You Really Should Read…

From novels and thrillers to history and biographies, the Tufts community serves up plenty of summer book recommendations
illustration of climbing a mountain of books
Illustration: Neil Webb
July 10, 2012

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As we sail into prime vacation season each summer, we ask faculty, students, staff and alumni to tell us about books that they liked, and why they would recommend them to others. This year’s crop is as diverse as ever: novels from Edith Wharton and Ian McEwan, thrillers and poetry, a dictionary of the “vulgar tongue” and a book of aphorisms, history and politics, covering the world from contemporary China to ancient Greece. There’s something to satisfy every fancy.

Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. This book examines how, with technology that is nearly within our grasp, some of the world’s greatest problems can be solved in a few short years. The technology that can save us from disaster is in the minds of people today, and it is not necessarily those with millions of dollars who will come up with the ideas. In fact, most major innovations come from laypeople. This book cuts through pessimism and apocalyptic hype and gives concrete ideas for solving impending crises.—Chris Smith, A12

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. I wouldn’t call it beach reading, but for a rich taste of romance, angst, class consciousness and gorgeous prose, I highly recommend Wharton’s classic, The Age of Innocence. The plot concerns Newland Archer, an aristocratic New York lawyer recently engaged to the beautiful debutante May Welland. Archer’s well-ordered world begins to crumble when May’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, shows up in America, having recently separated from her abusive husband. Wharton’s concerns, however, go deeper than the tension between Newland’s domesticated love for May and his more primal attraction to Ellen. The book really probes the irreconcilable conflict between the real and the ideal, between Apollonian order and Dionysian rapture. Wharton’s prose has all the elegance of Henry James, but with more wit and fewer words! The book is a heartbreaker, but its many pleasures are well worth the pain.—Ron Pies, clinical professor of psychiatry, School of Medicine

Carry the One, by Carol Anshaw. It’s late at night when a group of drunken, stoned friends pile into a car after a wedding and drive off, using only the car’s fog lights on a dark country road. The car hits and kills a 10-year-old girl who decided to leave a sleepover party early. The novel follows the lives of the friends and their families as they pursue their careers and relationships, haunted by the tragedy of that night. As one character says, “When you add us up, you always have to carry the one.” The accident shows up in ways both profound and subtle. Alice, an artist, paints portraits of the dead girl, while her brother, Nick, struggles with drug addiction issues he already had. For others, the event hovers in the background, always quietly lurking. Anshaw’s writing is descriptive and lyrical, whether talking about a love affair or a starry night. The characters are flawed and not always likeable, but the novel keeps you thinking about them long after you’ve turned the last page.—Marjorie Howard, senior writer, Office of Publications

Catalog Living at Its Most Absurd: Decorating Takes (Wicker) Balls, by Molly Erdman. This is a humorous look at the people who live inside home furnishing catalogs.—Molly Erdman, J96

China in Ten Words, by Yu Hua. China is a paradox: hard-charging capitalist country and communist stronghold. A best-selling novelist in China, Hua dissects his country through the prism of his own life and sees the contradictions as having more in common with the country’s past than a typical outsider would notice. It’s obviously an uncomfortable truth: this book cannot be published in China, even though Hua lives in Beijing and continues to be popular as a novelist. Hua centers his argument around 10 themes, his 10 words. They range from “people” and “leader” to “copycat” and “bamboozle.” He dwells on what he considers a major turning point for China: the role of the Chinese people in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, and how, once that movement for political freedom was crushed, economic freedom was the only freedom available. Many of his stories revolve around the Cultural Revolution, which started when he was six. It was a time of denigration of past values: teachers were scorned; tradition was viewed with deep suspicion; everyone, even family members, was suspect. What’s revealing is how the same themes repeat now, as the profit motive makes people treat their fellow Chinese without compunction. Corruption is endemic; cynicism is the rule. And then there’s the bamboozle. Hua details one corrupt practice after another, and it’s not just businessmen on the make; the bamboozle permeates society. And, Hua says, all this bamboozling leads to no good end: we are heir to our actions. The question is, can China resolve its inherent contradictions without the upheaval it’s historically put itself through? Hua doesn’t have the answer, but he’s not optimistic.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

