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Distinctive Summer Reading

Here are the books that top the reading piles of the Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement staff this summer. Most if not all of these titles can be found via stocked online booksellers while some are also available in digital and audio formats for interested readers. And for even more reading recommendations, here are links to the 2019, 2020, and 2021 lists.

From Beaudry Allen, Preservation and Digital Archivist:

All Boys Aren’t Blue, George M. Johnson. A series of essays about Johnson growing up as a young queer men of color.

From Michael Foight, Director Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement:

Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind / Alexandra Ripley. In this first sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Scarlett and Rhett’s relationship continues the page-turning-drama of the original.

The Roman Republic of Letters: Scholarship, Philosophy, and Politics in the Age of Cicero and Caesar / Katharina Volk. This deep dive into Roman Republican “senator scholars” checks many of my ancient world interests.

Watergate: A New History / Garrett M. Graff. A compelling and page-turning big picture revisionist read on the scandal that caused Nixon to resign.

In Pursuit of Civility: Manners and Civilization in Early Modern England / Keith Thomas. An ethnographic study showcasing the conflicting early European standards of polite behavior through a lens of voices from 1600-1789.

From Rebecca Oviedo,Distinctive Collections Archivist:

Archival Virtue: Relationship, Obligation, and the Just Archives by Scott Cline.

The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray.


Villanova English Faculty Offer 2021 Summer Reading Recommendations

For the past eight years, the faculty of Villanova’s English Department has created summer reading recommendations. The department has kindly allowed Falvey to reprint the list on the Library’s blog and share it with our patrons.

Once you’ve explored this one, you can click on the link at the end to see the previous lists on the English Department’s web page.

Alan Drew, MFA, Associate Professor of English

Since we’ve been mostly confined to our homes this last year, I’m in need of escape to start the summer. I’ve surfed only a little, but I grew up body surfing in Southern California and have had a long running fantasy to travel the world, riding waves wherever you can catch them. William Finnegan lived my fantasy, wrote a memoir about it, and won a Pulitzer for that memoir. (I’m very jealous of him.) I’ll live vicariously through him and his book, at least for a few days.


Joe Drury, Associate Professor of English

I’m currently about halfway through and very much enjoying Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, a kind of anti-Kerouac road trip novel about a journalist who sets off across the US with her husband and two children. Her husband wants to explore the history of the Apache, while she plans to search for two immigrant children who have gone missing at the southern border. Once I’m done with that, I will be picking up Mr. Fortune’s Maggot by Sylvia Townsend Warner, a satirical novel about an English missionary on a remote volcanic island. The maggot in question is not a bug but “a whimsical or perverse fancy.”


Travis Foster, Associate Professor of English

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. A stunning coming-of-age novel primarily about the experiences of queer people in the US from the 1940s through the 1970s. I read this almost a year ago and still think about the protagonist, Jess Goldberg, several times per week.


The Way of Thorn and Thunder by Daniel Heath Justice. An epic fantasy adventure that reimagines North America in the 18th and 19th centuries from the perspective of Cherokee people and history. It is a truly amazing novel with world building on a vast scale; multiple different cultures, all fully realized; unforgettable characters whose sexualities and genders far surpass any simple binaries; and a plot with the very highest of stakes. This one kept me up late into the night.

Daisy Fried, Adjunct Faculty Member 

Derrek Hines’ contemporary retelling of Gilgamesh, the world’s first book. In translation, Michel Houellebecq‘s controversial novel about French politics and ethnic/religious divisions, Submission.


Karen Graziano, Adjunct Faculty Member 

This summer, I plan to revisit my legal roots: environmental law and policy. I’ve been exploring local parks and open spaces throughout the pandemic and thoroughly enjoying my frequent walks. You can expect to find me at one of my local parks this summer rereading Rachel Carson’s classic Silent Spring that helped galvanize the environmental legal movement. Next, I’ll be carried away to life on a Nebraska farm looking at the connections between agricultural and environmental policy, community and family, and business in Ted Genoways‘ This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm. I’m looking forward to reading a book that plants “seeds of hope as the next generation prepares to inherit the family land and all of the joys and challenges that come with it,” as Willie Nelson, president of Farm Aid, describes it. I want to become more aware of and appreciate what Tom Colicchio, chief and cofounder of Food Policy Action describes as “farming, family, and good” converging to show readers “what it takes to work on this blessed earth.”


