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Swarthmore Staff, Faculty Recommend 8+ Books to Read This Summer

library book sale

A voracious reader, Maria Aghazarian often feels obligated to read bestsellers. But it’s the books vouched for by colleagues and friends that truly compel her.

“I prefer personal recommendations reassuring me, Yes, this one was worth it!” says the digital resources and scholarly communications specialist for the libraries.

Enter the Swarthmore summer reading recommendations list, now in its 11th year. Dedicated in memory of science librarian and “ultimate book lover” Meg Spencer, the list offers suggestions from faculty and staff from around the College, including both a favorite title from the past year and a book they plan on reading this summer.

Variety in subject matter and profile abounds.

“I relish the chance to discover older hidden gems that I might not have otherwise encountered,” adds Aghazarian, citing a selection from this year’s list on the history of photocopying.

Another highlight from this year, she says, is Infinity Standing Up, whose author, Drew Pisarra, retweeted the list on Twitter.

“I thought that was very sweet,” says Aghazarian. “I love it when authors interact with us.”

Read on for personal selections from this summer’s list, and be sure to check out the full list for this year as well as lists from past years. With more than 300 recommendations in all, there is truly something for everyone.


Andrea BaruzziAndrea Baruzzi, Science Librarian, Cornell Library: Circe 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.”

Planning to read: The Overstory by Richard Powers


David ForemanDavid Foreman, Director of Institutional Relations, Advancement: anything written by Iris Murdoch

“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 blackmail, a mysterious suicide, petulant teens, dangerous sea caves, and a web of unrequited loves.”

Planning to read: Rachel Cusk’s The Country Life [request it from the public library]


Gregory FrostGregory Frost, Visiting Instructor of English Literature: 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


Nabil KashyapNabil Kashyap, Librarian for Digital Initiatives + Scholarship, McCabe Library: 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


Lauren McLoonLauren McAloon, Administrative Assistant, Communications: 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.”

Second selection: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Planning to read: Normal People by Sally Rooney


Amy Cheng VollmerAmy Cheng Vollmer, Isaac H. Clothier Jr. Professor of Biology: 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 cast 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.”

Second selection: Educated by Tara Westover

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