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Summer Reading Recommendations: 2013

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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Leonora by Elena Poniatowska
This is a biographical novel about the woman whom Salvador Dalí called "the greatest surrealist woman painter": the Anglo-Mexican Leonora Carrington. She was born to a very wealthy family in Lancashire. In the process of becoming a painter, she rebelled against her father (who disinherited her) and became Max Ernst's lover, living with him in the French countryside, until his detention by the Nazis in 1939. After spending time in a Spanish insane asylum, she left Europe through New York and eventually found her way to Mexico City, where her art flourished until her death in 2012. The novel is full of adventure, and highlights the price paid by a woman who follows her call. Like other works by Poniatowska, Leonora celebrates a foreign woman whose art develops in dialogue with the Mexican people and culture. In Spanish (may appear in translation soon, possibly in Farrar Straus & Giroux).

Planning to read:
The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
The Lion in Winter by James Goldman

Aurora Camacho de Schmidt
Department of Spanish & Latin American Studies


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Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver [also available as an audiobook]
The book I most loved this year was Flight Behavior, both exquisitely written and read by Barbara Kingsolver. It was magical, transporting, and so well researched, as all her books are. I hardly notice how much I am learning. Perplexes me how she weaves such a sensual, compelling story about climate change... definitely must be the sexy scientist. And her voice- like the very best storyteller you could ever hope for.

Planning to read:
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens [also available as an e-book]

Laurie Dibeler
Science Center Coffee Bar


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Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
This memoir is about the friendship between two woman writers, the novelist Ann Patchett and the poet/memoirist Lucy Grealy. When Patchett and Grealy meet in college, Grealy is famous on campus, for her talent, and her tragic and dramatic life story - much of her jaw is missing, she has undergone repeated unsuccessful surgeries to repair her face, and she suffers numerous health and living problems because she can't chew or swallow properly. Patchett is a bit of a nobody. But they end up becoming roommates, and bond instantly. It is a story about a friendship and unconditional love.

Planning to read:
Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple [also available as an audiobook]

Elizabeth Durning
Dean's Office


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A Mercy by Toni Morrison [also available as an e-book and audiobook]
This novel is a lyrical and painfully moving story set in the 17th century of early America featuring slaves, indentured workers, and a strong and independent free black man - highlighting so many of the elements of American reality, a fabric knitted so firmly together that we still struggle to untangle it all today in our complexly divided nation. At its heart is the painful separation of a mother from her child for the sake, from the mother's perspective, of the child. This is Morrison truly honed down to the essence of her skill.

Planning to read:
Home by Toni Morrison (her most recent novel) [also available as an e-book]

Maurice Eldridge
President's Office


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The Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
This book blew me away. It is a non-fiction account of President Garfield's assassination by Charles Giteau, but the book reads like a mystery, or a medical thriller. It is an incredibly tragic story that makes you wish Garfield had truly been able to leave his mark as the President of the United States. Garfield actually lingered for weeks, slowly dying of blood poisoning. In fact, Garfield's doctors were as culpable in his death as Giteau; this president was actually murdered by medical ignorance.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
This one is a must-read. If you were required to read The Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men in high school, pick up East of Eden and become re-acquainted with a lion of American literature. East of Eden retells the Biblical story of Genesis through two families in California's Salinas Valley; the Hamilton clan is actually inspired by Steinbeck's own family. This is a story of true evil in human form, free will and choice, and a universal longing for our own version of paradise. This book is a favorite of mine; I re-read it every few years and always find something new.

Planning to read:
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My dad (quite possibly a true mad scientist) suggested this one to me. Apparently the reader gets full and gory descriptions of the various "jobs" that we assign to dead bodies, from serving as crash test dummies to models for plastic surgery. It looks bizarre and a little gross, so of course I had to add it to my reading list.

Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson
A history of cooking and eating utensils and how they have changed the way that we, as humans, approach food and cooking. The author works her way through cooking pots, knives and grinders, modern refrigeration, etc. to examine how seemingly small changes have had enormous impacts on food cultures.

Lauren Farmer
Department of Political Science


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The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
Marriage, love, roles of wives and mothers; wonderful characters. At the end of this novel, I felt like I knew these women. This is the first book I've read by Ann Hood, but it won't be the last.