Heather Hicks, Chair and Professor of English 

As I am always dipping into new fiction related to my scholarly interest in the apocalyptic tradition, I recently read Rumaan Alam’s 2020 novel Leave the World Behind.  This is a page-turner set in the Hamptons, which effectively intermingles class and racial politics with a looming sense of mystery and dread.


Jill Karn, PhD, Adjunct Faculty Member 

I plan to read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I know, I know, it’s so incredibly long; but I like the idea of having a massive book to accompany me wherever I go this summer. It feels like a huge commitment to read this novel, and, truly, it’s a book I’ve always been meaning to read. Already, I’ve dipped into it and have been pleasantly surprised by its accessibility and richness. The characters—if you can keep track of who’s who—are fascinating and real. This book will be my companion on the train, on visits to family, on the beach. And if I want to hide behind it sometimes, that’s what one needs in the summer months too.


Yumi Lee, Assistant Professor of English 

This summer, I’ll be reading The Essential June Jordan, just published this month. June Jordan is one of the great political poets of our time, and her work touches on so many of the issues that have been at the front of my mind this year: the violence of policing, the intersections of racism and sexism, how to be and act in solidarity with oppressed peoples the world over. Reading her work, I’m reminded that the struggles we’re engaged in today aren’t new by any means—a fact that’s depressing and enraging, and yet somehow oddly comforting to me at the same time. Jordan is at once a brilliant political thinker, an unswerving moral guide, and a genius of poetic language. (She also has amazing comic timing: as you read, you’ll be moved to tears and you’ll laugh out loud in the space of the same poem.) If you’ve never read her before, I highly recommend picking up this new collection.


Crystal Lucky, PhD, Associate Professor of English

This summer, I am planning to read the debut novels of two immigrant writers, one old(er) and one brand new. The first, Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959), was the debut novel of the late Paule Marshall, novelist, short story writer, memoirist, and MacArthur “Genius Award” winner. The coming-of-age novel reveals the inner workings of a close-knit community of immigrants from Barbados and their complex relationship with World War II era American society. The second, Of Women and Salt (2021) by Gabriela Garcia, tells a transgenerational story of migration, addiction, betrayal, and perseverance. I received the novel as a Mother’s Day gift and discovered it comes highly recommended by our colleague, Dr. Yumi Lee.

I also want to recommend Cicely Tyson’s Just As I Am: A Memoir (2020), which I just finished reading. Released just days before the extraordinary actress’ passing at age 96, the autobiography is not only an engaging recounting of Tyson’s life, career, and long relationship with jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. It deftly guides readers through the 20th and early 21st century—the exciting days of Harlem in the 1920s, the Depression and Second World War, the Civil Rights Movement, the Age of Obama—right up to our current Pandemic moment. I loved every page!


Adrienne Perry, PhD, Assistant Professor of English 

This summer I’m looking forward to setting up the hammock and spending many days reading a few of the books that friends and former students have given to me. The first is N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. Each book in the series won a Hugo Award. (By the way, Jemisin won the Hugo three years in a row for these books!) I enjoy the immersive experience of reading science fiction and am eager to get to know about the people and land of Stillness. On the short story front, I’m looking forward to reading Kingdom’s End, a Penguin Modern Classics edition of Saadat Hasan Manto’s short stories, translated here from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan. Manto was a prolific writer who (apparently) revised little, and yet is considered “one of Urdu’s great stylists.”


Megan Quigley, Associate Professor of English

Ulysses by James Joyce!

As I prepare to teach Ulysses on its 100th birthday next spring, I’m thinking about why this book matters still, from humanist, theoretical, religious and political perspectives. Some ideas though, maybe first you should read, “The Dead,” a short story from Dubliners, to get your Joyce feet wet. Then try out A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, if you are in the mood for a more Romantic story of young Stephen. But then, tackle the big blue book! Some suggestions: join an online reading group! It’s more enjoyable with friends. Check out Robert Barry’s Ulysses Seen or the Joyce Project for a graphic novel or multimedia approach. Is it a book about a divided nation? About marriage? About the body? About the impossibility of writing a novel? Have fun….


