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Cornell novelists experience whirlwind debut book tours

Téa Obreht '08 and Alexi Zentner '08, alumni of Cornell's Creative Writing Program, both settled in Ithaca to write after earning their MFAs. They are now enjoying the reception for their debut novels on their first book tours.

Alexi Zentner '08, left, and Téa Obreht '08 at Cornell Store event

Alexi Zentner '08, left, and Téa Obreht '08 talk about their debut novels at a Cornell Store event in April. See larger image

Norton published Zentner's book "Touch" April 4, and Random House released Obreht's "The Tiger's Wife" March 8. The two also are friends, and Obreht often babysits for Zentner's children. Both are also working on new books.

"A book tour is a very disorienting process," Zentner said in an interview from Vancouver, B.C. "It's crazy, but it's a good thing – it's exciting to walk into a bookstore and have your book there."

Zentner began "Touch" as a short story in 2005, but started developing it into a novel in 2008: "I always wanted to write it as a novel, but didn't think I could do it justice, so I waited until I was a better writer. There are some stories that you need more space to tell. I had a broader world in mind when I first started writing that story."

Obreht said that the local landscape helped her to focus on writing.

"Living in Ithaca and being someone who was used to living in a larger city, I was forced to adapt the kinds of things I would do to ensure that I keep writing," she said from an upstate New York highway rest stop in mid-April. "One of these things was driving. I would assemble soundtracks to what I was working on and drive these distances – lake to lake, town to town, between different geographic markers – and think about the parts of the story that I would work on when I got back to the computer."

They both credit the MFA program with giving them a space to create.

"It can't be overstated how important it is for writing to be a serious pursuit – a place where all day, that's what you do," Zentner said. "Now I can say I'm a writer; I can pull out my book. When you first start out, it's really important to be in a place where you can take it seriously."

The New Yorker named Obreht among 20 notable young writers in 2010. She describes her MFA experience as "wonderful," mentioning classes and workshops with Ernesto Quiñonez, J. Robert Lennon, Stephanie Vaughn and Alison Lurie.

"A lot of the people I know left [Ithaca] after their time in the MFA program," Obreht said. "I stayed, and Alexi stayed, and those of us who stayed are still very much welcome as part of the Cornell community of writers. … It helps you feel you are grounded in that part of your life."

Obreht has spent little time in Ithaca so far this year. She has been on a "frantic book tour" since early March, with short visits home in April including a joint reading at the Cornell Store with Zentner.

"I go back on the road after this through June 14 as part of the international tour, to Auckland (New Zealand) and to the U.K.," she said.

Weill Cornell's Dr. mark Lachs investigates medical ageism

The growing phenomenon of medical ageism is the subject of a new book by gerontologist Mark Lachs, M.D. In "Treat Me, Not My Age" (Viking, 2010), Lachs, the Irene F. and I. Roy Psaty Distinguished Professor of Clinical Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and co-chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology, explains how the symptoms of older patients are sometimes dismissed as the inevitable results of aging. Such discrimination, he writes, extends throughout the health care system – from hospitals to nursing homes to insurance companies – affecting quality of life for the elderly. In the book, written for a general audience, Lachs offers a comprehensive guide to avoiding such pitfalls and receiving the highest-quality care. "Sure, the book is about health," Lachs writes in the introduction, "but it's even more about how systems and environments collide with our aging bodies to influence health."

In an April interview on NPR's "Morning Edition," Lachs covered the keys to longevity and spoke about his oldest patient – Helen "Happy" Reichert '25, who at age 109 is Cornell's oldest living alumna.

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