Planning to read:
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini [also available as an audiobook]
Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh [request it from the public library]

Diane Fritz
Department of Biology


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Tenth of December by George Saunders [also available as an e-book]
This book has been praised to the skies already by a multitude, and if anything it deserves still more plaudits. Saunders writes compelling stories that brim with compassion and humanity. At that same time he manages grotesquely to skewer American consumerist complacency, present pharmaceutical trials that move from comic to horrific, and pen corporate memos that leave one very uncomfortable about just what products we're talking about. I've loved his fiction for years, and this collection leaves me gobsmacked.

Planning to read:
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
I'm already plunging into this (at the recommendation of Professor Peter Schmidt) and it may be the sharpest, funniest work by Pynchon yet.

Gregory Frost
Department of English


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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese [also available as an audiobook]
This novel has everything I like in a book: interesting characters, excellent writing, new/exotic/foreign places, philosophy, psychology, suspence and more. I recommend Cutting to Stone to anyone who likes those things when reading, even if they aren't pre-med/a doctor/in the medical field. It has a lot of medical terms, but not so much where a few visits to Wikipedia wouldn't set you straight.

Planning to read:
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Allie Goldberg
McCabe Library


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The Golden Lynx by local author C.P. Lesley
This is a wild romp across the steppe alongside seasoned warriors, bringing the life and spirit of 16th century Russia alive. Recommended for historical fiction junkies and lovers of cross-dressing heroines with amazing physical prowess.

Planning to read:
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Pam Harris
McCabe Library


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Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faiza Guenne, and translated by Sarah Adams
A fun and easy book to read about a 19-year-old girl's view of Life. Rising above the reality of misery, the book begins with her young views. Over time she develops a more mature outlook.

Planning to read:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley [also available as an e-book]

Michelle Hartel
Kohlberg Coffee Bar


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The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Though I'm not a baseball fan, this novel centered on members of the baseball team at a small Midwestern liberal arts college really pulled me in. The characters are very engaging, causing me to keep rooting for them even when they were messing things up, and to keep thinking about them after I finished the book.

Planning to read:
Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Eric Jensen
Department of Astronomy & Physics


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The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
This is an interesting and unusual story, in a lighthouse setting. Well written and thought provoking situation that could only have taken place in a remote area. A lot of lighthouse operation was woven into the story of personal struggle with integrity and relationships. I couldn't put it down once I started reading it.

Planning to read:
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Gwen Kannapel
Department of Biology


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Why be Happy When You Could be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson [also available as an audiobook]
This is a story about a girl who is adopted by Pentecostal parents and discovers she is sexually attracted to women. It's sad, it's funny, it's ultimately about making your own happiness. Many of my lesbian friends, including myself, can identify with many parts of this wonderful book.

Dorothy Kunzig
Department of Linguistics


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Lucretia Mott's Heresy: Abolition and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-century America by Carol Faulkner [also available as an e-book]
Faulkner's lucid and, dare I say, exciting biography of Lucretia Mott focuses on Mott's independence of mind and spirit, placing her at the center of the social reform movements of her day. Raised in a Quaker tradition that allowed women to have their own minds, Mott's convictions drove her actions as a leading abolitionist, women's rights advocate, and free religionist. Faulkner also writes sympathetically about Mott's role as a daughter, wife, and mother who grieved the loss of many loved ones - including her husband James - during her long life. Although Lucretia and James Mott were only tangentially involved in the founding of Swarthmore College, merely lending the Mott name to the education project had significant power, not only to draw others to its support, but to give it the force of her ideas. In homage to her importance, she was invited to attend the inaugural ceremonies at Swarthmore in 1869, where she planted two trees. It's been said that by 1850, Lucretia Mott was the most famous woman in America. This book explains why.

Planning to read:
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander [also available as an e-book]
Freedom by Jon Franzen [also available as an audiobook]. This will be my beach book...

Jeffrey Lott
Publications Office


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When Bad Things Happen To Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner
This book helped me to process and reframe some things I was experiencing in my life. It's a short read (which is good if you're a working parent!) but one of those books it helps to have as a journal handy for all of the insights and a-ha moments it sparks (it's written by a parent whose child died from a rare illness).

