In the 24th and latest Bates compendium of faculty and staff non-required reading recommendations, a new adjective pops up: timely.
It could describe Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, a sobering nonfiction account by David Quammen of past disease outbreaks. Or Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s classic warning against censorship. Or, perhaps, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, set in World War II France.
But of course, the Good Reads list, started by Bookstore Director Emerita Sarah Potter ’77 (one of her recs: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver) and currently run by Administrative Assistant and Supervisor of Academic Administrative Services Alison Keegan (hers: anything by Beatriz Williams), contains titles for any taste.
You can learn about the current moment, or escape it, or simply sit down with a good book.
Andee Alford, Lecturer in the Humanities and Assistant Director of the Mathematics and Statistics Workshop
I would recommend The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson for any fantasy-lovers out there! Also, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok is an oldie, but goodie!
Martin Andrucki, Charles A. Dana Professor of Theater
In memory of Herman Wouk, who died in 2019: This is My God, a wonderful discussion of Judaism as the core of a modern man’s life; and The Winds of War, a Tolstoyan narrative of the years leading to Pearl Harbor.
A Dangerous Liaison by Carole Seymour-Jones. If you’ve been hungry for info about Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, this will fill your plate.
1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus by Charles C. Mann. Picked it up again after a looong interval. A great re-visit.
Main Currents of Marxism by Leszek Kołakowski. With socialism resurgent in some corners, a necessary resource.
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro. Robert Moses and NYC in the 20th Century. Think the Cross-Bronx Expressway is a boring topic? You won’t after this book.
Áslaug Ásgeirsdóttir, Professor of Politics and Associate Dean of the Faculty
Happiness by Aminatta Forna. Tells the story of an American divorcee in London who researches urban foxes, and how her life intersects in an interesting way with a prominent Ghanaian psychiatrist who is in the city for a conference. Leaves you hopeful.
Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rimes, creator of Grey’s Anatomy. A life-affirming read about taking chances and pushing past our own limitations.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. Based on her grandfather’s journals, the book details his fight against Native dispossession, vividly detailing his life in North Dakota, and the challenges he and his tribe face in battling those in power in Washington, D.C.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez. Armed with data and humor, Criado-Perez discusses how our systematic lack of data on females skews policies in predictable ways.
The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power. Power chronicles her drive to succeed, from being a reporter during the war in Bosnia to becoming the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Claremont by Wiebke von Carolsfeld. A book that starts with a traumatic event, but then focuses on a family healing from that trauma.
Cynthia Baker, Professor of Religious Studies
I recommend the nonfiction book Erosion: Essays of Undoing by Terry Tempest Williams. Everything she writes is wonderful and this, her latest book, is as rich, deep, and thought-provoking as all that have come before.
Pamela Baker, Helen A. Papaioanou Professor Emerita of Biological Sciences
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. A well-written story about eastern Kentucky in the 1930s when the WPA had a program for bringing books to rural people. Based on the real history of the Book Women and the “Blue People” that I knew nothing about.
Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving. The author of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle fame also spent many years in Spain. This is part travelogue, part history, and part retelling of legends he heard while living in the Alhambra in Granada in 1828. He is a great observer of humanity and a great storyteller.
One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern. I liked this one because it is a sweet story of life in present-day Ireland. Spoiler alert: It has a happy ending!
Jim Bauer, Director of Network and Infrastructure Services, Information and Library Services
The Mike Bowditch series, written by Paul Doiron, editor emeritus of Down East magazine, who takes us into Maine’s wilderness, where natural predators aren’t the only killers. The series follows Bowditch, a game warden in the wilds of Maine with a haunted past. I’ve read the series in order and just started the most recent one, Almost Midnight, and have enjoyed them all.
Just finishing this and it’s well worth the read: Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré.
Jane McInnis Bedard, retired colleague
Some “easy to get caught up in authors” are Lisa Scottoline, Elin Hildebrand, and Maine’s Tess Gerritsen. I’m finding books that require lots of concentration are not keepers of my attention these last few weeks.
Right now I’m reading Hildebrand’s Summer of ’69…I can easily relate to that summer and Nantucket/Martha’s Vineyard, where it is set!
Ashley Bigda, Donor Relations Coordinator, Office of Advancement
I would love to recommend The Overstory by Richard Powers. It was a selection from the Multifaith Chaplaincy’s book club and is centered around people’s experiences with trees. I keep thinking about this book now that so many people are seeking refuge in the outdoors as a means of escape and comfort.
I also would suggest The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. It is such a magnificent story about resilience and helping others at times when it’s needed most — also very timely!
Jennifer Blanchard, Senior Writer and Assistant to the President
One of the best things I read this year was We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I think it’s filed under YA, but who cares. It is just a beautifully written, deeply moving summer-set story that you’ll devour in a matter of hours. Perfect for long hammock afternoons; best served with a tall glass of lemonade.
Jonathan Cavallero, Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Film, and Screen Studies
If She Wakes: Author Michael Koryta splits his time between Bloomington, Ind., and Camden, Maine — two places near and dear to my heart. If She Wakes is the best mystery I’ve read this past year. In addition to being a gripping story set in Maine, the novel really displays Koryta’s talents. Sometimes I would find myself thinking, “That’s a great sentence!” Those sentences usually weren’t even that important to the overall story. I loved that the writing became just as enjoyable as the big plot points.
She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement: New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey recount how they broke the Harvey Weinstein story, while also offering a close, critical look at the systemic norms and legal practices that enable(d) his (and other predators’) behavior. Truly eye-opening.
Just Mercy: Bates honorary degree recipient Bryan Stevenson recounts his fights for social justice, including his efforts to end the death penalty. Just Mercy has been a popular title on this list for many years, and many Batesies have attested to its virtues. It’s amazing.
