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reed magazine logoMarch 2010

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Books by Reedies

Kilong Ung ’87

Golden Leaf: A Khmer Rouge Genocide Survivor

(KU Publishing LLC, 2009)
Golden Leaf

This chilling, honest, and deeply touching memoir recounts Kilong’s incredible tale of hardship, survival, and transformation. An ordinary middle-class Cambodian boy when the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, he endured nightmarish conditions in the infamous work camps where millions perished from starvation, disease, torture, and execution. Against all odds, he escaped to Thailand and was granted asylum in the U.S., ultimately settling in Portland. Despite scant schooling and possessing no English, his keen mind and facility for mathematics were recognized by his high school teachers, who encouraged him to apply to Reed, where he faced another imposing challenge: Hum 110. The chapters on Kilong’s campus experience will fascinate classmates. After graduation, Kilong pursued a successful career in software engineering, and hopes to use the proceeds from his book to build a school in Cambodia. For more information, see www.kilongung.org.

Taylor Plimpton ’99, coeditor

The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays

(Abrams Image, 2009)
The Dreaded Feast

The holiday season. A time for joyous celebration with friends and family? Or an anxious ordeal of obligatory parties, shopping horror stories, and ugly sweaters? For those who tend more to the latter, Taylor Plimpton ’99 and coeditor Michele Clarke bring The Dreaded Feast, a collection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that might just make the holidays easier to bear. No icon is spared—Santa Claus, fruitcake, and office parties are all justly lambasted. The editors write: “We now know without a doubt that we are not alone in dreading this holiday season of joy . . . as the book proves, the best cure for the holiday blues is undoubtedly laughter.” Even for those not disposed to detest the holidays, this anthology, whose contributors include Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, David Sedaris, John Waters, and George Plimpton (Taylor’s father), promises a rollicking laugh.—Alix Vollum ’12

William Goldbloom Bloch ’87

The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges’ Library of Babel

(Oxford University Press, 2008)
The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges’ Library of Babel   (Oxford University Press, 2008)

Since its publication in 1941, Jorge Luis Borges’ Library of Babel has become one of the most celebrated short stories of this cerebral writer. In it, the narrator (a librarian) wanders forever through a hexagonal library so immense that it contains all possible 410-page books composed of the 25 symbols of the Spanish alphabet. Generations of critics have explored the story’s literary dimensions, but few—until now—have adventured into its mathematics. In his new book, Bill Bloch ’87 takes us on a dazzling guided tour. Brief work with combinatorics demonstrates the vastness of the library: it contains 1,834,097 books, enough to fill our universe 14,000 times over if each were the size of a subatomic particle. Bill employs real analysis to interpret Borges’ Book of Sand, a text supposedly containing infinite pages, each infinitely thin. Through topology, the library is shown to be a limitless sphere, with a center that is both everywhere and nowhere. Graph theory is utilized to examine the structure of the library, as determined by its hexagonal rooms and stairwells. The author assumes no special mathematical knowledge; his book is not rigorous exposition, but more like a Mozart concerto, at once accessible and inspiring. The text is wonderfully clear; both math and writing are well organized and polished. In fact, the author traces his appreciation for mathematical elegance to a combinatorics class he took with Reed professor Joe Roberts. Technical jargon is thankfully absent, and each chapter is concise and self-contained. The Unimaginable Mathematics is simple and lucid, a triumph of form. In a concise 150 pages, the author demonstrates persuasively that mathematics is not only a tool, but also an art.—Ethan Knudson ’10

Elyssa East ’95

Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town

(Free Press, 2009)
The Dreaded Feast

This book was born of an assignment in a painting class with Reed professor Michael Knutson. The assignment, as Elyssa describes it, was “to recreate a painting as a still life.” She ended up copying Marsden Hartley’s Mountains in Stone, Dogtown.” Elyssa, who majored in art history, maintained her love for the modernist painter after Reed and went on to write her master’s thesis on him. Dogtown explores both the mysticism of the landscape that inspired Hartley and the ghost town’s peculiar history of witches, prostitutes, and pirates, not to mention a grisly murder in 1984. Though long since abandoned, Dogtown’s mystique has not diminished. Dogtown is a compelling hybrid of art history, true-crime murder mystery, and personal exploration of the rise and fall of this small town.—Alix Vollum ’12

Three poems by John Rees Moore ’40 appeared in the fall 2009 Sewanee Review: “Emily Dickinson,” “Flannery O’Connor,” and “Elizabeth Bishop.” John frequently contributes both poetry and book reviews to the Review.

After the Crash

Mason Gaffney ’48, professor of economics at UC Riverside, published After the Crash: Designing a Depression-Free Economy (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), which analyzes the causes of the current crash by showing how such events derive from real estate bubbles and their interactions with banks and other lenders. For the past few years, Mason has been writing the feature “Insights” for the bimonthly journal Groundswell. Last year Land & Liberty magazine featured his article “The Four Vampires of Capital.” He writes: “Reed was a wonderful mid-passage in my growth. It gave me some quality conventional training, accompanied by freedom to feel my own way. Moving from Reed to grad school at Berkeley was like going backwards, from high school to primary school. Art Leigh, my primary mentor, was an optimal combo of conventional trainee from Chicago with the Reed spirit of free adventure so well expressed in the winter and spring issues of Reed. For earnest scholars and gluttons for punishment, zillions of other articles are available on www.masongaffney.org.”

Paintings and Reflections

Paintings and Reflections, by Shirley Georges Gittelsohn ’49, was published through the college in 2009 and was celebrated in an exhibition in the Vollum College Center, November 2009–January 2010. More details about her work are at her website, home.comcast.net/~shirleygitt. Paintings and Reflections is available through the Reed bookstore.

The Angry Earth

Sally Watson ’50 wrote The Angry Earth (Booklocker, 2009) a historical novel about the massive earthquakes that shook New Madrid, Missouri, in 1811. Sally, who has written more than 20 books, was featured in the Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, California) in November 2009, where we read that she is a stickler for historical accuracy. Primarily composed for young readers, her books have been published by Henry Holt and Co., Doubleday, Knopf, Viking, and Dutton. Today, she is self-publishing through iUniverse and Booklocker. See booklocker.com/books/4402.html.

Becoming Alice, A Memoir

Alice Fell Rene ’53 has published the award-winning book Becoming Alice, A Memoir (iUniverse 2008)—a true story about six-year-old Ilse, who watches Nazi troops march down her street in Vienna, beginning an odyssey that takes her Jewish family to Riga, Latvia, and ends in Portland, Oregon. Told with both pathos and humor, it showcases her triumph over adversity, identity crisis, and family turmoil. More information at www.alicerene.com.

Human Organizations and Social Theory: Pragmatism, Pluralism, and Adaptation

Murray Leaf ’61 published Human Organizations and Social Theory: Pragmatism, Pluralism, and Adaptation (University of Illinois Press, 2009). Murray told us that the book was intended to be the “big one”—the one that all his previous work led up to, and that will, he hopes, revitalize anthropology as a solidly empirical enterprise. He is now working on a substantial extension of the theory in collaboration with Dwight Read ’64. Although they have not decided on a title, it will probably include the phrase “a new science.”

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