Welcome to the 27th edition of Good Reads: The Bates College Non-Required Reading List for Leisure Moments.
Begun and named in 1997 by Sarah Emerson Potter ’77, the longtime former Bates College Store director, Good Reads brings together the readers — and bookshelves — of the broader Bates community, including alumni, current and retired staff, and faculty. In 2017, Alison Keegan in the Dean of the Faculty’s Office took over the annual tradition of collecting and compiling submissions.
“It’s a true blend of what makes Bates so great.”Alison Keegan
Hard copies of the list — produced by Post and Print — are available at the College Store, Ladd Library, and on the first floor of Lane Hall. This “labor of love” for Keegan draws requests from alumni and emeritus faculty every year.
“It’s a true blend of what makes Bates so great and is a thread that keeps everyone connected through something joyful, sometimes inspiring, and yet light and fun,” Keegan said. “It helps that it also comes at the beginning of summer, when we’re all looking for our next great beach-hammock-fireside-or-campsite book.”
For 2023, the Bates community has offered up 214 titles, ranging from murder mysteries, romance novels, and science fiction to memoirs and historical nonfiction.
Twelve titles received two or more recommendations, they were:
Mad Honey by Jennifer Finney Boylan and Jodi Picoult
Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life and Japan’s Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry
Hatchet Island by Paul Doiron
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
The Personal Librarian by Heather Terrell and Victoria Christopher Murray
Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
Trust by Hernan Diaz
Women Holding Things by Maira Kalman
Keegan summed up the joy that can be found in the great reads in a quote from author Madeleine L’Engle’s Newbery Medal acceptance speech in 1963: “A book, too, can be a star… a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”
So pick a star, or two or three, and start exploring the universe!
Tobie Akerley Gordon, Academic Administrative Assistant
Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan. I have been a fan of Jennifer Finney Boylan since reading her book I’m Looking Through you: Growing Up Haunted. (Perhaps another book to add to the list.) Her latest book, written with Jodi Picoult, covers so many topics from love to tragic death, to bees and more. It will keep you reading late into the night and leave you wanting more when you are done.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. This book has really changed how I view life, death, and all the measures we go to in order to prolong life. As soon as I finished I sent a copy to my daughter who is a (certified nursing assistant) in a nursing home. I thought that it could help her see things a bit differently in her line of work.
The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America by Elizabeth Letts. Looking to remember when life was a little slower? Follow Annie as she crosses the country from Minot, Maine, to California. Her mode of transportation: a trusty horse. Her companion: a dog. I was amazed at the resilience and strength that Annie showed and the kindness and willingness of the people who opened their doors to a stranger.
Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry. Shout out to [Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics] Pavel Bacovsky for recommending this book. I think it is one of the few that I have rated five stars on my Goodreads list. This is the true story of the earthquake that hit Japan — and more so that tsunami that followed back in 2011. Most people remember the nuclear power plant, Fukushima, but this book tells of the lives lost at an elementary school and what the aftermath looked like for their surviving families and communities.
Áslaug Ásgeirsdóttir, Professor of Politics
We Need to Build: Fieldnotes for a Diverse Democracy by Eboo Patel. Eboo Patel is the founder and president of Interfaith America and in this book he discusses the power of critical thinking combined with action to make society better. Pointing out that while it is easier to tear things down than to build institutions that make society better, Patel shows that engaging in building is worthwhile.
The Fires by Sigríður Hagalín Björnsdóttir. The novel centers around the area around Reykjavík, Iceland, where volcanoes wake up after hundreds of years. The main protagonist is a female geologist who is seeking to protect the public and save her family during dangerous times.
Foster by Claire Keegan. This short novella is packed with emotion and restraint. A young girl in Ireland is sent away to live with a childless couple while her mother awaits the birth of yet another child. In her foster home she experiences the feeling of being cared for, which profoundly impacts her.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka. The novel is told from the point of view of Maali Almeida, a skilled war photographer, gambler, and closeted gay man, as he navigates the afterlife trying to figure out who killed him in 1990. Astute observations about the absurdities of civil war and ethnic conflict weave throughout the novel.
City of Refugees: The Story of Three Newcomers Who Breathed Life Into a Dying American Town by Susan Hartman. Refugees have changed the fabric of the city in Utica, New York, for the better over the past decades. This is a great read for anyone living in the L-A area.
Wayne Assing, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryū Suzuki. A classic book on mediation, mindfulness, and learning to be fully present. Suzuki is a masterful Zen teacher who played a critical role in bringing Zen Buddhism to the West, which has amplified our awareness of the interconnectedness of all things.
Pavel Bacovsky, Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics
As a bit heavier and more thought-provoking book, I recommend Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry.
For a lighter (but still thought-provoking) book, I recommend Monday Starts on Saturday by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky.
Jim Bauer, retired colleague
Hatchet Island, the latest Paul Doiron installment in the Mike Bowditch series. The eerie, windswept Hatchet Island off the coast of Maine becomes the site of a double murder and a disappearance in this thriller from bestselling author Paul Doiron.
I’ve also enjoyed two similar series by C.J. Box, set in Wyoming and Montana.
Jane Bedard, retired colleague
Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier
The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hildebrand
The Measure by Nikki Erlick
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave (now a series on AppleTV)
The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer
The Keeper of Stories by Sally Page
All very different from one another but all very interesting.
Jonathan Cavallero, Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Film, and Screen Studies
Jane Leavy‘s The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood. There are plenty of biographies of Yankee great Mickey Mantle and even a handful of autobiographies. What sets Leavy’s apart from the rest is her willingness to critically interrogate the myths that surround Mantle and what they reveal about masculine ideals, American identity in the 20th century, and the nature of celebrity.
Like many of her other works, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland tells a story that transcends decades and continents. Lahiri is one of my favorite writers, and this book is one of her best.
I got on a Godfather/[Mario] Puzo kick this year. Puzo’s Omertà was an enjoyable read, and Ed Falco‘s Godfather prequel The Family Corleone provided an interesting backstory for many beloved characters, especially Luca Brasi, a character about whom I did a lot of writing this year.
With How It Happened, Michael Koryta offers another compelling mystery set in Maine. Koryta combines an intriguing storyline with his usual knack for a descriptive prose that allows readers to feel the texture of the place we call home.
Chuck Klosterman‘s The Nineties: A Book reminded me of the fads and trends of my high school and college years, but more importantly, it brought a new appreciation and perspective to the way new technologies have fundamentally changed our relationship to the world. For example, in one particularly memorable passage, Klosterman suggests that listening to music in the 1950s on a vinyl album and listening to a CD in the 1990s was a comparable experience – a physical disk with a selection of songs by the same artist is purchased and placed in a player. However, the difference between buying a CD and buying an individual song that you digitally download to your phone is very different.
I’ve been reading a lot of titles from the BFI Film Classics series this year. These are small 100-ish page books about individual films. It’s a great series, and the best I read this year was Tom Kemper‘s Toy Story: A Critical Reading. Kemper shows how the Pixar film flipped the script, from starting with the film and working to the merchandising to starting with the merchandising and working toward the film.
Raluca Cernahoschi, Associate Professor of German
For those who might have noted the new interest on Netflix in all things East German, here are some good reads on the German Democratic Republic: Brigitte Reiman‘s novel Siblings probes the wounds of the separation between East and West Germany, at the time of writing recently cemented (literally and figuratively) by the wall. Originally published in 1963, this is the novel’s first translation into English. From the other end of the GDR, Olivia Wenzel‘s 1000 Coils of Fear explores the fractured post-wall lives of one of the last generations born into socialism. I’m also excited to try Jenny Erpenbeck‘s latest novel, Kairos, which came out in March in German and will follow in June in English, a “complicated love story” (according to the book’s promo,) set against the fall of the wall and German reunification.
Jonathan Cohen, Lecturer in Philosophy
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Traces a romantic triangle that begins during college and is finally resolved at the end of the trio’s first post-grad year.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. A story, told in first-person, of someone born with non-binary genitalia, interwoven with the story of their grandparents, immigrants to America from a Greek-speaking, ethnically-cleansed community in Turkey, whose incestuous relationship sets up the genetic combination that makes possible the narrator’s rare condition.
Deb Cutten, Academic Administrative Assistant
Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a historical fiction that follows the extraordinary life of fictional Hollywood actress Evelyn Hugo and it is loosely inspired by the real lives of actresses Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner. The story is full of drama and twists, and it is also a story of true love, society’s moral standards and of being a strong woman in predominantly man’s world of Old Hollywood.
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the story of the rise and fall of a fictional 70s rock band. It’s told in the style of VH1’s Behind the Music. All the members are being interviewed 20 years later and events are remembered quite differently.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult tells an unforgettable story about family secrets, love, and letting go.
A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Karen Daigler, Director of Graduate and Professional School Advising
The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray
Freida McFadden is a practicing physician who writes with lots of twists and turns in The Housemaid, and The Housemaid’s Secret, a pair of suspenseful novels about a gutsy housemaid.
Under the Magnolias by T.I. Lowe. Coming of age story about a girl in the South who holds her family together after losing her mother in childbirth.
The Keeper of Happy Endings by Barbara Davis
Lost and Found in Paris by Lian Dolan who also produces a podcast that I love called Satellite Sisters.
Dear Grace by Clare Swatman is about an unlikely friendship between Grace, a 94-year-old woman and Anna, a young woman whose husband has just cheated on her. It is a story of love, female friendship, and learning to forgive.
Renee Dana, Executive Assistant to the Dean of the Faculty and Vice President of Academic Affairs
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold. Their stories, their demise, and the city of London make this book riveting and impossible to put down.
The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear by Kate Moore. Elizabeth Packard is one bad-ass by current standards and in the 1860s she was superhuman. Her story has affected and changed the lives of every marriage, everyone struggling with mental health. Her story sounds like fiction but is pure non-fiction. After finishing this book, I could not stop talking about it.
Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney. This was the first Alice Feeney book I read and I was guessing to the end.
Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano. The first in a three-book series, this novel outlines the story of a newly single mom falling into the murder-for-hire business and the hijinks that follow.
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. A murder mystery wrapped in time travel with an ending you do not see coming. Reads like a movie — was rumored to be a Netflix product.
Elizabeth Durand ’76
Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella. “If you build it, they will come.” I never saw the movie Field of Dreams because this book is so perfect that I did not want to run the risk of ruining it.
The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths. The last, at least for now, book in the Ruth Galloway series. It does not disappoint. I hope the author takes advantage of the window she’s left open and brings Ruth back for a few more books.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. Subtitle is “A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed.” A friend who is a therapist tells me it’s a good description of what it’s like to be one.
The Winners by Fredrik Backman. Just read all his books.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Looking for a new mystery series? Deborah Crombie‘s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James (British police) appear in 19 books so far, so you should be set for a while. As always, it is best to start at the beginning; the first title in this series is A Share in Death.
