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Summer Reading Recommendations: 2024

An annual list compiled by the Swarthmore College Libraries

In Memory of Meg Spencer

Meg Spencer

For seven years, science librarian and ultimate book-lover Meg Spencer organized a list of reading suggestions from faculty and staff to highlight some good books to read over the summer. The Swarthmore Libraries continue this wonderful tradition in Meg’s memory.

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Recommendations for 2024

cover of How to Sell a Haunted House

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix [request it from the public library]

I have been haunted by this book ever since I read it last fall. I am a fan of Grady Hendrix; I've seen him perform live at PhilaMOCA in 2017 and have read most of his books, but this one may be my favorite. I'm not sure if it's the phenomenal audiobook narrators (especially essential with horror novels), the way he adeptly convinces you to empathize with or despise a character, or the fact that I cannot seem to escape the haunting presence of puppets. Reddit threads about this book on r/horrorlit had a lot of comments laughing about "radical puppet troupes," thinking it was something silly that Hendrix invented, but I've seen Bread and Puppet perform at Bryn Mawr College in 2012 and again at the First Unitarian Church this past spring, and I know just how politically powerful puppetry can be. Hendrix writes some compelling prose about the transformation that takes place through puppetry, masks, and performance, and takes it to the deepest and darkest of places in this book.

Planning to read:

Down with the System: A Memoir (Of Sorts) by Serj Tankian [request from the public library]
I'm always looking for more Armenian authors to read as I slowly grow my personal collection.

Maria Aghazarian, Scholarly Communications Librarian
McCabe Library

book cover for The Berry Pickers

The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters [request it from the public library]

I recommend The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters which tells the story of a Mi'kmaq family whose 4 year old daughter goes missing while they're in Maine for berry picking season and North Woods by Daniel Mason about a house in western Massachusetts and its succession of occupants over 400 years plus so much more.

Planning to read:

The Hunter by Tana French

Andrea Baruzzi, STEM Librarian
Cornell Library

book cover of patricia wants to cuddle

Patricia Wants to Cuddle — Samantha Allen  [request it from the public library]

This book is perfect for queer reality TV fans who are into the absurd or grotesque. It’s so funny and weird and unhinged and that’s what made it so perfect!

Planning to read:

Gods of Want — K-Ming Chang  [request it from the public library]

Hannah Breithaupt
Class of 20
26

book cover for Haben
Haben: The Deaf-Blind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma [request from the public library]
What does it mean to be a deaf-blind woman navigating different educational institutions and cultural communities? What role do different relationships, tools, barriers and opportunities play? In the memoir, Haben Girma describes how her multiple identities shaped her life's path toward becoming a disability rights advocate.

Planning to read:

Warrior Cats by Erin Hunter  [request from the public library]

Liz Derickson
Associate Dean of Academic Success

 

 

book cover The Last Chairlift

The Last Chairlift – John Irving's latest novel [request from the public library]

Really helped broaden my definition about what makes a family

 

Andrew (Andy) Feick

Associate Vice President Sustainable Facilities Operations & Capital Planning

 

book cover The Boy from Reactor 4

 

The Boy From Reactor 4 by Orest Stelmach
 

I recommend a fun thriller that has a bunch of Ukrainian history and culture sprinkled in: The Boy From Reactor 4 by Orest Stelmach. Extra fun that the main character is a very savvy (and of course Ukrainian-American) woman. The downside of the book is that it can't be read at bedtime: it makes your heart pound with all the cliff-hanging moments.

 

And I always recommend Karel Čapek's War with the Newts, which as students point out can now be read as a climate novel. It's funny in so many ways: no profession or nationality emerges satirically unscathed.

 

For poetry, I highly recommend Halyna Kruk's book of poetry, Crash Course in Molotov Cocktails, translated into English by Yuliya Ilchuk and Amelia Glaser. Kruk is a professor of literature, and her background makes her poetry full of meaning and associations without ever weighing it down - even when as the title suggests it's treating unhappy topics.

 

Planning to read:
The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle [request from public library]
 

This summer I intend to reread Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn: It's been a long time, and I really love it. Or at least I've really loved it in the past, and lines or scenes from it often come to me at odd moments - washing the dishes, and so on. I would recommend it to anyone.

 

Sibelan Forrester

Professor of Russian

book cover The Girl Who Smiled Beads

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

The Girl Who Smiled Beads (2018) by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil is a powerful memoir that recounts Clemantine's harrowing escape from the Rwandan genocide, her arduous years as a refugee, and her challenging transition to life in America. Through raw and evocative storytelling, Clemantine shares a narrative of resilience and hope in the face of unimaginable hardship.
 

Planning to read:

The Empusium: A Health Resort Horror Story by Olga Tokarczuk

This summer, I will be reading Olga Tokarczuk's 2024 The Empusium: A Health Resort Horror Story. As a devoted fan of Tokarczuk's lyrical prose, intricate narrative structures, and profound philosophical insights, I am particularly excited about this new work. Set in pre-WWI Silesia, a borderland between Germany and Poland, and replete with references to Thomas Mann, this story resonates with my academic and personal interests in Polish-German literary affiliations.

 

Karolina Hicke
Visiting Assistant Professor of German

book cover of Mothwoman
Mothwoman by Nicole Cushing

This is definitely weird fiction; read if you're interested in the Mothman legend, grief/trauma, COVID-19, mental illness, aliens, and questioning reality. It will add flavor if you read The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel first (the classic Mothman text), but it's definitely not required.

A book I will read: Rouge by Mona Awad

Emily Higgs Kopin
Libraries

Book cover for Lookout

Lookout by Christine Byl (a Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Finalist in 2023)

Christine Byl captures the intricacies of family and other relationships so beautifully. The landscape of western Montana becomes a character along with some animals, including the family dog, which offers brief, but wise perspective on what it observes. The story is ordinary, yet extraordinary, universal, yet unique. I don't often re-read novels, but plan to read this one again.


Planning to read:

Long Island, by Colm Toibin (a sequel to Brooklyn)


Mary Huissen, UX Librarian

Book cover, Everywhere I Look

Everywhere I Look: A Memoir by Ona Gritz  [request from the public library]

This book is written by a local author who lost her sister, brother -in-law and infant son to murder in 1982.  The sister was in and out of Ona's life while they were growing up and 30 years later, after the death of their parents, Ona decided to research the turbulent life of her sister.  What she found was family secrets and I hope, closure for her loss.  This book will stay with you for sure.

Stacy Jordan
Admissions

 

Book cover for The Lesbiana's Guide to Catholic School

The Lesbiana's Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes

I can't remember the last time I laughed this hard reading a book! Reyes captures what it's like to be a teen so well: the joy of first love, the heartbreak of a best friend's betrayal, the righteous anger sparked by seeing injustice. The Lesbiana's Guide illustrates not only the difficult parts of being gay and brown in racist and homophobic environments, but also the love that holds a family together and even grows as a result of these challenges.


Planning to read:

G-man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century by Beverly Gage


Nia King, Editorial Specialist
Communications

Book cover of Jitterbug Perfume

Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

One book I loved last year was Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. The writing style is unlike anything I’d ever read before and the plot is a beautiful magical realism blend.


Planning to read:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

 

Joey Lukner
Class of 2024

Book cover of Unaccustomed Earth
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

This is an older set of short stories that I just re-read.  Her ability to craft characters that are believable and empathetic and flawed like us is outstanding. The second half of the stories are interconnected - you have to go back to re-read them and it paints a detailed account of two lives.


A few more:

  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri - Another book of her short stories.  The thread being these are all immigrant experiences.
  • Demon Copperhead - Barbara Kingsolver - I second someone else's recommendation.  Long!
  • Prodigal Summer - Barbara Kingsolver - when I first read this book I had just begun my journey into botany and the natural world.  To read it now, with its scientific accuracy, is so much fun.  And what a story of relationships and unexpected (but great) change.
  • The Overstory - Richard Powers - I can't say it better than Wiki - The book is about nine Americans whose unique life experiences with trees bring them together to address the destruction of forests. Powers also uses good science. Pulitzer Prize Winner.  Plus Bewilderment - but spoiler alert - be ready for tragedy.
  • And always, Ann Patchett - These Precious Days, State of Wonder, Bel Canto, Commonwealth, The Dutch House


Planning to read:
Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

I can't wait to read Tom Lake. The NYT Book Review gave it stellar marks. [NYT access at Swarthmore]

 

Sue MacQueen
Scott Arboretum

Book cover for The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I read this (and the second in the series, The Obelisk Gate) last year for a science fiction book club and was dazzled by the world- and character- building. I’d recommend this series for anyone, even if they are, like me, not usually readers of sci-fi — there’s so much to chew on and Jemisin is a master of writing emotionally complex characters.

Book I’d like to read this year: The Backyard Bird Chronicles by Amy Tan
It’s Amy Tan writing about birding — need I say more.

Rebecca Michelson-Ziegler
Libraries

Book cover, The Fragile Threads of Power

The Fragile Threads of Power by V. E. Schwab  [request from the public library]

Schwab has an excellent series The Darker Shade of Magic that I read several years ago.  This book revisits that world with a new adventure filled with new and old captivating characters. Schwab creates a vivid scene and pulls you. Her characters are complex and compelling.  Her writing style makes for long books, but you never want to put them down. You can read Fragile Threads without reading the Darker Shades series, but if you do I'm sure you'll go back for it.

