It’s here — the 22nd annual Good Reads for Leisure Moments, the comprehensive list of book recommendations from Bates faculty, staff, and alumni.
Good Reads is compiled as a community gift to the graduating seniors, but it has something for everyone, from the baseball history buff to the Québécois mystery series aficionado — all with personalized stamps of approval from familiar names on campus.
The list was first created by Sarah Emerson Potter ’77, retired director of the Bates College Store, and is now compiled each year by Alison Keegan, administrative assistant and supervisor of academic administrative services in the Dean of the Faculty’s Office.
Lee Abrahamsen, Associate Professor of Biology
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. My nephew suggested I read this book, and with all the hype that surrounded it, I decided to try it. I liked it. I didn’t drop-dead LOVE it, but it was fun enough to keep me reading. The plot is based on a dystopian world in which there isn’t much left to enjoy, so people spend their time in the virtual world of Oasis, where an old computer maven (read “geek”) has hidden an “Easter Egg.” The person who figures out the clues and finds the egg first wins a lot of money and control of Oasis. There are lots of references to music, computer games, and TV shows of the 1980s, and it’s fun to reminisce about some of those (once you get over the shock of realizing that the 1980s started 38 years ago…how did that happen?). Read the book before you see the movie or you will miss things, and definitely see the movie in 3D!
Jim Bauer, Director of Network & Infrastructure Services, Information & Library Services
I just finished and enjoyed Dan Brown’s new book, Origin, the latest in the Robert Langdon series. Also have started and am enjoying David Baldacci’s Camel Club series.
Jane Bedard, Retired Colleague
Defending Jacob by William Landay is a page-turner. You won’t want to put it down. Landay’s other books are good as well.
Christina Bell, Humanities Librarian, Information & Library Sciences
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. Essays by Samantha Irby is probably the best book I read in 2017. Irby blogs at Bitches Gotta Eat, and her work is honest, funny, and unapologetic. I’m a big fan of queer young adult and loved both Autoboyography by Christina Lauren and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell.
Sandy Brooks, Custodian, Facility Services
One Light Still Shines: My Life Beyond the Shadow of the Amish Schoolhouse Shooting, by Marie Monville.
Marita Bryant, Assistant Instructor in Geology
If you’ve watched the PBS series Victoria, you might find Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, by Byron Farwell, interesting.
Hamish Cameron, Lecturer in Classical and Medieval Studies
Ninefox Gambit and Raven Strategem by Yoon Ha Lee. Mathematics, calendrical manipulation, and the minds of dead people inside the minds of the living. Provenance and the trilogy Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy, all by Ann Leckie. Gender, distributed artificial intelligence, and the cultural importance of gloves and tea.
Jonathan Cavallero, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric
The Game: Inside the Secret World of Major League Baseball’s Power Brokers by Jon Pessah. I’ve been a baseball fan for a long time, but The Game allowed me to see baseball from a whole new perspective. It turns out that the games played by owners, politicians, general managers, and others behind the scenes might have been just as intriguing and interesting as the games played by players on the field. Pessah covers the strike-shortened 1994 season, the steroids era, the move to Moneyball-style management, the drive to fund new stadiums with taxpayer dollars in various cities, the in-fighting between owners and commissioners, MLB’s response to 9/11, and much more. Truly eye-opening and a must-read for baseball fans.
Jane Costlow, Clark A. Griffith Professor of Environmental Studies
Jesmyn Ward’s new novel, which won the National Book Award, is extraordinary: Sing, Unburied, Sing. Multiple narrators, some living and some dead, all in this world. Deep Mississippi and the long legacies of racism and Jim Crow. I’m very struck by how Ward writes about siblings taking care of each other in a terrifying and dangerous world.
The Risen by Ron Rash is also about the South (North Carolina), family, long legacies, and attempts to break free of/come to terms with the past. That sounds kind of clichéd, but Rash builds suspense and a psychological study quite effectively.
On Trails: An Exploration, by Robert Moor, is a nonfiction, fascinating series of chapters about creatures who make and follow trails (from ants to deer to elephants to humans), and how a trail can keep you alive. The book starts with an amazing story in which Moor — who was in his 20s and superbly fit after just finishing the AT — headed out “off trail” in Newfoundland and promptly got profoundly lost.
A Dream in Polar Fog by Yuri Rytkheu. Want to read something Russian that doesn’t have anything to do with contemporary U.S. politics? Rytkheu was a Chukchi (farthest northeast you can go in Siberia before hitting the Bering Strait). This is a novel written from the point of view of a late-19th-century Canadian who gets left behind in Chukotka by his compatriots. Wonderful details of life and landscape.
Matt Côté, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker. The subtitle is, “The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress.” I’m only 75 percent of the way through the book, but so far I’ve found its reliance on evidence to support an uncommonly optimistic perspective to be a tonic during pessimistic times.
Deborah Cutten, Academic Administrative Assistant
The Forgotten Garden, The House at Riverton (The Shifting Fog), The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper, and The Lake House, all by Kate Morton. She is my favorite author of late. All of her books will keep you guessing until the end and then make you want to go back and reread them for clues.
