July 8, 2009

Your Summer Reading List

Tufts faculty and staff recommend their favorite books—novels, mysteries and a dash of history, philosophy and travel—to keep you entertained

As we head into the heart of the summer vacation season, Tufts faculty and staff have books they recommend you consider. They might not be beach reading, for the most part, but it’s all food for thought. Take them along as paperbacks, hardcovers or even on e-books like the Kindle. Anyway you read, enjoy.


The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. The Finance Division (in Central Administration) has a book club that has been meeting monthly since October 2002. We’ve read a lot of different, diverse books, but this one, which we read two months ago, was a hands-down favorite of everyone. I’ve recommended it to many of my friends, who have loved it as well. It’s a great summer read.—Karen Pepper, senior investment accountant


Blue Latitudes, by Tony Horwitz. The subtitle explains it best: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before. Horwitz, a former Wall Street Journal writer and author of several other travel narratives, brings a reporter’s eye and a novelist’s touch to his story of James Cook, who managed to ride his talents out of a Yorkshire farm boyhood to lead three monumental voyages of discovery in the 1760s and 1770s. He charted eastern Australia and a vast collection of South Pacific islands, not to mention the Aleutian Islands, looking for a northern passage to Europe—all the while sailing in horrendous conditions and defying death until a deadly confrontation with natives in Hawaii in 1779. Horwitz brings the history alive, and with an Ozzie sidekick for light relief much of the way, makes it all personal, too.—Taylor McNeil, editor, Tufts Journal


City of Thieves, by David Benioff. Set during the World War II siege of Leningrad, this is an utterly absorbing, darkly humorous, well-paced novel that kept me up way too late for the better part of a week. Yes, it’s got action, painstaking historical detail, a “buddy story,” brutality, pathos and an overall sense of absurdity, but what ultimately propelled me from page to page was Benioff’s crisp, clean writing. An antidote to much of the bloated fiction out there.—Helene Ragovin, senior writer, Office of Publications


The Complete Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton. The Father Brown stories are entertaining, in a Victorian way, but are topical because they are written to show that being religious does not imply social conservatism, vapid goodness, irrationality or a willingness to believe just anything. —Boris Hasselblatt, professor of mathematics, School of Arts and Sciences


The Given Day, by Dennis Lehane. It focuses on the period around 1918 to 1919 in Boston, during which the influenza epidemic took place (nationwide, but possibly starting in Boston as portrayed in the book), the Boston police strike occurred, Babe Ruth was traded to the Yankees, and the tragic molasses flood happened. These events are woven into the personal stories of Danny Coughlin, member of a powerful Irish family, and Luther Laurence, a young hard-working black man who comes to Boston after some unfortunate events in the Midwest. There is a lot of historical information in the book about race relations and social class. Lehane knows how to make you turn the page and has a real gift for dialogue, in my opinion. At a recent fundraising event I attended at which he spoke, he said it took him five years to write the book—and at one point he ripped out the middle of it and rewrote it!—Rosalie Blum, Office of the Vice Provost


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I just finished reading this great novel, which is written as a series of letters from the people of the Guernsey Island to a reporter who wrote about World War II in England to cheer up the folks.—Claire Griffiths, telecommunications coordinator, UIT


A History of the World in Six Glasses, by Tom Standage. This book chronicles how various beverages (beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola) originated and have played a role in world politics, culture and economy.—Sawkat Anwer, associate dean for research, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine


The Irony of American History, by Reinhold Niebuhr. This book bears rereading—or reading for the first time—because although it appeared in 1952, it remains appropriate to a country looking to understand the roots of both the financial crisis and the invasion of Iraq. It is out in a new paperback edition from the University of Chicago Press, with an introduction by Andrew Bacevich. It’s not a long read—with the introduction it is well under 200 pages—but better for a rainy day than for the beach! And there’s a blurb on the back from then-Senator Barack Obama.—Tony Smith, the Cornelia M. Jackson Professor of Political Science, School of Arts and Sciences


The Laws of Simplicity, by John Maeda. Thinking that introducing a little simplicity into my life this summer would be timely and a good thing, I’ve just finished this book by the world-renowned graphic designer, former professor in MIT’s Media Lab and the new president of the Rhode Island School of Design. I stretched beyond my usual areas of interest with this little book and wasn’t disappointed. I found it extremely worthwhile and insightful, its 100 pages offering 10 laws for balancing simplicity and complexity in design, technology, business and life. I’m practicing their application, so far with only modest success.—Brian Lee, vice president of University Advancement


Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. It’s not really a Western—it’s a great novel about making choices and dealing with life’s difficulties. It’s a serious page-turner, too.—Steve Breck, manager, Educational Media Center



People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks. This is interesting historical fiction in which sub-stories are interwoven among different centuries that come together at the end. Also, I’d recommend Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson and Anne Born, a beautifully written book about complicated interpersonal relationships early in life and how they reverberate throughout a lifetime.—Alice Lichtenstein, the Stanley N. Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at the HNRCA


Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi. This is a portrait of the artist as a young woman. The artist is Satrapi herself, an inspired illustrator whose graphic memoir is both moving and shocking in its picture of life in Teheran after the Revolution. I confess that I saw the movie first … a beautiful animated feature. But the book is even better than the film. If you are doubtful about graphic fiction or memoir, it may convert you.—Michael Baenen, chief of staff, President’s Office


The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay. A novel, it’s the story of a young boy growing up in South Africa in the 1940s and the power of one’s heart, mind and convictions. Enjoy!—Maureen Lombard, director of clinic operations, School of Dental Medicine



The Stories of John Cheever, by John Cheever. I spent part of the summer of 1981 reading this collection, first published in 1978. I was struck by the lyrical beauty of the stories, and the narrator’s struggle to make sense of a complex world in which the truth is often elusive. Over the years, I’ve remembered the honest accounting of a character’s motivations and the ability of nature to provide for a fresh start in the most difficult of circumstances. Light, when it appears, often signaled forgiveness and an opportunity to begin anew, yet the mystery of life remains. I once read that John Cheever noted that individuals attracted to his writing and stories were people who “…observed the leaves falling in front of a car’s headlights and wondered why life unfolded as it did.” I have found this an apt way to describe the character of his writing and the resonance it has with readers like me.—Mark Gonthier, associate dean of admissions and student affairs, School of Dental Medicine


Strong Poison, by Dorothy Sayers. Each summer, I re-read all the Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane novels of Dorothy Sayers. Strong Poison is the book where Peter meets Harriet for the first time. Or read them chronologically: the first was Whose Body? —Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor, professor of German and former provost


Tales of Wonder: Adventures of Chasing the Divine, by Huston Smith. Professor Smith is the father of the study of world religions/spiritual paths. One could say he brought the understanding of world religions to the West. This book is his autobiography of more than 90 years of chasing the Divine, meeting the leading intellectual and spiritual leaders of the 20th century.—the Rev. David O’Leary, university chaplain and senior lecturer in comparative religion and medical ethics


When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris. I’ve just finished reading this one. I’ve been a fan of David Sedaris for a long time and have attended many of his “readings,” including his appearance at Boston Symphony Hall last October. In June I went to one of his book-signing appearances while I was visiting family in Columbus, Ohio—which is when I got his new book, from my daughter, for my birthday. Sedaris writes about common everyday occurrences in his life in a way that is so easy to relate to. He can find humor in almost any situation. His dry wit and clever delivery of a punch line leave me guffawing and laughing out loud—often on an airplane flight or some similar location where it is preferable to remain inconspicuous.—Tim Brooks, executive director, Alumni Relations


The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga. This debut novel, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2008, is written as a letter to the premier of China by Indian chauffeur Balram Halwai. He narrates his entrepreneurship story by explaining his rise from rural India (“The Darkness,” as he calls it), to working as a driver for an affluent Indian couple in New Delhi, to the drastic measure he took to escape his social class and become a businessman in the globalized city of Bangalore. Having lived in Delhi, I laughed while reading the passages describing the randomness of addresses in the capital city and easily visualized Adiga’s descriptions of new developments where upper-class Indians live. The author nicely balances the bleak picture of the social class struggles in modern India with humor, making the book enjoyable to read as well as thought-provoking.—Suzanne Miller, assistant director of public relations, University Relations


The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami. It is Murakami’s magnum opus, a fantastic but profound story of love and self-discovery by the exceptionally popular Japanese novelist, winner of the 2006 Franz Kafka Prize and the 2009 Jerusalem Prize. Murakami was a writer-in-residence at Tufts from 1993 to 1995.—Hosea Hirata, professor of Japanese, School of Arts and Sciences.


Do you have other summer reading suggestions? Send them to the editor at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu, and we’ll include them in the August issue of the Tufts Journal.


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