2015 Summer Reading List
Welcome to the 7th Annual Swarthmore College Library's summer reading list! The miserable winter is a distant memory, and now it's time for summer (reading). The gloomseekers have toned down predictions of the death of the book, independent bookstores are flourishing, and our libraries continue to provide access to amazing books in all formats. Once again Swarthmore College's staff & faculty have come up with diverse titles for our annual summer reading list. Each contributor has selected their favorite book from the past year, and has also provided the title of a book they plan to read in the coming summer months. There's something for everyone here: classics, non-fiction, poetry, memoirs, bestsellers and more. The most mentioned title this year was Anthony Doerr's amazing novel, All The Light We Cannot See. You might want to visit your local bookstore to buy a copy of that one for your very own... Whatever you end up reading, enjoy it and have a wonderful summer!
Building Stories by Chris Ware
It's a book that can truly be read in any order, at any pace; your perception is informed by the perspective you begin with and the tactility of handling the stories as you read them. Building Stories shows that all life is interconnected and important, including the bee squashed on the front step of the apartment building, though the characters may never get to realize it.
Planning to read:
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
After a flu wipes out most of the Earth's population, a group of actors travel through the wreckage and bring art to those who remain. While most post-apocalyptic novels are violent and muscular, St. John Mandel's is, while not exactly non-violent, surprisingly delicate. Intersecting plot lines tell us of a fading Hollywood star, a medic, and a would-be messiah, as well as those traveling players. It's poetic and bleak but also hopeful. I loved this novel; it's an argument for humanity for anyone who is tired of zombies.
Being Mortal: Medicine & What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
This is an enlightening book about end of life care and how it evolved over the last 100 years supported with eye-opening research. The author's masterful personal story telling of his grandfather, his father and his relatives' end of life experiences lends perfectly to the topic. It is alarming to read that the medical profession has mishandled aging and death. What strikes me most is the author's revelation that the doctors' inability to confront the fact of death has prevented them from counseling patients wisely. He argued that ultimately the goal of medicine should be to provide not only a good life but also a good and dignified end. [Also available as an e-book]
Planning to read: Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls
Information Technology Services
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
A fascinating story of survival in WWII. Hillenbrand tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an accomplished Olympic athlete before joining the war as a bombardier. An inspiring story that keeps the reader captivated from beginning to end. Note: Please read before seeing the movie...
Planning to read: Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey by Reid Mitenbuler
Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett ‘92
I recently read Haslett's novel, a book the Esquire reviewer touted as the "first great novel of the new century" when it came out in 2010. It is not only well written, but well imagined and delivered. You might expect a novel that deals with the financial world and its minions to be dry but this one is deeply engaging, peopled with the most interesting and bedeviling characters. It’s a great read which I heartily recommend.
Planning to read: Journey by James Michener '29
Maurice G. Eldridge ‘61
Solaris by Stanisław Lem
I get to read this every other year when I teach Russian and EE Science Fiction, but it doesn't get old. You may know it as the basis for Andrei Tarkovsky's (much altered) film, or from Steven Soderbergh's more recent film adaptation. Combining science fiction, a critique of the discourse of science, and a clear-eyed examination of the nature of human consciousness.
Cyberiad: Fables for the Cyberetic Age by Stanislaw Lem
Full of wordplay, and brilliantly translated by Michael Kandel
Planning to Read: Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart
Planning to read: How To Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
A stunning novel that dances on the edge of sf/fantasy for readers who don’t usually go near those genres. Atkinson’s compelling narrative drives us through the possible lives of Ursula Todd, branches that lead us through wars and accidents and assassinations, through time lines where Ursula dies at birth, or in childhood accidents, or during the Blitz, and so forth.
Kate Atkinson’s remarkable skill as a storyteller breathes new life into Ursula time and again, and the reader is well rewarded for the journeys. Highly recommended. [Also available as an e-book and audio book].
Planning to read: Updraft by Fran Wilde
Running Blind - Lee Child
Perfect summer reading by the beach, or in the back yard in the sun (best served with a cold drink by the side). A real page-turner, it is the fourth book in the Jack Reacher series (you do not need to read them in order!), and it keeps you guessing at all times. I might have read it in 2-3 days since I wasn't able to put it down... If you enjoy it, read the rest of the series!
