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Summer Reading Recommendations: 2011

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.


The Moon by Whale Light: And Other Adventures Among Bats, Penguins, Crocodilians, and Whales by Diane Ackerman [request it from Interlibrary Loan]
Ackerman is described as a "poet, essayist, and naturalist" and when you read her books, you'll understand why. "The Moon..." was my first introduction to her writing and I've since read The Zookeeper's Wife and One Hundred Names for Love. If you are in the mood for wonderful, absorbing stories, reading about nature and its creatures wrapped up in an exquisite writing style, this is an author you should investigate.

Planning to read:
A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

Astrid Devaney
Alumni Relations



The Troubled Man by Henning Mankel [request it from the public library]
Another in the detective series featuring Kurt Wallander and this time out, one which focuses much more on his state of being as an aging man forced to face the realities of that process while trying still to solve Swedish crime. I continue to enjoy these but fear we may have seen the last of Wallander.

Heat Wave, the Life and Career of Ethel Waters by Donald Bogle
At the same time I am having great fun (and learning lots) reading this biography of Chester native Ethel Waters. It is excellent in both its treatment of her and its narration of jazz history.

Planning to read:
To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild
Hochschild's latest promises to be every bit as good and riveting as King Leopold's Ghost and Bury the Chains.

Maurice Eldridge
President's Office



One Good Dog by Susan Wilson [request it from the public library]
This NY Times bestseller is a heart-warming story about a successful businessman who loses just about everything and a beat-up pit bull with one torn ear who helps him find life's true meaning. Together, they become a team - a family. Great book!

Planning to read:
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee
My sister told me about this book, and I've ordered it from Amazon. His book details the history of cancer, from the first recorded "surgery" centuries ago (the Persian Queen Atossa had her slave cut off her malignant breast) to the newest cancer treatments. This book is about human nature and our desire to survive and overcome this deadly, dreaded disease.

Anna Everetts
Department of Asian Studies, Black Studies...


Planning to read:
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen [also available as an audiobook]

Randall Exon
Department of Art & Art History


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Cyclops by Ranko Marinkovic ("brilliantly" translated by Vlada Stojiljkovic)
This 1965 novel is the Croatian answer to Joyce's Ulysses, though easier to follow; it's set on the eve of WWII in Zagreb, as a hero preoccupied with art, sex, and his place in the coming war walks around the city, carrying on internal dialogues with authors he has read. The wordplay is marvelous, and the reader has over 500 pages to enjoy!

Planning to read:
Summer: Poems by Maria Stepanova
Lovely!

Hotel Europa by Dimitru Tsepeneag (translated by Patrick Camiller)
I haven't read this Romanian author (Tsepeneag) before, but the striking cover and delightful voice of the first few pages have already drawn me in.

Sibelan Forrester
Department of Russian



The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew [request it from the public library]
If you liked The Help, you will love this book. Set in the South in the 1950's, it deals with family and race relationships. It's one of those books you want to run around and tell everyone you know that they should read it!

Diane Fritz
Department of Biology


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Who Ate Up All the Shinga?: an Autobiographical Novel by Wan-suh Park (translated by Yu Young-nan and Stephen J. Epstein)
A first-person account of a girl growing up in Korea during the period of Japanese occupation and the Korean War. The novel is engaging and sometimes humorous, including vivid descriptions of childhood in a small village followed by a move to the slums of Seoul to pursue a better education, with a memorable cast of characters headed by the protagonist's determined, headstrong mother.

