A book I’ve read this year: I read a lot of crime fiction and often what sells it or not for me is power of the setting. Probably motivated by my recent interest/research in family history, I’ve been reading Scottish and Irish authors this year and my favorite has been Adrian McKinty, whose Sean Duffy series is set in Belfast in the 80s at the height of the Troubles. So I’m going to recommend The Cold, Cold Ground, which is the first of 6. Disturbing but worth it. I also reread two early Gary Snyder poetry volumes, The Back Country and Turtle Island. Whenever I open up a Snyder book, I’m amazed at his prescience and power. I first read The Back Country in the 1970s and it still speaks to today’s environmental crises and thinking.
What I’ll be reading this summer: Christopher Moore is one of my favorite comic authors. I found his Fool, a rewriting of King Lear, to be highly offensive and irresistibly hilarious. So how can I avoid his new novel, Shakespeare for Squirrels? I can’t. Also, I will certainly be reading Paulette Jiles’ new novel, Simon the Fiddler, who was a very minor character in her News of the World, one of my favorite books of the last few year. Jiles’ novels tend to take us into less familiar byroads of the 19th century west, a necessary corrective to my own background in Gunsmoke, Rawhide, and Bonanza.
What I read this year: ‘It’s not about you, it’s about the coat,’ John Singer Sargent tells Dr. Samuel Pozzi. The Belle Epoque has no shortage of characters, and Julian Barnes brings them altogether in The Man in the Red Coat, a droll and outrageous portrait of excess. Find out who absconds with Sarah Bernhardt’s amputated leg, who signs (or refuses to sign) a petition for Oscar Wilde’s clemency, and the bizarre (and successful) legal defense used by Dreyfus’s would-be assassin. There is no shortage of libelous claims, duels, and infidelities; bodies are dissected, extorted, and on parade; every salon sees a flexing (or deflation) of reputations. This is a book we can imagine Wilde writing if he were capable of sharing the stage with a hundred outrageous others.
What I plan to read this summer: I am distracted. Who isn’t? Every day, I read the first four pages of biographies, novels, and poetry collections and then—without judging myself—I close the books and refuse their neat, tidy endings: I find it easy. But last night I couldn’t resist Oscar Wilde’s letter from jail, De Profundis. He begins by noting that “Suffering is one very long moment” and then quotes Wordsworth (interjecting that he knows this more) that: “Suffering is permanent, obscure, and dark/And has the nature of infinity.” After reading The Man in the Red Coat (see above), I find myself unable to leave Wilde. TLS calls Matthew Sturgis’s Oscar: A Life “The Book of the Year, perhaps of the decade” while others have noted the way the biography (and indeed Wilde himself) speak to our times. Why are his plays performed now more than ever? Why does Hollywood love him? Why does everyone love to quote (and misquote) him? Hint: Life does imitate Art.
A book I’ve read this year: This year I’m going to recommend an audiobook — Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. The book, a YA reworking by Reynolds of Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning, is genius. GENIUS. Hearing it read by Reynolds himself is dynamite. That voice + these ideas = essential reading (or listening) not just for teens, but anyone interested in understanding America’s racist history and what it means to be antiracist.
A book I will read this summer: Elizabeth Acevedo won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and a Carnegie Medal for her debut verse novel The Poet X, which she followed with a gorgeous YA prose novel, With the Fire on High. This month, she debuts her second novel in verse, Clap When You Land and it’s at the top of my book pile (just under a Peter Pan retelling, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, which I’m currently finishing). My middle grade must read: Barbara Dee’s new book, My Life in the Fish Tank, if I can score an advanced readers copy (it comes out in September officially).
A book I’ve read this year: I loved Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise, a page-turning, slipstream-y retelling of Shakespeare’s Pericles. You don’t need to know Pericles to appreciate what Haddon is doing here, though he is deliberately talking back to the play. Haddon is famous for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, but he’s spent the last decades moving beyond the ‘young adult’ label. His short story “Pier Falls,” btw, is absolutely worth hunting down. Also, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk (the Nobel Prize winner in 2019). It’s an “ecofeminist literary murder mystery” (yep, that’s a genre) with a very cool title, a compelling narrative, and lots of timely messages.