Evan Radcliffe, Associate Professor of English 

Alison Bechdel has just published a new book, The Secret to Superhuman Strength. It’s a graphic memoir like her previous books Fun Home and Are You My Mother, but in this book you get not only Bechdel herself but also Romantic or Transcendentalist writers like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Emerson, and Margaret Fuller, who explored (as Bechdel puts it) “Self! Nature! Spirit!” All that, and (in contrast to her earlier work, which is black-and-white with a single-color wash) colors too! I’ll be reading it, and I also recommend a book I just finished listening to, Anna Burns’s 2018 novel Milkman, as read by Brid Brennan. A lot depends on the distinctive language of the central character, who is also the narrator of the story; Brennan gives her a compelling voice that brings out her particular Irish tones and rhythms, and I loved listening to it.


Lara Rutherford-Morrison, Adjunct Faculty Member 

My rec for summer reading is Madeline Miller’s 2018 novel, CirceCirce is a minor deity in Greek mythology, who is probably most famous for her role in Homer’s Odyssey, in which she turns a bunch of sailors into pigs. Miller’s version, told from Circe’s point of view, recounts Circe’s life from her childhood among the gods to her banishment on a remote island. It’s a fun and extremely absorbing book; I loved it. If you’re a fan of Greek mythology, you’ll enjoy cameos from a variety of Greek gods and monsters and Miller’s reimagining of a number of famous myths.


Lisa Sewell, PhD, Professor of English 

I am starting off the summer with Migrations, by Charlotte McConaghy. The novel is set in the near future, when global warming has wiped out the food and habitat for most animals and a majority are endangered or already extinct. It tells the story of Franny Stone, who travels to Greenland to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what may be their final migration to Antarctica. Franny talks her way onto a fishing boat and the plot moves between her experiences with the motley crew on board the ship and her memories of her troubled past, which includes a passionate romance, missing parents and a violent crime. The New York Times describes it as a reimagining of Moby Dick. It’s beautifully written (though she’s no Melville), an ode to a disappearing world, but it’s also a page-turner, so a good, though depressing, summer read. Other books on my list include Brenda Hillman’s book of poetry, Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, the final book in her tetralogy on earth, air, water and fire and Cathy Park Hong’s essay collection/memoir, Minor Feelings, which is apparently being made into a TV show.


Lauren Shohet, Professor of English 

First, my senior seminar students chose for our class Margaret Atwood’s novel Hagseed, which adapts Shakespeare’s Tempest, setting it in a prison. It’s an engaging read on its own terms, and offers some interesting ways to think about the Tempest as well. Second, I plan to read Maggie O’Farrell‘s Hamnet, a novel about the death of the historical Shakespeare’s son. Third, I recommend Nina MacLaughlin’s Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung, which offers a range of feminist voices retelling the tales from Ovid’s Metamorphosis (many of which concern sexual violence).


Tsering Wangmo, PhD, Assistant Professor of English

I’ve been thinking about form a lot lately, and about Carmen Maria Machado‘s work. A while back responding to a question about genre and her use of form in her stories, Machado said something about how she thinks of the world as a “liminal fantasy”, and how she’s interested in messing with genre. I’m returning to Her Body and Other Partiesfor form and for the stories she tells. Her recent memoir In the Dream House was among books removed from school reading lists by Leander Independent School District in Leander, Texas, partly because of parents who opposed including LGBTQ+ books on the reading list. In the Dream House is on my reading list.

Last summer I said I was going to read An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine, and I did not read it. The novel is a portrait of a reclusive translator in Beirut who, once a year, translates a favorite volume into Arabic but they’re only for herself. I hope to get to it this summer.



Read the English faculty’s prior summer reading lists.


Distinctive Summer Reading, 2021 edition

Here are the books that top the reading piles of the Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement staff this summer. Most can by found via stocked online booksellers while some are also available in digital formats for interested readers. And for even more suggests here are the selections for past summers 2019 and 2020,

From Beaudry Allen, Preservation and Digital Archivist:

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo- Yes, I know it’s on Netflix but I want to read it first.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayer- It’s about a family curse spanning decades with the circus as the backdrop.

Violette Noziere, A Story of Murder in 1930s Paris By Sarah Maza- About the case of eighteen year old Violette Noziere, which became a French obsession in 1933, poisoning her parents.

Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus by Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan- A recommendation from Dr. Amy Way, who had this book part of her COM 3490 course.

Death and the Pearl Maiden: Plague, Poetry, England by David Coley- I am EZBorrowing this book about England’s literary response to the plague.

