Summer Book Recommendations 2021

Need a good read? Tufts faculty, staff, and alumni share their favorite books—timely and classic
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Photo: iStock
June 24, 2021

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The past year has been hard in many ways, but if there’s one thing it’s been good for, it’s reading. We see that in the strong collection of books reviewed here by members of the Tufts community.

We have a wide range of fiction: historical, sci-fi, fantasy, literary, young adult, mystery. On the nonfiction side, our contributors bring us spies, questions about racial justice and injustice, heroic journalists, dogs, parenting, 9/11, memoirs, history, and more.

Be sure to also check out the recommendations from a lively group of Tufts authors—faculty and alumni—in our new Bookish series, as they chat about the books that they are reading and the ones they keep going back to.

If you have book recommendations to add to the list, write to us at now@tufts.edu, and we’ll post an update.

FICTION

Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. Ancillary Justice operates in the best traditions of science fiction, using its space-opera setting to explore themes ranging from colonialism to gender identity to the nature of consciousness. The novel is set in the Radch empire, a powerful colonial force that conquers planets and uses the bodies of the subjugated as ancillaries: flesh vessels for the AI consciousnesses of its warships. Full of touches that challenge the reader’s assumptions—for example, the Radchaai don’t distinguish between genders, so Leckie uses female pronouns for every character—the book creates a complex web of relationships between colonizer and colonized, humans and aliens, and natural and artificial intelligences. The action follows Breq, one of many ancillaries housing the AI of Radchaai ship Justice of Toren. When her ship—along with all the other ancillaries and her beloved commanding officer—is destroyed, Breq embarks on a mission to avenge them. In the process, she finds herself drawn into a conspiracy that threatens the mighty Radch empire and might just involve the empire’s ruthless leader, Anaander Mianaai. Ancillary Justice is gripping and action-packed, and I’m not the only one who thinks so; the novel won the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke awards, the only novel ever to have done so. —Alex Israel, event planner and marketing specialist, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

The Chill, by Ross Macdonald. Private eye Lew Archer has just finished testifying in court in the California coastal town of Pacific Point when a distraught young man asks him to find his missing wife. She walked out the day after they married, he tells Archer, and it’s been two weeks without a word. Archer takes on the job, and within a few days he’s found the girl—and a dead woman. Soon he’s tied that death to two earlier murders, and a web of deceit and deep familial dysfunction. Macdonald wrote 18 Archer mysteries, and this 1964 novel is one of his best, intricately plotted with a propulsive narrative driven almost entirely by dialogue. In all of Macdonald’s mysteries, the past is never dead—it’s not even in the past, as Faulkner said. When individuals and families in Lew Archer’s world don’t confront their demons, they always recur. Macdonald himself had a troubled childhood and a troubled family and knew what he spoke of. I first read this book maybe 20 years ago and just finished listening to it on audiobook (on Hoopla, via my local library)—its pounding psychological pressure is as strong as ever. If you like Robert B. Parker, read Ross Macdonald—he was one of Parker’s literary heroes. —Taylor McNeil, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing 

Detransition, Baby, by Torrey Peters. This book couldn’t have been written by a cisgender writer. Only someone from inside the trans community could have written a book so immediate, intimate, and raw in its depiction of the lives of trans people in very different places with their gender. The story follows Reese, a woman whose ex-partner Amy—who she met when both were part of the same trans circle—returns identifying as Ames. Ames comes with a seismic request: he wants Reese to help raise the baby he has fathered with a cis lover. Peters writes incise and often hilarious prose, with a wicked eye for the games people play. Along the way, Peters does not shy away from complicated thoughts and lets her characters say/think the worst things. This is so true that the book might be off-putting for the casual reader hoping for a feel-good affirmation story. (I mean, the title should be a tip off.) But the result is a truly human and humane book, which continually goes to unexpected places. Stick with it and Reese’s story will stick with you. —David Valdes, lecturer, Department of English, author of the forthcoming Spin Me Right Round

Eternal, by Lisa Scottoline. You may know Lisa Scottoline from the more than 20 legal fiction books she has written over the past quarter century. I have always enjoyed her mix of law, character development, and mystery. Eternal, a historical novel, is a major shift for Scottoline.  The story takes place in Rome between 1937 and 1943 as first the fascists, then the Nazis, took over Italy. It follows three young friends as they develop personal relationships and deal with the changing world around them. Sando is Jewish and working on his studies while his best friend, Marco, is working with the fascists. Sando’s brother is, unbeknownst to his family, an anti-fascist. The two families, one Jewish and one Catholic, are very close. Sando and Marco are both vying for the attention and love of Elisabetta, as she struggles to survive both world politics and her own personal issues. While Eternal is a love story of two boys vying for the same young woman, it also provides great detail about how the Jewish neighborhoods were torn apart, personal relationships were changed and strengthened, and everyone worked to survive during that tragic time. As someone who enjoys history, this fictional story featuring a wealth of historical accuracy was thoroughly engrossing. The books epigraph, a quote by Virgil, “love conquers all things,” says it all. —Daniel Volchok, associate dean, Graduate School Biomedical Science

Fair Warning, by Michael Connolly. Have you ever clicked “I accept” to a privacy policy without reading it? You may never do so again after reading Fair Warning. In it, a company does what 23andMe does, but for only $23; for the reduced price you give them access to your DNA data. Not a big deal, you might think—until it leads to murder; a serial murderer, in fact. The irony is that the book is about a dystopian but plausible digital age and the main character is an investigative reporter. Journalism is one of the industries that has been changed forever by the digital age. What I loved about the book was it was both a gripping read and relevant to my Digital Health course, where we discuss topics including digital phenotyping and ethical issues around data privacy. Interestingly, there is even an organization called Fair Warning, that has written about “Privacy Fears Rising as DNA Test Companies Shift to New Ventures.” Read this book for the broader societal implications, or read it as a thriller, complete with romance and drama. Lisa Gualtieri, associate professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine

Girl Gone Missing, by Marcie R. Rendon. Cash Blackbear is hardly your typical mystery protagonist. It’s the early 1970s, and she’s in her first year at Moorhead State in Minnesota, living in next door Fargo, North Dakota, in a small apartment, finally on her own after having bounced through one foster home after another since she was 12. Her mother has long since disappeared; her father is unknown, her sister and brother also lost to the state foster care system, which broke up Native American families with reckless abandon in the 1960s. She’s tough and damaged, trusting no one except Wheaton, a rural cop who saved her from an abusive foster home and got her the apartment and a place in college. She’s bright—she read constantly to escape her hard life—but her horizons are narrow: the pool table at the Casbah bar, her Marlboros, beer, and farm work. She hears about a bright girl—white and blonde—from one of her classes who disappeared on a trip to “the Cities,” as distant and mysterious Minneapolis/St. Paul are called in Fargo. She’s not the only one, it turns out. Cash is soon on the case in her own way—this is the second in a series—driving her Ford Ranchero into the heart of darkness. The mystery takes second place in this novel: this is a character study, completely unsentimental, and all the more vivid for it, showing the hard edge of everyday life for Native Americans in the upper Midwest. This is how you live when you are given few if any choices, and the odds are stacked against you. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Rendon, a citizen of the Ojibwe White Earth Nation, was studying at Moorhead in the early ’70s, too. Now I have to go back and read the first in the series, Murder on the Red River. — Taylor McNeil, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab. In exchange for her freedom from a forced marriage, Addie LaRue signs a deal with the devil that enables her to be immortal—but forgotten by everyone she meets. Even her mother forgets her when she leaves the room. Addie is devastated by her fate, but learns how to manipulate it to her own benefit. The book travels back and forth across centuries, from Addie’s childhood in France to becoming a muse for artists and poets, to having long love affairs made of a string of one-night stands. In present day New York City, she finally meets someone who is able to remember her, which reminds her of the value of connection. I found it creative and enchanting, and it took me places that I did not expect. —Robin Smyton, A09, media relations specialist, Office of Communications and Marketing

Iron Lake, by William Kent Krueger. This is the first of 17 books in the Cork O’Connor mystery series, all of which are extremely well written and researched. In this book, Cork, a former cop on Chicago’s South Side, is dealing with marital meltdown when a local judge is murdered and a young Eagle Scout is reported missing, Cork takes on the case. Cork is one-quarter Ojibwe and many scenes in the books take place on the reservation located in Minnesota, and include incredible detail about their traditions. You will fall down the rabbit hole with his books—and you won’t care. Krueger is also author of the stand-alone novels This Tender Land and Ordinary Grace. —Mary-Ellen Marks, academic affairs administrator, Office of Academic Affairs, School of Dental Medicine

Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro. I remember reading Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and thinking that although it read as dystopian YA—centering on the social dynamics between teenager Kathy and her friends at a mysterious boarding school—it immersed me in a way that felt strikingly similar to Remains of the Day, a literary post-World-War-II tale about an aging butler (Stevens) that imprinted itself on my angsty high school soul. Ishiguro’s newest novel includes neither boarding schools nor butleries, but compare it to these best-loved two of his books, and you’ll feel the same mesmerizing quality at its heart. Maybe it’s the sepia-toned yet crystalline narration: like Kathy and Stevens before her, Klara—a prepubescent Artificial Friend with a remarkably genuine heart—is looking back on emotionally momentous events with a meticulous and discerning gaze. Maybe it’s the fact that like Stevens, Klara is remembering a life of devoted service, in this case to the human girl (Josie) to whom she has been assigned—or the fact that the dystopian brokenness of her world lurks in the background, growing clearer as she learns and evolves, as in Never Let Me Go. Maybe it’s the love, pain, and sharply observed subtleties of human behavior that Kazuo interweaves so skillfully, building to a devastating finale, as in his previous works. In any case, the result is the same—a story that’s uplifting yet quietly disturbing, easy to read yet difficult to categorize, and definitely worth spending time with. —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing

Long Division, by Kiese Laymon. Originally published in 2013, Long Division is a novel told in two interwoven stories. The first takes place in 2013 and is about 14-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson, who becomes an overnight YouTube celebrity after he is humiliated following his appearance on a game show. He is then sent to live with his grandmother in Mississippi. Upon arriving in Mississippi, he discovers that a young girl named Baize Sheppard has gone missing. The principal of city’s school gives him a book to read called Long Division. City discovers that the central protagonist of the book is also named City Coldson. However, this story takes place in 1985. In this story, City and his friend Shalaya Crump travel to the future to steal a laptop and cell phone from Baize Shepard in order to defend his family from the Ku Klux Klan in 1964. The two stories beautifully come together in the work shed of his grandmother’s home surrounding the disappearance of Baize Sheppard. This is a satirical, coming-of-age story in Mississippi, that addresses issues of family, racism, anti-Semitism, freedom, and technology. Laymon is one of the best writers of our moment. His ability to touch all of our human emotions from joy and laughter to sadness is uncanny. He recently revised and republished this book in June 2021, which I have not had the opportunity to read, but look forward to doing so this summer. —Ryan Rideau, associate director of teaching, learning and inclusion, CELT