A book I will read this summer: This is All I Got: A New Mother’s Search for Home: Lauren Sandler’s non-fiction work about homelessness and inequality in New York; Sandler spends a year following one young mother’s struggles to make a respected and stable life for herself and her son. Given that all of our current failures against humanity are getting worse amidst a pandemic, it seems crucial to pay attention to this.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, co-winner (with Margaret Atwood) of the 2019 Booker Prize; one of Obama’s favorite books of the year; and most importantly, recommended by Mindi McMann as one of the best things she’s ever read. Also, The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. As readers of Station Eleven know, Mandel is brilliant at disaster and its aftermath. This time it’s not a pandemic—it’s a massive Ponzi scheme collapse and the mysterious disappearance of a woman from a ship. Sounds like just the book to read during quarantine.
Books I’ll be reading over the summer: This summer I hope to finish a book I started to read this year, Richard Powers’ The Overstory. The prose style is delectable. Another book I have been reading and hope to finish is Revelation (or the Apocalypse) in the Bible because…
A book I’ve read this year: Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Gods of Jade and Shadow: Moreno-Garcia’s novel imagines the a rich landscape of 1930s Mexico and brings indigenous mythology to life.
Also, John Freeman, Dictionary of the Undoing. Freeman writes in the spirit of the Devil’s Dictionary about contemporary American culture.
A book I will read this summer: Two first novels by TCNJ alumni! Sarah Blake, Naamah. Sarah’s book, which reimagines the catastrophe of the flood from the perspective of a character mentioned only once in Genesis, won the 2019 National Jewish Book Award. She is also an accomplished poet. Also, James Queally, Line of Sight. James is the crime beat reporter for the LA Times.
A book I’ve read this year: Two books captured my attention this year. For good reason, Ben Lerner’s novel The Topeka School topped many critics’ lists as a best book of 2019. I found his autofictional account of a group of psychoanalysts living in Kansas during the 1990s amid the rise of right-wing social movements riveting. Published in Japan in 1994, Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police was recently translated into English. This dystopian novel explores what happens when objects and the memories of those objects are erased from cultural consciousness. Ogawa’s surrealistic vision couldn’t be more prescient.
A book I will read this summer: The Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard repeatedly compared faith to learning how to swim. Whatever the authorities decide about the accessibility of pools, lakes, and seas this summer, I plan to swim vicariously through Bonnie Tsu’s Why We Swim, a memoir that combines journalism, history, and spiritual meditation. Tsu explores the therapeutic effects of swimming on body and mind and why, once we are submerged and afloat, water provides a dreamlike sanctuary from consciousness . . . ah yes, that is what I am missing!
A book I read this year and would recommend: Reclaiming Our Space: How Black Feminists Are Changing the World from the Tweets to the Streets by Feminista Jones. I think it’s important as learners of literature to consider how narratives are created and responded to in the digital world, and moreover, who influences how we tell stories digitally. Jones explores the ways in which black women’s history and activism have influenced Twitter’s story-telling features such as the thread and quote tweet functions. Jones ultimately challenges Twitter-users to recognize not only the power of hashtags and Twitter as a platform in general but how to participate in movements like #SayHerName in ways that are meaningful and ultimately, amplify the work of black women creators. The text seamlessly combines digital studies with history, gender studies, African American studies, literature, and even music. If you tweet, if you “like,” even if you just scroll–you need to read this!
A book I’ll be reading over the summer: The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk. I must admit that I’ve read bits of it here and there, but I am committed to reading the text in its entirety this summer! I am interested in how trauma lives in and on our bodies and even, within texts! I will also reread The Bostonians by Henry James. Something about that novel has been haunting me ever since I revisited my research which considers The Bostonians in light of the #MeToo movement.
Books I read this year and would recommend: Washington Black by Edition Edugyan. It’s a picaresque novel with a relatively happy ending. I reread Blond by Joyce Carol Oates. I follow books and films about Marilyn Monroe, and this novel is brilliant, the best depiction of Norma Jean there is.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett is pretty good though the end wasn’t satisfying. It’s a dysfunctional family story. Louise Erdrich’s novel The Night Watchman is for fans of the novelist since it’s not bad but not her best. I also finished James McBride’s new book Deacon King Kong, almost universally reviewed with accolades. I found it slow and the dialogues overly long and repetitive. The 2nd half of the book was better, though the plot elements did not come together well at the end.
Books I’ll be reading over the summer: The Gathering and Actress by Anne Enright, and Bird Summons by Leila Aboula about a road trip three Moslem women take in Scotland.
For fall classes I’m reading Murambi,The Book of Bones by Boubacar Boris Diop, The Shadow of Imana by Veronique Tadjo–both about the Rwanda genocide, and I’m rereading Loung Ung’s First They Killed my Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.