After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search by Sarah Perry.
Deacon Frank Daggett, Multifaith Chaplaincy
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. I read this two months after my son died from cancer. Like my son, the author was a literature major in college; the author later became a top neurosurgeon until lung cancer ended his career and eventually his life. His first-person account shares the story of a man impelled to explore the depths of the human condition, first in literature, then in the workings of the brain. I found an unusual connection with the late author, whose fine writing articulated many of my own family’s experiences and provided a kind of affirmation and catharsis. With good reason, this unique book has been on The New York Times best-seller list for well over a year.
Susan Dunning, Assistant Director of Gift Planning, Office of College Advancement
After I read The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner last year, naturally I HAD to read The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron. Both fascinating!
The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo.
The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve. I bought this book, completely by coincidence, on the day Shreve died.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Not quite as good as Big Little Lies, but much better than Truly Madly Guilty.
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult — not her best, but compelling enough that I had to finish. I liked all the information about elephants.
Francis Eanes, Visiting Assistant Professor in Environmental Studies
I’d like to highly recommend two books I’ve recently read, both about various dimensions of race, justice, and history in America: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (fiction), and Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips (nonfiction).
Melinda Emerson, Technology Purchasing Specialist, Information & Library Sciences
Some of the books that made me think this year:
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel. Based on the true story of our own Maine hermit, Christopher Knight, who left his home in Massachusetts in 1986, drove to Maine, and disappeared into the Maine woods for 27 years. Not because he had to, but because he chose to live that way. Makes you think about life.
The Man Who Planted Trees: A Story of Lost Groves, the Science of Trees, and a Plan to Save the Planet by Jim Robbins. True story about David Milarch. Part story. Part science. Lost groves, champion trees, and an urgent plan to save the planet.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Two unlikely people spend six months changing each other’s lives. Romantic, sad, and thought-provoking.
Gifts of an Eagle by Kent Durden. True story of a golden eagle, Lady. Ed and his son, Kent, caught, trained, filmed, and learned from Lady for 16 years. Then they set her free.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. His story of going from a neurosurgeon/neuroscientist to a terminally-ill patient with cancer, to his death.
Books to enjoy:
The Elm Creek Quilts novels by Jennifer Chiaverini. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mysteries by Louise Penny. The Gray Whale Inn mysteries, by Karen MacInerney. The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes — a collection of British and American stories. Ellis Island and Other Stories by Mark Helprin.
A book for young readers:
Ray’s Violet: The Tale of a Most Extraordinary Lightning Bug by Sharon Walrond Harris. Charming story of friendship, a carefree summer, and wishes come true.
Nathan Faries, Assistant Professor of Asian Studies
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu. As someone who recently binged the Black Mirror series on Netflix and felt paranoid and misanthropic for weeks after, I really appreciated the hopeful contrast I found with Ken Liu’s humanistic science fiction and fantasy. He writes not only about the “what if?” possibilities of life, but also the “what now?” He writes not only about how amazing things might be in the future, but he reminds us of how amazing things are today and have always been, not because of gadgets, but because of the people around us. When he writes about time travel, he reminds us that we are all time travelers now, together, a spark burning down a fuse. While he writes wonderfully about gee-whiz technology, he also reminds us that we live in a world in which thoughts can be transmitted across space and time using an amazing new app called a book. There is old magic in the world and new magic and present magic. Some of this magic is called science.
Sylvia Federico, Professor of Classical and Medieval Studies
I really liked Hans Fallada’s novel Every Man Dies Alone.
Dan Girling, Mail & Materials Handling Clerk, Post & Print
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. As the name suggests, this is a modern retelling of Norse myths. The tales follow a loose chronology, beginning with the Norse creation story and ending with the apocalyptic legend of Ragnarok. While not a direct translation of the original stories, this book was an accessible introduction for those who hadn’t heard these tales before.
Artemis by Andy Weir. Weir was on the Good Reads list several times last year with his earlier book The Martian. With Artemis, Weir once again combines humor and science to tell the story of a young woman named Jazz, who lives within the first city on the moon. Jazz makes her money smuggling contraband into the city, until she’s offered a job in corporate espionage. I found this book funny and thrilling, almost playing out like a heist movie in space.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. A classic novel in the dystopian genre, The Handmaid’s Tale explores questions of religion, gender, and identity through the lens of an oppressive society. This is a heavy but important read that holds up even 30 years after it was first published.
Atonement by Ian McEwan. Beginning on a fateful night in England just a few years before World War II, Atonement tells the story of a family turned upside down by one daughter’s mistake. The book continues into the years that followed, showing the consequences of that one night. I liked McEwan’s poetic language, as well as the way he showed the perspectives of multiple characters.
