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Summer Reading Recommendations: 2014

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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S
by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams

S is a book that includes the novel "Ship of Theseus" by fictional author V.M. Straka, along with various added items such as postcards, photographs, and a campus map drawn on a napkin. This copy of "Ship of Theseus" is a university library book, and the novel extends from the text itself into the margins as two readers pass the book back and forth, forming a rather complicated relationship as they work together to try to solve the mystery of V.M. Straka's identity and the S, a secret society that continues to crop up over time. Though I found "Ship of Theseus" to be rather dry at first, S became so captivating that I read the second half in one sitting. It becomes very tempting to write in your own notes in the margins, though, as the book reminds you, writing in a library book is prohibited.

Planning to read:
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill by Mark Bittner [request it from the public library]

Maria Aghazarian
McCabe Library



Peace from Broken Pieces
by Iyania Vanzant [request it from the public library]

The story of the past ten years of Vanzant's life details how she went from being on top of the world as one of Oprah's featured writers and having her own show, to losing her home, her business, and her daughter on Christmas day. But it is not just a book of sad tales, it is also a book of victories. Vanzant details how she overcame the obstacles and the pain to the point where she is back on top. I couldn't put the book down!

Planning to read:
The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan Into the Future by Fawzua Koefi

Renee Atkinson
Gift Planning


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American Pastoral by Philip Roth
I had read other books by Roth, but this one is the best. A Pulitzer prize winner, it's vaguely autobiographical about growing up in Newark, New Jersey (Nathan Zuckerman is his alter ego). Very complex and layered story about his friend "Swede" Levov.

Planning to read:
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth [also available as an audiobook]
Also set during his childhood in Newark, but this novel is about what would have happened if Charles Lindbergh had been elected president in 1940 instead of FDR.

Michael Brown
Department of Physics & Astronomy


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The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld [request it from the public library]
A death-row inmate narrates a lyrical and deeply-moving story of the fantastic world he perceives with and beyond his limited reality.

Planning to read:
Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient by Michael Ruhlman

Paula A. Dale
Facilities & Services



Je Anne Boleyn: Struck with the Dart of Love by Sandra Vasoli [request it from Interlibrary Loan]
My mother has just published her first book, which is an historical fiction novel. She has researched the book for the past few years and it is historically accurate down to the most minute detail. She gained access to the love letters from Henry VII to Anne Boleyn in the Papal Library.

Planning to read:
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan [also available as an audiobook]

Stacy Dougherty
Department of Biology


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Brain on Fire: My Months of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Hands-down, this is my favorite book of the year! Susanna, 24, a recent college graduate, was working as a reporter at the New York Times. She began exhibiting psychotic behavior and as time went on, could not function. Her parents were convinced that a medical problem was causing the sudden change in their daughter's behavior - and they were right - but it took almost a year of being caught in a frustrating maze of doctors/hospitals/testing. Cahalan's message is that many young adults being treated for schizophrenia have a treatable disease which does not have to result in a sometimes lifetime sentence in a mental hospital.

Anna Everetts
Department of Asian Studies



The Parasite
by Michel Serres
Serres is a literary-minded philosopher of science. Through a series of idiosyncratic readings of moments of parasitism in La Fountaine's Fables, Serres offers a complex theory of social relations. "If some equilibrium exists or ever existed somewhere, somehow, the introduction of a parasite in the system immediately provokes a difference, a disequilibrium. Immediately, the system changes; time has begun."

Planning to read:
Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity by Gregory Bateson

Christopher Fraga
Department of Sociology & Anthropology


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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
"... a tale of transformation, second chances, why we read and why we love." A wonderful book which is set in a book store. I wish I could go to A.J.'s store....

Planning to read:
The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh [request it from the public library]
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Diane Fritz
Department of Biology


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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
An amazing, enthralling novel that is really a grand magic act, seducing you with a smart & funny "family saga" narrative that hides at its core dark & terrible secrets. Fowler draws upon her immense skills as a storyteller, which we've seen before in her novels from Sarah Canary to The Jane Austen Book Club. But this is likely the book that all of those previous novels were preparing her to write. Once you start, you won't be able to walk away from it.