Dig by A.S. King. My obligatory title from the YA section. King writes weird books that grab hold of you and hang on for a while.
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. I read this for the first time about 30 years ago. It holds up to the second reading, all these years later.
Beach reads – but worth your time: Now That You Mention It and Out of the Clear Blue Sky by Kristan Higgins; and Just My Type by Falon Ballard.
Blake Edwards, Associate Director of Career Exploration and Pre-Law Advising
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder is a novel about the history of philosophy in which a young girl named Sophie begins to receive mysterious notes from a stranger encouraging her to question her reality. This book is great for anyone interested in philosophy, the meaning of life, and mystery. You will also find it tugging at your heartstrings as Sophie tries to navigate her new reality.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson is about Bryan’s founding of the Equal Justice Initiative and his appeal work with inmates on death row. This book holds up a horrifying mirror to American incarceration, digs into the romantic irony we have with race relations in the U.S., and inspires everyone to be agents of change for better incarceration policies. The film featuring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx is also a great adaptation of one story from the book.
March, books 1-3, and Run by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell is a graphic novel series covering the early life of U.S. Representative John Lewis as he worked with various civil rights groups to fight for equality for Black Americans and eventually his political run for the U.S. House of Representatives. This series is brutally honest while making the history of the civil rights movement accessible to all age groups.
Melinda Emerson, retired colleague
Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah
Gift from the Sea by Ann Morrow Lindbergh
The Butterfly’s Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe
Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin
Hatchet Island by Paul Doiron
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
A Spanish Sunrise by Boo Walker
The Second Mrs. Astor by Shana Abe
The Memory Keeper of Kyiv by Erin Litteken
Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark
The Second Life of Mirielle West by Amanda Skenandore
Marina Filipovic, Visiting Lecturer in Russian
Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov (translated by Angela Rodel). A therapist, Gaustine, founds a clinic that treats dementia patients by recreating the past and reproducing historical spaces on each floor.
“Weren’t you heading to New York in 1939 last time I saw you? When did you get back?
After the war, he replied, unruffled.
So what are we going to do now?
Rooms from different times. As a start.
Rooms of the past? It sounds like a title.
Yes, rooms of the past. Or a clinic of the past. Or a city… Are you in?”
Time Shelter was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2023. Read it before you forget!
Hilary Gibson, Academic Administrative Assistant
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, starting with The Fifth Season!
Dan Girling, Material Handling and Post Clerk
The Maid by Nita Prose. This thriller follows an eccentric hotel maid named Molly. After she discovers a wealthy guest dead in his room, Molly becomes a suspect and must find the ones responsible in order to prove her innocence.
Fairy Tale by Stephen King. This recent novel from Stephen King follows a teenager named Charlie who discovers a portal to a dark fantasy world. He journeys into this new world hoping to use magic to heal his aging dog, Radar, but soon finds himself fighting for survival and looking for a way back home.
The Reservoir by David Duchovny. This is a short novella set during the COVID-19 pandemic, where a man spends lockdown in a New York City apartment facing Central Park. The story becomes increasingly surreal and dreamlike as his isolation starts to wear on him.
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer. Set in a post-apocalyptic city inhabited by dangerous mutant creatures, this story begins when a woman named Rachel discovers Borne, a small organism that can change form. As Borne continues to grow and learn, Rachel starts to wonder if she can trust or control him.
A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson. This novel follows three different people in a small Canadian town: a young girl who waits for her missing sister to return; a man who moved to the town after inheriting a house; and an old woman who reflects on her life from a hospital room. Each character is on their own journey but are revealed to be connected as the story progresses.
Lars Gunderson, Research Associate in Environmental Science
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez
Bruce Hall, Network Administrator, Information and Library Services
I recommend Into the Storm by Tristram Korten. The book’s subtitle says almost everything you need to know: “Two Ships, A Deadly Hurricane, and an Epic Battle for Survival.” The hurricane is the one that sank the El Faro in 2015 killing all of the 33-person crew including several from Maine and others with ties to Maine. One thing that makes this book fascinating is that the El Faro had a Voyage Data Recorder that recorded conversations and data on the bridge for the last 26 hours before the sinking. The transcripts provide a direct and unique perspective on the fatal choices they made. There was a second ship, the Minouche that sank on the same day although not as widely covered in news accounts. Through heroic actions, the U.S. Coast Guard was able to rescue the entire crew of the Minouche after their ship sank. Telling the two stories together gives a good perspective on risk assessment and risk management that is useful off the ocean.
One problem with Into the Storm is that it does not have any drawings or photographs. It does have one good map with the routes of both ships and the path of the hurricane marked. More drawings, including a diagram of the El Faro chain of command, and a lengthy list of the “cast of characters” can be found in Into the Raging Sea by Rachel Slade.
While a good book on its own, Into the Raging Sea does not cover the Minouche very much and doesn’t even show its course on the map. Another excellent source to review while reading Into the Storm is the ‘illustrated digest’ version of the National Transportation Safety Board report on the “Sinking of the U.S. Cargo Vessel El Faro” that is available on the Internet. It is 16 pages packed with photographs, drawings, maps, timelines, and more that help to explain what happened.
Lindsey Hamilton ’05, Director of the Center for Inclusive Teaching and Learning
Almond by Won-pyung Sohn (author), and Sandy Joosun Lee (translator). You’ll finish this in one sitting. I read it cover to cover in about two hours. It’s a stunning look at a boy who, due to his underdeveloped amygdala, cannot feel emotions like fear or anger. It’s a coming-of-age tale and a poignant look at friendship and neurodiversity and will stick with you long after reading.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. What makes a good life? If you made a different decision at any point in your life, what would you be doing now? This book’s concept is that there is an afterlife library that houses thousands and thousands of books. One telling the story of your life. Every other book shows alternative lives that could have been based on decisions made. This book is uplifting and whimsical.
Recursion by Blake Crouch. This is a fast-paced, modern-day time travel sci-fi book that you will be glad you read before it is inevitably made into a movie (maybe in the style of Memento?). It’s a suspenseful thriller about why people seem to be having memories of lives they didn’t live. A neuroscientist and a NYC detective team up to solve the mystery of why reality is broken. You don’t want to start the book before bed because you won’t want to put it down.
Matt Hauske, Associate Director of Community-Engaged Learning and Research
Stoner by John Williams.
Bill Hiss ’66, retired colleague
Two books on mental illness: Oliver Sacks, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, and Other Clinical Tales. Sacks, a renowned neurologist and essayist, writes about the ways in which humanity and often brilliance survives in his patients with profound handicaps. (Sacks is also the author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, a collection of essays on how music and neuroscience can illumine each other.)
Esme Meijun Wang, The Collected Schizophrenias, Essays. Wang has dealt with serious mental illness for most of her adult life. Her painful essays portray both her own attempts to maintain her sanity and her career as a novelist, and her struggles to deal with widely uneven mental health treatment systems and drug therapies.
Two massive WWII histories, both focusing on the last year of the war in Europe and the Pacific, and more on people’s experiences rather than strategy or politics: Max Hastings, Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 and Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-45.
Two beautifully written books by a (literal and figurative) ground-breaking geologist: Walter Alvarez T. Rex and the Crater of Doom and The Mountains of St. Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events that Shaped Our Earth.
Sarah Blake, The Guest Book. A complex historical novel follows a wealthy family over several generations whose Maine island summer home is the setting for their increasingly fraught reactions to modern America.
Ross King, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture. Partly early Renaissance history, partly a riveting architectural marvel. To construct the immense dome of the cathedral in Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore, 143 feet in diameter, the winning design was submitted not by a master mason or carpenter, but by a fractious but brilliant goldsmith and clockmaker. It took him 28 years to build it, in the process inventing the field of architecture.
Malcolm Gladwell, Talking with Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know. An intriguing set of essays, bookended by commentary on the death of Sandra Bland after a traffic stop, on how we misjudge others by projecting our expectations or training on them, with examples from Hitler and Castro to fraternity parties and police training.
Mary Karr, The Liar’s Club. A memoir of a horrific childhood in East Texas poverty, poignantly written and somehow funny.
Annie Proulx, Fen, Bog and Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis. Her eleventh book, just out — Proulx can turn her great writer’s hand to almost anything. This book of only 175 pages is part environmental warning, part world history back in the ice ages, part an account of struggles between the rough folks who somehow survived in the fens and bogs versus the improvers and landowners who wanted to drain these lands to make them more profitable. Now, we are realizing, these “improvements” were a trip up a blind alley for climate change. A parallel story to [Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences Beverly Johnson]’s scholarship at Morse Mountain on the carbon sequestration offered by the tidal marshes in Maine and other U.S. shorefronts.
Shonna Humphrey, Director of Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance
Breaking Bread: Essays from New England on Food, Hunger, and Family, edited by Debra Spark and Deborah Joy Corey, includes contributions from Bates’ own community members [Shonna Humphrey, Assistant Professor of English Myronn Hardy].
Fly Girl by Ann Hood. This memoir shares the author’s move from small-town Rhode Island to a career as a flight attendant in the late 1970s-early 1980s. It’s rich in airline history, explains the politics (and economics) of federal deregulation, and describes what it was like to be a flight attendant during a very tumultuous era for airline travel. As always, Ann Hood’s writing style is lively, engaging, and fun to read.
Managing Expectations by Minnie Driver
Spare by Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. I listened to this memoir as an audiobook, and I recommend that approach. It was a tender and honest look at a very complicated life, and I appreciated hearing the stories told in his own voice. There was a level of intimacy — and empowerment — in experiencing the words straight from his mouth. I came away with a deeper understanding of his challenges, as well as a heightened level of compassion for his situation.
Will Hyland, College Store
The Midcoast by Adam White
The Ruins of Woodman’s Village by Albert Waitt ’83
Emily Kane, Professor of Sociology
I always like to suggest a few novels plus one academic book by a sociologist. For this year, some of the many novels I found especially compelling were:
Robert Jones Jr.‘s The Prophets, a stunning, haunting, and beautifully written story of love and resistance that I know showed up on the list last year and has gotten a great deal of attention, but I only got around to reading it this year and I recommend it highly.
Melissa Fu‘s Peach Blossom Spring, because I always love a well-written multigenerational family saga, this one spanning from late 1930s China to the contemporary U.S.; it explores war, state surveillance, migration stories, family ties, love, loss, oppression and resilience, and much more.
Louise Erdrich‘s The Sentence, set primarily in a bookstore and among its staff and patrons (including a patron’s ghost), this novel celebrates books, reading, and the connections they create and sustain in a way that feels just right for all I appreciate about the Good Reads project. It also celebrates resistance, navigating difficult relationships, and working toward social justice.
