The Tufts community—faculty, staff, students, and alumni—offer a wide-ranging selection for your reading pleasure
Whether you prefer reading paperbacks or hardcovers, listening to audiobooks, or using Kindles, tablets, or phones, a good book is always a happy find. Whatever your preferred medium, we have you covered with our year-end recommendations from Tufts faculty, staff, students, and alumni.
This winter, the choices are wide-ranging, with fiction including thrillers, classics, sci-fi, magical realism, literary fiction, spy novels, and more. In nonfiction, the range is wide, too: a history of 9/11, memoirs (including a graphic memoir), American history, a French cookbook, books about love, and The Book of Hope, something we could all use.
We even have a surprising pairing—a review of Ruth Ozeki’s new novel The Book of Form and Emptiness and a review of Painting Enlightenment: Healing Visions of the Heart Sutra, the Mahayana Buddhist sutra being centrally concerned with, you guess it, form and emptiness.
Be sure to also check out the recommendations from a lively group of Tufts authors—faculty and alumni—in our Bookish series, as they chat about their own books, the ones they are reading, and the ones they keep going back to.
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 book recommendations to add to the list, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll post an update.
Almanac of the Dead, by Leslie Marmon Silko. Thankfully, Leslie Marmon Silko did not follow advice to “play it safe” with her sophomore novel after the success of her first foray into the genre, Ceremony (1977), which became a critical sensation and a foundation for Native American literary studies in the heyday of U.S. “multiculturalism.” After 10 years of writing in a spirit-fused solitude, she delivered Almanac of the Dead (1991): “I was the horse the Ancestors rode in on,” as she once quoted Zora Neale Hurston. This epic novel is all about the Americas; colonialism, Mother Earth; pain; land rights; greed; a rich panoply of contemporary characters; cosmic justice; those never-ever-dead Ancestors; and time as the cyclical living of all creatures in the universe. Silko has described it as her “763-page indictment for 500 years of theft, murder, pillage, and rape … slaughter …. slaughter … slaughter.” The novel in five major sections opens with a “Five Hundred Year” map before the official narrative begins with psychics, a mother desperately in search of a lost child, and rampant narco-trafficking. It explodes from there. Later, the narrative lists pages of African and Native revolts against slavery. Anchored in ancient Mayan codices, Almanac of the Dead repeats, “The Indian Wars have never ended in the Americas. Native Americans acknowledge no borders; they seek nothing less than the return of all tribal lands.” “The ancient prophecies also foretell the disappearance of all things European” here. With this novel, Silko herself foretold the much-celebrated rise of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, shocking literary readers in hindsight with a history unfolding before our very eyes. Almanac of the Dead is so grand that you can read much more about it in the short essays Silko collected in Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Live Today (1996). —Greg Thomas, associate professor, Department of English and Africana Studies Program
Anxious People, by Fredrick Backman. A group of strangers attend an open house when they find themselves in a hostage situation. One by one, we are let into the lives of each person, learning about their inner worlds—some so unlikeable you begin to root for the criminal. As police surround the building and tensions run high, the stories of the hostages turn heartbreaking. What first appears to be lighthearted tale had me in tears toward the end—and there’s an unforgettable twist. This novel asks us to lead with compassion and turn toward one another in times of doubt. Reading anything by Fredrick Backman is like catching up with an old friend at your favorite coffee shop. There is something so comforting and familiar in his prose and freeing in his artful examination of human nature. He is a master storyteller and I highly recommend any of his books. Many of his novels coincide or overlap with one another, so there is a great sense of community and knowing between the characters and readers. —Shanley Daly, events coordinator, Tisch College of Civic Life
The Book of Form and Emptiness, by Ruth Ozeki. Having a book be a character in its own book is a little meta, but that seems to be exactly part of the point in this 2021 novel. And maybe it’s not a surprise, really, because in addition to being a talented novelist (her 2013 A Tale for the Time Being was a finalist for the Booker Prize), Ozeki is also a Zen Buddhist priest. She’s also a filmmaker, which might help to explain the incredibly rich visual images she paints in words. The book, of course, is not the only character in this novel. There’s Kenji Oh, a jazz clarinetist and drug addict who dies in a humiliating accident before the story begins. He remains very much a part of the story, though, mourned and recounted by his wife, Annabelle, whose way of dealing with her grief is to hoard snow globes, craft projects from Michael’s, and newspaper clippings to such an extent that they threaten to overtake the Oh home and get them evicted. Kenji and Annabelle’s only child, Benny, a sensitive boy on the cusp of adolescence, cannot deal with his father’s death and his mother’s descent into consumerist chaos; he starts hearing the voices of the inanimate things that pile up all around him. Their collective voices are literally shouting in his ears, making Benny—and everyone else in his life—wonder and worry about his sanity. Benny’s journeys through a psychiatric hospital, high school, and the curiosities that might or might not be his own mind, lead him to come into contact with a host of memorable characters: “The Aleph,” a slightly older teen who is both a conceptual artist and a dumpster diver with whom Benny falls hopelessly in love; the Bottleman, an elderly man with no clear home who collects and dispenses bottles and is actually the most famous Slovenian poet; the library with its own host of clearly and bizarrely drawn denizens; and of course, the book itself, which alternates between speaking directly to Benny and to us, the audience. The Book of Form and Emptiness is an incredibly creative and engaging novel. It’s an extended parable about our collective love/hate relationship with consumerism and also magical realist fiction that often feels a bit surreal. Its poetic prose brings objects to life and endows animals with sagacity. It humbles us with the knowledge that there are things in this life we simply cannot truly understand. And, of course, there’s the book that infuses this book with a voice and life of its own. This is a 546-page read that will fly by, just like the avian seers within the novel. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development
