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Summer Reading Recommendations: 2018

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 Transmetropolitan
Transmetropolitan series by Warren Ellis [also available as single issues in McCabe's Comics Collection, 2nd floor]
Don't make the same mistake I did--do not try to read this all in one sitting, because you will miss it once you're done. With incredibly detailed art and masterful worldbuilding, in Transmetropolitan Ellis creates a bizarre, all-too-believable futuristic world with an eerie political climate. At the center of it is gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem, who would just like people to think for themselves for once, thank you very much.

Planning to read:
Coyote Doggirl by Lisa Hanawalt [request it from the public library]
I'm really looking forward to this one--last year I recommended her book Hot Dog Taste Test


Maria Aghazarian
McCabe Library

Book cover for The Circle
The Circle by Dave Eggers [also available as an e-book]
This work of fiction might be a little too real, though maybe it didn't quite feel that way when it came out in 2013. Imagine that Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, etc. are all one giant internet company called the Circle. The story follows Mae as she joins the company and becomes one of its top employees leaving friends and family questioning whether this was an amazing opportunity after all.

Book cover for Pachinko
by Min Jin Lee
A beautifully written, multi-generational saga of a Korean family who migrates from Japanese-occupied Korea to Japan in the early part of the 20th century. Impossible to summarize, the novel deals with love, family, shame, honor, gangsters, history, identity, immigrants, and pachinko.

Planning to read:
Florida by Lauren Groff [request it from the public library]

Andrea Baruzzi
Cornell Library

Book cover for Another Brooklyn
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
I know now that what is tragic isn't the moment. It's the memory. And with that Woodson sets the tone for one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. August has returned home to Brooklyn for her father's funeral but the tale takes the reader back to the 1970s as August recounts the death of her mother and what it was like to come of age in such a turbulent time for both Brooklyn and our country. This 2018 One Book, One Philadelphia selection is the epitome of a book where every sentence matters and there is not one word too many or too few.  

Planning to read:
11/22/63 by Stephen King, because nothing is better than Stephen King in the summer.

Jessica Brangiel
McCabe Library

Book cover for Station Eleven
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel [also available as an e-book]
It's a quick read, a dystopian story set in the U.S. in the near future, that might appeal to those of us who believe in the immortal power of the arts and humanities. Plus it has a hopeful ending..sort of.

Yvonne Chireau
Department of Religion

Book cover for On Immunity
On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
Thoughtful essays on our cultural ideas about disease, immunization, and community, with lots of historical and philosophical ideas woven throughout. (Reviewed in the New York Times)

Planning to read:
The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty

Michelle Crouch
College Advancement

Book cover for Educated
Educated by Tara Westover [also available as an e-book]
It is a memoir of a particularly tough childhood and an even tougher coming-of-age in a survivalist family living off the grid in Idaho.  But ultimately, it is a story of the triumph of education as a means of overcoming adversity and creating change.  As a first generation college student, I was particularly touched by Tara's efforts to reconcile her new found education with her family and home life.

Planning to read:
Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen

Paula Dale
Swarthmore Campus & Community Store

Book cover for River of Doubt
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
This is the true story of Theodore Roosevelt's journey down uncharted waters of the Amazon River after his presidency. It was fascinating to read a piece of history that I never knew before. You will be surprised with how much adversity he and the others in his party had to go through.

Planning to read:
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
I heard this was a great book so I am giving it a shot!

Dan Darkow
Swarthmore Campus & Community Store

Book cover for An American Marriage
An American Marriage by T​ayari Jones [also available as an e-book]
A ​newly married couple are ripped apart by ​a wrongful conviction and ​separated beyond their control​. Written mostly in letters to each other, ​​emphasizing their separation, the couple must come to terms between responsibility and desire.  ​I could not put this book down--Tayari Jones is a masterful storyteller.

Planning to read:
Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones
(Because she is such a gifted writer) It's the end of summer in Atlanta, and fifth-grade classmates Tasha Baxter, Rodney Green, and Octavia Harrison will discover that back-to-school means facing everyday challenges in a new world of safety lessons, terrified parents, and constant fear. Because it was the summer during which Atlanta's African-American children were vanishing.

Betsy Durning
Dean's Office

Book cover for The Largesse of the Sea Maiden
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
Johnson’s final, posthumous collection of shorter fiction is splendid. I’ve long been a fan of his work (Train Dreams remains for me perhaps the best novella I’ve ever read), and the narratives here thrum with great voices, with “The Starlight on Idaho” proving to be my favorite among the five works.

