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What We’re Reading This Summer: Book Suggestions from Staff, Faculty, and Students

Summer Reads 2023

For the 15th consecutive year, the Swarthmore Libraries released its list of summer reading recommendations from staff, faculty, and students. Dedicated in memory of science librarian and “ultimate book lover” Meg Spencer, who passed away in 2015, the list includes personal accounts of Swarthmoreans’ favorite titles, with an array of authors, eras, and genres.

“As always, it’s an impressively well-rounded list!” Scholarly Communications Librarian Maria Aghazarian says of this year’s 36 recommendations.

“Highlights include learning from and connecting deeply with nature (Outdoor Kids in an Inside World, The One-Straw Revolution), science fiction selections from modern masters to new debuts (Aurora, The Space Between Worlds), and books to help us engage in reflection and introspection (Like Streams to the Ocean, The Book of Five Rings),” she says, while other readers intend to revisit classics (Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy).

Read on for more selections from this summer’s list, and be sure to check out the full list and those of previous years. With roughly 350 recommendations in all, there is truly something for everyone — not unlike the offerings and opportunities that abound in libraries.

Below is a sample of 10 recommendations from the community:

Andrea BaruzziElaine Allard ’01, Director, Teaching & Learning Commons, Associate Professor of Educational Studies

Foster by Claire Keegan

“This novella is set in Ireland and told from a child's perspective. The writing is spare but very vivid — I was left with a strong sense of light and shadow and fresh air.”

Rachel BuurmaGregory Frost, Visiting Instructor, English Literature

Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

“Robinson’s novel sets the definitive high bar for generation-ship science fiction, mixing humanist and hard SF in a perfect balance.”

Planning to read: Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy by Park Honan

Nora KellyAtticus Hempel ’25, a Philosophy Major from Storrs, Conn.

The River Why by David James Duncan

“This is a relatively undervalued book which, I believe, rivals that of The Old Man and the Sea for its beautiful and powerful depictions of nature and the human spirit.”

Planning to read: "This summer, I will reread some Dostoyevsky."

Elena LeeSuzanne Janczewski, Registered Nurse

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

“Equally heartbreaking and heart-healing … a GORGEOUS and captivating story of family and friendship … beginning in the AIDS epidemic in 1985 Chicago and continuing through to today.”

Planning to read: What is the What: the Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a Novel by Dave Eggers

Rebecca MichelsonNia King, Editorial Specialist

Here I Stand by Paul Robeson

“Paul Robeson was way ahead of his time in terms of opposing apartheid in South Africa and supporting the liberation of colonized African countries. His belief in solidarity with all the workers of the world, and in the power of folk music to bring people together across cultures, is really inspiring.”

Planning to read: Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: 40 Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith by Alethia Jones and Virginia Eubanks

Mariam MuhammadEduardo Martín Macho, Instructor of Spanish

Creation by Gore Vidal

“The novel tells the story of Cyrus Spitama, a fictional Persian diplomat and grandchild of Zoroaster, who travels across the ancient world in search of enlightenment while being the representative of the Achaemenid Empire. He will encounter historical figures such as Buddha, Confucius, or Socrates. Although very easy to read, you will find yourself at times reflecting on how you understand your own existence, morality, and purpose in life.”

Planning to read: Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf

Kristen RecineAmy McColl, Associate Director for Collection Management & Discovery and Curator, Rare Book Room

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

“A clever retelling of David Copperfield set in Appalachia in the late 20th century, with an engaging title character and lots of humor and tragedy woven throughout. It focuses on the early days of the opioid crisis in rural America and its impacts on poor communities. I was drawn into the story from the first page and while this is a very long novel, it's worth the read.”

Planning to read: Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton, I Am Still With You by Emmanuel Iduma

Nikki SenecalRebecca Michelson, Electronic Resources Specialist

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton

“One of the most moving comics I’ve read. Beaton is a master of her craft and she tells her story with so much tenderness.”

Planning to Read: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Andres VillalbaKayla Nicholas ’26, a Prospective Economics and Political Science Major from Brooklyn, N.Y.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

“It truly lives up to its name as being the best war novel of all time. The author places the reader into the mindset of the soldier at war, allowing us to understand how youth, dreams, and life are lost in the midst of battle.”

Planning to read: The Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake [request it from the public library]

Steve WangRoderick Wolfson, Senior Planner/Project Manager

A Laodicean by Thomas Hardy

“This second-tier Hardy novel is an engaging melodramatic story of a love triangle that consists of a railroad builder's daughter (appropriately named Miss Powers), a military suitor from an old family, and a young architect. As Hardy started his career as an architect, the novel provides a wonderful depiction of mid-19th century architectural education and the architect as master-builder.”

Planning to read: The Choreography of Everyday Life by Annie-B Parson

Want to add a recommendation? Email Maria Aghazarian

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