Yōko Ogawa‘s The Housekeeper and the Professor, a gentle and engaging exploration of the relationships among a math professor who can only remember the last 80 minutes, the housekeeper who finds a way to care for him, and the housekeeper’s young son. Math features centrally in the story, so if you are a math enthusiast that will be an extra bonus to the rest of its merits as a novel.
And my recommended academic book for this year is Zakiya Luna‘s
Reproductive Rights as Human Rights: Women of Color and the Fight for Reproductive Justice, a timely analysis to dive into after the Dobbs decision, featuring an intersectional lens on a wide range of reproductive justice issues through a case study of the activist organization SisterSong.
Alison Keegan, Administrative Assistant and Supervisor of Academic Administrative Services
A Quiet Life and A Little Hope, both by Ethan Joella. I love an author who can expertly and seamlessly create characters whose stories weave together in some unimagined way without knowing how until nearly the end of a book. Joella is that author. His writing is so beautiful and these books resonated with me during some challenging times.
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat During Difficult Times by Katherine May. Simply put, it’s OK to not be OK. For anyone experiencing grief, especially during a dark, cold winter, I highly recommend this book.
Finding Me by Viola Davis. This was gritty and emotional and such an incredible raw view of her childhood and what led her to be such the inspiration she is today. So compelling and truly a page-turner. I’m not an audiobook fan, however, I can imagine that listening to it with her as the narrator would be amazing.
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. I’ve had a recent fascination with octopuses after watching the documentary My Octopus Teacher on Netflix during those early pandemic lockdown days. This book touches on grief, resilience, whimsical mystery, and unexpected friendship. The writing was beautiful and for a debut, it was one of my few five-star reads for the year.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. This is historical fiction at its best. So interesting and the recounting of someone I had no idea existed during the life and times of the infamous J.P. Morgan. Bold writing and larger-than-life characters—easily devoured.
Rebecca Lazure, Leadership Gift Officer, College Advancement
A few favorites from this year:
The War That Saved My Life and The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. These young adult historical novels set during WWII in Britain are great family read-alouds. They paint a personal picture of life during wartime that makes the experience relatable to kids while also cultivating an understanding of empathy and the vastly different feelings and experiences happening at the same time to each character.
Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman. Fun, fast reads, full of British humor. Perfect for anglophiles who also like to watch British quiz shows like QI and 8 Out of 10 Cats.
Kathy Low, Professor of Psychology
The All of It by Jeannette Haien
The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Perrin Lumbert, Library Assistant for Interlibrary Loan, ILS
Here is my list of favorite/memorable/enthralling reads of 2022-2023:
Salty: Lessons on Eating, Drinking, and Living from Revolutionary Women by Alissa Wilkinson
Still Pictures: On Photography and Memory by Janet Malcolm
My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson
An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten
Hit Parade of Tears: Stories by Izumi Suzuki
Flint is Family in Three Acts by LaToya Ruby Frazier
The Hurting Kind by Ada Limón
Tomb of Sand: A Novel by Geetanjali Shree
Content Warning: Everything by Akwaeke Emezi
The Song of Our Scars: The Untold Story of Pain by Haider Warraich
Ren Hang by Ren Hang, Dian Hanson (editor)
Evil Flowers: Stories by Gunnhild Øyehaug
Making Love with the Land: Essays by Joshua Whitehead
Who Does That Bitch Think She is?: Doris Fish and the Rise of Drag by Craig Seligman
The New Life: A Novel by Tom Crewe
All The Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami
We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar
Asylum: A Memoir & Manifesto by Edafe Okporo
Mayumu: Mayumu: Filipino American Desserts Remixed by Abi Balingit
Tenderheart: A Cookbook About Vegetables and Unbreakable Family Bonds by Hetty Lui McKinnon
Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser
Yellowface by R.F. Kuang
Chris Marden, Director of Donor Relations, College Advancement
The Premonition: A Pandemic Story by Michael Lewis — in honor of honorary degree recipient Michael Lewis. I loved this book for its clear explanation of how we were ready, how that readiness failed, and what a few smart, dedicated public servants tried to do about it.
I drive a lot and loved the audio book The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. It’s a bit hard to describe — sort of an alternative history of an alternative world that has a basis in reality. Suffice to say there is a great narrator and it is a captivating tale.
Mary Meserve, Assistant Dean of Curricular Planning
I found an engrossing mystery series this year by Nathan Dylan Goodwin. He writes genealogical mysteries where the story is fiction but the genealogy work his protagonist undertakes throughout the book is real. I couldn’t put down the first in the series, Hiding the Past, and am thoroughly enjoying The Lost Ancestor.
Kevin Michaud, Campus Safety Officer
Gay Like Me, A Father Writes to His Son by Richie Jackson. A beautiful and important guide to understanding the queer journey. I wish I had this book to guide me when I was young, and to help my straight parents understand the complexity I was struggling with as a gay kid.
Hoi Ning Ngai, Director of Employer Engagement and Business Advising
Here are a few I’ve enjoyed on Audible (I barely read anything in paper anymore!):
Ted Chiang, Exhalation: Stories
Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories
Claire Keegan, Small Things Like These
Colleen Hoover, It Ends With Us
Colleen Hoover, It Starts With Us
Melinda Moustakis, Homestead
Jodi Picoult, Wish You Were Here
Tara Dairman, The Girl From Earth’s End
Kerry O’Brien, retired colleague
Horse by Geraldine Brooks is based on a famous 19th-century racehorse, from which Brooks has spun the story of the horse and his enslaved trainer; white owners (of people and animals), gamblers, thugs, and speculators; and their fate during and after the Civil War. Two current-day protagonists, an art historian and a paleontologist piece together the story, revealing the extraordinary relationship between the horse and the trainer Jarrett in the midst of violence and terror created by humans.
