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Summer Reading Recommendations: 2010

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 web page of reading suggestions by faculty and staff, to highlight some good books to read over the summer. The library is continuing this wonderful tradition in Meg’s memory.

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Rembrandt's Nose
by Michael Taylor
I'm only halfway through, but so far it's the best writing I've read this year (translated from the French). The close-looking at various Rembrandt paintings takes the form of lush verbal description, full of startling, funny, strange and unexpected comparisons. The writing is sometimes more interesting than the painting it is describing.

Planning to read:
What is Contemporary Art? by Terry Smith

Adrienne Bayton
Department of Art & Art History



The Fall by David Fulmer [request it from Interlibrary Loan]
"Bad things can happen in small towns," an old librarian warns in The Fall. "Even hometowns." One reason I enjoyed this book is that David Fulmer is a childhood friend of mine and this, his 7th novel, has components of the small town we grew up in. Also the publishing model is unique. David's first mystery won a Shamus award and many of his books are based on historical people and places. All have a music component as well which I enjoy. I hope folks will check this one out!

Planning to read:
Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott

Katie Bourne
ITS


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The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
This is a novel that combines religion, paleo-anthropology and science fiction into a remarkable story of extraterrestrial contact, God and the degradations and limits of faith. It is an immensely powerful and disturbing narrative that brings together Jesuit missionaries, the Vatican, aliens, with themes of horrow and redemption - all through the experience of one character's profound spiritual journey.

Planning to read:
Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler

Yvonne Chireau
Department of Religion


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Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy & American Power by Bruce Cumings [also available as an e-book]
Tons of data, great photographs, a synthetic view of historical developments, and an unflinching, candid, and sorrowful description of America's thoroughgoing love of racist identity--what's not to love about this book? Bruce Cumings writes as if in the company of historians and historical writings with whom he has spent the decades of his professional life, but in a style and tone that invites the reader to sit around the seminar table and dialogue with this avuncular oracle. This is a refreshing, if at times horrifying, read. The American "empire grew out of the western thrust across the continent by expansionists who disdained Europe, its power politics, and its colonies, desiring instead maximum, unhindered American freedom in the world" (p. 391), Cumings contends, and the blindness and brutality that characterize so much of American expansionism rarely recede into the background. Cumings argues "the American century" is long from ended, but he leaves this reader marveling yet lamenting its tarnished luster.

Planning to read:
Living Opera by Joshua Jampol [also available as an e-book]

Donald R. Cooney
Development & Alumni Relations


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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese [also available as an audiobook]
This was the one book I picked this past year and read whether or not my glasses were handy.

Planning to read:
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery [also available as an audiobook]

Laurie Dibeler
Science Center Coffee Bar


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The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
Caleum and Maureen Quirk move to Littleton, Colorado from Connecticut looking for a fresh start in their marriage in which infidelity reared its ugly head. Caleum gets a job as a high school teacher at Columbine High School and Maureen a school nurse. When Quirk gets a call that his beloved aunt in Connecticut is gravely ill he makes a quick trip home to say goodbye....while there the Columbine High massacre occurs and his Maureen survives by hiding under a desk in a closet. This sets the premise for this epic, thought provoking read. I could not put it down.

Planning to read:
Rosie by Anne Lamott

Betsy Durning
Dean's Office



The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell [request it from the public library]
I read this novel earlier this spring and found it fully engaging on several levels. It is a fine translation (that is, a pleasure to read in English), it is a good mystery and it links contemporary global complexities to historical events. We move from our present (a mysterious massacre in a Swedish village) to early 19th century America to matters in the contemporary world involving China and Africa in quite significant ways, exploring new forms of colonialism, perhaps.

Planning to read:
The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest by Stieg Larsson [also available as an e-book and audiobook]

Maurice Eldridge
President's Office, and College & Community Relations


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The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience by Rob Hopkins & Richard Heinberg [also available as an e-book]
This book, which reads conversationally and not at all like a handbook, lays out an optimistic plan for de-addicting ourselves from a fossil fuel culture without having to depend upon big government actions or international compliance with treaties. It is the most empowering book I've read in years, and serves as a blueprint for living in the 21st century regardless of the status of global warming or who is in political office.

Planning to read:
Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining The Environmental Revolution by Heather Rogers

Carr Everbach
Department of Engineering


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The Help by Kathryn Stockett [also available as an audiobook]
Stockett has created three amazing women, Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny, who forever change a southern town in Mississippi in the year 1962. This is a book about the way women - mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends - view one another. A wonderful book filled with poignancy, humor and hope, The Help is a story about the lines we all abide by, and the ones we don't. The  version is also highly recommended and is available in McCabe Library.

Planning to read:
Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Anna Everetts
Department of Asian Studies, Black Studies, and Peace & Conflict Studies


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What Happened To Anna K. by Irina Reyn
This book is based on Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, but the setting is moved to New York, including the Bukharian Jewish community. Reyn's use of the older work is sparing and delicate, however, her book is much shorter, so not as heavy to bring to the beach or to the hammock out back... Of course, Anna Karenina is a great summer read too - it's a lot like a soap opera.

Planning to read:
Ancient Jewish Magic by Guideon Bohak

Sibelan Forrester
Russian Studies


Planning to read:

Googled: The End Of The World As We Know It by Ken Auletta

Sharon Friedler
Music & Dance



The Crying Tree by Nassem Rakha [request it from the public library]

Planning to read:
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

Diane Fritz
Department of Biology


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The City & The City by China Mieville
Eschewing the much more lush prose that's served him in previous novels (such as Perdido Street Station), Miéville delivers a voice akin to Raymond Chandler's slumming angel Philip Marlowe; but here the author presents a mystery that itself shakes loose reality as his detective Borlú travels from the city of Beszel to that of Ul Qoma...except that they may be the same place, a reality divided by mind rather than space. The LA Times in reviewing it suggested the reader try to imagine a novel written by the love child of Philip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler who was raised by Franz Kafka. That's not a bad analogy for this stupendously strange novel.

Planning to read:
Drood by Dan Simmons

Gregory Frost
Department of English


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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides [also available as an audiobook]
Middlesex is book of parallel tales, one of Greek immigrants escaping the horrors of war to settle in the city of Detroit, and the other of their grandchild, Calliope, who also narrates the stories. Calliope is a hermaphrodite who was raised as a girl in sixties and seventies, but narrates the stories as "Cal," a man living in Berlin. The plot follows Cal's grandparents from a village near Smyrna during the war between Greece and Turkey, to the life in working class Greektown, Detroit. The latter part of the book pays great attention to Cal's transformation through a difficult and "freakish" sexual identity. The author does a great job making this character real. The book won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2003.

Planning to read:
On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Carl Grossman
Department of Physics & Astronomy


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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins [also available as an e-book]
Finally, a heroine to believe! Katniss survives the most horrific of all dystopias based on her intelligence, strength and empathy. She is no mere sci-fi creation who relies on implausible magical abilities to get out of tight spots. Theseus against the minotaur, Orwell's 1984 and post-apocalyptic America collide in a gut-wrenching tale that is impossible to put down.

Planning to read:
The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan

Pam Harris
McCabe Library


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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot [also available as an e-book]
Don't let the medical jargon scare you off! This story sheds light on medical rights and privacy acts that have evolved over the past 50 years. The general public is unaware of how procedure and research are obtained and conducted.

Planning to read:
I haven't decided yet!!

Michelle Hartel
Kohlberg Coffee Bar


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The Hunger Games [also available as an e-book], and its sequel, Catching Fire [also available as an audiobook] by Suzanne Collins
This series takes you into the post-apocalyptic world where people in "The Capitol" are entertained by children from the lowly "Districts" that are forced to compete in the Hunger Games. The games can only have one winner, the others must die. The books are written for a young adult audience, but every adult reader I know has been unable to put them down.

Planning to read:
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins [also available as an audiobook]

Heather Hassel-Finnegan
Department of Biology


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The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
I was initially hesitant to read Lamb's latest novel because it starts out weaving true accounts from the Columbine shooting with fictional characters, leaving me a little concerned about how sensationalize the story might be; however, I am a huge fan of Lamb's other novels ("I Know This Much Is True" and "She's Come Undone) so I gave this book a chance...and I am SO glad I did. The story spans from the pre-Civil War to the early 2000's, with characters including a grandmother and granddaughter traveling cross-country to fight for voting rights in the 1800s, an aloof Mark Twain, a superintendent of one of the first women's correctional facilities, and a husband and wife team trying to make it through trauma and loss. Though the author cuts back and forth between story lines and characters, the book keeps your interest and surprises the reader at many points. An extra bonus is that the author provides a 'playlist' at the end of the book, explaining what songs and lyrics were on his mind when creating individual characters and plot points.

