Reading in the New Year

The Tufts community offers plenty of recommendations, from mysteries and short stories to biographies and poetry
books at bookstore
Photo: iStock
December 20, 2011

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Be they on Kindles, Nooks, iPads or, heaven forbid, in the form of a hardcover or paperback, readers in the Tufts community have more than a few recommendations—for gifts or for yourself. Our selections run the gamut, from a mystery series set in a village outside Montreal to biographies, history, poetry, thrillers and more.

When we asked our Tufts Facebook friends for favorite books, we received a wide range of suggestions, including this simple directive from Andrew Savini, A07: “Hemingway. All Hemingway, all the way.”

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

Astrid and Veronika, by Linda Olsson. This novel is about the unlikely friendship between two women in a rural area of Sweden. The narrative reflects the sparse simplicity, fragility and beauty of their environment, as well as the underlying complexities of human nature. Beautifully written, with lyrical prose and rich symbolism, the characters slowly break out of their self-imposed states of solitude by sharing hidden truths about loss. This is a book that stays with you for a long time.—Lynn Wiles, department administrator, Department of Anthropology and Department of Religion, School of Arts and Sciences

The Blue Death, by Robert D. Morris. The inspiring story of John Snow’s work to prove to others that cholera is waterborne and not airborne is the subject of this book. Working alone and without promise of material reward, Snow went about observing, describing, comparing and doing the painstaking detective work needed to build the case that cholera is a waterborne disease. He was, in a sense, the father of epidemiology, investigating the various locations where deaths had occurred. He was also a pioneer in obstetric anesthesia, and as such was the personal obstetrician to Queen Victoria. Snow is a hero for what he accomplished and the good he did for the world, but he’s also a hero for the way he went about his work with such focus and without consideration for external reward, social or material.—George Scarlett, deputy chair, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development

The Battle for Christmas, by Stephen Nissenbaum—David Rego, G08

Catherine the Great, by Robert Massie. One of the best of the year; this 600-page account reads like fiction!—Giselle Roig, A07

The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje. The fascinating story of a boy’s journey on an ocean liner from Ceylon to England in 1954.—Laura Liscum, professor of physiology, School of Medicine

Emily, Alone, by Stewart O’Nan. Not much happens in Emily, Alone, just life itself. A widow for several years, tending into her 80s, Emily is learning to live alone, coming to some sort of terms with her life as she knows it is drawing to its inevitable end. As we travel through her days, weeks and months, we learn more about Emily from her reactions to people, places and events. She can’t change her family—a daughter coping with a lifetime of “issues” and a son who’s bound to a difficult wife. Emily starts to make peace with that—and comes to see her own difficult relationship with her mother in a new light. Mostly, as O’Nan portrays Emily in vivid, precise language, she’s so very real that she could be any of our grandmothers—or mothers. It’s a poignant portrait, achingly real at times. How do we find meaning in life? How do we get to the next day? Emily finds it’s mostly by simply keeping going, still searching for meaning in everyday matters.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I am about halfway through this eye-opening read on the long history of cancer and the fight for awareness, funding and treatment options. It is a well-written nonfiction book that brings you through various medical theories of cancer, interwoven with human experiences. The author, an M.D., masterfully describes the discovery process and the oftentimes tragic results of searching for a cure. It goes beyond the medical technicalities to look at the origins and impact of fundraising on cancer research, including the start of the Jimmy Fund.—Sean Devendorf, director of alumni relations and annual giving, Friedman School

The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944–1945, by Ian Kershaw. By the summer of 1944, it was increasingly clear that Nazi Germany was losing the war, pushed back on all sides. Yet it kept fighting as if it could win. Ian Kershaw wanted to understand why—especially as the war became more and more costly for Germany, losing hundreds of thousands of troops monthly and being bombed into obliteration as 1944 staggered into 1945. The answer, of course, was Hitler, and the homicidal regime he led, but it was more than just that. Yes, the Nazi regime reigned with brutal terror: toward the end of the war, anyone suspected of “defeatism,” let alone dissent, was subject to swift and immediate punishment—often death. But Kershaw pays the military special scrutiny. He again and again shows that post-war proclamations by generals that they were “just doing their duty” and were apolitical were often lies; they were ardent followers of Hitler and knew what they were doing. But until Hitler was dead, the war—and the destruction—would continue. Kershaw’s tale is shocking and tragic; this is what humans are capable of, in the end. It should serve as a cautionary tale, too. Cries of “never again” ring hollow; Kershaw shows how easy it was for Germany—educated, sophisticated, technologically advanced—to sink to the basest, most brutal level. This is history as it is meant to be written: clear, cogent, personal, thoughtful, definitive.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle, by Thor Hansen. When I think of dinosaurs, I think of T. Rex, a gigantic creature stomping its way to domination. But dinosaurs came in all sizes, including small, and as Hansen shows us in this engaging book, it’s not too hard to picture them as progenitors of our feathered friends. It was never easy for evolutionists to prove this point—what’s needed are fossils, and delicate feathers are hardly the material to etch their history in stone. Still, in Germany in 1861, the fossil remains of Archaeopteryx lithographica came to light and seemed to be the missing link between dinosaurs—technically theropods—and birds. What made the link? Feathers. How and why feathers evolved, though, is still a matter of much debate and conjecture. Hansen lets the opposing camps in the long-running scientific battles state their cases and brings the protagonists to life. He’s good with history and personality and even better explaining the science, directly and through analogy. Hansen feels a need to canvas feathers from all angles, and he takes us on some junkets—to Vegas, where the showgirls wear elaborate dyed feathers, for instance—but he’s usually not wasting our time. By the end of the book, which helpfully includes an illustrated guide to feathers, I had a completely new appreciation for feathers and the creatures sporting them. Next time you see a feather on the ground, pick it up and marvel: millions of years of evolutionary perfectionism went into making it.—Taylor McNeil, senior news editor, Tufts Now

Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen. One of the most witty and topical commentaries on the morality of living in today’s world; truly a wonderful novel.—Caroline Melhado, A12

Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s not new by any means, but incredibly fun and witty.—Yulia Korovikov, A13. It is one of my all-time favorite books for irreverent people.—Nicole Schilling, A15

Habibi, by Craig Thompson. This is a beautiful graphic novel by an American author that is filled with the mysticism of the Arabic language and the stories of Islam, all tied together with the tale of the relationship between an enslaved prostitute and a eunuch in the Middle East. Scandalous!—David Schwartz, A13

The Heart and the Fist: The Education of a Humanitarian, the Making of a Navy SEAL, by Eric Greitens.—Joshua Prince, E14

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. For any aspiring scientist, physician or other health professional, this investigative report reads like a novel and brings up lots of ethical dilemmas.—Kristen Hanssen Goodell, assistant professor of medicine, School of Medicine

The Lessons, by Joanne Diaz. At the beginning of my sophomore year at Tufts, I answered a knock on my door in Hill Hall and met Joanne Diaz, J94. She lived next door. Our love of books and music brought us together, and we became friends. We wanted to be writers. After graduation, we held literary salons in our small two-bedroom in Somerville, where we served grown-up food for the first time: sliced cheese and assorted olives, bottled beer and wine. Guests read aloud their stories and poems. We were full of youthful, wonderful ignorance; we could not wait for our real lives as writers to begin. We figured as long as we kept writing, we’d have a book deal in no time. We had no idea how difficult this would be (not publishing, but writing something worth publishing) and how long we’d have to wait, but this year I was thrilled to read Joanne’s first book of poems, The Lessons, which won the Gerald Cable Book Award. It’s an amazing book that will delight many readers, even those who don’t believe they “get” poetry (as a prose writer, I feel this way sometimes). The poems are inspired by other poems, by the history of medicine, by the Civil War, by travel (including a poem about studying abroad junior year in Oxford), and even by the Boston accent (find a way to hear the poet herself read aloud her “Epigram for a Boston Accent”). Joanne’s poems transport you far away in time and place and allow you to inhabit the speaker’s perspective, but in the end, this profound reading experience invites lessons and reflections about your place in the world, about what it means to embody.—Grace Talusan, J94, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. It’s a wonderful book and incredibly moving. You’ll never be able to predict the ending.—Dani Jenkins, A13

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. This delightful first novel succeeds because the author has created an engaging character, namely Major Ernest Pettigrew, a proper, slightly crusty Englishman. This flawed but endearing widower becomes friends with Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper in his village who has recently lost her husband. The friendship blossoms over conversation and shared interests, and the ensuing love story raises questions about prejudice in their world of thatched-roof cottages and rolling countryside. Major Pettigrew’s relationship with his grown son, the materialistic and overbearing Roger, shows how the major must have not been the easiest of fathers. After the several plots strands are woven together, what the reader leaves with is a fondness for Major Pettigrew and the hope that he will show up in a sequel.—Marjorie Howard, senior writer, University Relations

Micro: A Novel, by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston. My favorite gift this year is an unexpected romp through tropical rainforests: a beautifully detailed description of ground-level insect and plant life, wrapped in an enthralling adventure that pits a lab full of MIT biologists against a high-tech madman. Readers get two books for price of one. Those who like fast action and a well-crafted plot get Michael Crichton, the fiction genius who created Jurassic Park and other books of such wide appeal that they sold more than 200 million copies. Crichton’s writing leaps off the page into blockbuster movies and, most famously, the ER television series, based on his experience at Mass. General Hospital. The manuscript for Micro was left unfinished when Crichton died of cancer in 2008. To complete it, Crichton’s estate chose Richard Preston, the great nonfiction writer whose last book, The Wild Trees, is a gorgeous telling of scientific discovery at the top of California’s giant redwoods. Preston fills Crichton’s plot with vivid portraits of a world that normally takes a Ph.D. to see: the micro-scale interactions between plants and insects. That world, and the scientists who explore it, could have been caricatured in the throwaway style of Jurassic Park. Instead the setting of Micro is lovingly painted by a writer who plainly suffers from what E.O. Wilson called “biophilia”: an instinctive love and respect for all living things. Preston specializes in writing about the hidden corners of nature, things that can be observed only through a scientist’s lens. Crichton saw scientists mainly as villains, most famously in his 2004 novel State of Fear, which depicted global warming as a hoax perpetrated by climatologists. Crichton’s other plots also often feature bad guys in lab coats. With Micro, Richard Preston continues Crichton’s gleeful skewering of pseudo-scientific evildoers, but nature itself is the real star of this book. In Preston’s world, like mine, the remedy for bad science is good science, and his version of Crichton’s story will leave the reader enriched, enlightened and maybe even optimistic about our place in the natural world.—Will Masters, professor of food policy, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

More Money Than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite, by Sebastian Mallaby. Every so often, my wife turns to me and asks, “If you’re such a smart economist, why aren’t we making a killing in the stock market?” I usually answer something about efficient markets, all information already being priced into asset values and some other stuff that I hope will move the conversation to a more comfortable subject. Along these lines, after I read Sebastian Mallaby’s book, I hid it by putting it on the bookshelf among my economics texts. But More Money Than God is anything but a dry tome on an arcane subject, like its neighbors on that shelf. Mallaby offers a compelling, informative and very entertaining account of how a number of hedge fund managers have changed the financial landscape and, in so doing, have beaten the market. And if my wife does pick up this book, at least she’ll also see how many of these same people lost the fortunes they made. Mallaby draws on years of research and extensive interviews to put together a history of the hedge fund industry. The level of analysis is impressive, and the stories of the larger-than-life personalities are memorable. Perhaps more importantly, this book offers some timely insights into financial innovation, a topic of deep interest as policy turns towards figuring out whether and how to regulate financial markets in order to make them beneficial for the 99 percent of us who have not made more money than God.—Michael W. Klein, William L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs, Fletcher School

On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. Also: The Tender Bar: A Memoir, by J.R. Moehringer, and The Lost Books of the Odyssey, by Zachary Mason.—Derek Haddad, G13

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami.—Kimberly Moniz, gift planning communications coordinator, University Advancement

One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place, by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown.—Marny Ashburne, production manager, Advancement Communications

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. An insightful novel about Ernest Hemingway’s life with his first wife, Hadley.—Joanne Bertelsen Barnett, J86, theater manager, Department of Drama and Dance

Pulp and Paper, by Josh Rolnick. I’ve been waiting almost 20 years for this book, the first short-story collection from fiction writer Josh Rolnick. Back in the day, Josh and I were newsroom colleagues, and it was clear even from the tight, often hastily written dispatches that make up the bulk of daily journalism that he had an eye for the all-telling detail, an ear for the heartfelt nugget of dialogue and an instinct for the emotional inner truths behind seemingly ordinary stories. All of this is abundantly evident in Pulp and Paper, a collection of eight short stories, set in New York and New Jersey, which won the John Simmons Short Fiction Award from the University of Iowa Press this year. The stories are rich with a sense of place, the melancholy of small defeats and the heartbreak of great loss and, always, the genuine humanity of his characters. And for anyone who’s ever been in the newspaper business, “The Herald,” Rolnick’s story about a reporter after the “big story,” is a special treat.—Helene Ragovin, editor, Tufts Dental Medicine

The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It’s a hidden gem.—Katie Rizzolo, A09

Shucked: Life on a New England Oyster Farm, by Erin Byers Murray. I grew up near where the author goes to work on Skip Bennett’s oyster farm in Duxbury, Mass. The best oysters anywhere!—Rob Ayles, associate director of development, University Advancement

Situations Matter, by Sam Sommers—Alicia Ranucci, A14

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson. Of course.—Lisa Romeo Thompson, E78

Still Life, by Louise Penny. I have fallen in love with the Inspector Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny, which began with Still Life. Set in Montreal and south of the city in the tiny village of Three Pines, the main character is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec. He is the type of supervisor everyone wants. Penny’s writing is outstanding, and her characterizations are brilliant. There are only seven books in the series to date, so I am pacing myself to make them last. These happen to be award-winning books, but even better, they are books that you can totally escape into and feature characters that you will care about.—Mary-Ellen Marks, faculty secretary, School of Dental Medicine

30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, by Karl Pillemer. Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer surveyed more than 1,200 older Americans, most ages 70 and over, asking them what advice for living they would give the younger generation. He details their practical wisdom on issues such as child-rearing, marriage, finding a career, avoiding regrets and—logically enough—aging “fearlessly and well.” The 30 lessons are illustrated with stories from the interviewees, some of whom are unforgettable. He creates a rich portrait of what this “greatest generation” knows that younger people don’t about living a happy and fulfilling life.—Helen Rasmussen, senior research dietitian, Metabolic Research Unit, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, and instructor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

A Tenured Professor, by John Kenneth Galbraith. If you love the idea that an economics professor researching “Mathematical Paradigms in an Approach to Refrigerator Pricing” can outfox the stock market and become unfathomably rich—and if you equally relish witty, acerbic and profoundly truthful jabs at the absurd machinations of academia, government, philanthropy and big business, this is a must read. Harvard professor Montgomery Marvin’s “Index of Irrational Expectations” predicts stock performance in lockstep to Galbraith’s belief that mass psychology generated by consumerism and advertising is the real driver of markets. Since the 1950s, his vast writings have gleefully exposed the foibles of human behavior when wealth is threatened and offered ways to break big money’s manipulation of politics—and this novel is no exception. Written in 1990 in response to Reaganomics and the first Bush recession, it is equally a parable for our current times. As always, the contrarian Galbraith uses parody, in the style of Evelyn Waugh or Joseph Heller, to make us pause and think about large issues while we laugh: What is academic integrity? Can personal wealth be used to foster peace? Will our institutions allow moral vision beyond profit to survive? If you want to rediscover Galbraith beyond economic essays and anti-Vietnam War polemics—or if you are discovering him for the first time—this will whet your appetite for more.—Gail Bambrick, senior marketing communications writer, University Relations

Vital Pursuits, by Evan Glasson. A book of poetry by Evan, who works at Tufts School of Medicine.—Christin Ciano, administrative coordinator, School of Medicine

Waves Crashing, by Wendy Pendexter Jones. Not only is she a great author, but a Tufts grad (J96 and G98). Waves Crashing is a heartfelt story of a young girl coming of age and dealing with loss and love. A great read!—Chris Jones, G98

For more book suggestions, go to the Tisch Library leisure reading blog What Sophia Recommends.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.

 

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