Trust by Hernan Diaz is an incredibly constructed book comprising three different accounts of a Wall Street tycoon’s life and fortunes, told from the vantage point of three different narrators who possess varying degrees of trustworthiness. Whom to trust? It all comes out at the end. An ingenious book which won the Pulitzer Prize.
Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra is a yarn about what Hollywood created and what it represented during the mid-20th century. The book moves between Italy during World War II and the heroine’s imprisoned dissident father, and the Hollywood of the wartime and postwar era, from the movie industry’s role in creating U.S. propaganda to the Red Scare that disenfranchised so many artists.
Women Holding Things by Maira Kalman. Why hasn’t Maira Kalman received an honorary degree from Bates? She is the consummate liberal artisan: a phenomenal visual artist, hilariously funny and also filled with pathos, an exquisite observer of life whose writing is both deadpan and lyrical. In this book she takes the seemingly mundane idea of women holding things — hats, cakes — but also holding all the big things: family, civilization, memory, generations, the past, and the future. She’s a genius and this is a gorgeous, genius book.
Mary Pols, Media Relations Specialist, Bates Communications
Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton. Total page turner that’s funny and maddening and enlightening all at once. Here’s the outline of the plot: New Zealand eco-activist Mira Bunting is ready to take her guerrilla gardening collective, Birnam Wood, to the next level with a soil-level invasion of a gentleman farmer’s property, recently abandoned after a natural disaster. But American billionaire Robert Lemoine has plans to plant a doomsday bunker there. That’s just the first of many conflicts between fractious idealists and the very rich and ruthless in this savagely satirical thriller. Mostly wickedly funny until it hits you in the heart. The ending must be discussed!
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout ’77. Well, who among us does not love a new Liz Strout novel? In this one, the third of her Lucy Barton books, it’s the beginning of the pandemic. Lucy’s ex-husband William grimly whisks a reluctant Lucy from Manhattan to Maine, where Strout’s twin fictional worlds coalesce in Olive Kitteridge’s hometown. I mean, I thought maybe she was even going to have Lucy and William renting Olive’s old house (not quite, but the territory is familiar). As always, it’s subtle, measured storytelling that is somehow just breathtakingly satisfying.
The Mad Girls of New York: A Nellie Bly Novel by Maya Rodale. This historical fiction almost felt like a YA novel to me. Young journalist Nellie Bly lands in New York in 1887, loaded with ambition but unable to convince any (male) editors to hire her, until she offers to go undercover at a notorious insane asylum. Based on a true story but written like feminist fan fiction, this lively tale and plucky heroine are irresistible.
Love Marriage by Monica Ali. Young London doctors in love, Yasmin Ghorami and Joe Sangster, start planning their wedding with her traditional parents, his radical feminist mother and a stash of secrets. It’s kind of a Meet the Parents setup for culture clashes. Great, vivid characters and the story went in unexpected directions. Would make a super fun limited Netflix series.
Girls They Write Songs About by Carlene Bauer. I just loved this book even though arguably, it got a little bloated in the homestretch. Youthful writers Charlotte and Rose meet at a New York music magazine in 1997 and become joined at the hip, soul sisters planning to rebel against domesticity while becoming famous writers, thinkers and heartbreakers. But then one of them choses domesticity and promises are broken and it really feels so much like what so often happens even in the best of feminist friends. One of them describes herself as “a daughter of an incomplete revolution” and that feels perfect.
Any Other Family by Eleanor Brown. Adoptive moms Tabitha, Ginger, and Elizabeth take a fractious two-week vacation with spouses and their children, who share biological parents but are being raised collectively as a family in different households. The aim is for the siblings to grow up together. But everybody has a slightly different parenting style and the seams start to come apart in the well-intentioned plan. Brown illuminates the humanity and challenges of open adoptions with humor and compassion and it’s very easy to sink into this story.
Cat Brushing by Jane Campbell. All 13 heroines in this strikingly original debut collection are old women dealing with the indignities of age. These are characters rarely portrayed in fiction, variously mischievous, wistful, and unabashedly sensual. Not every story lands as well as the title story, but it’s a really worthy collection and Campbell, 80, opens up a much-needed portal to what it feels like to contend with coming to an end.
Sam by Allegra Goodman. I’ve read a lot of Goodman early in her career, and had fond memories of doing so, but I thought this portrait of a girl at risk was whole new territory and incredibly well done. It’s kind of like that movie Boyhood but in novel form. Her title character is 7 at the start of the book, living in Beverly, Mass., with her mother, Courtney, a hairdresser, and her brother, Noah, who is 2. Courtney is a crushingly good-hearted and hardworking 26-year-old but the two fathers of her children are both unreliable. Sam’s father is Mitchell, a magician, juggler, occasional palm reader and poet. He’s a dreamer, but he introduces Sam to a hobby, rock climbing, that will change her life. So many forces oppose Sam’s success, including her mother’s financial straits, and how little her dad is in her life, but somehow, she keeps pulling herself up the rock. This is one of those short books that really stays with you.
