Campus & community

Holiday gift guide 2023: New books by UC Berkeley authors

From young adult fiction about an internal organization of spies to a story of nature’s toxins, the subjects of this year’s books are wide-ranging, a reflection of the authors on our dynamic and diverse campus.

By Anne Brice

about a dozen book spines are lined up next to each other with a vase at one end

The store at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) on campus carries more than 30 books by UC Berkeley authors.

Eva Kalea

For the past several years, Berkeley News has published a gift guide that includes places on campus to find gifts and crafts for the holidays. 

This year, though, we decided to focus on the most popular annual section — new books by members of the UC Berkeley community — for people searching for the perfect book for a friend or loved one. From young adult fiction about an internal organization of spies protecting people of color to a memoir on the imperfections of love to a story of nature’s toxins, the subjects of this year’s books are wide-ranging, a reflection of the authors on our dynamic and diverse campus.

And don’t worry — holiday events and pop-up shops are still happening this year and can be found on our events calendar.

If we missed a book published in 2023 by a current Berkeley faculty, staff, student or visiting scholar that you think should be on the list, email me, Anne Brice, at abrice@berkeley.edu, and our team will do its best to include it. Thanks very much — and enjoy!

Puta Life: Seeing Latinas, Working Sex (Dissident Acts) by Juana María Rodríguez, professor of comparative ethnic studies

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From Duke University Press: "In Puta Life, Juana María Rodríguez probes the ways that sexual labor and Latina sexuality become visual phenomena. Drawing on state archives, illustrated biographies, documentary films, photojournalistic essays, graphic novels, and digital spaces, she focuses on the figure of the puta — the whore, that phantasmatic figure of Latinized feminine excess. Rodríguez’s eclectic archive features the faces and stories of women whose lives have been mediated by sex work's stigmatization and criminalization— washerwomen and masked wrestlers, porn stars and sexiles. Rodríguez examines how visual tropes of racial and sexual deviance expose feminine subjects to misogyny and violence, attuning our gaze to how visual documentation shapes perceptions of sexual labor."

Also, read a Berkeley News Q&A with Rodríguez: "Juana María Rodríguez: Sex work is a queer issue."

The Pecking Order: Social hierarchy as a philosophical problem by Niko Kolodny, professor of philosophy

book cover of black-and-white drawing of chickens eating
From Harvard University Press: "A trenchant case for a novel philosophical position: that our political thinking is driven less by commitments to freedom or fairness than by an aversion to hierarchy.

"Niko Kolodny argues that, to a far greater extent than we recognize, our political thinking is driven by a concern to avoid relations of inferiority. In order to make sense of the most familiar ideas in our political thought and discourse — the justification of the state, democracy, and rule of law, as well as objections to paternalism and corruption — we cannot merely appeal to freedom, as libertarians do, or to distributive fairness, as liberals do. We must instead appeal directly to claims against inferiority — to the conviction that no one should stand above or below."

Also, check out The Entanglement: How Art and Philosophy Make Us What We Are by Alva Noë, professor and chair in the Department of Philosophy

book cover with the title
From Princeton University Press: "In Pleasure and Efficacy, Grace Lavery investigates gender transition as it has been experienced and represented in the modern period. Considering examples that range from the novels of George Eliot to the psychoanalytic practice of Sigmund Freud to marriage manuals by Marie Stopes, Lavery explores the skepticism found in such works about whether it is truly possible to change one’s sex. This ambivalence, she argues, has contributed to both anti-trans oppression and the civil rights claims with which trans people have confronted it."

Untraceable by Aya de León, lecturer in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies; director of Poetry for the People

book cover with the title
From Penguin Random House: "With gripping results, this companion novel to Undercover Latina returns to the high-stakes world of the Factory — an international organization of spies protecting people of color.

"Fifteen-year-old Amani Kendall’s biggest problem is being the only plus-size Black girl at a white private school — until her house burns down and her family is unexpectedly on the run. Suddenly, she’s reeling from the news that her formerly boring mom is being pursued by an ex-boyfriend turned stalker, and her scientist dad has gone MIA. At the same time, she has to navigate an underfunded school in the city, suffering the cultural whiplash of being surrounded by other Black students, including the cute boy who’s an old family friend."

Negro Mountain by C.S. Giscombe, professor and Robert Hass Chair in English

book cover with the title: Negro Mountain
From University of Chicago Press: "A cross-genre poetry collection that troubles the idea of poetic voice while considering history, biology, the shamanistic, and the shapes of racial memory.

"In the final section of Negro Mountain, C. S. Giscombe writes, 'Negro Mountain — the summit of which is the highest point in Pennsylvania — is a default, a way among others to think about the Commonwealth.' Named for an 'incident' in which a Black man was killed while fighting on the side of white enslavers against Indigenous peoples in the 18th century, this mountain has a shadow presence throughout this collection; it appears, often indirectly, in accounts of visions, reimaginings of geography, testimonies about the 'natural' world, and speculations and observations about race, sexuality, and monstrosity. These poems address location, but Giscombe — who worked for ten years in central Pennsylvania — understands location to be a practice, the continual 'action of situating.'"

