20th annual ‘Good Reads for Leisure Moments’ reading list from the College Store
Here’s the 20th annual summer reading list from the Bates College Store, aka Non-required Reading, or Good Reads for Leisure Moments.
The list gets a dazzling number of contributions from across the Bates community, befitting its No. 1 purpose, as a collective gift to the senior class.
But the list is a gift to the rest of us, too — a reminder to take some “leisure moments” for ourselves each summer.
The 2016 Good Reads list was compiled as always by its founder, Sarah Potter ’77, recently retired as the Bates College Store director.
Lee Abrahamsen, Associate Professor of Biology and Biochemistry
A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim. A true story of a woman raised in North Korea and her escape to South Korea and journey to America. Not the best-written book I’ve read, but an honest and compelling story about how difficult it became to survive physically and emotionally in North Korea. I can’t say that I liked it, but I certainly learned something from reading it.
Lightening by Dean Koontz. I read lots of Dean Koontz novels when I was younger, and remembered this as a favorite. Rereading it again now, some 30 years later, it’s not as good as I remember, but it still kept me reading until the end. The other Koontz novel I remember loving was Watchers. I’ll probably report on that one next year.
The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. Sarah Potter told me about this series, and I find myself going back to it when I need a familiar cast of characters and a mystery to escape into. Good call, Sarah, thanks!
Áslaug Ásgeirsdóttir, Associate Professor of Politics
I recommend Lynda Barry’s Syllabus, a wonderful book about teaching, students and the arts. I also recommend Jeff Smith’s book, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison. A first person account of a rising politician violating campaign law and ending up in prison in Kentucky and the lessons learned for the US prison system. Finally, I recommend Dear Mr. You by Mary-Louise Parker. She does a good job of writing about the men in her life without naming names.
Jim Bauer, Director of Network and Infrastructure Services, Information and Library Services
Not For Sale: Finding Center in the Land of Crazy Horse by Kevin Hancock. An amazing book by a local author and friend (Bowdoin grad), this is a unique, iconoclastic memoir that traces one businessman’s journey deep into Indian country, and even deeper into his own soul. In a corporate world hallmarked by the never-ending quest for bigger, better, more, this CEO of one of America’s oldest family businesses contemplates an organizational structure where the goal is to do less, not more.
In a 24/7 Internet-wired world consumed with roles, responsibilities, and external accomplishments, Kevin learns to look inward for meaning and purpose.
Peter Beach, Professional Machinist, Carnegie Science
I could submit two entries by Erik Larson: Devil in the White City, and Isaac’s Storm. Both nonfiction. Both good reads.
Jane Bedard, Senior Admission Office Specialist
My suggestion this year without reservation is for a Swedish novel, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, and Ove becomes part of your family. Great read for everyone since Ove is a grumpy man, but has a heart in spite of himself. It really is a must read.
Another book which I have not read yet but loved the movie, is also from Sweden. It is The 100 Year Old Man Who Jumped Out of the Window. Having seen the movie, I must read the book it was created from in 2013.
Denise Begin, Academic Administrative Assistant
I would recommend Cozy mysteries. They provide a “fun read” that engages the mind and provides entertainment. They’re considered “gentle” books — no graphic violence, no profanity, and no explicit sex. The crime-solver is usually an educated woman who is an amateur sleuth. The mysteries take place in a small town or village and makes it convenient for her to “casually overhear” things at the scene of a crime. Many themes and many authors to chose from.
Sarah Jane Bernard ’75, Director of Human Resources Information Systems
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, and A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. These two books chronicle the hiking journeys of their authors, one on the west coast (Pacific Crest Trail) and the other on the east coast (Appalachian Trail).
Thoroughly enjoyable reads — make me want to get out on those trails and test my endurance and abilities.
Kendall Blake, Systems Analyst, Information and Library Services
I took a few days over the winter to read the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie: Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy. Leckie does a good job of creating a universe and having great fun with language and perspective. Just relax, suspend your disbelief and enjoy some sci-fi.
Helen Boucher, Associate Professor of Psychology
I was hesitating about mentioning this book, as I am sure this book and the author come up frequently on this list, but I’ve been reading The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty and it is blowing my mind. In fact, I am begrudgingly doing work right now rather than reading the last 75 pages or so. Once you find out his secret (about one-third of the way in) you do not want to put this book down! Interesting, believable characters, great dialogue, and a wonderful reminder about how issues of right and wrong are not so black and white. I hope this helps!
Jane Boyle, INN-reach Coordinator, Ladd Library
Excellent reads for those who want to practice some self-improvements in their life, both by Matthew Kelly: Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth and The Rhythm of Life: Living Every Day with Passion and Purpose.
Jay Burns, Editorial Director and Bates Magazine Editor, Bates Communications
How does a great pro athlete know when to leave the game? Kobe Bryant, Willie Mays, Brett Favre, and others all stayed too long. So, read For Love of the Game by Michael Shaara (The Killer Angels) with those cautionary tales in mind. It takes a sweet look at a pitcher’s final weekend of major league baseball, capturing the rapid, head-spinning shift in identity that a great athlete must navigate, amidst great outside pressures, in trying to decide if now, or next year, is the right time.
Ella Caron via Tammy Caron, Senior Visual Designer, Bates Communications
Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen.
Peter Casares, Swimming and Diving Head Coach
I am really enjoying The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs!
Raluca Cernahoschi, Assistant Professor of German
So glad to see the Good Reads list is still going strong and will be 20 this year! I wouldn’t want to miss the occasion, so here is my humble submission:
Originally written in German with a recent translation into English, The Lamentations of Zeno by Ilija Trojanow is the story of a glaciologist whose world comes undone when his beloved alpine glacier dies. Desperate for a change, he retreats to the Antarctic, where he helps to explain ice to privileged cruise passengers. But Zeno is not quite up to handling what he believes to be simply disaster tourism. Or is he?
The novel alternates Zeno’s diary with fragments from different discourses, whose blended voices act as a Greek chorus offering commentary on the novel’s action.
Alternately hilarious and heartrending, lucid and hallucinogenic, Zeno’s lamentations question the line between sanity and madness in a world threatened with extinction.
Jane Costlow, Clark A. Griffith Professor of Environmental Studies
I’ve recently revisited Virginia Woolf, who I adored in college; it turns out that hasn’t changed. Orlando is her genre- and gender-bending account of four centuries of a life, with a whimsical sequence that involves a Russian princess. Flush is Woolf’s “biography” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, told through the eyes/consciousness of her cocker spaniel.
For something entirely different, Marc Bennett’s Kicking the Kremlin gives an account of attempts to challenge Putin and the kleptocracy at the heart of Russian power — the back story of protests in the wake of his “election” in 2012. It’s a vivid and readable account by a journalist who’s written for both the Guardian and The New York Times.
“Kleptocracy” is actually the term used by political scientist Karen Dawisha in a book I also read part of this year — Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? — a meticulously researched book that was following the money long before the Panama papers. Deeply sobering, not to say depressing — hence the “part of” in my account of reading it.
And for those quiet summer mornings when there’s finally time for more meditative pursuits, I’ll be aiming to finish a book given to me last fall — Pat Schneider’s How the Light Gets In: Writing as Spiritual Practice — a beautiful set of essays on life, self, and words.
Marianne Cowan ’92, Associate Director of Program Design, Purposeful Work
Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman has been a pleasure. I love a good travelog, and this has me traveling the world vicariously through someone who has flown away from her newly emptied nest. And a couple of very light beach books by an alumna: The Love Wars and The Never Never Sisters by L. Allison Heller, Bates Class of 1994.
David Das, Associate Director of Off-Campus Study
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee describes his walk from rural England to the Spanish Civil War. What’s there not to like about a book that starts: “The stooping figure of my mother, waist-deep in the grass and caught there like a piece of sheep’s wool, was the last I saw of my country home as I left it to discover the world.”
Jerry Davis, Class of ’61
Dead Wake by Erik Larson. The sinking of the Lusitania by a U-boat in WWI and all of the ramifications.
The Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George. An excellent mystery by one of the best.
House of the Rising Sun by James Lee Burke. Mystery and bloodshed at its best.
Pacific by Simon Winchester. Excellent and thorough study of events shaping the Pacific Ocean.
Midnight Sun by Jo Nesbo. Murder above the Arctic Circle.
The Crossing by Michael Connelly. Detective Harry Bosch on the warpath of LA criminals.
Lavina Dhingra, Professor of English
Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Elizabeth Durand, Class of 1976
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. What feels like a true portrayal of what it’s like to be on the inside as dementia creeps up on you. The best book I’ve read this year.
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. Elephants, love, memory….
The Last of the Just by André Schwarz-Bart. Winner of the Prix Goncourt (it is translated from the French) in 1959. Follows a Jewish family through centuries up to Auschwitz; gripping, emotional, and reminds us to remember.
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. I did not know this had been made into a movie, and still haven’t seen it. The book felt slow while I read it, but I can’t shake it. Post-World War II Irish immigration to the US.
In the young-adult section (I insist that there’s a lot of great writing going unrecognized in the YA section): The Truth Commission by Susan Juby; Reality Boy by A.S. King; and Whirligig by Paul Fleischman. All short(ish), all absorbing, all about change, toughness, and triumph.
And in the pop fiction section: Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline (love, betrayal, doctor-patient confidentiality, and the Philadelphia area); and three by JoJo Moyes. I resisted reading her for a long time — but her name is not her fault. These three to start: One Plus One (my favorite); Me Before You; and After You. Do not read After You until you have read Me Before You. Please.
Ken Emerson, Senior Director of Human Resources Operations and Benefits
Public Apology: In Which a Man Grapples With a Lifetime of Regret, One Incident at a Time by Dave Bry. The book itself was just OK but what it really did was make me think back to some of the dumb stuff I did as I grew up and I could relate to some of the feelings and regrets the author relates.
Melinda Emerson, Purchasing, Sales and Accounting Specialist, Information and Library Services.
Season of Fear by Brian Freeman. Very Timely. It’s about an election, for governor in Florida. Published in 2014, it’s a political-suspense novel. Paralleling this election.
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. Reading this made me want to go to Italy. Movie from the book is good, but the book is better.
Two by Steve Berry: Ramanov Prophecy and The Templer Legacy. You can’t go wrong with the fast action pace of Steve Berry’s books.
Darkness Rising series — young adult — The Gathering, The Calling, and The Rising by Kelly Armstrong. A fantasy-paranormal trilogy set on Vancouver Island, it is very fast reading.
The Last of The Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. A classic good book.
Three novellas: Brown Dog, Sunset Limited, and The Woman Lit by Fireflies by Jim Harrison. Each story is so different from the next. It is sad we lost Jim Harrison this year. He was such a good writer.
Carla Essenberg, Assistant Professor of Biology
This hasn’t been an adventurous reading year for me, but I do have cookbooks I can recommend!
The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. This book may look intimidating, but it has many very simple, delicious recipes. This is one of my go-to books when I want something easy and wonderful.
Afghan Food and Cookery by Noshe Djan. Reliably scrumptious.
Paul Farnsworth, Senior Project Manager, Facility Services
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. By a Maine author that I’m sure lots of people have already read.
Robert Farnsworth, Senior Lecturer in English
Rob Farnsworth suggests spending time with the poetry of C.K. Williams, brilliant American poet who died recently.
Sylvia Federico, Associate Professor of English
Smash Cut by Brad Gooch.
Kristy Gagne, Coordinator of Residence Life and Housing
How to Cook a Moose: A Culinary Memoir by Kate Christensen. A love song to the state of Maine and food — two of my favorite things.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. Another one about food; this one funny, poignant.
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Beautiful (a great audiobook option as well!)
Bruce Hall, Network Administrator, Information and Library Services
I recommend The Martian by Andy Weir. If you saw the movie and liked it, then you won’t need to wait for a sequel. Astronaut Mark Watney has to use science in more life threatening situations that didn’t make it into the movie. While the book is very similar to the movie, including a lot of the dialogue, there are differences and additional details that keep it interesting. If you haven’t seen the movie, then it is fun to read it for either the survival adventure story of being alone many tens of millions of miles from home or the science of how hard it is to get to and survive on Mars.
Joe Hall, Associate Professor of History
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. It’s odd to recommend a book that I have only read the first few pages of, but my wife, who reads more and more critically than I do, really enjoyed its exploration of age, family, and the presence of the past. I can’t wait to start my summer with this book.
Judy Head, formerly of the Dean of the Faculty’s Office
Fans of short stories should consider giving Mia Alvar’s In the Country a try. It recently won the PEN/Bingham Award for Debut Fiction. A Filipino who was raised in the Philippines, Bahrain, and the U.S., she writes stories populated with Filipino characters from across society, most of whom have left their country to make a living or survive. The writing is lovely, and layers of detail and insight ignite plots, characters, settings, and events. Next up for me are more stories, this time with sparse prose, in A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin, who died more than a decade ago.
Bill Hiss, Class of 1966, Retiree
1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles G. Mann. A fascinating compilation of evidence of the huge populations of Native Americans who had successfully inhabited the Americas before the arrival of whites, before communicable diseases and other problems reduced populations to the very small numbers of today.
Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles by Bernard Cornwell. A very readable account for those not into the fine points of military history.
The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life by Tom Reiss. Occasionally the minor flotsam of major historical times is fascinating. Lev Nussimbaum was born in 1905 into a family of Jewish oil well owners in Baku, then part of Russian Azerbaijan. As an adult he recreated himself as Essad Bey, a Muslim prince, and moved to Nazi Berlin, where somehow the Gestapo failed to trace his background. In a life spent a step ahead of many enemies, he lived with layers of deception, writing many books condemning Soviet communism that won him the protection of Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thann Nguyen. Now having won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this book is part of the rewarding flood of modern Vietnamese fiction and film since the end of Vietnam’s five back-to-back wars in the mid-1980s. This first novel from a Vietnamese-American professor in California is narrated by a Viet Cong mole sent to the U.S. with the fleeing South Vietnamese general who had been his commander in Vietnam, to keep track of the former South Vietnamese who maintain their hostility to the new Vietnam.
The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan by Rafia Zakaria. For those interested in South Asia, a fascinating blend of family and national history. Zakaria lays side by side over almost 30 years accounts of an aunt, who is obliged by the Islamic laws of Pakistan to accommodate a second wife her husband takes, with the increasingly tumultuous political and social life of people In Karachi.