The Chronology of Water, by Lidia Yuknavitch. So far this summer I’ve read two books that I loved: this one and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. After I finished reading Yuknavitch’s memoir, my friend Marie gave me Strayed’s book for my birthday. If books belong to families, I felt Wild was sister to The Chronology of Water. It turns out the women are in the same writing group and thank each other in their acknowledgements. Despite the commonalities—both authors narrate their development as artists and women; use physical activity, Strayed’s hiking and Yuknavitch’s swimming, to show this transformation; and explore grief and meaning after loss—the books are very different reading experiences. In any case, they are both beautifully written page-turners that make you want to start right back over again once you hit the last page.—Grace Talusan, J94, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Funny and smart, flipping across time periods and genres. Good for even for those with short attention spans.—Tisch Library

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. Set in the buildup to the 1893 World’s Fair, The Devil in the White City is a study in contrasts between two men with unparalleled ambition. The first, architect Daniel Burnham, unites the best architects of the time as he seeks to build a city solely to wow the world, to “out-Eiffel Eiffel” and assert Chicago’s dominance over Paris as the home of the World’s Fair. As he builds the city and his legacy, Dr. H.H. Holmes uses the effort’s appeal to lure victims to his World’s Fair Hotel, purposely built for murder. As Burnham uses the ambition of those around him to create a city of light, Holmes preys on the dreams of those drawn to it. The story is suspenseful, meticulously researched and a great summer read.—Tom Keppeler, associate director of communications, Cummings School

The Go-Between, by L.P. Hartley. The oft-quoted opening line may be the literary equivalent of Pachelbel’s overused Canon in D, but for the reader whose taste for early 20th-century England was whetted by Downton Abbey, the words are a promising prelude. “The past is a foreign country,” narrator Leo Colston tells us, “they do things differently there.” What follows is Leo’s 50-years-on account of his summer at a great Norfolk country house, where both reader and Leo himself revisit a story that, though perfectly complete, leaves him an incomplete man. In an admixture of childish innocence and forbidden affections, he plays the title role, a pawn in a dangerous affair that tests the mores of a strictly hierarchical society. If the book’s title rings familiar, the explanation may be that The Go-Between has seen multiple incarnations since its appearance in 1953, most recently in a 2002 release in the estimable New York Review of Books Classics series. There was also a 1970 film, directed by Joseph Losey, with a cast led by the youthful triumvirate of Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Edward Fox. Hartley’s The Go-Between might just be the ideal bittersweet end-of-summer read; if you seek to extend its pleasures, you may find that its adaptation for the screen (by an in-his-prime Harold Pinter) is a rare demonstration that a great book can become a great movie.—Hugh Howard, A74, writer and historian

Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. I’ll be the first to admit that cracking open a 19th-century dictionary might not be everyone’s idea of relaxing beach reading, but Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, “with the addition of numerous Slang Phrases collected from tried authorities is, in its own esoteric way, unputdownable. The dictionary was compiled from even older “canting” dictionaries, but also by drawing from “classical authorities” on the subject of cursing, including “seamen at the capstern” and “ladies disposing of their fish.” For lovers of language, Grose’s is a veritable candy store of literary delight. But it is also full of stories that will intrigue the general reader, offering vivid verbal Instagrams of London jails and bawdy houses. Sometimes the story is short and self-explanatory, like in this definition for Beggar Maker, as “a publican or ale-house keeper.” In other cases, words are imbedded within colorful sagas like this entry for the word Blowen: “A mistress or whore of a gentleman of the scamp. The blowen kidded the swell into a snoozing ken, and shook him of his dummee and thimble; the girl inveigled the gentleman into a brothel and robbed him of his pocket book and watch.” Grose’s also brings new meanings to familiar old terms like this one for the word Beak: “A Judge or chairman who presides in court. I clapp’d my peepers full of tears, and so the old beak set me free; I began to weep. And the judge set me free.” And the word Bed: put to bed with a mattock, and tucked up with a spade; said of one that is dead and buried.” And that’s only the Bs! Another good thing about Grose’s Dictionary? It’s free. Download it from Google Books here.—Alina Simone, J97

