2006 Summer Reading List
Each spring, the College Store solicits from members of the Bates community their suggestions for good summer reads:
Lee Abrahamsen, Associate Professor of Biology:
Blink — The Power of Thinking WithoutThinking by Malcolm Gladwell
This very engaging book explores the value of making decisions in a moment — in the blink of an eye. Some part intuition, some part experience, and some part keen observation, Gladwell shows us how (and why) our split-second decisions are often just as useful as the decisions we obsess over. Gladwell has written for the New Yorker and the Washington Post, and his style is clear and connected. I enjoyed this one, and am looking forward to reading his other best-seller, The Tipping Point.
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Martin Andrucki, Charles A. Dana Professor of Theater:
Just finished rereading J. Conrad’s Secret Agent, a deeply ironic vision of suicide bombers, circa 1890, written in 1907. Read it and see how little has changed.
Also, G. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, another thriller about nihilists, same era as the Conrad novel, equally relevant.
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Aslaug Asgeirsdottir, Assistant Professor of Political Science:
A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland Indiana by Haven Kimmel
A delightful book about an unusual child. Very funny.
Appetite for Life: A Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch
Great book about a fascinating woman whose career began in earnest in her 50s.
Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now by Gordon Livingston Well the title says it all. Livingston has some interesting observations about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
An African in Greenland by Tete-Michel Kpomassie
A biography about a Togolese man who reads about Greenland as a young boy and is determined to visit the frozen tundra of the north.
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Pam Baker, Helen A. Papaioanou Professor of Biology:
One I really liked was City of Djinns by a British travel writer named William Dalrymple. It was the best portrayal of the Delhi we were living in as any we came across.
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Anna Bartel, Associate Director, Harward Center for Community Partnerships:
I’ve been reading lately:
Gail Godwin’s Evensong
Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow
Jane Austen out my ears
Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti mysteries (set in Venice; much fun)
Len [Anna’s spouse] has been reading Seth Godin, especially All Marketers Are Liars.
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Terry Beckmann, Vice President for Finance and Treasurer:
Mary Higgins Clark: Two Girls in Blue
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Sarah Bernard, Programmer Analyst:
I would like to recommend Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer (a Maine author). A very enjoyable read about an artist who inherits an island on the coast of Maine from her (great?) uncle. Great beach reading!
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Jane Boyle, Library Assistant, Public Service:
Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
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Dennis Brown, Office of College Advancement:
The Mermaid’s Chair, Sue Monk Kidd
An enjoyable, relatively light and imaginative read that offers perspective and insights into the dynamics of long-term relationships and how they grow or die.
When Religion Becomes Evil, Charles Kimball
A timely distillation by an ordained Baptist minister and noted academic theologian of his decades of experience and observations of the inherent dangers in fundamentalist approaches to Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religions.
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Marita Bryant, Assistant in Instruction in Geology:
Roadside Geology of Maine by D. W. Caldwell
Engel in Tiefflug by Heite Gerbig
This is a mystery series set in post-war Berlin, an interesting series if you are into Berlin and read German.
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Ann Bushmiller ’79, Trustee:
Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner
Made me want to cook!
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Sean Campbell, Director of Leadership Giving:
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
I read it last summer — LOVED it.
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Ned Carr, Assistant Treasurer:
Gift of the Jews by Thomas Cahill
It’s about how the ancient Jews, through the development of a moral and legal code of conduct (Ten Commandments et al.), really set the tone and many of the specific details for the Western world’s present-day moral, ethical, and legal framework.
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James Charlesworth, Bookstore Stock Assistant:
First, a couple Maine things:
Fair, Clear, and Terrible by Shirley Nelson
This non-fiction chronicles the Shiloh movement — a Christian-fundamentalist sect, the remnants of whose decrepit fortress still stand on the sand hills above the Androscoggin River in Durham. What makes the story interesting (aside from the local stuff and the megalomaniac at its center) is the personal approach: the author’s parents spent their adolescence as members of the group and met at the compound just after the turn of the century. (And no, this is not a shameless pitch to get people to buy the lovely hardcover copies on display at the college store for the astonishing price of only $9.95.)
We’re All in This Together by Owen King
I’m happy to be the first person ever to recommend this book without mentioning it’s by the son of Stephen King. (Oops.) The short stories that comprise the second half aren’t so hot, but the novella that kicks it off is pretty special. Set in Maine, it tells the story of George, teenage son of a single mother and grandson of a union organizer obsessed with the 2000 election. Anthony Doerr put it best when he called it “hilarious and frequently bizarre but always — somehow — deeply sincere.” And, I think it’s getting ready to come out in paperback.
Some other older stuff I just got around to recently:
Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
If you’re suspicious of any novel capable of spawning a big-trailer movie starring Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz, good for you. But don’t blame Louis if his book got Hollywood-ed. This one has all of his trademark humor and pathos and strangeness, and, unlike some of his other stuff, he manages to keep it all together right to the end.
Salt by Earl Lovelace
This one had me from the opening sentence: “Two months after they hanged his brother Gregoire, king of the Dreadnoughts band, and Louis and Nanton and Man Man, the other three leaders of African secret societies, who Hislop the governor claimed to be ringleaders of an insurrection that had a plan, according to the testimony of a mad white woman, to use the cover of the festivities of Christmas day to massacre the white and free coloured people of the island, Jo-Jo’s great-grandfather, Guinea John, with his black jacket on and a price of two hundred pounds sterling on his head, made his way to the East Coast, mounted the cliff at Mananilla, put two corn cobs under his armpits and flew away to Africa….” (Actually, that’s only the first half of the first sentence, but my fingers got tired.)
The Fall of a Sparrow by Robert Hellenga.
Hellenga seems to know a little bit about everything from classical literature to the blues, from Plato to NATO. Here he pulls it all together to tell the story of a Midwest classics professor overcoming the senseless death of his oldest daughter in an Italian terrorist bombing. (He also has a new novel out in hardcover called Philosophy Made Simple.)
Last but not least, I’ll also pre-recommend two new novels coming out in the fall:
A new one by Jane Hamilton, author of Map of the World, and Short History of a Prince, among others. And the new one by Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander, who’s kept us waiting for a while.
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Margaret Creighton, Professor of History:
I have been listening to audio books and haven’t done much reading lately that I would recommend. However, my mother often recommends to others Saturday by Ian McEwan.
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Marty Deschaines, Volunteer Office Coordinator:
March by Geraldine Brooks
Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
Abide with Me, Elizabeth Strout ’77
The Giver, Gathering Blue, and Messenger, Lois Lowry
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J. K. Rowling
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Vicky Devlin, Vice President for Advancement:
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I was conflicted about wanting to read this book, but it was a gift so I decided to soldier through. Grief is not an easy topic. It is an amazing book; Didion is a magical thinker.
The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
While this is non-fiction, it reads like a detective story. It is the story of the discovery of a lost Carravaggio. The characters alone make it a book that is difficult not to read in one sitting.
Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout ’77
A beautifiully written novel set in small town Shirley Falls, Maine. A minister suffers through a personal crisis that changes not just him but his entire congregation.