A book I’ve read this year: This year a book that I loved was Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, and I would recommend it to all of you, especially future educators. What a great verse novel to put in the hands of your future students! It tells the story of two teenage girls, one of whom lives in NYC and the other who lives in the Dominican Republic. An unexpected plane crash leads to each girl discovering her father has a secret family. Rich with cultural details, this book would make a great addition to your classroom library.
A book I will read this summer: A book I am looking forward to reading this summer is They Called Us the Enemy by George Takei, a graphic memoir of his time in a Japanese internment camp during World War II in California. I am hoping to use this graphic memoir as a Book Club selection next year for my middle school students.
A Book I’m Reading Now: During the pandemic, I’ve reduced the amount of time I spend reading about current events and increased my reading about other topics. For leisure reading, I want something that takes me to a very different world, that pulls me in with a complex plot and vivid characters. And if it’s long, so much the better. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy has been perfect. These novels about Tudor England, told through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, may be the best historical fiction ever written. I’m re-reading the first two, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, in preparation for the just-published third volume, The Mirror and the Light.
Another One I’m Reading Now: Also long, complex, and vivid, but nonfiction: Maria Popova’s Figuring. Popova is a public intellectual with a restless mind who’s drawn to the genre of biography. But Figuring is different from any biography I’ve ever read. It focuses on a group of fascinating women in antebellum America: astronomer Maria Mitchell, writer Margaret Fuller, sculptor Harriet Hosmer, and poet Emily Dickinson. But it also devotes considerable attention to 17th-century German astronomer Johannes Kepler and 20th-century environmental writer Rachel Carson. And because Popova never met a digression she didn’t like, the book is filled with informative, entertaining, and frequently moving portraits of dozens of other people, including Caroline Herschel, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman.
A book I read this year and would recommend: The Yellow House by Sarah Broom. This debut memoir that combines the story of a family, a city, and a nation won the National Book Award for nonfiction. Dwight Garner of The New York Times offered this description: ““[A] forceful, rolling and many-chambered new memoir… [Broom’s] memoir isn’t just a Katrina story ― it has a lot more on its mind. But the storm and the way it scattered her large family across America give this book both its grease and its gravitas.”
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. This man is the storyteller of our times and this novel about a young black man sentenced to a reform school may be his best work yet. The novel is inspired by the stories of boys sentenced to Florida’s Dozier School, a juvenile prison where boys were tortured and killed. From Maureen Corrigan of NPR: “A masterpiece squared, rooted in history and American mythology and, yet, painfully topical in its visions of justice and mercy erratically denied . . . a great American novel.”
In the Dreamhouse by Carmen Maria Machado. This is a stunning literary memoir that Parul Sehgal of the New York Times described this way: “Each chapter hews to the conventions of a different genre: road trip, romance novel, creature feature, lesbian pulp novel, stoner comedy….What could seem gimmicky…quickly feels like the only natural way to tell the story of a couple. What relationship exists in purely one genre? What life?”
A book I’ll be reading over the summer: Survival Math: Notes on an American Family. Here’s a description from NPR’s Ericka Taylor: “The biggest challenge in describing Mitchell S. Jackson’s Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family is whether to be appropriately effusive and risk seeming like I’m in his pay — or to be more tempered and risk underselling the brilliance of this memoir in essays…. Already an award-winning author for his novel The Residue Years, Jackson trains his formidable linguistic skills on his turbulent youth growing up in Northeast Portland — a poor black community in Portland, Ore., one of the whitest cities in the country.”
Lakewood by Megan Giddings. From the book jacket: “A startling debut about class and race, Lakewood evokes a terrifying world of medical experimentation—part The Handmaid’s Tale, part The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. When Lena Johnson, a black millenial,…drops out of college to support her family, [she] takes a job in the mysterious and remote town of Lakewood, Michigan. On paper, her new job is too good to be true. High paying…. A free place to live. All Lena has to do is participate in a secret program—and lie to her friends and family about the research being done in Lakewood. An eye drop that makes brown eyes blue…golden pills promised to make all bad thoughts go away.The discoveries made in Lakewood, Lena is told, will change the world—but the consequences for the subjects involved could be devastating.”
A book that I read this year: Norman Eisen’s The Last Palace. It’s an interesting and moving account of a palace, built by a wealthy Jew in the 1920s in Prague, that became the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia after World War II. It’s an exciting history of nationalism, war, cold war, and liberation. Among the U.S. ambassadors who lived in the palace was Shirley Temple Black (the former child actress).