Istanbul Passage, by Joseph Kanon. Leon Bauer, an American businessman working for the tobacco company R.J. Reynolds in late 1945 Istanbul, should be living a quiet life. But he isn’t. Throughout the war, he played courier for American intelligence officials in neutral Turkey, and now he’s on a last mission for his secretive boss, picking up a Romanian defector—a former Nazi with a reputation as a butcher. A routine job, it quickly goes awry, and Bauer is forced to come to grips with the Byzantine world of espionage, a game he’s better at than he realized—but not quite good enough. Kanon brings the decrepit world of immediate postwar Istanbul alive, and advances the gripping story through shrewd use of dialogue, including Bauer’s own inner discourse. Bauer is told early on that his name in German means, among other things, “pawn,” and he slowly comes to appreciate that fact. In this page-turner of a book, we join Bauer in trying to figure out the chess moves—and who is controlling the pieces. Set in wintertime, it is perfect summer reading.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. Set in Afghanistan and focusing on two childhood friends, this novel explores the relationships between fathers and sons and what happens when friendships are betrayed.—Natasha Shetty, E13

The Lives of Margaret Fuller, by John Matteson. In her own day in the mid-19th century, Margaret Fuller was well known as a literary scholar, translator, writer on social issues and first editor of The Dial, the Transcendentalist magazine. But as the century turned, her life and works fell into relative obscurity, except for those most interested in the issues central to her life. Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer John Matteson’s new book may once again catapult Fuller to a place in which her considerable historic significance is more widely realized. In a thoughtful, beautifully written and thoroughly engaging book, Matteson places Fuller within the social, political and literary context of her day, and offers important insights into her character. He paints a portrait of the whole woman that is fascinating to read, and offers historians, biographers and people fascinated by the Transcendentalists and their era a model of a well-researched book that’s actually a great summer read.—Julie Dobrow, director, Communications and Media Studies Program

Lost Decades: The Making of America’s Debt Crisis and the Long Recovery, by Menzie D. Chinn and Jeffry A. Frieden. By now, there is a spate of good books on the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent Great Recession. Most of these books focus on particular episodes, institutions or people. While Lost Decades includes some telling stories of individuals’ experiences, it offers a longer perspective, a comparison of this crisis with those of the past and an explanation of the logic behind the unfolding events that ultimately led to the crisis. For this reason, it is less likely to be made into a movie than the more sensational books on the crisis, but it is the first book I recommend for gaining a comprehensive understanding of the American economy during the lead-up to the crisis and its immediate aftermath. The title of this book raises a question. Is the phrase “Lost Decades” retrospective or prospective? Does it refer to only to Latin America in the 1980s and Japan in the 1990s? Or is it telling us that the past was prologue, and we now face an entire lost decade in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis? Perhaps, even more chillingly, the use of the plural might mean that more than one lost decade awaits? Spoiler alert: Chinn and Frieden argue that we lost the first decade of this century and face losing another one to economic stagnation. OK, that was not much of a spoiler if you’ve been paying attention these last four years. But even if you’ve been paying attention to day-to-day events, this book will provide you with a context and a framework for understanding this generation’s watershed economic event.—Michael W. Klein, the William L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs, Fletcher School

