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Summer Reading Recommendations: 2015

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.

Book cover for Building Stories

Building Stories by Chris Ware
It's a book that can truly be read in any order, at any pace; your perception is informed by the perspective you begin with and the tactility of handling the stories as you read them. Building Stories shows that all life is interconnected and important, including the bee squashed on the front step of the apartment building, though the characters may never get to realize it.

Planning to read:
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Maria Aghazian
McCabe Library

Book cover for Station Eleven
Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel [also available as an e-book]
After a flu wipes out most of the Earth's population, a group of actors travel through the wreckage and bring art to those who remain. While most post-apocalyptic novels are violent and muscular, St. John Mandel's is, while not exactly non-violent, surprisingly delicate. Intersecting plot lines tell us of a fading Hollywood star, a medic, and a would-be messiah, as well as those traveling players. It's poetic and bleak but also hopeful. I loved this novel; it's an argument for humanity for anyone who is tired of zombies.

Planning to read:
The Whites by Richard Price
I enjoyed Lush Life and Clockers, and maybe this will finally get me into The Wire.

Micaela Baranello
Music Department

Book cover for Being Mortal
Being Mortal: Medicine & What Matters in the End
by Atul Gawande​ [Also available as an e-book]

This is an enlightening book about end of life care and how it evolved over the last 100 years supported with eye-opening research. The author's masterful personal story telling of his grandfather, his father and his relatives' end of life experiences lends perfectly to the topic. It is alarming to read that the medical profession has mishandled aging and death. What strikes me most is the author's revelation that the doctors' inability to confront the fact of death has prevented them from counseling patients wisely. He argued that ultimately the goal of medicine should be to provide not only a good life but also a good and dignified end.

Planning to read:
Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls

Wenping Bo
Information Technology Services

Book cover for Unbroken
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
A fascinating story of survival in WWII. Hillenbrand tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an accomplished Olympic athlete before joining the war as a bombardier. An inspiring story that keeps the reader captivated from beginning to end. Note: Please read before seeing the movie...

Planning to read:
Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey by Reid Mitenbuler [request it from the public library]

Daniel Darkow

Book cover for Union Atlantic
Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett ‘92
I recently read Haslett's novel, a book the Esquire reviewer touted as the "first great novel of the new century" when it came out in 2010. It is not only well written, but well imagined and delivered. You might expect a novel that deals with the financial world and its minions to be dry but this one is deeply engaging, peopled with the most interesting and bedeviling characters. It’s a great read which I heartily recommend.

Planning to read:
Journey by James Michener '29

Maurice G. Eldridge ‘61
President's Office

Book cover for Solaris
Solaris by Stanisław Lem
I get to read this every other year when I teach Russian and EE Science Fiction, but it doesn't get old. You may know it as the basis for Andrei Tarkovsky's (much altered) film, or from Steven Soderbergh's more recent film adaptation. Combining science fiction, a critique of the discourse of science, and a clear-eyed examination of the nature of human consciousness.

The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age by Stanislaw Lem
Full of wordplay, and brilliantly translated by Michael Kandel

Planning to Read:
Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

Sibelan Forrester
Russian Department

Book cover for This Dark Road to Mercy
This Dark Road To Mercy / A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash [request it from the public library]
Cash is a promising writer, telling wonderful southern tales.

Planning to read:
How To Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Diane Fritz
​Biology Department

Book cover for Life After Life
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson [Also available as an e-book and audiobook]

A stunning novel that dances on the edge of sf/fantasy for readers who don’t usually go near those genres. Atkinson’s compelling narrative drives us through the possible lives of Ursula Todd, branches that lead us through wars and accidents and assassinations, through time lines where Ursula dies at birth, or in childhood accidents, or during the Blitz, and so forth.

Kate Atkinson’s remarkable skill as a storyteller breathes new life into Ursula time and again, and the reader is well rewarded for the journeys. Highly recommended.

Planning to read:
Updraft by Fran Wilde [request it from the public library]

Gregory Frost
English Department

Running Blind by Lee Child [request it from the public library]
Perfect summer reading by the beach, or in the back yard in the sun (best served with a cold drink by the side). A real page-turner, it is the fourth book in the Jack Reacher series (you do not need to read them in order!), and it keeps you guessing at all times. I might have read it in 2-3 days since I wasn't able to put it down... If you enjoy it, read the rest of the series!

Planning to Read:
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas [request it from the public library]

Adrián Gras-Velázquez
Modern Languages and Literatures Department

Book cover for Cinder
Cinder by Marissa Myer
A fun YA book I read this year in which Cinderella is a cyborg (actually I read the first three in the series and am waiting for the publication of the final volume, Winter [request it from the public library]).

Planning to read:
The Buddha Walks into a Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation by Lodro Rinzler
 [request it from Interlibrary Loan]
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History 
by Elizabeth Kolbert

Pam Harris
McCabe Library

Book cover for The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee
The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee by Marja Mills
Mills recounts the simple and private day-to-day life of Harper Lee. It clarifies the rumors and truths of her commitment to her family and true close friends. Having fame did not change Lee's opinions or morals that were instilled in her.

