Members of the Tufts community share their favorite works of fiction and nonfiction—classics, hidden gems, and recent releases
As summer starts, we ask members of the Tufts community to tell us about books that they’ve read recently and recommend to others. The responses are always filled with surprises, forming a cornucopia of many genres that is guaranteed to appeal to readers of all stripes and ages.
This year’s offerings are as extensive and eclectic as ever, with fiction from YA to War and Peace. We have stories centered on the struggles of queer Asian immigrants and Plymouth survivors, sci-fi and other tales from the future, mysteries current and classic, and even Ulysses on its centenary.
For the nonfiction fans, we cover everyone from Transcendentalists to George Washington, Carl Bernstein as a cub reporter to writers who grew up in Liberia and Burma. Other offerings explore the value of therapy, insights into complex PTSD, post-Cold War stalemates, and the enduring necessity of love.
Dive in and enjoy. And for faculty, staff, and students, don’t forget that many of these books are available at the Tufts libraries.
If you have other suggestions for summer reading, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll post an update.
Afterparties, by Anthony Veasna So. For a good part of the past two years, I have only been able to read books of short stories or essays, since I could pick them up and return to them after long periods. I thought that Afterparties would be no different, but I was wrong. This posthumously published collection of stories by Anthony Veasna So explores the nuances of queerness, growing up as a child of refugees, and Cambodian American identity. Afterparties captures what many first- and second-generation immigrants experience, trying to make sense of this country that does not want to claim them. Additionally, the exploration of queerness through many of the stories provides a snapshot of what it means to be a queer Asian American. Of all the stories in the collection, “Human Development” captured a slice of queer relationships that felt current yet timeless. This book serves as a great memory to an author who we lost too soon. —Aaron James Parayno, director, Asian American Center
Beheld, by TaraShea Nesbit. The further you read into this elegantly written, perfectly paced novel set in the early days of the Plymouth colony, the more complex and engaging the characters become. But the main character here is the Plymouth settlement itself: a complex collection of individual hopes, dreams, losses, regrets, grudges, and wills, all chafing against each other as the settlers share the common goal of survival. The story revolves around the murder of one colonist by another, based on a real historical event. If your ideas about the Plymouth settlers still rely to any extent on grade-school tales of the Mayflower, the first Thanksgiving, and a famous rock, you will gain an entirely new perspective. Most notably, the population of Plymouth included not only the religious separatists who we know as Pilgrims or Puritans, but an assortment of people discontented with their lot in England for reasons other than religion. Many signed on as indentured servants, who eventually completed their terms of service and acquired landowner status themselves. The resulting tension sets the events of this story in motion, and converts Plymouth into a dynamic, living, and intriguing community, rather than the storybook version we once learned about. —Helene Ragovin, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing
Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr. All the members of my book group found this novel initially confusing as we were introduced to its five parallel stories: Konstance, a teenage girl on a space station some sixty years in the future, who is part of a crew whose mission is to colonize a new planet; Zeno, an old man living in contemporary Idaho who is directing children in a play in the local library; Seymour, a young autistic man living in a trailer in the same town in Idaho whose closest companion is an owl; Anna, a young orphan living in 15th century Constantinople; and Omeir, a contemporary of Anna, a young boy with a severe hare lip, living in a village in what is now Bulgaria. Adding to our confusion was this persistent reference to a fragmentary ancient Greek text that begins “Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you.” Indeed, Cloud Cuckoo Land will amaze you as these stories develop—and it’s not really a spoiler to tell you that the stories are not, in fact, parallel since eventually they intersect. Ultimately, all the guys in my book group found this novel a very rewarding and satisfying read—and if you can’t believe the opinions of five old tennis players, then who can you trust? —Michael W. Klein, Wm. L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs, Fletcher School
Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr. Believe it or not, as Doerr proves in this novel, it is possible to take a fable from ancient Greece about a shepherd who turns into a donkey and a bird in search of a mythical paradise and use that fable to knit together—in a truly compelling fashion—the stories of an 86-year-old amateur translator, a would-be assassin, a 13-year-old seamstress from a sweatshop in Constantinople, a young farmhand drafted into the Ottoman army, and a teenage girl hurtling through space a century from now. I am still thinking about the plot twist months after enjoying this memorable read. If you liked Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, so will you enjoy this masterful follow-up with a similarly epic sweep. —Dave Nuscher, Executive Director, Content and Planning, University Communications and Marketing
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Enthralling sci-fi, this book is a dystopian tale in which firefighters don’t put out fires and save people, but burn books, part of a culture aimed at combating critical and autonomous thinking. The book carries strong social criticism regarding authoritarianism and repulsion to knowledge. The narrative follows the trajectory of Guy Montag, a firefighter whose job is to burn books. He is part of a corporation of state agents who watch, inspect, and destroy books, which are seen as harmful. The book is divided into three parts: the first shows Montag’s routine and thoughts; the second charts his change in perspective; and the third gives us an idea of who Montag will be in the future. I read this book in 2021 and it became one of my favorites. It portrays censorship in a very subtle way, making us think about how this book remains current, nearly 70 years after it was first published. It shows how books have the power of social transformation. Fahrenheit 451 makes us think about life and our reality. If you are new to dystopian fiction, I recommend you start by reading Fahrenheit 451. —Victória Costa, prospective student, Class of 2027
