Find new ideas for what to read as the Tufts community shares their favorite works of fiction and nonfiction—recent releases, hidden gems, and would-be classics
Each summer we reach out to Tufts faculty and staff for their book recommendations, and they never fail to return with hugely varied reading suggestions.
This year, we have novels of many sorts—romances, immigrant stories, sci-fi, mysteries noir and otherwise, literary fiction, short stories, love stories, ghost stories—even a children’s book.
On the nonfiction side, we feature powerful memoirs, a book on cultivating awe in life, the life of popular music, the history of modern Republicanism and ancient Incas, lessons on legacies of racism, a disappearing woman, and what one reviewer says is the best science book in years.
Read on 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 email@example.com, and we’ll post an update.
An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. Like many other English majors of my era, I recall well spending a lot of time in college mining assigned texts from authors like Fitzgerald, Updike, and Dreiser, searching for a greater understanding of the idea of what it means to be “American.” In none of those hours spent poring over literary criticism did I get anything approaching the insights from Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage. I’ve heard the book described as a love story gutted by racial injustice, but I think it’s also a portrayal the distinctive damage that only racial injustice can wreak on the American dream. Imagine being the person who has done everything right, and that’s Roy, who grew up working class in Louisiana and earned a scholarship to Morehouse College. And then meet Celestial, a Spelman alumna and an artist on the rise, whom Roy has married and with whom he’s preparing to start their family and build a life. And then rip it all away from both of them as a result of—in the most brutal irony I have read in a long time—a kind gesture he makes to a stranger. Once Roy is incarcerated for a crime of which he is falsely accused, the novel moves to the letters sent between the couple. And through those letters, Jones brings depth and haunting candor to both Roy and Celestial (as well as a third character, Andre) as fully realized individuals, while she makes clear the reality of being Black in our nation. In that deft interweaving of the personal and the political, Jones fashions an important addition to the canon of novels that seek to define that elusive word “American.” Hers is a perspective that I won’t soon forget. —Dave Nuscher, executive director, Content and Planning, University Communications and Marketing
Beach Music, by Pat Conroy. This is not a new novel, but it is probably my favorite book—I believe I first read it in the late 90s (it was published in 1995) and have reread it a couple of times over the years. Jack McCall, the main character, is an American who is living in Rome with his young daughter seeking refuge there after his wife dies by suicide. Jack’s sister-in-law comes to Rome and begs him to return to their hometown in South Carolina to help track down an old friend who has gone into hiding. I won’t get into why (it’s not a simple story), but I will tell you that the story brings you to unexpected places and time periods. It is a story about love, pain, coming of age, and the power and complexity of friendships and family dynamics. It is also a story of how the impact of trauma can be passed down generations. Conroy has an exceptional ability to paint vivid pictures—from the noisy streets of Rome to the steamy bayou. He brings you back in time to the tumultuous Vietnam War era and the horrors of the Holocaust. It’s one of those books that suck you in and that you hate to part with when the story ends. —Maribel Blanco, senior advisor and director special projects, Office of the Executive Vice President
Beautiful Oops!, by Barney Saltzberg. At my daughter’s eighth grade moving-up ceremony last week, the principal opened his remarks with the story of a middle schooler who had come into his office that morning to get a signature on an academic award certificate that had been presented to her unsigned, a mistake. As he started to sign, his pen suddenly slipped, leaving an inky splotch on the page. To his surprise, the student declined the offer of a do-ever. No thanks, she said. Leave it. It will make a better story. As I listened to the principal tie this small moment to larger life lessons of messiness, resiliency, and storytelling, I was reminded of Beautiful, Oops! by Barney Saltzberg, a children’s book we used to read to my daughter when she was young. A bold, playful ode to mistakes! “Oops! A torn piece of paper is just the beginning”—mishaps are imaginatively reshaped, accidents opportunities for reinvention. “A smudge and a smear . . . can make magic appear.” For readers of any age, it is a fun and funny read. This year’s graduates made it through school during a pandemic, the most oops of all oops times. What will they make of their inky splotch on a page? What will their future stories be? —Nancy Mehegan, senior associate director, stewardship and donor relations, Friedman School
The Blue Bistro, by Elin Hilderbrand. The Blue Bistro is a captivating novel that takes readers away to the idyllic island of Nantucket. The story revolves around Adrienne Dealey, a young woman seeking refuge from her troubled past who lands a job at the Blue Bistro, a popular restaurant known for its seafood and ocean views. As Adrienne immerses herself in the fast-paced world of restaurant life, she becomes enchanted by the restaurant’s enigmatic owner, Thatcher Smith. Their complex relationship takes center stage as secrets and past wounds are gradually revealed, and the line between personal and professional begins to blur. Through Adrienne’s eyes, we experience the pulse of the island, the flavors of the dishes she prepares, and the mystique that surrounds the Blue Bistro. Hilderbrand’s prose effortlessly draws readers into a world of hidden desires, whispered confessions, and unexpected revelations. This book is sure to satisfy your cravings for a captivating summer read. —Christine C. Fitzgerald, manager, Service Marketing & Communications, Tufts Technology Services
Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Although we all know this story from films and TV, reading the actual book is an eye opener. It’s a well-written, engaging story with no authorial narration. The whole story is told through a series of diary entries, letters, newspaper articles, etc., even delivery receipts (!) of various parties involved in the story. So it unfolds in an interesting way. Also, for those concerned about blood and gore, not a lot here, unlike the movies. —Ann Cullen, international business librarian/senior librarian research & instruction, Ginn Library
Epitaph for a Tramp, by David Markson. This 1959 noir mystery, by a writer who was later celebrated for his experimental fiction (Wittgenstein’s Mistress, Reader’s Block), is a powerful novel, in the vein of Raymond Chandler. In New York City, private eye Harry Fannin is a literary quoting tough guy, whose ex-wife Cathy shows up stabbed at his doorstep late one night. The entire story unfolds and unravels in the next 12 hours. Hinton controls the narrative tightly and keeps us turning the pages. The mystery is well played out, with plenty of blind alleys, keeping us guessing. Markson takes a page from Ross Macdonald’s Archer mysteries: the insight that explains the crime goes back to childhood, to buried trauma. The first of only two Harry Fannin mysteries (Epitaph for a Dead Beat from 1961 takes place in the city’s beatnik Greenwich Village, and is equally good), it makes me wish Markson had kept the series going. —Taylor McNeil, senior news & audience engagement editor, Tufts Now
The Hollow, by Agatha Christie. This is one of my favorite—and most heavily reread—Christie mysteries. It has some delightful characters in it, like Dr. John Christow, who prefers medical research to his successful practice, and Lucy Angkatell, who has an active mind and an alert staff who work tirelessly to keep her life as worry-free as possible. If that isn’t enough, there is one of my all-time favorite Christie characters, Henrietta Savernake, a talented sculptor who is also talented at lying to make people feel good—except John, her lover. Henrietta is certainly not the only one telling lies in The Hollow—just admirable in her commitment and personal notion of integrity. Throw in John’s wife, his ex-lover, detective Hercule Poirot, and others—even Tarot cards—and you have a delightful mix of complex personalities in both London and country settings providing the perfect summer escapism. —Lisa Gualtieri, associate professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine
Horse, by Geraldine Brooks. Australian-born Geraldine Brooks writes a lot of very gripping American-themed historical fiction. In Horse, Brooks takes on the dual stories of two Black men, one from the present, one from the past, who share an obsession with Lexington, one of the greatest racehorses of all time. Theo, a doctoral candidate in art history at Georgetown, is the present-day focus of the story. The son of diplomats and holder of impeccable academic credentials, Theo struggles to find a dissertation topic that goes beyond some arcane bit of art history, to find his own voice in his writing, and to fit into the world where Black men are feared—even when simply offering to help elderly white neighbors. Theo discovers a portrait of the famed racehorse Lexington painted by a relatively unknown equestrian artist; he also meets Jess, an Australian expat who manages an osteology lab at the Smithsonian. In another remarkable coincidence, all of this occurs precisely when Jess is contacted by a British biologist seeking to exhume Lexington’s bones from the Smithsonian to understand the renowned racehorse’s power and endurance. Interspersed with the stories of race, interracial relationships, and a racehorse in the present are parallel tales from the past. A young, enslaved boy named Jarret is a groom on a plantation in 1850. A literal horse whisperer, Jarret becomes the one to bond with and tame the foal who will become the legendary star of the racetrack. When Lexington is sold to a new owner, Jarret is as well. The lead-up to the Civil War brings unsettling changes for Jarret and for Lexington, as well as for everyone around them. The 19th century stories match the ones in the 21st century in uncanny and disquieting ways. By the end of this compelling and beautifully written book, readers will wonder just how far from the legacies of slavery we have really come. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development
Mad Honey, by Jodi Picoult and Finney Boylan. Writing a review of this novel is very hard—I don’t want to give away the storyline; it should be organic and spontaneous to the reader, as it was to me. This book is a suspense thriller with a simultaneous deep, unraveling love story. Mad Honey is set in New Hampshire, with ties to Massachusetts. Secrets and trust are huge factors in this book; sometimes, it implies, people must be private to survive and live as their authentic selves. This book gets five stars from me; I promise you will not be disappointed. —Yolanda Smith, executive director of public safety
Metropolis, by B.A. Shapiro, AG76, AG78. If you want a hyper-local thriller, look no further than B.A. Shapiro’s novel, Metropolis. Set in the former Metropolitan Storage Warehouse in Cambridge, now owned by MIT, the diverse set of characters who work and live in the building—yes, some actually live there—include the harried Rose, who lives in Revere with her disabled veteran husband, son who might or might not be on drugs and involved with crime, and two daughters, and takes kickbacks from people who illegally populate the building she manages; the Harvard Law educated Jason, a Black attorney who’s struggling to do the right thing and just plain struggling; Liddy, a wealthy Back Bay socialite trying to decide whether to flee from an abusive marriage; and Marta, an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela hiding from ICE while pursuing a Ph.D. in sociology from Tufts. Rounded out by Serge, a mentally unstable man who also happens to be a brilliant photographer; and Zach, present owner of the storage facility who tries to solve the mystery of a devastating warehouse accident through his many contacts with ex-girlfriends who are more professionally stable and directed than he is, this intersecting group of individuals offer many perspectives on life in contemporary Boston and environs. I confess that I don’t usually read or like mysteries very much, but I enjoyed reading this one, perhaps because of my familiarity with many of the settings. The whodunnit was pretty predictable, and I found some of Shapiro’s characters to be written without enough backstory or interior insight for me to feel wholly invested in them, but if you’re looking for an easy read/beach book, Metropolis is one to consider. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development
The Personal Librarian, by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. This book of historical fiction expanded my insights into the world of high-end collecting and of navigating a life centered on protecting a core secret. Belle da Costa Greene was a light skinned Black woman, born with the name Belle Marion Greener. At an early age her mother decided she and her children would pass as white to better their chances of professional success, and changed their name from Greener to da Costa Greene. This act led to the dissolution of her marriage. Belle’s father, Richard Theodore Greener, who was the first Black graduate of Harvard University and a noted civil rights lawyer, was totally opposed to the decision. While working at the Princeton University Library at the turn of the 20th century, Belle developed an expertise in rare manuscripts. During that time, she met a relative of J. P. Morgan and was subsequently hired as the tycoon’s personal librarian. His intention was to amass an unsurpassed book and art collection. To do this he provided Belle with virtually unlimited funds. In addition to knowledge about books and art, Belle exceeded in the ability to navigate the male dominated world of rare manuscripts and artifacts, particularly in Europe. This allowed her to successfully compete for items coveted by J.P. Morgan. On Morgan’s death, she worked with his son Jack to make the collection available to the public by establishing the Pierpont Morgan Library. Woven into the story are the trials and tribulations of carrying the secret of Belle’s race, brief reconnection with her father, and knowledge that she could not marry due to concerns about the skin tone of her offspring. —Alice H. Lichtenstein, Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, Friedman School; director and senior scientist, Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, HNRCA
Red, White & Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston. Graduate school really impacted my love of reading, and since finishing my program, I’ve struggled to get back to enjoying fiction. To help ease the transition from journal articles to reading for pleasure, my wife suggested romance, specifically Red, White & Royal Blue. Romance isn’t my go-to genre, so I was skeptical, but once I picked up the book, I couldn’t put it down. The story centers on Alex Claremont-Diaz, the biracial, closeted bisexual son of America’s first female president, and his rivalry with Henry, a British prince. They quickly go from enemies to friends, and then to secret lovers. Hijinx ensue, international incidents are caused, and love wins out. If you’re looking for some escapist queer joy in your summer reading, I strongly recommend. —Sarah Marina, director for research administration and development enterprise, Office of the Vice Provost for Research
The Savage Kind, by John Copenhaver. Phillipa and Judy, the dual (or perhaps dueling) narrators of John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind are what so many Nancy Drew fans craved: complicated teenagers with minds primed for sinister secrets but eyes only for each other. Their chemistry is palpable—even when it remains cloaked in friendship—but nothing is simple. Their trust in each other wavers from time to time as they get closer to the heart of related mysteries involving a loathed classmate and a favorite teacher. Set in the late 1940s, the shadow-soaked novel boasts noir styling and budding femme fatales. (Well-behaved schoolgirls they are not.) Atmospheric hardly begins to cover it—The Savage Kind is a whole mood. Copenhaver is adept at knitting plot strands together into a seemingly impenetrable tangle, before unraveling them in a way that is perfectly logical and clear—at least if you can believe the narrator, which is a dicey proposition. Copenhaver tells the reader up front that one of the girls is the storyteller, though he does not say which one. Having written the story in two distinct voices, he lays a trap for us—we are to think one narrative is true, but it may just be truer, or true-ish, or not true at all. That’s a mystery Copenhaver leaves to the reader to solve. —David Valdes, lecturer, Department of English
Seven Empty Houses, by Samanta Schweblin. I read this book in its original Spanish (Siete casas vacías). The English translation was winner of the National Book Award for Translated Literature in 2022. One of the short stories, An Unlucky Man, was also selected by Valeria Luiselli as one of 2022’s best short stories and winner of the O. Henry Prize. I loved every single one of the seven short stories. I gravitate towards short stories—there’s less pressure to read with a certain continuity, each piece can be read in a single sitting. If a week goes by between one reading and the next, nothing’s lost. Each of Schweblin’s stories revolves around a house. The characters are enthralling and stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. There are the uninhibited grandparents who visit their son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren during a summer vacation at the beach. There are the mother and daughter who visit strangers’ houses and peek and intrude into their lives. After reading each story, I was left thinking that the events described were so strange, almost bizarre. But on second thought, they could definitely happen! Schweblin is part of a wave of Latin American narrators “of the unusual,” as described by Benjamin Russell in his October 2022 New York Times article. Russell aptly calls Schweblin’s stories “disqueting,” which is a perfect description of the effect the short stories in Seven Empty Houses had on me. Hopefully, Schweblin’s excellent collection will encourage readers to explore other Latin American narrators of the unusual. —Bárbara M. Brizuela, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, dean of academic affairs, professor of education
Silence, by Shūsaku Endō. This landmark 1966 novel is at its core an exploration of faith. It asks whether faith is strong enough to withstand the silence of God. Whether faith is worth suffering and death, of oneself and of others. Whether faith can stay rooted where it is forbidden, or whether it will wither and die and unfriendly soil. Set in the early 1600s, after the Shimabara rebellion and the outlawing of Christianity in Japan, Silence follows Portuguese priest Sebastião Rodrigues as he journeys to Japan to investigate rumors of Father Ferreira, a Jesuit priest who is said to have apostatized and converted to Buddhism. Along the way, Rodrigues ministers to communities of Kakure Kirishitan (hidden Christians), who he then sees tortured for their faith; is plagued by the wavering faith and loyalty of his Japanese guide Kichijiro; and reckons with the silence of his own God in the face of such suffering. Inspired by historical events and Endō’s own struggles as a Japanese Catholic, Silence grapples with complicated questions of faith, morality, and European cultural hegemony. It’s not an easy read, but it’s one that will stay with you long after the final page. I should know; I first read it as a senior in high school, and it’s one of my favorite novels to this day. —Alex Israel, event planner and marketing specialist, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan. This short novel, set in Ireland in 1985, tells the story of Bill Furlong, owner of a small coal and firewood business in a riverside town, father of five girls, a good, hardworking man in hard economic times. Bill has built up his life from scratch: his mother was single and unwed, a dark sin in Ireland even in 1985, let alone 1950, when he was born. But his mother was taken in by a prosperous local Protestant widow, who quietly provided for them. The story takes place just as Christmas is coming, and Bill is doing his rounds delivering coal—hard, dirty work. One delivery is to the local convent laundry business, where unwed girls/mothers work. He stumbles on a girl, Sarah, barefoot and dirty, locked in the convent coal shed. He brings her inside to the convent, where the Mother Superior makes a show of helping her. Bill leaves, disturbed and thinking of his mother—and himself. This is a crucial moment for Bill, and he is later faced with a fateful moral choice. Keegan makes us feel his ambivalence and fear for Sarah—and for himself and his own family. Only 114 pages in a small-sized book, Small Things Like These is filled with powerful writing, so much weightier than many a novel three or four times its length. —Taylor McNeil, senior news & audience engagement editor, Tufts Now
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin. This novel is a coming-of-age novel first and foremost, but it’s also an unconventional love story that celebrates equally love of play, love between friends, and romantic love. Sam and Sadie meet in a hospital as kids and bond over their love of video games, later reconnecting as college students in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The book follows their relationship over the span of 30 years as they create groundbreaking games together, build a company, endure tragedy, grow apart, and grapple with identity. Their collaboration is one of highs and lows, successes and failures, and ultimately, finding belonging with someone who, like you, has never felt like they belong. You don’t need to be a gamer to enjoy this story, but you may find yourself itching to start playing by the end. And as a fun bonus, the MFA has an exhibit through mid-July devoted to the art of Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai, whose work The Great Wave adorns the cover of the book and inspires Sam and Sadie’s first game. Be sure to check out the exhibit (open through July 16) while you’re reading. – Jess Byrnes, communications manager, Tisch College
Unlikely Animals, by Annie Hartnett. With wonderfully quirky characters, animals who are both real and imagined, and a lively cast of dead characters who narrate a story, Unlikely Animals creatively melds past and present to make an incredibly compelling, if somewhat absurdist tale. Emma Starling managed to escape the limitations of her small hometown, the fictional Everton, New Hampshire, by going to college in California. Born with the magical powers of healing hands, Emma begins medical school to pursue more traditional forms of healing only to discover their limitations, along with her own. She drops out and returns home, finding that things in Everton aren’t as stagnant as she’d once believed. Emma’s father Clive is a former college professor forced into retirement by a mysterious brain ailment that has him hallucinating about animals. Clive is also haunted by the ghost of naturalist Ernest Harold Baynes, who’d bought up many acres nearby Everton years before to serve as his home and as a wildlife refuge. (Baynes is a historical figure). Emma’s brother is back from a stint in rehab, her mother is oddly absent from family life and decisions, and her best friend from high school, Crystal, who was addicted to heroin, has disappeared. Everton is plagued by the ongoing opioid crisis, which makes its insidious presence known in many ways. In spite of herself, Emma steps up to the challenges in her family and town, and works with her father to try to solve the mystery of Crystal’s disappearance when the local police refuse to. All of the action in the book is narrated and interpreted by a series of ghosts who’ve seen better and worse days in Everton. Their observations are sometimes insightful, sometimes off-kilter in hilarious ways. Somehow Annie Hartnett manages to thread the needle by sewing together the ways personal and historical pasts can inform the present, and in so doing has written a wildly entertaining novel about familial expectations, unlikely friendships and how crafting a future—even just for a short time—is well worth doing. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development
We All Want Impossible Things, by Catherine Newman. Sooner or later, we all have to deal with the death of a loved one. In this novel, it comes sooner for the protagonist, Ash, whose best friend in life, Edi, is dying from ovarian cancer. The book chronicles their friendship and the ways in which Ash, Edi, and their families try to come to terms with Edi’s imminent death while she lives her last days in a hospice facility in western Massachusetts. The amazing thing about this book is that it’s funny. Though dealing with the most serious of subjects, Newman keeps us smiling, whether through her comically detailed descriptions of the cheese-eating hospice comfort dog, a golden retriever named Farrah Fawcett; discussions of the hilarious ways that Ash tries to distract herself from the ominous realities confronting her; or Ash’s irreverent observations about both life and death and their intersectionality (on the difficulties of procuring a spot at a hospice, she says “Wait list? Do they understand the premise of hospice?”). Most of all, the book focuses on the friendship between the two women, a lifelong friendship where they’ve shared each other’s highs and lows, know each other’s innermost secrets, hopes, and dreams. By the end, we come to realize that in the rollercoaster of Edi’s illness, her friendship with Ash is one that will last in uncanny ways. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development
American Midnight: The Great War, A Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis, by Adam Hochschild. As Mark Twain is supposed to have said: History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. American Midnight offers a gripping look into a little-remembered era of a century ago, when the U.S. was roiled by bitter political polarization; anti-immigrant fervor; violence against Black Americans; and Constitutional crises. Oh, and a pandemic. The America that existed from the build-up to the Great War through the early ’20s was one that would be unrecognizable to anyone who has relied on the generally upbeat version of the times presented by textbooks, TV, and movies. And yet, it would not be unfamiliar to anyone who has followed the news over the past seven or so years. Hochschild’s account of how American society and government went wildly astray, and then recovered just enough, is surprising, disturbing, shocking, and suspenseful—and throughout, clear, readable, and compelling. —Helene Ragovin, senior content creator and editor, University Communications and Marketing
Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, by Dacher Keltner. Since listening to a compelling in-person talk by Dacher Keltner in 2015, about his research on the vagus nerve (“a key nexus of mind and body, and a biological building block of human compassion”), I’ve eagerly followed and cited his research on emotion and social interaction. His recently published book Awe is fascinating, delightful, and inspiring. It is an exquisitely written account of findings from a research study that Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and founding director of the university’s Greater Good Science Center, and his team conducted. The study was guided by these overarching questions: “What are the innumerable variations in awe? How [does] awe change from one culture to another, or from one period in history to another? Or from one person to another? Or even one moment in your life to another?” The research team interviewed 2,600 people from around the world, asking questions centered in their working definition of awe: “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world.” Through analyzing and coding a vast range of narratives, they classified their research data “into a taxonomy of awe, the eight wonders of life.” In three sections of the book, Keltner weaves together stories that illuminate these eight wonders of life that make up the awe taxonomy: moral beauty; collective effervescence; wild awe; musical awe; sacred geometries; life and death; and epiphany. Moral beauty is listed first because it captures a key finding of the study—that witnessing “others’ kindness, courage and overcoming” is the most common experience of awe for human beings across the globe. —Deborah Donahue-Keegan, lecturer, Department of Education; associate director, GLADC / SEL-CE Initiative, Tisch College of Civic Life
Black Skin, White Masks, by Franz Fanon. This book is both a reflective treatise and a stirring indictment of the colonial order. Deftly drawing from his interests in phenomenology and psychoanalysis, Fanon offers a detailed description of the insidious inculcation of anti-Black racism through colonial methods of psychiatry. In this conjuncture of sociopolitical tumult, Fanon’s exhortation towards a new understanding of the commonweal and a new humanity could not be more urgent. As Fanon expounds through personal and social analyses, the process of racialization has yielded naturalized fictions of difference, stratified societies, and an overrepresentation of white sensibilities and subjectivities. Fanon’s mandate is to semiotically witness and deconstruct the conditions and processes of abjection and subjugation. In his view, this deconstruction then lends to otherwise modes of relationality, and more pronouncedly in Fanon’s oeuvre, to insist on Black humanity outside its rendering within the realm of ontological terror. I heed Fanon’s call to look to the impossible or the unthinkable. This politics of the impossible mobilizes coalitional resistance to defang from oppressive logics that suffuses and haunts our everyday lives. How would we begin to take on new meanings and forms of culture and power? Given concerted efforts to create anti-racist institutions, it would behoove stakeholders to first take stock of connections to oppressive technologies and imaginations. Fanon’s classic work offers a methodology to get us started and to recast the Human. —Anthony Cruz Pantojas, Humanist Chaplain, University Chaplaincy
Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South, by Winfred Rembert, as told to Erin Kelly. Awarded the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Memoir, Chasing Me to My Grave tells Winfred Rembert’s incredible story of growing up Black and poor in Jim Crow Georgia, his near lynching, his incarceration, the discovery of his artistic talent in prison, and his pursuit of an artistic career after being released. The book is masterfully co-authored by Erin Kelly, a Tufts philosophy professor and ethicist whose scholarship raises and wrangles with questions of justice and the law. Kelly has put Rembert’s life story on paper in a gripping and moving narrative, but the book is much more than a compelling story. Rembert’s history illustrates how brutal the Jim Crow system was, and how systemic racism operates at the individual level. Kelly also captures Rembert looking unflinchingly at his own mistakes and his path to redemption. Sadly, Rembert passed away just before the book was published, but Kelly, through countless hours of interviews, offers insight into his philosophy, his beliefs, and even his humor. It is worth noting that it is a gorgeous book, enhanced by dozens of examples of Rembert’s art that tell his story. I am proud that Tufts is associated with it. —James M. Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, professor of political science
Free: A Child and a Country at the End of History, by Lea Ypi. Born in 1979 in Durres, Albania into a family whose pre- communist-era origins were from the middle class—not the family history you’d want in Stalinist Albania—Ypi recounts her first 11 years in the self-proclaimed socialist paradise, including her unsuspecting adoration for the leader she called Uncle Enver, the ruthless dictator Enver Hoxha. She tells a convincing story of life in Albania in the 1980s (with her parents talking elliptically about relatives who are “still studying at university”—code for their time as political prisoners), and then the upheavals as communist rulers fell and her family became involved in the Democratic Party of Albania. What’s really striking is that this is not an easy takedown of a morally bankrupt and isolationist communism or even of Hoxha. Ypi, now a professor of political theory at the London School of Economics, is deeply concerned with what freedom means, in all its guises. In communist Albania, there was no political freedom; many were jailed or worse for voicing their opinions. But aside from a tiny political elite, there was genuine equality, no haves and have nots. In post-communist Albania, people are free to voice their opinions, but also free to be impoverished, unemployed, and easily cheated (a banking Ponzi scheme affected huge swathes of the population in the 1990s). Ypi was a teenager in 1997 during the brief civil war in Albania, and after her mother and younger brother fled to Italy, she joined them, never to return. Her story, which reads as a memoir, is an ambiguous one, and thought-provoking about what it means to be free. —Taylor McNeil, senior news & audience engagement editor, Tufts Now
An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us, by Ed Yong. This fascinating and very well written book covers all sorts of senses that we humans lack and have very little awareness that other animals have and employ all the time. The book is all about an animal’s umwelt, their view of the world. Imagine what it’s like for your primary sense to be smell (your dog), sound (blind bats who “see” with echolocation, a type of audio radar), vision in a spectrum of light humans can’t see, or even through sensing electron or magnetic fields (some birds and insects). It’s totally beyond our comprehension—I mean, can you truly imagine what it’s like to be a bat? Yong covers all sorts of senses, including those of pain, heat, touch, vibration, sound. He conveys these difficult concepts with ease and even humor, sharing details of the science and the words of the scientists he meets in exactly the right proportion. It is a stellar achievement, the best science book I have read for years. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Yong in his gentle voice and slight British accent, which made it even more personal. Highly recommended. —Taylor McNeil, senior news & audience engagement editor, Tufts Now