From Laura Bang, Distinctive Collections Librarian Archivist:


A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark.

How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole.

A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey.


Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong.

Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard.

Goodbye, Again: Essays, Reflections, and Illustrations by Jonny Sun.

From Michael Foight, Director Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement:

The Filing Cabinet: a vertical history of information by Craig Robertson – a history of the ubiquitous filing cabinet (an essay based on the book is available online).

Hearing Homer’s Song: The Brief Life and Big Idea of Milman Parry by Robert Kanigel – biography of the “Darwin of Homeric Studies”.

Information: A Historical Companion, edited by by Ann Blair, Paul Duguid, Anja-Silvia Goeing, and Anthony Grafton – a wapping 904 pages containing the latest on book history and theory ranging from the history of horoscopes to the role of notaries in contemporary society.

Stuart Style: Monarchy, Dress and the Scottish Male Elite by Maria Hayward – one of the first treatments of royal men’s clothing in 17th-century Scotland and its influence on the history of fashion.

Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe by Niall Ferguson – noted historian looks at how governments deal with disaster.

Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History by Richard Thompson Ford – law professor looks at formal and informal dress codes especially in current American culture.

Doomed Romance: Broken Hearts, Lost Souls, and Sexual Tumult in Nineteenth-Century America by Christine Leigh Heyrman – excerpted from recovered letters, the story of the teacher Martha Parker and her romance with two men resulting in a love triangle, highlights the roles of duty and love in 19th century America.

From Rebecca Oviedo, Distinctive Collections Librarian Archivist:

Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home by Richard Bell.

The Vanishing Half: A Novel by Brit Bennett

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell


Distinctive Summer Reading

Front cover, Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America
by Candacy Taylor

Here are the books that top the reading piles of the Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement staff this summer. Most if not all of these titles can be found via stocked online booksellers while some are also available in digital formats for interested readers.

From Beaudry Allen, Preservation and Digital Archivist:

The Shades of Magic Series by V.E. Schwab.
Fantasy! Parallel Londons! Magic! Thieves!

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall.
Essays examining how mainstream feminism in the United States has not been inclusive.

The Black Prism by Brent Weeks.
More Fantasy!

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
An alternate history of the underground railroad.

From Laura Bang, Distinctive Collections Librarian Archivist:

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.

Overground Railroad: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor.

Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them by Adrienne Raphel.

An Unconditional Freedom by Alyssa Cole.

From Michael Foight, Director Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement:

Book Parts: edited by Dennis Duncan & Adam Smyth. An anthology of essays on the diverse elements that make up the physical book, this broadly ranges on topics from dust jackets and frontispieces to running heads and endleaves.

The Invention of Rare Books: private interest and public memory, 1600-1840 by David McKitterick. McKitterick answers the question: “when does a book that is merely old become a rarity and an object of desire?”

The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes. This rich, witty, work provides a revelatory tour of Belle Époque Paris, via the remarkable life story of the pioneering surgeon, Samuel Pozzi, who is the eponymous man in the red coat.

A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster. The most recent biography of the noted conservationist and founder of the Sierra Club, this is the first to be based on Muir’s full private correspondence.

Semicolon: the past, present, and future of a misunderstood mark by Cecelia Watson. Invented by Italian humanist Aldus Manutius in 1494 Venice, the semicolon paired up the comma and colon; Manutius created many publishing innovations including one of the most controversial of punctuation marks!

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the German by Ross Benjamin. Newly translated, this work of magical realism and adventure tells the story of the vagabond 17th century performer and trickster Tyll Ulenspiegel.

From Rebecca Oviedo,Distinctive Collections Librarian Archivist:

With so much time spent at home with family these days, I am thrilled that my son enjoys reading together the same classic children’s books that I enjoyed as a kid. Current favorites are The Berenstain Bears and Curious George books, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, and Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag. This summer we’ll look to add new stories that celebrate multiculturalism and inspire kindness, empathy, and inclusion.

Outside My Window / by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Jamey Christoph. “This beautiful book will spark readers’ curiosity and imagination with its celebration of global diversity.”

Pancakes to Parathas: Breakfast around the World / by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Tomoko Suzuki. “With rhythm and rhymes and bold, graphic art, Pancakes to Parathas invites young readers to explore the world through the most important meal of the day.”