With a 3-year-old at home, I’ve been reading a lot of children’s books. Maine author Chris Van Dusen is Emmett’s favorite. Van Dusen has written 10 books (and illustrated many more). All of them are wonderful, especially The Circus Ship, If I Built a House, and Randy Riley’s Really Big Hit. Van Dusen is a bit of a Maine legend. Every parent I know knows his work, and truth be told, the parents enjoy the books at least as much as the kids.
Emily Colucci, Library Assistant for Public Services, Information & Library Services
I have been listening to the book Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, via Audible, on my Kindle.
Daphne Comeau, Administrative Assistant for Annual Giving, Office of College Advancement
There were several moments made available to me this year during MLK Day at Bates that prompted me to dive into books. They aren’t leisure, but they have had and are having a profound effect on me.
There’s definitely a theme. Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson and Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving have both deepened my understanding of the foundational ways that white people are socialized to not identify with their own race. This piece of the puzzle has been important to finding my role in white supremacy. Reading these books together has helped me see both sides of the coin at once, and that has been a gift.
Jane Costlow, Clark A. Griffith Professor of Environmental Studies
Michael Crummey’s Sweetland. One of the most moving books I’ve read in years: a small island off the coast of Newfoundland, by the end of the book you feel as though you know the terrain — and the intertwined lives of the residents — as well as you know your backyard.
By Drew Hayden Taylor (who read at Bates in late February), Motorcycles and Sweetgrass. Hilarious misadventures of the chief of a First Nations community in southern Ontario. A mysterious stranger rides in on a 1953 Indian Chief (the motorcycle of the title)…and the fun begins.
Jean Stafford’s The Mountain Lion. Absorbing coming-of-age story about a brother and sister who find refuge with their uncle in the mountains of Colorado. For me the most absorbing part of the book is the girl’s story — the breaking-out of a feisty and unconventional soul (who wants to be a writer) from the small-minded comforts of middle-class life in the 1920s.
Shoshanna Currier, Director, Bates Dance Festival
Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin is unexpectedly resonant right now.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo is beautiful and challenging fiction.
She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey about the breaking of the Weinstein case is fascinating. Even though we know how it ends, getting a look at the process of investigative journalism is totally riveting. It includes a really important section on Christine Blasey Ford.
Deborah Cutten, Academic Administrative Assistant
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. “With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.” — Penguin Random House
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. “If it’s only a better life you seek, seek it elsewhere . . . This path is only for people who have no choice, no other option, only violence and misery behind you. And your journey will grow even more treacherous from here. Everything is working against you.” — From the novel
After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, A Daughter’s Search by Sarah Perry. “Perry weaves together her painful memories of that night [of her mother’s murder] with archival research and journalistic interviews to not only piece together the details of her mother’s death, but illuminate the woman she was before it. With clear, powerful prose, Perry paints a portrait of unconventional motherhood while questioning society’s handling of violence against women.” — W Magazine
The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. “St. Elizabeth’s, a home for unwed mothers in Habit, Kentucky, usually harbors its residents for only a little while. Not so for Rose Clinton, a beautiful, mysterious woman who comes to the home pregnant but not unwed, and stays. She plans to give up her child, thinking she cannot be the mother it needs.
“But when Cecilia is born, Rose makes a place for herself and her daughter amid St. Elizabeth’s extended family of nuns and an ever-changing collection of pregnant teenage girls. Rose’s past won’t be kept away, though, even by St. Elizabeth’s; she cannot remain untouched by what she has left behind, even as she cannot change who she has become in the leaving.” — HarperCollins Publishers
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a powerful book set in the second World War and based on a true story. It is well-narrated by three different narrators, whose lives are set on a collision course. The story is seen through the eyes of Caroline Ferriday, New York socialite; Kasia Kuzmerick, a young Polish woman; and Herta Oberheuser, a young German doctor.
Karen Daigler, Director of Graduate and Professional School Advising, Center for Purposeful Work
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a wonderful book by Kim Michele Richardson about the Pack Horse Librarians who, in the 1930s, delivered library books in rural Kentucky to promote literacy.
She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey is about the breaking of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment story. It was a page-turner for me.
Normal People by Sally Rooney is a love story about a complicated relationship between two young people in Ireland.
The Summer Cottage by Viola Shipman is a light, easy read — which was just what I needed in the midst of COVID-19. It’s about family tradition and small-town community.
In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer Fleming is another pretty easy read but a mystery — the main characters are a small-town cop and a minister.
The Memory of Us by Camille Di Maio is set in prewar London and is about a young woman who lives the dream life of the rich, but her world is shaken when she learns that her parents institutionalized a blind and deaf younger brother.
The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms was a lighthearted story about an overworked and underappreciated single mom whose ex-husband comes back to the family home to take care of the kids while she heads off to live the high life in NYC.
David Das, Assistant Director, Center for Global Education
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann. A long internal monologue. Perfect for days of quarantine.
Carson Dockum, Coordinator in Accessible Education and Student Support
Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas (he also narrates his own Audible).
Jessica Duff, Assistant Director of Athletics for Internal Operations and Student Athlete Services
Heavy by Kiese Laymon.
Susan Dunning, Associate Director of Gift Planning, Office of Advancement
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. Doughty has a nice approach for a book about death and the death industry — just irreverent enough without being insensitive. I intend to read more of her books.
The next two recommendations go together:
The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon, AND Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell.
