2009 Summer Reading List
I welcome you to the 13th Annual Bates College Store Non-required Reading List, or Good Reads for Leisure Moments XIII. As in the past, this list includes submissions from across the Bates College community. Enjoy! — Sarah Potter ’77, College Store director
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Brother Fish by Bryce Courtenay
A good story about prisoners of war during the Korean conflict, racism and the strength of friendships. I actually listened to this one in audio form, and the reader was superb as well. A good one for a long car trip. The Great Influenza by John Barry Everything you EVER wanted to know about the flu epidemic of 1918. An absolutely fascinating story of the pandemic that killed more than 40 million people – the reason why we are so terrified of the emergence of H1N1. A good story that is well written and interesting (from a virology geek’s point of view)-a very accessible account of how one virus changed history.
Body of Work: Meditations on Mortality from the Human Anatomy Lab by Christine Montross
David Cummisky told me about this book a while ago and I finally read it this year. It was written when Ms. Montross was a first year medical student, dissecting her cadaver in the gross anatomy lab. Her prose is really beautiful. Whether she is describing her own thoughts about her right to violate the body of another, the high personal price one pays to navigate a medical education, or the glistening dura mater that covers the brain, the writing is equally compelling. I was really captivated (good call, Dave!). The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett OK, it takes me a while to get to some of these “classics”. This is another one that I’m listening to on my iPod – I am hooked on listening to audiobooks in the car and on airplanes. So far I like it, and although it’s a little contrived, I like the details in this historical fiction about the building of the Kingsbury cathedral in 12th century England. It’s not so complex that I forget to get off the turnpike….
Lee Abrahamson, Associate Professor of Biology
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My reading has been eclectic: A Guide to the Birds of East Africa (Nicholas Drayson) was very fun: a love story in postcolonial Nairobi with interesting politics; School of Essential Ingredients: not my favorite, but a light, sweet food- and-relationships novel; Peace Like a River (Leif Enger): beautiful story of a family’s struggles with faith, integrity, and the law in the upper midwest, gorgeously written; Emotionally Weird (Kate Atkinson): took me two readings to “get” it, but a very clever, fun, bizarre literary adventure — stories within stories; Metzger’s Dog (Thomas Perry): rather hilarious heist-and-murder sort — surprisingly clever and lots of fun, though I usually enjoy stories more when there’s a character I can really admire; (also The Island by Perry —same critique); Dick Francis novels — any of them — good fun around/involving the British horse-racing scene. Read too many, though, and you end up speaking and writing a little funny. Len is reading The Life You Can Save — Peter Singer — and loving it. It’s an intellectual argument for increased philanthropy from individuals — giving consistently, because of justice and reason, rather than sporadically out of pity. He’s also enjoyed The Starfish and the Spider and Here Comes Everybody, both about new organizational models of leadership, usually technologically mediated. And he worked through Breach of Faith which is about Katrina, though it was heavy.
Anna Bartel, Associate Director of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships (and her husband, Len!)
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Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson
Jim Bauer, Director of Network and Infrastructure Services, ILS
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The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch….should be a “must read” requirement for everyone. Very inspiring… Knit Two by Kate Jacobs…..sequel to The Friday Night Knitting Club, if you read the first book, reading this is like catching up with old friends.
Jane Bedard, Admissions Office Specialist
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Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
Fascinating historical fiction about life in a quarantined leprosy settlement. The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin A perfect summer read that takes place at a fishing camp in rural Maine. The Double Bind by Chis Bohjalian A psychological drama with a twist – you’ll want to read it twice. Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors Historical fiction about the building of the Taj Mahal.
Kristen Belka, Associate Dean of Admissions
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Finding Beauty in a Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams, Pantheon
A beautiful read indeed. For example: “A mosaic is a conversation between what is broken.” There is, in the middle, an approximately 100-page exercise in what first feels like tedium and monotony. Then I got it! Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton, Doubleday Still remarkably fresh and relevant after almost 40 years. A Mercy, Toni Morrison, Knopf The language of an earlier South caught and kept my curiosity.
Bill Blaine-Wallace, Multifaith Chaplain
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Robert Whiting, You Gotta have Wa (1989). This is a fascinating account of how America’s pasttime changed/evolved in Japan to be more compatible with the culture as it was in the 70s and 80s. A great read for anyone with an interest in baseball or Japan. Julie Norem, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking. (2001). If you’ve ever been disgusted by someone telling you to “not worry so much” or “look on the bright side,” then you may be a defensive pessimist. Norem argues that this may actually be a good thing for many people, as it can help them deal with what might otherwise be overwhelming anxiety. Moreover, she argues that for some people, being defensively pessimistic is better than being optimistic! This is an interesting book that turns the positive psychology movement on its head.
Helen Boucher, Assistant Professor of Psychology
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Matthew Kelly: The Rhythm of Life
An easy read for those who seek to get their emotional life in order. The author is best known for his public speaking and motivational skills. He has many other titles as well that cover other subjects. It is an easy and wonderful read. These titles are also available on cds.
Jane Boyle, Library Assistant, ILS
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Here are a few children’s books that are/have been popular at our house. Ellison the Elephant by Eric Drachman A wonderful story about self-confidence and perseverance that you will want to read over and over again. The accompanying CD is priceless. The Dinosaur Who Lived in My Backyard by B.G. Hennessy A great book for little ones interested in dinosaurs. Dinosaur facts woven into a cute story that even includes lima beans. Do Like a Duck Does! by Judy Hindley The rhyming makes this a really fun book to read. Dig, Dig, Digging by Margaret Mayo An entertaining book for those fascinated by big machines such as bulldozers, tractors and firetrucks.
Heather Bumps, Assistant to the President
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As The Earth Turns, Gladys Hasty Carroll ’25, D.Lit ’45
In one of the interviews that Pulitzer-winning author Elizabeth Strout ’77 gave recently, she told Maine Public Broadcasting that it wasn’t until she moved to New York, where people assume that all the New England states are all the same, that she began to focus on her own Maine background in her writing, with great success. That made me think about Carroll’s most famous book, 1933′s “As the Earth Turns” — about inland Maine farm life — which faded then rebounded in critical approval in the 1990s as people began to value the sense of place in Carroll’s writing. It’s a good lesson.
H. Jay Burns, Editor Bates Magazine
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Magazines: Mother Jones, Mental Floss
Books: The Complete Manual of Things That Might Kill You: A Guide to Self-Diagnosis for Hypochondriacs by Knock Knock; The Phantom Tollbooth by Justin Norton; Poor People by William T. Vollmann
Anne Marie Byrne, Staff Assistant-Dean of Students Office
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The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri I really liked this book! An interesting blend of Indian culture and contemporary life in Bombay, with the mythical world of the gods. The story loosely follows the death of Vishnu, a man who lives in an apartment hallway. We learn of the inhabitants of the building, while Vishnu goes in and out of delirium and/or death “truths.” A clever combination and the characters are built well.
The Glass Castle: A Memoir, by Jeanette Walls This is an excellent book and a page-turner! It ranks right up there with Angela’s Ashes — and I think I like this one better. A true story of a girl’s horrific childhood. Told with humor and insight. My 12 yr old started reading this book “accidentally” and couldn’t put it down until he had finished it. A Mercy, by Toni Morrison Since this is one of my all-time favorite authors, I have trouble saying anything negative about her most recent book. A friend ordered it for me as soon as it became available, and I finished in a couple of days. It was a satisfying read, wonderfully written. A bit shorter than I would have liked. I think she could have beefed out some of the characterization and depth more, but it was a good read. Not as good as Beloved, but that would be hard to compete with.
The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, by Sebastian Junger
I guess I’m behind the rest of the world in reading this book, and no, I haven’t seen the movie! The book was a thriller — kept me turning pages to find out what would happen next. It’s told in intricate detail, sometimes more than I wanted, esp about the ships and the ocean statistics. It’s not a “typical” book for me, but I liked it more than I thought I might. I kept dreaming about it, and I kept feeling like I was actually in the book at times, esp when the process of drowning is described. Now I guess I need to rent the movie! (Don’t give away the ending… Oh yeah, the ship goes down.)
The Pilot’s Wife, by Anita Shreve I’m on a bit of an Anita Shreve kick. This book didn’t disappoint. I like her writing style and her sense of the perverse. She takes the reader through the unfolding of a terrible discovery that keeps you turning pages. She takes the ordinary and makes it strange, and the strange ordinary.
Sea Glass, by Anita Shreve Again, another story where the reader gets pulled in bit by bit and washed out to sea with the unraveling of truths and deceptions! I didn’t like the ending — seemed very abrupt and too wrapped up, but maybe the abruptness is part of the point.
Testimony, by Anita Shreve This book is dark, intense, and disturbing. Through multiple viewpoints, we see the cause and effect of one terrible moment caught on video — what led up to it is just as troubling as what happened afterward. This book is well written — and despite the darkness was hard to put down. But I warn you, it’s a bit on the weird side.
Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer I thought I would like this book more than I did, but it was a good read. By about the 3rd page, I was already sick to death of one of the narrator’s overdone butchered English and smug crassness. But of course that sets you up for lots of change in the character as the book evolves. The book is about a young man who goes searching for the woman who saved his grandfather during WWII. The first-person narrator who opens the book is a “foil” of sorts, as the chapters from different viewpoints interweave with each other. One thing I really liked about this story was its nuances of what’s real and what’s fiction. The Ukrainian narrator alludes to shifting and “inventing” parts of the story, and some of the “historical” chapters by the other narrator are clearly fanciful.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer
Unlike his other book, this one was a definite win! I couldn’t put it down and finished it in two days. I love the blend of narration, the puzzling out that the reader needs to do, the innocent child-narrator, and the story that presents one tale of the aftermath of 9-11 without overdoing the drama. I love the characters that the boy meets in his journey, and I enjoyed the mystery of the key. Nothing seems to turn out as you want it to, and yet it all does seem to resolve itself. Some of the book is quite unrealistic — a mom allowing her 9 yr old boy to wander the streets of NY for hours on end?? Improbable at best. A 103 yr old man who is able to participate in some of those hours-long wanderings? Again, not likely. Esp when he more or less disappears later. (Oops, was that a spoiler??) But I don’t mind suspending my disbelief for a great book!
The Septembers of Shiraz, by Dalia Sofer
I am just finishing up this book and have really liked it! It is somewhat-loosely based on the author’s childhood experience of her father’s imprisonment in Iran, and the family’s subsequent escape. This story follows the lives of individuals in one family caught in the middle of a revolution. It’s well-crafted, and you get inside the perspectives of the father in prison, the mother’s helplessness, the young daughter’s subversive activity of her own (and accompanying guilt), and the older son’s passivity living in New York.
Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery Series, by Charlaine Harris (Dead Until Dark; Living Dead in Dallas; Club Dead; and other novels in the series)
Okay, DON’T LAUGH!! Yes, this is a human-in-love-with-a-vampire book, and no it’s not my typical read! So, if you’re done laughing yourself out of your chair that I’m reading a whole series about a girl who loves a vampire, let me explain… A good friend recommended it, and I started reading them and found that the story line was lighthearted in an odd sort of way. Surprises along the way, and some fun, refreshing characters. The tone is very light, and there is absolutely nothing serious about these books. They are the ones I bring when I’m exercising on the treadmill and need something relatively mindless. I’m starting to get fond of these characters now. Kind of like a soap opera… (Note: I’m part way through the 6th or 7th one now and have to confess to growing weary of them. I give them 2 out of 5 stars. Fun, but after a while they become — dare I say it? — “deadly.”)
Anita Charles, Lecturer in Education
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Some “light” summer reading! Peter Thomson, Sacred Sea: A Journey to Baikal. Read it and pretend you’re coming with the Bates FSA to Russia! Lyrical and quirky and informative about Baikal and Siberia and Russia. By the former producer of Living on Earth. Thoughtful consideration about what it means to be an environmental journalist.
Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness. There were moments when I wasn’t sure that Karen Armstrong ever had ANY friends – but all in all I found this an interesting account, and a more personal approach to some of her work on various religious traditions.
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate. This is the War and Peace of the 20th century, only it’s actually better. Without Tolstoy’s ponderous philosophizing. Grossman was the most famous Soviet war reporter, his mother murdered by the Nazis in their invasion of the western Soviet Union. His novel takes on a vast cast of characters, interlinked by their connections to the Battle of Stalingrad. It’s a novel about ideology and individual lives, but also about the Holocaust, state control of science, art and freedom and incredible heroism. My FYS loved it!
Anything by Andrei Platonov that you can get your hands on – but only if it’s translated by Robert Chandler. Chandler is an AMAZING translator. And Platonov is the great unsung Russian writer of the 20th century, finally coming into his own. He was a true believer, an engineer who became a writer, with an uncanny ability to register the odd distortions of vision and verbiage that went along with the revolution. His prose is a kind of heartbreaking grotesque mysticism…The collection entitled Soul is a good place to start.
Jane Costlow, Professor of Russian
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I think Still Alice by Bates’ own Lisa Genova ’92 is the best read I’ve had this year. This is a fantastic novel that brings you into the life of an Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease patient – and beautifully demonstrates the struggles of the patient, her family and colleagues. There’s enough humor to make it light, and you just fall in love with the patient and her family.
Marianne Cowan, Associate Director of Alumni and Parent Programs
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An excellent summer book is: Phyllis Rose -Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages
David Cummiskey, Professor of Philosophy
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These are quite diverse suggestions but since I turned 50 on Tuesday, my memory only serves my most recent reads. Marrying Mozart was a good historical fiction and Marley and Me couldn’t be lighter. If you are a fan of nutty dogs it is pretty funny!
Karen Daigler, Assistant Director of Medical Studies
The first two are Swedish authors: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson Firewall by Henning Mankell Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (yea Bates!!) Champlain’s Dream (non-fiction) by David Hackett Fisher
Jerry Davis, Class of 1961
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How the Irish Saved Civilization, The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill. Finally, now everyone knows why I am so proud of being Irish!
Sylvia Deschaine, Academic Administrative Assistant – Pettengill
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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver; The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon; Refuge by Terry Tempest Williams; The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls; Divided Minds by Carolyn Spiro and Pamela Wagner; Home by Marilynne Robinson; Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Relin; The World Without Us by Alan Weisman; The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga; Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.
Marty Deschaines, Asst. Dir. For Community Volunteerism and Student LeadershipDevelopment, HCCP
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Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is probably already on your list, but I just finished it an enjoyed it immensely.
Carol Dilley, Director of Dance
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Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a fascinating novel about the lives of two women (lao tang) who wrote to each other over many years in the Chinese women’s language, nushu. Lijia Zhang’s Socialism Is Great! is a memoir about growing as a worker in the “New China.” Xiolu Guo. Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth, novel about an unmarried young woman’s life in contemporary Beijing is an interesting read, but her A Concise English Dictionary for Lovers is a better choice for those who have less time to read. This novel describes the cultural differences a Chinese woman encounters when she moves to the U.K., but it also focuses as much on the English and Chinese language as on her experiences. As the book progresses, the reader actually “sees” her fluency in English develop. And finally for those who are interested in schools and teaching, Relentless Pursuit by Donna Foote summarizes the history of Teach for America as it profiles the experiences of first-year teachers in Los Angeles. Engaging and thought-provoking read.
Anne Dodd, Senior Lecturer in Education
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I’d like to recommend A Cargo of Women: Susannah Watson and the convicts of the Princess Royal by Babette Smith. It tracks 99 women who arrived in Australia in 1825 after being sentenced to “transport” in England and Wales. Some of them received life sentences for very minor crimes. It should be great reading for anyone with an interest in crime and punishment or Australia in general!
Amy Bradfield Douglass, Associate Professor of Psychology
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I recently discovered a gem; a very poetically written little novella called Welcome to Our Hillbrow, by Phaswane Mpe, set in contemporary times in a township of Johannesburg. I used it in a class this year, along with Benjamin Kwachye’s The Clothes of Nakedness, set in contemporary Accra. I highly recommend either or both, though you are on notice: don’t expect any familiar “North Atlantic” sensibility here, rather, be ready to encounter a distinctive moral universe!
Elizabeth Eames, Associate Professor of Anthropology
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Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
A classic. Don’t let the movie with Leo and Kate scare you off! It’s intense, well written and will make your head spin… The Underground City by H.L Humes A big book that takes a bit of time to read. A fascinating, detailed novel set in France during and after WWII from the perspective of an American special ops soldier.
Johie Farrar, Assistant Dean of Admissions
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Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert; Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah; The Women Who Raised Me: A Memoir by Victoria Rowell.
Heidi Gagnon, Advancement
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I have enjoyed re-reading some of the late Tony Hillerman’s mysteries, set in the desert Southwest, with Navajo Tribal Policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Some of the most recent are The First Eagle, The Sinister Pig, and Hunting Badger. The characters are very appealing, and the setting really takes the reader into the Native American cultures of Arizona and New Mexico. We will miss him.
Lois Griffiths, retired staff member, Class of 1951
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Two Rivers, by T. Greenwood. Suspense, love, and betrayal told in flashbacks is the story of a widowed father his daughter and an orphan. Setting is in the late 60’s in a small town, Harper has trouble dealing with a vicious act that happened while in his teens. Nice gentle mystery that kept me entertained. Double Bind, by Chris Bohjalian. Psychological thriller about a social worker and the homeless. There are characters brought in from the Great Gatsby era. I couldn’t tell if this was fact or fiction. I liked this authors book Midwives better but this was worth reading also. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Ms. Strout is a Bates alumna and now a Pulitzer Prize winner! How can you not read this novel? It is a collection of short stories of people from a small town in Maine. You get insight of Olive in almost every chapter as she tries to understand herself and her life in painfully honest ways.
Lorraine Groves, Bookstore Sales Floor Supervisor
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The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson. If you’re an alum who loved Professor Herzig’s courses, this book will make you wish you could return to discuss it in one of her seminars.
Bridget Harr, Institutional Research Assistant
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Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War
As a response to an administration that would not even include war costs in the normal yearly budgets, the Nobel-Prize-winning economist makes the case for calculating the real costs of the Iraq war, including such items as equipment replacement and lost income with life-long medical care for the tens of thousands of American wounded and brain-injured.
Margaret S. Creighton, The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History
Elegantly written, a different view of the battle we think we know all about, looking at the experiences of women, Blacks and immigrants at Gettysburg.
David Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.
This is a remarkable first novel (where has this guy been for 30 years, we wonder), somewhat reminiscent of another strong first novel, Charles Frazier’s civil war saga, Cold Mountain. Wroblewski has written a powerful story around an inauspicious plot line, a mute boy whose family raises thoroughbred and well-trained dogs in rural northern Michigan. It is a kind of Hamlet story, with family betrayals and mis-communications, largely told from inside the mute boy’s head and through lots of interaction with the dogs, a real trick for a writer.
William H. Tucker ’67, The Cattell Controversy: Race, Science and Ideology.
Full disclosure: Bill Tucker was my Bates roommate and is one of my oldest friends. A psych prof at Rutgers, he has written three well-argued (and for a non-scholar, readable) books around the broad theme of individuals or organizations that claim to be doing unbiased social science when in fact they are advancing racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic or eugenic causes. His previous books, The Science and Politics of Racial Research and The Funding of Scientific Racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund, were in some ways fascinating scholarly detective stories — they traced the hidden agendas of organizations that claimed scholarly purity. This new book on Raymond Cattell, a leading 20th century psychologist often regarded as the father of personality trait measurement, traces the scholarly dismay when Cattell, the author of hundreds of books, articles and standardized instruments for measuring personality, was found to be the author of a series of publications on racial segregation and eugenics.
Two books and a related film on India: Bapsi Dishwa, Cracking India
A remarkable novel about a Parsee girl from an upper-class family caught in the swirling chaos of the partition of colonial India in the late 1940’s into India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The partition of India as part of the end of the British empire created not only great suffering and violence, but one of the largest migrations in human history, with about 12 million people moving to get across national and religious boundaries that had not existed until the partition. Deepa Mehta’s powerful film “Earth” is based on Cracking India. It is reasonably unusual to find a film and the novel on which it is based that are both top shelf, but true in this case.
Alex Von Tunzelman, Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire
A substantial book on the last months of the British empire in India, with fascinating portraits of some of the 20th century’s major personalities. Gandhi, Nehru and the Muslim leader Jinnah were all trying to deal with the last British Viceroy, the royally incompetent “Dickie” Mountbatten and his socialite but surprisingly brave and very independent wife, Edwina, whose personal/political relationship with Nehru was a most unexpected facet of the withdrawal of Britain from their empire.
Bill Hiss ’66, Vice President for External Affairs
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David Hackett Fischer, Champlain’s Dream
A sweeping full-length biography of Samuel de Champlain, the explorer and founder of Quebec. Dozens of voyages to North America. A slice of history of France and North America. Mark Paul Richard, Loyal but French: The Negotiation of Identity by French-Canadian Descendants in the United States
A history of Franco Americans in Lewiston, Maine, from 1850 to 2007, who subscribed to neither survivance (maintaining their separateness) nor assimilation (erasing their heritage). They accomplished acculturation, becoming Americans, but retaining for a long time their identity. Tom Vanderbilt, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)
The human psychology of dealing with traffic. Considers the variation in different places in the U. S., as well as the world. Treats questions such as whether you should merge early or late when a lane is closed ahead. Quotes statistics that show “dangerous” narrow streets with distractions are safer than “efficient” thoroughfares like Russell Street (but maybe we knew this already).
Doug Hodgkin, Professor Emeritus of Political Science
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I have been meaning to send you this, excellent book about college girls who’s identity got switched unintentionally at an accident scene where one died and one nearly so, months of recuperation… Mistaken Identity by Don and Susie VanRyn and Newell, Colleen, and Whitney Cerak.
The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, I may have put this on last year’s list, but it is worth repeating. It is so inspirational, it’s a must! Not for everyone, but I love the series by J.D. Robb, Lt. Eve. Dallas, Homicide books, great if you love crime drama!! Happy reading…
Joan Houston, Administrative Assistant, Facility Services
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I’m enjoying biologist Bernd Heinrich’s Summer World: A Season of Bounty very much, though I think it should be titled, “Bug World: A Season of Bounty.” I thought there would be more about flowers, other plant life, and mammals, but much of the book concentrates on moths, wasps, caterpillars, and other insects and their alternate forms. But that’s fine, because it’s fascinating! There’s also some great stuff on why male wood frogs all sing together, when only one really needs to in order for them all to attract females. And he answers the question: Why do hummingbirds come north before many of the nectar-bearing flowers bloom? After I finish this book, I’m going to start in on his others. There are enough to keep me going for quite a while. He lives in Vermont, with a camp in Western Maine, and is a graduate of the University of Maine.
Sue Hubley, Senior Researcher, College Advancement
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The Man Who Loved China, by Simon Winchester
The Control of Nature by John McPhee
This book has been around for awhile, but affected my thinking more than about any other.
Jim Hughes, Thomas Sowell Professor of Economics
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I’d like to suggest Water Dogs by Lewis Robinson. A novel based in Maine.
Amy Jaffe, Career Counselor
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Guy Delisle’s graphic novel Burma Chronicles eloquently portrays daily life in Myanmar, the official name of Burma since 1989 when a militaristic government seized power. Canadian animator Delisle joins his French wife who works for the humanitarian organization Medecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and their infant son for a year in this tightly controlled Southeast Asian nation. Humorous and observant, Delisle’s treatment demonstrates that drawings with text can match solo prose, no sweat. Give me a comic book, please.
Phyllis Graber Jensen, Senior Staff Writer and Photographer
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For fans of Patrick O’Brian’s and C. S. Forester’s naval adventure fiction try the collection of short stories edited by Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of Sea Battles, 2001. I laugh to tears with David Remnick’s and Henry Finder’s Fierce Pajamas. These are the best humor from the “New Yorker” magazine. A terrific new history of the Christian and Islamic struggle for the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages is Stephen O’Shea’s Sea of Faith, 2006.
Michael Jones, Christian A. Johnson Professor of History
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Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill, a book we read aloud to each other, is a powerful story of a young, intelligent, literate woman who is sold into slavery at the age of 12, and who is obsessed with being free and returning to her native village in West Africa for the rest of her life. We followed her through about sixty years of her life on three continents, with all the hardship, prejudice, and soul-wrenching pain of enslavement, which is often complicated by her abilities and intelligence which she must hide from her masters. Freedom does come decades later, but it is a freedom in a world where only the force of her will and personality keep her surviving. The ignorance of even the “good” whites to the implications and cruelty of slavery become a vehicle for her to further her goal, but only as a tool of the abolitionists and often at the cost of her personal dignity. (To a white authority figure who insists that she has “profited by being enslaved” and vehemently deny’s slavery’s cruel branding, she bares her old breast to show the brand she was given at 12.) Lawrence Hill has written a breathtaking book and created Aminata Diallo, a remarkable woman.
Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres was a wonderful book, and I enjoyed it as much as a previous book of de Bernieres, Corelli’s Mandolin. Both books deal with the everyday experiences of the life of civilians during a war. “Birds” takes place in Turkey at the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of the modern Turkish state. Greeks and Turks, some of each of whom are either Muslim or Christian, and most of whom happily rely on each other’s religions when it suits their needs (Muslim woman concerned for her soldier son asks her friend to “light a candle to the Virgin for me”), live together in simplicity and peace until WWI starts far away in Europe. Turks and Greeks are forced to choose sides in a war that has nothing to do with them. And then religion and nationalism imposed by others starts ethnic cleansing, forcing Greeks who don’t speak Greek to leave Turkey for Greece, where they are shunned, and Turks are forced from Greece to Turkey. The small town life and ambiance is destroyed, the friends and fellow citizens scattered, and no one has a clue about what it is all about. A poignant, anti-war story, and for me a reminiscence of my time in Turkey and Greece. I recommend this book to anyone who still thinks that war is an answer to any problems, and to all who think that Muslims and Christians can’t live in peace and harmony together.
Laura Juraska , Associate Librarian for Reference Services
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My suggestion for summer reading is: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (translated from the French). It is tender and funny, and a sly critique of French social conventions.
Leila Kawar, Visiting Instructor in Politics
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I have just finished reading the new autobiography by Harold Varmus, The Art and Politics of Science. Dr. Varmus was the director of NIH under Clinton and the co-winner of the Nobel Prize in 1989 for his work on oncogenes, and he is now the director the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The book is a generally well written summary of his career and his opinions of and his involvement in the major health issues of our day. Written for a general audience, I learned a lot about retroviruses, oncogenes, stem cells, Congress, pharmaceutical companies, publishing companies, and open access journals.
John E. Kelsey, Professor of Psychology
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Here are two suggestions for the book list, each arguably a “coming of age” story but from distinctly different cultural contexts and literary styles: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006) Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (1920)
Nancy Koven, Assistant Professor of Psychology
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Home by Marilynne Robinson; Memorial Day by Vince Flynn; Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo; American Babylon by Richard John Neuhaus; Christ the Lord by Anne Rice.
Paul Kuritz, Professor of Theater
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The English Major by Jim Harrison (N.Y., Grove Press, 2008)
Works by this modern master now come fewer and farther between, sparser and at times even less erudite than previous writings, but nonetheless still brilliant: here an academician in mid-life crisis roams the western landscape with a younger woman.
Dark summit: the true story of Everest’s most controversial season by Nick Heil (N.Y., Henry Holt, 2008)
Could things on our highest mountain get any worse after the 1996 disaster (see Into thin air)? Well, ten years later, in a world that is as ever totally unforgiving to careless humans, risky expeditions and unscrupulous outfitters have done it: eleven deaths, two abandonments, and recriminations galore.
Jim Lamontagne, Ladd Library Assistant, Cataloging
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What is the What? by Dave Eggers, and if I have never given you this before, and even if I have, Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry, by Elizabeth McCracken
Peter Lasagna, Head Men’s Lacrosse Coach
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I’m on a mystery jag. Margery Allingham’s brilliant Albert Campion mysteries. A real delight. And, Akunin’s two different mystery/detective series. Great distractions.
Kathy Low, Professor of Psychology
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Book of Embraces (Eduardo Galeano); L’Assommoir (Emile Zola); Design in the Age of Darwin: From William Morris to Frank Lloyd Wright; (Stephen Eisenman)
End of the World Book: A Novel (Alistair McCartney) The Night Watch (Sarah Waters)
Perrin Lumbert, Library Assistant-Interlibrary Loan
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Grown Up Digital by Dan Tapscott. Here’s a link to the book’s site.
Ethan Dahlin Magoon, Online Media Producer, CMR
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Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
This is the intriguing story of Trond, an aging, grieving man living in a self-inflicted isolation. He has given up his former life for a solitary existence partially out of a life-long yearning to be left alone, but mostly out of grief for the sudden death of his wife. But when he realizes that his new neighbor is a figure from his past it triggers a host of feelings and memories that Trond has been trying to avoid for a long time, and in flashbacks we are taken back with him to the summer of his fifteenth year — a summer that forever altered the course of his life. Beautifully written and memorable!
Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende
Based almost entirely on the life of Ines Suarez who lived from 1507 to 1580, this is the historical fictional account of life in the 16th century and the birth of a nation. I love Allende’s wonderful descriptions and just as in her book, Zorro, she brings her characters to life. Poor and nearly destitute, Ines had a rough life in Spain. Alone because her husband has left to make his fortune in the new world she eventually sets out to search for him. When she arrives Ines learns he has been killed. Determined to make a new life for herself Ines decides to remain in the new colony. She eventually meets Don Pedro de Valdivia, field marshal of Francisco Pizarro. Together they undertake the founding of the country of Chile. You will not be able to put this book down!
The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry
The book starts when the main character, Towner, receives a call from her brother telling her that her 80-something-year-old Great Aunt, a lace reader, is missing and she must return home to Salem, Massachusetts. The reading of lace had been a tradition of the all the women in their family, and Towner was no exception. Although she wants no part of it anymore, she loves her aunt and feels she has to face her bad memories and go home. Towner returns after being away for over 15 years and is immediately immersed in all the troubles of the past. It is interesting to follow the writing of author Barry as she writes through the eyes of Towner, who sometimes lives in her dreams of the past. The story moves quickly as you try to determine if what Towner is thinking is real, or the memories from childhood twisted over time. Interesting information about lace reading and lots of surprises in this book!
Mary Main, Director of Human Resources
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This year, my three personal favorites are recent reads: Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
I finished it just before her Pulitzer Prize was announced, and was happily surprised that she received recognition for a really special book. All through the book, I felt: “I know these people. I know this town—maybe better than the people I really know, and the town where I really live.” But what I can’t understand is how a young woman from the Class of 1977 knows how it feels to be as old as the characters she creates.
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 60′s—as seen through the stories of black “maids” in upperclass white households, written by a young white woman who has grown up in the culture and encourages the middle-aged women to tell her their stories. The stories are powerful, chilling, and especially shocking to me, as a college student from the 60′s. Perhaps reading it then would have made me more of an activist.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
A book of letters, written in the aftermath of World War II, about the residents of Guernsey, and a writer who comes to the island by a chance connection. Her involvement with characters who grow real though their letters and telegrams weaves a heartwarming story of love, quiet heroism, friendship, and loyalty over time.
Judy Marden, Bates Retiree and Class of ’66
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History: A Novel by Elsa Morante. Trans. by W, Weaver
Set in WWII in Italy, Morante explores the intersection between individual lives and the larger forces of political events in a way that is utterly compelling and authentic. Never preachy, Morante forces us to see that we are always subject to political forces, even when we don’t want to be. Morante herself went into hiding from the Germans during WWII in the mountains south of Rome. She won several awards for her novels and is one of Italy’s premier authors.
Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy by Eric G. Wilson
He came and spoke here. His book celebrates those moments when we are not quite right with the world and our lives, and when we are compelled to reflect and generate new ideas and new ways of being in the world.
Lisa Maurizio, Associate Professor of Classical and Medieval Studies
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The Oregon Files are a group of novels written by author Clive Cussler and co-author Craig Dirigo and later co-author Jack Du Brul. The books follow the mysterious “Corporation” and its leader Juan Cabrillo. Juan Cabrillo is Chairman of the Corporation, a special US Government-sponsored group that operates out of a ship called Oregon, a marvel of scientific research equipment bristling with state-of-the-art weaponry – but disguised as a heap of junk. Cabrillo and his crew of mercenaries with a conscience are able to cross the high seas in their ‘rusting’ tub unmolested, seeking out those beyond the arms of the law and dealing out justice to any who would plot chaos on a global scale. The Oregon Files series currently consists of 6 books: Golden Buddha (2004), Sacred Stone (2004), Dark Watch (2005), Skeleton Coast (2006), Plague Ship (2008) and Corsair (2009).
Karen McArthur, Systems Administrator, ILS
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My favorite book this year was Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was probably on last year’s recommended list. I also liked Loving Frank: A Novel by Nancy Horan, “a historically imagined novel that is at once fully versed in the facts and unafraid of weaving those truths into a story that dares to explore the unanswered questions of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney’s love story.” In line with our Bates year of contemplating food, I recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Camille Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp (I love every book by Kingsolver) and, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals and In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan. Here if you need me: A true story by Kate Braestrup. A wonderful memoir by the chaplain to the Maine Warden Service.
Laurie McConnell, Academic Administrative Assistant , Carnegie lobby desk,
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I’m not one who usually reads autobiographies, but I recently picked up the book, What’s It All About by Michael Caine. His writing style is friendly and conversational, as though he is telling his story face to face with the reader. His story as a struggling actor making it into the limelight of celebrity carries you on a personal journey that is laced with comedy and sadness. With the pending release of yet another acclaimed movie, one may be interested to learn what life experiences made him the person and actor that he is today.
Monica McCusker, Office Coordinator-College Store
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The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie — One of the best books I have read in recent memory. An engaging story, memorable characters, and a dynamic writing style. And the extreme controversy surrounding the novel only makes it more appealing! A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry — This is a story about India in the 70s, during the State of Emergency. Four strangers are thrown together and are forced to live together and grow, learn, and develop together during troubling times. A very moving and deeply emotional story. The Brother Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky — A very long, very interesting Russian novel centering on the four Karamazov brothers and the murder of their father. It combines courtroom drama with mystery with many musings on man’s place in the world and the existence (or lack thereof) of God. Gripping and powerful! Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan — A story that centers on a fateful trip to Burma. Narrated by the ghost of the trip organizer who dies before the trip commences. This book includes a lot of historical fact regarding Burma. A very engaging and interesting read. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver—This book is about a family of missionaries who are working in the Congo. Each chapter is narrated by a different daughter. Another book that integrates the actual history of the Congo and its post-colonial history.
Andrew McGeehan, Housing Coordinator and Residence Life Assistant
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Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004)
Only 247 pages, this was a surprisingly rich and welcome meditation each night. Really fine, spare writing. Readers are transported to a small town in 1950s Iowa, where we get to intimately understand John Ames, an old Congregationalist minister with a young second wife and a six-year-old son. Ames is dying of heart disease, and he is crafting a family history and memoir to leave behind for his boy. At the same time, he is feeling conflicted about how much he should say to his wife about a friend’s son who left Gilead in disgrace but recently returned, befriending and bonding with his wife and son. It is truly wonderful how the author gets inside the head of this 80-year-old man and shares his thoughts as he is approaches the end of life, and the peace he wants to make with life. (This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005.)
Bryan McNulty, Director, Communications and Media Relations
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The Gathering by Anne Enright – The Irish family can be a rich trove of sadness, and Enright mines it as few can. The Art of Strategy by Dixit and Nalebuff – Game theory offers myriad strategic insights. Here those insights are illustrated with examples from everyday life, business, and sport. An easy introduction to better strategic thinking.
Michael Murray, Charles Franklin Phillips Professor of Economics
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Here are some great books I’ve read lately: Thinking In Pictures: My Life with Autism (Expanded Edition), by Temple Grandin — A very interesting perspective on the world. I learned things in this book — about animals, about the different ways people think, about ‘disorders,’ and so much more — which, I think, will forever influence my own perspective on the world. It certainly has defended my desire for lots of hugs (or squeeze machines) — you’ll know what I mean if you read the book! Water for Elephants, but Sara Gruen — This book sweeps you up, right along with its protagonist, onto the traveling circus train.
Boy’s Life, by Robert McCammon — This book is filled with the magic of being young but also the realities of change and the passing of time. It takes place in a small, Alabama town, but every chapter is action and imagination-packed, from shoot-outs to dinosaurs. McCammon encourages nostalgia in the reader, not only for the innocence of childhood, but that time in history, not too long ago, in which people were sure that “the world’ll always need milkmen.” But he also plays close attention to the darker facts of life (and death), using clever metaphor and skilled writing to blur the lines between fact and fiction, and to ask us to question the need for this distinction in the first place. Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan — This might be a cliche choice, but, more than any other book, this has made me rethink my lifestyle. I like that Pollan not only presents the problems with our current food consumption, but offers more efficient solutions. The book is full of wellthought-out points and counter-points which force you to chew on your own daily decisions, as well as lots of tasty factoids. I just fine Pollan’s writing so persuasive, and yet so honest and common-sensical.
Aubrey Nelson, Americorp VISTA
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Leo Lerman, The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman. Knopf, 2007
Tab Hunter with Eddie Muller, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. Algonquin Books, 2005
Bob Morris, Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad. Harper, 2008
Max Birkbeck, Deconstructing Sammy (Davis, Jr.): Music, Money, Madness, and the Mob Amistad, 2008.
Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (A Novel). The Free Press, 2008
Charles Nero, Associate Professor of Rhetoric
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Two novels I enjoyed this year: The Swarm by Frank Schätzing is a big, fat thriller for readers who love science as well as speculation about alien forms of intelligence. If you don’t enjoy science fiction, you might still enjoy this thriller because the alien form of intelligence turns out to share the planet with us. The story explores possible outcomes of our unsustainable ways of treating the world’s bodies of water.
Mr. Emerson’s Wife by Bates graduate Anne Belding Brown is a fictional imagining of the life of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s second wife, Lydia(n). She was a fascinating member of the transcendental circle, who may or may not have reacted to Emerson’s request that she modify her common name to the less common Lydian, as Brown has her do. But whether she spoke up or not, we understand something about the shape of the marriage to come.
Georgia Nigro, Professor of Psychology
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The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel
A short read, certainly a summer beach read. Angela tells her hilarious stories of being broke in college. Great comical detail and a fun read.
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
You probably already have this suggestion, as it was a big seller this year. But this is an excellent book and a great graduation gift! Highly recommended.
The New Kings of Nonfiction – Edited & Introduced by Ira Glass (NPR’s “This American Life”)
A great collection of short non-fiction stories by popular names such as Malcolm Caldwell and Chuck Klosterman.
Sara Noyes, Residence Life and Student Activities Assistant
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The Air We Breathe, by the great Andrea Barrett, is a brilliant, transcendent book. Written in the first person plural (go figure, but for a reason), it chronicles the lives of inmates at a New York TB sanitorium, hitting on class, immigration, anarchism, women in science, public health, power, and of course love, deception, healing landscapes, big meals, revenge: this book has everything! Go immediately to the College Store and buy it! The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery is a very different book but has some of the same themes about class, knowledge, and humanity. Its protagonist is the concierge of a swanky apartment building in Paris who is compelled to hide her formidable intellect, till she is discovered by two other outsiders. A great book about why it matters to educate yourself. And I did read and love Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout ’77, long before it won the Pulitzer Prize. Life in a small Maine town told in a series of precise and unnerving stories. Liz Strout has an uncanny ability to make you love and loathe a character at the same time: so lifelike!
Kerry O’Brien, Assistant Dean of the Faculty
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I wish I could remember the others I’ve read this year, but those are ones that stand out to me. The Latehomecomer, A Hmong Family Memoir, by Kao Kalia Yang The author is a young woman, not too much older than our students when she wrote this. She writes beautifully about her experiences as her family is resettled in Minnesota after the Vietnam War. I Remember Warm Rain, Telling Room’s Story House Project This is a collection of writings by immigrant and refugee teens living in the Portland area. It is a very quick read that provides a glimpse into the lives of these young adults as they begin to make their ways here. Godmother, The Secret Cinderella Story, by Carolyn Turgeon This is the Cinderella story from her fairy godmother’s point of view. It is an interesting take on the story, one you don’t expect at all. It would be a great choice for a book group. On the darker side, though.
Karen A. Palin, Lecturer in Biology
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Here are two novels I’m very excited about: Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies
Jim Parakilas, Music, James L. Moody Family Professor of Performing Arts
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I recommend The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall. It is the story of an autumn’s adventures of a very quirky family of four young (ages 4-12) sisters and their dad. The characters are marvelous: quirky, like I said, and some nerdy, some obstinate, all well-meaning and very accepting of one another. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments.
Liz McCabe Park, Director, Maine Campus Compact
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I’m just finishing up Wally Lamb’s newest novel, The Hour I First Believed. I gave it to Ian, who loved Lamb’s previous novel, I Know this Much is True, for Christmas. He recommended I read it but be prepared. It’s not for everyone, and it brings in the Columbine tragedy and images thereof in a big way, but if you like Lamb’s other books, you should like it. I still think I like his previous one better. I also have been reading…”They were very beautiful. Such things are” : memoirs for change from Dadaab, Kenya and Lewiston, Maine, which I’ve enjoyed very much. In a different genre, Julian was telling me about the wellknown juvenile fiction novel Holes, by Louis Sachar, which I had come upon in one of my cleaning forays. I knew the other 2 kids had read it and that a movie had been made of it, but he piqued my curiosity, so I read it, quickly of course (a treat in itself). I liked it!
Ian and Julian are Carole’s sons — Editor.
Carole Parker, Library Assistant-Acquisitions
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I would like to recommend Kenneth Roberts’ novel Lydia Bailey. With action ranging from New England in the early 1800′s, to Haiti during Toussaint L’Ouverture’s rebellion, to the Barbary Coast, this novel is fairly typical of Roberts’ style. It is a little bit detective story, a lot of adventure and a little bit of romance, extensively researched with plenty of historical details.
Heather L’Hommedieu Perreault, Assistant Director, Financial Offices
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Two examples of successful historical fiction for your list, in case these have not yet been named: The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland It’s actually a 3-book series that chronicles the life of Josephine Bonaparte (wife of Napoleon) through her fictional diary entries. Great glimpse into a turbulent time through the life of a fascinating woman. Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett — another piece of historical fiction, this one about Chancellor Thomas More (under Henry VIII) and the relationship of his family (in particular, of his foster daughter) to the visiting German painter Hans Holbein.
