News & Publications
The College Magazine - Fall 2008
Toby Barlow (SF88)
A lover's revenge takes on satisfying and creepy possibilities in Toby Barlow's darkly humorous thriller, Sharp Teeth. Early in the story, set in the sprawling neighborhoods of Los Angeles, a certain "She" muses about a failed romance with yet another lover. "She" finds comfort on the shoulder of Lark, a successful attorney, werewolf pack leader, and long-time friend. As they have a late-night chat Lark promises her something that will change her "completely...with it comes a certain power." Instead of offering another glass of wine, Lark slices open his forearm and invites her to mingle her blood with his. By morning "She" wakes up as "her own brand of beast," a werewolf in Lark's pack.
Sharp Teeth is a romantic thriller that threads multiple plot lines teeming with rival gangs of lycanthropes, high-stakes card games, dog traffickers and catchers, and organized crime in the seething underbelly of Los Angeles. In blank verse that jumps like rap music, Barlow dances between human consciousness and the musings of lycanthropes. With almost scientific authority Barlow sifts through the centuries, describing how small packs survived, biding their time, roaming the wilderness and surviving by killing "men that no one would miss." Rest assured, Barlow chants, despite technology and surveillance, "the blood sugar fever still survives." Barlow dispels the myths about how humans transform into lycanthropes: "It's not the full moon. That's as ancient and ignorant as any myth. The blood just quickens with a thought...So that one can self-ignite...becoming something rather more canine."
Unlike popular science fiction stories in which aliens inhabit human bodies (revealed when one is face-to-face with their green reptilian eyes) there are no clues—only surprises—as to who is and isn't a werewolf in Sharp Teeth. "Even the werewolves do not recognize another werewolf," says Barlow. Yet what makes the novel so gripping is not so much the strangeness of the mysterious crossover into a lycanthrope that characters like Lark deftly navigate. Rather it is the human struggles—the beast that resides within each of us—the desires, rages, loves, competitions, that makes the book a page turner.
"A classic werewolf fears the transformation and the deeds he might do as a beast, deeds he will not remember; but my werewolves, like humans, are wholly conscious," says Barlow. They remember their bloodthirsty deeds, and like us, they have longings, regrets, dreams, and heartbreaks.
Sharp's Teeth is populated with hip characters such as a persistent LAPD detective, a blonde surfer-chick (who is also a werewolf), a Hispanic meth manufacturer, and Cutter and Blue, bridge tournament finalists who just happen to be werewolves in Lark's pack. These lycanthropes are clever. So is Mr. Venable, a mysterious sage that Barlow says "pays homage to an old tutor at St. John's, Bruce Venable. He was a man out of time, a dichotomy, and a tremendous amount of fun. Like my tutor, Mr. Venable in the book embraces life in all its highs and lows."
Barlow, an executive creative director at an advertising agency in Detroit, didn't plan on writing a book. But several years ago when he was living in a Chicago hotel room, an article on a dogcatcher caught his eye. "I needed something to pass the time and at a certain point the characters came alive." Barlow did intend for Sharp Teeth to be visually rich, just like the comic books he discovered at St. John's. "When I got to Santa Fe, tutor Ben Kraus had a trunk full of Marvel comics. I was always moving between the trunk of comic books and the great books."
By Patricia Dempsey
Racing Odysseus: A College President Becomes a Freshman Again
Roger H. Martin
University of California Press, 2008
When he was 61 years old, and then still the president of Randolph-Macon College, Roger Martin decided to become a freshman again—at St. John's College. Having survived melanoma against tremendous odds, Martin was looking to find new perspective and new challenges when he joined the freshman class in the fall of 2004. He sat in on freshman seminar, became a member of the crew team, and even attended waltz parties in the Great Hall.
In this honest and deeply personal memoir, he chronicles his journey from a life in which he was an over-controlling, efficient time manager to a life in which he became a student immersed in the liberal arts. At St. John's, Martin writes, he rediscovered the art of questioning, conversation, and contemplation. He shares his great admiration for St. John's students and tutors, and has special words of praise for Athletic Director Leo Pickens (A78),whom Martin got to know well as the hard-driving coach of the St. John's crew team.
Toward the end of his stay at St. John's, Martin wrote: "I have arrived at seminar 15 minutes early...I am finally enjoying myself. I'm enjoying being a member of the crew. I'm enjoying reading the Great Books. I'm enjoying hanging out in the Coffee Shop and meeting students. I've attained nirvana."
Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table
Sara Roahen (SF94)
W.W. Norton, 2008
There are as many gumbos in Louisiana as there are accents writes Sara Roahen in her book, Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table. But in New Orleans her favorite gumbo is "as thick as a cypress swamp in flavor." In post-Katrina New Orleans, Roahen finds another reason to savor gumbo—as a symbol for the city's resilience.
