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Summer Reading Recommendations: 2016

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 of Locke and Key
Locke and Key
series by Joe Hill
Intense, fast-paced graphic novel, recommended for one of those days where you need a one-sitting read!

Planning to read:
One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva [request it from Interlibrary Loan]

Maria Aghazarian
McCabe Library

Book cover of The Secret History
The Secret History
by Donna Tartt
Richard the narrator in this story and his eccentric friends make up a fascinating cast of characters set in a small New England college town. The reader learns on the first page that Richard and his friends have killed one among their midst. You may not like all of the characters but you will feel like you know them and after finishing this book you will miss them. The book has a romantic dreamlike quality that makes it a classic.

Planning to read:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara [also available as an e-book]

Elizabeth J. Durning
Office of Diversity, Inclusion & Community Development

Book cover of Just Kids
Just Kids
by Patti Smith.
Smith's memoir of arriving in NYC and living with Robert Mapplethorpe at the dawn of the 1970s is perhaps the defining portrait of the “summer of love” era. It immerses one in the essence of New York in that period, and Smith does not hesitate to write of everyone and anyone warts and all. Plus, the idea that anyone alive in 1969 could simply have walked into the Chelsea Hotel and run into Salvador Dali, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, or Sam Shepard…is wondrous and delightful.

Planning to Read:
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

Gregory Frost
English Department

Book cover of My Brilliant Friend    Book cover of The Story of a New Name    Book cover of Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay    Book cover of The Story of the Lost Child
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
The four books in the series - My Brilliant Friend [also available as an e-book], The Story of a New Name [also available as an e-book], Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay [also available as an e-book], and The Story of the Lost Child [also available as an e-book] - reveal the complicated friendship of two women in Naples over a 50-year period. Very well written and interesting story. I was somewhat at a loss when I finished the series, but I’m looking forward to the 32-part TV adaptation.

Planning to read:
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave [request it from the public library]

Terry Heinrichs
Cornell Library

Book cover for Patience
by Daniel Clowes
Through the lens of a time machine graphic novel, Clowes reflects on the weight of responsibility that come from being a parent and spouse. The format is used effectively; the images often have as much to read as the text itself.

Planning to read:
This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed by Charles E. Cobb Jr. [also available as an e-book]

Tom Hutchinson
McCabe Library

Book cover for Other People's Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night
Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night
by Morgan Parker
Selected by Eileen Myles for Switchback Books’ Gatewood Prize, Parker’s debut collection of poetry pulls no punches as it delivers poem after poem of smart, insightful criticism of our current age, where the American dream is no more and the struggle is real for so many who are trying to carve out a life against increasingly difficult odds. The poems are at turns funny, biting, and heartbreaking.

Planning to read:
The Consequences of My Body by Maged Zaher

Gina Myers
Communications Office

Book cover for Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs [also available as an e-book]
My favorite (and only) book read in the past year (to be fair, I had a baby!) It was an easy to get into, fun, fantastical read that taps into everyone's secret desire to be extraordinary. It also demonstrates, subtly, the many ways so many around us already ARE extraordinary, magic aside. This book is part of a series and the first movie comes out in September so this summer is an excellent time to read it!

Planning to read:
Red Rising by Pierce Brown [request it from the public library]

Christi Pappert
Facilities and Services

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher [request it from the public library]
Written with a novelist's touch and extraordinary insight into--and sympathy for--human frailty, this is a book that continues to haunt me. What happens to us after death is the ultimate mystery, and seeing the battle between Houdini and "Margery" the spirit medium over whether or not it can ever be solved is as fascinating as it is ultimately heartbreaking.

Planning to read:
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington [request it from the public library]

Jonathan Riggs

Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright [request it from Interlibrary Loan]

I've just started reading this book about a woman who is at a crossroads - her mom has just died and her boyfriend has just dumped her. Shortly after her mom's passing she receives an urn with her mom's ashes along with a reminder of her promise to walk the Canterbury "trail." Planning on hiring a private guide, her plans are dramatically changed when that guide is taken in for urgent surgery and she is urged to join a group of women who plan to walk the 60 miles from London to the Cathedral. Just as in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, each of the travelers tells a story. It’s an enjoyable and humorous read.

Planning to read:
Redemption by Leon Uris [request it from the public library]

Corrine Schoeb
Information Technology Services

Book cover for House of Leaves
House of Leaves
by Mark Z. Danielewski
This has been one of my favorite books for a long time and I make a point to re-read it every couple years. The more you read it, the more you seem to discover new things you missed before. The format of the book itself is incredibly unconventional and intriguing, but as you are essentially following along as the narrator descends into madness within the footnotes it is very fitting. You are following along with the narrator as he makes a strange discovery of a book reviewing a documentary about a horrifying and ever changing house. It is part documentary, part psychological thriller, and part horror.

Planning to read:
When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris

Jessica Stockett
Information Technology Services

Book cover for Ignorance
Ignorance: How it Drives Science
by Stuart Firestein [also available as an e-book]
The author says that we should spend more time telling students what we don't know, rather than what we know. He spoke about the subject in a 2013 TED talk.

Planning to read:
Failure: Why Science is So Successful by Stuart Firestein
It details many stories of failure and reminds us that scientific research is about 90% failure; and that being resilient is important. That was a lesson that the Swarthmore Summer Scholars in 2015 learned and applied!

Amy Vollmer
Biology Department

Book cover for Beautiful Ruins
Beautiful Ruins
by Jess Walter [also available as an audiobook]
Unexpectedly poignant. Images from it still haunt me as if they were my own.

Planning to read:
On the Run by Alice Goffman

Sarah Willie-LeBreton
Sociology & Anthropology Department

Book cover for The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch
by Donna Tartt [also available as an e-book and audiobook]
I read Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” when it first came out in the 1990s, and its very dark tone kind of freaked me out. It took 20 years for me to want to read another book of hers, but I’m glad I did. “The Goldfinch” certainly has its share of the darker side of humanity, but it is leavened with an interesting meditation on the role of beautiful objects in our lives.

Planning to read:
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel [also available as an e-book]

Eric Jensen
Physics and Astronomy Department

Book cover for Just Mercy
Just Mercy
by Bryan Stevenson (in this year's reading group on work) [also available as an e-book]
It was a hard book to read because it brings a human face to the difficult truths we know about our unequal justice system. I cried. I had to stop reading for a while. But, as Mr. Rogers reminds us, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." Bryan Stevenson is one of those people. (If you are looking for beach reading, I recommend As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. I highly recommend the audiobook because Elwes is a master impersonator.)

Planning to read:
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi [also available as an e-book]

Nikki Senecal
Development & Alumni Relations-Stewardship

Book cover for I am Malala
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
by Malala Yousafzai [also available as an e-book and audiobook]
This book had a major impact on my life. We cannot travel to Malala's home in the Swat Valley of Pakistan (and sadly neither can she anymore), so it is important to read about what life is like there. Malala is brave, smart as a whip and wise beyond her years. The support she receives from her family, particularity her dad, is unique and courageous in itself. I loved learning about this young women's incredible story and especially loved that underneath this Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala is still a young women who fights with her brothers about sharing electronics. This books shows just how human she is and how one small seemingly small voice can make a HUGE difference.

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

Annik Spencer
Niece of Meg Spencer

Book cover for The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita
by Mikhail Bulgakov
This book is about the Devil visiting the atheistic Soviet Union.

Planning to read:
The Stranger by Albert Camus

Samuel Spencer
Nephew of Meg Spencer

Book cover for The Invention of Wings
The Invention of Wings
by Sue Monk Kidd [also available as an audiobook]
This historical novel is a fictional telling of the story of “real-life” abolitionist, Sarah Grimke, and her sister Nina and their family’s slave, Handful. The story takes place in Charleston, South Carolina. I loved the narrative technique of alternating Sarah’s and Handful’s voices and perspectives and Monk’s exploration of the complicated and unjust relationship between slave owner/family and slave. The book has wonderfully developed characters, particularly the two main characters (Sarah and Handful), a narrative tension that moves the book forward, and finally a glimpse of hope and redemption as the story closes.

Planning to read:
Whatever my book group chooses!

Scott Spencer
Cousin of Meg Spencer