A book I read this year:The three books I’ve enjoyed the most this academic year (so far!) have been Celeste Ng’s Our Missing Hearts (I’m recommending a novel published for adults!), Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper Graphic Novel Series (YA) and Sabaaa Tahir’s All My Rage (also YA, and the most recent winner of the National Book Award in the Young People’s Literature category). Our Missing Hearts: Most simply, this novel is about a boy’s journey to find his missing mother. The writing is gorgeous, the storytelling is engrossing, and the book’s examination of fear, family, grief, and prejudice feels all too timely. Heartstopper: So lovely and loving. The entire 4 volume series is gentle and generous, and it offers a portrait of boys’ friendships and romances that are rooted in care, rather than defined by toxic masculinity. All My Rage: A story about two Pakistani teens and their families trying to survive in present day California. I loved the slow build and the movement between past and present as the various characters’ stories and backstories are revealed. Lots of tragedy, just enough hope. (Sorry…just one more, also YA: Angeline Boulley’s The Firekeeper’s Daughter. I gave this one as a gift to my 18 year-old niece who read it and texted me: “Please send me more books like this one.”)
A book I plan to read this summer: Two books that are currently on my ever growing to-read pile: Sonora Reyes’s The Lesbianas Guide to Catholic School. (I know. That title! This one was also on the shortlist for the 2022 National Book Award, Young People’s Literature) and Katharine Hayhoe’s Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World. I started this a couple of weeks ago, but havent had a chance to finish it yet. (Thanks to Judit Kardos for this recommendation).
A book I read this year:Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Velvet was the Night. I enjoy Moreno-Garcia’s novels so much. She reconfigures out the most essential traits of genre fiction but each novel pushes the bounds of genre in interesting ways. This is a political thriller–a neo-noir–but it leans on the issue of perspective, of who knows the truth in politics. Barack Obama recommended it as well, so if you don’t trust me, trust him.
A book I plan to read this summer: Gunnhild Øyehaug, Present Tense Machine. Every year I read at least one novel that plays with the narrative possibilities of linguistic structure. This novel looks at the parallel universes our language offers. I definitely recommend last year’s language novels–R.F. Kuang’s Babel and Eley Williams’s The Liar’s Dictionary. I can’t pass up a novel with “dictionary” in the title.
A Book I Read This Year: Violent Inheritance: Sexuality, Land, and Energy in Making the North American West by E. Cram. I first encountered E. Cram, an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Gender, Women’s & Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa, while listening to Cram discuss their book on the New Books in Critical Theory podcast. I was intrigued by Cram’s autoethnographic storytelling and their approach to studying the relationship between settler colonialism, land extraction, and sexual modernity. Violent Inheritance deepens understanding of environmental inheritance and memory. Cram notes how energy regimes propel the uneven distribution of environmental pleasure and burden.
A Book I Plan To Read This Summer: River Spirit by Leila Aboulela. When I was in graduate school, I had the pleasure of exchanging emails and eventually talking on the phone with Syrian-American poet, novelist, and scholar Mohja Kahf. We discussed gender, Islam, and literature and she recommended that I read the work of Scottish- Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela. I read Aboulela’s novels The Translator (1999), Minaret (2005), and Lyric’s Alley (2010). I now consider her one of my favorite contemporary writers. This summer, I look forward to reading Aboulela’s newest novel River Spirit, which is set in Sudan, in the war-torn years between 1877 and 1898. River Spirit’s main character is Akuany who is driven from her village during the war and eventually into servitude and slavery.
Books I read this year: I will surely not be the only person to recommend Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House. An adjacent novel to her 2010 blockbuster, The Goon Squad, The Candy House follows a series of characters involved in technology over a span of 30 years. When I say follows, I refer to Egan’s unique way of exploring a narrative horizontally, spreading her narrative out through multiple characters who are loosely associated with each other. These include a data scientist, a former punk rock musician, a tech giant, a spy, and a former CIA hit man. This novel will delight and entertain at the same time it provokes you to thought. Inspired by Professor Jo Carney’s terrific chapter on it in her book Women Talk Back to Shakespeare, I read Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, a novel that imagines the rich family life of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife, before and during the plague.
