Books for Long Winter Nights

The Tufts community offers its recommendations for curling up with some good reading
open book by a fireplace
Photo: Ingimage
December 5, 2017

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Books are having a moment. Sales of physical books are up, independent bookstores are showing signs of growth, and even Amazon is opening brick-and-mortar bookstores. So we polled faculty and staff, asking for their suggestions for good books to help us make it through the dark months ahead—curling up on the couch, throw blanket at the ready. We have a rich selection of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction—everything from mysteries, magical realism, and fantasy to biography and history, travel in the Middle East, and two takes on Hiroshima.

If you have other suggestions, let us know at now@tufts.edu, and we’ll post an update.

FICTION

The Art Forger, by B.A. Shapiro. This novel is a clever mix of several genres: mystery, suspense, art history, and a little romance. The plot centers on the heist of paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The heroine, Claire Roth, is a struggling artist who makes her living painting copies of famous works. Technically, she is a professional forger, but there’s nothing illegal about what she does for a company called Reproductions.com. Then the owner of a major art gallery approaches her with a risky request: that she produce a copy of an original Degas, reputedly one stolen from the Gardner museum many years earlier. By tempting her with the promise of her own show at his gallery, he convinces Claire to create the reproduction, promising to return the original to the museum after the copy is complete. What follows is a fascinating peek into the mind of an artist, as well as into the complicated, technical process of producing—and reproducing—an oil painting. Shapiro, who earned her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in sociology at Tufts, and briefly taught here, did some amazing research, convincingly invading the mind and heart of Claire, a passionate artist whose true talent remains virtually unknown. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves mysteries, history, and stories of women who brave a risky path to follow their dreams. —Frances S. Brown, manager of histopathology, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

Beartown, Fredrik Backman. The dense forests surrounding Beartown, Sweden—the eponymous setting of the new novel by Backman, author of A Man Called Ove—are encroaching on the hockey-mad hamlet, a small blue-collar town whose identity is completely dependent on the fortunes of its teams. A sense of claustrophobia permeates the book; even its lighter moments are tense. The Beartown Bears—the town’s junior hockey team, made up of teenage dynamos and the old-friend enforcers who back them up—are on the brink of competing for the Swedish national title. Everyone in town is on their side; to root against the Bears is to root against your neighbors. Leaving the rink after a victory, a rookie player notes that the fans’ reaction could make anyone “feel like a god.” During the playoff run, a traumatic event changes the town forever, implicating everyone and testing the characters of Beartown’s superstars, wannabes, wronged parties, and outcasts. Beartown challenges the virtue of unquestioned loyalty. “We are the Bears from Beartown” is not just a cheer; it’s a warning. —Robin Smyton A09, public relations specialist, Communications and Marketing

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman. Adult and young adult readers alike will be drawn into the first volume in a new trilogy by the author of the acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass.) It introduces Lyra Belacqua, a “helpless baby not six months old,” who is lovingly cared for within a nunnery sanctuary and whose life comes to depend on the courage of a young boy, Malcolm Polstead, and his flood-worthy dinghy, La Belle Sauvage. Acutely observant and a trusted secret-keeper, Malcolm gathers intel with the skill of seasoned spy; he’s steadily more aware of evil forces vying for the infant. (No sooner does he learn the meaning of the word “malefactors” than he knows it applies to the threatening men from the Office of Child Protectors.) A master of suspense and mystery, intrigue and magic, Pullman delivers a fully formed story while hinting at other things to come—his realms of parallel worlds, the mysterious substance called Dust—and leaves this reader impatient for volume two. —Laura Ferguson, senior editor, Communications and Marketing  

