2014 Summer Reading List

Swarthmore Students Reading (1967), via Friends Historical Library

Welcome to this year's Summer Reading List! After the winter-from-hell we've all just experienced, we deserve an endless summer filled with lovely afternoons spent reading on the beach or in a swaying hammock... As usual, our faculty and staff have some wonderful suggestions for books to read in the next few months. So sit back and relax, whether it's on your back deck with a glass of wine by your side, or tucked in a Turkish coffee house with a cup of coffee at your elbow, and enjoy a book or two (or three or four...) from this list. Thank you to everyone who contributed to the list below, and have wonderful summer!!

Meg Spencer
Science Librarian


Peace from Broken Pieces by Iyania Vanzant
The story of the past ten years of Vanzant's life details how she went from being on top of the world as one of Oprah's featured writers and having her own show, to losing her home, her business, and her daughter on Christmas day. But it is not just a book of sad tales, it is also a book of victories. Vanzant details how she overcame the obstacles and the pain to the point where she is back on top. I couldn't put the book down!

Planning to read: The Favored Daughter: One Woman's Fight to Lead Afghanistan Into the Future by Fawzua Koefi

Renee Atkinson, Gift Planning


American Pastoral by Philip Roth
I had read other books by Roth, but this one is the best. A Pulitzer prize winner, it's vaguely autobiographical about growing up in Newark, New Jersey (Nathan Zuckerman is his alter ego). Very complex and layered story about his friend "Swede" Levov.

Planning to read: Plot Against America by Philip Roth [also available in Audio]
Also set during his childhood in Newark, but this novel is about what would have happened if Charles Lindbergh had been elected president in 1940 instead of FDR.

Michael Brown, Physics & Astronomy


The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld
A death-row inmate narrates a lyrical and deeply-moving story of the fantastic world he perceives with and beyond his limited reality.

Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient by Michael Ruhlman

Paula A. Dale, Facilities & Services


Je Anne Boleyn: Struck with the Dart of Love by Sandra Vasoli
My mother has just published her first book, which is an historical fiction novel. She has researched the book for the past few years and it is historically accurate down to the most minute detai. She gained access to the love letters from Henry VII to Anne Boleyn in the Papal Library.

Planning to read: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan [also available in Audio]

Stacy Dougherty, Biology


Brain on Fire: My Months of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Hands-down, this is my favorite book of the year! Susanna, 24, a recent college graduate, was working as a reporter at the New York Times. She began exhibiting psychotic behavior and as time went on, could not function. Her parents were convinced that a medical problem was causing the sudden change in their daughter's behavior - and they were right - but it took almost a year of being caught in a frustrating maze of doctors/hospitals/testing. Cahalan's message is that many young adults being treated for schizophrenia have a treatable disease which does not have to result in a sometimes lifetime sentence in a mental hospital.

Anna Everetts, Asian Studies


The Parasite by Michel Serres
Serres is a literary-minded philosopher of science. Through a series of idiosyncratic readings of moments of parasitism in La Fountaine's Fables, Serres offers a complex theory of social relations. "If some equilibrium exists or ever existed somewhere, somehow, the introduction of a parasite in the system immediately provokes a difference, a disequilibrium. Immediately, the system changes; time has begun."

Planning to read: Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity by Gregory Bateson

Christopher Fraga, Sociology & Anthropology


The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
"... a tale of transformation, second chances, why we read and why we love." A wonderful book which is set in a book store. I wish I could go to A.J.'s store....

Planning to read: The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh
Planning to read: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Planning to read: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

Diane Fritz, Biology Department



We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
An amazing, enthralling novel that is really a grand magic act, seducing you with a smart & funny "family saga" narrative that hides at its core dark & terrible secrets. Fowler draws upon her immense skills as a storyteller, which we've seen before in her novels from Sarah Canary to The Jane Austen Book Club. But this is likely the book that all of those previous novels were preparing her to write. Once you start, you won't be able to walk away from it.

Planning to read: Chance by Kem Nunn
Nun has been call the "heir to the tradition of Raymond Chandler and Nathanael West" and he has certainly filled those shoes with his previous California-based novels.

Greg Frost, Fiction Writing Workshop


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt [also available in Audio and Online]
It was one of the best, ever...

Cindy Halpern, Political Science


The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince by Jane Ridley
A well-written, interesting book filled with details about "Bertie", the oldest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, this biography is entertaining and easy to read. The author uses her extensive research to support her view of Edward VII as a prince who evolved into a hardworking and effective model king.

Planning to read: The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Terry Heinrichs, Cornell Science Library


Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
I had read bits and pieces of Nelson Mandela's autobiography, but reading the entire book from start to finish made an even greater impact on me. The story, although painful to read at many points, is full of incredible stories of resilience, resistance, and happiness even in the worst of circumstances. You also get to see how Mandela learned from the greatness of others in leading his extraordinary life.

The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer

Ayse Kaya, Political Science


Straw Dogs by John Gray
Don't read this book if you are feeling depressed because Gray is unsparing. DO read this book if you want to challenge your preconceptions about who we as humans are. Many of Gray's insights are primal, deep and brilliant. Even if you don't agree with them completely, they will force you to consider new perspectives and re-evaluate old ones. He rips right through layers of illusions we have about ourselves, some of which originated centuries ago and have become so deeply rooted in our collective psyche that we might never question them.

Steps Going Down by John T. McIntyre
A 1936 novel by a little known, though prolific Philadelphian who at the time of the book's publishing was 65 years old and had already been a writer across many genres for 50 years. He was born and lived his entire life in Northern Liberties. The appeal of the book is its intimate depiction of early 20th century Philadelphia and its people. Even though not of the same literary caliber, it's reminiscent of Balzac in its social realism.