The Big Umbrella / by Amy June Bates. “This sweet extended metaphor uses an umbrella to demonstrate how kindness and inclusion work…A lovely addition to any library collection, for classroom use or for sharing at home.”

As for me, I am currently reading:
Back to the Land: Alliance Colony to the Ozarks in Four Generations / by Ruth Weinstein. ­Published by the South Jersey Culture & History Center at Stockton University. A memoir by Ruth Weinstein, a relative of mine and descendant of one of the founding families of Alliance Colony, the first successful Jewish farming community in America. (See Also: The Alliance Heritage Center)


Happily Forever After: The Timeless Relevance of Fairy Tales

Distinctive Collections’ new exhibit on the “moral of the story”

From a treacherous trip to grandma’s house, rags to riches, escaping a witch’s oven, a trickster cat that brings good fortune—these are the tales and imagery that shape our happily ever afters and childhood. These tales seem to not fade away but inspire many generations of retellings and adaptions. While we have Charles Perrault, Madam d’Aulnoy, Hans Christian Andersen, and Grimm Brothers to thank for the dissemination of these beloved works, these tales have enduring presence in our society because the morals and lessons continue to have relevance in our culture today. Beyond the imagination of benevolent godmothers and a goose that lays golden eggs, the core conflicts, struggles, and messages of the stories remain reflective of our world. It is why fairy tale imagery is so popular beyond entertainment, but conspicuous in our everyday lives.  

Distinctive Collections invites you to explore the world of fairy tales and examine the importance of morals in the tales with the new exhibit, Happily Forever After: The Timeless Relevance of Fairy Tales. Curated by Rebecca Oviedo, Distinctive Collections Coordinator, and Beaudry Allen, Preservation and Digital Archivist, the exhibit showcases a selection of fairy tales and fairy tale inspired works from Falvey Memorial Library and Special Collections. The exhibit is located on the first floor of Falvey Memorial Library and open to the public throughout the summer. 


Distinctive Summer Reading

Front cover, The Library Book by Susan Orlean

As the summer vacation time starts, here are the books that top the reading piles of the Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement staff. Most if not all of these titles can be found in a local public or academic library and would also be available through resource sharing options. Well stocked online and physical booksellers would also be able to provide copies for interested readers.

From Beaudry Allen, Preservation and Digital Archivist:

An Archive of Feelings / Ann Cvetkovich (About “archiving” trauma so major trigger warning: deals with sexual abuse and trauma)

Ethics for Records and Information Management / Norman Mooradian

Good Omens / Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

The Republic of Thieves / Scott Lynch

The Fifth Season / NK Jemisin

From Laura Bang, Distinctive Collections Librarian Archivist:

I love reading travel narratives year-round, but especially in summer. Reading is a great way to experience other countries when I can’t afford a big trip myself. This summer I’m hoping to “travel” to France, Switzerland, and Morocco with these books: The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France by Ina Caro, Slow Train to Switzerland by Diccon Bewes, and The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shaw.

On the fiction side, I’m looking forward to reading American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera, A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole, and Jade Dragon Mountain by Elsa Hart.

From Michael Foight, Director Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement:

Underland: A Deep Time Journey / Robert Macfarlane. Natural underground explorations with extensive coverage of the Paris catacombs.

The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book’s Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey / Margaret Leslie Davis. The story of a missing and then recovered copy of the Gutenberg bible.

Riding in the Zone Rouge / Tom Isitt. A never repeated staged bike race through the uncleared battlefields of France and Belgium in the months after the end of the 1st world war which well deserves the reputation as the most difficult bike ordeal in history.

Fall, or Dodge in Hell: A Novel / Neal Stephenson. Near term futurology fiction on a divided America where truth is elusive.

From Rebecca Oviedo, Distinctive Collections Coordinator:

The Goldfinch / by Donna Tartt. Art and crime! Plus a movie coming out later this summer.

The Library Book / Susan Orlean. Because… a book about libraries! Recommended by lots of people, but most recently by my mother, who’s a retired librarian.

Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge / by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. This also keeps coming up on my radar, especially in connection with Philadelphia history and the President’s House site at Independence National Historic Park, and public history in general.


35 great summer reading picks from Department of English faculty

Hey blog fans, have you discovered the wonderful feed published by the Villanova Department of English? Not only is it an informative site for events, job leads and people news, it’s also a place for unexpected delights, like poems and photos of bright blue bicycles! Be sure to check it out regularly!