The Last Roll Call: The 29th Infantry Division Victorious by Joseph Balkoski. The third volume in a series on the 29th in World War II. With a standing strength of about 14,500, they took 20,000 casualties between D-Day and crossing the Rhine. Very well written.
Princeton Radicals of the 1960s, Now and Then by William H. Tucker ’67. Full disclosure: Bill Tucker was my roommate at Bates, and we have been good friends since 1965. That said, this is a fascinating book on multiple levels. It starts with an essay on Students for a Democratic Society on various campuses, especially the unlikely, conservative, Southern-oriented Princeton campus, where Bill did his Ph.D. in psychometrics. Bill brings to life the internal political struggles of SDS, without losing sight of the commitments of those who joined.
The second part of the book is riveting chapter biographies on Bill’s fellow SDS members, whom Bill tracked down and interviewed. After all the struggles, some had moved to other worlds, while others found commitments to new versions of the struggles that had attracted them to SDS in the first place. I only wish Bill had done an autobiographical chapter, on his own life’s commitment to progressive higher education, with important books on the misuse of social science to support oppressive social policies, and the influence of right-wing funding sources that paid for research supporting their views.
Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam. Putnam, the renowned Harvard sociologist and author of Bowling Alone, returned to his home town of Port Clinton, Ohio, to start his examination of the chances of success for young people coming of age now, compared to his own childhood in the late ’50s.
The book is a painful confirmation of the central theme of Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities, that socio-economic class has a far more powerful effect on young people growing up now than 60 years ago. (And an important NPR series that ran over April 2016 on a similar theme: that the reliance on the local property tax to fund a significant portion of K-12 education has the effect of immorally stacking the deck for all of America’s life-long benefits in favor of wealthy communities. )
Scary Old Sex by Arlene Heyman. An odd but accurate title for a collection of short stories about how love and desire play out in old age and as death nears. The author is a fine writer, and also a NYC Jewish psychiatrist, with all three of these facets coloring her stories, that are both sad and touching.
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Known for his The Devil in the White City, Larson has found a niche of history writing dealing with social or political disasters. This is the account of a principled but inexperienced history professor sent to be the U.S. Ambassador to Nazi Germany in the early 1930s as Hitler was taking power. Like many books dealing with the Nazis, it details the lengths to which reasonable people tied themselves in knots trying to find some basis for dealing with a regime that from the outset was led by monsters and psychopaths
Joan Houston, Administrative Assistant, Facility Services
I’ve started the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich, and love it. I got the books from Marsha Graef and since I only just started reading them, I was unable to tell her how much I am enjoying them, sad to say. It’s the characters that make a great series, and these are definitely good. Also: Dewey by Vicki Myron. An adorable cat that “adopted” a library.
Margaret Imber, Associate Professor of Classical and Medieval Studies
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. This is by the author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It’s a delightful, lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon kind of book set in Edwardian England. She’s a keen observer of class differences and a delightful chronicler of small town feuds and friendships. There’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming.
I found Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy to be absolutely compelling. It’s a memoir by a lawyer who devoted his career to representing prisoners and their families.
Cynthia Jalbert, Administrative Assistant, Leadership Gifts, College Advancement
I would recommend Seed of Sarah by the late Judith Isaacson ’65, and maybe since it is short it can be accompanied by the Memoirs of an Amateur Spy by her husband, Irving Isaacson ’36. Seed of Sarah was a great read. I have not read Mr. Isaacson’s book yet but it should be just as interesting.
Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man by Brian McGrory ’84. I have not read it yet but hear it is absolutely funny!
The Beans of Egypt Maine by Carolyn Chute.
Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian. I cried reading this one. He lives in Vermont. Wonderful writer, love all his books except The Double Bind.
Phyllis Graber Jensen, Director of Photography and Video, Bates Communications
One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway by Åsne Seierstad. Why? Why? Why? Why would Anders Behring Breivik commit these atrocious crimes? Why would I read about it? Why should you? Read this tome, literary journalism at its best, for the answers.
Eve Arnold: Magnum Legacy by Janine Di Giovanni. Photojournalist Eve Arnold (1912-2012) started out as a 1950s housewife, was the first woman to join Magnum Photo, and emerged as one of the most talented documentarians of her time. Her images of famous and anonymous subjects alike are equally compelling, compassionate, and celebrated. I no longer buy books — or so I try to tell myself — but I couldn’t let this one get away.
Bev Johnson, Professor of Geology
I’ve got a great good read: Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son. A beautifully written, fascinating and brutal tale of life in North Korea inspired, in part, from the accounts of those who have defected.
Michael Jones, Professor of History
I enjoyed Graham Moore’s The Sherlockian (2010). Murder mystery and literary intrigue. First rate!
Laura Juraska, Associate College Librarian for Research Services
Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories by Anthony Marra. Though they can be read as individual short stories, these interwoven tales all circle back round to the first story of a 1930s Soviet censor. A bit bleak at times, but marvelously written.
Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zinkefoose.
For anyone who enjoys birds, whether a birder or not, this book is a real eye-opener to the individual characteristics of birds that are rehabilitated for eventual release into the wild. Wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated by the author.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel as an audiobook read by Simon Slater. Even if you’ve seen the well-done BBC production, the book is so much better, and having it read to you by such an expert actor/reader as Simon Slater is a delightful intrigue.
Emily Kane, Professor of Sociology
Here are a couple of fiction titles I’ve enjoyed as leisure reading and a couple non- fiction titles I’ve enjoyed as sociological reading this year (although, of course, even the leisure reading is full of sociological insight).
On the fiction side, I recommend The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, and One-in-a-Million Boy by our first-year Common Reading author of a few years back, Monica Wood. Though very different from each other in many ways, both books offer intriguing ruminations on memory, love, and the complexities of human connection.
On the non-fiction side, I’ve been reading a lot about family policy and poverty in the U.S., and I recommend two books on that topic that are both written in a lively and engaging way: $2 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America by Kathy Edin and Luke Shaefer, and Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times by Marianne Cooper.
Jeff Kazin ’04, Library Assistant, Public Services
Devil in a White City, Thunderstruck, and anything else by Erik Larson. Erik Larson is extremely well written. He writes entirely non-fiction, which allows the reader to learn some interesting historical facts, but at the same time they’re written in the style of a mystery novel that will satisfy those who enjoy suspense/thriller/standard murder mysteries.
Alison Keegan, Administrative Assistant and Supervisor of Academic Administrative Services, Dean of the Faculty’s Office
Coming out of the six-month fog after having a newborn, I sought something substantial to read to ease back into my most treasured and coveted hobby. On my way home from work one night, I heard this story on NPR and, for some reason, was captivated enough to immediately buy the first Neapolitan novel.
Thus began for me a more than 1,700-page, four-book, five-month journey into the grittiest that Italy has to offer, following two very different girls growing up together in post-war Naples of the 1950s all the way to almost present day. To call this journey a slog is accurate — however, not in a bad way. These books take commitment and effort. Effort in keeping the stories straight, effort in remembering who’s who, and effort in remembering enough about the previous books to understand what’s happening in the current one.