Planning to read:
Chance by Kem Nunn
Nunn has been call the "heir to the tradition of Raymond Chandler and Nathanael West" and he has certainly filled those shoes with his previous California-based novels.

Greg Frost
Department of English


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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt [also available as an e-book and audiobook]
It was one of the best, ever...

Cindy Halpern
Department of Political Science


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The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley
A well-written, interesting book filled with details about "Bertie", the oldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, this biography is entertaining and easy to read. The author uses her extensive research to support her view of Edward VII as a prince who evolved into a hardworking and effective model king.

Planning to read:
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Terry Heinrichs
Cornell Science Library


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Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
I had read bits and pieces of Nelson Mandela's autobiography, but reading the entire book from start to finish made an even greater impact on me. The story, although painful to read at many points, is full of incredible stories of resilience, resistance, and happiness even in the worst of circumstances. You also get to see how Mandela learned from the greatness of others in leading his extraordinary life.

Planning to read:
The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer

Ayse Kaya
Department of Political Science


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Straw Dogs by John Gray
Don't read this book if you are feeling depressed because Gray is unsparing. DO read this book if you want to challenge your preconceptions about who we as humans are. Many of Gray's insights are primal, deep and brilliant. Even if you don't agree with them completely, they will force you to consider new perspectives and re-evaluate old ones. He rips right through layers of illusions we have about ourselves, some of which originated centuries ago and have become so deeply rooted in our collective psyche that we might never question them.

Steps Going Down by John T. McIntyre
A 1936 novel by a little known, though prolific Philadelphian who at the time of the book's publishing was 65 years old and had already been a writer across many genres for 50 years. He was born and lived his entire life in Northern Liberties. The appeal of the book is its intimate depiction of early 20th century Philadelphia and its people. Even though not of the same literary caliber, it's reminiscent of Balzac in its social realism.

Planning to read:
Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamin Ansary [also available as an e-book and audiobook]
My son told me that this book had the same effect on him as Howard Zinn's The 20th Century: A People's History. It gave him another side of the story, another perspective through which he gained a more complete picture of world history.

John Kelly
Department of Biology


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This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
This is a collection of Patchett's magazine and blog pieces about friendship, marriage, courtship, death (of friends & family), controversy (she was nearly pilloried when her book "Truth & Beauty" about her friend Lucy Grealy, was selected as Clemson's freshman reader), and more. Patchett writes with warmth and sensitivity about the big and small things in life.

Planning to read:
Local Souls: Novellas by Allen Gurganus
Gurganus was Patchett's writing professor at Sarah Lawrence. This comic novel has described as "bring[ing] the twisted hilarity of Flannery O'Connor kicking into our new century".

Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young

Sherri Kimmel
Communications


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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri [also available as an e-book]
I was going to submit Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, but knew that was going to be everyone's best book, but another highlight for me was Lahiri's novel. Lahiri captures the bond between two brothers, opposites in temperament. One brother remains in India to fight for his political beliefs: the other goes to the U.S. to pursue an academic career. As usual, the author captures the family dynamics and relations with wonderful prose -- I can easily imagine that this book will be adapted for the screen, since the personalities are written with so much detail.

Planning to read:
The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman [also available as an audiobook]
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Amy McColl
McCabe Library


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Boy, Snow, Bird
by Helen Oyeyemi
A play on Snow White, this bizarre fairy tale feels off-kilter and magical from its opening page. On a snowy night in 1953, downtrodden blonde heroine Boy Novak escapes the clutches of her abusive father and takes refuge in a small New England town. There she marries a widower raising a lovely raven-haired girl named Snow. When Boy gives birth to their daughter, Bird - who, to Boy's surprise, is born black - it's revealed that her husband comes from a line of African-Americans passing as white. For reasons that aren't exactly evil, Boy falls into the role of the image-obsessed stepmother and banishes Snow to live with Arturo's secret dark-skinned sister, raising Bird herself.