The Book of Goose, by Yiyun Li. Best friends Agnès and Fabienne live in their own little world in the small French village of Saint Rémy in the 1950s. Fabienne is essentially feral, her mother dead, her father and brother drunks. She doesn’t go to school—she’s outdoors minding livestock, but she’s clever. Agnès narrates the novel we are reading from a distance in time, recalling how Fabienne dictated series of macabre stories to her (she had much better handwriting), and then showed them to the local postal clerk, a sad old man who saw the merit of the stories and pitched them to a Parisian book publisher. Fabienne decides that only Agnès should be the author, and suddenly the less articulate Agnès is thrust in the limelight, becoming a celebrity author not only in France but abroad, too, as a naif genius. It’s the ultimate imposter syndrome, except it also isn’t: Agnès is writing the book we are now reading. There are many layers of meaning here, about the roles we play, who we are with others, what we are meant to do. Likewise, there are endless ironies. Early on we learn that Fabienne has died in childbirth in her late 20s, while the book she dictated contained many stories of children dying young. The Book of Goose is a fast-moving tale—I read it in just a few days—but it lingered in my mind long after. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
Desert Star, by Michael Connelly. This is the latest Bosch story about solving cold cases using DNA testing and other technology not available at the time of the actual murders. For some of the cases Bosch is working on, both ones assigned to him and ones he is haunted by, there isn’t an easy answer but to keep investigating. In this compelling, highly engaging story, there is none of the romance that Bosch had in other books, but there is a mini-botany lesson. There is also a fascinating subtext of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The father of one of the murdered women died of COVID. To collect DNA, Bosch uses a face mask to disguise himself as he pretends to bus a table to collect a suspect’s coffee cup. On the one hand, these references were subtle and plausible, and the mask as a disguise was quite clever. On the other, I read for entertainment and part of me wants to immerse myself in this world of crime and detection and forget about the pandemic along with grading, course prep, and the rest of reality. While I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend the book, I wonder to what extent our daily reality cannot be escaped even when engaged in an escapist activity. —Lisa Gualtieri, associate professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine
Don’t Cry for Me, by Daniel Black. This novel is guaranteed to break your heart. It is composed of a series of letters from a father, Jacob Swinton, to his son Isaac when confronted with his own mortality. In recounting his life experiences as a Black man raised in the Jim Crow South, Jacob explains all the ways in which Isaac, who is gay, fell short in Jacob’s view of what makes a man. Jacob violently rejects the idea that a man can love another man. But from across the chasm that separates them, as death nears, Jacob reckons with the diverse forms that love can take. Though the author’s note makes clear—from the beginning, no spoilers here—that there will be no bridging the distance between them in the end, the result is at once a desperate plea for understanding and a compelling love letter from a father to his son. This is the best LGBTQ+ family story from the parent’s point of view I have read since Robb Foreman Dew’s The Family Heart. —Dave Nuscher, executive director, content and planning, University Communications and Marketing
The Hero of This Book, by Elizabeth McCracken. How do we remember those we love who have passed? In McCracken’s case, it’s by writing. This novel, framed as a memoir revolving around her recently deceased mother and a trip to London that brings back memories of being there with her, is a lesson in the possibilities and impossibilities of knowing another person. There’s more truth—more memoir—than fiction here, and I know, because McCracken’s mother was my boss and friend for more than two decades. She was truly remarkable. Well under five feet tall, walking with canes most of the time I knew her, and riding a motorized scooter in her later years, she was in fact indomitable. She used to say that “bodies are such a bother,” and hers was for her, but there was no challenge she backed away from, physical or otherwise. She had, as McCracken says, “weapons grade self confidence” and was immensely kind and smart. We see McCracken’s mother as a daughter, sister, wife, theater Ph.D., mother, boss—and we meet a fictionalized but also quite real McCracken, daughter and teacher, with her own strong views on life, just as her mother had. In an age of bloated books, there’s not a wasted word in this slender volume, which left me recalling many memories of my own, and will leave you, who will be meeting Natalie McCracken for the first time, marveling at the character she was. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron. Back in the day, my Tufts children’s literature professor told us that “the sign of a good book is that it is enjoyable at all ages.” That statement of fact has always remained with me. If you are looking for a heartwarming family read, why not come along and join the adventure of 10-year-old Lucky and her faithful dog as they navigate life and meaning in the remote desert of Hard Pan, California? Lucky lives with her guardian Brigitte, as her mom and dad are out of the picture. Will Lucky ever find the perfect mom? And can she be the perfect daughter? You’ll have to read her story to find out. The Higher Power of Lucky received the Newbery Medal, which is awarded each year for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children, in 2007. And if you are still on the fence after reading this brief review, know that P.D. Eastman’s classic book Are You My Mother? is part of Lucky’s story too. —David Bragg, senior IT client support specialist, Tufts Technology Services
Horse, by Geraldine Brooks. Rarely have I found an author who can develop characters so fully and authentically as Brooks, who is masterful in the historical fiction genre. I often want to flip to the author’s notes before I’m done to find out which parts are historically accurate and when I do, I am amazed to find out how much actually occurred and how she weaves them into her story. Horse is absolutely fascinating from beginning to end. The story, which centers on a thoroughbred racehorse from the 1850s named Lexington, is told from the viewpoints of four different narrators who span more than 150 years. The first narrator is Jarrett, Lexington’s groom, from whom we learn about Lexington’s racing days and the trials of enslaved Black people during that time and the early years after emancipation. This theme is further explored via another narrator, along with a focus on the importance of art as a historical record. I tore through this book the first time, and am now planning to read it again at a more leisurely pace and look forward to savoring Brooks’ incredible blending of the storylines between narrators as she moves the main story along. —Maria Conroy, associate director of stewardship and donor relations, University Advancement
How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water, by Angie Cruz. I was unable to stop reading this fabulous new book by the Dominican-American Angie Cruz. The book is structurally organized in 12 sections, each reflecting the 12 sessions of the senior workforce program that the protagonist Cara Romero participates in as she seeks employment, which will also extend her unemployment benefits for 12 more weeks. I was captured by the structure of the novel and mesmerized by Angie Cruz’s use of language. Like other contemporary Latine writers, Angie Cruz blends Spanish and English, but takes this further by mirroring, in English, the structure of the Spanish language which Cara uses. In fact, the title of the book refers to a common Spanish phrase, “no te ahogues en un vaso de agua.” The novel is sweet, sad, and funny, and you will end up loving Cara and her life in Washington Heights. It’s a tender reminder of the challenges immigrants face, as well of their tenacity and resilience. — Bárbara M. Brizuela, dean, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, professor of education
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. At its heart, Susanna Clarke’s novel is about the relationship between the title characters: Gilbert Norrell, a dour aristocrat, and the younger, flashier Jonathan Strange, two men with nothing in common but the fact they are the only two magicians in England. Clarke is an author of many and varied interests, and her masterpiece—set in an alternative 19th-century England where magic, once very real, has faded from the world—takes its time exploring a world’s worth of characters, themes, and ideas. Its 800 pages contain a magical version of the Napoleonic wars; a society wife and her husband’s Black butler under the sway of a dangerous fairy; a magician with a manuscript tattooed on his skin; and a mythological figure known only as the Raven King. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is part Austenian comedy of manners, part study of the complex relationship between its prickly leads, and part Arthurian fantasy. Clarke’s evocative, often hilarious prose will draw you in; her beautifully drawn characters and detailed world building will keep you hooked until the myriad plot threads draw together in a virtuosic climax. If you want to spend this winter immersed in magic, wonder, danger, and some of the best one-liners in literature, pick up Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. And, whatever you do, don’t skip the footnotes. —Alex Israel, event planner and marketing specialist, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. When you begin this book, it first appears as though you are reading a series of engaging but disparate short stories, set in different countries and inhabited by unrelated characters. However, as the text unfolds, it becomes apparent that what appeared to be separate tales are related, albeit by tenuous threads. Introduced and eventually intermingled are characters representing a wide swath of humanity, all grappling with similar life crises. Ultimately, as time moves on and events play out, the threads that bind the tales shorten, causing the people and stories to converge across generations. —Alice H. Lichtenstein, Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, Freidman School; director and senior scientist, Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts
Maggie Cassidy, by Jack Kerouac. Tucked in among my dad’s collection of Jack Kerouac novels, Maggie Cassidy called out to me from the bookshelf one night early in the quarantine—I had routinely overlooked it before. The Dharma Bums was the first in Kerouac’s catalogue I really grew to love, thanks to my dad who encountered an excerpt from it in a college English lit class and years later instituted a family tradition of reading it aloud every Christmas Eve. Maggie Cassidy focuses on Kerouac’s modest beginnings in the former mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, and portrays his relationship with real-life high school sweetheart, Mary Carney. Their tumultuous teenage romance radiates warmth and a brooding tenderness. Unlike many of Kerouac’s female characters in his other works, who are frustratingly limited and objectified (a major drawback of On the Road, despite its cult status and powerful lure of discovering America), Maggie is profoundly whole. She speaks her mind with great spirit and passion while grappling with love’s complexities. The story is also a poignant ode to the city where Kerouac grew up, especially its historically French-Canadian neighborhoods, which my dad, of French-Canadian descent himself, and I discovered this fall during a guided tour of Kerouac’s Lowell. Kerouac lovingly depicts his Québécois immigrant parents as hard-working and exuberant souls, if not also wearied by life’s many troubles. We see “Ti Jean” as a young, athletic high schooler struggling to get up at dawn in the freezing New England winter, then making his way through the bustling halls of Lowell High, palling around with raucous friends and finding sweet little notes from Maggie in class, and finally trudging back home through the snowy streets after track practice. Here is a refreshing version of Jack in contrast to his drunkenly manic incarnations in the later California novels. As this year marks the 100th anniversary of Kerouac’s birth in a simple duplex in Lowell, Maggie Cassidy, a poetic and moving hometown tribute, is a fitting read. —Julia Keith, program coordinator, International Center