Sonja Pieck, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
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I like to mix up my genres and the price I pay is that not everything I read ends up on my list of favorites. For international intrigue with a submariner’s theme you can’t go too far wrong with Patrick Robinson. I read H.M.S. Unseen which is about a very angry but very clever Iraqi agent working with a group of Irani opportunists to steal a British submarine and shoot missiles at American targets. The U.S. would be doomed without the curmudgeonly but brilliant Admiral Morgan and his British counterpart. This is an edge of your seat thriller with some truly despicable and some truly likable characters. A great escape. My favorite novel this past year lead to interest in reading others by the author.
Susan Vreeland wrote Luncheon at the Boating Party which is an imagined explanation of how Pierre-Auguste Renoir came to create the painting bearing the book’s title. Vreeland skillfully weaves the lives of the models and their relationships with Renoir into a tale which brings life to the painting. I had great fun Googling the paintings referenced in the book and other artists who were part of the story. Aside from the creative way in which the story is developed Vreeland has a wonderful writing style. I found this to be an adventure in art appreciation and I was fascinated with Vreeland’s speculations on what was going on in Renoir’s life and in his head as the painting evolved.
So then I had to read Girl in Hyacinth Blue also by Vreeland. I didn’t find it as compelling but the story followed a fictional Vermeer painting backwards through its various owners to its origin. The story is about how the painting impacted each custodian. This book is about art history, character study, near-poetic prose and emotional transitions in the lives of people from all walks of life. It is about the power of art to shape peoples’ lives and thus inform history. It isn’t a totally happy story but in some chapters this painting lifts people up from hardship and frees them despite the pain of letting the painting go. So then I had to read The Passion of Artemisia also by Susan Vreeland. This is a beautifully written speculation on the life and times of a female painter in Italy from 1593-1653, Artemisia Gentileschi. She is the daughter of a painter in a world of male artists. She is raped by her father’s partner, publically humiliated in a trial, forced into an arranged marriage and cheated upon by her husband. Through it all she finds solace and enlightenment through art. This is another story which can be enhanced by Googling the paintings referenced in the story. Artemisia has a unique and renowned ability to capture the emotion in women’s faces. This book also provides a spectacular perspective on the art of Italy and one woman’s perception of the influences of the time.
I needed to change genres so I read Christopher Paolini’s Brisingr. This is the third novel in the series which was started when Paolini was 15 years old. His writing is maturing but even with only a few years behind him the author has an amazing perception of human values. His characters reveal his wit and wisdom. But his hero is pure youth, supremely confident one moment and impatient and filled with angst the next. Of course there is magic and politics and warfare and relationships and dragons. The book has a lot to offer if fantasy is your thing. It’s a brick of a book but it usually moves along quite well. Of course, there is no real solution to the central plot so you’ll have to wait for the last book in the series. I tried on some other fantasy and science fiction but the author who I found most satisfying was Julie E. Czerneda. The Trade Pact Universe Trilogy includes A Thousand Words for Stranger, Ties of Power and To Trade the Stars. I like the author’s imaginative characters and her sense of humor. There is telepathy and a love interest and strange creatures with odd devotion to the heroine. It’s complicated enough to keep your interest without befuddling you in tangled plots. There are answers to some of the mysteries in each book with enough loose ends to draw you into the next book. It’s not high literature but it’s entertaining for a light read.
Since I was travelling to New Mexico and Arizona for vacation in March I had to read some Tony Hillerman. While I’m not usually a fan of mysteries, the two stories I read were very engaging. The Blessing Way and A Thief of Time were recommended and did not disappoint. These books provide a good introduction to Native American culture and a bit of archeology with a great introduction to the geography. For non-fiction I read two books which I enjoyed. The Flamingo’s Smile: Reflections on Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould is a collection of articles originally written for Natural History Magazine. It seemed like a timely read for the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Sometimes Gould’s writing seemed a bit arrogant or self-righteous but the subject matter and depth of knowledge was truly impressive.
The other book was Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey: River of Doubt by Candice Millard. This was historical, dramatic and startling. The trip was one of adventure and exploration on a South American river and took place fairly late in Roosevelt’s life. It reveals a lot about the man and his companions. At times I found the narrative redundant but the boldness of the poorly equipped and barely prepared expedition left no doubt about the strength of will and determination of the men who undertook this trip. The area was previously uncharted and once the journey was begun there was no turning back and no real chance of rescue. There were no satellite photos or aerial shots showing the number and ferocity of rapids. Little was known of the natives except that they were not prone to welcoming strangers. This book can make you stop in your tracks and think about how you would have managed in Roosevelt’s shoes. We have come a long way in our ability to prepare for safe outcomes but I suspect few of us would have the tolerance for hardship and risk demonstrated by this band of men. It was fascinating and chilling.
Ray Potter, Environmental Health and Safety Coordinator
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I’ve had a bit of a reading drought this year, broken (thankfully) by these downpours: Liz Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. Liz and I were both English majors at Bates in the glorious Class of ‘77. She has a fresh Pulitzer while I have…a great affection and respect for Olive. Mary Shaffer’s Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Devoured this one. Anne Lamott’s Plan B. I have always appreciated Lamott’s quirky yet direct approach on matters spiritual, parental, mid-life… Lorna Landvik’s View from Mount Joy. Landvik continues to create characters I enjoy. Amy Dickinson’s The Mighty Queens of Freeville. This wonderful read features two Bates notables, Kirk Read and Camille Parrish. You’ll have to read the book to discover just what pivotal roles they play in Amy’s life. (This is the Amy of “Ask Amy” advice column fame and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” on NPR). And on my list of “to be read and savored” this summer, the newly-released An Honorable Harvest—Shakers and the Natural World, by professor emeritus of Religion, Clark A. Griffiths Professor Emeritus of Environmental Studies AND former Dean of the Faculty at Bates, Carl Benton Straub. This much-anticipated book is published by the United Society of Shakers and is available at the Bates Bookstore (shameless plug here!).
Sarah Potter, Bookstore Director
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I recommend taking time to linger in the kind of pop magazines for sale in places like the supermarket check-out area. They can be a great source of pleasure, amusement, and insight—and not just about what some people in academic settings assume to be the sorry state of pop culture. Sure, you can find the same fake science that daily graces the Today show: my favorite of late concerns the “chemical of attachment” that allegedly prohibits women from enjoying casual sex. But I’ve also read great pieces in Soap Opera Digest on how racism drives programming, and dare I say it, a wonderful column “by” Pamela Anderson in (the now defunct) Jane that was useful and vividly on target about living with an alcoholic. You never know what you might find, but more often than one might expect, I think, it includes counterevidence to snobby presumptions about where to find insight.
Erica Rand, Professor of Art and Visual Culture
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Confession of an Economic Hit Man John Perkins
The Gift of Dyslexia Ronald Davis
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed Alan Alda
The Devil in the White City Eric Larson
John Rasmussen, Project Manager-Facility Services
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It is a sign of my perversely pitiful life that I, as a professor of literature, have read so little for leisure. And some of what I read I really didn’t like. A pleasure from my short term: Tintin in Tibet (or better yet, Tintin au Tibet). A beautifully told story of friendship, gorgeously illustrated. Tintin encounters the abominable snow man and rescues his friend Tchang in the himalayas after having dreamed of his peril. Michael Farr’s companion that I recommended last year is a nice complement: The Complete Tintin. This is the second time I’ve taught Tintin for short term and my fanaticism is becoming ever more complicated and nuanced. I heard Samantha Hunt read from her book The Invention of Everything Else about Tesla (thank you Jonathan Skinner, Rob Farnsworth and Eden Osucha for such a wonderful authors series!) and have started it and love it A tri-fecta based on Terry Gross’s interview with Erik Reece. I haven’t read his book, but plan to: An American Gospel which is an exploration of his struggle with religion. He uses Walt Whitman as a reference and quoted some beautiful passages from Leaves of Grass which I took off the shelf and bathed in again right after. I love Walt Whitman for his rambling, unruly, exuberant verse which is so right in summer. A tonic for overheated academic prose and overedited senior theses. And then listen to the musical settings of leaves of grass by Fred Hersch. Beautiful. As a respite from Whitman, read Baudelaire. And Emily Dickinson. Anything. Exquisite. My honor’s thesis student did a study of Baudelaire and Debussy and what music can or cannot do in comparison with poetry.
The same could be said for French and English, I suppose. Get a bilingual edition at least! I want to read Our Life in Gardens by Wayne Wintterrowd and Joe Eck and then go visit their amazing estate in New York (North Hill). I will put in (perhaps another) plug for my pal Amy Dickinson’s memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville. I know everyone in it and make an appearance in chapter 6. Amy and I were negotiating our book contracts at the same time. She got over 4 million dollars for two books. I am still negotiating not to have to pay for my own indexing. Sigh. At 5 thousand dollars a word, I think her beautiful book holds up quite well.
Kirk Read, Associate Professor of French
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Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann. NY: Picador-Henry Holt & Co.
A finely written book about the history of a part of the world we (at least, I) should know more about. How did India form as it is today? Why Pakistan? For a wonderful read that you cannot put down, try this one. Strapless by Deborah Davis. NY: Penguin, 2003 The intriguing story behind John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Madame X. A view into the life of the artist and the striking, 19th century, French Creole woman who posed for the painting, the culture that swirled around and with her, in and out of the painting.
Jill Reich, Dean of Faculty
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Here’s my one great read from the past year. Loved it!
If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska
by Heather Lende From Publishers Weekly: Lende chronicles the various lives and deaths of the people of Haines, Alaska, an almost inaccessible hamlet 90 miles north of Juneau. In writing her social and obituary columns for Haines’s Chilkat Valley News—some of which are included here—she blends reportage and humor.
Julie Retelle, Assistant College Librarian for Access Services
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Heat by Bill Buford
New Yorker editor works as a kitchen slave in one of Mario Batali’s restaurants. This is the beginning of a cooking quest…I don’t want to eat there, but have considered (very briefly) apprenticing with a Tuscan butcher.
The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
An older book, worth a re-read, and one of my husband’s favorites. Mattheissen travels to Nepal with biologist George Schaller to study Himalayan blue sheep, and possibly glimpse a rare snow leopard. A physical and spiritual journey.
An Unexpected Forest by Eleanor Lincoln Morse (Maine author!)
Very sweet book about changes. On the day he is fired from his job, The US Forest Service mistakenly delivers 1000 black spruce tree seedlings to our hero’s home in suburbia. He decides he needs to plant them in mid-Maine. In bogs. With black flies. For the young adult fantasy crowd, a series called The Books of Pellinor by Alison Croggon. These are The Naming, The Riddle, The Crow, and The Singing. The usual good vs evil/magic/journey quest but very fun summer read.
Stephanie Richards, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology
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Magazines too? Then my pick is definitely The Week. As for books – I’ll go ahead and suggest Getting Green Done by Auden Schendler.
Julie Rosenbach, Environmental Coordinator
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I’m in the middle of The Known World by Edward Jones. I had to stop reading for awhile because I knew something bad was about to happen to a favorite character. Now that the light has returned I can continue. The story is set in Virginia during the mid-1800s and is about the lives of African American slave owners, their slaves and the culture surrounding them. Multiple main characters with flash forward events that allow you to know their future without actually getting there in the narrative.
Nancy Salmon, Bates Dance Festival
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Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It) by William Poundstone
This engaging piece of nonfiction describes a variety of methods of counting votes, as well as the vulnerabilities of each to such problems as vote-splitting (recall the U.S. presidential election of 2000). He makes a persuasive case that the system we use in national elections in the U.S. is one of the worst. Interestingly, the system used at such web sites as www.hotornot.com (“range voting”) seems to be one of the best. Poundstone (who also wrote “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” an accessible exploration of basic game theory and a biography of John von Neumann) has a knack for making mathematical concepts easy to understand and engaging.
Michael Sargent, Associate Professor of Psychology
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Sherman Alexie: Ten Little Indians, Indian Killer, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian and Reservation Blues. Julia Glass: Three Junes For the Young Adults/teens: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.
Paula Schlax, Associate Professor of Chemistry
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The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (much better than the movie)
Claire Schmoll, Assistant to the Vice President for Finance and Treasurer
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Liz Strout’s amazing, Pulitzer-Prize winning Olive Kitteridge.
David Scobey, Director of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships
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Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh Ghosh seems to want to single-handedly revive the rich Indo-English vocabulary of past centuries in this book about the British opium industry of the early 19th century—and why not? Don’t you want launderbuzz, budzat and chuckeroo in your emergency expletive repertoire? Why NOT go back to that huge crossover stock pile of which “jodhpurs” and “kedgeree” are just the tip, instead of trying to translate impossible idioms (and I’ve tried)? Sea of Poppies is a salty tale of tall ships and second mates, a historical compendium of early British India, and a fictional testament to vicissitudes of cross-cultural characters high and low. If you think “globalization” is a recent thing, read this book. It would be handy to have a labeled diagram of a slave-trade sailing ship nearby. Readers with some Hindi/Urdu/Bengali will get a kick out of the South Asian inside jokes, though there is a glossary of sorts (in fictional guise) to help others. And I belatedly understood why the story stops in the middle of the Indian Ocean—it’s part of a projected trilogy. Poet in New York by Federico Garcia Lorca These texts are from a gritty time when only cabbies and hoodlums, rather than writers and artists, seemed to swarm the streets of the city. The facing page translations are a rather insane way to pick up Spanish, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. “…una reunion de cloacas/donde gritan las oscuras ninfas del colera.” What he said! Smooth and digestible translations, however.
Sagaree Sengupta, Asian Studies Lecturer, Graduate Fellowships Advisor
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For someone whose reading taste has run to light fiction in recent years, this was a serious year for me: my two favorite books were both about presidents, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and President Obama’s autobiographical Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Perhaps inspired by the Obama book, I happened to read two novels about young men growing up between cultures this spring, The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri) and The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie). For sheer fun, I recommend Gods Behaving Badly (Marie Phillips) about a house full of bored Greek gods in contemporary London and Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty (Jim Sandlin) about a nursing home full of ex hippies in 2022.
Beth Sheppard, Associate Director of Annual Giving
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I recommend the humorous fantasy/alternate history series by British author Jasper Fforde (don’t ask me how to pronounce that!). The books are: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots and Something Rotten. I’ve read the first 3 so far. The main character is named Thursday Next. There are puns and in-group humor a-plenty for literature fans and I often laugh out loud while reading these books. In the alternate world of these books, literature is far more popular than in our world, and in fact there is a whole organization set up to police and protect books and their characters. I simply can’t begin to describe all the clever plot and character devices, but I can recommend this series without reservation to anyone who loves literature and quirky novels. Also recommend the series by Laurie B. King, starting with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. The beekeeper is Sherlock Holmes, and his apprentice is a young teenager named Mary Russell. I won’t be a spoiler and say more, except you know there are other books in the series, so the partnership must continue. As a fan of Sherlock Holmes, I was skeptical, but this series is every bit as witty and full of plot twists, maybe even more so. Good writing, as well. Laurie R. King has described Russell as “what Sherlock Holmes would look like if Holmes, the Victorian detective, were a) a woman, b) of the Twentieth century, and c) interested in theology”. King has a graduate degree in Old Testament theology that has doubtless informed Russell’s own theological pursuits. Finally, I just finished Four Letters of Love by Irish writer Niall Williams.
The writing in this sometimes reminded me of a long prose poem. Stunning. And a great love story (actually, several) as well as weaving the atmosphere of Ireland and the Irish throughout. Great summer read.
Bonnie Shulman, Associate Professor of Mathematics
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The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker
Gavin de Becker garnered widespread media attention with his bestselling book, The Gift of Fear, which revealed the practical lessons from his decades of studying violence for the purpose of protecting ourselves from the dangerous situations people typically face – street crime, domestic abuse, violence in the workplace. The book, which appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for four months and has been published in 13 languages, was featured multiple times on the Oprah Winfrey Show, ABCTV’s Prime Time Live, and Larry King Live, as well as the pages of Time and Newsweek, and was endorsed by every major women’s magazine.
Marni Lyn Sienko, Bates Contract Photographer
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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
There are two female narrators in this novel, a 50-something concierge and a 12-year-old student. They live in the same building in Paris but don’t know each other. They are both sophisticated philosophers who have chosen to keep a low profile by looking ordinary (the concierge) and stupid (the girl) for quiet living. Also, they are both in love with Japan. Will they manage to find out about each other? Best seller in Europe, finally available in English.
Roberta Strippoli, Visiting Assistant Professor of Asian Studies
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This year it’s mostly books about books — with two exceptions.
Bibliotopia, Steven Gilbar
This is a miscellany about books. It describes the component parts of books, book sizes, history of printing, literary terms, largest libraries in the world, and on and on. It even has a depiction of selected typefaces on the endpapers ["Endpapers — the paper attached to the inside of the boards of a book after it has been covered."] A small encyclopedia and great for browsing.
Reading the OED, Ammon Shea
First off, the author admits, “I collect words.” What better way to spend his time while out of work than to move in with his girlfriend (a very indulgent girlfriend) along with his collection of dictionaries and spend his days there and in the Hunter College Library reading the Oxford English Dictionary — all of it. Better yet to write a book on this excellent adventure, a chapter for each letter of the alphabet, and containing a few choice words from the OED beginning with that letter. For example, “happify” — to make you happy, which this book will.
The City of Dreaming Books, Walter Moers
This is among the most engrossing of literary odysseys. It involves a hero and a quest and a fantasy world. Optimus Yarnspinner, a creature, perhaps a sort of dinosaur to judge from the book’s delightful illustrations, is himself an author and has inherited a manuscript of another unnamed author whose identity he feels he must discover. His search takes him to Bookholm — The City of Dreaming Books. I’ll say no more — except that you really should read it.
People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks
This is the history — part fact, part fiction — of an ancient book, the Sarajevo Haggadah. A number of its features, even that it was magnificently illustrated, call its authenticity into question and causes it to be put into the hands of a skilled manuscript restorer for examination. Her work on the Haggadah is one story. The other is the story of the book itself, of the people who preserved it through the centuries, and those who tried to destroy it in the recurrent periods of anti-Semitism in Europe.
A History of Reading, Alberto Manguel
This is a personal account of the author’s life as a reader, as well as a history of reading and readers of all kinds. It’s an account of reading alone and being read to, of books and bookmen, of the importance of reading in all ages and for all people. Manguel does in text what Kertesz has done in photographs in On Reading. He notes, for example, that one of the cruelest cruelties of African-American slavery was that slaves were forbidden to read. In the end, he quotes Virginia Woolf on readers. “… when the day of judgment dawns … the Almighty will turn to Peter and say, not without certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading.’”
The following are the two exceptions — one is an historical mystery (fiction), the other is a modern tragedy (fact).
Mistress of the Art of Death, Ariana Franklin
Henry II has a problem, several murdered Christian children whose deaths are blamed on the Jewish community in Cambridge. Henry is concerned, mostly because the Jewish community is a prime source of his tax revenue. He calls on a forensic pathologist from Salerno — a Mistress of the Art of Death named Adelia. Battling prejudice, ignorance, the Church, and even accusations of witchcraft, Adelia “reads” the bodies and eventually solves the murders. The final court scene is illustrative. Rather than the comfortable resort to the supernatural to make decisions, Adelia forces the judges (with a little help from Henry himself) to consider the facts as dispositive. For all her efforts, Adelia is scantly rewarded. Henry won’t let her leave England. He might have need of her again. She can’t marry one of Henry’s knights she’s fallen in love with because Henry wants him as a tame bishop in a Church still smarting over the Becket thing. But pragmatic as ever she settles down and the last we hear of her, “… she was in bed with the Bishop-Elect of Saint Albans.”
Dying Inside, Benjamin Fleury-Steiner
The latest data indicate that one out of every 198 people in the United States is in a state or Federal prison. Some say that we have a larger proportion of our population incarcerated than most any other nation. We imprison so many and for so long that we have created a swelling population of the geriatric and the sick, a population which prisons are ill equipped to deal with. Many jurisdictions simply give up on health care, for example, and farm it out to private health providers. These frequently cut to the bottom line since the patients they ostensibly serve can’t effectually complain. And the sickest and most forgotten of these are the AIDS patients who will end up in a place like the HIV/AIDS ward at Limestone Prison in Alabama. Dying Inside is the story of a gruesome health crisis in a place where, as one prisoner put it, when an inmate is transferred there, they just go there to die.
Sawyer Sylvester, Professor of Sociology
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One new one old: Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond, written in 1956, has to be one of the most charming, and funny “travel” books ever written. A fictional account of the narrator, her aunt, and an Anglican priest as they wander around Turkey. The opening sentence will give you some idea of the book: “”Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.” Of course it’s outdated, but you get a pretty good picture of the country and its people, and not everything has changed. It’s wise as well as funny. For a new book I suggest Ursula LeGuin’s Lavinia, an imagining of the story of the wife Aeneas chooses after abandoning Dido to burn on her pyre. Lavinia gets only a handful of words in The Aeneid, but LeGuin not only creates a worthy (and of course feisty) companion for the hero, she makes Lavinia seem credible, and pius Aeneas both human and lovable. The novel sent me back to Vergil, in a new translation by Sarah Ruden.
Anne Thompson, Professor Emerita of English
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Two of the best murder mysteries I (Dick) have ever read — and I’ve read a lot — the first two of a trilogy by Stieg Larsson, who died shortly after finishing the third (which will be translated in a year or so). They are best read in order: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and, for those who care about the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest).
Superior travel book: Colin Thubron: Shadow of the Silk Road
Dick (Professor Emeritus of Psychology) and Lois Wagner
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If you like your summer reading served up in big, tasty chunks of contemporary history — and I bet some of you do — then find a copy of Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 by Tony Judt. One of our most respected and honored historians, Judt has crafted a magesterial work encompassing not just the recent political and military history of post-WWII Europe, but also the social, cultural, intellectual, and occasionally the moral histories of the era. The New York Review of Books said this work “has the pace of a thriller and the scope of an encyclopedia.” Amen. And as a bonus, if you’re thinking of reading Martha Cooley’s The Archivist — don’t. Dull, stifling, maddening. Find something more diverting, like product labels or shipping instructions.
Pat Webber, Archivist, Muskie Archives
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Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and Davis Oliver Relin
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls came recommended by a friend.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini has been on this list for years and I finally got around to reading it!
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel by Lisa See
Beth Whalon, Assistant in Instruction in Biological Chemistry
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Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens
I try to read a Dickens novel each winter. Over-sentimental, yes, but quite current in its depiction of the results of avarice and financial shenanigans.
Two in the Far North, Margaret Murie
I bought this memoir at truck stop in Coldfoot, Alaska. Considered one of the founding mothers of the environmental movement, Murie writes of her upbringing in Fairbanks, a dog-sled honeymoon, and many trips in the Brooks Range.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
A gorgeous mix of pop and politics. The language will transport you.
Selections from John Degon, partner and fellow-reader Fingersmith. Sarah Waters
A modern text that reads like a lost Victorian novel, only with sex and swearing. Bottom of the Harbor, Joseph Mitchell A collection of stories about the New York waterfront originally published in The New Yorker from 1940-50. But so much more.
Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work, Jason Brown
A collection of stories set in and around the fictional town of Vaughn, Maine. Beautifully written and as evocative of life in a small town as “Olive Kitteredge”.
Andrew White, Director of User Services, ILS
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Two older books I read this year that deserve some notice. When I studied history seriously I shied away from military studies, tactics, and all associated matters. Grant, by Jean Edward Smith (Simon & Schuster, 2001) tells me why this was maybe a mistake. The story of a modest man who became the most celebrated American after Lincoln who also was written off by subsequent generations, especially in high school history texts. A really interesting study of the rise and fall of fame, and an answer to the question “Why does Grant deserve a tomb on Riverside Drive?” Also, An Island out of Time, by Tom Horton (W. W. Norton, 1996). Tom Horton is a journalist and now a champion of saving the Chesapeake Bay. This is his narrative of a year spent on Smith Island in 1987. Full of vignettes of island life and living, with unsentimental and stunning transcripts of islanders who seek to maintain their lives in the face of environmental destruction, bureaucratic insensitivity and the relentless work of currents, tides and isolation.
Gene Wiemers, Vice President for ILS and Librarian
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Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
Anne Williams, Professor Emerita of Economics
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Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner won a Pulitzer Prize, but don’t let that put you off. Great intergenerational saga of the American west without cowboys. Beautiful writing and a fantastic storyline. 400 pages of summer enjoyment.
LaVerne Winn, Science Reference Librarian, Ladd
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Pocketful of Names: A Novel by Joe Coomer
Some might find this novel overly long, but I loved that it’s set in Maine and explores the themes of solitude and connection, creativity and context, family and identity… (excerpted review from Booklist): …tracks the arduous emotional growth of a reclusive artist perfectly content to live by herself on an island off the coast of Maine, left to her by her lobsterman uncle. Hannah’s artwork sells briskly at a gallery in New York, which allows her to devote all of her time to her creative pursuits. Then an old charmer of a dog washes ashore, followed some months later by an abused teenager. One human connection leads to another, and soon Hannah is hosting Thanksgiving dinner, aiding the rescue efforts of a whale-watch group, and providing shelter for her pregnant half-sister. [spoiler removed!] The pace of this overly long novel is slow, but Coomer excels at evoking the attractions of solitude versus the meaning of home and connection.
Emily Wright-Timko, Assistant Chaplain
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Our annual thanks to our friends in Office Services for getting this list into booklet format with blazing speed and to our friend in Communications and Media Relations for their assistance with our web version of the list.
Compiled and edited by Sarah Potter ’77, Bookstore Director, May 2009