As I approached the last few pages of the fourth and final book, I felt sadness that it was the end of me peering into the lives of Lila and Elena and the diverse cast of characters these books portrayed. But as journeys go, this one was well worth the time, the effort, and the slog.
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante:
My Brilliant Friend (Book 1)
The Story of a New Name (Book 2)
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Book 3)
The Story of the Lost Child (Book 4)
Brittany Longsdorf, Multifaith Chaplain
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and, for fun, Bossypants by Tina Fey.
Rebecca Lovett, Assistant Manager, Bates College Store
Two books I’ve really enjoyed this year are Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane. Both are great reads that take you out of your armchair…far, far beyond! Both go well in small portions.
Kathy Low, Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean of the Faculty
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald. And any of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. And, Here by Richard McGuire.
Monica McCusker, Office Coordinator, Bates College Store
The Chess Queen Enigma by Colleen Gleason. This Stoker & Holmes novel was recently released in the young readers category, but I found it entertaining and a good read for lunchtime or beach-time relaxation. The story takes place in late-19th century England and follows the adventures of two young ladies, Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes, members of the well-known families of Bram Stoker and Sherlock Holmes, as they work together to solve a mystery of a missing chess piece. The story includes intrigue and danger as Evaline fights off vampire attacks and Mina unravels various clues to solve the mystery and thwart an international crisis between England and Betrovia.
Long Time Coming by Edie Claire. The story of a young woman returning to her home town in Kentucky to help her aging parents and how she had to come to terms with the tragic death of her best friend. The story is a romance mixed with a bit of supernatural interactions. I liked the story because it presented the main character as an empowered woman who tried to maintain her independence as she adjusted to life as a daughter/care-giver.
The Bette Davis Club by Jane Lotter. Great road trip story! Imagine being a groom, jilted at the altar and having to drive cross-country in an antique car with your missing bride’s aunt in search of your missing bride. During their journey from southern California to Chicago and on to New York City, the two strangers find themselves in some unusual situations and ultimately discover new meaning for their lives. No spoilers here— read the book!
The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck. I enjoyed the book, deservedly named “Inspirational Novel of the Year” by Romantic Times, because of the intrigue created as the story described the lives of two women separated by nearly a century. As the mystery surrounding a wedding dress found in a locked trunk evolves, two more women become part of the story as recipients and wearers of the special dress created in 1912. The book was a well-written romance novel that kept me reading way past my bedtime several times and had me wanting more when I reached the final page.
David McDonough, Director, Bates Career Development Center
Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon. Spy thriller set in post-war Istanbul.
The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy. Memoir of Pat Conroy’s teaching experience on Yamacraw Island, S.C.
The Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux, who revisits South Africa, Namibia and Angola to discover how he and this part of Africa have changed.
The Martian by Andy Weir. “A mission to mars. A freak accident. One man’s struggle to survive.”
Richard McNeil ’10, Gift Officer, College Advancement
The Martian by Andy Weir. Definitely better than the film adaptation.
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane. Film version coming out soon.
The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey. Great dark comedy.
Mary Main, Assistant Vice President, Human Resources and Environmental Health and Safety
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood (my favorite local author!). Description from her website: “The One-in-a-Million Boy revolves around a friendship between a 104-year-old Lithuanian immigrant woman and an 11-year-old Boy Scout obsessed with Guinness World Records. For seven Saturdays, the boy has arrived promptly to do Ona Vitkus’s yard chores, record her life story for a fifth-grade school project, and talk her into gunning for the record of oldest licensed driver. On page two, the reader discovers that the boy has recently died. In his place, on the 10th Saturday, the boy’s father reluctantly shows up to complete his son’s good deed.”
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. Description from Amazon.com: “Even though we know many of these stories — Lindbergh’s flight, Babe Ruth’s 60-homerun season, the Mississippi River flood, Al Capone’s bullet-ridden reign over Chicago — in Bryson’s hands, and in the context of one amazing summer of 20-century ingenuity and accomplishment, they feel fresh, lively, and just plain fun.”
The Crossing Place by Elly Griffiths. For all the mystery writers out there, this is the introductory novel to forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway and a local detective Harry Nelson as they solve a local — and an ancient — crime. I enjoyed the series: Be sure to start with this book.
Judy Marden ’66, Bates retiree and Bates Outing Club Adviser
The Martian by Andy Weir. Not a book I would have chosen off the shelf (and that’s why I love Book Club!). It had me from page two, and I couldn’t put it down. In short, an astronaut is stranded on Mars. Then what? “Here’s to the ‘steely-eyed missile men,'” is all I can say, in space and in life. Read the book first, then see the movie, which is also enthralling but leaves out some of the best parts.
A trip to Iceland is imminent this June, and as I started planning, our Greene librarian introduced me to Arnaldur Indridason’s series about Icelandic detective Erlendur with Reykjavik Nights. Of course I had to go back and read the whole series, most recently finishing Into Oblivion, one of the best. Aptly described by one reviewer as “Nordic noir.”
River Thieves by Michael Crummey. Set in the early 19th century, this historical novel is the story of European fishers and trappers settling in Newfoundland and their impact on the land and last remaining Beothuk people. It’s a story seldom heard, written from various perspectives, and powerfully told.
Answers to Questions Nobody Was Askin’ by Tim Sample. This was a gift when I ended my term as president of the Androscoggin Land Trust. Someone thought I’d have time to read more…but in small bites. As always, Tim Sample’s pithy small bites are funny, engaging, and have a twist.
The best? For me it was the title essay, where he discusses “improvements”:
“Oh joy! Just what this world really needs, a car you don’t even have to drive….why it’s only a matter of time before some genius develops the meal you don’t have to eat. How about the thought you don’t have to think? Carried to its logical conclusion, I suppose this techno-depravity will eventually culminate in the life you don’t have to live — surely the ultimate answer to a question nobody was asking.”
Recently, however, my reading (and waking) hours have been consumed by the best book ever: the Bates ’66 50th Reunion yearbook, thanks to Pris Clark ’66, Sue Wagg Dye ’66, and many classmates who shared their life experiences. I am fascinated with the people that the notorious Class of 1966 seniors have become in the past 50 years. There’s also a bit of regret — that I didn’t get to know enough of them in college and didn’t keep in touch with more of them, better, afterward. I guess that’s what Reunions are for: trying to make up for that.
Lisa Maurizio, Associate Professor of Classical and Medieval Studies
I assume that others have recommended Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, so I’ll add this slim volume: The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir by Vivian Gornick.
An unflinching yet lyrical memoir that is a meditation on New York city, walking, friendship, solitude, professional success, chance encounters, and the ways in which our youth (mothers, neighborhoods, social world) shape our identity.
Hannah Miller, Academic Administrative Assistant
This past fall I read Man Up by Carlos Andrés Gomez and loved it! I also recommend checking out his poetry — his talent for spoken word is amazing.
Christine Murray, Social Science Librarian
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf.
Michael Murray, Phillips Professor of Economics
Dante’s The Inferno (Penske’s poetic translation). If you’ve never read the Inferno, try reading Penske’s version aloud. It’s a treat.
When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson. A complex and very readable mystery.
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Slow, but reveals 1850s–60s parallels to current times. A leisurely summer read.
Suzy Nattress, Electronic Access System Manager
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson.
Charles Nero, Professor of Rhetoric, American Cultural Studies
Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo. So what happens if the trans-Atlantic slave trade had been reversed and Africans had enslaved Europeans in the New World? It’s a satire. Loved her earlier work, Mr. Loverman, about a 30-year love affair between two Caribbean gents in London.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlin Greenidge. A Massachusetts institute with a past in white supremacist research hires an African American family to teach sign language to a chimpanzee. It’s another satire.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Yet, another satire about race and racism. National Book Critics Circle Award (2016).
Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life by William V. Madison. Biography of one of the screen’s brilliant comic actors of the 1970s. Remember her scene-stealing moments in Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Paper Moon, and What’s Up, Doc?
The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to Civil Rights With One African American Family by Gail Lumet Buckley. Lena Horne’s daughter writes a follow-up to her excellent The Hornes: An American Family (1986).
Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith. Roberts, a favorite boxing sportswriter (excellent bios of Joe Louis and Jack Johnson) and co-writer Smith deal with two 1960s icons.
The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice by Patricia Bell-Scott. Murray was a brilliant African American lawyer and later a pioneer religious cleric.
Negroland: A Memoir by Margo Jefferson. Bio about growing up black and elite in Post World War II Chicago by an excellent theater and arts critic. National Book Critics Circle Award (2016).
Georgia Nigro, Professor of Psychology
Currently reading Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, and it is pitch-perfect Jane Austen in modern-day Cincinnati. For readers of a certain age, Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf is pleasing and infuriating at once. If the present political situation has you up at night, and you like science fiction, try The Three-Body Problem by Ken Liu.
Kerry O’Brien, Assistant Dean of the Faculty
The Last Hundred Years trilogy by the great Jane Smiley tells the story of one Iowa family through from 1920 to 2020. Read them in chronological order: Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age. The books are part family saga, covering four or five generations; part U.S. history lesson, as they chronicle America in the last century; and part Forrest Gump, in that these people uncannily manage to find themselves in the middle of key events. I did find the family trees at the front of each book to be essential as it is sometimes hard to keep track of this clan, especially with their plain Iowa names.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I think appeared a lot on last year’s reading list. The stories of a heroic blind French girl, and orphan turned Hitler Youth with a conscience, and a German gemologist after a lifesaving rock run parallel across war-torn landscapes, until they don’t. Evocative recreations of the siege of Saint Malo make you realize that it is amazing that Europe ever moved forward after World War II.
The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal, a renowned ceramist but also an amazing writer. De Waal inherited a large collection of tiny Japanese netsuke and began to study their provenance, in the process unearthing the history of his storied family, a Jewish banking dynasty in Vienna and Paris. He recounts the rise of this refined family of collectors and chronicles what happened to them and their collections through the tragic 20th century. De Waal wonders who held these little carved figures, why they mattered so much to his family members, and, with the eye of a ceramic artist, “what space they displaced.”
Zane Omohundro, Stock Assistant, College Store
I’m going to recommend the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull. It’s a fun romp through magical creatures and mysteries with some interesting characters. I picked up the first book on a whim from the library (judging it by its cover, I’m sure) and promptly finished the full series within a month or so.
Carole Parker, Ladd Library Acquisitions
Early Warning, Some Luck, and Golden Age by Jane Smiley. I received the third in her Last Hundred Years trilogy as a gift for Christmas, and wanted to read the first two before. Enjoyable.
I used to read Ellen Gilchrist and after a long hiatus have recently picked up and read Nora Jane: A Life in Stories. I’m reading the novel A Dangerous Age and will probably also read Acts of God (stories). I still love her writing.
If one likes police procedurals, I recommend Archer Mayer’s Joe Gunter series, although I’ve only read the first two (he’s up to 26). Also, Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, of which I’ve read three. Also, Isabelle Allende just came out with a new novel, Japanese Lover, and a new English translation of Eva Luna: A Novel, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden.
Nicole Pelonzi, Program Coordinator, Multifaith Chaplaincy
No Mud, No Lotus and The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Sonja Pieck, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies
I’m currently reading Robert Massie’s Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman and am enjoying it very much. Maybe it’s Massie’s accessible style, but it could also be Catherine’s life itself that reads like a suspenseful novel. This is an incredible story about how an obscure Prussian girl rises to become one of the most brilliant and powerful monarchs of her age. (And Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, is no less fascinating.) A really engaging read.
Liz Pinnie, Assistant Director of Admission
This suggestion would be for any Bates students who might be heading out to find wide open spaces in the West (as I did post college!). I loved reading Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. It’s a bit hefty, but it was a worthwhile read for me. I felt that it just captured the spirit of the West!
Sarah Potter ’77, Bookstore Retiree
I’m just going to list a few titles that I’ve read in the past six months, suggested by past Good Reads submitters. Since I am newly “retired,” these were all reads that mostly entertained:
Nature of the Beast by Louise Penney. Such engaging mysteries this woman writes!
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. What a great story of determination against significant odds. And my first electronic read!
The Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig, a compelling storyteller.
At Martin Andrucki’s suggestion last year, I tried Maeve Binchy, reading A Week in Winter and Whitethorn Wood. Big-hearted tales, and they end well which I seemed to need especially this spring.
And finally, I have Book Four of the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante still to read. The first three in the series were terrific. Thank you, Ali Keegan, for getting me hooked. And I am eagerly anticipating My Name is Lucy Barton by Liz Strout ’77 along with Monica Wood’s The One-in-a-Million Boy.
Jack Pribram, Professor Emeritus of Physics
Consequences by Penelope Lively. A novel tracing three generations of women from World War II to recent times, mostly in London. Nicely written as each woman makes different decisions on how they want to live their lives. You never know where the story is going, but it’s always interesting. Fun to read as we traveled in England last year.
North with the Spring by Edwin Way Teale. The book that got me hooked on birds when I first read it in 1968 with the Peterson Field Guide next to me. Teale travels 17,000 miles with his wife, Nellie, from Florida (first day of spring) meandering northward in the eastern U.S. arriving in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington on June 21. I’d forgotten how much he also wrote about flowers. This may be the first time I’ve read a book from cover to cover a second time.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. They were amazing and deserve every accolade they received. Smart, excellent mechanics, disciplined, hard working, and didn’t just go once to Kitty Hawk in 1903. For several years they kept improving their designs, from gliders to motorized planes, until they really had something that would reliably fly. And, of course, McCullough’s writing keeps the Wright family story and that of the development of airplane moving forward and interesting.
Erica Rand, Whitehouse Professor of Art and Visual Culture and of Women and Gender Studies
I recommend Rebecca Scherm’s 2015 novel Unbecoming, a bit of a thriller about making objects precious and relationships perverse, in all the best and worst senses of all of those terms.
John Rasmussen, Energy Manager, Facility Services
The Code Book: Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography by Simon Singh. Heavy on the math but Mr. Singh is a great storyteller rendering much of the math involved in encryption accessible. There’s a particularly great chapter on the breaking of the Nazi Enigma machine.
Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben. Light, quick murder mystery with some fun comic dialogue.
Darby Ray, Director, Harward Center for Community Partnerships
Here are a few I enjoyed this year, some of which were probably drawn to my attention by prior years’ Good Reads.
A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash. A haunting debut novel, Wiley Cash’s story of two young brothers trying to navigate the religious wilds and family cruelties of the rural South broke my heart.
The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami. Storytelling is a portal to survival and salvation in this riveting account of cultural contact, Old World tragedy, and New World comeuppance. Inspired by a single mention, in a travelogue of the Spanish conquest of Florida, of “an Arab negro from Azamor,” Lalami conjures this full-bodied account of America’s first black explorer. An amazing feat of narrative imagination and skill.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is at the same time an edgy, post- apocalyptic page-turner, a quirky caress of days gone by, and a testament to the humanizing impact of the arts.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I cannot stop thinking about this book — the heart-rending, infuriating ravages of global capitalism; the exquisitely- narrated stories of the children and families of a Mumbai slum; the Indian water crisis. There is so much here to be moved by.
Julie Retelle, Assistant College Librarian for Access Services
Here is my favorite book from this past year: The Fields of Home by Ralph Moody.
I stumbled upon this book as it arrived at Ladd for the featured-works display. The cover artwork drew my eye, and then I realized the story was set on a farm near Lewiston in 1912.
As I was reading I was envisioning what my grandparents lives were like during that time period. I enjoyed the characters and story line so much that I purchased the first in book in the Little Britches series, Father and I Were Ranchers. The entire series will eventually end up on the Bates Kindles.
Here is Amazon’s description of Little Britches: “Ralph Moody was eight years old in 1906 when his family moved from New Hampshire to a Colorado ranch. Through his eyes we experience the pleasures and perils of ranching there early in the 20th century. Auctions and roundups, family picnics, irrigation wars, tornadoes, and wind storms give authentic color to Little Britches. So do adventures, wonderfully told, that equip Ralph to take his father’s place when it becomes necessary.”
Michael Retelle, Professor of Geology
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Colbert.
Jennifer Richard, Assistant Vice President, College Advancement
Inside the O’Briens by the college’s very own Lisa Genova ’92. A powerful story about a family struggling with Huntington’s disease. Great character development, fun family dynamics throughout, and written in a very smart manner. I could not put it down. As a parent, this made me stop and think about all the things I could be passing along to my children.
Lisa Romeo ’88, Boston Bates Book Club
Here is the Boston Alumnae Book Club’s list of reads this “school year”:
Life After Life by Jill McCorkle (NOT the Kate Atkinson one).
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast.
Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey.
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas.
The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.
The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy.
What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman.
The Lowland by Jumpa Lahiri.
Not all of them were universally enjoyed by everyone but overall it’s been a good year. Sometimes we have a better discussion when we don’t like the book! Personally, I really enjoyed Nathan Englander’s collection of short stories: What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank.
Kelsy Ross, Women’s Soccer Head Coach
I haven’t read it (on my list…) but everyone who has raves about it: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. One of my all-time fave’s (and probably on the list before): We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich.
Ree Russell, Administrative Coordinator, Writing at Bates
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. This book introduced me to Butler and Afrofuturism, which has expanded my mind in ways I hadn’t predicted. Kindred is less sci-fi than her other works and is typically described more as “dark fantasy.”
Description from Amazon.com: “Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her 26th birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South….”
Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat by Ellen Zachos. Thanks to this book I now know we can eat the Japanese knotweed that grows like crazy in our side yard (strawberry knotweed pie is delicious!). Also helped me identify 10 other edibles growing on our property. So exciting!
Description from Amazon.com: “There’s food growing everywhere! You’ll be amazed by how many of the plants you see each day are actually nutritious edibles. Ideal for first-time foragers, this book features 70 edible weeds, flowers, mushrooms, and ornamental plants typically found in urban and suburban neighborhoods.”
Bronwyn Sale, Lecturer in Education
The Aesthetic Brain by Anjan Chatterjee.
Nancy Salmon, Bates Retiree
I read soooo much this winter, much by non-U.S. authors or placed in other countries.
Size of the World by Joan Silber. Several expats speak about what brought them to various Asian countries. The different voices are great and there is a connection among some of them by the end. Lovely writing.
Destiny by Carl Howe Hansen, a Maine author, about an eco-disaster. Placed in Maine and Washington, D.C. A wooden sailboat named Destiny is important in potential survival.
Waiting for Snow in Cuba by Carlos Eire. “Confessions of a Cuban Boy” about his privileged life pre-Castro and life in U.S. This one was hard to get into because of the writing but I enjoyed it from about halfway to the end. He became a more sympathetic character for me.
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller who also authored Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight about her parents surviving and thriving in Africa as farmers during apartheid.
A bunch of John Grisham mysteries — I’ve never really enjoyed mysteries (real life is mysterious enough) but have enjoyed these mostly set in my Southern homeland region. The ones I’ve read are a real exposé of the prison system and a lot of racism shows up in many of his books (duh, the South, racism.)
Sharon Saunders, Associate College Librarian for Systems and Bibliographic Services
The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community by David C. Korten. Korten does a marvelous job, clearly laying out the frame in which “civilized” humans live. Once seeing this frame — the story that shapes what we believe about our nature, our society, and our relationships — we can walk away from it. We can live a new story, one that aligns with our values. In this time of climate change, peak oil, and the accompanying collapse of food production, this book shows how we can create lives and communities aligned with Earth and its processes.
Waking up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. An engrossing story of one woman’s experience as she started to learn of the racism built into United States institutions and how her perspectives and unacknowledged beliefs were hindering her relationships and interactions.
Move into Life by Anat Baniel. Is there some diminished capability, some ache or pain that you attribute to “getting old”? Anat Baniel combines experiences from clinical psychology and movement therapy with knowledge from neuroscience to show how attention to movement can give the brain new information to change habitual patterns. Laid out in nine essentials that can be easily incorporated throughout the day.
Paula Schlax, Professor of Chemistry
My recommendations for this year are the following:
- The Snoring Bird by Bernd Heinrich.
- Mosquitoland by David Arnold.
- The Last Season by Eric Blehm.
- Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman.
Five and six — I will put them up again, because I am worried that the screen adaptations won’t do them justice: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and American Gods by Gaiman.
Johie Farrar Seltzer ’03, Interim Director of Admission
I am only part of the way through, but I am loving: The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey and, I am not sure if it is in print anymore, but Room for One More by Anna Rose Wright was wonderful, especially as a new parent!
Anthony Shostak, Education Curator, Bates College Museum of Art
H.P. Lovecraft created the Copernican Revolution of the horror genre, recasting the supernatural as esoteric alien science. Although his creepy writing is singularly stylized and full of the bigotry one might expect in early-20th century literature, it remains essential reading for anyone seeking to (a) have a great, spooky read, and/or (b) gain insight into the lineage of influence in horror and science fiction literature and film.
He led a group of other writers including Robert E. Howard (of Conan fame), and screenplay writer Robert Bloch (Psycho). Lovecraft’s novellas, At the Mountains of Madness and The Call of Cthulhu, his longest work and most recognizable works, respectively, and are part of an oeuvre that directly or indirectly inspired a multitude of films (Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Re-Animator), music, board and card games, radio plays, comic books and graphic novels, and body art. Read his stories, and New England will never seem quite the same.
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories
At the Mountains of Madness: and Other Weird Tales
Bonnie Shulman, Professor Emerita of Mathematics
The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan. This is an amazing book about the Israeli-Palistinian conflict. It’s based on a segment the author did for Fresh Air in 1998, the story of a 20-something Palistinian, Bashir, who, during a calm before the next storm, was able to make a visit to his ancestral home in Palestine/Israel.
Surprisingly, he was welcomed in (unlike his cousins who had less positive experiences) by Dalia, daughter of Holocaust survivors, who had been living in the home he was born in, for 20 years. Thus begins a 35-year friendship that is repeatedly tested by the ongoing conflict between their two nations.
The author did a thorough job of researching these events from many sides, and provides no easy answers. But there is a very human face on these events that both underlines the tragedy, and still gives hope for redemption and reconciliation, if not now, in future generations. It’s also extremely well written.
Clayton Spencer, President
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Outline by Rachel Cusk.
Stacy Smith, Lecturer in Education
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis. A memoir by this year’s Commencement speaker.
Carl Steidel, Associate Dean of Students
Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb. Excellent fantasy trilogy and good entry point into the many books Robin Hobb has written in this world.
Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. Fantasy series set in modern-day Chicago. Fun, easy reading series.
Red Rising by Pierce Brown. First book in an engaging and fun dystopian, sci-fi trilogy.
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy. Powerful non-fiction work discussing the epidemic of black-on-black homicide in America and how it might be stopped.
Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. A quirky and somewhat odd story about a struggling, middle-aged man trying to sell a piece of technology to the king of Saudi Arabia. A bit strange, but enjoyable.
The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin. I’m a Supreme Court nerd. If you are as well, you will enjoy this exploration of the court with a particular focus on the modern era through the start of the Roberts court.
Redshirts by John Scalzi. A fairly humorous satirical novel poking fun at the Star Trek universe.
Robert Strong, Lecturer in English, Director of National Fellowships
Fiction: Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton; The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink.
Poetry: The Empty Form Goes All the Way to Heaven by Brian Teare.
Sawyer Sylvester, Professor Emeritus of Sociology
Alec Guinness, My Name Escapes Me. At 81, Sir Alec recounts some memorable personalities and events in his long career, with a quirky undertone to remind us all that our time is coming.
Shannon Brownlee, Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer. Brownlee offers a heavily documented account of the fraud and waste in the American medical system. Thousands of lives are lost or damaged by faulty testing and unnecessary treatment. And all this is fed by a cabal of physicians, hospitals, and drug manufacturers.
Fareed Zakaria, In Defense of a Liberal Education. Zakaria reminds us that, at base, the liberal arts aim to teach us how to think, speak, and write correctly and persuasively, and that these skills transcend the more career-oriented programs that have come to dominate much of higher education today. Graduates from the latter may soon find themselves “fit in an unfit fitness.”
Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Harari begins by describing Sapiens as “an insignificant animal minding its own business in a corner of Africa,” and chronicles the advance of that animal to the present through a process of chance, good luck, and development of a shared ability to believe in fictions.
Daniel Silva, The Confessor. This is another of Silva’s mysteries involving the Israeli intelligence agent and art restorer, Gabriel Allon. It’s a closely written and complex novel about efforts to discover (and to conceal) the part played by Pius XII in the Holocaust.
Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Arguably the most interesting justice on the U.S. Supreme Court since Harry Blackmun, is here portrayed in what could best be described as both a biography and a scrapbook. There’s even a photograph of RBG riding an elephant with (mirabile dictu) Antonin Scalia.
Richard Morris, The Last Sorcerers: The Path from Alchemy to the Periodic Table. Morris recounts the fits and starts of modern chemistry in the ancient practice of alchemy. It seems much of the effort involved bizarre attempts to manufacture gold. For example, because of its golden color, Hennig Brandt is said to have boiled down gallons of human urine to produce gold. Regretfully, he only managed to discover phosphorus. Tant pis.
Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other. A spring day, a gentle breeze, and no one sees, smells, or feels a thing. Faces glued to the tiny phosphorescence of the cell phone, they trudge alone together. Turkle writes of the poverty of the virtual self as it minimally interacts with the virtual other.
Richard A. Posner, Divergent Paths: The Academy and the Judiciary. Judge Posner writes of the gulf between the judiciary in America and academia in the form of the law schools. Judges in America occupy a system born out of a jurisprudence of practitioners, and far less influenced by legal academics than in continental legal systems. Legal academics, on the other hand, divorced from practice, increasingly occupy the abstruse realms of legal theory. Hence, neither adequately informs the other.
Lawrence Goldstone & Nancy Goldstone, Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World. Finding the charms of retirement fading, the authors embark on a quest for second- hand books. The firm limit of twenty dollars each soon evaporates, and they fall headlong into the world of book sellers, book collectors, and the science of book identification and evaluation, and the inevitable problem — where to put them all.
Edgar W. Smith, Profile by Gaslight: An Irregular Reader About the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes; and Zach Dundas, The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes. This is a brace of books of Holmesian scholarship. The first is a classic in which a series of well-known mystery writers each in turn takes up one or more arcane elements of the Sherlockian canon. The second is a very recent work, engagingly written and a full and detailed analysis of the tales in their historical settings. It also recounts the intricate relationships between the characters in the stories and the biography of Arthur Conan Doyle.
Bill Bryson, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir. The “Thunderbolt Kid” is the heroic alternate identity assumed by Bryson as a youngster growing up in the 1950s to ward off the daily annoyances of other children and especially adults. The book is a delightful chronicle of middle-class mid-western life told with characteristic Bryson hilarity. It’s even a better read for those born no later than the 1960s.
Jack Lynch, You Could Look It Up: The Reference Shelf from Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia. At the last, there is a book about books, reference books, from Corpus Juris Civilis to the OED and beyond. Fifty reference books, in related pairs, with their own brief history. If you’re into compendia, this one’s for you.
Sheila wishes to add to the list A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. She insists that Ove, quite the curmudgeon, does not remind her of anyone she knows. The book is charming and like no other she has read. One minute she found herself laughing out loud — the next, in tears. A must read.
Anne Thompson, Professor Emerita of English
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Memoir by a daughter who, grieving for her father, decides to train a goshawk as part of the healing process. What I especially loved was her homage to T.H. White, also a lover of goshawks (very scary birds).
Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh. Final volume of a trilogy about the British-Chinese opium wars. A novel, but I learned a lot about the infamous history of this period.
Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis. A novel, I guess, almost indescribable. Short pieces, partly true, partly made up. The one recounting anxiety about teaching was both funny and painful — it’s over the top but funny, painful, and true all at the same time.
If This is a Man by Primo Levi. Reread this when the complete edition of his writing was published last year. The best account of incarceration in Auschwitz that I have ever read. Harrowing, but never sentimental or judgmental.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Liz Strout ’77. One of her best, really needs no recommendation from me.
Mara Tieken, Assistant Professor of Education
This winter I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me — a tragic, beautiful letter to his son that tries to make sense of racial injustice. This isn’t a hopeful read; Coates sees racism as a permanent part of American society and the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and his own friend, Prince Jones, as products of an American history of slavery and racial exploitation. But it is a call to action. As Coates tells his son, “And still you are called to struggle, not because it assures you victory but because it assures you an honorable and sane life.”
