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Summer Reading Recommendations: 2019

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.

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Book cover for Brazen

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu

I'm cheating and recommending two books (sorry, Meg). I love Penelope Bagieu and I bought this book when it first came out. That being said, it far exceeded my expectations. Bagieu has a playful style (akin to Kate Beaton) but can navigate serious topics very well. I learned so much from this book and gained such deep appreciation and respect for the women featured in it. If you read French, you can check out the comics online, including a bonus one about Phoolan Devi, bandit queen, that was cut from the English translation.

What Can a Citizen Do? by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris [request it from the public library]

Shawn Harris is my favorite punk-band-frontman-turned-book-artist (and Dave Eggers is not so bad himself). This book features beautiful cut paper illustrations by Harris accompanying an important narrative about how to be a good citizen and neighbor.

Planning to read:
Summer Blonde by Adrian Tomine
I'm doing Lansdowne Public Library's 2019 Reading Challenge and this will be one of my challenge books for July (a book that takes place in the summer)

Maria Aghazarian
McCabe Library

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by Madeline Miller
A reimagining of the myth of Circe, child of the sun god Helios and the nymph Perses. As a child she feels unwelcome and out of place, but soon finds where her power lies and then is exiled for it. Her story spans thousand of years, crosses paths with other familiar names - Daedalus, Odysseus, the Minotaur - and is full of intrigue and adventure. 
I also read Florida by Lauren Groff, which I was looking forward to last year. It is an excellent, but challenging, collection of short stories.
Planning to read:
The Overstory by Richard Powers

Andrea Baruzzi
Cornell Library

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by John Williams
Described as a work of "quiet perfection," Stoner was hands down the best book I read this past year.   It is a rare book that has me, upon reaching the final page, immediately turning to page one to reread the book in entirety again.

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
I also highly recommend the 2019 Carnegie Award winner for nonfiction, Heavy.

Planning to read:
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makki, the 2019 Carnegie Award winner for fiction.

Jessica Brangiel
McCabe Library

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Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
A wonderful and readable history of one brave woman's fight for freedom, just as the northern part of the nation ends slavery. Dunbar presents one woman's story in the context of the new United States in the late 18th century and how the issue of slavery and enslaved people played a role in the life of George Washington and his extended family.

Tombland by CJ Sansom [request it from the public library]
If you enjoy historical novels or mysteries about Great Britain in the 16th century, during the rule of the Tudors, including Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, then you might enjoy Tombland and its predecessors in the series. In this novel Tudor-era lawyer Matthew Shardlake travels to the south east of England to uncover evidence about a murder, but gets caught up in a significant uprising (historically true), of the rural poor due to the enclosure of common pasture land. Shardlake, the protagonist in all the novels in the series,who works for the Tudor government, (often against his will), is an outsider in many ways, caught up in the political, religious, and economic upheavals of the period.

Wendy Chmielewski
Peace Collection

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The Falconer by Dana Czapnik
Lucy, 17, plays basketball with the guys on her inner city court -- and shows them up. In this coming of age novel, she struggles to determine who she is in life, in friendship, and in basketball. The book's prose is beautiful but spare, a perfect match for Lucy's story. As a bookseller, I'm always interested in books that I can recommend to a wide range of people. The Falconer is a book for everyone: literati, teens, sports fans, and anyone who likes a good story well told.

Planning to read:
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
I was blown away by the power, people, and place of Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones. I look forward to another fierce novel of the rural South in all its strange and painful beauty.

Paula Dale
Swarthmore Campus & Community Store

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by Iris Murdoch
Over the past couple years, I have been reading Iris Murdoch’s 26 novels in order from the first to her last. I am 12 novels in so far, and I would encourage you to read any of them. If I had to choose just one, I would recommend The Nice and the Good (1968). I loved it. It has everything you might want in a great story–-civil servants in open marriages, magic rituals, secret underground chambers, attempted black mail, a mysterious suicide, petulant teens, dangerous sea caves, and a web of unrequited loves.

Planning to read:
This year, I plan on reading more contemporary American and UK women writers. I look forward to reading Rachel Cusk’s The Country Life [request it from the public library], because I really enjoy her work. I hear it’s a comedy and that’s what we need right now, right?