Shōgun by James Clavell. This is technically fiction, but it is closely based on the life of the real historical figure William Adams, an English sailor who landed in Japan in the 17th century and became the first known Western samurai. The story follows his rise from prisoner to samurai, learning about Japanese traditions in order to survive. This is a longer book, but it had enough action and political intrigue to keep my interest.
Phyllis Graber Jensen, Director of Photography and Video, Communications
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. After a year of marriage, an African American couple —he’s a graduate of Morehouse, she of Spelman —confronts the husband’s unjust conviction for a violent crime he did not commit. The novel explores how his imprisonment in a society of mass incarceration challenges their relationship. Sad, outrageous, and funny, this book offers a bow to Benjamin Mays, Bates Class of 1920.
Meg Gresh, Assistant to the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Office of the Dean of the Faculty
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen.
Laurie Grimmel, Retail Shipping & Parcel Clerk, Post & Print
I just finished Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. It was very interesting and took place in the days of slavery. Has quite the twist in the plot and was hard to put down. Also Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson was an absolutely wonderful book. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee was another book that I could not put down, as well as her To Kill a Mockingbird.
Bruce Hall, Network Administrator, Information & Library Services
I recommend Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. While it may be difficult to get tickets to Hamilton on Broadway, you can read the biography that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to create the musical. It is an exciting story of how a child born out of wedlock on an island in the British West Indies and who was orphaned in his teens became one of the principal founders of the United States. I was reading this at the same time as a friend of mine who observed, ”I never would have made it off that island and, instead, would have died young in squalor and ignorance, but I am not Hamilton.”
Jennifer Hartshorn, Head Coach, Women’s Track & Cross Country, Athletics
I am a longtime reader of this list but first-time responder. I have never been a mystery reader but then discovered the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. It was recommended last year by Sarah Potter. Start with Still Life and continue in order. I use the Maine library loan system and go through a book every other week. The stories are interesting and not too dark. You get sucked into this quaint Canadian community and truly wish you could visit.
Nicole Hastings, Assistant Instructor of Physics
I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows. It took turns that were unexpected and unpredictable, and it worked fantastically. I loved every second spent reading it.
Bill Hiss ’66, retired colleague
For me, a shorter list, but this year seemed to bring clunkier books. Below are the three that weren’t:
The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero by Timothy Egan. Quite a life. A magnificent public speaker, Thomas Meagher rejected his family’s comfortable Irish status in English-ruled Ireland, helped found and lead the “Young Ireland” movement after the famine, and was transported as a convict to Australia for his rabble-rousing. He escaped, made his way to the U.S., and raised and led an all-Irish regiment in the Union Army that, as immigrants, were used as cannon fodder and took frightful casualties in battle after battle. Appointed the acting governor of the Montana Territory after the war, he disappeared overboard from a river boat under mysterious circumstances after resisting the land barons who controlled Montana.
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester. Beautifully written. The editors of the OED encouraged people to send in suggestions for words that should be included, with both their linguistic derivation and sample usages to trace the various meanings of words. One of these volunteers, Dr. William Chester Minor, sent in thousands of carefully researched histories of words to the renowned James Murray, the OED’s Scottish titanic intellect of an editor. After years of being put off from a thank-you visit to his mysterious contributor, Murray insisted and traveled into the English countryside, only to find that Dr. Minor, an American Civil War surgeon, had been held for more than 20 years in a mental hospital for the criminally insane, after a murder in London.
Vietnam, A New History by Christopher Goscha. Goscha, a Canadian historian, has provided a fine new account that clearly lays out Vietnam’s complex layers of interplay with neighboring empires and colonial forces. After an explanation of Vietnam’s early history, most of the book deals with the modern struggles toward nationhood after 1858, the watershed created with the invasion by France. For me, the book was wonderful preparation for a month recently in Vietnam helping to design the Admissions and Financial Aid offices for what will be Vietnam’s first liberal arts institution, Fulbright University Vietnam, partly led by Ngan Dinh ’02, the founding director of the Undergraduate College. But it is a perfect book as well for a general reader trying to move beyond seeing Vietnam through the narrow lens of what the Vietnamese call “the American war.”
Margaret Imber, Associate Professor of Classicial & Medieval Studies and Associate Dean of Faculty
Nicola Upson’s Josephine Tey detective novels, based on the real-life detective novelist. The first is titled An Expert in Murder. There are seven so far. If you are a fan of the classic British cozies (Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, Tey) you will enjoy these tremendously. The heroine is Tey, the British detective novelist for people who don’t like detective novels. They are set between the first and second world wars and do a wonderful, moody description of the consequences of the wars in British society. The plotting is good. The characters are excellent.
Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind by Michael Massing. A popularizing history/bio of two of the great thinkers in the emergence of Protestant religion(s) in the 16th century. Well-written and enjoyable.
Broad Band by Claire Evans. This is a fascinating and sometimes infuriating history of the role women played in the development of the internet and the reason for their erasure from most histories of the technology. If you liked Hidden Figures, you will like this.