On a recent visit, we discovered a booklovers’s dream – a first-class summer reading list compiled by Department of  English professors, written in their own voices. Ranging from classics to books just under the radar, you can be sure that time spent with these picks will be worthwhile – and if you’re not careful, you just might learn something! We’ve reprinted their recommendations here, including either a link to their Falvey catalog information or to our super speedy E-Z Borrow and ILL services.

61S1VCVBqVL._SL1500_One of the first books I plan on reading this summer is Lydia Davis’ new collection of short stories, Can’t and Won’t.  I recently heard Davis read at the Free Library in Philadelphia, and her stories invariably manage to be both oracular and hilarious.  An entire story from Davis is sometimes only one sentence long.  Here’s “Bloomington,” for example: “Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before.” EZB/ILL.

85386John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels (Rabbit, RunRabbit Redux; Rabbit Is RichRabbit at Rest)—arguably the finest series of novels in American Literature. EZB/ILL




life-after-life-e1364310158304Life after Life, Kate Atkinson.  All about the roads that could have been taken or, more to the point, all about the what-if when even the small life junctures might have been different. Title might be “life after life after life . . . ,” as the work reverts to the main character’s beginnings repeatedly and re-imagines different results. EZB/ILL.

The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner.  A very edgy work that merges a woman’s motorcycle escapades with art, romance, cross-country wanderings, and a European trek that flirts with violent politics. (Finalist for 2013 National Book Award.)

 A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki.  A lonely young woman bullied by her classmates and faced with dysfunctional behavior from her parents finds acceptance in her great grandmother’s Zen world.

Water by the Spoonful, Quiara Alegria Hudes.  An Iraqi war vet returns home to Philadelphia where he struggles to balance his life against PTSD and the dynamics of change and tragic circumstances within his family. (Winner of 2012 Pulitzer Prize.) EZB/ILL.

The Mountaintop, Katori Hall.  Play imagines the last hours of Martin Luther King at the Lorraine Motel on the night before his assassination. EZB/ILL.

Rapture, Blister, Burn, Gian Gionfriddo.  One woman: committed homemaker. One woman: committed careerist. Each wonders if she made the right choice or if she can have it all. Solution: change places with each other. (Finalist for 2013 Pulitzer Prize.) EZB/ILL.

Other Desert Cities, Jon Robin Baitz.  A writer returns home and announces to her parents that she is about to publish a memoir that reveals compelling family secrets. (Finalist for 2012 Pulitzer Prize.)

Disgraced, Ayad Akhtar.  Work explores attitudes toward religion and, in particular, the conflict between modern life and the way faith challenges cultural mores. (Winner of 2013 Pulitzer Prize.) EZB/ILL.

TolstoyWar&PeaceGiant1934.bigI recommend War and Peace.  It’s worth every hour (day, week) spent reading it and difficult to find time for once student life ends and summer vacations are no longer.



Asking me to pick just one is sort of like taking my son to the candy store and allowing him to buy a single jelly bean. Impossible! So how about three?

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way.  I first read Proust on my Northampton porch in between junior and senior year of college, when a surprisingly well paying busboy position meant hours of daytime leisure.  The easy pace of summer allowed me to linger in Proust’s sentences and that lingering was maybe the most immensely pleasurable reading I’ve ever done.  (For what it’s worth, many people prefer Lydia Davis’s translation published by Penguin, but I’m partial to the earlier Moncrieff, Kilmartin, Howard translation published by Modern Library.)

Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother.  Living in the United States, it seems to me we can do one of two things: think long and hard about race and racism or, like Captain Delano in Melville’s Benito Cereno, work assiduously at making ourselves ignorant in the face of our own reality.  Hartman is one of the most insightful living scholars of slavery, a descendant of slaves, and an enviable writer.  She uses her memoir, Lose Your Mother, to describe her journey along a slave route in Ghana, allowing her personal experience to help her readers better understand our own location within the geography and history of the Atlantic slave trade.  I’d heard people talk before about the “legacies of slavery” and even used the phrase myself, but this book made me realize I can only ever begin to understand the full extent of what these “legacies” entail.

areyoumymother_bechdelAlison Bechdel, Are You My Mother?  A sequel to Fun Home, this graphic memoir describes Bechdel’s relationship with her emotionally distant mother in western Pennsylvania.  I love it for its painfully unflinching look at the relationship between mothers and children.  But I love it just as much for its exploration of the relationship between books and readers.  Bechdel turns to books whenever she reaches an impasse in her life–in this account turning to the psychoanalytic writings of Freud, Jung, Winnicott, and Phillips.  I recognize myself and many of my most avid students in her representation of reading as self-exploration, and I found that, like Bechdel and the reading she describes, I understood myself better once Are You My Mother? had come to a close.