The Lobster Coast by Colin Woodard
A crash course about the geology, settlement, social history, triumphs and challenges of life on the Maine coast. A great book of insights and information for someone “from away.”
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Elaine Dumont, Dining Services:
Anything by Tom Robbins!
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Ken Emerson, Associate Director of Human Resources:
I submit for my wife Melinda two books she read this past year by Michael Ondaatje. In the Skin of a Lion which is a predecessor book to his more famousThe English Patient. She did not know he was the author of the English Patient when she read In the Skin of a Lion and was pleasantly surprised when The English Patient carried on the tale.
Also, anyone enjoying outdoor adventure would find Nevada Barr’s mysteries featuring the exploits of National Park Ranger/sleuth Anna Pigeon to be an easy fun read. However, I’m told that herHard Truth novel was somewhat of a disturbing departure from her usual yarn.
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Melinda Emerson [spouse of Ken and submitting for herself!]:
Just wanted to add a book to the “Must Read” list, if it hasn’t been put there already. It’s called The Travelers Gift, by Andy Andrews. A great story and an even GREATER lesson, we could all take to heart. My father in-law gave it to us for Christmas.
Paul Farnsworth, Project Manager, Facility Services:
Give Me a Break by John Stossel
1776 by David McCullough (like this one hasn’t shown up on your lists)
The River of Doubt by Candice Millard
Applied Economics by Thomas Sowell (The Bates library has this one)
Through a Howling Wilderness by Thomas Desjardin (I’m biased on this one. I went to high school with Tom. Tom’s recent presentation at the Lewiston Public Library was very good.)
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Rob Farnsworth, Visiting Assistant Professor of English:
William Trevor,The Story of Lucy Gault (short novel)
Alice Munro, Runaway; Selected Stories (short stories)
John Banville, Athena (novel)
Tobias Wolff, Old School (novel)
Peter Carey, My Life As A Fake (novel)
Brian Turner, Here, Bullet (poems)** excellent, vivid work by an Iraq and Bosnia vet Kay Ryan,Niagara River (poems)
Seamus Heaney, District and Circle (poems) due out in the US soon.
Andrea Barrett, Servants of the Map (stories)
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Sylvia Frederico, Assistant Professor of English:
I liked Elizabeth Strout’s Abide with Me
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Erin Foster Zsiga, Assistant Dean of Students:
My book is one I read to my 22-month-old son every night. How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Nightby Jane Yolen and Mark Teague. It is a rhyming story about going to bed. These authors also writeHow Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Room and How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food.
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Rebecca Fraser-Thill, Visiting Instructor in Psychology:
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
A startling story collection. Particularly remarkable are her use of ordinary details that typically go unnoticed but that tell so much about character. My personal favorite is the first story, “A Temporary Matter,” about a couple’s life after having a still-born child. Remarkably, painfully rendered.
To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee
I revisited this classic for a reading series in my local library and I’m so glad that I did. To find such a pitch-perfect voice, depth of character, and resonance of theme in a book that’s also a true page-turner is, in my opinion, all too rare. This is a book worth revisiting every few years.
Any Bitter Thing, Monica Wood
This novel about a woman who reexamines her past after being hit in a hit-and-run is captivating because of its structure (it moves backward in time while simultaneously moving forward) and the realistically flawed characters. Monica is a Portland-based writer with whom (full disclosure) I’ve taken classes, but I honestly would’ve loved this novel whether I knew her or not. A compelling, quick read.
Dog, Michelle Herman
A cute, short novel about a quirky professor who gets a dog. Not much more than that happens in the novel, but it’s a fun, quick read. And it’s short enough that I almost didn’t notice that nothing happens. Besides, can a book based around a dog really be all that bad? (Wait — don’t answer that!)
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Rebecca Gilden, Mellon Learning Associate:
The Brothers K by David James Duncan
Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I’ve read it 4 times!)
Katz on Dogs by Jon Katz
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Lois Griffiths ’51:
All of my favorite books this year have a Maine twist!
1491: New Revelations of America Before Columbus by Charles Mann has a segment about northeast native culture, although it covers the whole hemisphere with fascinating new insights.
The Lobster Coast by Colin Woodard is a human and natural history of the lobster industry, told by a native son, a real storyteller.
Through a Howling Wilderness by Tom Desjardin is a masterful retelling of the story of the Arnold Expedition to Quebec in 1775, based on the mens’ journals, and garnering uniformly glowing reviews (and his mother works for Bates!)
Voyage of Archangell by James Rosier, annotated by David C. Morey, puts a new spin of the question of which river George Weymouth ascended in 1605, the Penobscot, the St. George or the Kennebec.
And it all happened here!
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Lorraine Groves, Sales Floor Supervisor, College Store:
Daughters of the Earth by Carolyn Niethammer
Chronology of the native American Women past and present. Explores their lives and legends. Reads like rich tapestry!
Abram’s Daughters a series of 5 books written by Beverly Lewis starting with THE COVENANT, THE BETRAYAL, THE SACRIFICE, THE PRODIGAL, and ends with THE REVELATION. Go right into the heart of the Amish in Lancaster County. Bittersweet with some suspense and romance.
Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
Very interesting and good story!
Pineland’s Past by Richard Kimball
Wonderful piece of history right in our back yard!
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Ned Harwood, Associate Professor of Art & Visual Culture:
Cat from Hue by John Laurence
Laurence was a reporter for CBS in Vietnam.
Any of Robert Goddard’s mysteries.
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Tamara Heligman, Maine Campus Compact:
If on a Winters Night a Travelerby Italo Calvino
The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
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Leslie Hill, Associate Professor of Political Science:
For relaxing reading, anything by Alexander McCall Smith or Janet Evanovich. The audio version of The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver was fabulous.
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Bill Hiss ’66, Vice President for External Affairs:
Getting ready to teach a First Year Seminar involving Vietnam and going to Vietnam with our family this spring to let our adopted daughter Jessie see her home country, I have been reading a lot of Vietnamese fiction. A great deal has happened in the last two decades; perhaps since few Americans are aware of modern Vietnamese fiction, this can be a kind of beginner’s punch-list. Only with the arrival of the French in the 1850′s did the Vietnamese begin to write in forms other than poetry and in Vietnamese instead of Chinese. Then after over a century of literary repression by the French and communists, there was an explosion of wonderful fiction starting in the 1980′s as the economic and cultural lids began to come off. Most of this work has only been translated into English in the last decade, and while some of it is about war (the Vietnamese fought five back-to-back wars from the late 1930′s through early 1980′s, including the “American war”), much deals with the complex and fascinating transformation of a feudal oligarchy with an emperor through the wars into the attempt to create a pure communist economy, and now into a cautious evolution into an international market economy.
Dumb Luck, Vu Trong Phung
Regarded as a Vietnamese classic, banned in Vietnam until 1986, a funny satire of the rage for modernization and aping of the French in the late Colonial era.
Duong Tu Huong: Beyond Illusions, Memories of Pure Spring, Novel Without a Name, and Paradise of the Blind
Four expertly written novels about the last century in Vietnam, a loose series that are far more than historical novels, but collectively cover most of the time since WWII in Vietnam.