Books I plan to read this summer: At the beginning of this year, I received an amazing gift membership to the New York Review of Books’ Classics Book Club, which every month delivers me a new work from the NYRB collection. I am already behind, but I hope to catch up this summer – first, with the 1988 coming-of-age novel Arabesques by the Palestinian Christian writer Anton Shammas and then, with The Fawn, Magda Szabó’s 1959 novel about a Hungarian girl who becomes a theatrical star in Communist Budapest. It is not lost on me that three of these four novels (!!) are examples of the künstlerroman, a German term for novels about the growth and development of artists.
Michael Robertson (emeritus–sent to us from England!):
A book I read this year: Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead was translated into English in 2018, the same year she received the Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s a murder mystery set in a Polish village, featuring a string of corpses and an eccentric female amateur detective. But it’s also a meditation on astrology, on the poet William Blake and, above all, on humans’ relation to animals.
A book I plan to read this summer: Actually, I’ve already started reading Matthew Desmond’s Poverty, by America. Desmond won the Pulitzer Prize for his previous nonfiction book, Evicted, which explored in depth one aspect of poverty in America. His new book is more ambitious, not so much an examination of poverty as an explanation of why the richest country in the world has so many desperately poor women, men, and children. Desmond is a sociologist at Princeton, but his style is extremely accessible and the book is remarkably short. It seems to me essential reading for every citizen.
A book I read this year: I’ve read two books of poetry by a Wyoming poet named Patricia Frolander whom I really like. Her first book Married into It discusses moving from an upbringing in the Boston area to life on a Wyoming ranch run by herself and her spouse. Her next book Second Wind is her response to changes in life that come about because we all age. It’s way out of my usual reading material. Both books are published in a series about “Poetry of the American West.” I’ve also read the short story collection The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado. Amazing wonderful short stories by an American writer born in the Dominican Republic.
A book I plan to read this summer: Norman Eisen’s The Last Palace: Europe’s Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House. It looks at the 20th C in Europe from Prague, which certainly saw much of that century’s crises. I also plan to read Hakawatis: the Women of the Arabian Nights by Hannah Khalil. I saw this play in London: it was the best play we saw all winter term 2023. The playwright reimagines the Arabian Nights from the viewpoints of the next five women imprisoned to be killed after Scheherazade. These women know of Scheherazade’s plan to use storytelling to stay alive, and desperately concoct stories to smuggle out to her, searching for the stories that will convince a misogynist to see women as human and thus stop killing them.
Books I read this year: Being a lover of literature means I’m always fascinated by human nature, so I’ve become a bit of an armchair organizational psychologist: I’m interested in why people treat others in the ways that they do, and what makes for happy and healthy human organizations and interactions. A book I reread this year is Robert I. Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule. Sutton analyzes mean-spirited workplace behaviors and motivations, examining their financial and emotional impact and offering a range of solutions. Adam Grant’s Give and Take: like Sutton, Grant examines when and why altruistic (or selfish) behaviors succeed (or fail) in the workplace. Mary Karr’s The Liars Club: A Memoir: Karr’s account of her childhood in rural East Texas is often credited with starting the current memoir boom.
Books I plan to read this summer: R.F. Kuang’s Yellowface, a novel about a “basic white girl” who steals the work of an Asian American writer and is rebranded by her publisher. Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir—because I enjoyed The Liars Club. Yewande Omotoso’s novel, Bom Boy, a coming of age story set in Cape Town. I’d also like to (finally!) finish Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s short story collection, Friday Black. Adjei-Brenyah’s dystopian & futuristic stories explore Black identity in the context of a range of contemporary social issues.
A book I read this year: I highly recommend Eleanor Catton’s beautifully written novel, Birnam Wood. The title evokes Macbeth, but this is not a Shakespearean adaptation, though it deals with issues of unchecked ambition, (im)morality, and power. It is a contemporary page-turning ecological thriller that poses hard questions about how much of our planet and our souls all of us (not just the Macbeths of the world) are willing to sacrifice in the name of personal gain. Beautifully written, and the ethical dilemmas and troubled characters will stay with you.
A book I plan to read this summer: I can’t wait to read Rebecca Makkai’s new novel, I Have Some Questions for You, a campus novel combined with a whodunit (think Donna Tartt’s Secret History). A popular podcaster and adjunct teacher encourages her students to explore a crime committed on the campus years ago, and the ensuing investigation exposes a much more troubled history than expected. The novel is said to raise uncomfortable questions about the stories we choose to tell and who gets to tell them–and isn’t that at the heart of what we grapple with in the English department?
A book I read this year: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (well… almost done with it). It’s an unconventional murder mystery — with a very conventional story nested inside another, much less conventional mystery. I also read Comanche Empire by Pekka Hamalainen, an interesting revisionist history of the West that sees the Comanches as an imperialist power that rivaled the Spanish and the Americans. Finally, I recommend that everyone read Built from Broken: A Science-Based Guide to Healing Painful Joints, Preventing Injuries, and Rebuilding Your Body by Scott Hogan. We generally don’t know very much about how to maintain our bodies or our fitness. As we age, we start to suffer aches and pains and assume that they’re just the result of natural aging. Built from Broken suggests that we don’t have to sit back and watch our bodies decline into pain and inactivity. Whatever your age or fitness level, the book offers a lot of good advice about how to maintain (or rebuild) your body and not lose mobility.
Books I plan to read this summer: First, for a book club-style discussion with the HSS Anti-Racism Advocates, I’m planning to read Campus Counterspaces: Black and Latinx Students’ Search for Community at Historically White Universities by Micere Keels and Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo. If you’re interested in joining the HSS Anti-Racism Advocates for discussions of these books this summer, just let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org). A couple summers ago, I said that I was going to read The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a classic Chinese text from the fourteenth century by Luo Guanzhong, but I never actually got to it that summer. So I’m hoping that this summer I can finally delve into it. I will be going to Taiwan with Celia Liu’s Fulbright-Hays grant in July and want to learn more about Chinese culture and history. For that reason, I’d also love to read Journey to the West, a Chinese classic from the sixteenth century by Wu Cheng’en. But trying to read both The Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West in one summer is probably not feasible — given that they are both long, multivolume texts.
Books I read this year: My reading this year has been guided, in part, by including books that feature animals (I know, this is so shocking to my friends). With that in mind, here are two books I’ve read and one I’m looking forward to reading this summer. NoViolet Bulawayo’s Glory is a political satire that Bulawayo has admitted was inspired by Orwell’s Animal Farm. In it she explores the coup that ousted Robert Mugabe from power in 2017. It goes back to look at the history of his reign (allegorically, of course), as well as more contemporary concerns, such as the return of looted artefacts from colonial oppressors. Told from the perspective of Destiny, a young goat, the book is a chronicle of imperialism, how it intersects with capitalism, and a reclamation of the importance of women in this history. Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is not an easy read. But it’s fun. Once you get into it and go along with the dark humor of Soviet era magical realism, you’re in for a good time. This book has been on my to-read list for ages, and it took a while to read it, but is well worth it. Featuring a giant cat (who is neither The Master or Margarita), who walks around smoking cigarettes and, as with so many other literary buffoons, provides some of the philosophical foundations for the novel.
A book I plan to read this summer: Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov. This novel appeals to me for three reasons: one serious, the other two less so. First, a dear friend who has almost unerring taste in literature recommended it to me (and actually bought it for me – so it’s on my bookshelf). My less serious motivations: It features a man who writes obituaries and has a penguin named Misha living in his bathtub. 1) A PENGUIN LIVING IN HIS BATHTUB! 2) My college roommate wrote obituaries for our local newspaper, so there’s a bit of nostalgia at work here too.
A book I read this year: P. Djeli Clark’s A Master of Djinn (2022), a Nebula-winning steampunk novel set in an alternate Cairo.
A book I plan to read this summer: Amitav Ghosh’s Gun Island (2019), because it’s about climate change (cli-fi, climate fiction, is one of my interests) and migration.
A book I started reading this year and a book I plan to read this summer: I converted to Catholicism 35 years ago, but I’ve never read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I started reading it during Lent and have decided to continue. Literary reading this summer: Salman Rushdie’s new novel, Victory City. Geek reading this summer: It’s time I finally start on the nine-volume Star Wars series my son bought me (I raised him right): Legacy of the Force (by various authors).
A book I have read this year: Trust by Hernan Diaz. As I was reading this book the line from the musical Hamliton kept playing through my head– “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” In Trust, Diaz prompts us to consider how a person’s life is remembered and how the narrative changes based on who is doing the telling and why. It’s a story, or multiple stories really, that play with the nature of the public vs. the private, truth and perception. I’ve also read several books by Silvia Moreno-Garcia this year: Mexican Gothic, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau, and Gods of Jade and Shadow. Similar motifs run throughout all three novels—strong female protagonists, Mexican setting (the first two are 19th century, third is 1920s) and fantastical elements (the first leans to horror, the second towards sci-fi, the last towards fairytale/mythology). My favorite was Gods of Jade and Shadow, as I enjoyed learning about the Mayan mythology that’s woven through the story, but they are all entertaining reading.
A book I plan to read this summer: Madly, Deeply: The Diaries of Alan Rickman Just want to spend some time with one of my favorite actors again. Also, Clint Smith’s new book of poetry, Above Ground.
A book I read this year: Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit (2021). Solnit is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. If something momentous happens in our country–which seems to happen all too often lately–I always hurry to see if she’s written anything about it. You may know Solnit as the woman who wrote the 2008 essay “Men Explain Things to Me” that is said to have inspired the coinage “mansplaining.” (If you don’t know the essay, it begins with one of the greatest cocktail party anecdotes of all time. Give yourself a treat and read it here: https://www.guernicamag.com/rebecca-solnit-men-explain-things-to-me/). Recollections of My Nonexistence is an essential collection of essays that explores “how a writer finds her voice in a society that prefers women to be silent.”
A book I will read this summer: Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin. Given my interest in gendered violence, I’m not sure how I’ve waited so long to read 2018’s Dead Girls. The book explores our culture’s obsession with “women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster men’s stories.” Carmen Maria Machado says of the book, “Dead Girls is everything I want in an essay collection: provocative lines of inquiry, macabre humor, blistering intelligence…I love this book.”
(Bonus) Podcast I loved this year: Death of an Artist with host Helen Molesworth. A devastating and engrossing podcast that tells the story of artist Ana Mendieta. I’m sticking with my theme here of violence against women. The podcast explores the circumstances of Mendieta’s death and (likely) murder by her husband, the celebrated minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. Molesworth also asks the question: can we separate the art from the artist, as aesthetic theory has always insisted? And if we can, do we want to?
Books I’ve read this year: Stolen by Ann-Helén Laestadius, a Sami/Tornedalian (Indigenous people of Sweden) writer. The novel is a contemporary coming-of-age story of a Sami girl, but it is also the story of Sami people fighting to continue their way of life in the face of persecution. Sink by Joseph Earl Thomas is an extraordinary memoir of a Black boy coming of age in Philadelphia’s Frankford neighborhood in the 1990s. Here’s some of the back copy: “a wrenching and redemptive coming-of-age memoir about the difficulty of growing up in a hazardous home and the glory of finding salvation in geek culture.”
A book I plan to read this summer: A Living Remedy by Nicole Chung (author of All You Can Ever Know). This memoir picks up where Chung’s last memoir left off as she continues to try to make sense of her white working-class adoptive parents’ lives from her new vantage point as a member of a more elite class. A bit of back copy: “Exploring the enduring strength of family bonds in the face of hardship and tragedy, A Living Remedy examines what it takes to reconcile the distance between one life, one home, and another—and sheds needed light on some of the most persistent and grievous inequalities in American society.”
A book I will read this summer:I cannot wait to read our own Cassandra Jackson’s memoir, The Wreck: A Daughter’s Memoir of Becoming a Mother, to be released on May 16, 2023 (https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/697053/the-wreck-by-cassandra-jackson/).
Ebony magazine has named it one of the 11 books everyone must read: (https://www.ebony.com/required-reading-11-books-black-authors-may/ ).
There are already some fantastic reviews of the book: