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Summer Reading Recommendations: 2021

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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Spellbound: A Graphic Memoir by Bishakh Som

Thanks to Sager funding Bishakh was able to visit Swarthmore virtually this year! Incredibly talented and incredibly humble, she's a total joy to connect with. This diary-style memoir captures beautifully poignant moments of relationships, both with others and the self, and a very long list of red wine recommendations.

Planning to read:

Tales from the Ant World by Edward O. Wilson

With each passing year, I enjoy reading nonfiction more and more. I heard about Edward O. Wilson from Doug Tallamy, thanks to Scott Arboretum hosting him for a virtual talk (don't worry, you can still watch the recording!). I hope to do a lot of yard work this summer to transform my small yard into a haven full of native plants.

Maria Aghazarian
McCabe Library

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The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett
Beautifully written and engaging, this is "an ambitious meditation on race and identity, [that] considers the divergent fates of twin sisters, born in the Jim Crow South..." - NYT

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I also enjoyed Station Eleven (also available as an e-book) by Emily St. John Mandel and The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste.

Planning to read:
Peaces: a novel by Helen Oyeyemi

Andrea Baruzzi
Cornell Science Library

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Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout [also available as an e-book]

The book brings back the cantankerous but lovable character of Olive Kitteridge from her previous novel, as well introducing the reader to the lives and stories of other characters from the fictional town of Crosby, Maine that are poignant, quirky and achingly human. Strout is a masterful writer and these characters will live on in your mind and heart long after you finish reading.

Planning to read:

Actress by Anne Enright [access the e-book from the public library]

Caren Brenman
Department of Art and Art History

The City We Became
by N.K. Jemisin
It’s a fun introduction to Jemisin’s work (less intense than The Fifth Season imo) and a really unique concept. Jemisin’s writing brings the city of New York to life (pun intended) to the point that it nearly makes up for not being able to visit during The Plague™.

Planning to read:
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire [request it from the public library]
A book on my reading list (that’s been there way longer than I care to admit)

Thomas Daillak
Class of 2022

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The Alchemist
by Paulo Coelho
(Especially the audiobook read by Jeremy Irons)
This is a fantastic story of a young man as he seeks his "Legend" (life-quest, dream) and the people, experiences and lessons he learns along the way. It is the kind of book you can pull from differently depending what is happening in your own life journey. It's an uplifting read to remind us to live in today and enjoy the journey.

Ali Danilak
Department of Biology

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The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

Planning to read:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann [also available as an e-book]

Betsy Durning
Department of Psychology

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by Susanna Clarke

This is a bizarre mystery and highly anticipated second novel from Clarke, who wrote Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in 2004. It's nothing like her debut, but it knocked my socks off; trust me and pick it up without reading anything about the plot or premise.

Planning to read:
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth

This book has all the elements I tend to love in a novel - a story-within-a-story and queer gothic mystery at a haunted boarding school. I'm planning to read it on a beach vacation for maximum escapism.

Emily Higgs
Friends Historical Library

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My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem [access the e-book from the public library]
This book is just so thoughtful and comprehensive. I've learned so much about trauma, how it manifests and how we can begin to heal.

Planning to read:
Big Friendship (How We Keep Each Other Close) by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman [access the e-book from the public library]

Lorin Jackson
McCabe Library

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The Water Dancer
by Ta-Nehisi Coates [also availabble as an e-book]
I first fell in love with Coates' brilliant mind reading his essays and short pieces in The Atlantic; this book sealed my life long adoration.

Planning to read:
Sunflower Sisters by Martha Hall Kelly [access the e-book from the public library]

Suzanne Janczewski
Worth Health Center

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I see this has already been recommended once, but I’m including it anyway since it’s a book I keep thinking about.  The (somewhat mysterious) central character really grew on me.

Planning to read:
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir.

Eric Jensen
Department of Physics and Astronomy

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by Temple Drake
It's an eerie supernatural gothic set in modern Shanghai and it plays with setting, time and atmosphere in a unique way. I found the characters and contrasting Eastern and Western perspectives compelling and think it's an interesting read.

Planning to read:

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro [also available as an e-book]
I've read a few chapters so far and it's characteristic of his classical take on science fiction.

Devyani Mahajan

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The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow
A reimagined Salem Witch Trials with three spirited sisters! This book kept surprising me, I kept thinking how will it end from here? If you liked The Ten Thousand Doors of January, you'll like this one!

Planning to read:
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Lauren McAloon

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Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir
by Deborah Miranda
A mosaic of poetry, archival papers, images, personal history.

Planning to read:
Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin [request it from the public library]
Because I'm an efficiency junkie

Jen Moore
Department of History

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To All the Yellow Flowers
by Raya Tuffaha

She beautifully blends historic form and her identity into a poignant, refreshing collection of spoken-word poems that can send any reader on a roller coaster of emotions.

Planning to read:
The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht [also available as an e-book]

Tammy Pham
Class of 2024

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

One book I read this semester that I really enjoyed was Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" about a murder on a small liberal arts college campus; I enjoyed it because so much of it got the vibe of what Swarthmore is like perfectly.

Planning to read:

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro [also available as an e-book]

Martin Rakowszczyk
Class of 2022

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The Good and the Good Book
by Samuel Fleischacker [also available as an e-book]

Planning to read:
The Non-Existence of the Real World by Jan Westerhoff [available as an e-book]

Sagar Rao
Class of 2022

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Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

It is ornately written and uncomfortably and deftly places the reader into the mind of another.

Planning to read:
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro [also available as an e-book]

Jake Rothman
Class of 2023

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The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.
by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
Time-travel, hard sci-fi, and the extinction of magic, all mixed with Stephenson's existential satire. Funny, twisty, with a great story based on an intriguing premise at the center of this typically lengthy Stephenson book.

Planning to read:
The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams [access the e-book from the public library]

Vicki Russo
Peace Collection

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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
The title itself probably makes evident why this is so relevant (and potentially helpful) in the current climate where ideological opponents seem to devalue each other's morality and even humanity. This book helped me understand some of the foundations that give rise to conflict, partisanship, and polarization. In exploring these issues, Haidt draws on moral psychology, evolutionary biology, philosophy, cultural anthropology and more.

Jedidiah Siev
Department of Psychology

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by Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor is the author of a series of novellas that I have read this year. The first in the series is "Binti". It is the story of a young woman leaving her close knit family and leaving the world she knows for a far off university. It deals with identity, trauma, and is set in an amazingly vivid world. The whole series is very well done and each is difficult to put down.

Planning to read:
Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells [access the e-book from the public library]
Martha Wells is the author of "The Murderbot Diaries" and I am looking forward to reading the most recent addition, #6 in the series, "Fugitive Telemetry" once it becomes available in my local library. The main character is a Security Robot that becomes self aware and has to start dealing with free will, feelings, and humans not making any sense. It mostly wants to be left alone to watch its fictional dramas, the more unrealistic the better, but it also wants to know its past and choose its future.

Aaron Smith

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Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life by Zena Hitz [also available as an e-book]

Hitz articulates and defends the value of the intellectual life outside of academia. She provides all sorts of stories about how people find intellectual pleasure in their everyday lives and help dispel the myth that the love of learning belongs only to the educated or upper class.

Planning to read:

Think Least of Death: Spinoza on How to Live and How to Die by Steven Nadler [also available as an e-book]

Krista K. Thomason
Department of Philosophy

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Here I Stand by Paul Robeson

I recently read Here I Stand by Paul Robeson and I loved it. I've been recommending it to everyone I can and would love to add it to Swarthmore's recommendation list! This is a relatively short autobiographical piece by the African American activist, leader, scholar, musician, and actor Paul Robeson written at a time when the government was actively repressing his ability to travel and speak with others about the international struggle for Black liberation.  

Planning to read:
No Name in the Street by James Baldwin

Suzanne Thornton
Department of Mathematics and Statistics

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Writings on Music, 1965–2000
by Steve Reich [also available as an e-book]
The pioneering American composer discusses his work and compositional techniques. I found his thoughts on studying Ghanaian drumming, Balinese gamelan, and Hebrew cantillation to be especially enlightening.

Planning to read:
The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski [request it from the public library]

Steve Wang
Department of Mathematics and Statistics

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You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington by Alexis Coe [access the e-book from the public library]
A refreshing departure from the typical presidential biographies written by older white men (or, as Coe refers to them, "thigh men"), this is American history for the girls, gays, and theys.

Planning to read:
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Amanda Whitbred
Communications + College Advancement

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Grammar for a Full Life by Lawrence Weinstein
This book advocates for mindful grammar choices to embody how we want to be in the world and be in relationships. After reading this, I'm thinking about the active versus passive voice in taking responsibility and how my semicolons provide accommodation to the reader.  It is a fun perspective; especially for academics.

Planning to read:
Guesstimation 2.0: Solving Today's Problems on the Back of a Napkin by Lawrence Weinstein

Roderick Wolfson

Facilities + Capital Planning