Up next, I've just checked out of the library The Husbands by Holly Gramazio [request from the public library].

Rachelle Miclette, Director, Data & Technology Services
College Advancement

book cover Demon Copperhead
Probably the best book I read during the past year, Demon Copperhead is a beautifully written novel that rewrites Dickens' David Copperfield in a contemporary, rural Virginia setting with the opioid crisis all around. While often quite disturbing and grim, it is hard to put down, and some characters help pave the way for Demon to find a way forward.

Carol Nackenoff, Richter Professor Emerita
Department of Political Science


book cover The Prospects
The Prospects by KT Hoffman

I just recently read The Prospects by KT Hoffman and gave it a 5/5 stars. I absolutely adored the writing style and the depths that all of the main characters had. Additionally, I was very satisfied by the arc of the plot.

On my TBR this summer is Dear Wendy by Ann Zhao. It's a YA queerplatonic story, and I'm really excited for the aromantic and asexual representation.

Eva Nahass, ‘24

 

book cover, Blackout

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis

Multiple Award Winning books about some Time Travelling Historians who get stuck in London during the Blitz in World War II. You know you're reading a good book when the Dedication (in All Clear) moves you to tears. They've been read multiple times in the Oaster household.


Jeff Oaster
Associate Director, Classroom and Conferencing Technology

 

 

book cover, The Savage Detectives

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

In a tale about an imaginary group of poets on a possibly meaningless quest that leads them into the desert, Bolaño plays with multiple inventive narrative styles and is able to balance serious commentary on art, politics, and life with compulsively readable mix of grit, comedy, and action. The Spanish is incredibly colloquial and lively, and the English translation is able to preserve it nearly perfectly.


I plan on reading 10:04 by Ben Lerner since I just read and loved Leaving the Atocha Station and The Topeka School.

Abraham Porschet ‘25

book cover, Gilead

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I loved this book the first time I read it, and rereading this book for the second time, I encountered yet another layer of depth, wisdom and insight. A stunning novel about spiritual life, I cannot recommend this one highly enough.


Plan to read:
Other Names for Love by Taymour Soomro

Moriel Rothman-Zecher, Professor of Creative Writing

 

Book cover, The Idiot

The Idiot by Elif Batuman
I am currently reading The Idiot for the third time because I have been craving it all semester. Yes, it is so good that I crave it! If you need a book to get back into reading for fun over the summer after being burnt out by college reading, I highly recommend this one.


Book I plan to read:
Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval

Zoe Sperduto, class of 2026 and Newton Third Place Winner

 


Book cover, Flatland

Flatland by Edwin Abbott

Flatland is a shorter book written in the 1880s about a fictional two-dimensional world inhabited by geometric figures called flatlanders (like lines, squares, triangles, etc.). It forces you to think deeper about the existence of multiple dimensions, and does so in a clear and concise way, (IE. you don't have to be a physicist to understand it). I'd recommend this to anyone interested in physics and science fiction. It's a pretty quick read.


Plan to read:
Masters of Doom by David Kushner

Masters of Doom is a book about the video game company id Software, how they grew, and how they influenced popular culture. It focuses on the two founders John Carmack and John Romero, how they grew up, and is an inspiration for a lot of programmers and game developers out there. This is in my top 5 and I would recommend it to those interested in video games, early computing culture, and programming in general.

Anthony Weed, Academic web developer (ITS)

book cover, True Biz
Book I read this year: True Biz by Sara Nović
True Biz was this year’s pick for One Book, One Philadelphia and I can’t recommend it enough. Set at a high school for the deaf, the book hooked me with its web of relationships–romantic, parental, and cultural–and I learned so much about ASL and deaf history along the way.


Book I plan to read this summer:

Edie: An American Biography by Jean Stein


Abbie Weil, Outreach Librarian

book cover, Bright Young Women

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll
Knoll centers the women hurt by Ted Bundy while absolutely roasting his alleged charisma and good looks in this fictionalized true crime story. Beautifully written and clever social commentary. (But be sure to check content warnings)


Planning to read: Rednecks by Taylor Brown

 

Amanda Whitbred
Director of Advancement Marketing and Communications

 

book cover, The Power Broker

Favorite book of the past year:
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro

This is an impressively researched book that is tragic in its descriptions of decades of classist city planning.  I recommend it for how eye-opening it is on how power is acquired and maintained.  I found the 60 hour audiobook was a great commuting companion.


Most anticipated book for this summer:

Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

I love Victorian and Edwardian literature in part for the amazingly creative metaphors.  Excellent metaphors are such a welcome perspective compared to the many cliches that riddle today’s speech. 

Roderick Wolfson
Sustainable Facilities Operations and Capital Planning

book cover, Dead Souls
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol was one book I really enjoyed this year.

Planning on reading:
East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Melanie Zelle, class of 2026