The Masterpiece, by Fiona Davis. The setting is Grand Central Terminal in New York City, and the main characters are Clara and Virginia, two women with storylines 50 years apart. Clara’s story begins in 1921 when she is a teacher at an acclaimed art school located within Grand Central. Though a talented artist, she struggles to break through in a male-dominated field. In 1974, Virginia, a downtrodden single mother, takes a job in the information booth in the famous terminal. By this time, the once-celebrated architectural masterpiece has lost most of its luster and is facing the possibility of being shuttered. By chance, Virginia discovers the abandoned art school within the terminal, and eventually begins investigating a mystery involving Clara. Though the main characters are fictional, the details about the art school and the decay of Grand Central are historically accurate. Although I loved the author’s portrayals of both women and the vivid details of their lives, my favorite character was Grand Central itself. The author does an incredible job painting an image of the iconic landmark—in its glamorous early days and in its dusty, dilapidated, 1970s incarnation. I have since read three more of the author’s books, The Dollhouse, The Lions of Fifth Avenue, and Chelsea Girls. I enjoyed them all, though The Masterpiece remains my favorite. Whether you read it on the beach or on a plane, you will find yourself transported to the busy foyer and hidden hallways of Grand Central. —Maria Vey Conroy, J93, stewardship and donor relations specialist, Office of Stewardship and Donor Relations, University Advancement

The Murderbot Diaries, by Martha Wells. We’re living in a golden age of science fiction, and one of this era’s brightest lights is award-winning veteran author Martha Wells. Over five novellas, two short stories, and a full-length novel (which recently won the 2021 Nebula Award for Best Novel), The Murderbot Diaries document the rather unwilling adventures of a SecUnit—a security droid—that has “hacked its governor module” but keeps doing its job as an unfree sentient being owned by a Corporation that leases out its services. Though it would rather manage its anxiety (and get through the day) by watching “media,” over the course of the series, Murderbot is forced to confront concepts of self-determination and what it means to be a free, sentient being, how to have friends and chosen family, and to find its place in a human society. By turns simply hilarious and surprisingly moving, readers themselves will be inevitably challenged to consider these very human questions. Start with All Systems Red, where you’ll meet Murderbot and its clients, then follow its adventures traveling the galaxy, unravelling deadly plots, and downloading—and sharing—new media with a variety of human and non-human companions. For those who enjoy audiobooks, the series is read by actor Kevin R. Free, a fantastic interpreter of our ungendered, anxious, and profane hero and a compelling cast of human—and otherwise—characters. —Pamela S. M. Hopkins, public services and outreach archivist, Digital Collections and Archives

Nives, by Sacha Naspini. If you’re looking for a quick summer read, at 128 pages this short novel might be for you. Naspini is an Italian author, editor, art director, and screenwriter, and Nives is the first novel he has written that has been translated into English. The story, set in southern Tuscany where the author lives, begins with Nives Raulli adjusting to life after the death of her husband of 50 years. Nives brings her favorite chicken, Giacomina, to live with her inside the house, and Giacomina quickly takes the place of her late husband. When Giacomina has a sudden adverse reaction to a TV commercial, Nives calls Loriano, the local veterinarian, for advice. The final 100 pages consists entirely of their ensuing telephone conversation. Old memories are dredged up and secrets of the past are revealed. The author’s extraordinary talent brings a whole world into existence through this one dialogue. We learn about the fraught relationship between Nives and her daughter, about Loriano’s wife and son, and about their relationships with old friends and lovers. The bond that exists between women acts as a subtle background theme. The twists and turns weave a story that is at once full of bitterness yet satisfyingly cathartic. —Rebecca Russo, director of admissions, Cumming School

The Oxford Book of English Short Stories, edited by A.S. Byatt. Earlier this spring I took an online course on English short stories just for the fun of it, and discovered this wonderful book through the class. It is a perfect book for dipping into on a long quiet afternoon or before dropping off to sleep on a summer night. I had always admired Byatt—one of my favorite postwar novels is Possession—and I figured that she would have a distinctive set of choices. I was right. Certainly there are some of my old favorites, such as T.H. White’s surreal horror fantasy “The Troll,” which takes place in the blinding daylight of midsummer Scandinavia. Byatt includes many of my other favorite writers—often with highly idiosyncratic selections, such as P.G. Wodehouse’s hilarious ode to imitating the clucking of a hen who has just laid an egg, otherwise known as “The Reverent Wooing of Archibald,” and J.G. Ballard’s mysterious eco-fable “Dream Cargoes.” But the book contained plenty of stunning realistic works that I, as a fantasy specialist, might otherwise have ignored. Penelope Fitzgerald’s “At Hiruharama” story of love and childbirth on a New Zealand farm of the previous century affected me greatly as did, in a very different way, Aldous Huxley’s rather cynical vision of “Nuns at Luncheon.” But my all-time favorite candidate for Crazy/Weird/Fun Story Written by a Staid Victorian Writer was Anthony Trollope’s “Relics of General Chasse: A Tale of Antwerp.” I can’t possibly explain its charm. Just read and enjoy! —Susan Napier, Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese Studies, Department of International Literary and Cultural Studies

The Parted Earth, by Anjali Enjeti. I had my pen in hand the entire time I read this book so I could write down many of the gorgeous sentences contained within its pages. The Parted Earth is a sweeping story of the Partition in India and its impact—loss, tragedy, grief, shame, anger, and the need for resolution depicted expertly. If you are a reader of historical fiction or someone who wants to be swept up in an unforgettable story, this is a book I would recommend. You come to know the characters so quickly and to care so very much about them. A stellar book, it is deeply moving and important, and deserves every bit of notice it has received in the numerous reviews praising it as a must read. Enjeti also has a second book of essays out for readers who care about social justice, political action, and our world, Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance and Social Change. —Michelle Bowdler, executive director of health and wellness

The Passenger, by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz. Sometimes, a book’s history is almost as interesting as the work itself. That is the case with The Passenger, written in an intense four-week period after the Kristallnacht pogroms in Nazi Germany in 1938. Boschwitz, the son of a Jewish father and a Protestant mother, was 23 at the time. The novel describes the odyssey of a Jewish businessman, who travels frantically but aimlessly by train throughout Germany in a doomed effort to avoid the ongoing mass arrests of Jews. The book paints a vivid portrait of the increasingly dire situation of German Jews during the period just before war broke out, and its compelling narrative reflects the urgency, even desperation, in which it was written. It is hard to put down. The protagonist, Otto Silbermann, is not an especially appealing character, and the ordinary Germans he encounters are nuanced figures as well, lending a greater sense of believability to the novel. An early, unedited version, published in translation in England and the U.S. in 1939 and 1940, was quickly forgotten. Boschwitz was in the process of revising it when he was interned as an “enemy alien” in England and later in Australia. He died in 1942 when his ship returning from Australia to England was torpedoed by German U-boats; his revised version was lost with him. The Passenger was totally forgotten until the author’s niece alerted a German editor to its existence in a Frankfurt archive almost 75 years after Boschwitz’s death. This newly edited version was published in Germany in 2018 and in the U.S. this spring. It is a welcome rediscovery, one that brings a tragic era to feverish, paranoid life. —Neil Miller, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences

The Queen’s Gambit, by Walter Tevis. There’s no way you missed the TV show, which dropped in the middle of the pandemic and immediately became Netflix’s most-watched scripted miniseries. Featuring the hypnotic Anya Taylor-Joy as orphaned, pill-popping chess prodigy Beth Harmon, the show was widely acclaimed for its vibrant 1950s costumes and sets and realistic portrayal of grandmaster-level chess. But have you read the book? If not, do so immediately—particularly if you’re one of the many who went into withdrawal as soon as the credits started rolling on the final episode. You’ll reexperience the most emotionally rewarding arcs of the show, from the gruff mentorship of custodian William Shaibel to the quirky mother-daughter relationship with Alma Wheatley, with plot points and even conversations aligning beat for beat in a way that’s only possible when a short novel is given seven episodes to breathe. But Beth’s inner monologue runs throughout, adding an emotionally and intellectually intense undercurrent, as well as an expanded perspective on the chess games that will enthrall and entertain with its endless technical subtleties and anthropomorphization of knights and queens (provided by Russian grandmaster Garry Kasparov, who also consulted on the series decades later). And two-thirds of the way through, you’ll observe some significant changes in who does what when, providing novelty and surprise as well as a new appreciation for the artistic choices of the show’s writers. Understated and sparse, with the occasional startling moment of poetry, Tevis’s slim 1983 novel is a quick and rewarding read, and a great motivator to grab a chess set and learn to play yourself. —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing

Real Life, by Brandon Taylor. From MJ Franklin’s review of Real Life in the New York Times, we learn that, after two literary agents rejected the manuscript, Taylor threw it in the trash. His observation was that “It felt like the universe was telling [him] that [he] wasn’t good enough, and that [his] work wasn’t worth sharing with the world.” His roommate fished the book out of the trash, saying that he would hold onto it until Taylor “came to his senses.” We owe that roommate a debt of gratitude. The rich and often contradictory inner life with which Taylor endows aspiring biochemist Wallace creates the freshest literary fiction I’ve read in years. Through vital prose that vibrates with inventiveness, Taylor explores the paradox of deep loneliness that can occur while surrounded by friends and colleagues. Black, gay Ph.D. candidate Wallace is a character who’s hard to forget; Taylor’s is a highly original voice that you will want to remember. —Dave Nuscher, executive director, content and planning, University Communications and Marketing

The Rose Code, by Kate Quinn. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, look no further than Kate Quinn’s newest novel set during World War II in Great Britain. The Rose Code follows three young women—working class but determined-to-rise-above-her-station Mab Churt; sheltered and brainy puzzle aficionado Beth Finch; and determined-to-be-more-than-a-debutante Osla Kendall—whose very different backgrounds and experiences converge when they are recruited to serve as codebreakers at the famed Bletchley Park. Triumph, sisterhood, love, heartbreak, tragedy (make sure to have tissues on hand), and betrayal ensue. Years later, once the war is over, the three former friends are forced back together to discover the spy who deceived them years ago and to absolve one of their own of the crime before it’s too late. Quinn’s book is a page-turning read filled with complex characters, some of whom are based on real people (like the late Prince Philip). Bonus: it’s an engaging way to learn about the amazing, badass, and too often unknown women who served alongside men to change the course of history. If this sounds up your alley, be sure to check out Quinn’s other books with similar themes, The Huntress and The Alice Network. —Jess Byrnes, A12, program administrator, Tisch College of Civic Life

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo. If ever there was a year for a young adult fantasy series, 2020-21 was surely it. Enter the “Grishaverse” and escape into a darker, grittier version of Potterdom (for those who are always looking for the Hogwarts of our youth). In Six of Crows, you get cunning heists, a bit of morally justifiable thievery, and a motley crew of seven intertwined characters, each with their own emerging and sometimes fantastical backgrounds and talents. Rooting for them to band their underdog charisma together, you watch as they learn to undo the (queer, race/color, ethnic origin, disability, and religion/spirituality) stereotypes they have about themselves and each other. You’re in the gutter town they find themselves in, and cheer as they best the corrupt and inequitable socio-political caste systems—and personal traumas of their lives. They eventually coalesce against the main threat to the Grishaverse, an addictive drug made to enhance and control those who have magical or special talents. Finally united against the scourge of this heroin-like “jurda parem,” they realize their differences are what make them stronger—it gives them hope that they might actually be able to save their world. Buy the second book in the series, Crooked Kingdom, at the same time (or Shadow and Bone which comes before it) so you can stay in the Grishaverse as long as possible. The books do not disappoint, and you can follow the characters through more challenges. Netflix took on these books and made it into a series, but they mush together the timelines and in doing so muck up the sensibilities of the characters and books. Hard “no” on the TV version. —Jill A. Zellmer, executive director, Title IX coordinator and 504 officer, Office of Equal Opportunity