Orphan Bachelors: A Memoir by Fae Myenne Ng, continuing lecturer in Asian American and Asian diaspora studies

book cover with the title: Orphan Bachelors: A Memoir
From Grove Atlantic: "In pre-Communist China, Fae Myenne Ng’s father memorized a book of lies and gained entry to the U.S. as a stranger’s son, evading the Exclusion Act, an immigration law which he believed was meant to extinguish the Chinese American family. During the McCarthy era, he entered the Confession Program in a failed attempt to salvage his marriage only to have his citizenship revoked to resident alien. Exclusion and Confession, America’s two slamming doors. As Ng’s father said, 'America didn’t have to kill any Chinese, the Exclusion Act ensured none would be born.'

"Ng was her parents’ precocious first born, the translator, the bossy eldest sister. A child raised by a seafaring father and a seamstress mother, by San Francisco’s Chinatown and its legendary Orphan Bachelors — men without wives or children, Exclusion’s living legacy. She and her siblings were their stand-in descendants, Ng’s family grocery store their haven."

The Black Geographic: Praxis, Resistance, Futurity co-edited by Jovan Scott Lewis, associate professor and chair in geography

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From Duke University Press: "The contributors to The Black Geographic explore the theoretical innovations of Black Geographies scholarship and how it approaches Blackness as historically and spatially situated. In studies that span from Oakland to the Alabama Black Belt to Senegal to Brazil, the contributors draw on ethnography, archival records, digital humanities, literary criticism and art to show how understanding the spatial dimensions of Black life contributes to a broader understanding of race and space."

The Strikers of Coachella: A Rank-and-File History of the UFW Movement by Christian Paiz, associate professor in comparative ethnic studies

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From University of North Carolina Press: "The past decades have borne witness to the United Farm Workers' (UFW) tenacious hold on the country's imagination. Since 2008, the UFW has lent its rallying cry to a presidential campaign and been the subject of no less than nine books, two documentaries, and one motion picture. Yet the full story of the women, men and children who powered this social movement has not yet been told.

"Based on more than 200 hours of original oral history interviews conducted with Coachella Valley residents who participated in the UFW and Chicana/o movements, as well as previously unused oral history collections of Filipino farm workers, bracero workers and UFW volunteers throughout the United States, this stirring history spans from the 1960s and 1970s through the union's decline in the early 1980s."

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From AK Press: "Starting in the 1970s, small groups of feminist activists met regularly to study anatomy, practice pelvic exams on each other, and learn how to safely perform a procedure known as menstrual extraction, which can end a pregnancy, using equipment easily bought and assembled at home. This 'self-help' movement grew into a robust national and international collaboration of activists determined to ensure access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion, at all costs — to the point of learning how to do the necessary steps themselves."

Graphic: Trauma and Meaning in our Online Lives by Alexa Koenig, co-faculty director of Berkeley Law's Human Rights Center; and Andrea Lampros, director of communications and marketing at the Graduate School of Journalism 

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From Cambridge University Press: "Today, almost anyone can upload and disseminate newsworthy content online, which has radically transformed our information ecosystem. Yet this often leaves us exposed to content produced without ethical or professional guidelines. 

"In Graphic, Alexa Koenig and Andrea Lampros examine this dynamic and share best practices for safely navigating our digital world. Drawing on the latest social science research, original interviews, and their experiences running the world's first university-based digital investigations lab, Koenig and Lampros provide practical tips for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the harms of being online." 

Most Delicious Poison: The Story of Nature's Toxins — from Spices to Vices by Noah Whiteman, professor of integrative biology and of molecular and cell biology

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From Hatchett Book Group: "A deadly secret lurks within our spice racks, medicine cabinets, backyard gardens and private stashes.

"Scratch beneath the surface of a coffee bean, a red pepper flake, a poppy seed, a mold spore, a foxglove leaf, a magic-mushroom cap, a marijuana bud, or an apple seed, and we find a bevy of strange chemicals. We use these to greet our days (caffeine), titillate our tongues (capsaicin), recover from surgery (opioids), cure infections (penicillin), mend our hearts (digoxin), bend our minds (psilocybin), calm our nerves (CBD), and even kill our enemies (cyanide). But why do plants and fungi produce such chemicals? And how did we come to use and abuse some of them?"

Also, read this Berkeley News Q&A with Whiteman about Most Delicious Poison.

Other new books by Berkeley authors

Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies

Department of Anthropology

Department of Art Practice

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

College Writing Programs

Department of Comparative Literature

Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures

School of Education

Department of English 

College of Environmental Design

Department of Ethnic Studies

Department of Geography

Haas School of Business

Department of History

Department of History of Art 

Department of Linguistics

Othering & Belonging Institute

Department of Political Science

Department of Psychology

Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures

Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies