Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Best Books for Giving

The Tufts community has suggestions for you, from historical fiction to politics, inspiration to science

Books are often one of the best gifts to give during the holidays—and these days, the options are wider than ever, with e-book formats multiplying at a steady clip. So whether your friends and family read hardcovers or paperbacks, on their Kindles, Nooks or even their phones, we’ve gathered recommendations from across the Tufts community: faculty, staff, students, alumni and parents. The selection is as diverse as those recommending them: historical fiction and brain science, as well as science fiction, memoirs, advice about your dog, inspiration, poetry and much more.

Alabanza coverAlabanza: New and Selected Poems, 1982-2002, by Martín Espada. Drawing on his years as a lawyer in Massachusetts, Espada captures voices and experiences often ignored, honoring the lives of ordinary people struggling against poverty and discrimination in poems that are both provocative and beautifully moving. Espada writes of difficult issues—exploitation of undocumented workers, environmental injustice, domestic violence—as well as personal moments of joy and revelation. This poetry ranges from tough to funny to inspirational to courageously activist. Written by a prize-winning, contemporary Latino poet, all of it calls us to our best selves in the new century.—Liz Ammons, Harriet H. Fay Professor of Literature, School of Arts and Sciences

Amore: The Story of Italian American Song, by Mark Rotella. A perfect gift for anyone whose name ends in a vowel and who remembers Frank Sinatra. The comedians might have been Jews, but the singers were all Italian. For anyone interested in Ellis Island and immigrants.—Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor, professor of German and former provost

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis Devoto, edited by Joan Reardon. Two great pen pals talk about food, life and friendship; it doesn’t get any better.—Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor, professor of German and former provost

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.—Eileen Connors, E03

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. It’s a phenomenal classic, and whoever’s getting it will need all of winter break to read it!—David Schwartz, A13

The Empire, by Orson Scott Card, and Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman. The first is an interesting look at our country and how it might evolve, and the second is just one of the most interesting fantasy books I have ever read.—Dana Wharton, E73

The End of Eternity, by Isaac Asimov. Literature’s best kept secret!—Biswas Sharma, prospective student

book coverThe Fiddler in the Subway, by Gene Weingarten. Weingarten, a columnist for the Washington Post, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for a piece titled “Fatal Distraction,” about parents who have forgotten their children in the back seat of a car, with disastrous consequences. It is a piece of writing so compelling it will probably stay with me for the rest of my life—so when I came across Fiddler, a collection of Weingarten’s essays and feature stories subtitled “The Story of the World-Class Violinist Who Played for Handouts…And Other Virtuoso Performances by America’s Foremost Feature Writer,” I had to buy it. Nothing here is as harrowing a read as “Fatal Distraction” (thankfully so), but the writing is, again, compelling and a treat all its own. Weingarten is humorous, thoughtful, thorough and often just brilliant, whether he’s reporting on his visit to the Nevada town that’s the “armpit of America” or a northern Alaskan Inuit community struggling with social change; his dinner with his elementary-school crush or his ride on a crowded Jerusalem bus.—Helene Ragovin, senior writer, Office of Publications

Food: The History of Taste, by Paul Freedman. This is an academic book, but it has general public appeal and will be on my upper-level course syllabus next year. It’s part of the University of California Press Studies in Food and Culture series; in general I love all the books they put out, and I really enjoyed this one.—Ina Baghdiantz McCabe, the Darakjian and Jafarian Professor of Armenian History in the School of Arts and Sciences

Gifts from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. This book, my favorite to give as a gift, was written about 55 years ago, and its theme is as important today as it was when written. The author, the wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh, reminds one to take time to “quiet down and rest” and focus on our inner stillness. This is especially important as the busyness of the holidays approaches.—Shannon Balletto, infection control administrator, School of Dental Medicine

book coverGilead, by Marilyn Robinson. This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is in the form of a letter written by the Rev. John Ames to his 6-year-old son, the child of his second marriage. Ames is 76 and in poor health and imagines his son reading the letter when he is grown. The letter becomes the story of his family, from his fiery abolitionist grandfather and pacifist father to his own life in rural Iowa in the 1950s. Ames emerges as a thoughtful and spiritual man as he conveys his ideas about religion, morality and his own family. The reader comes to care deeply about him, getting to know him as he tells of his interactions with neighbors and friends and about loss and love. Sometimes quietly humorous, often thought provoking, Gilead is a beautifully written book.—Marjorie Howard, senior writer, Office of Publications