A Time to Be Born, by Dawn Powell. Set in the period immediately before the United States joined World War II, the upper crust of New York’s publishing society is sheltered from the cataclysm on the other side of the Atlantic. Social climber Amanda Keeler Evans agrees to find a job in her husband’s publishing empire for Vicky, a former acquaintance from their small Midwestern town. Unbeknownst to Vicky, Amanda is using her to cover up an affair with an ex. Amanda is contemptible and Vicky is naïve, and both take advantage of the other to devastating effect. Part satire and part farce, Powell’s razor-sharp wit mocks the cunning of publishing executives, authors, war correspondents, and scheming social climbers. The novel is occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, but also carries dark foreboding of a nation on the brink of war. —Robin Smyton, A09, media relations specialist, Office of Communications and Marketing

The Woman in the Window, by AJ Finn. An alcoholic, antisocial woman looking through a window witnesses a crime. No, it’s not The Girl on the Train, a 2015 hit by Paula Hawkins with exactly the same opening (both books were also made into exactly the same movie, only one stars Amy Adams instead of Emily Blunt). Nor is it the 1995 thriller Copycat, although its protagonist, Anna Fox, almost exactly mirrors that novel’s agoraphobic, chess-playing, online-advice-offering, unreliably-narrating doctor of psychology. But The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn is no less transfixing for its derivativeness. There’s the writerly pirouetting, including unusually deployed verbs and tongue-in-cheek parenthetical wordplay. There’s the uncomfortably familiar portrait of an anxious, cloistered life where hobbies, socializing, and grocery shopping take place online. But mostly there’s the mind-boggling, spotlight-stealing backstory of AJ Finn a.k.a. Dan Mallory himself, who will be portrayed by Jake Gyllenhall in a forthcoming TV series. Check out the 2019 New Yorker article that blew it wide open, itself a worthy piece of literature, and you’ll have to pick up the book—if only to peek through the window at the mind of the talented Mr. Mallory. —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing

Zeno’s Conscience, by Italo Svevo, translated from the Italian by William Weaver. During this pandemic I felt compelled to revisit several books I read long ago—the circumstance of being confined put me into a strangely retrospective mood. On this list was Zeno’s Conscience, which I first read in its original English translation, Confessions of Zeno, some 25 years ago. The novel was apparently championed by James Joyce—who was hired by Svevo as an English tutor while Joyce was living in Trieste—and it’s not hard to see why. The novel contains the “memoirs” of Zeno Cosini, an elderly Italian businessman recounting major episodes from his early life: his father’s death, his efforts to stop smoking, his courtship of a woman and marriage to her sister, his affair. Not everyone will be attracted to the book’s anti-hero; Svevo even starts the novel with a “preface” written by Zeno’s psychoanalyst, who recommended these self-reflections as therapy but then disavowed the outcome after realizing he was no match for Zeno’s self-contortions. Indeed, initially Zeno seems vain, deluded, and narcissistic, as the pages fill with streams of self-centered thoughts about the world. But it’s quickly apparent that Zeno is also mordantly funny and all too aware of his limitations. Indeed, virtually every paragraph contains a reversal—Zeno reacts with injured pride to a perceived slight, and a heartbeat later acknowledges his own crippling faults. He imagines himself a cunning strategist in love relations, only to have that crumble when a more attractive rival appears. He vows he has just had his last cigarette, but quickly rationalizes the need for another smoke. What emerges in this brisk novel is the impression that we are in a never-ending race to overtake ourselves—but that despite inevitable stumbles, there may be serendipitous occasions for meaning, pleasure, and joy. —Andrew K. Shiotani, director, Tufts International Center

NONFICTION

Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy, by Ben Macintyre. She was a Soviet spy, living undercover in the West with her husband—also a Soviet agent—and children: an “illegal” in espionage parlance. If this is starting to sound familiar, no, it isn’t about The Americans, although Ursula Kuczinsky, the dedicated Communist who sent coded messages by night and baked scones by day, is pretty much the real-life foremother of TV’s fictional Elizabeth Jennings. This is not to underplay the—quite literally—world-changing Cold War events set in motion by Kuczinsky’s role in handing British and American nuclear secrets to the Russians. But the backstory of how she became an expertly trained intelligence agent and Red Army officer, while maintaining her cover in a half-dozen countries as, variously, a society wife; a bookseller; a German-Jewish refugee from fascism; and an English country housewife is quite an adventure, and makes for generally fascinating reading. One section that was less-than-fascinating, however, is an early chapter that takes place in Shanghai, where Kuczinsky is recruited into the spy business (not a spoiler). It’s filled with far too much tedious detail and the introduction of numerous secondary characters who play little or no role in the continuing narrative. Ordinarily, I would have given up at this point, but the book was enthusiastically recommended by a friend, so I pushed on, and was ultimately glad that I did. Macintyre is a prodigious researcher; he needed a good editor to tell him which morsels just had to go. So there’s a lot you can skim here—but far more that’s going to keep you on the edge of your seat.—Helene Ragovin, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, by Priya Parker. The Art of Gathering is a book that meets this particular moment. If I could choose a book for a Tufts University all-staff common read, this would be it. As we emerge from—literally—social distance, Priya Parker offers insight and food for thought about how to make the times we come together meaningful, productive, and centered on human connection. She guides us in being purposeful, questioning practices we take for granted, and transforming the experience of gathering, whether it be a family celebration, a regular committee meeting, or a community event. Parker’s ideas are both essential and inspiring as we move our center of gravity away from Zoom and towards gathering in spaces with others again. —Dorothy Meaney, director, Tisch Library

