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Summer Reading Recommendations: 2020

An annual list compiled by the Swarthmore College Libraries

Free Library of Philadelphia

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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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One Hundred Demons
by Lynda Barry

2019 was the first year that I attempted a reading challenge--I picked this book up to tick off the category of "award-winning book" and it did not disappoint. Lynda Barry makes art with collage and watercolor illustrations that will get you lost in the details of this insightful memoir. I saw her speak at Haverford College ten years ago, though I appreciate her more now than I did then.

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Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga by Lee Francis 4 and Weshoyot Alvitre, edited by Will Fenton [also freely available online]

For a bonus, socially distant read, this book is one of the outcomes of a Pew Arts & Heritage grant, which is why it is freely available online in addition to being in print. Alvitre's gorgeous art is contextualized by historical documents at The Library Company, with the option to take a closer look through historical documents and documentary snippets embedded in the text along the way. Swarthmore-familiar Benjamin West makes a cameo through his depiction of Penn's Treaty, a treaty that he never witnessed, depicting a peace that never existed.

Planning to read:
Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers
For this year's reading challenge, I'm hoping to check off the "Author of Color" category with this book.

Maria Aghazarian
McCabe Library

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The Orphan Master's Son
by Adam Johnson [also available as an e-book]
We follow the titular character, Jun Do, as he survives the unbelievable adventures that befall him after growing up an orphan in North Korea. The thing is, because it is set in North Korea, you start to believe that his insane experiences are possible.

I also recently enjoyed An American Marriage by Tayari Jones [also available as an e-book] and Normal People by Sally Rooney [also available as an e-book]

Planning to read:
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

Andrea Baruzzi
Cornell Library

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The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali [request it from the public library]

This book was the January 2020 Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club pick. This lovely book did not disappoint. Set in 1950s Tehran and the early 2000s United States, this story has it all: love, loss, deception, and political upheaval. Anne Bogel, a.k.a. Modern Mrs Darcy, always picks books I wouldn’t find elsewhere. For more great suggestions check out her What Should I Read Next podcast.  

Planning to read:

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa

Jessica Brangiel
McCabe Library

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The Dairy Restaurant by Ben Katchor
Not quite a graphic novel and not quite a history, this book is many things. In order to talk about Jewish dairy restaurants, it delves into the history of Kosher laws, vegetarianism, and restaurants more generally. Written by a cartoonist, it is illustrated both with his charming drawings and archival scans of newspaper clippings and restaurant menus. It's perfect if your attention span, like mine, has been shortened by epidemic-inspired anxiety. It will also leave you searching for local restaurants that are still open and delivering fresh blintzes.
Planning to read:
Here for It by R. Eric Thomas [request it from the public library]

I saw R. Eric Thomas at the Free Library in February but his book is still sitting on my nightstand. I know I can count on it to make me laugh as soon as I crack it open. 

Celia Caust-Ellenbogen
Friends Historical Library

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The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Tove Jansson's "The Summer Book" is exquisitely felt, observed and written. The plot, such as it is, involves a crotchety arthritic woman and her little granddaughter spending summers together on their small island in the Sea of Finland.

Planning to read:
Hum if You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais [request it from the public library]

Betsy Durning
Office of Inclusive Excellence

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An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon [also available as an e-book]
This incredibly absorbing science fiction book explores life on multigenerational spaceship. Solomon also deftly weaves in many of the realities of structural racism in the US (and world) today, as they and their echoes are also present on the ships. 
Planning to read:
Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler [also available as an e-book]
Molly Flaherty
Department of Psychology

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How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
Zhang vividly describes the lives of two Chinese-American sisters growing up in a California gold rush community. You might think the "Old West" vein is tapped out, but there is so much new and exciting to witness in her telling of this family narrative.

Planning to read:
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel [also available as an e-book]
The Plague by Albert Camus
The Stand by Stephen King

David Foreman
College Advancement, Sponsored Programs

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Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes [also available as an e-book]
This is the perfect blend of romantic comedy comfort and escapism, without the trite or grating stereotypes. Previously described by a reviewer as the book equivalent of a "cozy sweater," friends of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour will especially love the familiar nods to Linda's favorite things.  This book feels like visiting with an old friend, even on the first read.

Planning to read:
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez
I started reading it from the local library but I wanted to highlight and make notes so badly it required a purchase!

Caitlin Halloran Edwards
Alumni & Parent Engagement

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The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin [also available as e-books]
In this Hugo Award-winning trilogy, Jemisin spins an apocalyptic world devastated by climate change, mixed with a fantastical interpretation of geology, and tempered by a mother’s love. Book Two, The Obelisk Gate, was my favorite, as survival goes deep into a city built in a huge underground geode…even more engrossing than my other favorite trilogy, The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood.

Planning to read:
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

Pam Harris
McCabe Library

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Monstress by Marjorie Liu
This is an incredible epic fantasy comics series (available in single issues and collected editions) inspired by 20th century Asia with a magic matriarchal twist. The art and story are both top-notch and will appeal beyond comics lovers to fantasy readers and everyone looking for something a little different.

Planning to read:
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Emily Higgs
Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College
Swarthmore College Peace Collection

Planning to read:
Shakespeare for Squirrels by Christopher Moore
Love and Other Pranks by Tony Vigorito
Maybe these books will re-"Kindle" my interest in reading. Tony Vigorito also has a webpage where he posts his essays.
Stacey Hogge
Department of Sociology and Anthropology

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Future Noir Revised & Updated Edition: The Making of Blade Runner by Paul M. Sammon

I enjoyed the narrative approach to this film documentary within a book, which provides details from his on-set reports as well as insight into the novel that inspired the film, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? There are some great set photos throughout the book and a few interview transcripts with Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford, Sean Young, and Rutger Hauer.

Planning to read:
The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Four edited by Neil Clarke

Rex Hughes
McCabe Library

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt [also available as an e-book and audiobook]

Thirteen-year-old Theodore Decker survives a terrorist bombing of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art where his mother is killed. While staggering through the debris after the bombing, he finds intact the small Dutch Golden Age painting "The Goldfinch," one of the items that he and his mother went to see. He escapes the museum with the painting and continues on an odyssey of exquisite art, extreme guilt, horrendous grief, sudden reinvention, eventual redemption, and unrequited love. Throughout this odyssey, Theo clings to the painting, the one thing that reminds him of his mother, and also ultimately drags him into the underworld of art.

Planning to read:
Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón [request it from the public library]

Katrina Jackson
McCabe Library

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel is a genius, pure and simple. She has a unique gift of capturing sophisticated human emotion with brevity, grace, and creativity in her comics. Also, highly recommend this book for anyone interested in LGBTQ+ identity or for members of the LGBTQ community.

Planning to read:
Beyond Survival: Strategies and Stories from the Transformative Justice Movement edited by Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

Lorin Jackson
McCabe Library

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There There by Tommy Orange [also available as an e-book and audiobook]
The first novel by Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange and a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, this book is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. A multi-generational, relentlessly paced story about violence and recovery, hope and loss, identity and power, dislocation and communion, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people, There There follows a large cast of Native Americans living in the area of Oakland, California, as they struggle with a wide array of challenges ranging from depression and alcoholism, to unemployment, fetal alcohol syndrome, and the challenges of living with an ethnic identity of being "ambiguously nonwhite". All unite at a community pow wow and its attempted robbery.

Planning to read:
Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman by Walter M. Miller Jr. (a follow-up to Miller's 1959 book A Canticle for Leibowitz [request it from the public library])
The Last Man by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley [also available as an e-book]

Roxanne Lucchesi
McCabe Library

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Swell by Liz Clark [request it from the public library]
First of all, this book has amazing pictures of Liz on her boat, Swell, in the middle of the ocean. Second, her experiences on her boat, her travels, and the people she meets are really exhilarating and thought provoking. I learned of this book through a podcast, and the author explaining how she began her life at sea and how she lives her life advocating for sustainability and climate change. She has a cool Instagram, too -- @captainlizclark.

Planning to read:
The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Lauren McAloon

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Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver [also available as an e-book]
This is a novel set in two different time periods in the town of Vineland, New Jersey. In the 19th C. timeline, Kingsolver tells the story of a fictional character who embraces Darwin's theories and centers on his friendship with Mary Treat, a real-life scientist who corresponded with Charles Darwin and conducted her own valuable research. I grew up visiting my grandparents in Vineland and I had never heard of this extraordinary woman, so I'm glad Kingsolver wrote this novel to give her recognition! Kingsolver deals with the controversies and even violent acts that resulted from differences of opinion among town leaders of that era. The modern-day story deals with a family living at the same location in Vineland and their economic struggles in another era of upheaval, the rise of Trump in 2016.

Planning to read:
Apeirogon by Colum McCann [also available as an e-book]

Amy McColl
McCabe Library

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The Otherland Series by Tad Williams [request it from the public library]
A series of four (rather long) books that provides a nice escapist mashup of fantasy and cyberpunk.

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Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis
I also plan on re-reading this amazing duology. It will be my third pass through these award-winning books (as a pair they came pretty close to sweeping the Science Fiction Awards). So many parts of these books either gave me goosebumps or brought me to tears -- including the dedication of All Clear. British time travelers get stuck in London during the Blitz. These two books offer a brilliant and oftentimes inspirational snapshot of regular people surviving during trying times. Keep Calm and Carry On, indeed!

Jeff Oaster
Media Services

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The Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

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Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World by M.R O'Connor [request it from the public library]

Planning to read:
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Benjamin Ridgway
Modern Languages & Literatures

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Feast Your Eyes by Myla Goldberg [request it from the public library]
Feast Your Eyes is a novel written as a catalog to accompany the retrospective of the (fictional) artist Lillian Preston’s work as an avant garde street photographer through a pastiche of letters, interviews, and dredged up memories. It is put together by her estranged daughter, Samantha, the central figure of many of these photographs. The specificity of Lillian’s life allows Goldberg to explore the art scene and public life in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, free speech and obscenity, motherhood and ambivalence, tensions around being a single mother and an artist, women’s rights and abortion. Preston photographs her daughter naked or in her underwear, and once she (finally) gets a show, she and the gallery owner are arrested on obscenity charges. The pair handle their arrests differently, with the gallery owner fighting to the Supreme Court. The complexities of this court battle for a single mother and the long reverberating repercussions for relationships--between Samantha and her classmates, Lillian and Samantha, Lillian and her neighbors, Samantha and the gallery owner--is stunningly examined. The descriptions of the photographs are so vivid, I remember them as if they were included in the novel.

Planning to read:
Pride by Ibi Zoboi
A continuation of my reading of rewritings of Pride and Prejudice--most recently Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin [request it from the public library].

Nikki Senecal
College Advancement

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Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation by Elaine Gould
Need to notate harp pedal changes or marimba rolls? Here’s 700 pages on how to typeset any kind of music for any instrument.

Planning to read:
Barefoot Pilgrimage by Andrea Corr
A memoir by the Irish singer and actress.

Steve Wang
Department of Mathematics & Statistics

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The Dutch House by Ann Patchett [also available as an e-book]
Set in the Philadelphia suburbs, The Dutch House is part fairy tale (including a wicked stepmother) and part family saga, with a gorgeous old house as one of the main characters. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end.  

Planning to read:
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Ann Tyler [request it from the public library]
The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

Barbara Weir
McCabe Library

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Long Bright River by Liz Moore [also available as an e-book]
This book is amazing. It's well-written, it deals with a number of complex issues including addiction, family, and love, and it's set in Philadelphia. An interesting perspective on the city's heroin epidemic.

Planning to read:
The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss, in honor of 100 years of women's suffrage!

Amanda Whitbred

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The Weight of Ink
by Rachel Kadish [request it from the public library]
Here is a good novel for academics.  This is the story of a senior history scholar and her graduate student discovering documents from 17th century Jews in London. It also tells the 17th century story of the London rabbi and his scribe who were in correspondence with Spinoza and other contemporary intellectuals.

Planning to read:
Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are by John Kaag [request it from the public library]

Roderick Wolfson
Capital Planning & Project Management

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Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
I love it. It is a kind of believable science fiction classics. The translation is absolutely excellent. I would highly recommend for all people even those who do not like science fiction. It is also a book about life and philosophy of life.

Liliya Yatsunyk
Department of Chemistry