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls.—Diane Cooey Brooks, P12

book coverThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, by Stieg Larsson. I’ve read the first two books of the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. My wife is a Norwegian. By knowing her family and friends I can appreciate the no-nonsense approach that Scandinavians take to various situations. Larsson is a master storyteller with two fascinating main characters, Lisbeth Salander and Michael Blomkvist. He keeps you enthralled by his story and interested in how Lisbeth is going to react to her surroundings. Lisbeth comes across mostly as a solitary, street savvy, dark, mysterious, sometimes sympathetic figure, but at times she is brilliant and uplifting. Blomkvist reacts to her as most men and maybe more than a few women would. Larsson keeps you invested in the characters as well as the story. I would suggest reading the books in order: Tattoo, Fire, then Hornets’ Nest. I’ve seen the first Swedish movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was very faithful to the book. Even the movie made you think throughout it. I understand they are making an American version, and I’m sure there will be more car chases, flash, gratuitous violence and sex.—Charles Rankin, D79, DG86, professor of endodontics, School of Dental Medicine

book coverThe Given Day, by Dennis Lehane. This is a fascinating and fast-paced piece of historical fiction by one of Boston’s own. Set in Boston before and after World War I and rife with a conflicted yet powerful Irish family from South Boston—all in law enforcement—the novel portrays a time in Boston and across the country when political conflict, immigrant unrest and racial relations clashed at a fevered speed. The narrative carries the reader through the great influenza outbreak that killed thousands of Bostonians, to the great Boston Police strike of 1919 and the beginning of unionization among civil servants. Babe Ruth, the great molasses disaster of the North End and the early days of the Boston NAACP are all deftly portrayed throughout the book. With 700+ pages, I blew through it in three days. Riveting! I learned so much!—Christine Fennelly, director, public relations, Tufts health sciences campuses

book coverGood Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy, and Comfortable, edited by Nicholas Dodman. As it would happen, Cloud and I are hitting middle age together. Her four legs get stiff after long uphill hikes just like my two legs do. But her tail still wags fast when we wrestle (and she always lets me win). She is seven years old—I am that plus, oh, several decades. We have forged memories and a bond like no other in my life, and our understanding has matured with our ages. If you have such a long-time friend, there is no better gift for you and your buddy than Good Old Dog, written by Cummings School faculty John Berg, Suzanne Cunningham, Lisa Freeman, Jean Joo, Michael Kowaleski, Linda Ross and Scott Shaw, and edited by Nicholas Dodman, professor of clinical sciences at the Cummings School and nationally renowned animal health expert. It is a bible for ensuring your older dog’s length and quality of life, with chapters that can guide you through nutrition and exercise, the course and treatment of age-related diseases and words of comfort on how to handle end-of-life decisions.—Gail Bambrick, senior marketing communications writer, Office of Publications

book coverThe Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America, by Russell Shorto. Hidden in the New York state library at Albany is a room stuffed with the original records of the Dutch colony that first settled on the tip on Manhattan Island in the early 1600s. Written in an old form of Dutch and only recently translated, these records form the basis of this fascinating early history of New York. All you thought you knew about the founding of New York, about the Pilgrims, about the shaping of early American history will change after you read this.—Peter Walker, Irwin H. Rosenberg Professor of Nutrition and Human Security and director of the Feinstein International Center

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. It doesn’t get much better than that. Also, the new Philip Roth, Nemesis, is worth a read, if you don’t mind paying the $27 for a hardcover.—Dave Sweder, A03

The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, by Jane Leavy. The kind of biography you write after your childhood hero is gone. For Yankees fans to shed a tear.—Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor, professor of German and former provost

McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, by Wilbert J. McKeachie and Marilla Svinicki. Teaching is about what students learn. This book helps new and experienced faculty by providing concrete examples of how to focus on successful learning—everything from university culture and research vs. teaching to what to do three months, one month and two weeks before the class. The authors cover a myriad of topics, with examples on how to lead a discussion, successful class lecture tips, case-based teaching and group teaching and learning—all using the latest research and theory regarding college-level teaching and learning.—Heather McMorrow, associate director, senior instructional designer, Office of Academic Initiative, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, by Robert D. Kaplan. Kaplan’s books represent the best of the American public intellectual. Read them all. — Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor, professor of German and former provost

book coverNine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, by William Dalrymple. A well-regarded British writer living in India, Dalrymple raises the question in relief in this book: what is sacred, what is spiritual and how do those qualities exist against a backdrop of daily life, its woes and joys, triumphs and travails? He seeks out individuals who imbue their lives with their own apprehensions of the sacred. These exemplars are more often than not at the fringes of modern India (and in one case, Pakistan). Their stories are told mostly in the first person, in lengthy quotes, Dalrymple acting as midwife to the tales. These people seem to come from a world much removed from our own, from modern life itself, but they aren’t. They are here and now: a testament to the multiplicity of faith in India, and even perhaps to that country’s celebration of the sacred. As Kanai Das Baul, a blind wandering spiritual singer from Bengal, says of his music, “It makes us so happy, that we don’t remember what sadness is.” —Taylor McNeil, editor, Tufts Journal

book coverOne Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd, by Jim Fergus. Through the journals of May Dodd, follow the U.S. government’s plan to send 1,000 women  to the West in 1875 to marry Cheyenne warriors in order to “civilize them and breed them out.” These were no ordinary women, of course. They were recruited from brothels, prisons and asylums. May Dodd, in fact, was taken from an asylum where she had been committed by her father for the sin of living with a man out of wedlock and having two children with him. A great and unique perspective on the life of Native Americans, and it raises the question, who are “savages” and who are “civilized”?—Elizabeth A. Gillis, staff assistant, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

book coverThe Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. The author does a great job putting life in perspective and giving good insight to understanding why and for what purpose we humans are here. Life is not and should not be “wake up, go to work/school, go home, pay bills, eat, go to bed and wake up to do it all over again day after day.” Rick Warren’s book opened my eyes to enjoying the life I’ve been given and finding my purpose while I’m here living my life: Give to others, be the kind of person that makes others feel good about themselves, help people any way you can without worrying about what’s in it for me. I loved this book and will read it over and over, it is so loaded with examples and daily living inspirations.—Donna Hall, admittance/discharge secretary, Foster Hospital for Small Animals, Cummings School

Rise of a Dynasty: The ’57 Celtics, by Bill Reynolds. Bill Russell, Red Auerbach and Boston; a story of basketball and race in the Athens of America.—Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher University Professor, professor of German and former provost

book coverThe Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason and the Laws of Nature, by Timothy Ferris. This is an amazing history of the role the scientific revolution played, not just in rescuing billions of people from poverty, but in the sparking of the Enlightenment, the push to democracy and the founding of the U.S. In highlighting the profound role scientific thinking has had in shaping modern society, Ferris also looks at those who would oppose it and why. If you are interested in why our world is the way it is, read on.—Peter Walker, Irwin H. Rosenberg Professor of Nutrition and Human Security and director of the Feinstein International Center

book coverThe Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafron. A young boy in Barcelona in 1945 is introduced to the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books” by his father and selects a novel written by Julian Carax. He is mesmerized by the novel and is eager to read other books by the author. He soon discovers that all copies of Julian Carax’s books have systematically vanished or been destroyed—all under suspicious circumstances. The boy begins investigating the author’s life in an attempt to solve the mystery of the disappearing books, and learns Julian’s dark and hidden past. An intriguing read that will draw you in and keep you guessing.—Elizabeth A. Gillis, staff assistant, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

book coverSnow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel, by Lisa See. A tale of two life-long friends (laotong, or “old sames”), Lily and Snow Flower, in 19th century China. Their lives follow the traditions of the time: foot-binding, arranged marriages and nu shu – a 1,000-year-old secret written language used only by women. This is how two unlikely friends—one poor and one wealthy—communicate over the years and share the trials of their lives. It’s a fascinating history, and well written, though the foot-binding process is a bit graphic and not for the faint of heart. This book has everything: love, pride, betrayal and more.—Elizabeth A. Gillis, staff assistant, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

book coverSummer World, by Bernd Heinrich. Heinrich can stare at a tree trunk and with more interest than most Americans bring to the Super Bowl. Really. In this, his most recent book of observations on nature in New England, he describes building a platform 20 feet up a maple tree so he can sit and watch the action at a neighboring birch tree. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers drill holes in birch trees to lick the sap. As each hole clogs, these birds will drill another hole a half-inch next to or above the last, so the result over several weeks is a grid of close-spaced holes. Other species take advantage of this largesse. Ruby-throated hummingbirds feed at the holes. Ditto butterflies and hornets. Heinrich also tasted the sap, and found it sweet. A sample brought back to his laboratory at the University of Vermont tested at 17-18 percent sugar—about the same as nectar hummingbirds seek from flowers.—David Mark, associate adjunct professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

book coverTao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo. If you thought you knew the Tao Te Ching and had long ago tired of endless New Agers’ syrupy translations, finally there is a work with the purity and paradox Lao-Tzu intended 2,500 years ago. The Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo, has been hailed by leading Asian scholars as the best yet. The book is graced by 23 brushed ink drawings that express the Tao that are beyond words. It also allows a reader to interact directly with the Chinese language, through a glossary that demonstrates each symbol’s layers of meaning. A truly spiritual and intellectually engaging experience—a gift of wisdom that has stood the test of time.—Gail Bambrick, senior marketing communications writer, Office of Publications

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen and One Good Dog, by Susan Wilson. Two awesome reads of late.—Frances Brown, lab supervisor, Cummings School

book coverWinter World, by Bernd Heinrich. If his book Summer World is all about fecundity, Heinrich’s Winter World is all about survival. Among the things we learn is that gray squirrels do not hibernate. They forage for nuts and seeds, including whatever they or other squirrels buried in the fall, finding these troves by scent, not memory. They also eat the nutrient-rich buds of trees and the bark of small branches. Squirrels sleep and retreat from bad weather in leafy treetop nests. The outside of the nest always looks ragged, but the inside is insulated by up to ten layers of leaves and shredded bark. Chipmunks, their ground-dwelling relatives, do hibernate. These underground habitats have separate rooms for sleeping and seed storage. In the deep of winter, chipmunks let their body temperature drop to as low as 45°F for weeks at a time, but a warm spell may rouse them to conduct surface explorations.—David Mark, associate adjunct professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. I am completely loving this novel: It is the most amazing evocation of the inner life of a person from centuries ago, and a beautiful and exciting story.—Peter Levine, director of research and director of CIRCLE, Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service

book coverYour Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings, by Gary Wenk. Truth be told, the title of this book is a bit of a misnomer. It should be called simply Your Brain on Chemicals, because that’s what Gary Wenk spends most of the book discussing. And even more to the point, what Wenk accomplishes in a scant 165 pages is a wonderful tour of the brain and how it works, at least the parts that especially affect thoughts, feelings and memories. I’d never been able to understand the difference between glutamate and GABA, let alone what an “action potential” is, but in Wenk’s hands, these concepts were all easy to grasp. He’s got a wonderfully light touch, too, that helps as he makes some very difficult concepts become clear. Wenk ends the book with a discussion of what he calls “brain enhancement and other magical beliefs.” Sure, he says, you can load up on caffeine and other drugs, and they speed up your brain’s processing, but none of them makes you any smarter. Likewise, nothing’s going to stop the normal effects of aging on your brain and eventual cognitive decline. Still, understanding how the brain works—at least a little more than I did before—makes me feel a bit smarter, another benefit to this excellent book.—Taylor McNeil, editor, Tufts Journal

Posted December 14, 2010