A book (or three) that plan to read this summer: Students have recommended Michael Moorcock to me many times, and I’m finally going to start by reading The Eternal Champion (1970). I’ve never read Moorcock before, so this will be an adventure. I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately, so I’m hoping to reread the Hainish novels by Ursula Le Guin –Rocannon’s World (1966), Planet of Exile (1966), City of Illusions (1967), The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), The Word for World Is Forest (1972), and The Dispossessed (1974). I first read most (or all?) of these novels as a teen and young adult. I found them fascinating, and in many ways, they and the Earthsea trilogy (also by Le Guin) really formed my character in those days. So, I’m basically going to be immersing myself this summer in science/fantasy fiction from the late ’60s and early ’70s.
As my summer gardening book, I’m planning to read The General in the Garden, edited by Susan P. Schoelwer. I think that it’s been on my summer reading list before, but I’ve never gotten around to reading it finally. It’s a book of three essays about the development of George Washington’s gardens at Mount Vernon with special focus on the revolutionary period, the late nineteenth century, and the recent archaeological excavations that have guided restorations.
Finally, I usually try to read something long in Spanish, French, or Italian every summer, and this summer, it’s Italian’s turn, but I think that I’m going to try to read De los nombres de Cristo by Fray Luis de León, a Renaissance masterpiece in Spanish.
A book I’ve read this year: Magical Negro, poems by Morgan Parker. Parker is one of my favorite poets. Every time I read a new poem of hers, I remember why I fell in love with poetry: the unexpectedness, the urgency, the intellectual and sonic agility. She’s quickly becoming one of our most important poets. I know there are a lot of Danez Smith fans in our TCNJ reading community–here is their take on the book in T Magazine: “2019 justly belongs to Morgan Parker. Her poems shred me with their intelligence, dark humor and black-hearted vision. Parker is one of this generation’s best minds, able to hold herself and her world, which includes all of us, up to impossible lights, revealing every last bit of our hopes, failings, possibilities, and raptures.”
A book I’ll be reading over the summer: Obit, poems by Victoria Chang I’ve had this book on pre-order for months and months. The striking poems that form this collection made the rounds on Poetry Twitter and Facebook when they appeared in various lit magazines. Everyone was riveted. The poet Donald Hall once wrote that poetry is the art of saying the unsayingable. Chang channels all the unsayable mystery and devastation of great loss in Obit, which she wrote after her mother’s death. Each time I read one of these poems, I forget to breathe.
Language—died again on August
3, 2015 at 7:09 a.m. I heard about
my mother’s difficult nights. I hired
a night person. By the time I got
there, she was always gone. The
night person had a name but was like
a ghost who left letters on a shore
that when brought home became
shells. Couldn’t breathe, 2:33 a.m.
Screaming, 3:30 a.m. Calm, 4:24
a.m. I got on all fours, tried to pick up
the letters like a child at an egg hunt
without a basket. But for every letter
I picked up, another fell down, as if
protesting the oversimplification of
my mother’s dying. I wanted the night
person to write in a language I could
understand. Breathing unfolding,
2:33. Breathing in blades, 3:30.
Breathing like an evening gown,
4:24. But maybe I am wrong, how
death is simply death, each slightly
different from the next but the final
strike all the same. How the skin
responds to a wedding dress in the
same way it responds to rain.
A book I read this year: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. I really enjoyed the many voices over the decades – it’s a beautiful story of family history, diaspora, and multi-generational identity. We will never know anyone’s entire story and this book encourages us to accept that fact.
A book I’ll be reading over the summer: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I’m looking forward to diving into the interview format and books about band drama are always good for summer.
A book I read this year: I added a new favorite work of dystopian literature to my already-lengthy list of favorites this year: American War, by Omar El-Akkad. In this 2017 novel by a Canadian journalist, the U.S. is engaged in a second Civil War, with the southern states in defense of using fossil fuels. While the coastlines continue to erode, both sides use biological warfare. I also loved The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize-winning sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.
A book I’ll be reading over the summer: One of the books I’m most looking forward to reading this summer is It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis, a satirical novel about the rise of fascism.
I recommend The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It starts slow but it’s worth it to keep reading. There’s magical realism and wonderful and complex depictions of women. I taught it for my AAS Capstone: “Afrofuturism in the 21st Century: Interdisciplinary Approaches and Possibilities.” Reading Coate’s novel alongside Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and other neo-slave narratives like Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Octavia Butler’s Kindred offer a rewarding experience.
You could also read/listen to Coates Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations”
Listen to an audio reading of “The Case for Reparations” – in The Atlantic -by Ta-Nehisi Coates