Planning to read: Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes by Tamin Ansary [also available online]
My son told me that this book had the same effect on him as Howard Zinn's The 20th Century: A People's History. It gave him another side of the story, another perspective through which he gained a more complete picture of world history.

John Kelly, Biology


This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
This is a collection of Patchett's magazine and blog pieces about friendship, marriage, courtship, death (of friends & family), controversy (she was nearly pilloried when her book "Truth & Beauty" about her friend Lucy Grealy, was selected as Clemson's freshman reader), and more. Patchett writes with warmth and sensitivity about the big and small things in life.

Planning to read: Local Souls: Novellas by Allen Gurganus
Gurganus was Patchett's writing professor at Sarah Lawrence. This comic novel has described as "bring[ing] the twisted hilarity of Flannery O'Connor kicking into our new century".

Planning to read: Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young

Sherri Kimmel, Communications Office


The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri [also available Online]
I was going to submit Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, but knew that was going to be everyone's best book, but another highlight for me was Lahiri's novel. Lahiri captures the bond beween two brothers, opposites in temperament. One brother remains in India to fight for his political beliefs: the other goes to the U.S. to pursue an academic career. As usual, the author captures the family dynamics and relations with wonderful prose -- I can easily imagine that this book will be adapted for the screen, since the personalities are written with so much detail.

Planning to read: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman [also available in Audio]
Planning to read: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Amy McColl, McCabe Library


 

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
A play on Snow White, this bizarre fairy tale feels off-kilter and magical from its opening page. On a snowy night in 1953, downtrodden blonde heroine Boy Novak escapes the clutches of her abusive father and takes refuge in a small New England town. There she marries a widower raising a lovely raven-haried girl named Snow. When Boy gives birth to their daughter, Bird - who, to Boy's surprise, is born black - it's revealed that her husband comes from a line of African-Americans passing as white. For reasons that aren't exactly evil, Boy falls into the role of the image-obsessed stepmother and banishes Snow to live with Arturo's secret dark-skinned sister, raising Bird herself.

Planning to read: Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia

Kara McDonald, Development & Reunion Giving


Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman [also available in Audio]
American Gods is one of my favorite books of all time, so I was excited to read another book by Gaiman. Neverwhere did not disappoint. It is a modern adult fairytale. The whole idea of an alternate world existing alongside our own, in the shadows beyond our notice, is fascinating. As always, Gaiman does an incredible job of intertwining fantasy and the contemporary world.

Planning to read: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd [also available in Audio]

Satya Nelms, Wellness Program


We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This is a heartbreaking look at a family immersed in a social science experiment with a happy(ish) ending. I considered selecting The Orphan Master's Son, but decided it was too harrowing to recommend...

Planning to read: Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman & Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Nikki Senecal, Development & Alumni Relations/Stewardship


The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters by Benjamin Ginsberg
Ginsberg, a professor of political science at Johns Hopkins, examines the rise of the all-administrative university.

Planning to read: I almost never "plan" my reading. I read things I stumble upon in the library, or read read books that people tell me about...

Helene Shapiro, Math & Statistics Department


The Electric Life of Michael Faraday by Alan Hirschfeld
The Man Who Changed Everything by Basil Mahon
These two books describe the lives of two scientists (Michael Faraday & James Clerk Maxwell) who ushered in modern physics by inventing the classical theory of electromagnetism. Together these books tell a story of the interplay between experiment and theory, imagination and knowledge, that characterizes the human mind at its creative peak.

Planning to read: Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino

Tristan Smith, Physics & Astronomy


Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Brunt's debut novel is a heartbreaking coming-of-age story set during the AIDS epidemic of the late-80's. Told from the POV of 14-year-old June, it is the tale of her coming to terms with the death of her beloved uncle, a celebrated artist in New York City.

Planning to Read: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman [also available in Audio]

Meg Spencer, Cornell Science Library


All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani '94
This is the 3rd book in Chris' trilogy (A Kiss from Maddalena and The Saint of Lost Things are books one and two), which is about Italians who immigrated from Italy after World War II, and settled in the Philadelphia / Wilmington area. Each book is devoted to a different generation of the family, with the final book taking place fifty years after Antonio Grasso married Maddalena Piccinelli and came to America. The New York Times describes Castellani's trilogy as "novels that with their mellifluous, gently satirical style and dark, elegiac heart, form something of an opera buffa of the immigrant experience". Castellani is the artistic director of Grub Street, a non-profit creative writing center in Boston, and was recently awarded a Guggenheim fellowship for fiction. He also taught Swarthmore's Advanced Fiction Workshop last Fall.

Planning to Read: Buddhist Biology by David Barash

Amy Vollmer, Biology


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt [also available in Audio and Online]
The New York Times called it "Dickensian" and it truly is. But it is also a coming of age story that speaks to the power of art.

Planning to Read: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown [also in Audio]

Planning to Read: Call the Midwife Trilogy by Jennifer Worth
I don't want to wait for season 4 of the PBS series to see what happens next...

Barb Weir, McCabe Library


City of Thieves by David Benioff
I read this book after it was recommended by a friend who always gives me great books to read, but I was skeptical I would enjoy it as it's not my typical novel. Set in World War II and the siege of Leningrad, this novel follows an unlikely pair of young men, Lev & Kolya, who are tasked with an impossible mission: to find fresh eggs in starving Leningrad to make a wedding cake. The boys are a bit crass (there is basically a whole plot line dedicated to Kolya's bowel movements, or lack thereof) but their friendship is amazing to witness. The wonderful writing and the layer of WWII history I knew basically nothing about won me over and made this my favorite book of the past year.

Planning to read: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi

Amanda Whitbred, Development & Alumni Relations