Planning to Read: The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas
Modern Languages and Literatures Department
Planning to read:
The Buddha Walks into a Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation by Lodro Rinzler
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee by Marja Mills
Mills recounts the simple and private day-to-day life of Harper Lee. It clarifies the rumors and truths of her commitment to her family and true close friends. Having fame did not change Lee's opinions or morals that were instilled in her.
Kohlberg Coffee Bar
Nora Webster: A Novel by Colm Toibin
Set in rural Ireland about fifty years ago, this novel focuses on Nora's journey as a young widow with four children. She struggles with the sympathy of neighbors, her children's difficulties, and her desire to remain the woman she became through her marriage to Maurice, a well-loved teacher. Toibin shows great empathy towards her in his writing and reveals a sensitive understanding of a woman's thoughts and emotions. [Also available as an audio book]
Planning to read: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
Beautiful, well-written and engaging story set in WWII. Weaves the story of a blind girl in France raised among the specimens of a Natural History museum with a German boy who is fascinated with science, skilled in radio building and gets dragged into the military. [Also available as an audio book]
Planning to read: The Shell Collector: Stories by Anthony Doerr
The Dead Key by D.M Pully
This book does not disappoint. For 20 years a bank has kept its secret regarding fraud and their staff’s disappearances. That is until Iris, an engineer working in the bank, discovers forgotten safety deposit boxes and a dead key which causes the mystery to unravel. This book intertwines both eras and is hard to put down or forget.
On A Farther Shore: The Life & Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder
This book really gives you the nitty gritty life of Rachel Carson. How she was the sole breadwinner for her family and battled breast cancer while writing Silent Spring. Her love the the ocean, her romantic friendship with Dorothy Freeman and her passion for her work and how Silent Spring changed everything forever.
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
Second novel from an immigrant author following the story of his parents’ lives in Ethiopia (briefly), marriage and move to the U.S., interwoven with his own story of growing up years influenced by the instability of his parents’ marriage and his own as it falls apart also. My description does not do justice to the book. Numerous awards for this book and his first book.
Planning to read: The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
Development / Alumni Relations Office
Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.
The writing is phenomenal! It has everything: history, suspense (even though you know the outcome), even a little romance. It’s a great story about great men. I laughed out loud and I cried. The way the author describes how a crew team works; the sounds, the sights, I truly felt I was on the river with them. I LOVED this book! [Also available as e-book and audio book]
Mary Lou Lawless
Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
I have tried to read Pynchon in the past and I could never get through Gravity's Rainbow or V. But when I saw that there would be a movie version of Inherent Vice coming out last year I was inspired to read this book at the suggestion of a good friend, and I'm very glad I did. The dialogue was snappy and intelligent, the names of the characters were hilarious, and the story kept my attention throughout. Perhaps Pynchon's most accessible book.
The Good Food Revolution by Will Allen
Allen's ability to overcome obstacles and note them more as opportunities makes urban farming seem possible. His spirit comes through in this book and might make you want to get started on your block! This was the 3rd book read by the Staff/Faculty Book Club this year. [Also available as an e-book]
Planning to read: All of the Flavia de Luce mysteries by C. Alan Bradley
Dear Committee Members: a Novel by Julie Schumacher
This fabulous little book is an academic novel told through a series of letters of recommendation. It is both laugh-out-loud funny and sad. There are many truths here.
Dante's Divine Comedy (translated) by Clive James
Art History Department
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Categorized as poetry but largely written in prose and incorporating images, this is essential reading in this era of increased attention around police brutality and the #blacklivesmatter movement. Rankine thoughtfully examines race, noting microagressions from friends and colleagues to discussing more prominent figures and national headlines, from Serena Williams to the murder of Trayvon Martin. This book was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. Worth noting, it was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, which is indicative of its genre-blending form.
Planning to read: The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art / Reinventing Comics both by Scott McCloud.
I am not a huge fan of the superhero genre or manga, and therefore had never considered reading graphic novels. However, these two books about comics (written in the form of a comic), helped me to better understand the art form and the broad range of topics and styles of art that are covered in the genre, and inspired me to read many graphic novels afterwards. [Check out the TEDTalk by Scott McCloud - Understanding Comics]
Planning to read: Showa 1953-1989 by Shigeru Mizuki
Andrea Pien '08
In Sunlight and in Shadow, Mark Halprin
Love story taking place in NYC shortly after end of WWII. Finding it very engaging. There is an openness and vulnerability in the writing which draws me into the characters, the issues they confront and how they interact with each other around them. Actually listening to this one on my commute and find myself wishing it was a little longer so I can hear what happens next.