Planning to read:
The City & The City by China Miéville

William O. Gardner
Department of Japanese


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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery [also available as an audiobook]
There is something about pre-teen protagonists that I find to be especially endearing. Eleven year old science prodigy of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie charmed me last year, as did twelve year old Paloma Josse, voracious reader, writer and philosopher of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Both girls take their readers on journeys of passion and enthusiasm viewed from their youthful perspective. Three times I tried to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog and was finally rewarded for perseverance by getting to know quirky Paloma, solitary Renee and larger-than-life Kakuko Ozu. If you especially appreciate oblique allusions to French and Russian literature all wrapped up in social satire, this book is for you. This haiku by Paloma could almost equal Basho:

The cat here on earth
Modern totem
And intermittently decorative

Planning to read:
Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Meeting Geraldine Brooks can be a bit disarming; her stature and dress is that of a woodland sprite, her laugh, small and melodious, but her personal tale about her career as a foreign correspondent in war torn Bosnia, Africa and the Middle East connote an intrepidness of spirit beyond appearances. I liked her very much after first reading Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, and admired her even more after hearing her personal narrative. Brooks takes single moments in history and spins tales that intersect magic and awe, as she did with A People of the Book: A Novel. This summer I intend to read Caleb's Crossing, about a young man from Martha's Vineyard who, in 1665, became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larsen [also available as an audiobook] (author of the wonderful The Devil in the White City).

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

Pam Harris
McCabe Library


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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery [also available as an audiobook]
It was just so French! The unique relationship between the little girl, the Japanese businessman and the concierge of the apartment building where they all live filled voids in their lives, and completed them.

Planning to read:
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett [also available as an audiobook]

Michelle Hartel
Kohlberg Coffee Bar


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Bossypants by Tina Fey [also available as an audiobook]
This book is fast and funny. It is perfect for anyone looking for some light beach reading. Tina Fey grew up in Upper Darby, so there are a lot of references to the local area.

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

Heather Hassel-Finnegan
Department of Biology



"Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in L.A." by Jenny Price
My contribution this year is a bit untraditional, but I thought this piece was really interesting. From the April 2006 issue of Believer magazine, this long and intriguing article (perfect for saving to read on your iPad, Kindle or smart phone for reading later - try the Instapaper app if you haven't already discovered it) focuses on how we think about nature and wilderness and their relationship with cities. The section on coyotes has some interesting parallels with our own deer population (urban terrorists or victims-?)

Planning to read:
The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg [also available as an audiobook]

Eric Jensen
Department of Physics & Astronomy



Peace Like A River by Leif Engel [request it from the public library]
I read this book for my Furness Library book club. It was so good, I didn't want it to end! I highly recommend it. It is very well-written with a wonderful story and interesting characters.

Planning to read:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley [also available as an audiobook]

Gwen Kannapel
Department of Biology


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Your Republic Is Calling You by Young-ha Kim
Translated from Korean, but don't let that scare you off. This will satisfy both your urge to read a cool spy thriller on the beach and to look smart while doing so. The mysterious past of Kim Ki-yong, a foreign film importer in Seoul, South Korea, has caught up with him. Over the course of a single day, we watch his choices and actions - and those of the people around him, each of whom have their own dreams and problems. Haunting and exciting, all at once.

Planning to read:
The Pale King by David Foster Wallace (his unfinished novel)

Nadine Kavanaugh
Donor Relations


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To the End of the Land by David Grossman
This novel by a prominent Israeli author plumbs the mental, moral, and emotional anguish of three friends and lovers living the Israeli dream - refuge - and the Israeli nightmare of Arab neighbors dispossessed and children maimed and killed as they defend that refuge.

Country Driving by Peter Hessler
Hessler describes how furious road-building and middle-class incomes that allow people to buy cars are changing the face of China and the lives of its people. Hessler humanizes China and the Chinese in wonderful ways, including hilarious accounts of his dealings with car rental agencies. The third section, describing how a new highway fosters the growth of a factory center, describes the heretofore nameless workers who make our shoes and bra underwires as wonderfully human people with faces, personalities, family dramas, and schemes for advancement.

Planning to read:
I can't remember the titles in my ever-growing pile of books - there are LOTS of possibilities! Let's go with Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable. "It's not just a biography, but also a history of Muslims in America," writes Yo Zushi in The New Statesman. "Perfect writing," says a friend who has read it.