These books tell the fascinating story of Huguette Clark, daughter of a copper baron and disgraced U.S. senator who inherited a vast fortune but lived as a recluse, spent her final two decades (yes, decades) living in a NYC hospital, died at 104 with only the companionship of those whose salaries she paid, and left her massive estate in shambles to be fought over by employees, charitable organizations, and a large group of distant squabbling relatives. And I didn’t even mention the real estate she owned, but didn’t live in . . .
The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin. A lovely story about family, siblings especially, and all the ways they love each other, hurt each other, the choices we make and don’t make — a very relatable, undemanding book.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Somehow never read this in high school or college, but I’m glad I read it now — it’s timely and chilling.
Elizabeth Durand ’76
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman. Set during World War II in Europe, this is one of those books that makes the outside world disappear.
The Huntress by Kate Quinn. A long, engrossing novel that starts in Siberia before WWII, and continues beyond it into Massachusetts.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. This title was chosen by a friend’s reading group. If she hadn’t told me to read it, I might never have picked it up. The book, set in Ireland during the second half of the 1800s, explores faith, preconceptions, and responsibility. It starts slow, but is worth the wait. Superb character development and lots to think about.
A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier. Set in the 1930s; reminiscent of Barbara Pym, but tougher. A good read anyway, but particularly of interest if you have a passion for any form of needlework.
Caz Frear has written two mysteries, with the third due late this year. On the one hand, it’s great to discover someone at the beginning of her career; on the other, you have to wait a long time for each subsequent book. She is one of the rare authors whose second book lives up to the promise of the first. Do read them in order: First is Sweet Little Lies, and the second is Stone Cold Heart.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. Another book about identity and preconceptions, and also a good story.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Because I always have to throw in at least one YA title. Everything I want to say gives something away — just read it.
Francis Eanes, Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- The Overstory by Richard Powers
- The Unwinding by George Packer
Melinda Emerson, retired colleague
Skyward by Mary Alice Monroe. “Harris Henderson handles injured birds with ease at his birds of prey rehab center, but he has no idea how to manage his diabetic five-year-old Marion. Enter Ella Majors, a pediatric nurse-turned- nanny.
“As Ella cares for the girl, she becomes an integral part of the Hendersons’ lives and, before long, Harris begins to see her as more than a plain caretaker. Hauntingly beautiful relationships between birds and people add texture to the story.
“Most notable are the connections among an elderly Black man named Lijah and his eagle, Santee, and a rooster that appears to guard both the center and Brady, a troubled teen working off a community service sentence.” — Publishers Weekly
The Overstory by Richard Powers. “There is a world alongside ours — vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.” — W. W. Norton & Company
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. “Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U- Haul.” — Simon and Schuster
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. “This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and soul-stirring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried near the Pyramids.
“Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles in his path.
“But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening.” — HarperCollins
Nathan Faries, Assistant Professor of Asian Studies
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. May not be for everyone at this moment, but this 2013 account of previous pandemics and thoughtful consideration of “the next big one” is engaging without being sensationalistic. Here in the midst of that next big one, I found these journalistic narratives a comforting reminder that things could be much worse as well as a sobering warning that the worst could still come to pass.
Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. I’m frustrated I can’t convince my kids to love these stories yet, but maybe they’re not middle-aged enough. As I listened to the flawless estate-authorized Audible recording, I found myself laughing with real grown-up happiness, not just nostalgia.
Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout ’77. If you’ve read Olive Kitteridge, you’ve probably already read this continuation of Olive’s story. I was struck dead by the original story collection, in a good way. I lived through the sequel, but I wouldn’t have missed this life for anything.
Carol Farrell, Costume Shop Supervisor
I promise I’ve read (or listened to) books of real substance this year, but right now, it seems more relevant to share my guilty pleasure with you: audio books by Anthony Horowitz (he wrote the whole Foyle’s War TV series).
You could start with The Magpie Murders — really fun and twisted. If you like it, try The Word is Murder, which has wickedly funny self-referential pseudo-nonfictional humor. There’s a second one in that series titled The Sentence is Death — equally entertaining.
Unrelated to those is The House of Silk, a novel that was actually sanctioned by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, and is brilliantly read by Derek Jacobi. A real treat. That one also has a second, called Moriarty, but I DON’T recommend that one: the writing and the reader are both sub-par. Enjoy, and don’t feel guilty!
Cary Gemmer Blake ’07, Leadership Gift Officer, Office of Advancement
I really loved Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout ’77. I liked it even better than Olive Kitteridge! Also, Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover.
Dan Girling, Mail and Materials Handling Clerk, Post & Print
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell. This book is about the problems that can occur when people try to understand and communicate with strangers. Using examples from history as well as current events, Gladwell explains why most people are not able to interpret the actions of those they don’t know. I enjoyed learning about the psychology of communication and how it could be applied to real-life situations.
Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig. In this book, Haig talks about mental health in the Information Age. Drawing from his own experiences with mental illness, he gives advice on limiting the negative effects of modern life. Given the current situation, where many of us are interacting via the internet more than ever, the book has only become more relevant.
Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel. This nonfiction book tells the real story of Christopher Knight, the “North Pond Hermit” who hid himself away in the Maine wilderness for almost three decades. The book explains how he survived through the seasons and the effects of his burglaries on nearby homes. Christopher Knight’s actions were destructive at times but the story of his seclusion is interesting and almost unbelievable.
The Institute by Stephen King. In this science fiction novel, a boy named Luke is kidnapped and brought to a secret facility for children with special powers. Luke and the other children are forced to undergo experiments to heighten their abilities so they can be used as weapons by those who run the facility. Like most Stephen King novels, the Institute has memorable characters and a story that takes many exciting turns.
Carolina González Valencia, Assistant Professor of Art and Visual Culture
On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous and Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. The two most beautiful books I read in 2019.
My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education and Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet. A window into the experiences of a first-gen Cuban American from Miami, navigating higher ed, and what happens after.
Phyllis Graber Jensen, Director of Photography and Video, Bates Communications Office
Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 by Adam Hochschild is a moving story of the heroic members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade who engaged in a pivotal struggle for democracy in Spain.
Meg Gresh, Assistant to the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Bruce Hall, Network Administrator, Information and Library Services
I recommend The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game by Mary Pilon. In our new world you may have been playing board games more than before. If you have a copy of Monopoly, you may find booklets or references to the history of Monopoly included in the box or the rules. You can read them but don’t believe them as there is a lot more to the story that was intentionally left out.
Reading The Monopolists will show how a game designed around 1900 by the progressive feminist Lizzie Magie shows problems caused by wealth inequality and demonstrates remedies and became the board game that Parker Brothers published as Monopoly in the 1930s.
Some of my favorite books have been ones that took something I thought I knew something about and showed me an entirely different perspective. The Monopolists does that, and you’ll never look at Monopoly the same way.
Joe Hall, Associate Professor of History
Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-1782 by Elizabeth A. Fenn. I teach this book in my environmental history class, and it is a recurring favorite. This year all the more so. Fenn reveals the horrors of the disease, the ways that it revealed how North America was far more interconnected than you would imagine, and how every event — even one driven by a microbe — is inseparable from the social and political dynamics that define human fortunes.
Pox Americana is a great read, but it is also a helpful reminder that people need to do more than “be in this together” if they are going to confront the inequities of any catastrophe.
Jay Hartshorn, Head Coach, Women’s Cross Country and Track & Field
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start Up by John Carreyrou. Nonfiction that reads like fiction.
Leslie Hill, Associate Professor of Politics
The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years after 50 by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot
Bill Hiss ’66, retired colleague
Sometimes a series by a single author, if time allows. While volunteering in Saigon for nine weeks, I found several thorough, fascinating biographies by Walter Isaacson:
- Leonardo DaVinci
- Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
- Einstein: His Life and Universe
Isaacson has written five other books, including biographies of Kissinger and Steve Jobs, and two “group biographies” of The Wise Men (six advisers to Truman after WWII (if only Trump had a similar brain trust) and The Innovators (on the geeks, hackers and geniuses who invented the internet).
Sometimes reading books by a single author is a bit humbling, reminding us of our comparatively unproductive lives. Isaacson wrote these books while variously serving as the editor of Time, chairman/CEO of CNN, and president of the Aspen Institute.
And what turned out to be a fascinating book for our current COVID-19 lockdown: Richard Preston’s Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come.
If you love books, you might enjoy any of the 10 volumes written by Nicholas Basbanes ’65. Most are on the history of books and the unique world of bibliophiles, but his most recent is a biography: Cross of Snow, a Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Alexandra Hood, Olin Arts Center Operations Supervisor
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. “For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast.
“So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand.
“Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life — until the unthinkable happens.” — G.P. Putnam’s Sons
I’m sure this will be a repeat selection — it’s just that good. Everyone was talking about it and I was skeptical, but the hype was real. The writing is beautiful, the characters are compelling, and the story poetic and intriguing. Highly recommended.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. (trigger warning: dark content) “Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.” — William Morrow
This is not a light, easy selection — oriented around the #MeToo movement and the psychological impact of sexual assault, it was challenging to read, heartbreaking, often agonizing, and raw. It won’t be for everyone, but it is a powerful book if you’re up for the very heavy content.
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. “The Broken Earth trilogy is set on a massive continent called the Stillness, in a far-future Earth wracked with periodic disasters known as Seasons. These Seasons aren’t just bad storms: they’re massive, apocalyptic events that last for generations, reshaping the world and its inhabitants.” — Andrew Liptak, The Verge
There was a lot of hype behind this trilogy, and yet again I was not disappointed. I discovered that the author is a counseling psychologist, which I find really enhances the characters and elements of the story — every aspect of this series is multifaceted, especially around subjects of trauma/mental health/abuse, racism, climate change, etc. These books are really phenomenal.
The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina. “Moving through a selection of first-person accounts and written with a sinister sense of humor, The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish powerfully captures the quiet torment of two sisters craving the attention of a parent they can’t, and shouldn’t, have to themselves.
“In this captivating debut, Katya Apekina disquietingly crooks the lines between fact and fantasy, between escape and freedom, and between love and obsession.” — Two Dollar Radio
Another heavy novel (though not nearly as intense as My Dark Vanessa), this one really blew me away. It is both dark and gorgeous, electrically charged and thought-provoking. The language in the book has a unique depth, the characters get under your skin, and the narrative structure is really compelling. By the end of the book I wanted to read it all over again.
Shonna Humphrey, Director of Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance, Dean of the Faculty’s Office
Roughhouse Friday by Maine author Jaed Coffin. This book describes a year in the life of a young man who kayaked to Alaska on a whim after college and then became a boxing league champion while tutoring at-risk kids and struggling with ideas about masculinity and maturity. I loved every page.
The Afterlife of Kenzaburo Tsuruda by Elisabeth Wilkins Lombardo. This novel is about an atheist Japanese scientist who, upon his death, emerges into an afterlife he never believed in. It reads somewhat unfinished because the author died before the book was published, but it’s a gorgeous story that mixes history and Japanese spiritual tradition.
Margaret Imber, Associate Professor of Classical and Medieval Studies and Associate Dean of the Faculty
The Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas. A fun detective novel series in which Holmes is actually a girl! Good plotting and fun to read.
The Deadly Series by Kate Parker. A feminist, genteel, poor, widow in Britain during the runup to WWII — good plotting and fun.