Joseph Tomaras, Director of Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance
I read a lot of very good books in the last year, so for now I’m only recommending the absolute best of them.
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich. Brilliantly curated and organized oral history of a horrific event, by a Nobel Prize–winning author who earned it on the strength of this work alone. (Though she has much more work, which I would like to read.)
Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine by Catherine Bestman. Yes, the author is a Colby professor, but let’s not hold that against her, especially since the informants include many Bates faculty, alumni, and community partners. While reading an ethnography of the town you call home can be at times disorienting, the book serves fantastically well as a handbook on how to stop “seeing like a state” and start “seeing like a refugee.”
Collections of Short Fiction:
Sweet Nothing: Stories by Richard Lange. My favorite short-story collection of the last year. The stories range in quality from almost-perfect to flawless. Where other writers would be happy to pull off a few great sentences, Lange constructs great paragraphs, then works them into fugal structures that would make J.S. Bach nod in recognition. The final story, “To Ashes,” left me gutted.
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Probably the best science fiction novel published in English in 2014. An all-too-rare case of such a novel where the sociology is as rigorous as the physics — and both are rigorous. Also recommended, though not quite as vigorously, is the second novel in the trilogy, The Dark Forest. The third is due out later this year.
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. Probably the best science fiction novel published in English in 2015. Possibly the best English-language novel of any genre published that year. What do you look for in science fiction? The sublime beauty of Newtonian mechanics? Got it. Metafictional digressions on the fuzzy inadequacy of human language, as told by a collective of artificial intelligences? Got it. A timely exploration of the tenuousness of ecological homeostasis? Plenty of that too, and more. Left me gutted.
Tom Tracy, Phillips Professor of Religious Studies
I loved Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. It is beautifully written and artfully constructed.
Katie Vale, Vice President for Information and Library Services and Librarian
I recently enjoyed An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. He’s a retired Canadian astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station.
Dick Wagner, Professor Emeritus of Psychology
Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You. A “literary thriller,” says The New York Times reviewer, and I agree. It begins this way: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” Then it takes off, with first-person accounts of members of the family who, clearly, haven’t communicated in any meaningful way with one another ever. Lydia drowned, but how, why, and by whose hand. Thriller. But just as important, the language the author uses is superior: wonderful allusions, descriptions.
Jonathan Lee’s High Dive. This is a novel about the attempted assassination of Margaret Thatcher in Brighton, England, by Irish terrorists. The story is told primarily through three characters: a hesitant Irish terrorist, a key functionary of the hotel that the terrorists have targeted, and the functionary’s highly competent daughter. The story is really about the three characters more than about the actual bombing.
Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. I probably recommended this last year. I re-recommend it because it’s the best novel I’ve read in the past half-dozen years.
Laura Webb, Gift Planning Administrator, College Advancement
Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). When it comes to vivid characters you can’t beat J.K. Rowling. This time she turns her considerable talents to the murder mystery genre. If you enjoy the first book you can continue with the sequels: The Silkworm and Career of Evil.
Pat Webber, Director of Archives and Special Collections
Pacific by Simon Winchester. The great travel writer is at it again, with a companion to his book Atlantic. If you like Winchester’s writing, and his ranging far and wide over multiple topics, then pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed.
Ancillary Justice / Ancillary Sword / Ancillary Mercy (trilogy) by Ann Leckie. Very good sci-fi trilogy that has won multiple awards over the past few years. A nice mix of “hard” sci-fi with character studies and solid world-building.
Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Recent translation of Liu’s 2008 novel. First of a trilogy, wherein scientists on Earth discover that we are indeed not alone.
Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. Episodic novel about a variety of loosely connected characters across the world, and from the 1800s to the present. Mitchell’s first novel.
Beth Whalon, Assistant in Instruction, Biochemistry
I’m currently enjoying Barbara Kingsolver’s latest novel, Flight Behavior.
Andrew White, Director of Academic and Client Services, Information and Library Services
The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. A “post-apocalyptic” novel set after the Norman invasion of England, language sets this book apart. Written in a hybrid “shadow” language of modern and old English, the novel is a challenging read. But ample rewards await the patient reader.
Gene Wiemers, Librarian Emeritus
Readers of earlier editions of Sarah’s fine publication will have heard of my dedication to following the antics of Virgil Flowers, investigator for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in southeastern Minnesota. The setting is close to my home in Iowa, though a bit rougher around the edges.
This year I’ve been following William Kent Krueger’s creation Corcoran O’Connor, the sheriff (off and on) of Tamarack County, adjacent to the Boundary Waters — what passes for Vacationland to an Iowa boy. Being a “retired gentleman,” I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like. You’ll find out about that when the time comes.
I’m about halfway through this list, in order (all titles published by Atria Books, ordered by publication date):
Another series of books evoking settings and people I know well. And you thought there’s no crime in the wilderness, eh? Keep reading.
Anne Williams, Professor Emerita of Economics
Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Justice by Adam Benforado. Exposes poorly understood biases and problems with legal system. A good companion to The New Jim Crow.
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnerman. Very dense, deals a lot with understanding behavior in the face of risk. I especially liked the part about whether we are our experiencing selves or remembering selves.
Nonsense, the Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes. Complements Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, but Holmes writes in a livelier and more accessible way.
Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey. Memoir re: sanely coping with debilitating illness.
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem. Fascinating childhood as well as adult life, with interesting insights.
A Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George. Classic Lindley and Havers, now back on track after the crazy kidnapping in previous book.
The Confession by John Grisham. Horrors of the legal system in the south.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King. Imagining Sherlock Holmes in retirement with a new protégé.
Impulse by Frederick Ramsay. Three parallel unexplained deaths.
Shantaram by Gregory D. Roberts. Expats and gangsters in Bombay circa 1980.
Sleeper Spy by William Safire. Witty, good characters, many double crosses.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Hilarious, more than one colleague fits this mold.
The Fly Trap by Fredrik Sjoberg. Whimsy, obsession, bugs.
Laverne Winn, Bates Retiree
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. “Entwining Japanese language with World War II history, pop culture with Proust, Zen with quantum mechanics, Ozeki alternates between the voices of two women to produce a spellbinding tale,” says Oprah.
Rachel Wray, Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations, College Advancement
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, the first of four of the Neapolitan Novels.
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley. A compelling and hilarious adventure featuring a 16-century relic hunter and his best friend, Albrecht Dürer, who conspire to forge the Shroud of Turin.
Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII, great as audio books if you have along drive this summer!
The Wave by Susan Casey. About colossal, ship-swallowing waves, and the surfers and scientists who seek them out. Does not sound like a page-turner but it is fascinating!
All the Light We Cannot See by Antony Doerr. Amazing book about World War II.
Erin Foster Zsiga, Associate Dean of Students
My recommendation is for the Robert Galbraith (aka J.K.) novels. The three are a series of detective stories about a private eye named Cormoran Strike.
The Cuckoo’s Calling. Description from Amazon.com: “After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office. Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story….”
The Silkworm. Description from Amazon.com: “When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days–as he has done before–and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.”
And my favorite, Career of Evil. Description from Amazon.com: “When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg. Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible….”