The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival by Stanley Alpert. True story: An assistant United States Attorney is kidnapped in Manhattan. The author and victim of the crime has a sometimes-annoying authorial tone: terrified in the moment, smug in retrospect – but it is a completely wild story, and if you like true crime as a genre, you’ll like this.
Michael Jones, Professor of History and of Classical & Medieval Studies
Pacific Crucible by Ian W. Toll. Excellent history of World War II in the Pacific.
Laura Juraska, Associate College Librarian for Research Services, Information & Library Services
The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice by Patricia Bell-Scott. I knew next to nothing of the activist Pauli Murray, and so deepened my knowledge of her plus witnessed the remarkable relationship between these two important women of the last century.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. A historical fiction, light on historic depth, of 20th-century Russia told through the life and relationships of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who is under house arrest in the Metropol hotel right across from the Kremlin. Insightful, witty storytelling.
Black Water Rising and Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke. Well-written suspense thriller stories investigated by a black Texas Ranger.
Emily Kane, Professor of Sociology
For this year, one of my favorite novels was Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, a remarkable multigenerational family saga spanning from 18th-century Ghana into the 20th-century in both Ghana and the United States. The chapters are written almost like short stories, each focusing on another individual representing a generation of one or the other of two branches of the same family tree. I also recommend Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer.
Alison Keegan, Administrative Assistant & Supervisor of Academic Administrative Services, Office of the Dean of the Faculty
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. Heartbreaking from Page 1, yet witty and utterly masterful writing. Five hundred and eighty pages, but it ended too soon. This book moved me to the core, and when I wasn’t reading it, I was counting the minutes until I next picked it up. It starts in Ireland in the 1940s and spans to today, through the eyes of an ordinary man and revolving around a family saga that is unlike any I’ve read. I don’t even know how to truly describe what this book is about without giving too much away or not telling enough. Suffice to say, it’ll be a while until I read something as beautiful, clever, and unflinchingly poignant as the story of Cyril Avery.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. This book left me breathless with each page turn. The sheer cold dark isolation of Alaska’s craggy landscape is felt in every paragraph. When I had about 50 pages left, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to race to the finish or savor the story. The story is about a POW from the Vietnam War, plagued with PTSD and paranoia, moving his family to Alaska to homestead and live a life free of government and societal norms. There are so many themes to this gorgeous novel, but one profoundly obvious one, which is really felt in the last third of the book, is that what makes a family isn’t necessarily bloodlines and DNA. Also, everyone has a past, and everyone has a story.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. This book takes effort. It’s 720 pages and is some of the most difficult content I’ve ever read (brutal abuse, addiction, and pure raw uninhibited emotion). I had this book on my to-read list for a while, but was validated in wanting to read it sooner than later when Tom McGuinness recommended it in last year’s Good Reads edition. It follows four male college classmates as they make their way into a post-college world, sustained by ambition and their friendships with each other, while navigating the uncertainty of middle age and coming to terms with the past. It spans decades of up and downs, becoming darker as truths and horrors are revealed. What makes this book so worth reading is the incredible writing, the way the author touches so brilliantly on themes of race, religion, addiction, abuse, and suffering. This is not a light read, but is well-worth the journey.
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. This was a dark and twisty delight! I didn’t try to figure it all out, I just waited for the reveals. It didn’t disappoint.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Deeply engrossing, this novel spans several generations of a Korean family living in Japan at a time when prejudicial tendencies reigned supreme. This was historical fiction at its finest and a compelling, sweeping family saga that gave me an insight to a part of history that I didn’t know much about.
A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. The first is about an exiled Russian count who is a charming, witty character. Towles uses enchanting language to describe the surroundings, the meals, and every happenstance meeting with those the Count comes in contact with at a famed Russian hotel. The second is New York City in all its glittery glitzy splendor of the 1930s, with its upper-crust societies and colorful characters.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor struggles with the basics of appropriate social skills and tends to have no filtered thoughts. Her perfectly structured life is disrupted when she finds herself the other half of a duo saving an elderly man from collapsing outside her office. What transpires is a deep understanding of why Eleanor isn’t completely fine, and yet why this girl has the grit and tenacity to survive a frightful and traumatic upbringing. It’s witty and poignant, and you’re pretty much just rooting for Eleanor from the start.
Stephanie Kelley-Romano, Associate Professor of Rhetoric
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Amazing, can’t put down – especially if you were a nerd in the ’80s.
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Grace Kendall, Director of Design Services, Communications
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Noah’s retelling of his childhood in South Africa becomes a retelling of not only his life, but his mother’s (and his relationship with her), as well as their experiences under apartheid. The book is peppered with sharp recollections of poverty, told with humor and a realist view of its legacy.
The Hunger by Alma Katsu. A supernatural re-imagining of the Donner Party’s fateful journey. As group members fall, one by one, the remaining party members are plagued by the feeling that they are being stalked by something more than just winter and hunger.
Suzan Kinslow, Facility Services
I just finished a novel that I found quite compelling: Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton.
Su Langdon, Lecturer in Psychology
I looked through the previous years’ lists and was shocked to see that A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles hadn’t been mentioned yet. It’s not a high-action book, and sometimes feels a little slow (if you can make it to Page 100, you’ll be hooked), but the weaving of the characters and the story is its strength. I won’t bother describing the plot because I think if someone had described it to me I might not have bothered. It’s got lots of layers though. Two books I’ve read this year that use humor to help folks understand perhaps-unexamined issues of race are Trevor Noah’s Born A Crime and Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have to Explain.
Bill Low, Curator, Museum of Art
The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald. At first, The Emigrants appears simply to document the lives of four Jewish émigrés in the 20th century. But gradually, as Sebald’s precise, almost dreamlike prose begins to draw their stories, the four narrations merge into one overwhelming evocation of exile and loss. I cannot recommend this, or any of his novels, highly enough.
Judy Marden ‘66, retired colleague
The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall. A zoologist specializing in wolf recovery is hired by a wealthy earl to introduce wolves to his estate in northern England. The experiment is accompanied by complicated personal relationships and devious plots against the venture, ending in a surprising outcome involving a Scotland that has successfully seceded from the United Kingdom.
The Dry by Jane Harper. A federal agent returns to his remote Australian home town to attend the funeral of his best friend, and though he has sworn to have nothing to do with the town or its people again, it doesn’t take him long to be pulled into the chaos. The apparent murder-suicide of his best childhood friend and his family is not as straightforward as it appears. Over all the drama looms the influence of the worst drought in a century, intense heat making tempers short and conditions dangerous.
Monica McCusker, Office Coordinator, College Store
Artemis, the newly released novel by Andy Weir, author of The Martian. The story follows the capers of a young woman, Jasaman “Jazz,” struggling to make a living in the futuristic moon colony of Artemis. It was a fun read. I could envision this one being made into a movie.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. A fascinating novel based on historical documentation of “not-so-honest” child-adoption programs during the early 1900s. The author creates a wonderful tapestry of current and previous experiences of the main characters that kept me engrossed in the story while traveling to and from New Zealand earlier this year.
Other books I have read this past year and recommend include some that have been suggested in previous editions of the Good Reads: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (I plan to read her Hag-Seed and The Heart Goes Last), and The Shack by William Paul Young.
Tom McGuinness, Associate Director of Institutional Research
My favorite book this year was easily The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. A coming-of-age story of a gay man in Ireland, this novel was hilarious, touching, and memorable. I tip my hat to Ali Keegan, who recommended it.
Christine Murray, Social Science Librarian, Information & Library Sciences
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. Jane Austen-y, but in post-war London.
Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla. A family memoir about untouchables in India.
Stephanie Navrat, Assistant Director of Annual Giving, Office of College Advancement
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. This book will make you laugh out loud and will also provide a sobering look at how the U.S. “wilderness” has changed through history. Provides hilarious perspective on North American relationships with nature.
Charles Nero, Professor of Rhetoric
Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala. This incredible novel is a mixture of genres: gay coming-out story, immigrant narrative, and coming of age as a male Nigerian American and a female white American. It was so riveting that I’m looking forward to reading it again.
The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish. I loved her in Girl Trip, so I immediately decided to read her memoir. Okay, I confess, I listened to it on Audible because she was narrating it. I have to say it was a hoot-and-a-half. Haddish is a natural raconteur and I was constantly laughing out loud. I’m going to give this one another listen. Haddish is all that!
Then and Now: A Memoir by Barbara Cook. I have loved Cook ever since I heard her as Marian the librarian on the original cast recording of The Music Man. What a beautiful voice she had! I’m looking forward to learning about her life and learning more about the Golden Age of the Broadway musical.
The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History by Robin Givhan. This sounds like my perfect summer read: Paris in the 1970s, glamorous models, Josephine Baker, and Liza Minnelli. Who could ask for more?
Boy With Thorn by Rickey Laurentiis. I have read a couple of his poems, and now I’m going for his award-winning collection.
Counternarratives by John Keene. I’ve heard nothing but superlatives from my friends about Keene’s second book, this one a collection of short stories and novellas. It recently won an American Book Award.
Kerry O’Brien, Assistant Dean of Faculty
Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York by Francis Spufford. This was by far my favorite book this year. Set in 1746 in the then-puny town of New York City, it’s written in the episodic style of 18th-century novels. New York is full of high-class old Dutch money, British climbers, scoundrels, soldiers, hooligans, gay men, café-sitters, actors, duelers, slaves, and women figuring out their role in this new world order (hint: it’s limited). The protagonist is just off the boat from London (a six-week voyage), and he’s in New York on a mission that is not revealed until the end. The book tracks his adventures and misadventures while revealing life on a frontier of the Empire just as frustration with King George is gaining steam. What are the social norms in a new place? How is New York similar to and different from London? When you are secretive yourself, whom do you trust?
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre. Speaking of whom one should trust, not this guy! A pedigreed English public-schooler groomed for the spy world of MI6 was a Communist early on in his career and for decades managed to spy for the Soviets, unbeknownst to his wife, school friends, and spying colleagues. His social trappings, affable humor, and fun boozy parties shielded him from discovery, at great cost to the agents he outed. What a liar! And people kept trusting him. An interesting view into several decades of Cold war history.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. This novel follows a woman at work – as a diver in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Concurrently, we’re privy to the life of her father, who had ditched her family early on, and one of his underworld associates. Everyone’s job has its challenges, paths cross, and people make some crazy decisions. Again, some double-crossing is involved.
Carole Parker, Library Assistant – Acquisitions, Information & Library Services
I read Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders this year. Also, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer. A few novels I found on the featured-works shelves in the library: Smile by Roddy Doyle; Walter Mosley’s Down the River unto the Sea (detective novel); and The Exact Nature of our Wrongs by Janet Peery. All were enjoyable, and that’s all I can remember now!
Sarah Potter ’77, Bookstore Director Emerita
This past year, I marinated in mysteries, mostly. They are easy audio “reads” on my daily commute, and I find the smaller paperbacks don’t bruise when I nod off while reading in bed. In addition to these, I did read a few books that are worthy of note.
Robert McCloskey: A Private Life in Words and Pictures by Jane McCloskey. This is a lovely look into the life of the father of Sal and Jane and it returned me instantly to Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, and all of the other McCloskey classics that I adore.
For my annual laughter, Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island. Not Bryson’s best effort, but entertaining, and who can resist that title?
Mary Oliver’s Devotions. Balm for the troubled soul.
And for simple reading pleasure, these titles from the shelves of the Orr’s Island Library: Run by Ann Patchett; Peaches for Father Francis by Joanna Harris (carrying on the Chocolat characters); The Horse Dancer by Jojo Moyes. Dressage, theft, grit, love, social commentary – a compelling tale.
Jack Pribram, Professor Emeritus of Physics
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book that inspired the movie. Brilliant African American women mathematicians, many of whom were hired during WWII, who helped with airplane designs and later continued with the space program with NASA. One of them, Katherine Johnson, had a 35-year career there, was honored by President Obama, and has a building named for her. She is 99 years old.
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. An easy read with a variety of topics about the universe. It’s been on the New York Times best-seller list for almost a year now.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. The decades-long story of one woman who died of cancer in 1951, and of her family. Some of her cells were removed before she died, and, unusually, the cells started to reproduce. They have been used to develop polio vaccines, cloning, gene mapping, and so on. Personal stories, scientific discoveries, and a discussion of the changes in medical ethics.
The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough. A book to lift your spirits about the United States during these times. A collection of his speeches at dedications and commencements from 1989 to 2016.
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel. At the end of the 1800s, as cameras on telescopes began to have glass plates, it made it easier to examine stars on the pictures. It was tedious, but a group of women tabulated thousands of stars, including ones that periodically changed brightness. Into the early 1900s, they cataloged an immense number of stars. Many of the women are still recognized for their discoveries. Sobel is an excellent science writer, earlier with The New York Times, but now with several books.
Erica Rand, Whitehouse Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies
Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility edited by Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton. The editors write: “We are living in a time of trans visibility. Yet we are also living in a time of anti-trans violence” (Page xv). The essays in this volume brilliantly address this sparkly and grim situation.
John Rasmussen, Energy Manager, Facility Services
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. This book is about introverts and their contribution to our society.
Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer. The corrosive effect of big money on politics.
American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante. The life and times of Hutchinson, a woman who dared challenge the Puritan hierarchy.
Darby Ray, Director, Harward Center for Community Partnerships
Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi. Research-informed arguments about the importance of nutrition to brain health and the prevention of cognitive decline. Includes recipes!
News of the World by Paulette Jiles. I’ve never been a fan of Westerns, but I couldn’t put this novel down.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. My favorite of the year. World War II historical fiction.
Kirk Read, Professor of French & Francophone Studies
Some years the call for good reads leaves me despondent that I didn’t read MORE. But then I remind myself that I read for a living, so there’s that. But should I be reading more because my last name is Read? Probably. Shameful, really…So here are some reads from in and out of class:
Against all dissuasion, I read Lincoln at the Bardo by Charles Saunders, and sort of liked it. Somewhat inscrutable style with a story that evokes the grief of Abraham Lincoln over his young son’s death. For the naysayers, yes, it was a bit precious; for the enthusiasts, it was at times heartbreaking about impossible grief.
For class, my First Year Seminar read Amy Dickinson’s Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things, a memoir of dying parents, blending families, parenting missteps, and depression. Sound fun?! Amy is my oldest friend of all time, and my students either loved it or did a good job of pretending. You should too.
I will recommend another book from that course until I breathe no more: Claire Messud’s The Last Life. Family drama linked to France’s colonial past.
If you didn’t read Bryan Stephenson’s Just Mercy (this year’s Common Reading), read it. My students universally loved this amazing book on justice for death row inmates.
Students in French and francophone studies quote Fatima Mernissi’s Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood more than any other work in their capstone portfolios. Find out why. It is a memoir of growing up in a girlhood harem in Fez in the ’40s–’50s.
You should reconnect with your French from high school and college, too, right? Our store has a lot of great titles to help you along. Among my favorites (well-received by students) are Brahim Metiba’s two short memoirs about parental connection and disconnection: Je n’ai pas eu le temps de bavarder avec toi (“I didn’t have time to chat with you”) and Ma mère et moi (“My mother and I”). He weaves issues of religious and gay identity together with family expectations with great tenderness;
Mouloud Feraoun’s Le fils du pauvre (“The poor man’s son”), a lovely recounting of youth in rural Algeria;
and Leila Sebbar’s edited collection Une enfance algérienne (“An Algerian childhood”), which gives many perspectives usually from a child’s perspective (and thus more easily understandable French?) on growing up in Algeria.
There are a number of other titles as well, from murder mysteries with historical excitement — Didier Daeninckx’s Meutres pour mémoire — to Flaubert’s Coeur Simple. And I’m sure you’ve read the literature that thinking, speaking and communicating in languages that are new to you helps fend off senility. Get one of these by your bed before you forget!
Also recommended, not from a class I gave, but a “class” I “took” (thank you, Professor Tim Dugan!) would be Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Playing Roy Cohn in the Bates production taught me many, many lessons, one of them being what amazing writing this is. Answering the question, “What is this play about?” is a perennial conundrum, because there are a hundred good answers, but to start with: the ’80s, AIDS, Reagan-era politics, hope, despair, beauty, compassion, humor in adversity, grief…It is amazing how timely this play has become.
Roy Cohn and Michael Cohen are linked by much, much more than their similar names…Trump engaged both. Read why and how! There are several books associated with the 25th anniversary of the play, namely, And The World Only Spins Forward by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois, which makes a great companion piece.
Kelsy Ross, Head Women’s Soccer Coach, Athletics
One Goal, by Amy Bass ’92. A must-read for anyone with ties to The Lew.
Adriana Salerno, Associate Professor of Mathematics
I want to recommend The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, for a feminist, POC-centered fantasy series (just finished it, it’s amazing). Also Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil, for a sobering look at how data is used in our society. Specifically for faculty, The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeger.
Sharon Saunders, Associate College Librarian for Systems & Bibliographic Services, Information & Library Services
Born on Third Base by Chuck Collins. This isn’t about sports, it’s about accumulated wealth: “A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good.”
Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together by Van Jones. An interesting take on the current state of the Democratic and Republican parties, with each having “elite” and “popular” subsets.
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Cullors and Asha Bandele. A story of growing up in L.A., surviving, and becoming a pivotal force in creating Black Lives Matter.
Carl Steidel, Senior Associate Dean of Students
Graphic novels/comics: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson; Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples; Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba; Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona; and Alias by Brian Michael Bendis.
Nonfiction: Jackson, 1964: And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in America by Calvin Trillin; Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson; and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.
Fiction: Run by Blake Crouch; Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan; and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
Sawyer Sylvester, Professor Emeritus of Sociology
American Constitutional History: A Brief Introduction by Jack Fruchtman is a concise account of the growth of the Constitution through five distinct developmental stages.
In The Soul of the First Amendment, Floyd Adams calls the First Amendment the “rock star of the Constitution” and claims that the protections therein make us unique among all other nations.
In The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, Abraham Flexner states that broad theoretical knowledge, often said to be “impractical,” has been the basis for critical technological advances that would prove time-limited without the theoretical background.
In The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, Tom Nichols claims that modern American society has lost faith in expert knowledge, substituting for it a flattening of discourse in which all claims of truth must have equal weight. Contemporary American society feeds on agreement. Disagreement is a threat.
The following are books about books: Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper; The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett; The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee; Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores: True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers by Bob Eckstein; and The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries and the Race to Return a Literary Inheritance by Angers Rydell.
I especially recommend the last. As the Nazis swept through Europe, and the trains left for Auschwitz, the conquerors sought to eliminate not only the Jews but their history and culture as well. So they destroyed their temples and their libraries and burned their books – thousands upon thousands. This is an account of that savagery.
Finally, I recommend: Earthly Remains and The Temptation of Forgiveness by Donna Leon; Fludd by Hilary Mantel; The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett; Harry Potter: A History of Magic, an ebook of the exhibition at The British Library; Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes by Michael Sims; and a fine history of Maine, The Lobster Coast, by Colin Woodard.
Anne Thompson, Professor Emerita of English; Euterpe B. Dukakis Professor Emerita of Classical & Medieval Studies
My favorite book of the year was Golden Hill, by Francis Spufford. It’s a novel about New York City in 1747, i.e. 30 years before the American Revolution. It’s comic, sharp, a wonderfully detailed history of old New York with its 6,000 citizens, and as if that’s not enough, there’s a serious mystery at the heart of it. One of the few authors I’ve read who brings the language and atmosphere of a historical past alive without seeming artificially fabricated.