Planning to read:
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh [request it from the public library]
I sat down to start this book last night and ended up reading 1/2 of the book! It is wonderful...
Strategy & Soul: A Campaigner's Tale of Fighting Billionaires, Corrupt Officials & Philadelphia Casinos by Daniel Hunter

Jennifer Magee
Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility


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Dear Life by Alice Munro [also available as an e-book]
I've loved Alice Munro for years, but I think a lot of people have never heard of her since she is strictly a short story writer. This latest collection of stories was wonderful as usual, full of surprises and brilliant writing. I highly recommend reading Munro even if you think you don't like short stories--she is a truly gifted writer.

Planning to read:
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout [also available as an e-book and audiobook]

Amy McColl
McCabe Library


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Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple [also available as an audiobook]
When Bee's off-kilter mom Bernadette disappears from their Seattle home as they're about to leave on a family trip to Antarctica, Bee compiles a dossier of emails, secret letters, and other official documents to piece together her whereabouts and the events that led to her disappearance. This isn't as ominous as it sounds - it's a hilarious satire of life in Seattle and a mom who's become so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. The author was a writer for Arrested Development, if that's any indication of this book's humor. But it's also a story about family and the pain that comes with loving your difficult relatives.

Planning to read:
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler [also available as an audiobook]

Kara McDonald
Annual Giving


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The Lives of Margaret Fuller by John Matteson
I picked up this biography because Fuller was a friend of Giuseppe Mazzini and involved in the Italian Risorgimento. I did not get to that part yet, but it is fascinating in many other respects, if you are interested in American 19th century life and culture, the education of women, transcendentalism, reception of the classics, and many other topics, including stories of coming of age and social [mal]adjustment, and the early history of bullying.

Planning to read:
Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Father by John Matteson

Rosaria Munson
Department of Classics


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Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Parallel stories, one taking place in contemporary Maine, the other in Depression-era Minnesota, connect two unlikely friends, one young, one old. According to Kline, between the 1850s and the early 1920s, an estimated 250,000 homeless children were relocated by these "orphan trains" from cities such as Boston and New York City mostly to the Midwest, in a welfare movement led by the Children's Aid Society and, later, the Foundling Hospital in New York. This is a fictionalized account of Vivian, a young Irish immigrant, who was one of those orphans. She tells her often grim story to Molly, a troubled teen, who is working off community service hours by helping the old woman clean out her (memory filled) attic. The story left me wanting to learn more about this little-known part of American history...

Planning to read:
The View from Penthouse B and I Can't Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman

Meg Spencer
Cornell Library


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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn [also available as an e-book and audiobook]
A mystery novel about a woman who disappears (kidnapped? murdered?) on her fifth wedding anniversary. The main suspect is the husband. Each chapter is either an entry in the woman's diary (diary entries from before she disappeared) or narration from the husband in the "present". The way the story is told is interesting and the story is great.

Planning to read:
The Borgias by Ivan Cloulas, and translated by Gilda Roberts [request it from the public library]

Enrigue Trevino
Department of Mathematics & Statistics


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A Kiss from Maddalena by Chris Castellani '94
Chris will be teaching the Fiction Writers' Workshop on campus this fall. It is the first in his trilogy about Italian immigrants who came to the Philly/Wilmington, DE area. Chris writes lyrically and you will get caught up in the story.

Planning to read:
All This Talk of Love by Chris Castellani '94
This is the 3rd book of Castellani's trilogy; the 2nd book of the Trilogy is The Saint of Lost Things.

Amy Vollmer
Department of Biology


Planning to read:
Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy
Wait: The Art & Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy

Myrt Westphal
Dean's Office


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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel [also available as an audiobook]
Easily the most gripping and thought-provoking fiction I've read in years.

1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild
Two excellent (and moving) works of non-fiction.

Planning to read:
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, the sequel to Wolf Hall [also available as an audiobook]
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson [also available as an audiobook]

Tom Whitman
Department of Music & Dance


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Heft by Liz Moore [request it from the public library]
It's not "heartwarming" nor about "friendship" as the inside flap suggests. It's an odd but intriguing combination of voices across different social/cultural strata and ultimately about human connections, and everyone's need for them.

Planning to read:
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and The Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman
Highly recommended for its beautiful writing style by my freelance writer friend, Fernanda.

Carina Yervasi
Department of French & Francophone Studies