Those three, plus Teju Cole’s glorious Twitter feed.

cloud-atlas-book-cover1My pick for a summer novel for our students is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.  It’s a beautifully written book full of interesting characters and ambitious ideas about time and history.




WORDSINAIRTwo books come to mind. Neither is a book of poems, exactly, but both get pretty close to being poetry by being about it so lovingly.  The first is Words in Air, a book that collects all of the letters written between the poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell . They lived thousands of miles apart for most of their lives, and this book, in some sense, isn’t just about their friendship, it is their friendship.

The other is a book I just picked up for the first time: Madness, Rack, and Honey, which is a collection of quite playful lectures by the poet Mary Ruefle.  I’m already stealing time to read it. Here is a representative moment, from a piece called “Short Lecture on Shakespeare”: “Yet there is one hard cold clear fact about him, a fact that freezes the mind that dares to contemplate it: in the beginning William Shakespeare was a baby, and knew absolutely nothing. He couldn’t even speak.”  Isn’t that wonderful?

L'EngleTwo-Part Invention, by Madeline L’Engle, is a beautifully written memoir about an in-many-ways-wonderful 40 year marriage.



joelenI’d highly recommend Claire Kilroy’s All Names Have Been Changed (about a group of Dublin creative writing students and their professor at Trinity College in Dublin) or her Tenderwire (an intelligent page-turner about a “reckless young musician’s obsession” with a very old violin).  Claire Kilroy is one of Ireland’s best leading young writers—and she’ll be the 2015 Heimbold Chair of Irish Studies, so you can take a class with her!

51Fi5RWfOfLMy recommendation is James McBride’s Song Yet Sung.  A brilliant story teller, McBride sets his penultimate novel on the eastern shore of Maryland in the 1850’s.  And while the tale certainly asks readers to consider the concepts of slavery and freedom, it is as much an exploration of the contemporary moment.  One of my absolute faves.

Wolf_Hall_coverI’m going to read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, and finish Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.  I’ve had the Mantel books for a year and I’m desperate to read them and we just read her really witty and biting essay, “Royal Bodies,” in my Contemporary British novel class.  You should read her essay if you want to have a different perspective on Kate Middleton’s, errr, body parts.  Donna Tartt—because The Secret History is just so so good. EZB/ILL.

tinker-tailorI’m interested in spy novels in part because my father was in intelligence, and I highly recommend the novels of John Le Carré (I’ve recently re-read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).  Beyond being page-turners (and more complex than simply good guys vs bad guys), I’m told that Le Carré’s novels give an accurate portrayal of the world of spycraft at a particular historical moment.

the-round-house_custom-94ab45a1030026be0c3d76c1a9a6449b74be7a44-s6-c30Consider reading The Round House by Louise Erdrich.  I read this book over Christmas break and said to everyone who walked past me, “I just love this book.”  It’s a great work by an important author—it won the National Book Award in 2012—but it’s also an addictive page-turner, a murder mystery, and an escape to a different world with a different culture.  The Lit Fest novels this year were also excellent, especially Lord of Misrule and & Sons.

51bho2K3nVLMichael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  Set in a counterfactual future in which after losing the 6-day war, Palestinian Jews settle in Alaska, making a society alongside indigenous Alaskans, the novel explores worlds made of language as much as politics.

Robin McKinley, Sunshine. Not literarily significant, perhaps, but beautiful in its own way. Psychologically nuanced, surprisingly delicate novel of vampires and pastry chefs.  EZB/ILL.

Charles Mann, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.  Mind-openingly wide-ranging study of the non-human as well as human facets of European-American encounter.

Reprinted with permission of the Villanova University Department of English, with much appreciation. The post originally appeared on their blog Friday, May 9, 2014. Follow their blog here. Introduction and links prepared by Joanne Quinn.




Last Modified: May 28, 2014

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