Bonus: if you end up liking the author, he has published several collections of essays from women living at the York Correctional Institute, the only female prison in Connecticut. Wally Lamb teaches writing at the institution and encourages women to share their 'stories' (from their childhood to what led to their incarceration).

Planning to read:
Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead: The Frank Meeink Story by Frank Meeink & Jody M. Roy [request it from Interlibrary Loan]

Rachel Head
Dean's Office



Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O'Donohue [request it from the public library]
Watching "A Celtic Pilgrimage with John O'Donohue" on tv on St. Patrick's Day led me to this beautiful book. O'Donohue was an Irish philosopher, poet, and former Catholic priest. Anam Cara ("soul friend" in Gaelic) describes the journey of each person's life in words filled with peace, poetry, and wisdom. It's difficult to describe what a real spiritual treasure this book is, and I plan to keep it near and read it again.

Planning to read:
Daughters of the Stone by Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa

Terry Heinrichs
Cornell Library



The Master of Petersburg
by J.M. Coetzee
A deeply moving novel, delving into the author-as-Dostoevsky's body/mind, and so, a living through eroticism without love, childhood without innocence, grief and bewilderment...

Planning to read:
Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue by Paul Woodruff [also available as an e-book]

Sally Hess
Department of Music & Dance


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Krakatoa : the day the world exploded, August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester
This terrific book is full of events and history with parallels in recent events. The volcano Krakatoa on the western coast of Indonesia exploded in 1883 causing giant tsunamis and throwing enormous amounts of Ash and pumice into the air, affecting the atmosphere and climate around the world for several years. The event is the center of the book but you also get glimpses of the Dutch Empire in Indonesia, the important discoveries of Alfred Russell Wallace a contemporary of Darwin and parallel developer of a theory of evolution (Darwin rushed to present his paper on his theory presented when he heard Wallaces's was on the way). Sources of earthquakes and volcanic activity are discussed and shifts in the earth magnetic fields that lead eventual to the development of plate tectonics theory (the widespread acceptance of which didn't occur until around the 1950s. Also the colorful sunrises and sunsets caused by the Krakatoa effects are shown to influence European painters in the 1990s and into the 20th century.

Planning to read:
Tocqueville's Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch

Rob Hollister
Department of Economics



Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on my Family Farm by David Masumoto [request it from Interlibrary Loan]
An evocative and engaging description of the joys and challenges of peach and raisin farming by a young Japanese-American farmer in California's San Joaquin Valley.

Planning to read:
In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

Eric Jensen

Department of Physics & Astronomy



One Thousand White Women: The Journals of Mary Dodd by Jim Fergus [request it from the public library]
A fictional story based on the true peace proposal by a Cheyenne chief. The chief and the US government talked about the idea of sending white women to be Cheyenne brides to integrate the two cultures. The story is woven around the fictional sending of women to the Cheyenne and the journal of one of the white Indian brides.

Planning to read:
Whiteout by Ken Follett [request it from the public library]

Gwen Kannapel
Department of Biology


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The Moneylender of Toulouse by Alan Gordon
I'm admittedly biased, because Alan is a classmate (Swarthmore '81) and friend, but I love his series of Fool's Guild mysteries. Based on the idea that the Fool's Guild is a medieval intelligence organization, whose influence over historical events is profound, they're clever and quite funny.

Planning to read:
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese [also available as an audiobook]

Lisa Lee
Alumni Relations


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The Help by Kathryn Stockett [also available as an audiobook]
Set in Mississippi in 1962 about three ordinary women who are about to take one extraordinary step.

Planning to Read:
Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert [also available as an audiobook]

Rose Maio
Department of Sociology & Anthropology


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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
I picked up this book while traveling this week and cannot put it down. Translated from Spanish, and published in 2004, but I wanted to suggest it in case others (like me) have never heard of it. Taking place in Barcelona in the 1950's, it has the feel of a 19th-century gothic novel.

Planning to read:
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Kara McDonald
Annual Giving



The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble [request it from the public library]
I loved this book! It's about five women: two in their forties, two in their thirties, and one in their twenties. They get together once a month to discuss a book ( a great reading list in itself). and then they talk about their lives and loves and support each other through a dramatic series of changes. The book is witty (in a British way), and very hard to put down.

Planning to read:
The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shreve

Joanna Nealon
Dean's Office



A Test of Wills by Charles Todd [request it from the public library]
A tale about a shell-shocked man, Ian Rutledge, who has returned to his Police work at Scotland Yard after WW1. He is sent on a case to Warwickshire, where a popular man has been murdered and the chief suspect is a war hero. He is haunted by the voice of Hamish MacLeod, whom he had executed during the war for refusing to obey orders. Good gripping tale.

Planning to read:
Locked Rooms by Laurie King [request it from the public library]

Anne Rawson
Department of Biology



Skeleton Dance by Aaron Elkins [request it from the public library]
Gideon Oliver is a forensic specialist and is called on by police inspector Lucien Joly in a small Fench village to help study some bones found in a small cave. I've enjoyed all his books about Gideon Oliver.

Planning to read:
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Ken Rawson
Department of Biology


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The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger [also available as an audiobook]
A love story between the artist Clare who experiences time chronologically and the worldly librarian Henry who does not, The Time Traveler's Wife is bittersweet, but the kind of bittersweet that seems to refine your emotional sensibility for a week or so after you finish reading. What I especially liked was that I had a felt sense not only of the interior lives of the characters and the knots their thoughts kept tangling around, but also of Chicago in different seasons and decades.

Planning to read:
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Chelcie Rowell
Writing Center


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Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
It was a toss up between this novel & Chris Cleave's Little Bee, but I decided that de Rosnay's novel was a bit lighter for summer reading (note the emphasis on 'a bit'!). Parallel stories of the round-ups & deportation of Parisian Jews in 1942, a modern day American writer who has married into a French family, and the apartment that links the two tales. A heartbreaking and compelling story, I found it very difficult to put the book down (which I would also have said about Little Bee...).

Planning to read:
Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian [also available as an audiobook]

Meg Spencer
Cornell Library


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The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson [also available as an e-book and an audiobook]
This was one of my favorite books this year, the sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In this second installment of the trilogy (actually meant to be a series of books, but the author died after completing the first three) the strange but brilliant heroine, Lisbeth Salander, is wrongly accused of a double murder and has to elude the Swedish police and some nasty fiends to stay alive and out of prison. A really smart, fast-paced thriller.

Planning to read:
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson [also available as an e-book]

Barb Weir
McCabe Library


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Three Junes by Julia Glass
This novel follows members of a family over three separate Junes; 1989, 1995 and 1999. It could be read as a trilogy and the settings move from Greece to the countryside of Scotland and into New York City. Over the years the characters change as does the family dynamic. I enjoyed the descriptive writing of person and place and felt as though I'd traveled this family's journey as well.

Planning to read:
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Jacqui West
Scott Aboretum


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The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga [also available as an audiobook]
I loved this novel mostly for its unforgettably, richly imagined characters. It's an engaging portrait of life in modern India, where economic modernization in the cities is suddenly opening worlds previously unthinkable for migrants from poor rural areas. The plot seems like a distant cousin of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

Planning to read:
Talk Talk by T.C. Boyle

Thomas Whitman
Department of Music & Dance



The Right Mistake: Further Philosophical Investigations of Socrates Fortlow by Walter Mosley [request it from the public library]
I just loved this book, but I love most of Mosley's work. It's thoughtful and smart contemplation about the African American situation, past and present, without suffering from racial parochialism or singular ideas about unity or Black culture. I might even say proto-feminist.

Planning to read:
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin [also available as an audiobook]

Sarah Willie-LeBreton
Department of Sociology & Anthropology


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The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger [also available as an audiobook]
This is a love story, but also a very mild & clever science fiction story. The writing is great and the book is very inventive and touching.

Planning to read:
I'm waiting for the reading list to come out to get some ideas!

Liliya A. Yatsunyk
Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry