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Out in the Field and Lost in the Faculty Library: Research Hits the Presses

Focusing on ordinary acts of writing and what they reveal about culture and identity, Susan Miller's Assuming the Positions: Cultural Pedagogy and the Politics of Commonplace Writing includes transcriptions and analyses of the commonplace book collection of the Virginia Historical Society. Miller, a professor in the U's writing program, says that she wanted to "question the assumption that all writing is either 'good' or 'bad,' in favor of turning attention to the purposes and results of the act of writing in specific cultural settings." One such setting is Utah, a place that piqued Miller's interest in writing done outside of schooling and professions. Discovering "an entire population of people who regularly keep journals and careful records of their lives and relationships" in Utah, Miller says she is "fascinated by the popularity of Day timers, because they are both records of what we have done and directions for what we will do." Her research into eighteenth-and nineteenth-century writings revealed many surprises. "it was like finding the solutions to mysteries I didn't know existed until I solved them." (1998, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA, 15260; paper)

A cross-disciplinary collection of essays from philosophers, physicians, theologians, social scientists, lawyers, and economists, Physician Assisted Suicide: Expanding the Debate addresses what editor Margaret P. Battin calls "an increasingly contentious social issue." Battin, a professor of philosophy and an adjunct professor of internal medicine in the Division of Medical Ethics at the U, and her co-editors, Rosamond Rhodes and Anita Silvers, assembled a range of opinions about physician-assisted suicide, including the religious, clinical, economic, and philosophical aspects of it. "I have been working on this topic for a very long time," Battin says. "It's important to look at both sides of it. The book maintains a balance of views on each aspect, with particular attention to those issues affecting the most vulnerable groups in our society." One of those groups, the elderly, is the subject of an essay by Leslie Pickering Francis, a professor of law, professor of philosophy, and a member of the Division of Medical Ethics at the U. (1998, Routledge, 29 W. 35th St., New York, NY, 10001; paper; $21.99)

On Being Poor in Utah by Garth Mangum JD'89, Shirley Weathers BA'72 MA'75 PhD'83, Judy Kasten Bell, and Scott Lazerus BA'86, which examines in detail the conditions facing Utah's poor, grew out of the longtime anti-poverty interests and activities of all the authors, especially Mangum. "Childhood on a series of sharecrop farms and growing up in a family who, among them, including myself, were enrolled in every New Deal work-relief program of the 1930s may have given me a predisposition for the study of poverty," the emeritus professor of economics says. While serving on the State Homeless Coordinating Committee, the State Job Training Coordinating Committee, and the State Child Support Guidelines Committee, he approached two colleagues, Weathers and Bell, to write a book, along with then-doctoral candidate Scott Lazerus. Mangum says the book, filled with revealing statistics about who is poor in Utah and why, and poignant individual anecdotes, is meant "to enlighten opinion-influencers and policymakers that, though poverty is relatively low in Utah, it doesn't hurt any less for those experiencing it." (1998, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, UT, 84112; paper; $24.95)

Twelve years of research by the U's first full professor of Hebrew and Jewish studies, Harris Lenowitz, has produced The Jewish Messiahs: From the Galilee to Crown Heights. In the Hebrew bible, "messiah" referred to holy prophets and priests, as well as kings; in later Judaism, it has been associated with a semidivine figure whose future reign will bring everlasting justice, peace, and security. Lenowitz tells the stories of messiahs who have appeared over the last two millennia, ranging from the tragic to the comic and bizarre, but always occurring at times of desperation. "I came to see messianic movements as a variety of drama, a constantly repeated ritual, a tragedy – as I guess Jewish political life was," he says. Many of the messiahs' stories in the book are first-time translations. Though Lenowitz is interested in why the messianic ritual keeps recurring, he says there is not likely to be another messiah in the near future. "Maybe in another thousand years, if the comet doesn't get us first, the situation for the re-enactment of this drama will occur." (1998, Oxford University Press, 198 Madison Ave., New York, NY, 10016; hardcover)

Fun fact: Because of its high birth rate, Utah has a legitimate reputation for youthfulness. Yet it is actually the fifth fastest aging state in the nation. Much of the responsibility to record, analyze, and provide such demographic data has fallen on the Gerontology Center at the University of Utah College of Nursing. The center's expertise gave rise to publication of the Utah Sourcebook on Aging, which gives an up-to-the-minute overview of the demographic, educational, advocacy, and policy issues of aging in Utah and the Intermountain West. Edited by Scott D. Wright, associate professor and coordinator of graduate studies in the Gerontology Center, the 417-page book is a comprehensive resource guide that includes more than 60 tables, 40 figures, 250 supplementary notes, and more than 100 Internet sites related to the field of aging. "People are always asking us for more information about demographics, services, education, and advocacy issues for all of Utah," the editor explains. (1998, Empire Publisher, P.O. Box 521523, Salt Lake City, UT, 84152; paper; $26)

On the Nightstand

What book would you like to reread, and why?

I would (and do) reread Walden by Henry David Thoreau at least every few years. The reason is that it 'grounds' me by reminding me how important clear thinking and an appreciation for nature are in dealing with the chaotic, materialistic world we live in.

– James K. Loebbecke, Professor, School of Accounting

When time permits, I would like to reread The Diary of Anne Frank. I first read this book as a teenager. Rereading the book now after having visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam this past summer would be like climbing the narrow, steep staircase and stepping into hiding with the Frank family. Now her writings would take on a deeper meaning as I appreciate the contrast of stark separation in the midst of a beautiful summer day in Amsterdam.

– Linda S. Ralston, Assistant Professor, Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism

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