My Monticello, by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson. Consisting of a novella and five short stories, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s remarkable debut work of fiction explores issue of race and gender in America. Startlingly clear-eyed, somewhat dystopian, and always sharply drawn, Johnson’s characters find themselves in situations that are ripped from the plethora of disturbing headlines that mark contemporary life. The two most riveting pieces of this book for me were the short story “Control Negro” and the title novella. “Control Negro” is a dark satire about a professor at a college in Virginia who wishes to better understand the extent to which race and racism matter. The Black professor fathers a child whom he supports and observes from a distance throughout his childhood and adolescence. He gives his “control negro” all the advantages he never had. But in the end, we learn that both father and son are victims of a racist culture in different ways. Without giving away the ending of this story, let me just say that the echoes of George Floyd and so many others ring very loudly and very true. “My Monticello” is set in a dystopian future that feels just a little too close to our present. Out-of-control wildfires, extreme temperatures, and extremists protesting after an apocalyptic election set the stage for the rise of the white supremacists who take over Charlottesville, Virginia, setting fire to homes, hunting down Black and Brown people and anyone associated with them, and shouting racist slogans as they blast “The Star Spangled Banner” from their car and truck radios. The protagonist, Da’Naisha Hemings Love, a descendant of Sally Hemings and a UVA student who’d interned at Monticello, flees her home along with her white boyfriend, her grandmother, and several neighbors. They take refuge at Monticello, which has been shuttered and abandoned amidst the local chaos. They forge a small collective community, raiding the gift shop for food and clothing, turning Jefferson’s home and estate into an escapist haven. Johnson imbues her plots and characters with irony upon irony. They all work. Having some of Sally Hemings’ descendants take refuge from white supremacists in the house their ancestors were forced to build, and the collision of climate change and racialized injustices that result in the burning of Charlottesville are powerful images. And the hypocrisies of the Jeffersonian promise of justice and freedom for all seem all the more pointed as the refugees at Monticello try to figure out how they can free themselves from the rancor and chaos that such “freedoms” have wrought. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development
The Ones We Burn, by Rebecca Mix. A New York Times bestselling young adult fantasy debut, The Ones We Burn follows Ranka, a bloodwitch from the north whose coven has a treaty with the human kingdom Isodal, forcing her to become betrothed to their prince. When she rejects her duty and her friend Yeva is taken in her place, Ranka’s coven convinces her to journey to Isodal and complete two tasks: rescue Yeva and assassinate the human prince. But when she arrives, she finds the prince is not what he expected—Galen is kind, a boy who, like her, has been forced to grow up too fast and who doesn’t want to marry Ranka or rule at all. And his sister, the hauntingly beautiful Princess Aramis, doesn’t immediately trust Ranka. But when witches begin succumbing to a mysterious plague, Ranka begins working with the royals to develop a cure in exchange for Aramis’ help to understand her terrifying magic. As the day she’s supposed to kill Galen nears, Ranka finds herself questioning what she thought she knew about herself, her past, and what she truly wants—especially as she falls for Aramis, who shows her that for the first time, she can be more than the monster she was raised to be. The Ones We Burn is a rich, high-octane ride from start to finish, but at its heart it’s a book for abuse survivors about hope, forgiveness, and the messy but rewarding process of healing. Ranka’s story is a testament that it’s never too late. —Layla Noor Landrum, A24
Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir. This book, like its author, seems to be in a category of its own. If you read Weir’s The Martian, or saw the movie, you understand his ability to blend real science, science fiction, humor, and adventure. The story was fun, fascinating, and really got me invested in the final outcome. Ryland Grace is on a last chance Hail Mary mission to possibly save humanity. As his adventure starts, though, he is not aware of those consequences. All alone, millions of miles away in space, he investigates his ship, deceased crew mates, and his slowly returning fuzzy memory, to do this on his own. Perhaps, though, he’ll get some help. If you enjoy a good adventure with a lot of science mixed in (think Michael Crichton), with a dose of humor and heart, this is surely the book for you. —Josh Cooper, associate dean of student services, public health and professional degree programs, School of Medicine
Real Bad Things, by Kelly J. Ford. In Real Bad Things, Jane Mooney returns to the rural town of Maud Bottoms, Arkansas, 25 years after confessing to the murder of her stepfather; she was never prosecuted for the crime, as his body wasn’t found. After years of waiting for the other shoe to drop, she gets the news that police have found a body after all, and it’s time to face the music: not just the prospect of being arrested, but reuniting with her mother (who is hellbent on revenge), an old lover, a sibling, and friendships wrecked in the aftermath of the fateful night of the murder. Ford is sneaky as she spools out the mystery (did Jane actually do it, or was it one of any number of others?) but also at plunging us into a setting rife with poverty and violence. As someone who grew up poor and had some rough characters in the family, I found the world-building spot on and the characterizations horrifyingly on the money. And I loved that every time I thought I knew where the book wanted to take me, I was wrong. No surprise that Publisher’s Weekly called it “gripping” and said that “Ford delivers the goods.” —David Valdes, lecturer, Department of English