Planning to read: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed [Also available as e-book and audio book]
Information Technology Services
Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
(I know I'm late to the party). Walls' memoir of her unconventional childhood--raised by an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother--is notable in its detail and even-handedness. The nomadic adventures that this combination sparked--and the grinding poverty--provide a wild ride for both the family and reader. The presentation of her parents is affectionate, generous, and never judgmental, which is truly impressive. Walls is an excellent storyteller with a remarkable story to tell.
Planning to Read: Erasure by Percival Everett
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
This is the first book I'd ever read by Canadian author Toews, and I plan to read her earlier books this summer. The title, taken from a Coleridge poem (I had no idea the word 'puny' would have been used back then), and the cool orange cover, got me to read this book about which I knew nothing. I don't remember reading a book which had me nearly in tears one minute, and laughing out loud the next. I actually started writing down clever passages from the book, I'm not really sure why, but there were sentences and paragraphs I wanted to remember after I'd finished the book. I could write them down here (since I am the creator of the list and who is to stop me-?), but you'll have to read the book and find them yourself... Ok, I'll share one, since it's about Libraries: "Books are what save us. Books are what don't save us... What had she said about libraries & civilization? Because you make a promise, she'd said. You promise to return the book. You promise to come back. What other institution operates on such good faith-??"
The Swarthmore Summer Scholars Program (faculty, student mentors and students) will be reading:
Whistling Vivaldi: and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us by Claude M Steele (the entire freshman class at Princeton is reading it before they arrive on campus
The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
The Prodigal God by Tim Keller
I found this short book to be powerful and greatly encouraging. It offers a fresh perspective on the parable of Jesus that’s often referred to as “The Prodigal Son.” Author Tim Keller argues that while the common modern interpretive focus of the parable is almost exclusively on the younger of the story’s two brothers, the real power of Christ’s lesson is realized when equal consideration is given to the prideful older brother and the relationship of each son with the father. By considering the story within its historical context the reader can more fully understands the intended lessons of redemption and spiritual separation from God.
Planning to read: Post Captain by Patrick O’Brian
Development / Alumni Relations Office
Planning to read: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides.
When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine by Monica Wood
The Woods are a typical family in Mexico, Maine until their father dies on his way to work at the Oxford Paper Company one morning. In this beautifully written memoir Monica shares her family’s grief through the filtered lens of her nine-year-old self.
Planning to read: The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir
Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples. (Volume 1)
It's as epic as the title promises, and probably will never be converted to a TV show or movie. Takes the consequences of its well-developed characters decisions seriously, especially regarding violence. A graphic novel that defies description but is absolutely worth following as it unravels -- it's still being published! Not for kids.
Planning to read: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.
Wes Willison ‘12
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
Does the art world--its critics, its patrons, and its artists--respond differently to work created by women than by men? The Blazing World's protagonist, female artist Harriet Burden, seeks the answer to that question through the mounting of an elaborate ruse: she creates three art works and has male artists present each work as their own. The relationship between Harriet and her male fronts, however, becomes increasingly complicated and blurred when, after the huge critical and commercial success of the third exhibition, her male artist-accomplice refuses to acknowledge participation in Harriet's scheme, instead denouncing her as a delusional fraud. Hustvedt's novel is an astounding feat of world-building--what we get isn't a straightforward chronicle of Harriet's feminist-minded deceptions, but rather a shifting, slippery narrative composed of diary entries, magazine articles, letters, interview transcriptions, and critical pieces. Basically, she had me at the (very apt) Cavendish allusion in the title, but the intellectually complex, emotionally engaging, and wonderfully rendered story kept me obsessively reading.
Jasmine M. Woodson
One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir by Binyavanga Wainaina
A colleague at Haverford, Jesse Shipley brought Binyavanga Wainaina (Kenya) to his campus for a discussion of this memoir as part of a Trico celebration of the 50th anniversary publication of Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God. Wainaina's talk was at turns informative and entertaining on the ins and outs of publishing as an "African" and more seriously enlightening as he spoke from the position of a writer in diaspora. I read his memoir after hearing him speak and love the way he fluidly weaves together his awakening intellect and education as a young boy with the history of his family and his nation.
Planning to Read:
On Resistance: A Philosophy of Defiance by Howard Caygill
French & Francophone Studies Department