Planning to read:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel [Also available as an audiobook]

Michelle Hartel
Kohlberg Coffee Bar

Book cover for Nora Webster
Nora Webster: A Novel by Colm Toibin [Also available as an audiobook]
Set in rural Ireland about fifty years ago, this novel focuses on Nora's journey as a young widow with four children. She struggles with the sympathy of neighbors, her children's difficulties, and her desire to remain the woman she became through her marriage to Maurice, a well-loved teacher. Toibin shows great empathy towards her in his writing and reveals a sensitive understanding of a woman's thoughts and emotions.

Planning to read:
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Terry Heinrichs
Cornell Library

Book cover for All the Light We Cannot See
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr [Also available as an audiobook]
Beautiful, well-written and engaging story set in WWII. Weaves the story of a blind girl in France raised among the specimens of a Natural History museum with a German boy who is fascinated with science, skilled in radio building and gets dragged into the military.

Planning to read:
The Shell Collector: Stories by Anthony Doerr

Kathleen Howard
Chemistry Department

The Dead Key by D.M Pully [request it from the public library]
This book does not disappoint. For 20 years a bank has kept its secret regarding fraud and their staff’s disappearances. That is until Iris, an engineer working in the bank, discovers forgotten safety deposit boxes and a dead key which causes the mystery to unravel. This book intertwines both eras and is hard to put down or forget.

Planning to read:
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins [Also available as e-book and audiobook]

Stacy Jordan
Admissions Office

Book cover
On A Farther Shore: The Life & Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder
This book really gives you the nitty gritty life of Rachel Carson. How she was the sole breadwinner for her family and battled breast cancer while writing Silent Spring. Her love the the ocean, her romantic friendship with Dorothy Freeman and her passion for her work and how Silent Spring changed everything forever.

Dorothy Kunzig
Linguistics Department

Book cover
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
Second novel from an immigrant author following the story of his parents’ lives in Ethiopia (briefly), marriage and move to the U.S., interwoven with his own story of growing up years influenced by the instability of his parents’ marriage and his own as it falls apart also. My description does not do justice to the book. Numerous awards for this book and his first book.

Planning to read:
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

Sue Lathrop
Development / Alumni Relations Office

Book cover
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown [Also available as e-book and audiobook]
The writing is phenomenal! It has everything: history, suspense (even though you know the outcome), even a little romance. It’s a great story about great men. I laughed out loud and I cried. The way the author describes how a crew team works; the sounds, the sights, I truly felt I was on the river with them. I LOVED this book!

Mary Lou Lawless
Public Safety

Book cover
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
I have tried to read Pynchon in the past and I could never get through Gravity's Rainbow or V. But when I saw that there would be a movie version of Inherent Vice coming out last year I was inspired to read this book at the suggestion of a good friend, and I'm very glad I did. The dialogue was snappy and intelligent, the names of the characters were hilarious, and the story kept my attention throughout. Perhaps Pynchon's most accessible book.

Planning to read:
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr [Also available as an audiobook]

Amy McColl
McCabe Library

Book cover
The Good Food Revolution by Will Allen [Also available as an e-book]
Allen's ability to overcome obstacles and note them more as opportunities makes urban farming seem possible. His spirit comes through in this book and might make you want to get started on your block! This was the 3rd book read by the Staff/Faculty Book Club this year.

Planning to read:
All of the Flavia de Luce mysteries by C. Alan Bradley

Jen Moore
History Department

Book cover
Dear Committee Members: a Novel by Julie Schumacher
This fabulous little book is an academic novel told through a series of letters of recommendation. It is both laugh-out-loud funny and sad. There are many truths here.

Dante's Divine Comedy (translated) by Clive James

Tom Morton
Art History Department

Book cover
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Categorized as poetry but largely written in prose and incorporating images, this is essential reading in this era of increased attention around police brutality and the #blacklivesmatter movement. Rankine thoughtfully examines race, noting microagressions from friends and colleagues to discussing more prominent figures and national headlines, from Serena Williams to the murder of Trayvon Martin. This book was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. Worth noting, it was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, which is indicative of its genre-blending form.

Planning to read:
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

Gina Myers
Communications Office

Book cover
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art / Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud.
I am not a huge fan of the superhero genre or manga, and therefore had never considered reading graphic novels. However, these two books about comics (written in the form of a comic), helped me to better understand the art form and the broad range of topics and styles of art that are covered in the genre, and inspired me to read many graphic novels afterwards. [Check out the TEDTalk by Scott McCloud - Understanding Comics]

Planning to read:
Showa 1953-1989 by Shigeru Mizuki

Andrea Pien '08
Admissions Office

In Sunlight and in Shadow by Mark Halprin [request it from the public library]
Love story taking place in NYC shortly after end of WWII. Finding it very engaging. There is an openness and vulnerability in the writing which draws me into the characters, the issues they confront and how they interact with each other around them. Actually listening to this one on my commute and find myself wishing it was a little longer so I can hear what happens next.