Roahen lived in the Crescent City for several years, while her husband attended medical school. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina disrupted their lives and forced a move to Philadelphia, but Roahen frequently returned to New Orleans to taste gumbo and other favorites.
The result is not a compendium of recipes, but essays about food and place. She cobbles together aromas and flavors, conversations with patrons at local eateries, oral histories, and food history in this personal celebration of the city's culture. Roahan explores the wonders of familiar dishes such as po boys, red beans and rice, crayfish bisque, coffee and chicory, beignets—"naked or sugared"—as well as dishes introduced by the city's varied cultures, including Vietnamese pho and Sicilian braciolone.
Roahen and her husband, Mathieu DeSchutter (SF94) are now back in New Orleans.
Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research and Public Policy
Craig Anderson, Douglas Gentile (A86), Katherine Buckley
Oxford University Press, 2008
Do violent video games contribute to aggressive and violent behavior? Douglas Gentile (A86) has coauthored an insightful exploration of this question that incorporates both scientific research and public policy in an exploration of a possible link between violent video games and aggression.
Gentile is a developmental psychologist, assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University and director for the National Institute on Media and the Family. Violent Video Game Effects presents the results of three studies that use various measures of aggression and research on elementary, high school, and college-age students. The authors note that critics confuse the scientific question (Are there harmful effects?) with the legal question related to First Amendment rights. In the meantime, as the debate rages on, the book offers tips for choosing video games and a wealth of resources on how to be an involved consumer and citizen. Says Gentile, "The media are far more powerful than we want to admit, but we are far from powerless to control the effects."
The Theater of Insects
Jo Whaley, contributions by Linda Weiner
Chronicle Books, 2008
Santa Fe tutor Linda Weiner wrote the primary essay for The Theater of Insects, a new book by Jo Whaley. Weiner's identification of the insects accompanies Whaley's dazzling, theatrically-staged photographs of butterflies, beetles, dragonflies and other colorful bugs. The collaboration resulted in a work that echoes the style of natural history dioramas, and—through Wiener's contribution—offers a thoughtful reflection on the intersection of art and science. The Theater of Insects, titled after a 1658 work of the same name, is published to coincide with a series of exhibitions across the country, including the Photo Eye Gallery (Santa Fe, N.M.), the National Academies Keck Center Gallery and National Academy of Sciences (both in Washington, D.C.).
What the Tutors Are Reading
Frank Pagano, Santa Fe: "I am revisiting Philip Roth's American Pastoral. The novel is not about the (late) '60s generation so much as what they reacted against: the perfect American, Roth's Seymour Levov, the Swede. Roth brings to life the all-American boy, and shows why the baby boomers chose to make him the enemy."
David Levine (class of 1967), Santa Fe: "I'm just finishing Henry James' The Princess Casamassima, which is the first James novel I've read. Published in 1886, it's about the fate of culture amidst the rise of popular democratic movements."
David Carl, Santa Fe: "Steven Pressfield's The Virtue of War is a work of historical adventure fiction based on the life of Alexander the Great, which gives a very engaging fictionalized vision of the life of the great Macedonian general. Pressfield is perhaps most famous for his novel Gates of Fire, a fictional account of the Battle of Thermopylae (before the comic book and movie 300 brought it to pop culture attention). Pressfield's portrayal of Alexander is an inspiring vision of conflicted leadership, perhaps even of the tension between philosophy and politics."
Nick Maistrellis, Annapolis: "I'm on sabbatical leave so I have much more time to read. I have read a novel named Jill, by Phillip Larkin who is a well-known English poet. The novel is about a lower middle-class scholarship student at Oxford in 1940 and his attempts to fit into an upper-class world. The novel is beautifully written and quite moving. I'm also reading Out of the Labyrinth, by Robert and Ellen Kaplan. It is the best book on teaching and learning mathematics I have seen."
Sam Kutler, class of 1954, Annapolis: "The Warriors, by J. Glenn Gray. He describes many of the horrors of war and reflects on them. My father was in the First World War, and my childhood is steeped in memories of the Second World War. The day he received his doctorate in philosophy, Gray received a letter from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt which began 'Greetings.' He found that all the philosophy he had been studying no longer meant anything to him because the war became his whole world."
Pamela Kraus, Annapolis: "Posthumous Keats by Stanley Plumly. I have a long-standing interest in Keats, so I read a lot of things by and about him. Plumly, who is a poet and occasional essayist, has written a reflective account of Keats as living on through his life, poems, and reputation. It's a lovely book."