Planning to read:
Cloudbursts by Thomas McGuane (Seems to be the year for short fiction for me)

Gregory Frost
Department of English

Book cover for Blurred Lines

Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, & Consent on Campus by Vanessa Grigoriadis
What I liked is the author's relatable and relevant voice about this highly charged topic, and her well researched and balanced narratives covering stories from across stakeholders including survivors, allies, activists, respondents, families, practitioners and institutions. It is hard to present a full picture of campus student conduct and Title IX practice on individual campuses due to student privacy protections. Grigoriadis does a good job giving readers an up to date realistic behind the scenes account of the growing challenges (and some opportunities) we all share in our different roles navigating the hook up / me too cultures of today's campuses.

Planning to read:
...I'll have to get back to you!

Nancy Giacomini
Dean's Office

Book cover for The Overstory
The Overstory by Richard Powers [also available as an e-book]
When Ghosh claimed that the novel form could not encompass global climate change, he hadn't figured on this book. Enormous in scope, character development, and philosophical interest, this riveting book gets the science right and tells an incredible story.

Planning to read:
The Evolution of Beauty by Richard Prum

Scott F. Gilbert
Department of Biology

Book cover for Book of Ages
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin by Jill Lepore
How anyone survived in 18th century America is beyond me! Jill Lepore writes a vibrant history, full of behind-the-scenes details about Ben Franklin’s scrappy and audacious character as well as the faith, determination and grace with which his little sister Jane faced adversity. I was unprepared to enjoy this book [464 pages], but couldn’t put it down once started.

Book cover for Oryx and Crake    Book cover for Year of the Flood    Book cover for MaddAddam
MaddAddam Trilogy
by Margaret Attwood
How did it take me so long to find this trilogy? Book one, Oryx and Crake, features a dystopian world in which the protagonist ends up at the ironic “Martha Graham Academy” instead of the top rate elite school attended by his best friend. God’s Gardeners from book two, The Year of the Flood, could be characters taken right off the paths of Swarthmore – idealists scratching for survival. The multi-hued genetically modified mo'hair sheep in the final book are believable, adorable and terrifying – Attwood’s playful genius never fails to surprise!

Planning to read:
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
A genteel, British comedy of manners – the perfect summer read!

Pam Harris
McCabe Library

The University of Pennsylvania by Caren Beilin
Literary off-roading! Reading this was quite the adventure. This short volume blew me away. The description on the back doesn't do it justice. Maybe you can read it and tell me what it means. Highly recommend, particularly for students.

Book cover for In the Sounds and Seas
In the Sounds and Seas by Marnie Galloway

Book cover for How We Get Free
How We Get Free by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Planning to read:
Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom by Norman Finkelstein [also available as an e-book]

Tom Hutchinson
Tri-College Libraries

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson [request it from the public library]
I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully written story of a man's descent into his own personal hell and his slow journey toward salvation. It is also a story of many different stories that all relate back to the main story. Narrowly surviving a fiery car crash, the narrator finds himself completely covered with severe burns, taking away his good looks and eventually his arrogance. While recuperating in a burn unit, he meets the enchanting and unusual Marianne Engel who claims that the two have been lovers before in fourteenth century Germany and helps the narrator find the will to continue living through her stories about love that defy pain and suffering. Definitely an absorbing mix of historical fiction, dark humor, drama, and a bit of romance that will leave you thinking about the story long after you've read it.

Planning to read:
Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy [request it from the public library]
I loved the first season of the Netflix show so I promised myself I would read this eventually. I finally purchased the book and cannot wait to read about crazy unethical genetic science and some of my favorite mythological creatures: vampires and werewolves.

Katrina Jackson
McCabe Library

Book cover for The Nix
The Nix
by Nathan Hill
A wonderfully written novel, a tale of a complicated mother-son relationship ranging from the 1968 Democratic Convention to the present day world of RPG video games and Occupy Wall Street. Even though this novel is long, I found it engrossing and I couldn't put it down.

Planning to read:
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles [also available as an e-book]
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng [also available as an e-book]
Amy McColl
McCabe Library

Book cover for How to Stop Time
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
'The first rule is that you don't fall in love,' he said... 'There are other rules too, but that is the main one. No falling in love. No staying in love. No daydreaming of love. If you stick to this you will just about be okay.'
I read a lot of books and this one really stood out. By far my favorite book I read last year, possibly my favorite from the past few years. Interesting concept, beautifully written, not formulaic, by turns heartbreaking and humorous, just a lovely read from start to finish.

Planning to read:
I have a stack of books I am reading currently and plan to read (if I can stop getting stuck in a rereading-for-the-900th-time-Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Series-loop on my Kindle!) but The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer is tops on my list. If John Irving is quoted with a mere "Wonderful" on your book cover that is good enough recommending for me!

Kerry Kristine McElrone
McCabe Library

Book cover for A Tale for the Time Being
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki [also available as an audiobook and e-book]
This lyrical meditation on permanence, love, loss, and belonging takes you from a remote island off the coast of Washington to the bustling streets of Tokyo and back again. While Ozeki's beautiful writing bends time and space in a nod to surrealism and metaphysics, it is her finely wrought, painfully real characters that draw you in at every turn. This book quickly joined my list of all-time favorites!

Planning to read:
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado [also available as an e-book]

Alex Sastre '05
Communications Office

Book cover for What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky
What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Sometimes fantastical, sometimes incisively real and very often surprising, the stories in Lesley Nneka Arimah's debut collection are a great choice for summer reading. Nneka Arimah's stories are concise and complex, taking readers through psychologically and affectively rich narratives with a pacing that defies typical ideas of temporarily. These stories make us realize again and again what it is to be human. "What it Means When a Man falls from the Sky" will satisfy inquisitive readers weather they spend their summers sweating it out on regional rail or soaking up sun on grass and sand.

Planning to read:
The Home That Was Our Country by Alia Malek

Suzanne Seesman
Friends, Peace, Sanctuary

Book cover for Educated
Educated by Tara Westover [also available as an e-book]
Westover earns a PhD after a lifetime of being held out of the educational system by her evangelical Mormon parents. (She doesn't even have a birth certificate until she is 10.) It reminded me of Glass Castle, but with the focus on education. Here she tells the tale of how she grew up and got herself to college and beyond. I continued to think about this book long after I put it down.

Planning to read:
Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean  

Nikki Senecal
Donor Relations, College Advancement

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
In an Audible exclusive, Nick Offerman does a masterful reading of this book. While this is required reading for many schoolchildren, I am grateful I waited until adulthood to enjoy it.  I knew Twain would make me laugh; I didn't know he would make me cry. The last chapters are so good that as soon as the audiobook was finished, I had to get my hands on a copy of the text to relish in the ending again. While it is superficially a story of a 19th century man stuck in the middle ages, it is also a meditation on education, friendship, love, religion, and the senselessness of war. Offerman's reading haunts me; I will forever associate these characters with his voice. As the Audible synopsis says, Offerman reads this book in a way that Twain himself would have enjoyed.  Bonus: if you don't have an Audible membership, you can sign up for a trial membership and get this title for free.

Planning to read:
The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W. E. Bowman [request it from Interlibrary Loan]

This is a 1956 spoof of the ascent of a 40,000-and-a-half foot peak and it is considered a mountaineering classic. Long summer days demand books that make you laugh out loud. 

Julie Swierczek
Friends Historical Library and Swarthmore College Peace Collection

Book cover for The Overstory
The Overstory by Richard Powers [also available as an e-book]

Planning to read:
Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy

Joyce Tompkins
Dean's Office

The Spirit Photographer by Jon Michael Varese '94
I read this because it's a first novel by a former student, and since we're hoping to get to together but I genuinely loved it. It's informative, timely, and enriching, but also a great story artfully told, so you read it in part because you want to know how it turns out. It's set in early post-Civil War Boston and Louisiana, and combines politics, personal relationships, and (sort of) mysticism in a way that I found genuinely satisfying and even profound, and not just because of the personal connection.

Planning to read:
Reconstruction, America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 by Eric Foner (recommended in Jon Varese's author's note)

William Turpin
Department of Classics

They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib
Incredible essays on pop culture, race, music and religion.

Roberto Vargas
McCabe Library

Book cover for Factfulness
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund
It's on Bill Gates' recommended reading list and I am learning a lot from it.

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
Written beautifully, about the brilliant person who combined art with science

Amy Cheng Vollmer
Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry

Book cover for A Gentleman in Moscow
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles [also available as an e-book]
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in a grand Moscow hotel. Though for decades his world is limited to the spaces within the hotel, the book never feels claustrophobic. This is a well-written and utterly charming novel.  

Planning to read:
The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf

Barbara Weir
McCabe Library

Book cover for Hillbilly Elegy
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance [also available as an e-book]

Book cover for Between the World and Me
Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates [also available as an e-book and audiobook]
Last year I read Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance back to back with Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates. They strike me as important books to read together and talk about with a diverse group of others... both about growing up in racialized, gendered, and classed society by two cisgender straight men about the same age, one Black and one white.

Planning to read:
The book I’ve started and hope to complete this summer is Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. I think it’s easy to forget how recent the fall of apartheid was and how many things, including unchecked capitalism, have undermined the truly democratic possibilities of the RSA.

Sarah Willie-LeBreton
Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Act One
by Moss Hart
This is a terrifically written autobiography that at one level tells the story of this playwright's path from poverty in the Bronx to Broadway. However, I especially appreciated the first hand account of larger social history themes such as the theatre culture in the 1920s (and its demise), the Borscht Belt summers, and the collaborative work that theatre productions require. As an autobiography, this is not the whole story. You can read online articles on Moss Hart's mental health struggles and sexuality that are not discussed in the autobiography.

Planning to read:
How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything by Mike Berners-Lee [request it from the public library]

Roderick Wolfson
Capital Planning & Project Management