Andrea Knox
Chester Children's Chorus


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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese [also available as an audiobook]
I remember being enthralled by Verghese's remarks here on campus when he received an honorary degree a few years ago. Cutting for Stone has the same way of drawing you in - to the story and to the characters. With the complexity of the characters and their relationships, of the medical details, and of the history of Ethiopia, Verghese brings this story to life in a way I found extremely compelling.

Planning to read:
A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer

Lisa Lee '81
Alumni Relations


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The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
Is "elevator inspector noir" a genre? If so, The Intuitionist is certainly its exemplar: a nimble journey through the political and philosophical intrigues, as well as the racial and social tensions, of rival factions of elevator inspectors. It's a surprisingly complex and sometimes violent world, and protagonist Lila Mae Watson, the unnamed city's first (and only) Black, female elevator inspector, explores its heights and its depths in pursuit of the truth about the "black box," the perfect elevator. Colson Whitehead's debut novel is incisive and playful in equal measure, a genuinely enjoyable work with an idiosyncratic sensibility.

Planning to read:
London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
I'm trying to tackle this massive "biography" before I go to London this summer, but if that proves to be too daunting or too huge to stuff in my suitcase, I might turn to these instead...

From Hell by Alan Moore (a graphic novel) - or - some London-centric fiction like:

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier

Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

Melanie Maksin
McCabe Library


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The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World by Wade Davis
This book by Wade Davis tells fascinating stories of people's knowledge about our natural world; not facts but practices. They live their wisdom. Through this collection of tales from his lecture series, Davis reminds us of the value and beauty a diversity of human cultures brings to our existence and survival. From this anthropological perspective, he raises questions about globalization, climate change, conservation and quality of life. After finishing the book I wanted to read more stories and insights from his life work and travels.

Planning to read:
The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus

Rhoda Maurer
Scott Arboretum


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Just Kids by Patti Smith
A highly enjoyable memoir about the singer-songwriter's years with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Amy M. McColl
McCabe Library


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The Paris Wife by Paula McLain [also available as an audiobook]
The story of Hadley Richardson Hemingway, Ernest's first wife, in the 1920s. Starting with their whirlwind courtship in Chicago through their booze-soaked marriage in Paris, Hadley and Ernest traveled Europe and socialized with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though eventually a woman scorned, Hadley's tale is very much a love story and a fascinating look at the jazz age in Paris.

Bossypants by Tina Fey [also available as an audiobook]
Hysterical!

Planning to read:
Why We Get Fat: and What to do About It by Gary Taubes [request it from the public library]
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua [also available as an audiobook]

Kara McDonald
Annual Giving


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Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout [also available as an audiobook]
This beautifully written Pulitzer Prize winner reveals Olive little by little, through the eyes of others and how she sees herself. The portraits do not necessarily match. While Olive is not a loveable character, she is a very human one, and the reader becomes deeply engaged with her and with the relationships in which she is invested. Set in a small New England world, this book is nevertheless very big and powerful.

Planning to read:
The Eichmann Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen [also available as an audiobook]
Given how much I have enjoyed all of Franzen's novels & shorter works, I am very much looking forward to his latest book.

Carol Nackenoff
Department of Political Science


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Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
I found it very hard to put down. The action shifts back and forth between 1942 and 2002. In Paris, in July 1942, during the Vel' d'Hiv round up, 10 year old Sarah, her mother, and father are arrested. Before the police arrive, she locks her younger brother in a closet and takes the key with her, thinking she will soon return. I liked it because it was fascinating, suspenseful, and very informative about a time in French history few people know about.

Planning to read:
House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Joanna Nealon
Dean's Office



A Lonely Death by Charles Todd [request it from the public library]
This is the latest in Todd's Ian Rutledge detective novels. Rutledge was a soldier and had to put another soldier, Hamish, to the firing squad for refusing to take an order. The man lives on in Rutledge's mind and talks to him. An unusual relationship.

