For the past nine years, Villanova’s English Department faculty have offered summer reading recommendations to the campus community. The department has kindly allowed Falvey to reprint the list on the Library’s blog and share it with our patrons. Check out this summer’s features below and explore prior recommendations here.
Kimberly Takahata, Assistant Professor
Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuong.
For me, summer is a time to slow down, and Ocean Vuong’s recent collection of poetry demands all the time we can give it. Hauntingly beautiful, these poems weave together worlds of feeling in just a few pages. In one, entitled “Amazon History of a Former Nail Salon Worker,” Vuong collects lists of objects, leaving us as readers to fill in the gaps. I’ll be thinking about that record of orders every time I receive a package.
Crystal Lucky, Professor of English and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs
Two books are at the top of my summer reading recommendations, one that I just finished and one that I just started. The first, Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature (WW Norton, 2021), is a beautiful blend of memoir and cultural criticism. Written by Columbia University comparative literature professor, Farah Jasmine Griffin, the book begins with her memories of her father’s last hours on earth, suffering at the hands of insensitive and misinformed Philadelphia police officers. It then moves readers through a series of important American texts—literary, musical, and visual—to consider the ways Black people have always participated in and contributed to the American democratic project, even when they have been denied its basic freedoms and liberties. Dedicated to TM, the book pays tribute to the late Toni Morrison in each of its ten chapters and offers insight into the work of a wide range of Black artists and thinkers. The book’s title, taken from a note her father left her in one of his many and precious books, invites readers on a journey through the quest for Black freedom, justice, rage, resistance, and death, upwards to love, joy, beauty, and grace. Griffin’s beautiful writing made me cry, laugh, and hope.
The second book, Moon and the Mars (Penguin Random House, 2021), is a novel by Kia Corthron. Set in New York’s impoverished Five Points District in the 1850s through the 1860s, the novel is told from the perspective of a young Black and Irish girl named Theo. She is beloved by both sides of her family and lives between the homes of her Black and Irish grandmothers. “Throughout her formative years, Theo witnesses everything from the creation of tap dance to P.T. Barnum’s sensationalist museum to the draft riots that tear NYC asunder, amidst the daily maelstrom of Five Points work, hardship, and camaraderie. Meanwhile, white America’s attitudes towards people of color and slavery are shifting—painfully, transformation ally—as the nation divides and marches to war.” The audiobook is a wonderful companion to the written text and is masterfully read by narrator and actor, Robin Miles. Both the reading and listening experiences are a treat!
Alan Drew, Associate Professor of English; Director, Minor in Creative Writing
In his New York Times Book Review rave of Mercy Street, the novelist Richard Russo says he was “gobsmacked” by the time he finished reading. Haigh’s last novel, Heat and Light took on fracking, and managed to produce a nuanced portrait of rural Pennsylvanians caught in the grip of big corporate exploitation. Here she wades into one of the most fraught issues in American politics, particularly in our current moment: Abortion. If you’ve ever read Haigh before, you know this novel will be intellectually insightful, emotionally compelling, and will have a lasting impact long after you’ve read the last page.
Evan Radcliffe, Director, English Graduate Program; Associate Professor
I’ve been reading modern-day creative responses to Homer, most recently David Malouf’s Ransom (which turns Priam’s journey to the Greek camp at the end of the Iliad into a novel) and Madeline Miller’s Circe (which develops the Circe episode from the Odyssey into a full account of her life from her own perspective). So one of my books this summer will be Miller’s The Song of Achilles. As she does in Circe, Miller draws on other ancient stories of her characters, and in this novel she expands the story of Achilles and Patroclus, telling it from Patroclus’s point of view and as a love story. In 2012 it won the Orange Prize for Fiction (now called the Women’s Prize for Fiction).
Travis Foster, Associate Professor, English; Academic Director, Gender and Women’s Studies
Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain.
I listened to the audiobook when it first came out, fell in love with it, and plan to reread it in print this summer. It’s a novel bursting in feelings, a coming-of-age story about a working class gay Scot, and a beautiful representation of the relationship between a boy and his alcoholic mother. If that’s not persuasive enough, it also won last year’s Booker.
Mary Mullen, Associate Professor
I highly recommend Louise Erdrich’s The Sentence. Part ghost story, part narrative of Minneapolis in the midst of the summer of 2020, this novel celebrates independent bookstores and communities forged through reading (there’s even a reading list at the end) as it thinks about prison sentences, Indigenous remains, policing, memory, and history. Much of the action takes place at Erdrich’s bookstore, Birchbark Books, which is haunted by an annoying customer who just won’t leave. I never thought I’d like a novel that represents the outbreak of COVID-19, but I couldn’t put this one down and am still thinking about it.
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