The Man Within My Head, by Pico Iyer. Not exactly a memoir, not quite a literary biography of Graham Greene and not a book of travels, The Man Within My Head is still some of all of these things, a hybrid creature that carries the reader along, thanks to Iyer’s usual facile way with words. Iyer, a longtime essayist for Time magazine, travel writer and novelist, recounts his childhood: born to Indian parents, initially growing up in Oxford; a move to California in the 1960s, where his father teaches and accumulates acolytes; traditional boarding school back in England; always split between worlds. He is much like Greene, who never quite felt at home anywhere and whose characters had the same experience of, well, not exactly alienation, but a clear sense of being apart. Iyer returns often to Greene’s The Quiet American, and its prescient understanding of how the British and Americans are swapping not just positions of dominance in the world, but also feelings of certainty and doubt. Iyer travels to Vietnam, and we see how the people Greene wrote about linger on today. “A man within your head whispers his secrets and fears to you, and it can go right to your core,” Iyer writes. For much of Iyer’s life, that man is Greene, but he comes to realize there’s another man he barely knows who has also taken up residence in his head: his father, with whom he’s never been very close. It’s that old inheritance: we are our father’s sons, even if we’d prefer to think that our literary heroes are our pole stars. Iyer slowly learns these lessons, and he tells the story with wonderful ease.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides. It has been more than 20 years since I graduated from Tufts University, and I am a bit sentimental. A couple of summers ago, while on a research trip to Cambridge, I found myself wandering through Medford and Somerville and trekking up the hills of campus, maudlin and misty-eyed. For those who share my nostalgia for college life in the 1980s, Jeffrey Eugenides’ much-hyped The Marriage Plot is a look back in time. Granted, it is set at Brown, not Tufts, and it is a little overwritten and self-absorbed, but the romantic and scholarly struggles of the three protagonists, set against the backdrop of the self-serious pretention of undergraduate life during the rise of postmodernism, took me back to my salad days. Madeleine Hanna, smart, pretty and embarrassingly starry-eyed, is at the center of this coming-of-age story, but it is her suitors—the mentally ill but iconoclastic biologist Leonard Bankhead and the soul-searching Mitchell Grammaticus—who drive the narrative. Leonard’s inner demons are unleashed by brain chemistry and Mitchell’s by self-doubt, but both men are forced to come to terms with their feelings for Madeleine and the harsh realization that college eventually ends and real life begins. The Marriage Plot offers no simple truths and no model solutions, but that will not come as a surprise to those of us who likewise navigated life after college as much by accident as philosophy. The Marriage Plot is a generational tale, so specific that it might not appeal to anyone who was not born between 1962 and 1970, but its account of life in college and after college will appeal deeply to those who still occasionally listen to Tracy Chapman and Robyn Hitchcock on their iPods.—Andrew P. Haley, A91, associate professor of history, University of Southern Mississippi

Messages from an Unknown Chinese Mother, by Xinran. This book is a fascinating and heart-wrenching read. A really daring journalist writes the personal stories of various Chinese women she’s encountered who have given up their daughters for adoption.—Tufts China Care club

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. This quick read takes place almost entirely on a young couple’s wedding night in Britain in the early 1960s. We meet Florence, a musician who longs for a concert career, and Edward, a history student at University College of London. The couple is spending their honeymoon on the Dorset coast. What is so touching and ultimately sad is how uncomfortable and unsure they are of one another. In this other time and place, the couple is innocent and shy, and now that their wedding night has arrived, they are overwhelmingly nervous and awkward with each other. McEwan gives us an unusual insight into a day that has so much promise, but doesn’t play out the way we, or Edward and Florence, had hoped.—Kim Moniz, online community specialist, Web Communications

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami. Great dialogue and fantastic character development that do not get lost in translation. In fact, I’d recommend anything by Murakami.—Bruce Cundiff, A91

The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell. Because of her excellent mix of history, politics, pop culture and commentary, I think books by Sarah Vowell make for great summer reading, particularly The Partly Cloudy Patriot and Assassination Vacation. The first is a collection of essays, which makes it good to read while traveling or lounging around. The second chronicles a road trip she took to visit sites associated with presidential assassinations in the United States. Vowell’s books make me wish I wrote like her, make me wish I were friends with her and remind me of just how wondrously complex being an American is.—Deborah Schildkraut, associate professor of political science, School of Arts and Sciences

The Promise of Sleep, by William Dement. This book explains how good sleep habits and small life changes can keep you healthy and fight problems like obesity, heart disease, etc. It shows how to recognize sleep disorders that are making us sick, disorders that doctors are often poorly trained to see and often misdiagnose but that are actually quite common, such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea. Dement also talks about how to recognize when you are so severely sleep deprived that you are losing cognitive ability and are more likely to make fatal mistakes—like getting behind a wheel. This book has the potential to save lives and make people better students and healthier. I wish I had read it sooner.—Anne Siarnacki, A05

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. Perfect for those born in the late ’70s and ’80s.—Eduardo Calvillo, E01

Running the Rift, by Naomi Benaron. I read this close on the heels of Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, and I recommend the pairing most highly. Kidder’s is a nonfiction tale of Deo, a Burundian medical student, and Benaron’s is a novel about Jean Patrick, a university student and world-class runner just over the border in Rwanda. The paths of these two Tutsi boys, one real, one imagined, seem to run parallel, crossing the Burundi-Rwanda border and back again, the ghost boy of fiction nearly right alongside the real boy in Deo, as both crouch in marshes and jungles watching the machete-men do their work. For both, and for those around them, the genocide sneaks up, almost imperceptible at first, and then literally unbelievable. From the ground, from the view of daily life in either country, how could anyone believe that what seemed like a band of unemployed young thugs with nothing better to do would grow into this unimaginable horror? A man you fished alongside, pulling nets into your boat beside you, would, a month later, be found hacking your little brother to pieces. How could anyone believe that? The gruesome intimacy required to kill someone, a child, a baby, with a machete defies belief. And when you knew that family, sold them fruit at the market, sent your kids to school with their kids, how could you bypass all that common humanity and exterminate them like cockroaches? Running the Rift may not be a light-hearted read, but with the London Games coming up, the timely Olympic dreams of Jean Patrick literally run through these pages, and despite the horror, this book is lit from within by a persistent and contrary faith, hope and love.—Sarah Courchesne, project director, Seabird Ecological Assessment Network (SEANET), Cummings School

The Samurai’s Garden, by Gail Tsukiyama. While recovering from tuberculosis, Stephen is sent from his home in Hong Kong to Tarumi, a small beachside village in Japan. There, Stephen lives with Matsu, the keeper of his grandfather’s house. Matsu is a quiet and pensive man who is most at home working in his elaborate garden. Matsu introduces Stephen to his friend Sachi, a beautiful woman who has struggled with her own illness and the unusual set of circumstances that erupted from that illness. Sachi also finds solace in a garden, but one of beautifully cold stones rather than the vibrant vegetation of Matsu’s garden. Stephen also meets Kenzo, an old friend of Matsu and Sachi, and Keiko, a beautiful young girl who passes in and out of Stephen’s world in an almost dream-like way. Stephen’s journey to recovery via a peaceful village and enchanting friends makes for a fascinating story. He learns that life is rarely what it seems, people are more complex than you could ever imagine and good friends are the magic that holds your world together.—Kim Moniz, online community specialist, Web Communications

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. Having encountered the historical novels of Mary Renault in my youth, I anticipated a déjà vu of sorts with this retelling of the story of Achilles. The news that it recently won the Orange Prize over nominees including Ann Patchett and Cynthia Ozick stirred my interest, and an online peek at the first couple of paragraphs impressed me enough to dive in. Although the essential narrative will be familiar to many readers, Cambridge-based Madeline Miller has succeeded in producing a compelling read. The novel is admirably crafted in precisely hewn language that mirrors the stark and breathtaking beauty of Greek sculpture. In the words of a stern New York Times reviewer, here is “a book that has the head of a young adult novel, the body of the Iliad and the hindquarters of Barbara Cartland.” I could take issue with the dismissive tone, but that’s a fair description of the work’s hybrid nature. A certain amount of romanticizing might be unavoidable given the material, and Miller, in her first novel, skirts heroic-legend conventions on one hand and the pitfall of wading into tearjerker-cliché waters on the other. The occasional instance of anachronistic dialogue is admittedly off-putting, but the many compensations include sharply drawn characters, such as the sea goddess Thetis, Achilles’ fearsome mother who makes disquieting “sudden as lightning-strike” appearances. Even the Times reviewer would have a hard time arguing the fact that The Song of Achilles will make for a tasty beach read. If the result misses the “catharsis of pity and terror” defined by Aristotle, we are blessed with the consolation that a peplum-busting reload of the bodice ripper has been judged a noteworthy literary achievement.—Fred Kalil, marketing communications manager, University Relations

The Submission, by Amy Waldman. This book pulls off the neat trick of re-imagining the near-past, writing a completely plausible fiction in the place of a reality we’ve all lived through: the selecting of an architect for the 9/11 Memorial. In the fictional version, the design jury’s anonymous selection process has unwittingly yielded a young Muslim architect who no one’s ever heard of. From his name, Mohammed, to his plan for a garden with Islamic-influenced geometry, he immediately becomes tinder for a firestorm of protest. From talk radio to the halls of power and onward to the dinner tables of victims’ relatives, Mo (as he is called) becomes a symbol, a prop and a target. Waldman’s sympathies do seem to be clearly to the left in this debate, but she deftly avoids cartoonish characterization, allowing Mohammed to be smug and tin-eared in his righteousness, while letting his accusers’ grief and humanity propel their worst behaviors. At times, an editorial pen might have been wielded more judiciously on passages that moralize, but the overall effect of the work is thought-provoking and insightful. As it lays bare the cultural fissures and political hypocrisies that define our moment, the novel is at its best when it combines Waldman’s sharp insights with the inexorable tug of loaded questions—will this design get built or not, and will blood be shed along the way to finding out?—David Valdes Greenwood, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food, by Lizze Collingham. Napoleon is said to have declared that “an army marches on its stomach.” Collingham’s impressive book shows that during a total war, so do whole societies. She puts food at the center of the struggle and in so doing transforms a familiar tale into something new. For Japan and Germany, food was a spur to conflict, as it was high on the list of raw materials they were after in their conquest. The book explains how food (and the lack of it) brought the war home to just about everyone in a decidedly personal way. The hero of the story is the potato, the rugged, high-calorie tuber that became a necessity for so many. Collingham also offers a nagging warning about the interconnected world food supply. Large-scale war necessarily disrupts food production and trade across the globe. Starvation and famine were disturbingly commonplace during and after the war, when food supplies were diverted or broke down. This was not just in areas directly wracked by battle but in areas like East Africa and India. The victory of the United States and its allies was assured, in large measure, by their ability to produce food in abundance. Collingham makes the compelling point that agricultural, nutritional and industrial techniques forged in war were instrumental to the postwar boom by making food supplies, once tenuous, into something reliable and plentiful.—David Ekbladh, assistant professor of history, School of Arts and Sciences

The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line between Christianity and Islam, by Eliza Griswold. Journalist Griswold looks at the worldwide conflict taking place at the tenth parallel, where Islam and Christianity bump up against each other. Since it grew muscles in the 19th century, Christianity has been on the march to evangelize the non-Christian world (“Onward, Christian Soldiers,” Sir Arthur Sullivan). This religious struggle now takes on more intense meaning in places like Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia and eastward around the planet. Most Americans haven’t understood this; our children have to do better.—Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor, professor of German and former provost

To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918, by Adam Hochschild. Suffering from Downton Abbey withdrawal earlier this year when the PBS Masterpiece Theater production ended its too-brief second season, I yearned to remain anchored to World War I-era Britain. Hochschild’s utterly compelling book chronicles the social and cultural effects of the war within Great Britain, with particular emphasis on those who opposed the nation’s involvement. (That said, the book does not ignore the unimaginably brutal scene on the battlefield and key events throughout Europe.) To End All Wars is the most readable of histories, concentrating on characters and personalities, both big and small: particularly fascinating are the stories of several prominent families who became bitterly divided over the conflict, and ordinary people whose lives were ripped asunder—or worse—because of their public opposition. There’s no Dowager Countess—but the truth ends up more captivating than any fiction.—Helene Ragovin, Senior Writer/Editor, Tufts Dental Medicine magazine

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes and Why, by Amanda Ripley. This book discusses human instincts before, during and after disasters and dispels common myths through interviews with disaster survivors. A great read.—Matthew Hart, continuity planning specialist, Public Safety

The Viking Book of Aphorisms, edited by W.H. Auden and Louis Kronenberger. Yes, aphorisms. If the mention of Bartlett’s Quotations makes you think of Roget’s Thesaurus, this volume could well prove to be an unexpectedly entertaining antidote. Among the bon mots collected within are words of piquant wit and bracing brevity, many mined from less familiar sources. Romanian writer E.M. Cioran, for example: “A philosophical fashion catches on like a gastronomical fashion: one can no more refute an idea than a sauce.” Admittedly, I was pleased to see a number of entries attributed to French cultural icon and a personal favorite of mine, Paul Valery (“Consciousness reigns but doesn’t govern”). You’re sure to be edified and delighted by the quips here, so be prepared for the pleasurable addiction of dipping in whenever you need a brain snack.—Fred Kalil, marketing communications manager, University Relations

The Warriors series, by Erin Hunter. This series was recommended to me by my granddaughter. While geared to ages 10 and up, I fully enjoyed them. This is Game of Thrones for cats. Intrigue, murder, plotting, clan treachery, illicit love, heroes, villains, prophecies, ancient rituals, ancestral ghosts and magic—it has it all. People are two-legs, roads are thunderpaths, cars are monsters and the veterinarian is the cutter. (After his 6th moon, his two-leg took him to the cutter, and he was never the same again.) Start with Book 1: Into the Wild.—Jerold S. Bell, clinical associate professor of genetics, Cummings School

White Papers, by Martha Collins. In this gripping poetic sequence, Collins examines the complexity of racism in America. Her poems allude to slavery in New England, a lynching in a small town in Illinois, segregation, miscegenation and even the presidential election of 2008. Collins’ fierce investigations of race derive much of their power from her research in a variety of archives. Collins uses her personal reading, interviews with and found materials from family members and official archival documents to capture the past and retool it for her own uses. As a result, her poems create a dynamic reading experience that fuses the personal with the historical. Formally, too, Collins knows how to create poems that are full of tension and urgency. Consider this first stanza from the first poem of the book, simply titled “[1]” (all of the poems in the collection are numbered). This poem functions as a series of answers to the implied question, Why write these poems in the first place?:

Because my father said Yes
but not in our lifetimes Because
My mother said I know my daughter
Would never want to marry…

Collins uses patterns of repetition, refrains from using conventional punctuation and relies on incomplete sentences to create gaps in which readers are compelled to imagine how they would complete the sentences. After several stanzas like this, the final stanza arrives at the poetic speaker herself:

Because a few years after Brown
v. Board of Education I wrote a paper
that took the position Yes but not yet

From the opening lines of the book, then, Collins implicates herself and shows a powerful urge to examine the residue of racism that influences every aspect of American life.—Joanne Diaz, J94, assistant professor of English, Illinois Wesleyan University

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