Special to The Enterprise
Poetry, a memoir of a political prisoner in Iran and books about eating — one on rare chiles and one on, yes, dirt — top this year’s reading list. The titles are culled from dozens of books published in the past year by UC Davis faculty, students, staff and alumni.
* “Craving Earth”: Sera Young, a reproductive and infectious diseases researcher at the UCD Medical Center in Sacramento, has investigated why people eat dirt, ice, chalk and other nonfood items to see if it was related in any way to health, medicine, pregnancy, religion or mental illness.
While the research results of Young and others throughout history have been largely inconclusive, she found the age-old practice too fascinating to restrict to academia and turned it into a book for the masses. She writes about “pica,” an abnormal desire to eat nonfood items, in accessible prose in “Craving Earth.”
“People have been eating earth for a very long time,” according to Young. She tells of people who sneak around to eat chalk and starch (both the laundry kind and the type you use to thicken gravy) so that their loved ones won’t know, and about people who devote Facebook pages to this obsession; she also talks about a woman who buys an industrial-size ice machine to feed her ice-eating habit.
* “Peach Farmer’s Daughter”: Brenda Nakamoto, a longtime staffer in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, writes about her childhood as a sansei (third-generation Japanese-American) growing up on a peach farm in Gridley. The engaging essays and poems, pieced together in 200 pages, focus on family, the land, farming and the ethnic melting pot of the Central Valley.
The family’s hard work, their leisure times, and their relationships with seasonal workers are vividly described. You’ll feel the grit of the dirt and prickle of peach fuzz on sweaty skin. Nakamoto weaves the stories with illustrations, including yellowed color snapshots of life in the orchards.
* “Other Suns”: Patricia Killelea, a doctoral student in Native American studies, writes about nature, conservation and human engagement through verse. Says the publisher: “Killelea’s clear lyrics speak to the ways in which land shapes perception, reminding us that natural space is indeed social space.”
The slim and readable book of poetry takes some unusual turns, including an excerpt of a newspaper story about a fawn that was killed in Oakland, followed by a poem about someone who ran a race in the fawn’s honor.
* “Let Us Water the Flowers”: Jafar Yaghoobi returned to his homeland of Iran after earning his doctoral degree in genetics at UCD, but was held as a political prisoner for five years during the decade after the Islamic Revolution broke out in 1979. The book is the promise he kept to himself that if he survived, he would tell what happened “at the hands of our Islamist extremist compatriots.” The publisher calls the book “to date the most comprehensive English-language memoir by a survivor of the mass killings.”
Released from prison to house arrest in 1989, Yaghoobi eventually escaped and settled again in the United States with his family. He worked as a genetics research scientist in the department of mematology and plant pathology from 1991 until his retirement in 2005. He lives in San Francisco, and this is his first book.
* “Trust in the Land”: Beth Rose Middleton, as assistant professor of Native American studies, examines new and innovative ideas concerning native land conservancies, providing advice on land trusts, collaborations and conservation groups. Middleton writes from the perspective of a woman of Afro-Caribbean (Belizean, Jamaican and Honduran) and Eastern European (Russian and Lithuanian) heritage raised in California Miwok country, specifically the Mokulumne watershed of the central Sierra Nevada foothills.
She raises possibilities for regaining access to culturally vital lands and other resources, while also making a case for land trusts to improve relationships with native partners.
* “Chasing Chiles — Hot Spots Along the Pepper Trail”: Kraig Kraft, who recently earned a doctorate in ecology at UCD, teams up with two fellow slow food and chile fanatics in a spicy odyssey to find the rarest heirloom chile varieties. But the authors have a sobering mission — to understand the effects of climate change by zeroing in on one critical crop and the farmers, chefs and others whose lives are most deeply intertwined with it. They visit the pepper-growing states of the United States and Mexico in a van they call the spice ship.
A bonus: complete recipes with detailed instructions, allowing a reader to learn more about climate change and slow food while feasting on poblanos rellenos. The downside: descriptions are so realistic and Kraft’s photography so vivid your eyes may sting.
To keep up with other new books from UCD authors, subscribe to UC Davis Bookstore Buzz by trade books buyer Paul Takushi (who helped select titles for this list). Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with “buzz subscribe” in the subject heading. Books by UCD authors also are on sale at the bookstore in the “Campus Authors” section.
— UC Davis News Service