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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