Planning to read:
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed [Also available as e-book and audiobook]

Corrine Schoeb
Information Technology Services

Book cover
Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
(I know I'm late to the party). Walls' memoir of her unconventional childhood--raised by an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother--is notable in its detail and even-handedness. The nomadic adventures that this combination sparked--and the grinding poverty--provide a wild ride for both the family and reader. The presentation of her parents is affectionate, generous, and never judgmental, which is truly impressive. Walls is an excellent storyteller with a remarkable story to tell.

Planning to read:
Erasure by Percival Everett

Nikki Senecal
Donor Relations

Book cover
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
This is the first book I'd ever read by Canadian author Toews, and I plan to read her earlier books this summer. The title, taken from a Coleridge poem (I had no idea the word 'puny' would have been used back then), and the cool orange cover, got me to read this book about which I knew nothing. I don't remember reading a book which had me nearly in tears one minute, and laughing out loud the next. I actually started writing down clever passages from the book, I'm not really sure why, but there were sentences and paragraphs I wanted to remember after I'd finished the book. I could write them down here (since I am the creator of the list and who is to stop me-?), but you'll have to read the book and find them yourself... Ok, I'll share one, since it's about Libraries: "Books are what save us. Books are what don't save us... What had she said about libraries & civilization? Because you make a promise, she'd said. You promise to return the book. You promise to come back. What other institution operates on such good faith-??"

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

Meg Spencer
Cornell Library

Book cover

The Swarthmore Summer Scholars Program (faculty, student mentors and students) will be reading:

Whistling Vivaldi: and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us by Claude M Steele (the entire freshman class at Princeton is reading it before they arrive on campus)

The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

Amy Vollmer
Biology Department

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller [request it from the public library]
I found this short book to be powerful and greatly encouraging. It offers a fresh perspective on the parable of Jesus that’s often referred to as “The Prodigal Son.” Author Tim Keller argues that while the common modern interpretive focus of the parable is almost exclusively on the younger of the story’s two brothers, the real power of Christ’s lesson is realized when equal consideration is given to the prideful older brother and the relationship of each son with the father. By considering the story within its historical context the reader can more fully understands the intended lessons of redemption and spiritual separation from God.

Planning to read:
Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian

Joe Watson
Development / Alumni Relations Office

Book cover
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr [Also available as an audiobook]
Beautifully written intertwining stories of two children before and during WW II.

Planning to read:
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides [request it from Interlibrary Loan]

Barb Weir
McCabe Library

When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine by Monica Wood [request it from the public library]
The Woods are a typical family in Mexico, Maine until their father dies on his way to work at the Oxford Paper Company one morning. In this beautifully written memoir Monica shares her family’s grief through the filtered lens of her nine-year-old self.

Planning to read:
The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir

Amanda Whitbred
Communications Office

Book cover
Saga, volume 1 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples
It's as epic as the title promises, and probably will never be converted to a TV show or movie. Takes the consequences of its well-developed characters decisions seriously, especially regarding violence. A graphic novel that defies description but is absolutely worth following as it unravels -- it's still being published! Not for kids.

Planning to read:
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson [also available as an e-book]

Wes Willison ‘12
Admissions Office

Book cover
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
Does the art world--its critics, its patrons, and its artists--respond differently to work created by women than by men? The Blazing World's protagonist, female artist Harriet Burden, seeks the answer to that question through the mounting of an elaborate ruse: she creates three art works and has male artists present each work as their own. The relationship between Harriet and her male fronts, however, becomes increasingly complicated and blurred when, after the huge critical and commercial success of the third exhibition, her male artist-accomplice refuses to acknowledge participation in Harriet's scheme, instead denouncing her as a delusional fraud. Hustvedt's novel is an astounding feat of world-building--what we get isn't a straightforward chronicle of Harriet's feminist-minded deceptions, but rather a shifting, slippery narrative composed of diary entries, magazine articles, letters, interview transcriptions, and critical pieces. Basically, she had me at the (very apt) Cavendish allusion in the title, but the intellectually complex, emotionally engaging, and wonderfully rendered story kept me obsessively reading.

Planning to read:
Dhalgren by Samuel Delany
Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Jasmine M. Woodson
McCabe Library

Book cover
One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir by Binyavanga Wainaina
A colleague at Haverford, Jesse Shipley brought Binyavanga Wainaina (Kenya) to his campus for a discussion of this memoir as part of a Trico celebration of the 50th anniversary publication of Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God. Wainaina's talk was at turns informative and entertaining on the ins and outs of publishing as an "African" and more seriously enlightening as he spoke from the position of a writer in diaspora. I read his memoir after hearing him speak and love the way he fluidly weaves together his awakening intellect and education as a young boy with the history of his family and his nation.

Planning to Read:
On Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance by Howard Caygill

Carina Yervasi
French & Francophone Studies Department