David Foreman
College Advancement, Sponsored Programs

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The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells [request the other volumes from the public library]
Four novellas that comprise the best science fiction adventure story you’ll encounter this year. Wells imbues her narrator—a humanlike construct that somewhat ironically dubs itself “Murderbot”—with an artificial consciousness that’s on the spectrum: It wants only to watch its soap operas, but problems with pesky humans keep arising that it has to deal with. In the course of the quartet, Wells works in dialogues about slavery, about being trans and isolated from those around you, and about free will.

Planning to read:
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Gregory Frost
Department of English

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Heart Spring Mountain by Robin MacArthur [request it from the public library]
This may have been my favorite book of the past year. I love multi-generational family stories set in a particular place and this beautifully written book captures that interest. It's set in Vermont and begins in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene. The narrative weaves through the past and present and readers come to know three generations of women, the power of connection to land, and also of family secrets.

Planning to read:
Dreamland: the true tale of America's opiate epidemic by Sam Quinones
Us Against You by Fredrik Bachman [request it from the public library]
The second book in a trilogy about a small Minnesota town wrapped up in high school ice hockey.

Mary Huissen
McCabe Library

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Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
This book is a bit of a slow burn, but if you like sci-fi (even a little), I highly recommend it. It's excellent, thought provoking, and totally absorbing by the end. The main character cannot/does not easily distinguish others by gender, and intriguingly as a result you are often unsure of what a character's gender might be, which is a lovely twist on top of the engaging plot. Plus as this book (the first in a trilogy, all of which I recommend!) is one of all too few sci-fi novels written by women, it helped me maintain my current goal of reading books primarily by non-male authors.

Planning to read:
Women Talking by Miriam Toews
A decade ago I really enjoyed reading one of Toews's earlier novels (A Complicated Kindness), which was inspired by her Mennonite childhood. This novel is about a weighty real-life derived topic: "ghost" rapes in a Mennonite community.

Molly Flaherty
Department of Psychology

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Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World by Emma Marris
Marris writes about modern environmentalism with the view of our damaged earth as a wild and vibrant garden in which humans and nature co-exist. In Rambunctious Garden she highlights innovative approaches to conservation and management by widening our definition to what is truly valuable.

Planning to read:
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Right now I am reading N.K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season, part one of the trilogy, and plan to finish the other two volumes ASAP. Geology, fantasy, caves, sailing, a new lexicon....what could be better?

Pam Harris
McCabe Library

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Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Dr. Safiya Noble [also available as an e-book]
Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (2018) thoughtfully analyzes what algorithmic oppression is and why it is so insidious. She implores us to consider why the information provided on the internet requires not just further regulation, but deeper thought.

Planning to read:
The world according to Fannie Davis: my mother's life in the Detroit numbers by Bridgett Davis

Lorin Jackson
McCabe Library

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Spain by Caren Beilin
A nonfiction account of the author's time in--well--Spain. A weird, wooly book that takes what is often written as a celebration of privilege, an American artist abroad, and gleefully turns the experience sour. Wild, delectable sentences coiled into linked micro essays, the book is an experimental fiction writer's feminist take on the travelogue, at once vulnerable, tough, and super funny.

Planning to read:
Paul Takes the Form of Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor

Nabil Kashyap
McCabe Library

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The Dovekeepers
by Alice Hoffman [also available as an audiobook]
It is such an interesting book that is based on historical facts about Masada. Highly recommend anything by Alice Hoffman.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Planning to read:
Normal People by Sally Rooney

Lauren McAloon
Communications Office

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All Souls Trilogy
by Deborah Harkness
I reread this trilogy this year. These books are beautifully written and although they take place all over the world and at different times in history, Deborah Harkness paints such a clear picture that you feel like you're there.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor [request it from the public library]

Planning to read:
Time's Convert by Deborah Harkness
This book tells the story of Marcus, one of the characters from the All Souls Trilogy.

Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas [request it from the public library]
This book is the final book in the Throne of Glass series.

Joanne McCole
Cornell Library

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A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles [also available as an e-book]
The women in my family started a new tradition in 2018: to select a book to read as a group and then discuss it over cocktails when we all meet up at the Jersey Shore! Even though we usually prefer diverse types of fiction and non-fiction, we all loved this book. The characters are so well-written, the story is compelling, and none of us could put it down.