Inca Apocalypse: The Spanish Conquest and the Transformation of the Andean World, by R. Alan Covey. We think we know the story of the conquest of the Incas: against the odds, Pizarro and a small band of Spaniards captured the Inca leader Atahualpa, held him for ransom, then killed him and took over the Inca empire. In contrast, Covey does a deep dive into primary sources and current and very old histories and shows us that the war between the Spanish and the Incas was just that: an ongoing series of battles that took years for the Spanish to win. One striking thing about his approach is that he details in parallel fashion the origin stories that the Incas and the Spanish tell themselves, making them fresh, and showing how both are startingly strange—and helped set them on a collision course. We know the Spanish were brutal, but so were Incas, who created powerful enemies among the peoples they subjugated as they created their empire, which stretched from modern-day Ecuador to Argentina. It’s those groups, like the northern Cañaris, who allied with the Spanish and made their victories possible. Covey also details how disruptive Inca royal successions created inevitable instability in the empire, ultimately leading to the civil war that gripped the empire just before the Spaniards—and their many deadly diseases—arrived. This was a slow-motion, long-term conquest, full of setbacks for the Spanish, who spent a good deal of time fighting among themselves, while royal Inca family members jockeyed for power among themselves and tried to play the Spaniards off each other. In the end, of course, the Inca state was subsumed by the Spanish, but despite the Inca apocalypse, native peoples in the central Andes have kept some of the Inca religion and ways alive to this day, a half-millennium later. Covey lays out this very complicated tale with verve, a feat of historiography and storytelling. —Taylor McNeil, senior news & audience engagement editor, Tufts Now
Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black in a Young America, by Catherine Kerrison. Thomas Jefferson is such a complex, contradictory, and in many ways unsettling figure in U.S. history. This book will fill out his and his families’ story further for you. It provides the biographies of Jefferson’s two daughters with his wife Martha, as well as his only daughter with Sally Hemings, his wife’s half-sister. I started reading and couldn’t put the book down. —Ann Cullen, international business librarian/senior librarian, research & instruction, Ginn Library
Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres, by Kelefa Sanneh. This may be one of the best pop culture books I’ve ever read, brought to you by critic Kelefa Sanneh, known for writing the defining piece on rockism. Through the genres of rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance, and pop, Sanneh charts an expansive history of American music. He covers it all in incredible breadth and depth, weaving together insight, personal anecdotes, identity, cultural values, and history. Sanneh clearly defines genre standards without being too prescriptive, while acknowledging the move towards genre collapse. Most impressively, Sanneh addresses musical pretension and preference, working to bridge the divide between what’s seen as “good” and “bad” music. It helps that the tone overall is cheerful and reverent. This book is a true gift for music lovers and music discovery, illuminating the profound ways that society and music are in conversation together. A few standout sections cover politics in country music (The Chicks anti-war protest), Public Enemy as the platonic ideal of rap music, and Billboard’s struggle to track the ever-evolving R&B genre. If you can, listen to the audiobook, narrated by Sanneh himself—I can’t recommend it enough. —Katie Kidwell, library assistant manager, Hirsh Health Sciences Library
Reaganland: America’s Right Turn 1976-1980, by Rick Perlstein. This fourth (and supposedly final) installment in Perlstein’s series of books documenting the rise of the conservative movement in America picks up where 2014’s The Invisible Bridge left off: Reagan’s unsuccessful attempt to wrest the Republican nomination—and the direction of the Republican party—from President Gerald Ford in 1976. Though it only covers a four-year period, Reaganland feels epic in scope (its 1,100 pages certainly help) as it concludes the story of how the conservative movement rose from the ashes of Barry Goldwater’s epic defeat in 1964 to find political and cultural dominance in the 1980s and beyond. Perlstein’s ability to deftly weave the political with the cultural to explain not just the triumph of Reagan’s brand of conservativism but its lasting impact provides a welcome new perspective. In Perlstein’s telling, Carter’s troubled presidency, the growing divisions between Congressional Democrats and the White House, the Iran crisis, the success of Star Wars and Superman, the fear unleashed by the Son of Sam and the NYC blackouts, the rise of Anita Bryant and the religious right are not discrete events, but rather part of one narrative leading to an inevitable destination. Regardless of your opinion about that destination, it’s undeniably valuable to understand how we got there. —Mike Rodman, vice president, University Communications and Marketing
The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music, by Dave Grohl. Can you remember the first time you heard Nirvana? For me it was sometime in 1991, probably when Smells Like Teen Spirit started blasting from my older brother’s boom box. Or maybe it was that time, glued to the television, we watched the teenaged mob writhe and flail across the screen in that song’s iconic MTV premiere. Flash forward to when my college roommate burned me a CD of her favorite Foo Fighters songs and I realized that its frontman, Dave Grohl, was that long-haired, skinny drummer wailing away in the background of all that Nirvana footage I’d watched as a kid. So, I was very eager to pick up a copy of his memoir, The Storyteller, when it appeared on shelves last year. In it, Grohl takes us through his childhood growing up in Virginia, discovering punk rock and metal as an adolescent, learning to play the drums and then his subsequent decades performing and touring as the driven, high-energy musician he still is today (as it happens, Foo Fighters just released their 11th studio album, But Here We Are). The Nirvana years and tragic loss of Kurt Cobain receive proper tribute, but definitely are not the sole focus of this wide-ranging and intensely personal book. He writes with deep love and admiration about the women in his life—his wife, three daughters, and mother, who has been one of his most devoted supporters since the beginning. It’s also full of great vintage photos, including a few postcards Grohl sent home from the road while on tour. It’s an equally fun and poignant read—and serves up a heavy dose of pure ’90s nostalgia for those out there looking to revisit that time. —Julia Keith, program coordinator, Tufts International Center
To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse, by Howard Fishman. This book is on my summer reading list; I’m eagerly awaiting its arrival at my library. I’m a political scientist, a scholar of American public opinion. And any scholar of American public opinion knows the name Converse—Philip Converse, a pioneer of survey research. I read and teach his work every year, and every year I discover something new in it. Scholars of public opinion are still grappling with his pessimistic assessment of the inconsistency and incoherence of people’s political attitudes. But it turns out that Phil wasn’t the only pioneer in his family. His sister Elizabeth (“Connie”) was valedictorian at her high school, published scholarship about international affairs, and was a guitar-playing folk singer-songwriter in the 1950s in New York City. When author Howard Fishman first heard one of her songs, it engulfed him. He wanted to know more about her. He learned that at some point she left New York, and then drove away from her family at age 50, never to be seen again. Few recordings of her work exist, but some are available on Spotify and other streaming services after being discovered in the early 2000s. She’s been described as “Dylan before Dylan”—ahead of her time. In researching her life, Fishman befriended Phil. From the press I’ve read about the book, it sounds like Phil’s relationship with Connie and his attempts to find her are both touching and tragic. I’m eager to learn about Connie’s life and art as well as to learn more about her brother, whose academic work takes up so much space in my own professional life. Philip was a giant in political science, but he was also a brother. And his sister sounds like she was an incredibly talented and complex person. —Deborah Schildkraut, professor of political science, School of Arts and Sciences
We Were Dreamers: An Immigrant Superhero Origin Story, by Simu Liu. This is my new favorite book. Simu, among other great roles, plays the amazing Marvel Universe superhero Shang-Chi in the movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. (The water dragon in the movie was one of my favorites too!) This book is a story of building a type of bridge between our ancestral home and the new places where we can realize our dreams. In Simu’s case, it is from Harbin, China to Mississauga, Ontario to Hollywood, California. The bigger the dream, the more support structures we must create along the way. Every page is filled with truth, laughter, and love that Simu Liu appears to embody despite the hardships of forging a path that your parents don’t understand. I personally know the kinds of rifts that can be caused in forging your own path, and appreciate how Simu works to heal them and himself along the way. You might find, like me, that you just keep rereading pages as you open to the deep insights and understandings found in the words, images, humor, and events presented. If you do read the book, please reach out. I would cherish the opportunity to discuss it with you, to revel and rejoice together. —Preeta Banerjee, Hindu Chaplain, University Chaplaincy
Weathering: The Extraordinary Stress of Ordinary Life in an Unjust Society, by Arline T. Geronimus. “Weathering” is a contronym, a word with opposite meanings. It can describe deterioration and erosion, but also grit and resilience. Arline T. Geronimus uses this word to describe the deterioration and erosion of the health of marginal populations in the United States due to persistent stress, especially African Americans of all income levels and the poor. She has been a pioneer in research showing the physiological consequences of ongoing stress and how it makes people more vulnerable to infectious and chronic disease and disability well before they are old. Perhaps most strikingly, weathering helps explain the high rates of maternal mortality among Black women, regardless of income—high-income Black mothers have the same risk of dying in the first year following childbirth as the poorest white mothers. This is a result of racism, not race. But what about the grit and resilience side of weathering? Geronimus also draws on her research to explain strategies to combat weathering. One example is the choice of when to have children. The higher maternity rate of Black teenagers makes sense if weathering raises the risks of being an older mother. (And the data show that “teenager” overwhelmingly means ages 18 or 19, not 14 or 15 as sensationalist “Babies having babies” headlines would lead you to believe.) Resilience also comes from “kin networks,” groups of multigenerational extended family and friends who do everything they can to pool risk and support one another (as Geronimus’ immigrant family did to help her mother get a college education). Geronimus summarizes scholarly studies, many of which she wrote, and illustrates these points with compelling stories of individuals. This is an eminently readable book about an extremely important topic. —Michael W. Klein, William L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs, The Fletcher School