Planning to read:
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia [request it from the public library]

Kara McDonald
Development & Reunion Giving


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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman [also available as an audiobook]
American Gods is one of my favorite books of all time, so I was excited to read another book by Gaiman. Neverwhere did not disappoint. It is a modern adult fairytale. The whole idea of an alternate world existing alongside our own, in the shadows beyond our notice, is fascinating. As always, Gaiman does an incredible job of intertwining fantasy and the contemporary world.

Planning to read:
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd [also available as an audiobook]

Satya Nelms
Wellness Program


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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This is a heartbreaking look at a family immersed in a social science experiment with a happy(ish) ending. I considered selecting The Orphan Master's Son, but decided it was too harrowing to recommend...

Planning to read:
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Nikki Senecal
Development & Alumni Relations/Stewardship


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The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters by Benjamin Ginsberg [also available as an e-book]
Ginsberg, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins, examines the rise of the all-administrative university.

Planning to read:
I almost never "plan" my reading. I read things I stumble upon in the library, or read read books that people tell me about...

Helene Shapiro
Department of Math & Statistics


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The Electric Life of Michael Faraday by Alan Hirschfeld
The Man Who Changed Everything by Basil Mahon
These two books describe the lives of two scientists (Michael Faraday & James Clerk Maxwell) who ushered in modern physics by inventing the classical theory of electromagnetism. Together these books tell a story of the interplay between experiment and theory, imagination and knowledge, that characterizes the human mind at its creative peak.

Planning to read:
Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino

Tristan Smith
Department of Physics & Astronomy


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Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Brunt's debut novel is a heartbreaking coming-of-age story set during the AIDS epidemic of the late-80's. Told from the POV of 14-year-old June, it is the tale of her coming to terms with the death of her beloved uncle, a celebrated artist in New York City.

Planning to Read:
The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman [also available as an audiobook]

Meg Spencer
Cornell Science Library


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All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani '94
This is the 3rd book in Chris' trilogy (A Kiss from Maddalena and The Saint of Lost Things are books one and two), which is about Italians who immigrated from Italy after World War II, and settled in the Philadelphia / Wilmington area. Each book is devoted to a different generation of the family, with the final book taking place fifty years after Antonio Grasso married Maddalena Piccinelli and came to America. The New York Times describes Castellani's trilogy as "novels that with their mellifluous, gently satirical style and dark, elegiac heart, form something of an opera buffa of the immigrant experience". Castellani is the artistic director of Grub Street, a non-profit creative writing center in Boston, and was recently awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for fiction. He also taught Swarthmore's Advanced Fiction Workshop last Fall.

Planning to Read:
Buddhist Biology by David Barash [also available as an e-book]

Amy Vollmer
Department of Biology


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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt [also available as an audiobook and e-book]
The New York Times called it "Dickensian" and it truly is. But it is also a coming of age story that speaks to the power of art.

Planning to Read:
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown [also available as an e-book and audiobook]
Call the Midwife trilogy by Jennifer Worth [request it from the public library]
I don't want to wait for season 4 of the PBS series to see what happens next...

Barb Weir
McCabe Library


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City of Thieves by David Benioff
I read this book after it was recommended by a friend who always gives me great books to read, but I was skeptical I would enjoy it as it's not my typical novel. Set in World War II and the siege of Leningrad, this novel follows an unlikely pair of young men, Lev & Kolya, who are tasked with an impossible mission: to find fresh eggs in starving Leningrad to make a wedding cake. The boys are a bit crass (there is basically a whole plot line dedicated to Kolya's bowel movements, or lack thereof) but their friendship is amazing to witness. The wonderful writing and the layer of WWII history I knew basically nothing about won me over and made this my favorite book of the past year.

Planning to read:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi [also available as an e-book]

Amanda Whitbred
Development & Alumni Relations