that made 24-Carat Black become one of the most sampled groups in hip-hop.
Zach Schonfeld is a freelance writer, journalist, and music critic. His writing has been featured in many notable publications, including Pitchfork, VICE, Paste Magazine, Gothamist, and Vulture. He graduated from Wesleyan with a degree in English and American Studies. From 2016 to 2019, he was a senior writer for Newsweek, where he reported daily on culture, media, and entertainment.
Cheryl Woodson ’76, Dear Lauren, Love Mom: 31 Days of Affirmations for my Daughter, for Myself and for You (Cheryl Woodson, 2020)
When her daughter Lauren was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness in her early 20s, medical doctor Cheryl Woodson searched for ways to counsel her through it. Since Woodson has always found solace in the act of writing, she began making posters and notes for her daughter based on inspiration she’d gleaned as a doctor, reader, and student throughout the years. Soon, these reassurances evolved into a month’s worth of affirmations for her daughter, herself, and all women. The affirmations are relevant and helpful for any situation in daily life, but are particularly powerful when placed in the context of uncertainty and grief.
The book allows Woodson to beautifully unite her two identities of doctor and mother, as her tone encourages healing, growth, and comfort. The 31 affirmations read like prayers or vows in their firmness and specificity; one can imagine reading them out loud either alone or with loved ones. The book is accompanied by a host of exquisite photographs that showcase diverse facets of nature, including flowers, oceans, animals, and skies, adding to the calming effect of a book that asks us to slow down, think, and appreciate. In doing so, Woodson argues in her introduction, the women of the world can “find solace for [their] inner little girl[s], peace to help [them] step out of past pain, and power to reclaim [their] joy.”
Cheryl Woodson is a geriatrician who focuses on heart health, preventing illness, and managing weight and stress. She is dedicated to helping community members make decisions about their health and the health of their elders. She is also an experienced family caregiver who helped her own mother navigate a 10-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease. She graduated from Wesleyan with a degree in biology. In addition to Dear Lauren, Love Mom, she is the author of To Survive Caregiving: A Daughter’s Experience, A Doctor’s Advice on Finding Hope, Help, and Health.