University of Minnesota Alumni Association


Opioids, Basketball, and Booksellers

Minnesota Alumni’s quarterly roundup of notable books.

Our country’s opioid crisis, which has been going on for more than two decades, shows no signs of abating. More than 70,000 people died in the U.S. from opioid overdoses in 2019; 285 died in Hennepin County alone in 2020. Clearly, we need new ways of thinking about this public health tragedy and how to treat those caught in its snare. This is among the major messages of Amy C. Sullivan’s new book, Opioid Reckoning: Love, Loss, and Redemption in the Rehab State (University of Minnesota Press). Although much of her book tells the stories of addicts and their families and explores new initiatives in the recovery industry, Sullivan— an independent scholar and Macalester College history professor—makes clear in the prologue that this isn’t only an academic take on an important topic. In fact, Sullivan’s oldest daughter, Madeleine, was a heroin addict—a condition Sullivan discovered in 2011, when 18-year-old Madeleine awoke unable to move her leg. She was diagnosed with a life- and limb-threatening condition called compartment syndrome, which had occurred when the circulation to her right leg was cut off for several hours after she’d passed out. 

Madeleine’s story ends happily when she successfully goes through treatment. (She is now working, married, and the mother of a young girl.) Unfortunately, most of the stories told in Opioid Reckoning do not end so well. (These stories are drawn from The Minnesota Opioid Project, an archived collection of 60 oral history interviews with people whose lives were impacted by the opioid crisis. The project is housed in the University of Minnesota Social Welfare History Archives.) 

Sullivan argues that the fact that the recovery movement seems stuck in the all-or-nothing, 12-step “Minnesota Model” is among the reasons so many opiate addicts cannot get clean. Weaning off the hard stuff with methadone is a much more humane— and less fatal—way to treat heroin addicts, she points out. But it is still scorned by many in the recovery profession. 

“Much of the purpose of this book,” writes Sullivan, “has been to focus on destigmatizing and humanely portraying the struggles of people who cope with substance use disorders and the people who love them.” Mission accomplished. 

And the rest… 

Grief can be disorienting, overwhelming, and unpredictable, but rarely is it as long lasting as that described by Andrea Gilats in her moving and painful book, After Effects: A Memoir of Complicated Grief (University of Minnesota Press). Gilats, cofounder of the U of M’s Split Rock Arts Program, lost her husband to cancer at just 52. In her memoir, she chafes against our culture’s assumptions that mourners must get over even their most terrible losses quickly and straightforwardly. That is utterly impossible for some, contends Gilats, who informs her readers on page one that she herself “grieved intensely for 10 years and lived with unresolved grief for 10 more.” 

As more children begin to define themselves as nonbinary—a process that remains difficult in our stubbornly male-female world—Raising Ollie: How My Nonbinary/Art-Nerd Kid Changed (Nearly) Everything I Know (University of Minnesota Press) by Tom Rademacher is the story of one such child and the parents who supported them. 

Rademacher, who was Minnesota’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, braids together sections about Ollie’s journey and school change with his own adjustment when education spending cuts led him from a comfortable job at an arts magnet to a white suburban middle school. Rademacher manages to successfully braid together these two disparate stories of growth, thanks to his conversational, appealing writing style. 

For the younger crew comes an imaginative and gorgeously illustrated picture book called My Room Is a Zoo! (Amicus Ink). Written by the late Jerry Ruff (M.A. ’82) and illustrated by Simona Ceccarelli, it describes the nighttime hijinks of the stuffed animals of one besieged little boy, who discovers bears hogging his covers, cougars roaring in his closet, ferrets hiding his toys, and the rest of the menagerie joining in to make sleep impossible. Luckily for the kids following this chaotic tale and the parents hoping they will go to sleep, everyone is nicely tucked in at the story’s end. 

It’s safe to say that not many graduate students conduct and fund their dissertation research by playing professional basketball. But, that’s the unconventional route Sheldon Anderson (Ph.D. ’89) took. He tells the tale in Jump Shooting to a Higher Degree: My Basketball Odyssey (University of Nebraska Press). Although he played at the D3 level while attending Augsburg College, Anderson went on to join a professional West German team and later one in Lublin, Poland. Anderson, who is now a history professor at Miami University in Ohio, writes: “Although a Fulbright would have looked good on my resume, I’m glad I didn’t get [one]. . . The basketball junket was not only fun, but it gave me the opportunity to meet Poles of varied backgrounds, to experience everyday life in communist Poland, and to travel all over the country.” Not to mention finish his dissertation research. 

Of all the losses the internet has wrought, few are as lamentable as the decline of secondhand bookstores. Once hallowed ground for bibliophiles, today their numbers are sadly diminished. But though the stores themselves may be disappearing, their stories remain. For a chronicle of one of the late, great used book dealers, look no further than Gary Goodman’s The Last Bookseller: A Life in the Rare Book Trade (University of Minnesota Press). Goodman (Ph.D. candidate ’78) bought an East St. Paul used bookshop in 1982, moved it to Stillwater in 1990 as St. Croix Antiquarian Books, and until 2017, enjoyed a successful run until the web finally changed the book selling landscape forever.

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