City of Thieves, by David Benioff. Leningrad is besieged by the Nazis during World War II. A boy is caught by police while lifting a flask off the body of a dead German paratrooper who has dropped into his neighborhood. Charged with looting and breaking curfew, he and his cellmate can avoid execution by making a deal: they will be spared if they can locate and deliver a dozen eggs so that a Soviet official can commission a cake for his daughter’s wedding. It is an extraordinary challenge in a city where the Nazis have choked off the food supply. Written by one of the creators of Game of Thrones, the novel is by turns a coming-of-age story, a well-written piece of historical fiction, and a gripping adventure story. For a good nonfiction companion to this book, M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead tells the story of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony. That piece was written as the Germans lobbed weapons into the city and people were dropping dead in the street from brutal cold and hunger. You can actually hear the air raid sirens and the screaming missiles in the first movement.James M. Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and professor of political science

Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid. In an unnamed country, much like Syria, Nadia and Saeed meet and fall in love in this novel, which glides into and out of magical realism. They are unlike each other: she a fiercely independent woman, swaddled in a black hajib, riding a motorcycle, smoking dope, and living on her own; he a religious man, living with his parents, cautious, and gentle. Hamid unfolds the story of their relationship amid the growing chaos of their country, torn asunder by civil war; unnamed militants take over middle-class neighborhoods, which are soon strafed by government warplanes. The innocent in the middle want to flee, and soon magical doorways appear without explanation, allowing people to travel to other lands. Nadia and Saeed go through one doorway, at the back of a store, and come out  in Mykonos, and make their way with fellow refugees crowded on the beach. Soon doorways are appearing all over, and a migrant tide flows from the global South to the West. The couple find another door and end up in a London home, squatting alongside Nigerian clans and others in a refugee ghetto in the middle of posh Kensington. The Western world is suddenly flush with refugees and the natives become scared; some start to take violent exception to the newcomers. But reason, and a tentative sense of coexistence, in the end prevails. Hamid does a masterful job making this magic appear casually commonplace, and his short novel soon takes on a tinge of hopefulness, not just for Nadia and Saeed, but for us all. —Taylor McNeil, deputy editor for news, Communications and Marketing

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, tried in Moscow in 1922 by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, is found to have “succumbed irrevocably to the corruptions of his class – and now poses a threat to the very ideals he once espoused” in a pre-Revolution poem.  The authorship of that poem saves the Count from execution.  His punishment instead is house arrest in the Metropol Hotel, where for more than three decades after his trial, he never once sets foot outside.  He is stripped of most possessions, and is moved from his grand suite to a small storage room in the attic.  But the Count finds joy in his books, his friends, his work, and in loving relationships with surrogate daughters, maintaining his dignity, integrity and sense of purpose.  As the events in Russia swirl around Alexander and the staff of the Metropol hotel, we see how, in even severe circumstances, friendship, love, common decency, a generosity of spirit, and a love of good wine and good food buoy the spirits.  There is a passage in the book where Russian literature is described as bridging the small, with Chekhov, to the large, with Tolstoy. In this book, Amos Towles presents a portrait of a man who, confined to a very small place in a very large country, is described by another character as “the happiest man in Russia.”  The reader is inclined to agree. —Michael W. Klein, Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs, Fletcher School

The Golden House, by Salman Rushdie. My initial trepidation at re-entering a Rushdie world was eased by first hearing this book as an audiobook, read, ingeniously, by Vikas Adams. I came to the book with no knowledge of its contents and was enthralled by Rushdie’s encyclopedic energy put to the story of the Nero Golden, who has decamped with his (equally re-named) three sons, Petronius, Lucius Apuleius and Dionysus  from Mumbai to an exclusive garden in downtown New York.  I’ve peeked at some reviews of the book and been bombarded with the disdain reviewers have for Rushdie’s excess. But for me, driving back and forth to Tufts from New Hampshire the exuberant detail Rushdie brings to each unlikely character and the wide and energetic reference to cultural, literal, historical detail was riveting.  Let me just mention that Petya, the oldest son is intensely agoraphobic, brilliant, and erratic. Apu, au contraire, is a bon vivant artist suddenly successful. And D. (for Dionysus), who wrestles with gender identity, takes up with a woman who works at an Identity Museum. The sudden arrival of the “Goldens” and questions about their past intrigues their neighbor, the young Rene, a nascent filmmaker who ingratiates himself in unexpected, and even unintentional, ways, and is our narrator. Yes, of course the tales are extravagant. And yes indeed, the wealth, power, and shady background of the Goldens has echoes that are stunningly familiar. I, for one, was captivated. Do listen and be taken through a warren of stories, set here and now in New York.—Rebecca Kaiser Gibson, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames. There are quite a few books out there in the fantasy genre, but there just aren’t that many that are really, truly funny. I’m pleased to report that Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld is one of those select few. This book is truly a pleasant surprise, and despite the relatively conventional premise (a group of grizzled former mercenaries “get the band back together” for one last adventure), Eames’ debut novel really carves out its own niche. It’s not quite zany like Pratchett, but that may be the closest point of comparison that I can come up with (maybe The Princess Bride?). Here’s a typical passage, as our protagonist tries to extricate himself from an opponent’s grasp: The stitches in Clay’s face had come open again, and his left cheek was scraped raw. He climbed groggily to his feet, trying to reconcile in his head how he’d spin this story to Tally if he lived to tell it. What’s that honey? What I was doing while Uncle Gabe was dueling a god with all of civilization at stake? Why, I was wrestling in the muck with an exceptionally tenacious cow. The book is an engaging, funny work that somehow both inhabits and subverts many of the traditional fantasy tropes. I’m kind of running out of superlatives here. I understand there’s a sequel in the works, and it’s immediately shot to the top of my waiting list. So to sum up: if you’re looking for a quick, fun, satisfying read, then this is a great choice. —Samuel Ruth, AG14, director of continuing education, Marketing and Communications, School of Dental Medicine

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. On the cusp of his 50th birthday, a little known novelist named Arthur Less decides to avoid attending his ex-boyfriend’s wedding to a younger man by accepting every invitation that will get him out of town. The resulting round-the-world tour of ill-conceived literary events offers comical humiliations of its own, as Less muddles through reminders of his lack of success (a hilariously bungling professor at one conference asks him, “What is it like to go on, knowing you are not a genius, knowing you are a mediocrity?”). Trying to escape heartbreak, Less ends up in several awkward situations, including at one point on a narrow window ledge trying to break into his own apartment. The narrator of this endearing romp has a sweet spot for its protagonist, and the warmth and wisdom with which Less’s foibles are described make the book—and Arthur Less himself—a charmer. —Heather Stephenson, senior writer and editor, Office of Communications and Marketing

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, by Lucia Berlin. There are forty-three stories in this luminous collection of short fiction, a culmination of the life-work of Lucia Berlin, who died in 2004. Berlin was not well-known in her lifetime, but she should have been: many of these pieces read like the work of a modern Chekhov. Often the stories are of women facing complex moral issues—loyalty and betrayal, the personal and political complications of navigating through a man’s world, and death and love—and many come from Berlin’s own life. The author draws on her early experiences in Catholic schools, and on jobs she worked to support herself and her four sons: switchboard operator, physician’s assistant, cleaning woman, teacher. She places her characters in the geographies she inhabited: in the southwest of America, in California, in South America. The result is a collection of honest, unadorned fiction, frequently stark, stunningly poetic. Though one guesses that Berlin’s work is timeless, it seems especially important now, in an age where women are reinvigorated in asserting their right to dignity and grace.—Joseph Hurka, Lecturer, Department of English.

News of the World, by Paulette Jiles. It’s a plot device as old as the hills—two unlikely characters forced on a journey together; bonds are formed and truths are discovered. In Paulette Jiles’ artfully crafted novel, our travelers are Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an aging veteran and ruined businessman who makes his living reading from big-city newspapers (“the news of the world”) to isolated folks in rural Texas in the years after the Civil War, and Johanna, a little girl who was captured in an Indian raid four years before and is being returned to her relatives. But Johanna now considers herself a Kiowa child named Cicada, and wants no part of the shoes, aprons, baths, and other trappings of white civilization being forced back upon her—nor does she desire to be reunited with the aunt and uncle she barely remembers. As Johanna and the Captain make the trek from North Texas to San Antonio, the story alternates between almost cinematic action and adventure to touching meditations on the meaning of family and identity. Jiles doesn’t waste a word (so many authors would have taken twice the pages to tell this tale, at no additional benefit) and her descriptions of the untamed Texas landscape almost make it a character in its own right. —Helene Ragovin, editor, Tufts Dental Medicine magazine

The Penguin Complete Father Brown, by G. K. Chesterton. I have been rereading these (very) short stories, which are excellent subway reads and charming period pieces; some of the reward in reading them is that they make me think about more than each puzzle at hand. Chesterton’s writing about Father Brown’s approach to figuring out each mystery is a vehicle to get across Chesterton’s take on what religion, specifically Catholicism, is and is not. Brown is rational because he is anchored in his faith, and he is psychological because he is Catholic (rather than working from trace evidence like, say, Sherlock Holmes, who, as an early CSI, could be a Protestant counterfoil). With the form of contemporary Christianity most publicly seen in US politics, this is a welcome antidote and escape. I also recommend the Rabbi Small series of crime novels by Boston’s own Harry Kemelman (which started with Friday the Rabbi Slept Late and continues through the weekdays and beyond) are a great New-World counterpart, and they are a compelling vehicle to explore Conservative Judaism. A little harder to find, but well worth hunting down. Their length allows much deeper dives, and Kemelman keeps my attention. Here as well, escape and enlightenment go hand in hand. The protagonists are each both brilliant and wise, yet endearingly modest and kind. Like Jumbos. Maybe that’s why I like these stories. —Boris Hasselblatt, professor of mathematics, School of Arts and Sciences

POETRY

Irradiated Cities, by Mariko Nagai. Nagai’s recent book is a genre-defying compilation of photography and flashes of lyrical prose. She investigates the history and legacy of radiation in Japan, from the Allied bombing of Hiroshima to the meltdown of the Fukushima reactor to today. The imagery in these pieces is at times sweetly rendered (“glass bottles wilting, bending as delicately as flowers or acrobats”), belying the horrific truth of why these everyday objects are being wrenched from their ordinary forms. The book also draws on numerous campaigns of misinformation, including the assertion, attributed to Ronald Reagan, that “all the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk.” Nagai is expert at employing the rhetoric of triumph to explicate the history of enforced silence around nuclear energy and its poisons; “the city,” she writes, “has conquered nights & darkness & the past.” —Natalie Shapero, professor of the practice of poetry, Department of English, School of Arts and Sciences

NONFICTION

Grant, by Ron Chernow. In 1854, things looked grim for Ulysses S. Grant: he had just resigned from the US Army amidst accusations of drunkenness, had no money, and few prospects. Ten years later, he was the head of the Union army, facing off against Robert E. Lee; five years after that, in 1869, he was the president of the United States. Ron Chernow, author of Hamilton and Washington, tells the story in another massive and absorbing biography. In many respects, it’s a reevaluation of Grant, dealing sensitively with his life-long struggles with alcohol, and portraying him, despite the scandals of his presidency, as a fighter for the rights of African-Americans and an opponent of the rising Ku Klux Klan. Chernow is a wonderful scene maker: the awkward arrival of the modest, unpretentious Grant in the nation’s capital after his victories in Shiloh and Vicksburg is an example of the author’s ability to bring historical moments to life. Figures like Abraham Lincoln, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Grant’s wife, Julia, are vividly portrayed. If the book has a weakness, it is that on occasion its sympathy for its subject verges on hagiography. Chernow’s prose is silky smooth and, despite the book’s formidable bulk (almost a thousand pages, plus extensive notes), Grant is a difficult book to put down. It is a superb, sometimes thrilling reevaluation of one of America’s most misunderstood presidents. —Neil Miller, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences 

Hiroshima, by John Hersey. In May 1946, eight months after the US had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The New Yorker sent the journalist John Hersey to Japan to describe the effects of the bombings in terms of the human suffering it caused.  For a month, Hersey interviewed survivors of the catastrophe and endeavored to describe what they had seen and felt and thought, what the destruction of their city, their lives, and their friends meant to them.  Built around the experiences of six people who were in Hiroshima when the bomb dropped, the article ballooned to 30,000 words.  In an inspired decision, the New Yorker’s editors scrapped their intention to make a serial of Hersey’s story and instead devoted its entire August 31, 1946 issue to this masterpiece of reconstruction.  In place of the familiar cartoons, the amusing snippets of life in the country’s cultural capital, and the fiction and verse for which the magazine had come to be known, readers found a soberly written piece, with no attempt at sensationalism or exaggeration. It nonetheless immediately created a frenzy in American journalism and showed not a description of scientific triumph or national supremacy but rather a chilling account of unthinkable calamity, the all but incredible destructive power that even now we can barely comprehend.  More than 70 years later, Hersey’s work maintains its impact and speaks to the enduring importance of serious and demanding journalism – increasingly under various forms of attack – for helping us understand the complexity of the world in which we find ourselves. —John Lurz, associate professor of English, School of Arts and Sciences

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, by Andrea Wulf. Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was one of the greatest scientists of his age and profoundly influenced many other famous scientists and naturalists, and yet most of us have never heard of him.  In this biography, Andrea Wulf outlines the long career, travels, and impact on many different fields of science Humboldt had. Not only was he an expert in various scientific disciplines, he was also able to connect the dots between information to a give a broad, global view of nature unlike anyone before him.  He also was one of the first to write about nature in both a scientific way and a descriptive, personal way.  This made his writings popular among both scientists and lay people. Wulf does a wonderful job describing Humboldt’s international travels, his influence on contemporaries, and his influence on visionaries such as Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir.  This book brings to the forefront a scientist that many have not heard about, but whose contributions to science and our global view of nature last to today. —Britta Magnuson, D08, assistant professor, School of Dental Medicine

Kava in the Blood: A Personal & Political Memoir from the Heart of Fiji, by Peter Thomson. For Americans who are struggling to understand the befuddling politics of their country today there is perhaps some perspective from Peter Thomson’s memoir of political upheaval in far-off Fiji.  Thomson’s family had been in Fiji for generations and he grew up there, immersed in its culture and landscape.  The traditional drink of kava flowed in all aspects of life as a communal act that brought people together and Thomson, like everyone in Fiji, drank it in fully.  But his own sense of his home was shattered by a 1986 coup where the country’s ethnically Fijian military abruptly overthrew the first prime minister from the island nation’s Indian-Fijian community.  Thomson, a member of the government, was himself caught up in the intrigues that laid bare the invidious ethnic divisions that this act grew out of and enflamed.  Weaving his own evocative memories of how life was lived on these tropic islands with the accelerating events of the coup, an effort at settlement, and a second coup that shattered attempts at reconciliation.  Thomson’s book shows that someone can know where they are from but may not always understand it.—David Ekbladh, associate professor of history, School of Arts and Sciences

Letters to Memory, by Karen Tei Yamashita. As a fan of Yamashita’s novels, from Brazil-Maru and I Hotel, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, I was eager to read this book, which is catalogued both under the subjects of “Japanese Americans—Evacuation and Relocation 1942-45—Fiction” and “Personal Memoir.” As a writer also working on a memoir, I understood how a piece of writing could be both fiction and nonfiction at the same time, and was happy to see Yamashita’s book resist easy categorization. As the title reveals, Letters to Memory is an epistolary book, with the first letter addressed to the reader. Yamashita begins by describing a visit to her aunt’s apartment soon after her death. She writes, “What all of us children of the Yamashitas discovered is what every partner, child, designated relative, or friend understands about the dead: they leave stuff behind, and, depending, it could be a lot—a lifetime of stuff.” This stuff, which includes family correspondence from their incarceration during World War II, is significant not only to Yamashita’s family, but to U.S. history. Yamashita’s relationship to this material is fascinating, the questions she raises about memory and history are thought-provoking, and her approach to structure and storytelling is innovative. She also invites the reader to visit the family’s archive themselves and explore their interests. She writes, “For myself, I have extracted a sliver of this record to ponder some questions.” This sliver cuts deep and is a rich, compelling path through Yamashita’s relationship with the past, and also the future, of her family. —Grace Talusan, J94, lecturer, Department of English, School of Arts and Sciences

The Long-Legged House, by Wendell Berry. The author of poems, essays, books, novels, and short stories, Berry lives in Kentucky on a farm that has been in his family for decades. His writing focuses on sustainable agriculture and the relationship between human lives and the earth. This collection of essays from 1969 reveals these passions, as illustrated in such chapter titles as “The Landscaping of Hell: Strip-Mine Morality in East Kentucky” and “The Nature Consumers.” In the title essay “The Long-Legged House,” Berry tells the history of a rough-hewn camp near the Kentucky River built by one of his relatives, where he and his new bride make their home, trying to essentially live off the grid. The site evokes wonderful descriptions of nature, similar to Thoreau’s Walden: “I began to be bound to the place in a relation so rich and profound as to seem almost mystical, as though I knew it before birth and was born for it. . . . It was the family’s wilderness place, and lay beyond the claims and disciplines and obligations that motivated my grownups.” Berry contrasts details of the natural wonders of the earth with themes of man’s destruction of the environment, coal mining, and poverty, a disparity all these years later framed amidst our national administration’s shrugging-off any hint of concern regarding climate change or environmental degradation. This book is a must read. —Helen Rasmussen, senior research dietician, Friedman School of Nutrition & USDA HNRCA at Tufts

Maverick, by Frank Corsaro. At the opening of his 1978 self-history, director Frank Corsaro notes with roguish satisfaction that his name translates to pirate. It’s a title to which he can lay legitimate claim, having acquired a reputation for controversy in his day with productions that incorporated nudity and multimedia effects on the operatic stage. His picaresque story starts with his parents’ romance being entwined with the music of La Boheme, continues with his job as a fourteen-year-old claquer at the Metropolitan Opera, and lands him at Yale Drama School, where his third-year production of Sartre’s No Exit was carried off-Broadway. Early involvement with the Actors Studio yields miniature character sketches of such personages as James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, but also serves to underpin Corsaro’s attention to plausibility and motivation in onstage characters. Extensive pages are devoted to detailed opera production notes in which his psychological assessments of plot dynamics are insightful and persuasively argued. A couple of rehearsal conversations are included, contributing an additional injection of Method realism to the proceedings. Corsaro’s aim to represent “a believable and continuous inner reality” was met with equal measures of adulation and approbation. A 1972 production of Don Giovanni, according to the New York Times, “approached vandalism.” Yet there appears to be little doubt that a string of successes testified to his canny talent for channeling the zeitgeist of an era. Corsaro died last month at the age of 92. Frederick Kalil, client strategist, Communications and Marketing

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, by William Dalrymple. What is sacred, what is spiritual, and how do those qualities exist against a backdrop of daily life, with its woes and joys, triumphs and travails? Dalrymple seeks out individuals who imbue their lives with their own understanding of the sacred. The nine seekers cover a broad swath of belief systems in India, and are mostly outside of the mainstream religions. Most touching of all are Dalrymple’s two final profiles: a woman living in the cremation grounds of Tarapith who is devoted to the fearsome goddess Tara, and a blind baul, a wandering religious singer. Both are outcasts who have found great joy amidst their tremendous suffering, attaining a peace that the householders of modern India could likely never approach. Their stories, like all in this book, are told mostly in the first person, in lengthy quotes, Dalrymple acting as midwife to their tales. They seem to come from a world much removed from our own, from modern life itself, but they aren’t. They are here and now: a testament to the multiplicity of faith in India, despite religious divisions, and even, perhaps, to that country’s reverence for the sacred. As Kanai Das Baul, the blind wandering devotional singer from Bengal, says of his music, “It makes us so happy that we don’t remember what sadness is.” —Taylor McNeil, deputy editor for news, Communications and Marketing

Passing Time: An Essay on Waiting, by Andrea Köhler. This short book is a gem. Köhler’s beautiful meditation on life’s interstitial spaces—the queue, the waiting room, the place held for two when only one has arrived—at once poetic and philosophical, intimate and analytical, forms the perfect  antidote to the headlong rush of our culture with its soul-sapping tweets and swipes. It is a short, elegant book with a long reach. Since its recent publication here in an English translation by Michael Eskin from the original German it has become one of those rare books that travel quickly by hand to hand or word of mouth from one excited reader to another. In its pages the highs and lows of waiting that we all experience are transformed via a stylistically brilliant aphoristic-abstract collage into moments of profound reflection. —Jonathan Wilson, professor of English, School of Arts and Sciences

The Road to Oxiana, By Robert Byron. At one point during his travels in the Middle East and Central Asia, Robert Byron regretted that he had run through the mystery novels in his luggage and was forced to return to the classics.  But his own account of a journey to Oxiana, undertaken in 1933-34 and published in 1937, is now a classic in its own right—and every bit as much fun as a good mystery.  Byron experienced Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Persia, and Afghanistan at a complex moment in history, as the forces of economic modernization, nationalism, communism, and geopolitical conflict were eroding existing social and imperial orders.  But he illuminates these historical issues with a light touch, focused on individual human experiences and personalities, and always alive to the possibility of comedy.  While the ingrained prejudices of his era show through, he is as ready to attack British policy as to condemn the authoritarian corruption of the Persian monarchy, and his sophisticated appreciation of Islamic architecture and design was truly unusual for its time. Reading Byron’s book is perhaps the finest possible introduction to the great age of British travel writing, both because of its own quality and the immense impact it had on subsequent writers. It only gains in relevance and appeal now that travel to so many of the places Byron visited is once more impossible for most of us. —Michael Baenen, chief of staff, Office of the President

Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America, by Mary Otto. In a fast-paced 288 pages, Mary Otto recounts the history of dentistry in America from the founding of the first dental school in Maryland in 1840 to today. She touches on reasons for the siloed relationship of medical and dental practice, the creation of the first dental insurance plan, and reasons for poor access to dental care. After reading Mary Otto’s book, I feel that I have a much better understanding of important issues facing the dental profession, including mid-level providers. Otto reported the 2007 story of Diamonte Driver, the Maryland child who died from a dental abscess that spread to his brain. For the want of an ounce of dental prevention, Diamonte suffered a slow, sad death in a hospital bed at a cost to the public of about $250,000.00. You may want to argue that this should not happen to a child covered by Medicaid. Please save your argument until you learn the facts of this case. I pressed for Teeth to be the reading assignment for the incoming Tufts Dental class of 2021. D21s joined us having a strong knowledge and vocabulary of public health concepts; they are able to frame their place in history with names of giants of the dental profession like Dr. Arthur Merritt, Dr. William J Gies, and General Robert Shira. Teeth is a strong, but fair indictment of the dental profession. I found the audio version more painful. You may approach this book with trepidation, but you will be glad you read it. —David Leader, D85, MPH13, associate professor, School of Dental Medicine

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, by Valeria Luiselli. A Mexican novelist living in the United States, Luiselli started volunteering as a translator in New York for undocumented children caught in the U.S. legal system in 2014, as waves of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America landed in America. The intake questionnaire she translates, made up of forty questions (such as “With whom did you travel?” and “What do you think will happen if you go back home?”), provides the frame for this small, impassioned book, full of questions itself. Why are these children fleeing alone, at great danger? Because, in most cases, the danger of staying home is even greater, stemming ultimately from drug trafficking brought on by demand for narcotics in the U.S., and weapons that flow south from the U.S. Luiselli’s daughter asks the question that gives the book its title: what happens to the kids Luiselli meets? Mostly she doesn’t know, since she usually isn’t able to follow their cases. So she focuses on one teenager she does stay connected to: a boy who fled Tegucigalpa, in Honduras, after seeing his friend murdered by a gang. He ends up in Hempstead, New York—trying to avoid offshoots of the same gangs. But he is granted asylum, a rare victory, and Luiselli’s college students, channeling their anger and despair at the current political climate, start to help these undocumented children, providing some slender thread of hope for humanity in these dark times. —Taylor McNeil, deputy editor for news, Communications and Marketing

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