Sarah Potter ’77, Bookstore Director Emerita
Professor Emerita Margaret Creighton’s mother, J.S. Borthwick, wrote a number of entertaining mysteries that have kept me busy this past winter. My favorite, perhaps for obvious reasons, was The Downeast Murders. I am very nearly finished reading Captain Abby and Captain John, by Maine writer Robert P.T. Coffin. Coffin was a Pulitzer Prize winning poet and Bowdoin professor who wrote this “around-the-world biography” about the famous Brunswick sailing family, the Pennells. You can read the book and take a walk in the lovely Pennellville neighborhood in Brunswick while you imagine the robust sailing life in mid-19th century Maine. Coffin’s book of poems Apples by Ocean is well worth a read, too.
And finally, not so much a good read as an artistic delight is Women Holding Things by Maira Kalman. It is a thoughtful artistic embrace of women’s lives.
Tim Pratt, Work Control and IT Systems Manager, Facility Services
The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design by Kurt Kohlstedt and Roman Mars. A really interesting dive into the stories behind everyday design that we take for granted in the built environment around us. I listened to the audiobook, but bought a copy for my father-in-law and the physical copy is really stunning. I’d also recommend the 99% Invisible podcast hosted by Roman Mars for more of the same type of content.
The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. I thought this was a fresh take on the personal finance genre that talks more about behaviors through the lens of psychology and human behavior rather than the typical self-help nine steps to this or four rules for that. Heard an interview with Housel on the Freakonomics podcast and it was interesting enough to go out and get the book.
Stephanie Pridgeon, Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies
Trust by Hernan Diaz
Our Share of Night by Mariana Enríquez
Erica Rand, Professor of Art and Visual Culture and Gender and Sexuality Studies
I recommend You or Someone You Love: Reflections from an Abortion Doula by Hannah Matthews, beautifully written, highly informative, and profoundly moving.
Julie Retelle, retired colleague
My favorite recent book is by Jojo Moyes, the title is Someone Else’s Shoes.
Mike Retelle, Professor of Earth and Climate Sciences
I’ve read quite a few books in the past two years in this series by Paul Doiron. Definitely page turners. Best to start with his first!
The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron. This is his first in an excellent series of murder mysteries set in rural Maine that follow Maine game warden, Mike Bowditch. If you have spent time in the Maine outdoors hiking, boating or fishing you will be captured by Doiron’s detailed descriptions of the geography, landscapes and people of Maine.
Bronwyn Sale, Lecturer in Education and Director of Secondary Teacher Education
I recommend Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution and The Poppy War, both by R.F. Kuang.
Michael Sargent, Associate Professor of Psychology
T-Minus AI: Humanity’s Countdown to Artificial Intelligence and the New Pursuit of Global Power by Michael Kanaan. I’m not an expert on artificial intelligence, so I appreciated the clear and engaging writing style of Kanaan as he offers a layperson an introduction to artificial intelligence. He not only gives the reader a sense of what AI is, but he also places AI into historical context (relative to disruptive technologies that have come before), while also exploring comparisons to human intelligence and consciousness. While it was published a few years ago, and much has changed since then, it still feels relevant. If you want something that goes beyond mere doomsday accounts of ChatGPT, then I recommend this book.
Sharon Saunders, Associate College Librarian for Systems and Bibliographic Services, ILS
Eye-opening books, each in its own way:
The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture by Daniel Maté and Gabor Maté
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The Sum of Us · What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee
Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber
Paula Schlax, Stella James Sims Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
My recommendation this year is Sidecountry: Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports by John Branch. It is a series of essays including some on climbing, avalanches, and even horseshoe pitching.
Paul Schofield, Associate Professor of Philosophy
Forrest Stuart, Ballad of the Bullet: Gangs, Drill Music, and the Power of Online Infamy. This is a riveting work of urban ethnography that follows some gang members’ attempts to become internet-famous rappers. It’s a really unique angle on social media, the attention economy, class, and race. I was surprised at what a page-turner this book is — so many of the episodes are outrageous, funny, sad, or baffling. It’s also relentlessly insightful — every chapter left me thinking of ways I could incorporate it into one of my philosophy classes. I cannot recommend this enough.
Sarah Weinman, Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free. In the early 60s, William F. Buckley read a story about how a death row inmate was a fan of his conservative magazine, the National Review. Partially driven by the thought that a National Review reader couldn’t be all that bad, Buckley became convinced of the guy’s innocence and worked to get him off death row — helping him write a book about his innocence, giving him legal advice, etc. Well, Buckley came to regret this. A lot. It’s an absolutely wild story that I knew nothing about before reading this. Good, quick read.
Quentin Tarantino, Cinema Speculation. I’m a Tarantino fan, but I’ve consumed so much of his writing and seen so many interviews with him that I figured there wouldn’t be a whole lot that’s new in here. But I was basically wrong. He talks about a lot of movies I’d not heard him discuss before. He gives fun, imaginative, exciting readings of films about which I thought there was nothing more to say — like Taxi Driver. Great summer read for anyone who wants to spend some time reading about some movies.
Samantha Sigmon, Assistant Curator, Bates College Museum of Art
Art on My Mind: Visual Politics by bell hooks. This book presents ideas as fresh as ever about what art means, how Black art has been often excluded, and includes fascinating conversations with some well-known contemporary artists. Not just about art, it brings up issues of racial and gender politics, as well as makes you think about the importance of objects you have in your home. I kept this in my car as a read while I had random times to hang out, so I was working on it for about a year, reading one essay at a time, but then just decided to devour it all because the ideas brought through her amazing writing are so important and interesting to read.