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This novel a fun and surprisingly emotional (in a good way) read that I couldn’t put down. Monique Grant is a young journalist trying to make a name for herself and jumpstart her somewhat stagnated career, all while also navigating a recent separation from her husband. But when she is specifically chosen to interview the famous and reclusive Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo, Monique’s big break seems to have fallen into her lap—but why her? Evelyn has no reason to know Monique’s name, let alone request that she write a tell-all article about her life rather than giving the assignment to more established journalists who have been chasing for decades. Monique proceeds to Evelyn’s swanky New York City apartment with the cautious optimism that this will be moment to turn her life and career around. As the reader learns more about Evelyn’s life through Monique’s interviews, you are torn between feeling uncomfortable by the movie star’s unflinching ambition and angry at the cultural and societal pressures that necessitated that ambition necessary for Evelyn’s survival. The more you learn about Evelyn’s life, the more you appreciate that nothing is black and white and that the best parts of all stories are the complexities that defy labels. Nothing is as it seems—including why Evelyn sought out Monique in the first place. This book will make you think about all types of love and relationships, our very definition of marriage, and the importance of being able to tell our own stories. And a bonus: it’s currently in production to become a Netflix movie. —Jess Byrnes, A12, program manager, Tisch College
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, by John Le Carré. Whether you’re picking it up for the first time or rereading it years later, John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold intrigues and impresses. Its fame is justified if for no other reason than its establishment of the archetype for all subsequent spy fiction. Le Carré enshrines two essential elements of that genre: an endlessly twisting plot and a jaded, shop-soiled professional fighting for ideals he can scarcely bring himself to believe in. The plot worms its way into the deepest levels of intrigue in the East German secret police (and in the British secret service), and if Le Carré’s hero, Alex Leamas, has, as one might expect, a heart of gold, it’s buried under so many layers of anger and cynicism as to be barely detectable. Remarkably, the book remained as fresh as it did 40 years ago when I first read it. And as we enter our new Cold War, it promises, alas, to seem fresher still. — Kevin Dunn, vice provost for faculty
Still Life, by Sarah Winman. For the last few years—with the pandemic, political turmoil, and the systematic marginalization of people on the basis of their race, country of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs—I have gravitated to dark books, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, science fiction, horror. Lots of horror. Somehow, those types of books gave me hope that in the darkest of times, good people fighting for what is right. Sarah Winman’s glorious book Still Life is the opposite of dark. Still, it added to my hope—hope in the ability to recover from trauma, in the power of chosen family, in the ability of even ordinary people to make the world a better place in small ways. Winman writes in simple, straightforward sentences of such elegance and beauty, and the prose is always in service of her characters, who are fully realized, three-dimensional, and complicated humans in the aftermath of World War II England and Florence. These characters are people you expect to meet the next time you’re at the pub or taking your child to the park. Still Life is one of those books that rearranged my mental furniture, changing the way I see the world, and it reminded me of the joy of humanity. —Amy Gantt, director of research development, Office of the Vice Provost for Research
All About Love: New Visions, by bell hooks. This book is a meditation on freedom, interdependence, and social change. I find myself returning to it because it serves as a reminder that to practice love is to practice a particular ethics of robust care and understanding about the world that illuminates the possibilities of turning against the violent structures and habits that govern society. Love, for hooks, does not concern merely romanticism, pleasantries, or sentimentalism, but rather endeavors to humanize and make vulnerable the interstitial lives we lead. Instead of relying on the established matrices of power to guide our efforts of social justice, a practice of love requires an active engagement with who we are and how we want to be, including what we know and what we do not know. Loving deliberately is difficult because it demands of us an inquiry of our state of reality and of our relationships, and critiquing social conditions to realize a world where all can flourish. —Anthony Cruz Pantojas, Humanist Chaplain
All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler, by Rebecca Donner. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days follows the publishing trend of books resurrecting the historically ignored accomplishments of women: in this case, Mildred Harnack, of Wisconsin, who moves to Berlin with her German husband in the days of the Weimar Republic, and ends up a leader in the resistance to Hitler. She also ends up, after she and her husband are caught, as the only American woman executed by Hitler during the war (this is not a spoiler: it’s spelled out quite clearly in the first pages of the book). Her story is simply remarkable, as world events intersect with the life of a seemingly ordinary person who gradually becomes surrounded by evil and is able to see it for what it is. There are some sections that drag, as the author, a descendant of Harnack’s, includes far too much about Harnack’s acquaintances in Berlin (really, just skip the whole part about Thomas Wolfe). But the examination of Harnack’s inner life, and the spy-thriller details of her underground work are too good to miss. —Helene Ragovin, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing
Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan. Cookbook reviews are hard to trust, so rather than buy solely on the opinions of others, I tend to pick up the cuisine-packed books at the library, peruse recipes and the stories behind them, and if they seem worthy, I’ll even give a recipe a shot. More often than not, I return the heavy tomes to the library, and never revisit them. And very rarely do I buy a cookbook without first looking through it. On a sporadic trip to a thrift store, I made an exception for James Beard award-winning cookbook author Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table when I found a copy for a whopping two bucks. I knew of Greenspan’s acclaim and was a subscriber to her newsletter, but had yet to peruse any of her books. So I spent a few minutes leafing through it in the store, and was immediately drawn to her approachable take on classic French cuisine, the anecdotes attached to the delicious food she chose to share, and of course, the so-good-you-can-almost-smell-it photography. It was obvious why Julie Child, my personal idol, said Greenspan wrote her recipes just like she did. So far, the recipes I’ve tried include a simple but sumptuous apple cake, and a time-consuming but rewarding boeuf à la mode (pot roast) that required an overnight marinade and lots of attention (perfect for a weekend activity). Everything has been a hit and I’m looking forward to a cool winter—and cool kitchen—so that I can dig into as many stories and recipes of Greenspan’s French Table as possible. —Emily Wright Brognano, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing
The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. When people ask me what I want to be when I grow up (and no I don’t consider myself a grown up yet), I usually say that I want to be Jane Goodall. That’s mostly so I could hang out with chimps all day, but also to break barriers for women, empower underserved children around the world, and leave an everlasting impact on the conservation of so many species. In The Book of Hope, we glimpse an intimate view of Goodall that makes the reader feel that they are a third friend in the room, enjoying tea with Jane and the interviewer. Guided by a series of open-ended questions like “What is truly different now than before, different enough to give us hope for change?”, she reveals her reasons for maintaining hope for people and the planet. She discusses the capacity of human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of youth, the indomitable human spirit. Goodall pulls stories from her own work, like a community youth program that builds the foundation of environmental stewardship through community gardening. Amidst the backdrop of COVID and climate change, she reminds us to look for the small things, the quieter headlines, and the million ways that people every day are working together against seemly inevitable disasters. For me, reading this in pieces a few nights a week provided brief moments of reflection and perspective in an often-tumultuous news cycle. —Jennifer Reilly, communications specialist, Office of Sustainability
Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem: A Memoir, by Daniel R. Day. Better known as Dapper Dan, Daniel Day is a name synonymous with luxury streetwear and hip-hop culture, having created custom clothing for musicians, athletes, and gangsters alike out of his Harlem tailor shop during the 1980s and 1990s, ascending to near-mythical status as a style tastemaker and cultural icon. His unique pieces incorporated designs from prominent luxury brands like Gucci, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton, resulting in countless lawsuits and raids on his operation over the years. However, a more recent formal collaboration with Gucci, after claims that they plagiarized one of his original designs, has reintroduced him to a new generation of fans, reinvigorated his brand, and provided a new platform to express his stylistic vision. Made in Harlem: A Memoir was an absolute page-turner, filled with colorful anecdotes of Dan’s life and career, his triumphs and tragedies, and the perseverance and ingenuity it took to evolve and reinvent himself, regardless of how dire the circumstance. Nuggets of life wisdom gleaned from Dan’s past are sprinkled throughout, and anyone who enjoys stories of self-made individuals will be delighted by this read. —Stephen Barber, associate director of development, University Advancement
Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11, by Mitchell Zuckoff. There are, of course, thousands of stories of 9/11, from the doomed passengers and crew on the planes; the people in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; the first-responders; and all their loved ones, just for starters. In Fall and Rise, Zuckoff, a master of the art of narrative nonfiction, tells several dozen of those stories, weaving them together almost seamlessly and yet preserving the distinct personalities and humanity of all his subjects, both those who survived, and especially those who perished. There are several 9/11 books out there whose retellings overlap with Zuckoff’s, particularly Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn’s 102 Minutes and Garrett Graff’s The Only Plane in the Sky—and, of course, readers of Fall and Rise will know the broad, terrible outlines of that day in September, even if they’re not old enough to remember it. Zuckoff’s luminescent, careful, detail-sprinkled prose makes his version well-worth experiencing. It would be dishonest for any 9/11 book to have an “uplifting” ending: but the brilliant storytelling of Fall and Rise leaves you grateful for the lives that were spared; awed by the many instances of extraordinary bravery; and aching for those who were lost. —Helene Ragovin, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing
The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. Think this book is just about romantic relationships? Think again. Think you only need to read/listen to it once and be done with it? Not necessarily. Yes, this book does focus on “how to express heartfelt commitment to your mate,” but it goes beyond that. Chapman outlines what he calls five love languages, which are 1) words of affirmation (compliments), 2) quality time, 3) receiving gifts, 4) acts of service, and 5) physical touch. I revisited this book after reading it many years ago, not because I had any issues with my love relationship, but just to learn more about others around me (in particular, my son and his soon to be wife). I share it with you because I feel this book is more about relationships in general and what motivates people. If you think about people you work with, if you understand what motivates them and then approach them on their level, the relationship goes much smoother. For example, a person whose love language is “words of affirmation” might thrive in an environment where they receive a lot of verbal praise. And for someone who is motivated by “quality time,” they might need more one-on-one time or to be taken to lunch. Maybe physical touch is a stretch for a work relationship, but I can see how the others, when looked at as motivational drivers, can impact all relationships. If you want practical advice on relationships, check out this book—you won’t regret it. —Christine Fitzgerald, manager of marketing and communications, Tufts Technology Services
The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere., by James Spooner. This powerful graphic memoir tells Spooner’s story of his early teenage years, trying to figure out his place in the world. His mother is white, his father Black—and after moving frequently with his mother, he had landed back in Apple Valley, California, in the desert country east of LA for the start of high school in the early 1990s. He’d last been there in fifth grade, but knows no one now. An outsider, he makes friends with the confident Ty, one of the few Black kids in the school, and soon adopts a punk persona like Ty—skateboard, flannel, music, and all. He hangs out with other outsider kids, has run-ins with skinheads, and tries to navigate the complexities of high school. Spooner is brutally honest about his new friends, all suffering in their own ways, and about his alienation from his mom, who is trying her best, but is unable to really understand her son’s life. The emotional honesty here is raw, the hazards very real, the story compelling. It does end on a hopeful note: punk becomes Spooner’s identity and ethos—and salvation. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado. You might remember Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties. It was the cool, weird one that subtly gaslit you as you pieced together its many fragments into one horrifying, hypnotic whole, which haunted you for days—and also left you thinking deeply and seeing more clearly. In the Dream House does much the same thing, but instead of our society’s and media’s treatment of women (the focus of Her Body), the subject is a toxic relationship from Machado’s own life. Over the course of these micro-essays, many of which are just a few paragraphs (and some no more than a few lines), Machado whirls us through her initial infatuation with the magical, charismatic Woman in the Dream House—and then pulls us down a rabbit hole, in which her world, her work, and her very reality and identity are thrown into disarray. It’s disturbing and bizarre to watch love gradually warp into confusion, shame, and terror, and it will be painfully familiar to anyone who has experienced psychological abuse in an intimate relationship. The Dream House is an apt and striking metaphor, with its tilted floors, mismatching furniture, and looming, claustrophobic maze of unpacked boxes. But Machado’s lucid prose illuminates the dark with flashes of beauty and insight, grounding us in the heart of her nightmare as witnesses and companions. And it’s worth it for the twist at the end, which even after Machado’s harrowing journey will make you believe in fate—and love—once again. —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing
Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War, by Deborah Cohen. With a narrative that reads more like a novel than history, Cohen introduces us to a different world—the 1920s and 30s, almost a full century ago, and yet with an immediacy that makes the story feel surprisingly current, following the lives and exploits of four American reporters who become media stars at a time when politics and nations are fracturing. The three men and one woman whom Cohen recounts rise to prominent roles in the media landscape as they report on the conflicts that burgeon into World War II. She tells the story of America’s rise to power, the lure of Communism, the danger of fascism, and above all the power of nationalistic populism in Europe. She has delved deep into the archives to tell the parallel story of the men and women who are writing this first version of history—their weaknesses, desires, hopes, and sometimes crushing losses. Psychoanalysis is the new hip thing, and we listen in as our reporters and the objects of their desire talk about their inner lives, realizing yet again there’s nothing new under the sun. Cohen expertly weaves the tales of work lives and personal lives into one tapestry, as the world hurtles toward total war. This is history as it should be written, never less than captivating. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
Maria Baldwin’s Worlds: A Story of Black New England and the Fight for Racial Justice, by Kathleen Weiler. Chances are that you have never of heard of Maria Baldwin. Born in 1856 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she was the first Black person appointed principal of an integrated school in New England, the Agassiz Elementary School in Cambridge, in 1889. To say Baldwin’s appointment was a remarkable feat is putting it mildly. At a time when discrimination and violence against the Black community was rampant and few Black women held positions of authority, Baldwin may have been the only Black woman to head an entirely white staff and an almost entirely white middle-class school in the nation. The complexity and gravity of her life, navigating and exceling in a leadership role in a white community while also working to advance civil rights among Black Americans, are beautifully captured in this biography by Kathleen Weiler, a Tufts professor emerita of education. In addition to Baldwin’s work at the Agassiz School, where she was a master educator, incorporating such innovative approaches in her classrooms as social-emotional learning techniques and a parent/teacher group, Baldwin also coordinated a literary group featuring civil rights activists W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter, who were students at Harvard College. My own introduction to Baldwin came through my role as president of the League of Women for Community Service, a women’s club that she co-founded in 1919 and served as the first president of until her sudden death in 1922. Despite the lack of personal writings to draw from, the biography offers a compelling picture of Baldwin’s life and the astounding courage she exhibited to resist in her own way the devastating systems of oppression that so severely restricted Black people and women from reaching their full potential. Her persistence and ability to survive and thrive in many ways amid overwhelming odds is an inspiration, and worthy of broader recognition. —Kalimah Knight, senior deputy director, Office of Media Relations
Move, by Caroline Williams. What are you doing right now? Get up! The simple act of standing boosts blood flow to your brain. Stretch! You’ll flush toxins out of your muscles. Stroll around the block! It’ll make you more creative and cheerful. This collection of cutting-edge research, statistics, personal stories, and practical tips by health sciences journalist Caroline Williams reminds us that humans didn’t evolve to sit around all day—and when we do, we pay the price, from higher rates of disease to poorer mood to slower and foggier thinking (with the result that our average IQ is dropping generation after generation, even after accounting for other factors). Luckily, Williams reminds us, there’s a bright side: when we do get moving, the benefits aren’t just better physical and mental health—they range from healing after trauma and greater artistic creativity, to a deeper sense of connection with fellow humans and our world. Particularly fascinating are her points about the central role physical movement plays in our language and even our thinking, which is likely because our ability to think sequentially and plan ahead evolved to help us swing through the trees. Williams’ writing is quick, clear, and entertaining, and she capably takes a piece of health advice you’re probably sick of hearing and resigned to never putting into practice, and turns it into an exciting new frontier that you can’t wait to explore—case in point: I am literally writing this while walking around and around an airport. —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator/editor, University of Communications and Marketing
Painting Enlightenment: Healing Visions of the Heart Sutra, by Paula Arai. The Heart Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist scripture, is considered to contain the essence of nondual wisdom: it is chanted daily in Zen Buddhist temples throughout the world, and transcribed as a meditative art. The painter-calligrapher Iwasaki Tsuneo, whose body of work is the focus of this book, worked the 260 Chinese characters of the Heart Sutra into image after luminous image. Arai begins the journey with a compelling story that has been told to her by one of the women with whom she has been researching Buddhist healing. “Paula-san, I finally understand. Emptiness is not cold. It is what embraces us with compassion, enabling us to live, move, breathe, even die. . . Upon seeing them I felt how warm and wonderful emptiness is. You must see for yourself.” Arai goes to see an exhibit of Iwasaki’s work and immediately her mind opens to perceive the deep compassion that is at the root of emptiness as well. Perhaps it is exactly a war-weary veteran such as Iwasaki that can give such exacting and luminous labor on behalf of compassion. As Arai notes, “Each brushstroke was a prayer for healing.” Seeing the Heart Sutra calligraphy reappear in the form of autumn leaves, carp, and through atoms, galaxies, and double helixes of DNA, one grasps instinctively the interwoven nature of time and being. This book provides its reader with a window into the artist’s journey, which answers the chaos and pain of the postmodern era by tapping into the deep cultural resources within traditional Japanese brush painting, infused with Iwasaki’s sacred vision of wholeness, experienced as vast and subtle interconnection—the universe in a blade of grass, by another name. —Ji Hyang Padma, Buddhist chaplain, priest in the Soto Zen tradition
Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History, by Kyle Harper. From the earliest times, humans generally haven’t died of old age: they have died of infectious disease. Only in the last 100 years or so have infectious diseases—caused by helminths (worms), protozoa (think malaria), bacteria, and viruses—been pushed back to become secondary causes of mortality. Harper had earlier written about how climate and disease affected the fate of the Roman Empire, and before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, decided to investigate the role of disease on all of human history. Here he details the progression of our species out of Africa, hand in hand with the bacteria, viruses, worms, and viruses that try to hijack our bodies’ energy and use us to reproduce and spread. Some parasites come to specialize in homo sapiens as perfect homes, while for others we are an accidental source of nutrients. Though we remember diseases like the Black Death—a bacteria that killed up to 50% of some of the populations it ravaged in the 1300s and afterwards—in fact, helminths like the worm that causes the dreadful disease schistosomiasis have caused probably at least as much suffering and death over the centuries. Infectious disease has shaped human history in so many ways—affecting which countries have stagnated economically while others marched ahead—and at the same time, humans in their astounding adaptive success have created environments for parasites to thrive where they wouldn’t otherwise. It could make for depressing reading, but Harper is such a skillful writer that I found it fascinating instead. This is Big History of the sort Jared Diamond writes, but on a much higher plane: smart, humane, perceptive—in a word, fascinating, and very well written to boot. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing
Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks, by Patrick Radden Keefe. Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover. Rogues grabbed my attention in the new arrivals section of my local library. The book is a collection of essays first published in the New Yorker and is the perfect book for anyone who loves a good true crime podcast. Each chapter tells a story about criminals big (cartel bosses) and small (wine forgers) as well those who buck convention (Anthony Bourdain and a death penalty attorney). Each of Keefe’s stories is immaculately researched and provides little known details to even some of the most famous stories, like the Marathon bombing. Each chapter is about 20 pages, and you never want to put it down until you finish reading about that particular rogue. The book does not lionize the rogues, but points out their human qualities, and highlights those in law enforcement who pursue and challenge them. —Stephen Muzrall, senior director of development & alumni engagement, School of Dental Medicine
What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, by Daniel Walker Howe. I could put this book down, and did, often, across 10 years. Daniel Walker Howe’s Pulitzer-winning history traces an era that echoes through our own, and it was weirdly steadying to read the early 19th century at almost the pace I was living the early 21st. Revisiting nearly two centuries’ scholarship, Howe recasts the “Jacksonian age” as a period of fast change—with technology producing a communications revolution, with religious and social movements proliferating, and, centrally in Howe’s interpretation, with political parties and their supporters contesting whose America this would be: an America for a violent white hierarchy, or an America for us all. If you are sometimes repelled by political characters whose cynical nonsense fills our newsfeeds, Howe will remind you that your grandparents’ great-grandparents once endured Martin Van Buren. If long ago you had opened Twitter or Facebook and thought ‘What hath God wrought!’ as you discovered far-flung connections, Howe relates that this same awe gripped members of Congress witnessing the telegraph for the first time, Samuel Morse instantly transmitting that very phrase from the U.S. Capitol all the way to Baltimore. And if you are sickened by the continuing political salience of white supremacy and gendered violence, colonial devastation, and widespread meanness, this book underscores that we are not the first to face the question of what we have wrought—and of whether we will commit ourselves to the work of repair and internal improvements of justice and transformation. —Laura C. Lucas, knowledge strategy & operations, Office of the Provost