Best! Letters from Asian Americans in the Arts, edited by Christopher K. Ho and Daisy Nam with Paper Monument. In this ingenious compilation, editors Daisy Nam and Christopher K. Ho trace the complex and often invisible experience of being Asian in the U.S.-European artworld through 70-plus letters from fellow Asian American artists and art workers. After their own personal experiences of erasure, Nam, who is a contemporary art curator, and Ho, an artist and teacher, reached out to artists, writers, academics, and curators of Asian descent in North America with these prompts: Write a letter to somebody, anybody or something. What does it mean to be Asian in the art world? In that very gesture, they highlight the unspoken racism that hangs heavily in a community that publicly prides itself for its inclusivity, but very clearly cannot see much beyond the model minority stereotype. Thanks to its epistolary format, the book offers profoundly intimate—and often funny and always inventive—views into the way even the most progressive cultural corners of this country rely on a white supremacist foundation. While the book developed over the course of the pandemic, it was published this spring, shortly after the Atlanta spa shooting that made anti-Asian terrorism a terrible and daily reality in this country and weight of these voices that much heavier. —Dina Deitsch, director and chief curator, Tufts University Art Galleries

A Black Women’s History of the United States, by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross. Part of the Beacon Press’s “ReVisioning History” series of accessibly written books by notable scholars that reconstruct and reinterpret U.S. history from diverse perspectives, A Black Women’s History of the United States is “a vibrant and empowering history that emphasizes the perspectives and stories of African American women to show how they are—and have always been—instrumental in shaping our country.” That quote from the publisher really sums it up. If you would like to know how real patriots support the building and thriving success of a country, check this book out—and pay Black women for their labor. —Domonique T. Johnson, A10, AG20, Black Community Service Center at Stanford University 

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America,  by Gilbert King. The title and subtitle of this book includes one person everyone will recognize, five who you will learn about (the four Groveland Boys and the Devil in the Grove) and an (overly) hopeful conclusion about racial justice. In 1949, in the citrus-growing region of northern Florida, four young Black men are falsely accused of raping a young white woman. The local sheriff, Willis McCall, garners favorable national attention when he saves them from a lynch mob. But McCall is the devil in the title, a violent and vindictive man who rules Lake County, Florida, as his own fiefdom partly in service to the rich owners of the citrus groves who depend upon a quiescent Black population as a source of labor. Thurgood Marshall enters the story because the NAACP is asked to help defend the Groveland Boys (of course, the term “boys” for young men, two of whom are veterans, is significant). At around the same time, Marshall is working on desegregation cases that will culminate with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. King does a masterful job of weaving together strands about the criminal case, the oppressive racial conditions in a state incorrectly viewed as “south of the South,” the tensions within the NAACP and the emerging legal battle over desegregation. This is a compelling book, not least because if this moment signaled the dawn of a new America, we are still only a few minutes into the morning.—Michael W. Klein, William L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs, Fletcher School

Fighting Words: The Bold American Journalists Who Brought the World Home Between the Wars, by Nancy Cott. The foreign correspondent has long been dramatic and romantic figure in fiction. Nancy Cott’s book on a quartet of American journalists’ escapades in the decades after the Great War is a reminder that emerged out of reality. She recovers a set of men and women who witnessed a world transforming after World War I. For eager American audiences, they translated the Russian and Chinese revolutions, the forces of Zionism and anti-colonialism that were remaking the Middle East, and the ominous rise of fascism. The personal often jostled the political, but the stories they covered and their own stories left an indelible mark on how we understand this critical period and the role of journalists. Their own ability to tell great tales is why they became grist for movies (one was the inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent) and continue to captivate historians and readers. —David Ekbladh, associate professor of history

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, by David Blight. It took me a while to get down to it on the stack of books piled up on my nightstand, but reading Blight’s breathtaking 2018 biography of Frederick Douglass was well worth the wait. An extraordinary narrative of the life of an extraordinary man, Blight goes far beyond the many previous historical and biographical treatments of Douglass (including Blight’s own previous work and Douglass’ several efforts at telling, retelling, and recasting his own story). Not only is the reader graced with Blight’s deep research, fascinating analyses of Douglass’ many speeches and writings and excellent historical contextualization, we are also fortunate to read it all in Blight’s often elegiac prose. Blight dissects Douglass’ public and private life and their intersection. Douglass was married twice, and was the epicenter of a large, extended, complicated family that depended upon him for both financial stability and life direction. His large network of associates included many of the most influential people of his era. Douglass was also one of the most famous orators of his day, and he travelled widely denouncing slavery, the premature end of Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era that followed it. Some of Douglass’ arguments took on new resonance in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter Movement; this lengthy book would be worth reading for this reason, alone, but there are many other reasons to read it. Apart from learning about the life and works of a man who played such a pivotal role in abolition, readers will uncover all kinds of important information about slavery, about American politics of the mid-19th century, and about America itself that we never learned in history classes, but should have. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development; senior fellow, Media and Civic Engagement, Tisch College of Civic Life

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, by Julie Lythcott-Haims. I was drawn to How to Raise an Adult this spring after stumbling upon Lythcott-Haims’ TED talk How to Raise Successful Kids – Without Overparenting, which presented fascinating information and perspectives about parenting. It led me to check out her book, which I found packed with meaningful anecdotes that inspire parental introspection and research-supported advice on teaching children critical life skills—for example, chores matter! Adding welcome authenticity, the book also includes the author’s personal parenting experiences and many examples taken from her years in various student advising and support roles at Stanford University, among other topics sure to engage any parent. How to Raise an Adult will cause most readers to seriously pause and consider parenting approaches and question whether children today are being given the independence, responsibilities, experience, and opportunities they are capable of accepting as they move toward adulthood. Although this book may not speak to every family’s reality, I recommend it to any parent (or soon-to-be parent) looking to learn about and think about parenting this generation. This book will make you think, occasionally wince, and—thankfully—laugh. —Lili Palacios-Baldwin, deputy general counsel for labor, employment and litigation

How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog), by Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut. Pause for a moment and think how many dogs you have seen today. Whether you like them or not, their presence in our daily lives is no coincidence—it is interspecies evolution in action, and this book is primed to pique your curiosity, answer your questions, and weave a tale of courage and love. How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) is the story of a Siberian lab who—under the guise of fur production—took on the experiment that would change how we understand domestication. The lead scientists were operating covertly under USSR restrictions on scientific research, which hues the entire true story with bravery and adventure—who will discover what they are actually up to? What will it cost them? All the while, foxes are becoming more docile, getting curlier tales, and—incredibly—learning to make noises in human vocal ranges. How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) is for the scientist, the historian, and the mystery lover in us all. Understanding domestication reveals much about our own humanness, and the story illustrates many versions of humanity, too. Enjoy—and then please come talk to me about it! —Nora Bond, University Chaplaincy program manager

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson, H21. I was given this book as a birthday gift by some undergraduate students. I have discussed the prison industrial complex and have heard stories of how unjust the prison systems in the United States are. The book demonstrates the ways people become entangled within the criminal justice system with little hope of finding their way out. Stevenson, who gave the commencement address this year at Tufts, introduces you to the carceral state, which includes the U.S. criminal justice system and the ideologies, practices, and structures that shape how people understand the criminal justice system. You learn about his work and get a deep dive into the lives of the many people he tries to help. The book focuses on the humanity of the people Stevenson serves. He represents them as holistic humans and forces you to rethink what you consider justice to be. The book describes the realities that people face when existing within the criminal justice system, painting a picture of the prison industrial complex and encouraging the reader to explore what justice may look like for those in prison. —Jared Smith, A16, AG21, director, FIRST Resource Center; program director, BLAST

King Leopold’s Ghost, by Adam Hochschild. This powerful work by journalist and professor Adam Hochschild looks at the way in which King Leopold II of Belgium managed to gain a gigantic slice of Africa as his personal possession. Hochschild also looks at the fascinating cast of characters—American, Irish, and French among others—who pulled back the curtain on the truly horrific deeds being done in the so-called Congo Free State. This book will also push you to look at some of Hochschild’s other works on the anti-war movement in World War I, the struggle to end slavery in the British empire, and the Spanish Civil War. —Steven Cohen, senior lecturer, Department of Education

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, by Garrett M. Graff. As a lover of print, it’s seldom that I would recommend an audiobook over its written counterpart (either ink-and-paper or ebook). Yet in the case of The Only Plane in the Sky, I cannot imagine experiencing the book any other way. The book stems from an article by Graff that appeared in Politico detailing the experiences of the passengers and crew aboard Air Force One on September 11, 2001. Graff has expanded that to include testimony from a broad swath of Americans—including those, of course, who were at the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, or in contact with those aboard the jet that crashed in Pennsylvania. But he also includes members of Congress, who were swept into hiding; the gate crews who checked the terrorists onto their flights; the astronauts aboard the International Space Station who watched from above; and hundreds more. (In the audio version, some of the parts are read by actors; others, by the participants themselves). It is an extraordinary panorama of an emotionally daunting day, especially for those who remember living through it, wherever they were. The stories that emerge are awe-inspiring, anxiety-producing, and heartbreaking; each one is worth witnessing. As we approach the 20th anniversary, there will undoubtedly be no shortage of discussions, debates, and essays about the “meaning” of 9/11. This book brings the focus back to the human impact. —Helene Ragovin, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing

Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, by Ruha Benjamin. After a year where the public’s eyes were opened to the power and misuse of the media and social media to distort facts, promote mistruths across the globe with lightning speed, invite interference in the United States election, threaten our democracy, and incite racism, this book is a must read. Benjamin’s book is both accessible and rigorously researched. The New Jim Code is a reference to Michelle Alexander’s 2012 book The New Jim Crow. Benjamin defines the New Jim Code as “the employment of new technologies that reflect and reproduce existing inequities but that are promoted and perceived as more objective or progressive than the discriminatory systems of a previous era.” Through relatable examples, Benjamin carefully builds the case that automated technologies—everything from soap dispensers and word processors to facial recognition software and predictive crime algorithms—perpetuate existing structures of discrimination and racial inequity through their design and application. —Annie Soisson, director, Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching

Stranger Care, by Sarah Sentilles. This exquisite and at times excruciating book charts the journey of the author and her partner as they become foster parents in the Pacific Northwest. Sarah Sentilles draws from the living wisdom of the natural world as she wrestles with the question of what is family and what it means to mother and to be a mother. She brings the reader into her inner world with such honesty: the anguish of her unspoken desire for a child, the rage and disbelief from navigating the under-resourced foster care system so overwhelmed by trauma, her and her partner’s unbridled delight in their foster daughter’s tiny sacred movements, and the practice of loving this child’s biological mother. Equal parts memoir, thriller, and collection of poetic vignettes, this book is a powerful intersectional study of the forces that bring children into the foster system—poverty, racism, classism, addiction. As I listened to Sentilles read her love letter to Coco, her foster daughter, I was moved by the conversation it stirred within me. We are forever holding so much at once, our frailty and limitations as human beings and our infinite capacity to love and be love as part of creation on this earth. —Lynn A. Cooper, chaplaincy team supervisor and Catholic Chaplain

A Troubled Sleep: Risk and Resilience in Contemporary Northern Ireland, by James Waller. Since the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was signed in 1998, Northern Ireland has disappeared from the front pages of newspapers. Though not perfect—what agreement is?—the GFA has brought an end to widespread violence in Northern Ireland. An entire generation has grown up in relative peace and prosperity. Political scientist James Waller examines the impact of the GFA on Northern Irish society in A Troubled Sleep, but does not spend time focusing on the political machinations that have occurred since 1998. He provides enough background so the general reader can understand politics in Northern Ireland, but his overall focus is broader. In a nutshell, Waller argues that the GFA has halted the violence, but not brought Northern Ireland closer to a true reconciliation and integrated society. Indeed, he argues that some features of the GFA may have inadvertently institutionalized the divide between the Unionists (largely Protestants), who want to remain in the United Kingdom and Republicans (largely Catholic), who want to join the Irish republic. For example, Waller points to the requirement that the executive (essentially the prime minister) be jointly held by a Unionist and a Republican. Waller quite correctly points out that that peace in Northern Ireland is a fragile thing, currently threatened by recent developments, including Brexit. Drawing on his experience with several other societies, Waller argues that is very easy for society to slip back into conflict. My only real criticism of Waller’s work is that he is minimizing the positive impact of the GFA. The individuals on all sides who produced the agreement did not solve a centuries-old conflict, but they did stop the killing. This is no small accomplishment. —Martin Burns, A81, manager of political intelligence, AARP

Under a Sickle Moon, by Peregrine Hodson. In the summer of 1984, as the Soviet war in Afghanistan was dragging into its fourth year, Hodson set off from Peshawar, Pakistan, in the company of a small group of mujaheddin making their way on foot to their home base in Nahrin, in northeastern Afghanistan. He hoped to write about the little-reported war; speaking Dari, one of the main languages in the country, he could blend in easier than the average Western journalist. His account is one of the best of the early years of that country’s ongoing wars, which were set off by the late 1979 Soviet invasion. In this deeply personal account, we meet Afghans on their own terms, not as stereotypes but as individuals, almost all poor and yet filled with hospitality for the stranger from abroad. These men—women are all but absent—almost always talk religion, and Hodson is struck by the fervor of their religiosity, of a type, he says, that Europe hadn’t seen for 500 years. Especially striking are those who say it’s not just the Russians they are fighting: they are seeking to throw off the yoke of all non-believers, America included. The internecine fighting that plagues Afghanistan is on view: one group of mujaheddin rob the Jamiat Islami group Hodson is traveling with, and the suspicions between villages merely across a valley are deeply embedded. Hodson makes his way to the Panjshir Valley, and narrowly escapes Soviet bombing runs and battles. His descriptions are vivid: first the helicopters come, followed closely by jets dropping bombs, which invariably destroy houses, schools, and mosques, killing mostly women and children. The casual killing from a distance made me think: this is exactly how Iraqis and Afghans felt when U.S. bombers and drones attacked them. Weakened by malaria and hepatitis, Hodson makes his way to the safety of Nuristan, manages to cross the mountains of the Hindu Kush, and comes to the final pass just before approaching the Pakistan border “under a sickle moon, towards the rising sun.” —Taylor McNeil, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing

A Woman of No Importance, by Sonia Purnell. This is a story about an American woman who helped build a spy networks in France during World War II. Virginia Hall was eager to help during the war, but was often turned away. First, she was overlooked because she was a woman and second because she had a disability. Hall is the first Allied women to be sent behind enemy lines to help the French Resistance. She is underestimated at every turn, but prevails. She sets up a vast network throughout France that obtains information and weapons that allowed the Resistance to stymie the Nazis. Hall is wanted by the Nazis and is hunted, but she refuses to leave France. Her dedication to the cause is unwavering. When she finally leaves France, her journey back to England is unbelievable. Even after the war, she works for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and later the CIA. This book is a great biography and a testament to what can when you have an unbreakable sprit and the will to follow your passion. —Laura Woz, business partner, Office of Human Resources 

World of Wonders, by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Summer is the perfect time to read Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s wondrous collection of essays. It’s hard to categorize this book further, because it’s nature writing, it’s somewhat autobiographical essays, it’s about love and childhood and identity, with a little poetry thrown in. Beautifully illustrated, this slim volume is a little like a tall glass of something cool on a hot summer day—you can sip it, put it down, pick it up for another sip that seems even more delicious and refreshing than the last one. The essays follow Nazhukumatathil’s childhood into the present, where she is an acclaimed poet, a teacher, and a mother. The daughter of a Filipina mother and a South Indian father whose frequent changes of locale in job postings meant that their family was frequently dislocated (and often to places where a brown child was an oddity), the author has a wonderful ability to view the different points in her life and makes us see through these lenses, as well. She writes about a catalpa tree, a peacock, narwhals, fireflies, newts, and more. The detail is amazing, the language poetic. She makes us recapture the wonder of seeing things in nature as we did when we were children, and makes us understand why it’s so important to recapture this skill as adults. Take this book to the mountains, to the beach, to your backyard. You’ll read it and look at the world in a different way. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development; senior fellow, Media and Civic Engagement, Tisch College of Civic Life