Theophil Syslo, Multimedia Producer, Bates Communications
It’s Never Too Late by Dallas Clayton. Titled as “a kids book for adults,” it’s a perfect example of less is more. Beautiful story and a great reminder.
Anne Thompson, Professor Emerita of English
Twelve Bytes: How We got Here, Where We Might Go Next by Jeanette Winterson. Twelve eye-opening, mind-expanding, funny, and provocative essays on the implications of artificial intelligence for the way we live and the way we love. As one reader describes it, “Talky, smart, anarchic, and quite sexy.” Winterson herself says of the 12 essays in this book, “My aim name is modest. I want readers who imagine they are not much interested in AI or biotech, or Big Tech, or data-tech, to find that the stories are engaging, sometimes frightening, always connected. We all need to know what’s going on as humans advance, perhaps towards a trans human – or even a post-human – future.” Winterson is also determined to bring women into the story of computers and AI, beginning with Mary Shelley, the poet’s wife who wrote Frankenstein, and Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who both paved the way for ChatGPT and Botpoet (god help us). The book is challenging for a non-scientist, but funny, absorbing and fun to read.
The History of the Rain by Niall Williams. If you loved This is Happiness as much as I did, I’ll wager that you’ll love this book just as much.
Karolyn Towle, Associate Director of Advancement Communications
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue was wonderful. I listened to it as an audiobook and the narration was very powerful!
Darryl Uy, Director of Admission
Here are my favorites from the past year:
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune. A fabulous book for anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t belong. Through humor, creativity, and heart, Klune reminds us to embrace our differences, to live authentically, and to find magic in the ordinary.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab. The tagline of the book sums it up perfectly — “A life no one will remember; a story you will never forget.” Writing is brilliant, lyrical, and at times poetic. Couldn’t put it down!
Additional highlights: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart, The 57 Bus: A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater.
Matt Von Vogt, Academic Administrative Assistant
Honey From a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades and Apulia by Patience Gray. Recently, cookbooks have come to resemble exhibition catalogs showcasing the creations of their star chefs. These are fun to look at; how refreshing, however, to find this gem (first published in 1986) by Patience Gray, where the author’s lyrical prose and the hand-drawn illustrations (by Corinna Sargood) take precedence. Having lived in the Mediterranean settings referenced in the title, Gray writes first-hand of the pleasures and hardships presented by the regions, in which “food took on the quality of life-restoring, rather than the satisfaction of appetite.”
William Wallace, Lecturer in Education
Rough Sleepers by Tracy Kidder — hands down. The book chronicles Dr. Jim O’Connell and his lifelong career (>40 years) caring for Boston’s homeless.
Anne Williams, Professor Emerita of Economics
Robin Wall Kimmerer‘s Braiding Sweetgrass is a collection of related essays about transforming humans’ relation to nature — beautifully written, inspiring, and especially relevant today.
Max Fisher‘s The Chaos Machine opened my eyes to the pervasive and insidious effects of today’s social media business. It is not an easy read, but an important one as the electronics age continues to evolve.
For mysteries I continue to like Louise Penny, e.g. The Madness of Crowds. I’ve also read some of Michael Connelly‘s many books about Detective Harry Bosch who usually manages to solve at least two cold cases per volume. I especially liked The Wrong Side of Goodbye. I recently discovered and enjoyed Joanne Harris‘s A Narrow Door, Alice Feeney‘s Sometimes I Lie, and Stephen Spotswood‘s Fortune Favors the Dead.
Freddie Wright, Staff Writer, Bates Communications
Wise Child by Monica Furlong. Every once in a while, I find a book that feels like it was pulled out of my own being. A young Scottish girl is taken in by a reclusive witch, and taught about the relationships between magic and reality, religion and occult, and hurt and healing. Wise Child is a fantasy book with the down-to-earth, everyday magic sensibility of Diana Wynne Jones or Vivian Vande Velde, and the philosophical abrasiveness of Robin McKinley.
Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man: 15 Years at Studio Ghibli by Steve Alpert. Steve Alpert, the “resident foreigner” at the Japanese animation studio known for films like Spirited Away and Ponyo, describes what it was like to be the only American at the studio, helping international interactions run smoothly. Although it’s a bit dry at times (being a business memoir, written by a businessman), it’s highly entertaining, even if you’re not familiar with Studio Ghibli.
Birdwing by Rafe Martin. “The Seven Wild Swans” is my favorite fairytale, and finding new adaptations is always a treat. This novel explores what happened after the siblings returned home, all returned to their human forms, except the youngest prince, who still has a single swan wing in place of an arm. Torn between his duty as a prince, his humanity, and his swan-ness, he sets out on a journey to find where he really belongs in the world, if anywhere. It’s a gorgeous, serious fantasy, with themes of grief, wonder, frustration, joy, and identity.
Eileen Zimmerman, Director of Systems Development & Integration, ILS
The Book of Lost Names and The Forest of the Vanishing Stars by Kristin Harmel. I recently enjoyed these two books by Harmel. Both are fictional World War II stories that give a different perspective on some WWII heroes. The characters are extremely well developed and I was sucked into the stories quickly. These were both good reads! Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. This was a quick read about an entertaining octopus. I actually wish there was more about Marcellus, the octopus, in this tale. I read it on a friend’s recommendation and I really enjoyed it. There’s a little bit of everything in this story with the weird combination of sea creatures, romance, grief, and adventures in an old motorhome. I appreciated the way the author tied things up at the end. It’s a nice, heartwarming story.