Hotel World, by Ali Smith. This remarkable novel, published in 2001, was a Man Booker Prize finalist. It comprises five linked sections, each centered on a character related to the others either by the location (the Global Hotel) or by the event that sets the novel in motion: the death of a young woman in a tragic accident at the hotel. Focusing on five very different characters allows the author to adopt a different narrative voice for each section. For example, the section on the hotel’s receptionist, who has been disabled by an unknown illness, is written for the most part in the present tense in a way that makes the narrator as mysterious as the receptionist’s affliction. The section detailing the deceased woman’s sister’s attempts to deal with the tragedy is pure stream of consciousness, an interior monologue very difficult to follow, and thus, very realistic. But the beauty of this book lies in its honestly presented depiction of heartbreak; of loss and its echoing effect on those not only in the immediate circle of family and friends of the victim, but also among the peripheral circle of co-workers and acquaintances. The final section, an epilogue and summing up, is as poetic a rendering of mundane yet deeply human events as I have ever read. This chapter’s ghosts return daily to their homes and neighborhoods to repeat one message: “Remember You Must Live.” —Edmund Dente, A71, retired director, Tufts Language Media Center
The King of Lies, by John Hart. This thriller is narrated by the main character, Jackson Workman Pickens, fondly known as “Work.” Like his father, Ezra, Work became an attorney. The two shared a law firm and Work found himself living in his father’s shadows. When Ezra Pickens is found murdered after being seen last by his children, Work and his sister Jean, Work quickly becomes the prime suspect. With the district attorney and the lead detective on the case trying to build their case against Work rapidly, he must work fast to uncover the truth, as evidence is building quickly against him. This book is provocative, it tugs at the heart, and it is a page-turner from the beginning to the end. Work must prove that he did not kill his father, and while doing so, he uncovers many secrets that will change his life forever. —Yolanda Smith, executive director of public safely
Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. The eighth novel by Ishiguro, this masterpiece brings human failings and fragilities to the center of attention through the eyes of teens and their parents, a vision of Klara—an AF or Artificial Friend—and those who support and resist the capabilities of emerging technologies. Klara and the Sun is a journey of questioning whether we are ready to accept a man-made being capable of feeling, thinking, and decision-making to our world. Ishiguro is bringing again big existential conundrums on how we deal with societal superiority, loneliness in the overpopulated crowds, trust with uncomplete understanding, and the finite nature of life for humans and their creations. As I read news about AI consciousness claims, deepfakes, software amplifying conspiracy theories, and robots rendering people “postemployed,” the Ishiguro’s story of the near future feels quite real. With the anguish of obsolete, this magical book calls to be alive, present, humble, and sensible. —Elena N. Naumova, professor and chair, Division of the Nutrition Epidemiology and Data Science, Friedman School
Last Exit, by Max Gladstone. Do you remember those hot summer nights of your childhood? As a small child, were you, like me, popped into the car after a bath and, as the long, hot day crept into night, were you treated to a ride on the Pike, windows down? Anything to get the kids to sleep. And as a teenager, did those hot summer nights evolve into a strange, new restlessness to get into the car and just drive, didn’t matter where? Then one year, as the summer turned to fall, perhaps you went to college or university and there, for the first time, found your people? Local author Max Gladstone (The Craft Sequence, This is How You Lose the Time War, with Amal El-Mohtar) remembers and has spun a tale that takes you back and takes you forward into strange and sometimes terrifying possibilities as his heroes return to the road in a story of complications—friendship, love, probability, the soul of America, and the end of all things. Composed by a writer at the top of his craft, Last Exit is a gripping and timely work, perfect for a hot summer night when the restlessness hits and the road is calling. Don’t miss it. —Pamela S. M. Hopkins, public services and outreach archivist, Digital Collections and Archives
The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven, by Nathanial Ian Miller. The premise of this debut novel is simple: Sven Ormson grows up in Sweden around the turn of the 19th century, but dreams of Arctic explorations, following in the footsteps of adventurers in the frozen north. He ends up working in a mining camp in Svalbard, an archipelago near the Arctic circle. It’s a dark and hellish life, and a mining cave-in leaves him badly disfigured. With a small financial settlement, and help from a Scottish mining engineer, he finds an isolated cove on Spitsbergen, and builds a life for himself, not exactly a hermit, but facing the elements in a way that most of us certainly couldn’t. His tales of daily life take on a magnetic power, as the months turn to years, and he recounts his interactions with a taciturn Finnish trapper and trader; his wild young niece, escaping to the wilds to hide her pregnancy; and other Arctic misfits. Misfit an apt word, and not pejorative: Sven and his compatriots simply don’t fit in mainstream society, and are lucky to be living in the remote north, free to be themselves. The narrative that Miller builds is always compelling; I’ve become a very picky fiction reader, and Miller kept me turning the pages to the very end. — Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
The Morning Star, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Knausgaard is best known for his six-volume autobiographical work My Struggle, which established him as the Proust of Norway because of his ability to make the day-to-day seem incandescently significant. In Morning Star, he gives us this same attention to detail, but played out in a very different fictional world. The novel depicts the lives of a handful of characters whom Knausgaard assigns to their own chapter or chapters, with very little intersection between them. But all of them are living in what seems to be an apocalyptic moment, which they seem largely unaware of except as it is manifested in a heat wave that has brought a small Norwegian town nearly to its knees and a large star that suddenly appears. Traditionally, the morning star—Venus when it shows itself just before dawn—was called Lucifer, and the events that unfold at the edges of the characters’ consciousness are nothing short of satanic. To say anything further would be a spoiler, so suffice it to say the book is gripping both as a piece of subliminal science fiction and as an anatomy of a set of very compelling characters. —Kevin Dunn, vice provost for faculty affairs
Mouth to Mouth, by Antoine Wilson. Over the course of a long layover at JFK, Jeff Cook tells his increasingly dark story to our unnamed narrator, a failing mid-list writer. Jeff, who vaguely knew the narrator back at UCLA 20 years earlier, has clearly made it: he’s wealthy and self-assured. In this novel that brings to mind Patricia Highsmith, he tells how, just out of college, he was on the Santa Monica beach very early one morning, spied a man in the surf not moving, dragged him to shore, and resuscitated him, more on automatic pilot than out of heroic intention. Soon he tracks the man down, almost stalking him. He wants to know, was this a life worth saving? The answer isn’t clear. The man is Francis Arsenault, a high-end Beverley Hills art dealer. Soon Jeff takes a low-level job at his art gallery—spying on Arsenault, and finds him a less than savory character, skimming money here, badly treating people there. As Jeff insinuates himself into Arsenault’s inner circle, his motives become murkier, for him and for us, following along. This short novel is quickly paced, very cleverly plotted, and smoothly written—the perfect escape. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend. Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, doomed to die at midnight on her 11th birthday and blamed for everything bad that happens in her town. Yet when the fated night arrives, Morrigan is rescued by a strange man and swept away to a hidden realm and the magical city of Nevermoor, where umbrellas are used for public transit and Wunimals (anthropomorphic animals) live and work among humans. There she learns that her chance of surviving depends on passing a series of increasingly difficult tests and gaining admission to the prestigious and mysterious Wundrous Society. This whimsical book helped me to rediscover my love of reading, after being so frustrated by another book that I couldn’t bring myself to read anything at all for several weeks. I wanted something that would recapture the joy of reading that I felt as a child, and Nevermoor did just that. It’s a middle grade book, and I think kids would love it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great for adults, too. I recommend this for anyone who looking to escape to a magical world without the intensity found in many adult fantasy novels. It’s the first book in a series—three books so far, with the fourth coming out later this year—and I found the other books to be equally enjoyable. —Hannah Macfarlane, communications specialist, Office for Technology Transfer & Industry Collaboration
Recipe for Disaster, by Aimee Lucido. As the parent of a sensitive middle grade reader, I’m always looking for YA fiction that tackles tough topics gently. Aimee Lucido’s second novel does exactly that, bringing prose, poetry, and recipes together into a deliciously literary exploration of family and friendship, as well as the loss of both. Twelve-year-old Hannah Malfa-Adler shares a passion for baking with her brother and grandmother, calls herself “Jew…ish,” and doesn’t think much about what that means until her best friend’s bat mitzvah leaves her feeling left out and left behind. What begins as Hannah’s desire to have her own big party with lots of presents evolves into a nuanced journey to understand her own identity, what it means to be Jewish, and who gets to decide. As she unearths family secrets and faces conflict with her closest friends, Hannah and those around her begin to figure out what’s really required for forgiveness and reconciliation. Lucido crafts each character (and recipe) with care. The result is a nourishing read about connection that achieves sweetness without becoming saccharine. —Lauren Bellon, internal communications writer and project manager, University Communications and Marketing
The Scar, by China Miéville. Technically, The Scar is a sequel to Miéville’s better-known Perdido Street Station, but you don’t need to read the latter to enjoy the former. It’s an action-packed high-seas adventure, an espionage thriller, and a righteous socialist tract, all rolled into one and served with a hefty side of horror and quantum mechanics. Bellis Coldwine, a linguist on the run after an ex-boyfriend becomes a political pariah in their home city of New Crobuzon, sets sail on a ship to the colony of Nova Esperium. Shortly into her journey, however, her vessel is hijacked by Armada, a floating pirate city powered by sails, tugboats, and its own complicated mesh of politics. As the city sails in search of a mysterious anomaly known as the Scar, Bellis must contend with unimagined dangers and her own conflicting desires to survive. The Scar is brimming with fantastical world-building, featuring islands populated by mosquito-people, sea monsters in the form of interdimensional amoebas, and men slowly turning into fish. Beneath the uncanny trappings, however, it’s an exploration of how individuals survive when faced with the crush of indifferent systems and the cruelty inflicted by charismatic leaders. Just like the mysterious individuals into whose world Bellis is drawn, The Scar is something different, and richer, than what it initially seems. —Alexandra Israel, event planner and marketing specialist, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. Have you ever had a book recommended to you so many times by so many different people that you felt compelled to read it despite your indifference? Enter Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. Having read The Iliad in high school, I was familiar with many of the themes, characters, and storylines about which Miller centers her novel. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by how fresh the story was, despite its having been chronicled for some 3,000 years. Patroclus—exiled prince, lover of the famed Achilles, and the book’s trusted narrator—grows up in the shadow of Achilles as his polar opposite, yet the two form an unlikely companionship that challenges both themselves and those around them, gods and mortals alike. When Helen of Sparta is kidnapped, and Greek armies are summoned to attack Troy and win her back, Achilles joins the effort, willfully choosing to cut his life short to secure an unparalleled destiny. Patroclus is no soldier and detests the destruction that the Trojan War is sure to bring, but he is unwilling to be separated from Achilles and follows him to Troy. Brutal and long, the war tests what they know of each other and everything they’ve learned as they hurtle toward a fate they cannot avoid. This book is many things all at once: a coming-of-age tale, a poignant love story, an internal battle between fate and free will, and a power struggle between gods and men. But perhaps most impressive is Miller’s ability to not only make a Homeric tale undeniably human, but to tell it with surprising suspense despite its familiar conclusion. If you like this book, I also recommend Miller’s second novel, Circe, which was eloquently described by Robin Smyton, A09, in Tufts Now’s 2019 recommended summer reading piece. —Jess Byrnes, A12, program manager, Tisch College of Civic Life
Summer of ’69, by Elin Hilderbrand. Most years the Levin family looked forward to summers on Nantucket at their grandmother’s place. But this year, the summer of ’69, was just different. Four siblings at different stages in life all going in different directions. The oldest, Blair, pregnant with twins, is stuck in Boston, and struggling in her marriage. The middle sister, Kirby, is taking a job on Martha’s Vineyard as she tries to spread her wings to be independent. She is the free spirit, is focused on social causes. The only son, Tiger, is a soldier in Vietnam, and the favorite of everyone—especially his mother. That leaves the youngest, 13-year-old Jesse, stuck on Nantucket with her mother and grandmother. She also is yearning for some independence and a boyfriend of her own, but finds it difficult being with her grandmother and mother all the time. The summer unfolds, bringing plenty of drama and intrigue in the world—Chappaquiddick and a man on the moon—and at home, as old family stories come to light. I really enjoyed this book and didn’t want it to end. It took me back to a time when I was very young, but made me think about what it was like for families like the Levin’s, what it was like in that era, and as some might say “the best days of their lives.” —Christine Fitzgerald, manager of marketing and communications, Tufts Technology Services
There, There, by Tommy Orange. In his debut, Tommy Orange, a Cheyenne and Arapaho author, has written a very real and complex novel. Interestingly, the title of this book comes both from the Radiohead song of the same name and Oakland, California native Gertrude Stein. The story is told through vignettes that explore a group of 12 loosely connected Native individuals living in Oakland. Though the battles Native communities have historically fought, like access to equitable wealth building, quality health care, and educational opportunities, have remained omnipresent, watching these struggles through the lens of Orange’s storytelling leading up to a powwow in Oakland proves a prescient and powerful reminder of the social justice and public health turmoil beholden to this community. It’s all the more painful and powerful when layered throughout the book, especially as the reader gets to know more intimately each character through their narration. They range in age from young teenager to elder leader and each shares their experience in discovering their passions, their spiritual identity, and their history as members of the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota tribes. The third part of the book begins with James Baldwin’s quote, “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” This quote perfectly encapsulates this almost inevitable cycle of destruction these characters are in, but also how lives, communities, and entire cultures hang in the balance. Orange’s characters and storytelling evoked in me an extreme range of emotion. At points I was hopeful and empathetic, but that quickly morphed into heart-sinking disappointment and rage. An emotional journey, this national bestseller American Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist is a beautifully written and worthwhile read. —Heather Gasper, executive director, Office of the Dean of the School of Medicine and Chief Academic Officer of Wellforce
This Time Tomorrow, by Emma Straub. Straub weaves whimsy and wisdom into her latest novel, set in the fall on New York City’s Upper West Side in both 2022 and 1996. It follows 40-year-old Alice, a school administrator at her alma mater, as she ponders her place in the world in the days leading up to her 40th birthday. On the eve of her birthday, her best friend leaves a celebration dinner early and Alice is left to celebrate on her own, having a few too many complementary shots at a subterranean bar and sleeping in her father’s neighborhood shed. When she wakes up, she’s in her childhood bedroom—and 16-year-old body. Alice relives her 16th birthday and tries to get back to her regular life. At its core, This Time Tomorrow is a look at how life, family, and how the choices we make—large and small—can shape who we become. —Emily Wright Brognano, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing
Ulysses, by James Joyce. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses, which is widely regarded as one of the most influential novels of all time. Unfortunately, many people are put off my Ulysses’ reputation and mistakenly feel that it is far too complicated for them to understand. Now, don’t get me wrong—Ulysses can be read in a detailed way and there are parts if it that I am still trying to figure out. However, the better way to look at Ulysses is that it is a complex book that is pretty simple. It is essentially the story of one man: Leopold Bloom and all that happens to him on June 16, 1904. Bloom is in so many ways the everyman of the 20th century. He is a middle-aged advertising salesman trying to fit into an increasingly modern and complex world. Bloom worries about his wife’s fidelity, his daughter’s budding career, and mourns his dead son. Like most of our days, nothing goes exactly as Bloom had planned on June 16th. For example, he forgets the key to his house, he manages to get hit in the eye by an opening door, and his name gets misprinted in the newspaper. The other great character in Ulysses is the city of Dublin. Though Joyce was to leave Ireland very young and never return, he managed to take a big part of Dublin with him. Ulysses is a vivid and often lyrical portrait of Dublin. My recommendation is for those of you who have not read Ulysses is to pick up a copy (or an audiobook) and start following Bloom as he starts his day. My guess is that you will find his day is a lot like yours and mine. —Martin Burns, A81, manager, political intelligence, campaign strategy, AARP Campaigns
War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, and Tolstoy Together: 85 Days of War and Peace with Yiyun Li. I stumbled upon novelist Yiyun Li’s book, which is based on an early pandemic online reading group she led on War and Peace, and it inspired me to buy the classic and give it a go. I read 14 to 20 pages every evening for 85 days, plus two to four pages from Li’s book, commenting on that day’s reading. It felt like being in a book group, minus the chitchat and snacks. Tolstoy is a remarkable writer, with deep psychological insight, so deft in describing people and places, conflict and, more fleetingly, happiness. We begin in 1805, in high society in Moscow and St. Petersburg, getting to know princesses, counts, and countesses, servants and serfs. We follow the main characters—Natasha, Andrey, Nikolay, Pierre, Marya—who became like family to me. Every bit player—and they are legion—is described with deft care; I remember the most incidental characters because Tolstoy describes them with such insightful particularity.
Tolstoy cleverly places these players in the midst of all the action in Russia early in the reign of Alexander I, as Russia first faces off with Napoleon’s army in Austerlitz, and later as Napoleon invades Russia and takes Moscow in 1812. Even Bonaparte is a character in War and Peace—which makes sense, given the centrality of war to Russia and the Russian psyche. To be honest, the life stories of the main characters were almost always more engrossing than the many battles and commentaries on the march of history, but it is all of a piece, and gives tremendous insight into Russia and its culture of grievance and aggression. Late in the novel Tolstoy starts monologuing about philosophy, but we forgive him, given all the astounding stories he has told. War and Peace is a doorstopper for sure, but worth almost every one of its 1,358 pages in the Anthony Briggs translation I read. (That translation seemed very good, though with one downside: all the serfs talk with Cockney accents.) Yiyun Li’s guide was the perfect accompaniment; it helped hugely to more fully appreciate Tolstoy’s accomplishment. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens. This is one of those rare books that kept me up way too late on a weeknight telling myself, “I’ll read just one more chapter.” The novel intertwines a murder investigation in coastal North Carolina with a coming-of-age story of an adolescent girl named Kya who navigates family, relationships, and finding her place in the world, doing so in part by observing the behavior of the marsh animals that keep her company. When Kya, a social outcast dubbed by townsfolk as “the marsh girl,” is accused of murdering a popular young man and former lover, many of the town’s residents rush to condemn her. Aided by a few close friends and an experienced lawyer bent on pursuing justice, Kya’s trial forces the town (and the reader!) to face their prejudices and examine how social norms affect our relationship with nature. It took a few chapters for me to realize that in addition to an engrossing story, author Delia Owens has also tactfully weaved an environmentalist novel. —Jennifer Reilly, communications specialist, Office of Sustainability
Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, by Agatha Christie. The six most popular surnames in Wales are Jones, Davies, Williams, Evans, Thomas, and Roberts. Knowing this may not increase your popularity at cocktail parties, but is useful background for reading Agatha Christie’s Why Didn't They Ask Evans? It is perfect summer reading, starting on the cliffs of Wales and leading the reader through romance and intrigue as well as complicated family relationships. A television miniseries based on it just came out. One of my children, an avid reader, used to get very excited when books he liked were made into movies, and then disappointed when the plot and characters were altered. Unlike many of the other Agatha Christie novels made into movies, I highly recommend the miniseries for the entertainment value, gorgeous settings, and the relative accuracy. Read the book first, though, and if you can’t easily find it under this name, the same book is also published under The Boomerang Clue. —Lisa Gualtieri, associate professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, School of Medicine
Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom, by Carl Bernstein. When he was 16, Bernstein signed on to be a copyboy for the Evening Star, Washington, DC’s afternoon newspaper. School didn’t interest him in the least, and his grades proved it, but he came alive in the newsroom of what was then the best paper in town. In this pitch-perfect memoir, Bernstein recounts his time at the paper from 1959 to 1965, painful and eventful years for the nation and the city. He evokes the rough and tumble of the newsroom, and the hard-drinking and hard-driving life that the men—and a few women, like the Pulitzer Prize winner Mary McGrory—led, always in pursuit of the story. Bernstein was born in DC, and lived there until he was about 10, and then moved to nearby Silver Spring, Maryland. I grew up in DC almost two decades later, but the city he evokes was mostly mine as a kid, too, and reading his tales of local shops and personalities exactly jibes with my memories, and became a nostalgia trip. Bernstein deftly creates portraits of the writers and editors at the Evening Star, some of whom went on to illustrious careers (David Broder, Haynes Johnson, and Lance Murrow, for example, and of course Bernstein himself). City editor Sid Epstein always referred to Bernstein as he did in his first days as a copyboy—“Hey, kid”—and it becomes a term of endearment. Bernstein gets his toes wet writing up local meetings, graduating to school boards, and then being a legman—reporting incidental details of big events that he passes along to the re-write man. Before he was 20, he had front page, bylined stories, and focused on the civil rights struggle happening in Maryland and DC, and the country at large. He manages to graduate from high school by the thinnest of margins, goes to college, and happily flunks out. His school is the newsroom, and it’s the education of a lifetime. Of his time at the Washington Post, and partnership with Bob Woodward bringing down a crooked president, there’s barely a mention; this is a love letter to the Evening Star and newspapering, the things that made Bernstein who he became. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
Designing Your Work Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evens. I bought this book on the recommendation of a friend, and I have to say it has been very insightful. This book gives you ideas and tips to keep you engaged in your job. This is not a book that you need to read from start to finish. I have found it most helpful to skip around and read the topics that relate most to you and your current situation. The purpose of the book is to help you find a way to give more purpose, meaning and joy to your job. It helps you to rethink your job and use design thinking to transform your present role and your experience of work in general by utilizing the “designer mindset” outlined in the book. The designer mindset consists of curiosity, reframing, radical collaboration, awareness, prototyping, and storytelling. The book helps you reframe your thinking about work. There are great, clear examples of how to apply the mindset. It also contains thought-provoking questions about work and short, simple activities to help you identify areas of your job that keep you engaged and how to make the not-so-fun parts of your job more tolerable. You can be happy in your present job and create a better work environment and work life with the tips in this book. —Laura Woz, senior human resources business partner
The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood, by Helene Cooper. In my role at New Entry, we provide agricultural support and training to immigrants and refugees with farming backgrounds; most hail from Africa and Southeast Asia. In 2005, we hired a Liberian farmer, Suliman Kamara, as our food hub manager. I got to know Suliman well before he left New Entry in 2008 to return to Liberia. I see him each year when he returns to Worcester to visit his family, and I had the opportunity to visit his village and meet the farmers he is training in Liberia in 2016 during my Eisenhower Fellowship to Africa. It was striking seeing this formerly war-torn country, hearing first-hand stories of how it “used to be” when Suliman was growing up as a young professional, and learn about the challenging history and politics of the country first hand. When I came across Helene Cooper’s memoir, The House at Sugar Beach, I was captivated by her experience growing up “Congo class” (as an “elite”), attending private schools, befriending a “country” girl who became her companion, and then losing it all in a series of devastating and horrific civil wars. The book brought to life her lost African childhood, the complexity of the relationships she left behind, and her experience adapting to life in the U.S. and reconciling her past. This memoir provided me with a deeper appreciation for my friend Suliman’s asylum-seeking experience and I learned even more about Liberia’s intense history and what it was like to live through a violent coup d’état. Helene’s narrative provided a personal and self-reflective insight into the experience refugees face when losing their way of life and forging a new identity in a new land. Cooper, a seasoned journalist, tells her story in an engaging and educational way. Reading it, I have a greater appreciation for my friend Suliman’s lived experience and learned a great deal about Liberia—a little known country in Africa with deep ties to the United States. —Jennifer Hashley, G05, director, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project at the Friedman School
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, by Lori Gottlieb. Don’t let the tissue box on the front cover fool you: Gottlieb’s memoir will have you laughing—and OK, maybe crying a little bit—as she invites you to examine what it means to be human. Gottlieb is a psychotherapist based in Los Angeles whose patients are looking for answers, and fixes, to life’s problems. Some are experiencing the unthinkable—a terminal illness diagnosis on a honeymoon—while others appear to be struggling with more common maladies: breakups, loneliness, frustration, anger, grief. But through their stories it becomes clear that we are all connected in our experience of life, in our innate humanness. Through her own vulnerability, Gottlieb opens the door to life while recounting stories of struggle and growth through the patients in her practice, and through her own experience working through life’s surprises with a therapist of her own. You Should Talk to Someone will have laughing, crying, and self-examining all the while feeling a little more connected to those around you. I strongly recommend this to anyone looking for a thought-provoking book that tackles the question “How do we change?” with the answer “In relation to others.” —Shaye Ellard, alumni engagement assistant, Office of Alumni Engagement
Names for Light, by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint. I must admit that I went into reading this book a bit skeptical. It just didn’t seem too likely to me that a memoir written by someone in her very early 30s would be anything other than overly polemical or significantly self-indulgent. I’m glad to say that I was wrong. Very wrong. Names for Light is a wonderful, lyrical, mystical book. The author, born in Myanmar shortly after that country became Myanmar rather than Burma, weaves together her own story with those of her parents, her grandparents, her great-grandparents, and her country. Because the Bamars—the majority ethnic group in Myanmar—believe in reincarnation, magic, signs, and heavy-duty symbolism, the book is filled with explanations for things that most Westerners wouldn’t really fathom. Myint is convinced that she is her great-grandfather reincarnated, and provides us with all of the reasons she believes this. Most things that happen in life happen for a reason, she says, and often these are reasons that have a lot to do with a deep history of family, war, and oppression in Myanmar/Burma. I found myself increasingly drawn in by this book, which is printed with short passages on alternate sides of the page, making the experience of reading more like reading poetry or connected short stories than anything else. The ways in which these short passages are linked, connected, and inter-connected is compelling and integrative. Another device Myint uses, which would be awkward and superficial in the hands of a less-skilled writer, is writing in the third person when detailing her life in the more recent present (such as her time as an undergraduate at Brown, a visit she and her husband pay to the Mass MOCA, her Fulbright year in Madrid). I quickly realized that this allowed her the critical distance she needs to be able to comment on issues like the racism she’s experienced as an Asian person that most white people can’t define (“wait, you’re not Chinese?”) or the realizations she makes as a young adult about the ways in which her family’s legacies have shaped and formed her. This is a really unusual book in many ways, and a really good one. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development
Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate, by Mary E. Sarotte. Sometimes a history book lands at an opportune historical moment. Such is the case with Sarotte’s Not One Inch, which details the thorny history of NATO expansion, often seen as a root cause of U.S.-Russian estrangement and even the war in Ukraine, which began a few months after the book’s publication. The title comes from a hypothetical offer by U.S. Secretary of State James Baker to Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990. Baker sought to gauge whether the USSR would accept a united Germany if NATO shifted “not one inch” eastward. This speculation has since been recast as a promise by Vladimir Putin, but it shows just how monumental the changes and therefore the challenges were with the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and then the USSR in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sarotte expertly ranges around European capitals, Moscow, and Washington showing how a generation of leaders sought to come to some kind of condominium that would sustain a new order. She sees a missed opportunity for the 1990s “Partnership for Peace,” which could have included Russia and a wary set of Eastern European states outside the firm security architecture of NATO in a looser but still cooperative agreement. This fell apart under pressure for NATO expansion and the march of world events, including Russia’s ferocity in Chechnya and the apprehension that stirred in countries recently under its thumb. These latter concerns get less play than the shortcomings of some policymakers, particularly those in the Clinton administration, and the narrative halts around 2000, so the missteps by Bush, Obama, and Putin are not part of the story. Nevertheless, this rich and adroit history provides excellent introduction to a period born of optimism that became a foundation for our pessimistic present. —David Ekbladh, associate professor, Department of History
The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias, by Dolly Chugh. Do you want to learn more about the ways unconscious bias shapes our behaviors and attitudes? Do you want practical advice on gaining greater awareness of your biases and working to reduce the harm they may cause? If the answer is yes to each of those questions, The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias is the perfect read for you. Chugh, a Harvard-trained professor and researcher at New York University’s Stern School of Business, uses personal stories to explain terminology and provide concrete ways we can work to address our biases and create a kinder, more inclusive, and equitable world. —Tiffany House, associate director for diversity and inclusion education, health sciences campuses, Office of the Chief Diversity Officers
The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students, by Anthony Abraham Jack. With diversity in higher education a much-discussed topic today, The Privileged Poor presents an interesting perspective on the issue. Diversity is often focused on admissions numbers: what percentage of our newly admitted students qualify as diverse? Tony Jack argues that campus policies and established cultures lead to inequalities that disproportionately affect minority students. He studied students attending elite institutions, breaking them into three categories: Upper Income, Privileged Poor, and Double Disadvantaged, focusing primarily on the latter two groups. Privileged Poor are those students from lower-income families who attend wealthy private high schools, and thus have an early introduction to the world of the elite school. The Double Disadvantaged are those from low-income schools attending an elite institution for the first time. They are doubly disadvantaged as they must contend with a lack of disposable income while learning to navigate new worlds both academic and social. As Jack states, “admission is not the same as acceptance,” and institutions need to do a better job assimilating and integrating these students into the campus community. Told through interviews and stories of students attending an unknown elite institution named “Renowned University,” this qualitative study provides direct insight into the lives of the Privileged Poor and Double Disadvantaged, and how they successfully navigate their new world of higher education. —Daniel Volchok, associate dean, Graduate School Biomedical Science
South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon Line to Understand the Soul of a Nation, by Imani Perry. In South to America, Imani Perry, professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, argues that the history of the South is key to understanding the United States. By exploring the South’s history of slavery and racism, she argues that while popular culture often represents the South as uniquely racist, this idea allows the rest of the country to mischaracterize itself as pure. She shows how the South and racist ideas were influential to the development of the United States. This book is historical and deeply personal, as Perry, a Black woman originally from Alabama who moved north, travels home and throughout the South to reflect on what it means to be Black in the South. This is a beautifully written book, that will leave you with many questions to consider. —Ryan Rideau, associate director, Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching
To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss, and Radical Hope, by Jennifer Bailey, A09. An ordained African Methodist Episcopal Church minister, this distinguished Tufts alumna is a public theologian and a national leader in the multifaith movement for justice. We first met when Bailey came to campus as the keynote speaker at Tufts’ Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium. Four years later, I was grateful that she accepted my invitation amid COVID to preach via Zoom at a Protestant student worship service. A few months ago, I was delighted to come across her book, To My Beloveds, in Tisch Library. A collection of love letters to young activists and emerging faith leaders, the book addresses three spiritual questions: What is dying? What wants to emerge? And what is already blooming beautifully? Bailey begins by tenderly telling us about the power of love, resilience, and radical hope in the Black community, as embodied in the church mothers of her childhood, imperfect women who embodied the mystery of the Divine through joy and grit. She models strength, vulnerability, courage, and honesty, especially when she shares the painful experience of her mother’s fatal battle with cancer. Reflecting on death, Bailey wisely teaches us that, “if you are open, it can and will transform you for the better.” It’s a small volume, just over 100 pages, yet this book touches on many heartrending and critical topics, from suicide to the terrible losses of the pandemic, to raising a Black child in the face of white supremacy and finding communal ways to address our deep societal divisions. If we are open to these moving and powerful love letters, Bailey’s words will transform us and the world for the better. —Daniel Bell, Protestant chaplain, University Chaplaincy
The Transcendentalists and Their World, by Robert Gross. It’s a little hard to know how to briefly encapsulate a book so massive: 608 pages of text, another 228 of notes, 40 years in the making. In a lot of ways this book is remarkable. Gross paints a portrait of a community, Concord, Massachusetts, during the first part of the 19th century. Through careful analysis of property records, probate files, and tax lists, as well as letters, speeches, and newspaper articles, Gross weaves together a story of how this small agricultural community became a mecca for the famous writers and philosophers who flocked there and the Transcendentalist movement they helped to launch. But it’s not just a story of Emerson (who, it turns out, wasn’t as bold about decrying social wrongs as we’ve been led to believe) or Thoreau (whom Gross portrays as a true hero and believer of many ideals while shattering myths of his isolation at Walden Pond). Gross also tells the stories of Irish immigrants who lived in shanties around Walden Pond. They helped to keep the Concord farms going, and built the railroad line from Fitchburg to Boston that made Concord a more economically and socially viable town than it been. He also tells the story of Black families who escaped from slavery and attempted to carve out new lives in Concord. He recounts the lives of relatively unknown women like Mary Merrick Brooks, Elizabeth Sherman Hoar, and Mary Wilder, and of slightly more known women like Sophia Thoreau and Lidian Emerson, who were more responsible for igniting social reform movements like abolitionism, temperance, and Native American rights. There are fascinating details about Concord that, despite having lived in the next town over for three decades, I didn’t know. I didn’t realize all of the internecine class wars that went on in microcosm in early 19th-century Concord, or the very important role of the Lyceum movement in this town, or how Concord was one of the first places in Massachusetts—and in the United States—to have a school committee tasked with oversight of public education. Even while delineating in great detail political or economic issues that might be of interest only to those writing dissertations on such topics, there are gems that call your attention back—the development of the Concord grape, the way ice from Walden Pond became a major export. At its best, there are stories within this book that are quite riveting. And for those of us who love to read historical accounts, there are many of these stories. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development
Travels with George: In Search of Washington and His Legacy, by Nathaniel Philbrick. Ever since high school, my father and I have taken an annual trip to explore historical sites around the Eastern seaboard, often traveling to Civil War or Revolutionary War sites. With three young kids and the arrival of COVID, those trips have regrettably stopped these past few years. Nathaniel Philbrick’s excellent Travels with George allowed me to vicariously take those trips and experience sites I have yet to see. The book follows a road trip that the author, his wife, and dog took over two years following in the footsteps and carriage tracks of the nation’s first president as he used his fame and universal respect to help sew together the 13 colonies into one nation. Not the traditional hagiography of Washington, Philbrick points out the many inconsistencies and contradictions of Washington. His travelogue is also a book of its time, recounting conversations and strife that arose following the killing of George Floyd and how it affected many historical landmarks. The great thing about the book, was the reminder that so much of our nation’s history can be found a short car ride from campus. With stops at Sturbridge Village; Weston; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Providence; and Newport, Rhode Island, and many small towns and waysides where “Washington Slept Here,” the Travels with George is a reminder that our American history is not only very recent but very local. —Stephen Muzrall, senior director of development and alumni engagement, School of Dental Medicine
What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma, by Stephanie Foo. This is a moving, impeccably researched narrative of the author’s journey from diagnosis to acceptance of her CPTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Read no further if a true story of abuse isn’t for you. Foo was severely mistreated as a child by her parents, yet managed to become an adult with what appeared to be a life of successful jobs, friends, and relationships. But a feeling dogged her constantly—of not being enough, not being worthy of the good in her life, and not being able to confront the source of her harmful thought patterns. Once her therapist shares her CPTSD diagnosis, so much is revealed: what she had thought were personality traits were in fact responses to her past, asserting themselves in the present. She details her journey through therapists, treatments, conversations with her father, and investigation into her family’s immigrant experience and her own body. It’s neither fully memoir nor fully self-help book, but a beautiful weaving of story and research. I’d understand if you want something lighter for your summer read, but I can nearly guarantee you won’t regret following Foo’s story through to the hard-won end, when she learns to be softer with herself, and promises to keep persisting in her healing. —Nora K. Bond, program manager, University Chaplaincy