Planning to read:
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (for this year's discussion!) [also available as an e-book]

Amy McColl
McCabe Library

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Becoming by Michelle Obama [also available as an e-book]
In the Sewers of Lvov: A Heroic Story of Survival from the Holocaust by Robert Marshall
The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray
(also everything by Libba Bray)

Planning to read:
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Kerry Kristine McElrone
McCabe Library

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The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
I recommend The Wee Free Men, which is the first of the five-book Tiffany Aching series by the late Terry Pratchett. It is about a young witch defending her land and her unlikely comrades, the Nac Mac Feegle, who are tiny blue (presumably Scottish) men also known as Pictsies. It’s entertaining, sometimes poignant, and hilarious!

Christi Muller Ford

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Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado [also available as an e-book]
These gorgeous, searing stories mix up the real and the uncanny in a way that resists categorization. A student suggested I read the book, and I liked it so much that we brought Machado to campus this spring to give a reading. Look, too, for her upcoming memoir about queer domestic violence, In the Dream House, which she read from.

Planning to read:
Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Rachel Pastan
Department of English

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Until Proven Innocent:  political correctness and the shameful injustices of the Duke lacrosse rape case by Stuart Taylor Jr. and K.C. Johnson
This well-researched book describes in detail the 2006 case in which Duke University lacrosse players were falsely accused of rape. The case became highly politicized and many of the people involved quickly lost sight of truth and fairness in the course of pursuing various political aims. There are some parallels to what Swarthmore has gone through recently, and I think this book is worth a read as a cautionary tale about the importance of paying attention to established facts, and not just blindly believing the narrative that fits one's preconceived notions.

Planning to read:
The Case Against Education: why the education system is a waste of time and money by Bryan Caplan [also available as an e-book]

Paul Rablen
Department of Chemistry

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The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton [request it from the public library]
I picked this book up because it was a mystery. If  I had known it was a mystery with time travel and a sort of Quantum Leap thing going on, I may not have been as excited to read it. But it was amazing! I loved the way we entered the book through a main character who seemed amnesiac and that we learned about the plot and characters and setting along with the narrator. In the end, questions about punishment, justice, and redemption make it more than just another mystery.

Planning to read:
Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg

Nikki Senecal
College Advancement

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Educated by Tara Westover
This book is an important story of resilience and also has many lessons for us to consider when teaching and supporting students from diverse backgrounds.

Leading Men by Christopher Castellani '94 [request it from the public library]
Chris is an alum who was a visiting faculty member in creative writing a few years ago. This is historic fiction about Tennessee Williams, his partner and muse Frank Merlo and a supporting case of real (e.g., Truman Capote) and fictional characters. I was sad when I finished the book and look forward to re-reading it this summer.

Amy Cheng Vollmer
Department of Biology

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Copies in Seconds: Chester Carlson and the Birth of the Xerox Machine
by David Owen [request it from the public library]
The heroic story of the invention of photocopying and the humble beginnings of Xerox Corp. The topic is not something that I would expect to find interesting, but this book was an engrossing and inspiring read.

Planning to read:
Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation by Elaine Gould

Steve Wang
Department of Mathematics

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Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum [request it from the public library]
This is a story of an American women who is married to a Swiss banker and after 9 years of living in Switzerland is taking German lessons as recommended by her therapist to fit in better.  This is a beautifully written book with fun contemplations on language’s double meanings.  Unfortunately, the woman is depressed and consequently the book is depressing.  

Planning to read:
House of Gold by Natasha Solomons [request it from the public library]

Roderick Wolfson
Capital Planning and Project Management

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Infinity Standing Up by Drew Pisarra
This book is a collection of sonnets–true homage to Shakespeare here–about the end, almost end, and more end of a romantic relationship, and yet an ode to love. In my opinion, they are best read in order, but they do stand up to the record-player test: dropping the needle down on any poem and reading from there.  The poems are funny, heart-breaking, sexy, wistful, entangled. I went to a poetry reading around the time the book was published and realized the poems were even more beautiful when performed. So I recommend that folks consider reading these poems out loud.

Planning to read:
Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements [also available as an e-book]

Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver
A memoir, recommended by one of my students.

Carina Yervasi
Department of French & Francophone Studies