Heavy by Kiese Laymon. I read this after hearing Laymon speak at Bates. This is a profoundly moving, important book. I’ve been giving it as a birthday gift to everyone in my family. Extraordinary prose telling a searing tale of coming of age as an African American man in the US.
Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald. This is an excellent book that explains the theoretical underpinnings of the implicit association test in a very accessible way.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. As someone who yields to no one in her indifference to the beauty of nature, I find the lyricism of the prose in a novel that is very much about how our relationship to nature shapes our identity utterly compelling. Stunningly beautiful. Please read this book.
The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815–1914 by Richard J. Evans. A very good and accessible survey of a period in history that I find quite challenging to understand.
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott. A fun-to-read novel based on the CIA plot to get Doctor Zhivago published in the West.
Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over by Nell Painter. A wonderful memoir by an excellent American historian about her decision to pursue a career as an artist after she retired from Princeton. If you’re retirement-curious, you should read this.
Laura Juraska, retired colleague
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters. It’s a social critique on Hollywood over time and place with engaging characters all trying to “write” their own stories. There’s even an appearance by Richard Burton. As my book group concluded, a very good pandemic choice — a fun, generally uplifting romp.
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel. Finally, the last volume in the trilogy of the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell.
Emily Kane, Professor of Sociology
Earlier this year, I found myself — just by coincidence rather than any plan — reading three novels in a row that all involved time travel. They have very different settings and themes, and very different ways in which time travel figures into the plots, but also some similarities in terms of history and social upheavals intertwining with individual lives. I recommend all three: Richard Powers’ The Time of Our Singing; Helen Dunmore’s The Greatcoat; and Kiese Laymon’s Long Division.
Alison Keegan, Administrative Assistant and Supervisor of Academic Administrative Services
The Golden Hour; The Summer Wives; The Wicked City; and The Wicked Redhead, all by Beatriz Williams. Williams has quickly become my new favorite author. She often intertwines characters from previous books, so it can be a challenge to pay attention and keep them all straight, but she takes us on some historic fictional journeys that are unforgettable and truly compelling.
Always with strong female characters, these books depict espionage, sacrifice, courage, love, and often are set against challenging and threatening circumstances. The writing is beautiful and I’m thrilled when I discover a new Beatriz Williams book.
The Wives by Tarryn Fisher. Fast-paced and suspenseful, this is the type of breathless thriller that I love to not be able to put down. I always try to figure things out in books like this, but have learned to just sit back and wait for it to be revealed in all its twisty glory.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. I started this book just as the pandemic hit in full force, and I found myself unable to focus, constantly distracted, and not giving it the full attention it deserved.
I snapped out of that funk and was soon enthralled by the gorgeous writing and truly epic journey Krueger took me on that spanned 1930s Minnesota. Much like Where the Crawdads Sing, the landscape of this book is just as much a main character as the people who inhabit it.
Stephanie Kelley-Romano, Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Film, and Screen Studies
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough. My notes say, “wicked good — wicked creepy.” Four and a half stars.
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. My notes say, “good (not great) characters, well-enough written, with an interesting premise.” Four stars.
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. Disturbing and complicated story about abuse, poverty, and family. Character development was totally solid. Loved this. Five stars.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Loved this. Idealized but real. Awesome characters — unlikely but loved it anyway. Four and a half stars.
Grace Kendall, Director of Design Services
The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman. Set in WWII Europe, it’s a story about a Jewish mother who calls to life a female golem to protect her daughter when she realizes she no longer can. It follows several intersecting characters and stories, each of them focused on connection and humanity in impossible times.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. This book revolves around intersecting identities and how various characters who are attached to femininity in some way (either through gender, sexuality, or gender assigned at birth) navigate that particular identity as it criss-crosses with others like race, class, gender, relationships, and work.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker. Kolker tells the true story of the Galvins and their 12 children, six of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia. The book follows their story, their attempts at treatment, the tragedy of such a diagnosis, and the adult childrens’ work with scientists to try to find a genetic “key” to the disease.
Solitary: Unbroken by Four Decades in Solitary Confinement. My Story of Transformation and Hope by Albert Woodfox. Woodfox shares his story of his time in Angola prison in Louisiana, where he spent more than 40 years in solitary confinement as one of the Angola Three — three Black prisoners kept in solitary confinement due to their political activism.
He fought continuously for dignity and humanity (for himself and other prisoners), and he has an exacting radar in this book for how so many prison policies boil down to the removal of those things. He also writes about the Black Panther Party and how vital it was in helping him maintain his identity and his humanity while in prison. He was released in 2016.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk. A fantastic story fantastically translated. The further in you venture, the more uncertain you are of who’s sane. The main character is an oddball old crank I kept rooting for.
Jennifer Koviach-Côté, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
There, There by Tommy Orange. An extremely engaging story about 12 characters, centered on the Big Oakland Powwow. Better in print than audiobook, in order to keep track of the characters.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. A history of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, told through the context of one woman’s murder.
Pride by Ibi Zoboi. A remarkably accurate and fun retelling of Pride and Prejudice, set in modern Brooklyn.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Historical fiction set in post-Soviet Chechnya, predominantly during the second Chechen war.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson. The story of a North Korean man’s life, it sheds light on life in modern North Korea.
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The story of a young Black slave who uses his power of teleportation to help free slaves on the Underground Railroad.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. Full disclosure, I haven’t finished this book, but I can’t put it down. It begins with the sweet-16 party of a woman whose parents were teenagers when she was born, and tells the stories of her parents and grandparents.
Cheryl Lacey, Director of Dining Services
Many are not that new, but I enjoyed every one of these!
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
- Call The Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s by Jennifer Worth
- Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell
- Circe by Madeline Miller
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
- Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout ’77
- Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
- The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
Peter Lasagna, Men’s Lacrosse Coach
City by Clifford D. Simak. I am stunned that this futuristic, visionary masterpiece did not come to my attention earlier in life. Very quick read. Stunningly apt for this moment in United States and world history.
Bill Low, Curator, Bates Museum of Art
Little, Big: Or, The Fairies’ Parliament by John Crowley. “John Crowley’s masterful Little, Big is the epic story of Smoky Barnable, an anonymous young man who travels by foot from the City to a place called Edgewood — not found on any map — to marry Daily Alice Drinkawater, as was prophesied.
“It is the story of four generations of a singular family, living in a house that is many houses on the magical border of an otherworld. It is a story of fantastic love and heartrending loss; of impossible things and unshakable destinies; and of the great Tale that envelops us all. It is a wonder.” — Harper Perennial
Kathy Low, Professor of Psychology
- The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
- Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
- Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker
- Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
- The Dazzle of Day and Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss
- Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
- The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
- Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout ’77
Monica McCusker, Accounting Assistant, Financial Offices
Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J. B. West and Mary Lynn Kotz. I found this book to be a very interesting read. Written by the head usher of the White House, it gives a personal view of what life was like with each of the First Ladies — Roosevelts through the Nixons — their personalities, family life and social responsibilities.
What if the Norse gods were still around, and underemployed? American Gods by Neil Gaiman offers an entertaining adventure into that possibility and their struggle with a lack of believers. If you’re into exploring an irreverent look at conventional religious beliefs, Good Omens by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett could provide a good read for summer or any time.
Just One Damned Thing After Another: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor (the first in an 11-book series). The story of a “secret” society of historians who travel in time to obtain first-hand proof of certain historical events in conjunction with a local university. Things don’t always go smoothly, and their sojourns into the past provide adventures that make for a fun read.
Tom McGuinness, Director of Institutional Research, Analysis and Planning
Educated by Tara Westover. After seemingly everyone suggested this one last year, I picked it up and it completely lived up to the billing. This memoir of a young woman growing up in an isolated, fundamentalist family in the Idaho mountains is an extraordinary coming-of-age story.
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. I had seen and read news stories about the rise and fall of blood-testing company Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes. Reading the whole story, it is shocking how such fraudulent behavior was enabled by powerful people. It was a truly riveting story.
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow. Like Bad Blood, Catch and Kill is an example of stellar investigative reporting into the power structures that shield people (in this case, Harvey Weinstein) from the consequences of their horrible actions.
The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch. I am not big on science fiction, but this is one that has stuck with me since I read it. If a mystery featuring time travel, multiverses, and the impending end of the world is the type of thing that sounds appealing to you, I give it a strong recommendation.
Meghan Metzger, Leadership Gift Officer, Office of Advancement
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery. This has been an incredible read — fun, moving, fascinating — exploring the consciousness of the creatures around us, and how that awareness can impact us as humans.
The author spends most of her time at the New England Aquarium, and it’s been so interesting to learn more about a place I’ve been so many times, and now can’t wait to revisit once being in public places is a thing we do again!
Kevin Michaud, Third Cook, Dining
You will notice a theme for my reads as I am a researcher and storyteller for the Maine Old Cemeteries Association. As this is Maine’s Bicentennial year, what better way to include my past time with some great reads?
- Early Gravestones of Southern Maine: The Genius of Bartlett Adams and Portland’s Historic Eastern Cemetery: A Field of Ancient Graves by Ron Romano
- Laurel Hill Cemetery of Saco, Maine by Leslie Rounds and Emory Rounds on behalf of the Dyer Library Association
- The Irish of Portland, Maine: A History of Forest City Hibernians by Mathew Jude Barker
Hoi Ning Ngai, Associate Director, Center for Purposeful Work
My pick is Educated by Tara Westover. It was profoundly moving. Also, If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha. It just came out during the pandemic!
Kerry O’Brien, Assistant Dean of the Faculty
Euphoria by Lily King. Anthropologists gone wild in this novel based very remotely on the life of Margaret Mead and her first and second husbands, though the author take things on a different trajectory.
The book brings up fundamental dichotomies: the scholars and the subjects, the “primitive” and the “advanced,” fame and knowledge, possession and freedom, women and men, truth and fiction. In the process, the book looks at a range of approaches to anthropological field work, what researchers owe subjects, and the motivations of scholars (spoiler: They’re not all on the level!).
It’s incredible how much stuff early anthropologists brought with them to their field sites: sideboards, tons of books, china, typewriters, and lots of booze; one wonders what the indigenous ethnographers made of them.
They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie Jones-Rogers is a scathing account of how white women inherited, owned, sold, and treated enslaved people; it busts open the myth that genteel white women never fully bought into the culture and economy of slavery.
Au contraire, they were full players, and derived from slave ownership considerable social standing and economic power in a male-dominated world. White women’s wealth was typically in slaves, not land; they navigated legal channels to protect their sole ownership of their enslaved property from financially inept husbands in a volatile economy.
Most chilling was the day-to-day treatment of enslaved people by their female owners, the casual dissolution of enslaved families to make a quick buck, and the intimate intersection of white and Black women around wet-nursing, through which the very life of mistress’ babies depended on Black bodies.
Carole Parker, Library Assistant for Acquisitions, Information and Library Services
- The Overstory by Richard Powers
- The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Camille Parrish, Lecturer and Learning Associate in Environmental Studies
Sweetland by Michael Crummey. Fantastic portrayal of an isolated Newfoundland island and the remaining inhabitants whom the government is paying to leave their homes. In particular, the book focuses on Sweetland, the same name as the island: his history, thinking, feelings, and relationships to the land, and to the human and nonhuman communities. He is a character that stays with you well beyond the end of the book, as does the island.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. The sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale follows the stories of several women, each with different roles in Gilead and beyond. Initially, their lives appear to be separated by space and circumstance, but then “things happen,” and it becomes clear how intertwined they are as Gilead faces a crisis. I found the book riveting, and not as bleak as The Handmaid’s Tale.
Sonja Pieck, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies
Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered by Ruth Klüger (I’m reading the original German: Weiter leben: Eine Jugend). Klüger is professor emerita of German Studies at the University of California, Irvine.
Her memoir recounts her increasingly constrained childhood in Vienna after the German annexation and the traumatic years thereafter as she and her mother were transported first to Theresienstadt and then to Auschwitz. Klüger’s poetic, fluid language is deeply moving as she wrestles with the profound ambiguities of her experiences and her memories of them.
Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl. I’m just starting on this collection of essays by the New York Times columnist Margaret Renkl. Beautiful, meandering and melancholy, Renkl’s writing meditates on the inextricability of love and loss — how they bind us to each other and to the natural world of which we are part.
Sarah Potter ’77, Bookstore Director Emerita
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Perhaps it was the English setting, the humble Harold, or the very bizarre nature of his journey that drew me in. Quirky, charming and very human.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. While this was not my favorite Kingsolver novel, I enjoy her writing. And as I look back over what I have read this year, I remember the details of this story vividly — monarch butterflies, difficult Appalachian life, climate change — she weaves a good tale.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. An immersion into the Victorian language of flowers (fascinating!), the challenges of an overwhelmed foster-care system, how one might love a child, and so much more.
And finally, my annual shout out to Louise Penny for this year’s book The Better Man. I read everything she writes! I am completely absorbed by her characters.
Jack Pribram, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy
Tara Westover, Educated. Remarkable story of growing up in a somewhat rural area of Idaho; followed by making it to college despite no K–12 schooling and almost no home schooling. On her own she learns just enough to pass exams that get her into Brigham Young University.
The role of mentors is crucial to help her get oriented and then to encourage her to go to graduate school. Not at all as smoothly as I’ve made it sound. This reminded me that in my first few years teaching at Bates (early ’70s) I didn’t think about the fact that students have very different backgrounds.
Hiram Bingham, Lost City of the Incas: The Story of Machu Picchu and Its Builders. Bingham is rightly given credit for telling the world about Machu Picchu beginning in 1911. This city in the Peruvian Andes was essentially untouched for 400 years — not discovered by the Spaniards who brought down the Inca empire.
Bingham made several trips from Yale and discovered other places in the Andes. Separately he encouraged universities to begin to develop curricula about South America. Maps and Bingham photographs are included. Note: the 2002 edition provides a 20-page introduction by Hugh Thompson providing more context.
Stephanie Pridgeon, Assistant Professor of Spanish
Writers and Lovers by Lily King. King’s prose is effortlessly beautiful. The characters and the writing are understated.
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor. The translation, by Sophie Hughes, has been highly acclaimed. It’s bold and haunting.
John Rasmussen, Energy Manager, Facility Services
Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World by Jill Jonnes. Traces the history of the human use of electricity from the Greeks to the late 19th century. Full of great stories of the amazing personalities involved in electrifying the planet, including Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse.
Kirk Read, Professor of French and Francophone Studies
I find myself feeling more than a little guilty each year at this time, realizing that I haven’t read nearly enough outside my job to be able to recommend a lot. Yes, I do spend much of my day job reading literature to earn my keep, but that’s no excuse . . .
Here are some titles on my bedstand that I promise myself to finish around the edges of learning to become a much more effective online teacher this summer. I am sure that many have been recommended in years past. Let this be a reminder.
I am a third of the way through Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and it is truly transformative about the way I view the world and connections between what I now see as rather inadequate notions of natural and social sciences and humanities and how to be a better person on this planet. Subtitle: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.
Reading and rereading. There’s a theme. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Robin DiAngelo); How to Be an Antiracist (Ibram Kendi); Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code (Ruha Benjamin).
The French and francophone studies department is offering all its senior majors Alain Mabanckou’s Le Monde est mon langage. Short essays in dialogue with friends and mentors of this engaging author from around the francophone world.
James Baldwin. Anything. I just finished Giovanni’s Room and keep dipping into my anthology for more. I wrote about Another Country for my college application, and have appreciated revisiting him now 43 years later.
King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (Adam Hochschild). Again, a rereading for an article I have been working on forever in response to Hergé’s Tintin au Congo. This wildly racist and colonialist comic adventure is fondly embraced by readers in all corners of the world and I’m trying to figure that out…
For those looking to brush up on their French, the bookstore might have some copies left of several of Brahim Metiba’s works, Ma mère et moi and Je n’ai pas eu le temps de bavarder avec toi. I may have recommended this in the past.
They are lovely. A son in dialogue with his parents and the ways in which his gay Muslim identity strains their loving relationships. The bookstore would probably love to move them into your readership.
Finally, the library has been offering up books from the annex archives for faculty to add to their personal or department libraries. I offer here a list of titles culled from the most recent list. Books for the moment? More like a poem than a true recommendation (I did not write down the authors at the time…)
- A Thousand Shall Fall
- Let Us Have Faith,
- Lift Up Your Heart
- The White House Mystique
- No Life of My Own
- We Shall Rebuild
- Before the Dawn
- The Howling of the Coyotes
- Shrinking Dollars, Vanishing Jobs
- The Quality of Bank Loans
- How to Live With Your Teenager: A Guide to Survival
- Yes You Can
- This Damned Campus
Mike Retelle, Professor of Geology
The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks. This is a well-written story on traditional sheep farming life in rural England.
The Game: Harvard, Yale, and America in 1968 by George Howe Colt. This is an amazing story of people from all backgrounds of life across the U.S. involved in the traditional Harvard-Yale football game and how they fit into this tumultuous year and in the future in U.S. history.
The Russian Five: A Story of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage by Keith Gave. This is a story of the five Russian hockey players who defected to the U.S. to play hockey for the Detroit Red Wings in the National Hockey League.
Tip of the Iceberg: My 3,000-Mile Journey Around Wild Alaska, the Last Great American Frontier by Mark Adams. This is a mix of modern travel with a historical account of exploration around coastal southwestern Alaska.
Bronwyn Sale, Lecturer in Education
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Adriana Salerno, Associate Professor of Mathematics
I have been reading the Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor, and I’m loving it! Also, Francis Su’s Mathematics for Human Flourishing (which is a little bit about math but a lot more about humanity and what connects us all).
Tiffany Salter, Visiting Assistant Professor of English
I would like to recommend In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado but with a content warning (domestic abuse).
This is a heavy read, beautifully crafted. Machado’s micro-essays comprise a memoir of same-sex partner abuse during Machado’s time at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where she earned her MFA. She illuminates the processes of the gaslighting and escalating physical and emotional abuse she experienced and only later has been able to process.
There are at least two reasons why this is an important read. There is an extreme dearth of representations of and discussions about same-sex partner abuse, and part of Machado’s impetus for writing the memoir was to let others know they are not alone, to help normalize conversations about this topic so victims will be taken seriously when they reach out for help.
Sitting side-by-side with the heaviness of the subject matter is the fact that this is an exploration of genre and trope in literature. Each section of 1–3 pages presents a portion of the story in a different tradition with titles like “Dream House as Folktale Taxonomy,” “Dream House as Choose-Your-Own-Adventure,” and “Dream House as Noir.”
The exploration of genre in itself is engaging while pushing the reader to question their relationship with stories we tell about partner abuse — what does or does not fit into the scripts our society has written about these urgent, pervasive issues.
Sharon Saunders, Associate College Librarian for Systems and Bibliographic Services, Information and Library Services
Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: or, How Capitalism Works — and How It Fails by Yanis Varoufakis. How does our economy work? This book clearly and concisely explains the system we live in that influences every aspect of our lives.
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong. Every chapter in this book is an eye-opener. If you don’t mind having your assumptions turned inside out, this is a book for you.
Paula Schlax, Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry
I recommend the debut novel of Simon Jimenez, The Vanished Birds.
Carl Steidel, Senior Associate Dean of Students
- Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
- A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
- Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
- Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
- Misery by Stephen King
- The Powder Mage Trilogy by Brian McClellan
- Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
- The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
- World War Z by Max Brooks
- Heavy by Kiese Laymon
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Sawyer Sylvester, Professor Emeritus of Sociology
Last year’s review of Mark Forsyth’s Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language ended with a note that two of his other books — Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language and Eloquence: The Elements of Eloquence: How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase awaited reading.
I have now read them, and both are highly recommended. I hope by next year to have read Forsyth’s The Unknown Unknown: Bookshops and the Delight of Not Getting what You Wanted.
I also recommend two books on America’s history and political culture: These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore, and The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels by Jon Meacham.
Whether you are a Native Mainer or from away, I guarantee you will enjoy John Cole’s In Maine: Essays on Life’s Seasons.
For an analysis of the ways literature, properly taught and properly understood, can be the major source of intellectual development for students, I recommend Mark Edmundson’s Why Read?
Finally, my current read is Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night. This is a rich intellectual, cultural, and political history of libraries and their contribution to the civilizations in which they rest.
William Wallace, Lecturer in Humanities, Assistant Swimming Coach
The Overstory by Richard Powers
- Make It Scream, Make It Burn by Leslie Jamison
- Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush
- Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
Pat Webber, Director of Archives and Special Collections
The mystery trilogy of Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, and The Infinite Blacktop, by Sara Gran.
Claire DeWitt is the self-diagnosed “world’s greatest detective.” And like most similarly self-regarding detectives who’ve come before her, she has a host of personal issues she is wading through while taking on cases and, often, just trying to survive.
The trilogy consists of three separate mysteries, but with several connective through-lines: You should definitely read them in order for maximum effect, but you can take each one on its own. Gran imbues the three with a touch of the occult as well, although that lessens with each book.
The third book resolves some, but not all, of the running narratives from the entire series, and that incompleteness is the only thing that mars the proceedings. (Well, that, and the fact that DeWitt makes some very poor personal decisions that are often hard to take.)
Definitely worth the read, and if you’re like me you’ll wish there was a fourth book already, if only for a better sense of completion. The most recent was published in 2018.
The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors by Dan Jones.
A flowing and easy-to-read one-volume history of the (in)famous crusading religious military order. Just don’t expect to find anything about Freemasons, the Holy Grail, or any Dan Brown nonsense. (Jones briefly covers some of the subsequent literary and pseudohistorical writings on the Templars in an appendix.)
Jones has also written on the Crusades and the Plantagenets of England, which I’ll probably delve into at some point given how much I enjoyed reading this book.
The NHL: 100 Years of On-Ice Action and Boardroom Battles by D’Arcy Jenish. Are you missing sports in your life right now? Well if you love hockey, give this one a try. Using previously little-known archival sources (yes!), Jenish presents an entertaining tale of the public and private doings of the National Hockey League since its founding in 1917.
He also explores the predecessors to the NHL, as well as other leagues that have come and gone in the last century. Not only a solid hockey book, but a great advertisement for the necessity of preserving documents. What else did you expect?