Anne Rawson '50
Department of Biology


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The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
This book is a few years old, but it's a great story, excellently written, and hard to put down.

Planning to read:
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan [also available as an e-book]
This is highly recommended by my wife (and also by the Pulitzer board).

Kevin Ross
Department of Mathematics & Statistics



Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
This was my summer reading pick last year. The novel follows the life of a woman living in fourteenth-century Norway from when she is five years old until her death. Its storytelling is grounded in both the complex social relationships Kirsten develops over time and the material culture of the time period, which combine to create an incredibly immersive reading experience--the kind where you blink and realize you've been reading for 5 hours and haven't eaten a thing! Also memorable is that more than once, when someone saw me reading Kristin Lavransdatter, she'd tell me about her own experience. No other book for me has been quite the conversation starter that Kristin Lavransdatter was.

Planning to read:
Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age by Ann Blair [also available as an e-book]

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick [also available as an e-book]
I'm more in a non-fiction mood this summer!

Chelcie Rowell
Writing Associates Program



Spiral: A Novel by Paul McEuen [request it from the public library]
Very exciting, science-filled thriller, spanning time between World War II and suspected Japanese bio-weapons to present day, from the Pacific to Ithaca. Well-drawn, compelling characters, and a great plot. Perfect summer reading material.

Planning to read:
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton

Susan Smythe
Facilities


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The House at Riverton by Kate Morton [also available as an audiobook]
I'm not a big historical fiction reader, but this book showed up on my shelf right after the three-week Upstairs, Downstairs series ended and left me wanting more. Morton's first novel is about Kate, a young maid who goes to work in a country home outside London right before the beginning of World War I. Told in flashback by a nearly 100-year-old Kate to a filmmaker who is making a movie about a shocking event that happened on the grounds of the estate at a summer party, this novel might have me reading more historical fiction, or at least more Kate Morton...

Planning to read:
I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson [also available as an audiobook]
How could I NOT want to read a novel about a 13-year-old girl with a crush on David Cassidy in the '70's-?? The New York Times calls it a "groovy little novel".

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew [request it from the public library]
Set in the 1950's South, this book is being compared to The Help.

Meg Spencer
Cornell Library


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War by Sebastian Junger
I usually read fiction, but this book by Junger and the one by Demick stood out this year as best books for me. Junger was embedded with an Army platoon in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan in 2007/08. His story of their deployment is brutal, eye opening and ultimately heartbreaking.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
Demick interviewed six defectors from North Korea to illustrate life under Kim Jong Il. A fascinating look at the daily struggles of the North Korean people facing starvation, poverty and isolation.

Planning to read:
Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult [request it from the public library]

Barb Weir
McCabe Library


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Just Kids
by Patti Smith
I've been on a memoir tear recently and the choice was tough but I decided to go with the one by artist/poet/musician Patti Smith. This memoir explores her early days during the explosion of cultural expression on New York's art scene in the 70's and 80's. She focuses on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and the friendship that endured through poverty and success and the illness of HIV/AIDS. Her opening of the door to their life in the Chelsea Hotel during this time gives the reader an intimate perspective on this period of social, artistic and cultural change.

Planning to read:
Lit by Mary Karr

Jacqui West
Scott Arboretum


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Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
I loved this poetic, historical fiction novel about WWII San Francisco.

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

Sarah Willie-LeBreton
Department of Sociology



Now is the Hour by Tom Spanbauer [request it from the public library]
Edgy coming-of-age-gay-teen-angst story, set in strict family/farming community recommended by my colleague in Religion, Gwynn Kessler. I fell in love with the characters and I couldn't wait to read it every night as soon as I had a little free time. I brought it with me while abroad and found that many English-speaking students and friends wanted to read it too. They report that they all loved it as well.

Planning to read:
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell [also available as an e-book]

Carina Yervasi
Department of French & Francophone Studies