The Stars, The Earth, The River, Le Minh Khue
14 stories, some harrowing, from an author who was a girl sapper in a youth brigade. Written in the language of a patriotic soldier, but with painful and touching humor.
A Time Far Past, Le Luu
Beautifully written winner of the national prize for fiction in Vietnam, widely read there, and often cited as the most authentic, in that lots of the Vietnamese have experienced the book’s description of the movement of the son of a Confucian scholar in rural Vietnam through war service to trying to adapt to the postwar world of urban Hanoi.
The Sorrow of War, Bau Ninh
Fictional account of a young soldier in war, with brutal detail and great sorrow. Of 500 men in the author’s brigade, he was one of 10 survivors.
Behind the Red Mist, Ho Anh Thai
Short stories dealing with the transformation of life in post-war Vietnam.
The Women on the Island, Ho Anh Thai
Dark humor about the bizarre economic redevelopment projects that tried to put people to work after the wars.
The General Retires and Other Stories andCrossing the River, Nguyen Huy Thiep Stories by a rural writer with a deft hand–a kind of Vietnamese Faulkner who focuses on the world he knows well.
And three anthologies:
Vietnam: A Traveler’s Literary Companion, John Balaban and Nguyen Qui Duc, eds. Seventeen short stories, organized around the geography of Vietnam: the jungles, villages, rivers, Hanoi, HCM City, etc.
Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam, Linh Kinh, ed.
A collection of short fiction, some by authors living in Vietnam, but also including several ex-pats living elsewhere. Like the African-American literary diaspora in France in the early 20th century, a part of Vietnamese fiction is from writers who left for other countries, by choice or necessity.
The Light of the Capital: Three Modern Vietnamese Classics, Greg and Monique Lockhard, edoitors and translators
Two pieces of urban reportage and 1 autobiography. Interesting reading, but more essays on Vietnamese history or culture than fiction.
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Kimberly Hokanson, Director of Alumni and Parent Programs:
Pretending that it was work-related, I dug into Abide with Me, by Bates’ own Elizabeth Strout ’77. Loved it. (Also liked Liz’s first book, Amy & Isabel, but like the new one better). Also recommend anything by Elizabeth Berg. For women approaching the half-century mark, I particularly recommend reading The Pull of the Moon. Also enjoyed Range of Motion, but would have read it at a less hormonally-influenced time of the month if I’d had more of an idea what it was about. Very heart wrenching.
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Jim Hughes, Thomas Sowell Professor of Economics:
Mao: The Unknown Storyby Jung Chang and Jon Halliday
Anything but neutral, the authors spent over a decade combing archives and conducting interviews to write this biography of Chairman Mao. The compilation of information is impressive, and the work will change anyone’s view of the Great Helmsman’s role in China’s history.
Not beach reading, or even light reading, but a thoroughly engaging read for those who like history.
John Illig, Men’s and Women’s Squash Coach:
Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace
1,000-plus pages of ingenious mayhem; set in the future, largely in Boston, in a time when even the calendar years themselves have corporate sponsors, such as 2012, “The Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment.” Mind-boggling stuff. Not bad for a Williams College grad.
Sorry for shameless self-promos but I need the sales:
Pacific Dream, by John Illig
Review: editor D.W.St.John: “Unflinchingly honest, vividly told, funny, true, fascinating, exciting – - Pacific Dream is all these things. It’s the best book I’ve read this year and I’ll never forget it. John writes with a candor that’s shockingly fresh and real.” Review: Maine Sunday Telegram 8/7/05 L. Ferriss: “A fascinating, thought-provoking book that ranks with the very best literature on long-distance hiking.” A narrative account of 2,657-mile Pacific Crest Trail hike. Book is available with reviews on Amazon; is also available 24 hours/day over the telephone at Book Clearing House: 1 (800) 431-1579.
Green Tunnel, by John Illig
Review: John Hanson Mitchell (Ceremonial Time; Trespassing; Living at the End of Time): “Just in time to counteract Bill Bryson’s lumbering ‘A Walk in the Woods,’ here is a book by a guy who actually made it through. John Illig is light on his feet and writes with tripping prose.” A narrative account of 2,147-mile Appalachian Trail hike (book formerly published by Windswept House as ‘Trail Ways, Path Wise’ – now out of print). Book is available with reviews on Amazon; is also available 24 hours/day over the telephone at Book Clearing House: 1 (800) 431-1579.
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Rachel Jacques, Assistant to the VP for ILS:
Beauman: Kate Remembered
Julia Child-My Life in France
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
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Phyllis Graber Jensen, staff writer and photographer:
Phone Ringsby Stephen Dixon
I was drawn to this novel by its cover but expected nothing. Once reading, I was swept off my feet. After a phone call in which he learns of his older brother’s unexpected death, the aging narrator reminisces seemingly at random about their lives together. A series of tales about siblings and family over the course of a lifetime, Phone Rings overflows with exquisite emotion.
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Charles Kovacs, Director of Career Services:
Hand-Me-Down Dreams. How Families Influence Our Career Paths and How We Can Reclaim Them. Mary H. Jacobsen. Three River Press, New York, NY
One of the more persistent issues in career counseling is the presence of the ‘gray eminence’ of family expectations. Students often express what their parents and family expect of them in terms of jobs, graduate schools, careers, and life. On occasion, some students express what their family expects them to major in! Clearly, students’ parents and families’ love and want only the best for the young folks in their lives. However, those expectations and hopes are often expressed in terms of what students ‘ought’ and ‘must’ do, become, think, and act. Living one’s own life is never easy; it is especially hard if you are living out another’s ideas and dreams.
Mary H. Jacobsen, a psychotherapist and career counselor, presents in some outstanding insights into the transference of generational expectations and the negative effects they can have in a young person’s life. She explains the dynamic of feeling trapped or disappointed in a career or job when one tries to live up to your “family’s wishes, rather than your own natural talents, interests, and passions.” She also touches on critical topics such as: identifying a family system and web of relationships, breaking the cycle, sibling order and gender, family values and how they work for and against us, overcoming beliefs that block change and personal success, and an outstanding section on reclaiming your career.
This book really should be required reading for every parent of a college age son or daughter or anyone who may feel the internal distress of an unhappy job. Or as a Wall Street Journal reviewer put it: “Any reader who has drifted into an unsatisfying career is likely to experience several shocks of recognition here, and to pick up helpful hints.”
10 Things Employers Want You to Learn In College. The Know-How You Need to Succeed. Bill Coplin. Ten Speed Press, Berkely, CA
It comes as no surprise that Bates graduates do well in the world of advanced studies and work: The Bates education experience and training has a profound relevancy. Bill Coplin is the director and professor of the public affairs program at Syracuse University. He identified in his book those core qualities that a college educated individual can offer to an employer. Coplin has developed a skills-based liberal arts curricular for over 30 years and has through his research and verified methodology identified 10 crucial skills groups: work ethic, physical performance, speaking, writing, teamwork, influencing people, research, number crunching, critical thinking, and problem solving. It was a delight to see the skills, work habits, and motivations the Bates curriculum instills affirmed in Colpin’s book.
Type Talk at Work. How 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job. Otto Kroeger, Janet M. Thusesen, and Hile Rutledge. Dell Publishing, New York, NY
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator [MBTI] is the most widely-used style preference behavior scales in the world. We offer students the option of this diagnostic information gathering instrument through confidential counseling and interpretation. Based upon the personality theories of Karl Jung, the MBTI captures the essential comfort zones of an individual’s way of being energized, taking in and processing information, and engaging the world. The unique combination of ones’ preferences results in a profile with proven behavioral relations to academics, communication needs, management styles, and a host of other critical performance expressions. Kroeger and his team focus on the work styles of the MBTI and gives one of the best analysis of type in the work place. He expresses the unique dynamic of the MBTI typologies, their needs, natural expressions, and potential strengths and weaknesses. Within the workplace he covers for each profile such issues as: leadership, team building, and problem solving styles, conflict resolution, goal setting, time management, hiring and firing, ethics, stress management, and sales. Additionally, he offers in-depth profiles of all 16 types with specific emphasis on their workplace contributions, pathways to professional growth, leadership qualities, and team spirit.
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Paul Kuritz, Professor of Theater:
The Second World War, Winston Churchill
The Presence of the Future, George Eldon Ladd
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Jim Lamontagne, Library Assistant-Cataloging:
A tragic honesty: the life and work of Richard Yates/ Blake Bailey
A chilling look at the troubled life of a forgotten American novelist of the 60?s-80?s. Alcoholic and manic-depressive, a Fitzgeraldian disciple with a post-WWII outlook, Yates observed middle-class angst in America in relative obscurity with only occasional critical acclaim. This thorough bio may continue a well-deserved career re-evaluation that has begun already with re-issues of works such as Revolutionary Road and Easter Parade.
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Charlotte Lehmann, Research Technician in Geology:
Wanderlust: The Story of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
Holy Clues-The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes by Stephen Kendrick
What the Bleep Do We Know!? By William Arntz et al
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Lynne Lewis, Associate Professor of Economics:
I have recently read, Marley and Me. And while it is very light reading it is immensely enjoyable for a dog lover.
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Becky Lovett, Assistant Bookstore Manager:
I recommend two books of the pioneer West: Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart gives a remarkable view of the challenges, joys and sorrows experienced by homesteaders during the early twentieth century. And from a fictional point-of-view, Willa Cather’s My Antoniatakes you to Nebraska during the same time period. Cather’s descriptions of the weather and landscapes that defined daily life, as well as the immigrants struggling to manage, are so real that you feel the grit in your eyes.
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Bill Low, Assistant Curator, Museum of Art:
Snow by Orhan Pamuk
A Turkish poet who spent 12 years as a political exile in Germany witnesses firsthand the clash between radical Islam and Western ideals in this enigmatically beautiful novel.
March by Geraldine Brooks
Brooks’s luminous second novel imagines the Civil War experiences of Mr. March, the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
Kathy Low, Professor of Psychology:
March, by Geraldine Brooks
Fforde’s trilogy: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, Well of Lost Plots
Elizabeth Strout, Abide with Me
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Judy Marden ’66, Director, Bates Morse Mountain/Shortridge:
One of my Baxter-in-winter buddies let me take Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief after he was finished; a story of the MacDonald clan that settled on Cape Breton Island. It inspires me to go back to that lovely land for a visit –or farther, to find a few roots in Scotland.
Just re-read Kenn Kauffman’s Kingbird Highway. Kenn took off to go birding at the age of 16–dropped out of high school, and followed his passion. His mantra: “Any day could be a special day, and you just had to get outside and see…” Now, an author of many books, he teaches at Maine Audubon’s Hog Island Camp for part of the summer. Sometimes he leads groups to Morse Mountain. And maybe, if I get outside on just the right day, I will finally meet him.
I still love murder mysteries as candy, and one of the best this year is Tami Hoag’s Kill the Messenger. Ever wonder what being a bike messenger might feel like? Great descriptions of urban and suburban chases!
Well, one of these days, my dream is to make my most interesting book, my own diary!
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Maggie Maurer-Fazio, Associate Dean of the Faculty:
Two books on China:
River Town by Peter Hessler
China Candid: The people on the People’s Republic by Sang Ye
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
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Lisa Maurizio, Associate Professor of Classical and Medieval Studies:
I recommend Sacred Country by Rose Tremain.
Sigrid Nunez: A Feather on the Breadth of God
Kate Atkinson: Human Croquet
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Laurie McConnell, Area Coordinator, Carnegie Science:
The Dive from Clausen’s Pierby Ann Packer
Emotional roller coaster! Moral complexity. From the jacket: “How much do we owe the people we love? Is it a sign of strength or weakness to walk away from someone in need? Carrie Bell is 23 years old, engaged to her high school sweetheart and has had the same ‘best friend’ forever when her fiance is paralyzed in a diving accident. She has lived her entire life in Madison, Wisconsin and had lately been finding this life suffocating. But now, leaving seems unforgivable.” Carrie’s response to this dilemma makes you delve into your innermost feelings and keeps you wondering how you might react. And, of course, there is no right or wrong answer. But there is inner turmoil no matter what you decide. Provocative!
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David McCullough, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at Commencement, offered titles in his address:
For your summer list let me recommend just three, none long, all marvelous: Wind, Sand and Stars, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, about the pioneer days in aviation and about responsibility as the core of morality; The Lives of a Cell, by Lewis Thomas, which is about fish and bats and social insects, birdsong, and the miracle of language; and read the funny, very wise essay on the devil and his ways called The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis.
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Monica McCusker, Office Coordinator, College Store:
Cold Sassy Treeby Olive Ann Burns
I read this book as a “relief” book between a series of books I was reading and was genuinely refreshed by Ms. Burns’ way of writing. It’s a coming-of-age story as told by a young man living in the small town of Cold Sassy Tree, Georgia, in the early 1900′s. With a keen knack for story-telling, he describes events in his family life with a focus on the personal interactions and aspirations of his patriarchal grandfather whose independent way of thinking and philosophies on life are passed on to his grandson. The author writes in the vernacular of the characters and I found myself “thinking southern” as I read. Having lived in the southern part of the country during parts of my life, I could relate to the slang and way of thinking of the people in the story. I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an easy and enjoyable story.
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Chris McDowell, Assistant Professor of Theater:
Books I like, in no particular order:
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The story of an inflexible Baptist minister and his wife and four daughters who travel to the Congo on the eve of its revolution and independence. The book is told from the point of view of the women in the family.
Arcadia by Tom Stoppard
Brilliant theatrical language in two parallel stories set 150+ years apart in the same English country house. The story of a young girl in the early 19th century who has an amazing grasp of theoretical mathematics and physics.
The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie
Not his best known work, but a very sensitive story about a Christian family in Goa.
The Master and Margherita by Mikhail Bulgakov
An early Russian surrealist novel about the Devil’s visit to Moscow, Pontius Pilate and his dog, and a woman who turns herself into a witch for the love of a writer.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
The story of a family of “genetically engineered” sideshow freaks. Very dark and bizarre, but hard to put down.
What’s Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies
The life and career of a Canadian art forger. Part of a larger trilogy by Davies (the master of trilogies), all involving the fine and performing arts.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
A comic look at the Apolocalypse (no, really!). For anyone who knows the writing of Terry Prachett (the author of the Discworld series), this book has all of his wit, but is set here on earth. Neil Gaiman is also known as the author of the graphic novel series The Sandman.
• • •
Bryan McNulty, Director of Communication and Media Relations:
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson. (Paperback came out in 2004.)
Of all the Founders, I think that Franklin would be the least distressed by time travel to the present day. He was amazingly multifaceted, and had such a modern and practical approach to life. He was a skeptic and world-class scientist, an entrepreneur and editorial spinmeister. Most fortuitously for the new country, he was brilliant and wise in crafting compromise, and in building French support for the United States. All of this and a great sense of humor. This is the American historical figure that I would most like to invite to a party.
Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain
This was written in 1933, but it’s new to me. Brittain turned 18 in 1914, and she writes about her youth through 1925. I am not halfway through the book, but I find it fascinating to see World War I through the lens of her life, with all of its intensity, love and loss. There was certainly a more pronounced societal naiveté about the glory of war for king, kaiser and country. But we still go on making bad choices, don’t we?
• • •
Jessica Mellen, Residence Life & Student Activities Assistant:
Plum Island by Nelson Demille–a great thriller
Sloppy Firsts; Second Helpings; Charmed Thirds– an ongoing series by Megan McCafferty–great for anybody with teenage daughters or any woman who remembers that awkward phase of life! Chick lit at its snarky best.
Lily White by Susan Isaacs–simply wonderful–about family and how they come in all forms.
A Widow for One Year by John Irving–I think one of his less-well read novels, but I really enjoyed it.
Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach–absolutely wonderful–one of my favorites.
The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love by Jill Conner Browne–hysterical. I actually laughed out loud through most of the book–chronicles the adventures of some self-made queens in Mississippi, and includes recipes for some of the most delicious and fattening things EVER.
The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond–a very interesting look at why we do the things we do, and how close we really are to chimps!
Bone Voyage: A Journey into Forensic Anthropology by Stanley Rhine–true forensic tales, anybody who loves CSI/Bones/that genre of TV would find it super interesting.
• • •
Erika Millstein, Biology Research Assistant:
Barbara Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer
Ian McEwan, Atonement
• • •
Michael Murray, Charles Franklin Phillips Professor of Economics:
Handling Sinby Michael Malone – A rollicking, somewhat surreal road-trip and redemption novel.
Mountains Beyond Mountain: the Paul Farmer Story – The inspirational story of Dr. Paul Farmer, a man who would cure the world. Farmer’s unorthodox pursuit of better medical care for the indigent of the world is fascinatingly well told by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi – an enlightening window into women’s lives in revolutionary Iran and the nourishment that literature can furnish to hungry souls.
Econometrics: A Modern Introduction by Michael Murray – a drug-free soporific to put on your bedside table.
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss – Never has understanding grammar been so much fun.
• • •
Dan Nein, Assistant Director of Facility Services:
• • •
Kerry O’Brien, Assistant Dean of the Faculty:
I highly recommend anything written by Annie Proulx. Most recently I have read her not-newAccordion Crimes, a collection of stories about (mostly ill-fated) people linked together by their possession over the years of a certain accordion.
Also: The Book of Saints by Nino Ricci, an evocative story of village life, superstitions, and secret intrigues in post-WWII Italy.
Also: Painting Maine: The Borrowed Views of Connie Hayes, a gorgeous book featuring this Maine painter’s “borrowed views” — that is, incredible plein-air paintings made at locations around Maine in homes she “borrows” from her geographically well-endowed pals.
Also, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, the classic short treatise on how to write with style, is now actually better: artist Maira Kalman has added witty and ironic lllustrations — as if it weren’t (not wasn’t!) witty and ironic enough!
Finally, if I can ever get my hands on it, the manuscript version of James Charlesworth’s novel — yes, the James from the Bookstore…
• • •
Karen Palin, Lecturer in Biology:
Fleur de Leigh’s Life of Crime, by Diane Leslie
The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson
Patty Jane’s House of Curl by Lorna Landvik
A Slipping Down Life by Anne Tyler (this is early Anne Tyler)
Cane River by Lalita Tademy
And of more substance…
The Things They Carriedby Tim O’Brien
The Skating Pond by Deborah Joy Corey
I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (read after two children read it and told me it was highly overrated….I agreed)
And my favorites for the year, in no particular order…
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner
Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
• • •
Carole Parker, Library Assistant-Acquisition:
John Kennedy O’Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces
Some people have really loved this book. I’ve been working my way through it, and I still am! It’s worth reading for the title alone.
• • •
Ellen Peters ’87, Assistant Director for Institutional Research:
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller
I have just begun to read this book, but my husband, a gentle man with a distaste for the trite, thrust it under my nose and told me I must put it on the top of my stack of books to read.
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
This is not a fairy tale. (Do not begin to read it aloud to your young children during a three hour layover in an airport after just having purchased it at the airport bookstore…) Wicked is often described as a prequel to The Wizard of Oz; however, this book is chock full of tongue-in-check commentary about society, and bears little resemblance to the musical running on Broadway. Maguire seems to leave few stones unturned, covering religion, politics, infidelity, beauty and racism while tackling the central question: What is the nature of evil?
• • •
Ray Potter, Environmental/Safety Coordinator:
Still looking for some answers to the mysteries of college behavior, I found and read My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student by Rebekah Nathan. An ethnographer enrolls as a freshman in her own university during her sabbatical. It had to be difficult for a PhD professor in her 50s to fit herself into the student body but her years of training and experience in studying other cultures combined with her somewhat playful personality helped the author gain some insight into today’s academic and student culture. This is a quick, informative read…more anecdotal than statistical.
For escapism with a little historical flavor here’s a series about a young man growing up in search of a secret in harsh times. A youthful archer leaves his destroyed coastal town in England to find the French raiders who killed his father and stole a religious artifact. He also wants to live a “simple” life as an English longbowman. Enviable plan but hardly realistic as our hero learns. Three novels by Bernard Cornwell follow the youth beginning in 1342 and incorporating historical battle facts as he encounters one challenge after another in his travels across France and England.The Archer’s Tale, The Vagabond, and The Heretic provide and engrossing story with characters you can care about, characters you can despise and a tour of France and England during a turbulent historical era.
Thomas Friedman is well known for a number of books and for his Pulitzer Prize winning writing for The New York Times. I’m still playing catch up. I recently read The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman’s attempt to explain globalization. Written in 1999 and updated in 2000, it provides analogies to help the reader get a grasp of the incredible financial and technological forces which are plunging us forward in what seems like uncontrollable and ever accelerating economics. I’m not an economist. I lack the breadth of knowledge to analyze Friedman’s assessment of the world. But I can certainly see threads of truth and logic to much of his explanation. It’s a powerful attempt to understand a phenomenon which is very large and extremely complex. I’m not sure whether to be excited or petrified about the future we are speeding into but I’m anxious to read his next book, written after September 11, 2001… The World Is Flat.
• • •
Sarah Potter ’77, Bookstore Director:
Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran
Spicy new fiction! Three Iranian sisters set up shop in the Irish town of Ballinacroagh. Discover how the Babylon Café overcomes cultural differences with cooking — how the village priest, the local hairdresser and others are enchanted by cardamom and cinnamon. Desperate flight from Iran, spousal abuse, cultural ignorance and determined friendship are embraced in this magical first novel.
Extra Innings by Doris Grumbach
A memoir begun when Grumbach was nearly seventy-five years old, she muses (sometimes grumpily) about a number of things including birth and death, politics, religion and her life in Sangerville, Maine.
Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood
New and Selcetced Poems, Volume Two by Mary Oliver
As with all Mary Oliver poetry — sublime.
The Study of Hidden Animals by James Charlesworth
Don’t look for this wonderful work (yet) in any bookstore. Our own bookstore colleague has written a very good read. I am lousy at book reviews, but I know what I like. This wonderfully quirky, coming-of-age novel deals with cryptozoology (among many other things) in Burlington, Vermont. The author may be willing to share his manuscript!
• • •
Zach Potter, occasional bookstore employee:
The Kite Runner by Hosseini
Very well written contemporary story. Its vivid imagery tugs at your emotions, making you shiver at many points. The best book I’ve read in the past year.
East of Eden by Steinbeck
Great story of two brothers–equates their relationship to that of Cain and Able.
Waiting for Teddy Williams by Mosher
Classic small-town baseball story about a father and son. A must read for all Red Sox fans.
Devil in the White City by Larson
Well-told history of the Chicago World’s Fair and the serial killer that stalked the fair. The architectural feats are amazing and the brief insertions about the serial killer provide just enough detail to make your spine tingle.
• • •
Jack Pribram, Professor of Physics:
Frank McCourt, Teacher man: A memoir
Everyone should read this book so they can better realize what we ask of our public school teachers. You can cheer and sympathize as he tries to have high school students appreciate English language and literature. And you can know his joy when he finally feels free in classroom 205. To learn more about his journey, go back to Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis.
John Banville, Prague pictures: Portraits of a city
A short, idiosyncratic, subjective portrait of Prague. One of a series of books written by authors about their favorite cities to visit. Banville is a wonderful Irish writer and Prague is a city I love to learn about and to visit.
David Lindley, Degrees Kelvin: A tale of genius, invention, and tragedy
Kelvin, known now for the temperature scale named after him, was an amazing 19th century mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor and entrepreneur. His many contributions to the laying of the first trans-Atlantic cable alone is a good story. William Thomson is that rarity in Great Britain, rising from somewhat humble beginnings to become Lord Kelvin. He was the first British scientist raised to the peerage. The word ‘tragedy’ should not be in the title. Lindley writes well and is a physicist who gets the physics right.
• • •
Erica Rand, Professor of Art and Visual Culture:
Dorothy Allison, Two or Three Things I know for Sure (1995)
A moving and intense memoir with both fantastic insights about sex and class and the ability to surface what needs attention in your own head, heart, and histories.
• • •
Kirk Read, Associate Professor of French:
Michel de Montaigne, The Essays
Follow up on the scintillating quotations in the new general education preamble by exploring the winding, witty and trenchant prose of a renaissance staple. Don’t miss, “Of Cannibals,” “Of Friendship” and “Of custom, and not easily changing an accepted law.”
Annie Proulx, Close Range
You’ve perhaps seen Brokeback Mountain, now read the story. And others in this wonderful collection. And then go back and read my all-time Proulx favorite, The Shipping News, on every list of this sort the country over.
Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World
A “new historical” treatment of the works of Shakespeare in the context of his biography and the everyday realities of late 16th-early 17th century England. I don’t always agree with Greenblatt’s imaginings, but I always find them interesting. A tender and inspiring treatment of Mr. English Drama. Makes you want to reread Lear, Macbeth and Hamlet in the rest of your summer hours. Or perhaps alongside.
Madame de la Guette, Memoires
It’s in French, so you’ll have to order it or buy it in Montreal or Paris, which has the added advantages of 1.) getting you way out of the house and 2.) brushing up your French. A beautiful portrait of a woman’s colorful life as a mother, daughter, cross-dressing soldier in 17th century France. You could probably order it online too, if the mortgage or tuition payments or whatever make the first advantage entirely unreasonable.
• • •
Jill Reich, Dean of Faculty:
My favorites this year are:
Megan Marshall’s The Peabody Sisters
An amazing story of three remarkable women who each played a central role in the thinking of their day. Not only does one learn about these three amazing women, but Marshall’s story is a thoughtful and insightful look at what it was like to be an educated woman in nineteenth century Massachusetts.
Gary Wills’ The Negro President
Another look at nineteenth century America. I have so much to learn about our early history. This time it is slavery that is front and center. In particular, in telling the story of how the three-fifths vote was central to Thomas Jefferson’s’ election in 1800, Wills provides a cogent analysis of this issue and puzzles about why a factor that so intensely influenced the economic and political decisions of this country’s early history has so rarely been discussed, analyzed or studied.
• • •
Joel Richard, Coordinator for Alumni and Parent Programs
All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation,
Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Povertyby P.J.
Amusing and incisive (if sometimes sardonic) first-hand observations that certainly do not follow the “conventional wisdom” on the usual social issues.
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers
I loved her analogy of the Holy Trinity as creative process.
No description of mine will do this beautiful but unsentimentally
rigorous book justice.
The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
I would absolutely recommend everything Lewis wrote. This one, however, is more philosophical than apologetic, observing what we become when we abandon objective good.
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter
The Case For Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and
Terror by Natan Sharansky
A vigorous and lucid defense of the benefits of self-rule by one who
spent 3 years in solitary confinement in a Soviet Gulag, later becoming
an Israeli cabinet minister.
Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley
If you’ve seen the movie (and you should), but haven’t read the book,
I’ll just add the obvious “The book is better”. It’s a fast read, but
one that stays with you, like…well, like cigarette smoke. But in a
• • •
Stephanie Richards, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology:
Bury the Chains : Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves by Adam Hochschild
Sugar was the foundation of the European economy (similar to the place oil has for us today). Twelve men gathered in England a decided that the slave trade that was necessary to support sugar production was immoral and needed to be stopped. They succeeded. Astonishing book about how a few committed individuals changed our world.
Dark Star Safari : Overland from Cairo to Capetown by Paul Theroux
Paul Theroux (a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa) travels from Cairo to Capetown over land (with one plane trip) – bus, car, train, canoe – and writes a portrait of Africa we don’t see on the news. I will never view reports on Africa or humanitarian work there the same way again.
Rascal by Sterling North
A classic for a reason, based on the author’s life. Our son wants a pet raccoon; we don’t. Wonderful illustrations by John Schoenherr.
Journey to the River Sea
The Secret of Platform 13
The Star of Kazan…all by Eva Ibbotson. Imaginative and not stupid books for kids/young adults. Our 7 year old says, “Good plot!”
• • •
Sue Dunning Richard, Staff Assistant-Leadership Giving:
Maine & Meand Outta My Way: A Life Lived Loudly – Elizabeth Peavey
Essays by a Portland writer — laugh-out-loud funny; her observations of life, particularly life in Maine, are quite astute. I especially appreciated the introduction to Maine & Me, which describes her feelings upon returning to Maine after some time “away.”
Thank You for Smoking– Christopher Buckley
If you liked the movie (even if you didn’t), the book is so much better – hilarious!
• • •
Julie Rosenbach, Environmental Coordinator:
A Problem From Hell by Samantha Powers and Gulag by Anne Applebaum
• • •
Michael Sargent, Associate Professor of Psychology:
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451
Firemen just aren’t what they used to be in this one (and I chose the gender-specific noun intentionally). This short, dystopian novel–which I know I should have read before my 30s–actually makes a case for publicizing lists such as our list of “Good Reads for Leisure Moments,” so especial thanks are due to Sarah P. If you’re like me, the book will also leave you with second thoughts about keeping your TV and, if you have one, your X-BOX video game player. It’s a short read that you can devour in a single afternoon or night–as I did the night before writing this recommendation.
Stumbling on Happiness, a new book by Daniel Gilbert.
If you want to understand why the pursuit of happiness is typically filled with wrong turns, then read this book. Throughout the book, Gilbert offers up clear and concise descriptions of studies in psychology (yes, I’m shamelessly promoting my own field), and he also discusses the implications of the research, doing so in entertaining fashion. As the book makes clear, predicting the future–at least one’s own emotional future–is not something that most people are good at. But I stand by this prediction: Although Gilbert’s book won’t make you a happier person than you already are, it will help you understand why that new car/house/boat/romantic partner/winning lottery ticket didn’t make you as happy as you expected that it would.
• • •
Steve Casentini, Sasaki Associates, architect for new dining Commons:
A Perfect Red by Amy Butler Greenfield
• • •
Paula Schlax, Associate Professor of Chemistry:
The Time Traveler’s Wifeby Niffenegger was my favorite book of last year.
Gilead (doesn’t everyone who has read it have it on their list?)
A graphic novel that was fun for my whole family: Runaways by Brian Vaughn. The premise is pretty simple. Even though most teenagers think that their parents are evil, these five discover that their parents actually are.
• • •
Sagaree Sengupta , Asian Studies:
Last summer, I wanted to read Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City: Bombay
Lost and Found. I bought it to give as a Christmas present, but of
course I read it first. It surpassed my expectations: honest,
beautiful writing about “going back” to one of the world’s most
intriguing cities, brave and quirky reportage on everything from
plumbing woes to strip dancers to gangsters to wealthy ascetics to
politicians. The book is leavened with just the right amount of
historical and cultural background research to keep it coherent and
comprehensible. My favorite passage describes (the non-violent,
deliberately vegetarian) Mehta’s experience interviewing bad guys with
loaded guns in an out-of-the-way hotel, while the name of God goes
across his laptop as a screensaver.
Clipped dialog, hidden passions, murderers and detectives…fans of the British writer Graham Swift would find both a literary novel and a hard-boiled
mystery in The Light of Day. It’s a mystery to me how Swift can
write so well without compromising either genre. In this book featuring a private investigator and a love interest who is a “Lecturer in Languages,” Swift turns his usual skill with working-class conversation to the gradual revelation of domestic darkness.
Lastly, Paul Muldoon is very famous as English-language poets go, but
I want to recommend his Moy Sand and Gravel as a particular
delight. Most of his landscapes are recognizably Irish or North
American, but this poet with an ear for everything doesn’t stop at any
pre-determined border. In “Winter Wheat”, Muldoon demonstrates his
command of language while pretending to forget it:
“Those something lice like something seed pearls
and her collar something with dandruff
as when Queen Elizabeth entertained the Earls
in her something something ruff.”
On vacation, one wants a poetry book that can bring on giggles as well
as sly smiles.
• • •
Joyce Seligman, Director of the Writing Workshop:
MYSTERIES that take you to far away places:
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. These are charming, set in Bostwana, and once I’d read In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, I was hooked. I’m now reading the entire series in the order of publication.
Donna Leon’s series of Venetian mysteries featuring Commissario Brunetti. Leon is an academic living in Venice. Her mysteries are engaging and witty, the plots focus on contemporary issues, and her dectective is humane and smart.
Elizabeth George’s Havers-Lynley series. George is an American whose mysteries are set in England, to good effect. Her books are often Dickensian in length and some, like Deception on his Mind, introduce so many characters that you need a scorecard to keep track, but for the most part the stories are engaging.
Summer seems the perfect time to (re)read Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries.
All Creatures Great and Small, etc.
For those who seek escape that doesn’t involve murder and mayhem, try the James Herriot series. Having been a fan of the tv version, I was delighted to find a volume on my bookshelf one evening this winter during a power failure. Like a ten-year-old at summer camp, I sat with my flashlight, reading late into the night. I was among old friends, laughing with and worrying about the people of Darrowby and their animals.
The Startling Garden.
This is by Stephen Lacey (not to be confused with the American philosopher and garden writer, Allen Lacy). I seldon recommend British gardening books, since our northern climate and topography are unlike theirs. This book is an exception. It’s not for the new gardener, but if you’re experienced, Lacey is engaging and his chapter on color in the garden is one of the clearest I’ve ever read. His writing is very well organized, whether he’s discussing scent or leaf patterns or planting for each season. While we in Maine can’t grow many of the plants Lacey mentions, we can learn a great deal from him about the composition of gardens that are pleasing to the senses. I found this book in a used bookstore, so try libraries and online sources to find a copy.
• • •
Mark Semon, Professor of Physics:
Ralph Leighton and Richard Feynman: Classic Feynman: All the Adventures of a Curious Character
Richard Feynman: The Pleasure of Finding Things Out
Richard Feynman: The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist
• • •
Bonnie Shulman, Associate Professor of Mathematics:
Christopher Paolini: Eragon and Eldest, 2 novels of the Inheritance Trilogy. Fantasy and Science Fiction, written by a home-schooled high school young man, now has a cult following, website and all. Kind of a cross between Anne McCaffrey dragon books, Lord of the Rings, and more, but he has synthesized it into his own creative world, and a lot of fun to read!
Orhan Pamuk: Snow, translated from the Turkish. A haunting tale of love, and political intrigue, set in a small Turkish town (Kars) cut off from everyone and everything for three days by a snow storm, the worst in history. Ka, an exiled poet, returns from Germany for his mother’s funeral, and visits this small town, where his creative talents are unleashed, and he (and we, the readers) experience a lifetime of emotional, spiritual, political and intellectual growth.
Marjorie Ryerson: Companions for the Passage. The author has compiled stories of people who accompany friends and loved ones during their final journey, as they die. It is a tremendously moving, inspiring, and even uplifting collection of stories, and so important, I think, in a culture where we tend to hide from death. These stories tell of the courage and faith to face death with those we love, and some of the tales are truly luminous. It includes the story of Donald Hall, a New England poet some of you may know, as he witnessed and accompanied his wife on her death.
• • •
Valerie Smith ’75, Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature and Director of the Program in African American Studies at Princeton
March by Geraldine Brooks
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Drown by Junot Diaz
• • •
Ralph Sprague, Health Center:
Pat Conroy:Winning Season
Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds.
Ralph Sprague, Health Center
• • •
Sarah Strong, Professor of Japanese:
I don’t have a new title to suggest, but here is an oldie but goodie. I am confident it is still in print and in paper.
Oe, Kenzaburo. A Personal Matter. Translated by John Nathan. N.Y.: Grove Press, 1969
Oe is a noted Japanese novelist and winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1994. This 1964 novel tells the story of a married twenties-something ex-graduate student and part-time teacher living an unfocused life in Tokyo who is suddenly confronted with the news that his neonate son has been born with a brain tumor and is likely to be severely mentally impaired…if he survives. The narrative chronicles this young father’s dawning awareness of the implications of this event, his initial resistance to those implications, and his subsequent acceptance of his role of father and love for his young son. I recently revisited this novel and was struck afresh by the depth, humanity and–this might come as a surprise–social humor of Oe’s work. The story is loosely autobiographical and it is good to know as one reads that Oe’s own mentally handicapped son is now grown and a noted composer in Japan.
• • •
Sawyer Sylvester, Professor of Sociology:
Our Lady of the Lost and Found
While the author was at home one day, she suddenly discovers, standing in her living room, a pleasant middle-aged woman in a neat black dress and sneakers. It’s Mary – yes, that Mary, the Mother of You-Know-Who. She’s tired, longs for some good home-cooked food, and asks if she might stay a week; and it’s a week of sparkling, book-length, conversation, relieved only by a visit to the Mall. And then, one day, she’s gone – having other things to do.
The Book of Job
A good man unjustly punished as the result of a sucker bet in heaven is an event which just has to teach a lesson important enough to be worth the price. Mitchell’s telling of the tale makes it as clear as anyone could what the lesson is. Even Job is “comforted” in the end – and, of course, he gets all his stuff back.
McCullough is at it again. After his biography of John Adams, comes another biography, of a sort: a biography of a year. It was a year in which America as a nation would either defeat one of the best trained and equipped armies in the world — or be stillborn.
His Excellency George Washington
Joseph J. Ellis
For many of us who can’t get out of our memory the vision of Washington standing improbably in the bow of an overladen skiff dodging chunks of ice in the Delaware, Ellis highlights the features of the real man that really mattered. He was a military genius and a masterful politician.
Her Majesty’s Spymaster
Elizabeth I sat uneasily on the throne of England for much of her reign, being no match in military power for her persistent enemies: France and Spain. What she relied on mostly was the excellent political advice of her Principal Secretary, William Cecil. But even Cecil’s advice would have been empty without intelligence. That was supplied by Francis Walsingham, who had a far greater army than all of England’s adversaries – an army of spies.
And finally, three excellent mysteries:
Medusa by Michael Dibden
Blood from a Stone by Donna Leon
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
• • •
Eben Sypitkowski ’05, Biology Research Assistant
Alastair MacLeod,Island (collection of short stories), and No Great Mischief (novel) Bare, down to earth Cape Breton writer examining the roots and the rooting of things.
Ivan Doig, Dancing at the Rascal Fair
• • •
Anne Thompson, Professor Emerita of English:
I spent much of the past year reading books suggested in last year’s list, so I don’t have any brand new ideas. Instead I’m going to recommend two older books, one of which I reread specifically because of the list.Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, sent me back to her first and only other novel,Housekeeping, a beautiful and haunting book about two sisters living with a slightly demented aunt by a lake in Idaho. I mention the lake, which is called Fingerbone, because in some ways it’s the central character and that name should draw you to the book if nothing else does.
My other recommendation is May Sarton’s The Small Room. I’ve never been much of a fan of Sarton’s so I was rather reluctant to begin this when my daughter recommended it (one of her colleagues uses it in a teacher education class). It’s about a young woman named Lucy, teaching for the first time at a college that sounds a lot like Wellesley (where Sarton once taught). It’s an odd book, the characters in some ways not much more than sketches; nonetheless it brought me close to tears more than once with its reflections on what it means to be a good teacher, mediated through the account of Lucy’s difficulties in teaching, and her anguish over a case of plagiarism involving a brilliant young student of whom too much has been expected.
• • •
Andrew White, Director of Academic Technology Services:
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux
The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst
The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope
The Possibility of An Island, Michael Houellebecq
On Beauty, Zadie Smith
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
• • •
Gene Wiemers, Vice President for ILS and Librarian:
Jason DeParle. American Dream: Three women, ten kids and a nation’s drive to end welfare. Penguin Books, 2004
In a recent trip to Maine, Jason DeParle, the writer for the New York Times who spent more than ten years following three women’s lives as the nation ended “welfare as we know it,” was asked when he knew he needed to study more than just the story of welfare reform. He replied that when the mother of one of the women told her that she grew up on James Eastland’s plantation in Mississippi when black people were “just beginning to come out of slavery,” and he knew she was talking about the late 1930s, that there was something going on that went beyond the politics of Chicago and Milwaukee in the 1990s. This is an unvarnished and unsentimental look inside the nation’s policy to replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children with low-wage work. It is one of the few books I know that deftly moves from discussions of the lives of individuals, the functioning of local politics and welfare bureaucracies, through the aspirations of state and national leaders without missing a beat and without resorting to polemic. It also examines the cultural connections that tie urban poverty with its origins in sharecropper and slave culture, and the connections between slaveholders and patrimonial government programs that perpetuate poverty. Though this may not sound like a good book for the beach, you won’t find a better, and true, story.
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Dick Williamson, Charles A. Dana Professor of French:
Running the Bullsby Cathie Pelletier is an intriguing story of a 63-year old retiree who learns from his wife of many years that she had been unfaithful to him some twenty years earlier. He decides to leave her and travel to Pamplona to run the bulls, but doesn’t make it any further than a Holiday Inn in small town Maine. A great read for aging Baby Boomers!
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Michael Wisnewski, Assistant Director of Career Services:
I’m happy to share (for the very first time!) a couple of books for our summer reading list:
The Accidental Connoisseur: An Irreverent Journey Through the Wine World, by Lawrence Osborne
The Circus Fire: A True American Tragedy, Stuart O’Nan
And, for those with a taste for quality escapist adventure fiction, here are a couple other authors I’ve been enjoying recently:
Lee Child – any/all from the Jack Reacher series
Matthew Reilly – incredibly fast paced action, highly implausible plots, totally entertaining
Eoin Colfer – any, though I’m particularly fond of the Artemis Fowl series
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Eric Wollman, Professor of Physics:
Books I have enjoyed recently:
Pompeii: A Novel by Robert Harris
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy