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Editors’ Picks: What to Read, Watch, and Listen to This Spring

March 18, 2020
by Editorial staff
Illustration of books in a TV frame Image source: iStock, Pixabay // Illustration by Leah Worthington

Some of our favorite books, films, and performances, for your entertainment

Our editors have curated a list of the arts to indulge in this spring season. Here are their top picks of forthcoming dance, films, novels, and more to check out now through May

This is Chance! The Shaking of an All-American City, A Voice that Held it Together by Jon Mooallem

Jon Mooallem, M. J. ’06, chronicled Genie Chance’s coverage of the 1964 Anchorage earthquake. // Courtesy of Jon Mooallem

On the evening of March 27, 1964, Anchorage, Alaska, began to shake. The earthquake, centering on what was then a frontier town of 44,000, measured an astounding 9.2 on the Richter scale—the largest seismic event in U.S. history. Streets split into gaping crevasses. The façade of the town’s sole department store crumpled, crushing the cars parked in front. The entire suburb of Turnagain was wiped out in a landslide. Residents were in shock. But as journalist and UC Berkeley J-School alum Jon Mooallem writes in his account of the event, panic was largely missing from the aftermath—thanks to one person: Genie Chance.

The town’s first and only female radio host, Chance reported for 16 straight hours after the quake, becoming the de facto coordinator of Anchorage’s emergency response, overseeing firemen, police officers, public officials, and regular citizen volunteers during the search-and-rescue efforts.

Mooallem, a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, is a master of narrative nonfiction with an abiding interest in our place in the natural world. His first book, Wild Ones, explored humanity’s relationship to the animals it has endangered. With This Is Chance, he puts his narrative know-how to work depicting a community at the mercy of nature.

The book draws on diary entries, letters, interviews, and recordings of Chance’s reporting in the days following the quake to spin a compelling story of disaster, with an uplifting lesson: “Our force for counteracting chaos is connection.” —Grace Vogel

400 Years of Resistance to Slavery and Injustice Initiative

The resurrection of Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha is one of the 400 Years of Resistance events. // Courtesy of Volcano Theatre Company

When Berkeley public health Professor Denise Herd learned of the national effort to acknowledge the 400 years since slaves were brought to American shores, she knew she wanted to do something at Cal. The result is a series of events spanning the entire 2019–20 school year. Herd, the associate director of the Othering and Belonging Institute, explained, “The purpose is to acknowledge the profound impact that slavery’s had on our country from its inception.” Events for spring include, at Zellerbach Hall March 31–April 5, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater—named for the celebrated black choreographer and activist—“exploring themes of hope, sorrow, joy, and resilience” through modern dance. Also at Zellerbach, May 2–3, will be composer Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha. Written more than 100 years ago, Treemonisha is the tale of an escaped slave woman who becomes a leader in her community. Highly progressive for its time, the opera never opened, but Berkeley audiences can finally experience the classical, gospel, and ragtime rendition thanks to Cal Performances. —Brooke Kottmann

Editor’s note: Because of the coronavirus, Cal Performances has since canceled these performances.

Meadowlark by Melanie Abrams

Melanie Abrams’s sophomore novel is a psychological thriller. // Courtesy of Abrams

Years after fleeing the commune of their youth, two estranged friends, Arjun and Simrin, rekindle a tentative friendship. But as a criminal investigation threatens to upend their lives, the friends are forced to reckon with a destructive undercurrent of cultism and the possibility that their troubled childhoods may have written the rules of their adulthood. In her sophomore novel, author and Berkeley English department lecturer Melanie Abrams draws compelling parallels between two perilous acts of optimism: raising a child and building a utopia. A fine-tuned psychological thriller, Meadowlark grapples with what it means to be a parent who carries the long-lasting wounds of childhood trauma. —Julia Apffel

Peace Now! exhibit at BAMPFA through July 12, 2020

Peace Now! is BAMPFA’s latest entry in the museum’s Art for Human Rights series. // Courtesy of BAMPFA, unknown artist

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Kent State massacre when the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four unarmed college students at a protest against President Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. In the wake of the shooting, students, faculty, and staff at Berkeley banded together to protest the escalation of violence both at home and abroad. Peace Now! at BAMPFA is the latest entry in the museum’s Art for Human Rights series. It showcases silk-screened posters and other protest materials from that period when students were in full rebellion. —Grace Vogel

Editor’s note: Because of the coronavirus, BAMPFA has temporarily closed the museum.

The Art of War translation by Michael Nylan

The Art of War translator Michael Nylan argues this 2,000-year-old text is still relevant in today’s political climate. // Courtesy of BAMPFA, gift of Rex Powell

If you thought The Art of War was just about battlefield tactics, you’d be wrong. Early Chinese history Professor Michael Nylan’s new translation—the first by a woman (yes, Michael is a woman)—takes a new tack on Sun Tzu’s military classic. “Winning a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the best possible outcome,” Nylan’s translation reads. “Best is to subdue the enemy’s troops without ever engaging them on the battlefield.” War is the last resort if you haven’t been able to outmaneuver your enemies.

Nylan argues that the text—written more than 2,000 years ago—continues to hold sway in contemporary politics. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi has been likened to a modern-day Sun Tzu and the alt-right’s Steve Bannon is an acolyte. Hopefully, we won’t be resorting to the last resort anytime soon. —Dianna Bautista

The First Angry Man directed by Jason Andrew Cohn

Jason Cohn and Camille Servan-Schreiber document tax revoltist Howard Jarvis and Prop. 13. // Courtesy of the Associated Press

This hour-long documentary tells the story of Howard Jarvis, the man behind California’s Proposition 13, which, in 1978, slashed state property taxes and sparked the nationwide tax revolt that followed. Jarvis made taxes a dirty word and helped politicians like Ronald Reagan run against the evils of “big government.” Peabody Award–winning filmmakers and J-School graduates, Jason Cohn and Camille Servan-Schreiber, find in Jarvis’s tale the beginnings of the sharp decrease in funding for public schools and higher education, as well as the seeds of America’s growing wealth disparity. —Pat Joseph

Daring Darleen, Queen of the Screen by Anne Nesbet

The “leading actress” Darleen stars in her own photoplay during the silent-film era. // Courtesy of Penguin Books

For 12-year-old Darleen Darling, a typical day might include scaling a cliff, riding on the outside of a moving train, or doing a somersault midair. It’s 1914, and Darleen is the star of her own photoplay adventure serial. But when a publicity stunt goes terribly wrong, the stakes of Darleen’s daring tricks become all too real. Teaming up with young heiress Victorine Berryman, Darleen must outwit kidnappers and criminals to save the day. This novel pulls from the true stories of young women in the silent-film era to tell a charming tale of friendship and bravery. Anne Nesbet is the author of several books for young readers and a Berkeley professor of Slavic languages and literatures. —Julia Apffel

From the Spring 2020 issue of California.

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