I also loved Ali Smith’s two short novels (the first two of what she is calling a Seasonal Quartet), Autumn and Winter. Smith has set herself the goal of writing these books so rapidly that they capture the sense of what is happening right now in the UK, so they touch on Brexit, Trump, climate change, technology, and immigration, among other issues. Some passages are laugh-out-loud funny, and others are deeply serious, as when a character reads with dismay a newspaper account about a crowdfunding effort to raise money to buy a boat that will repel Italian boats trying to rescue refugees. I couldn’t believe that this really happened, but I looked it up and it did.
Nadia Thompson, Assistant Director of Principal Gifts, Office of College Advancement
Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. I loved it. It felt very stark and real. Brief moments of joy and longer moments of dark anxiety. Satisfying ending.
Joseph Tomaras, Director of Sponsored Programs & Research Compliance, Dean of the Faculty’s office
Kindred by Octavia Butler. A must-read, and if you have already read it but not within the last year, then read it again. Content warnings: Racialized slavery and all that goes with it.
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich. I hesitate to put this book on a list that is ostensibly directed at new graduates, since my own attempts to read it when I was at or near college age foundered. I suspect that to appreciate it, one needs to have some experience with mature love that persists despite failures.
The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist by Emile Habiby. Palestinian science fiction, which manages haphazardly to make a comic hero out of an informer.
The Iliad by Homer (specifically, the translation by Edward McCrorie). The first such translation into English that, to my ear, retains the furious rhythms of the original ancient Greek.
Gate of the Sun by Elias Khoury. Like Habiby, a novel of Palestinian experience, but epic where Habiby is comic (though still, often, grimly humorous).
The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai. A warning: I am the sort of person who has read and enjoyed Samuel Beckett’s novels, which are usually considered some of his most difficult and prickly texts. If you also appreciate them, then Krasznahorkai has written a Beckett novel for the epoch of near-instant telecommunication.
Autumn by Ali Smith. A novel of intergenerational friendship and the breaching of taboos past and present. Like many of Smith’s novels, it demonstrates the gaps and tears that open up when personal lives are knitted into the fabric of history.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith. A story of race, class, gender, and the seemingly small differences that can result in vastly different life trajectories; it then turns into a sharp critique of the White Savior Industrial Complex. I suspect some aspects of the narrative will resonate most vigorously for those born in the 1970s.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This list ends much as it began, with a brilliant and brutal evocation of the truth that “the past does not pass, it accumulates.” Content warning: Racialized slavery and all that goes with it.
William Wallace, Lecturer in the Humanities
These books changed me in significant ways:
Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz; Buck by MK Asante; Behave by Robert Sapolsky; and Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett.
Andrew White, Former Director of Academic & Client Service, Information & Library Sciences
Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram Kendi; Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble; The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead; Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York by Francis Spufford; and Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe.
Anne Williams, Professor Emerita of Economics
Since my brother’s stroke-induced dementia, I have read quite a bit about the brain. I found much of interest in two recent reads:
The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, by Norman Doidge, focuses on neuroplasticity and how to enhance the brain’s ability to create new pathways when old ones stop working.
Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death, by Adrian Owen, studies developments in communication with people who are completely locked in and used to be diagnosed as being in vegetative states.
For those with an interest in wine or mid-20th-century New York, I suggest Anne Fadiman’s The Wine Lover’s Daughter. It is a witty family memoir and a paean to her dad, Clifton Fadiman.
About white people’s relationship to race, I found the next two to be very thought-provoking: Debby Irving’s Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race is a memoir of discovering and a manual for fighting white privilege; and Picking Cotton: Our Memoir of Injustice and Redemption by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo. The latter is a gripping story about truth, in the form of a rape victim who identified the wrong perpetrator and after his much-later exoneration becomes friends with him.
Amy Ellis Nutt’s Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family tells the eye-opening story of a Maine family whose son knew from age 2 that he was really a girl.
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, is a delightful and witty narrative of the life of a fallen Russian aristocrat who experiences a rich and slightly improbable life while under decades of house arrest in the Metropol Hotel.
The Samurai’s Garden, by Gail Tsukiyama, tells of a young Chinese man finding maturity while convalescing in Japan long ago. This came out of the Kempers’ Little Free Library on Pettingill Street!
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead, concatenates many horrors experienced by slaves and freed slaves into one amazing story that resonates today.
In the mystery, thriller, adventure categories, I had the most fun with these four:
Red Sparrow, by Jason Matthews, features Cold War spies, their training, and their intrigues.
Vector, by Robin Cook, was written in 1999 and is amazingly prescient about bio-terrorists and the alt right.
Hostage, by Kristina Ohlsson, has a policeman suffering when his son is the hostage.
The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, by David Lagercrantz, is hard to put down and thankfully not nearly so violent as the other Lisbeth Salander books.
“No two persons ever read the same book.” — Edmund Wilson
Titles with two or more recommendations:
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Golden Hill: A Novel of New York by Francis Spufford
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Artemis by Andy Weir
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Autumn by Ali Smith
The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny