Summer reads: selections by Brandeis faculty and staff

Book covers of reading recommendations

Ready to embark on a literary adventure this summer? No matter your taste, you’ll find something worth your while in this diverse array of picks from Brandeis faculty and staff:

Matthew Sheehy, Brandeis National Committee University Librarian:
“In The Woods,” by Tana French
This is the first of the Murder Squad Series which is set in Dublin, Ireland. The series is brilliantly written, full of intrigue and descriptions of life in modern Ireland. They will leave you both complete and unsettled. 
Charlie Chester, lecturer in environmental studies:
“The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon,” by Bill McKibben
“In this revelatory cri de coeur, McKibben digs deep into our history (and his own well-meaning but not all-seeing past) and into the latest scholarship on race and inequality in America, on the rise of the religious right, and on our environmental crisis to explain how we got to this point. He finds that he is not without hope. And he wonders if any of that trinity of his youth—The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon—could, or should, be reclaimed in the fight for a fairer future.”
Sarah Shoemaker, associate university librarian for archives and special collections:
“How Music Works,” by David Byrne
This wide-ranging look at the workings -- and work -- of music is fascinating, whether you're a fan of Talking Heads or not. David Byrne (yes, that David Byrne) dips into many styles of music around the world (and, in fact, beyond it) to get at how music evolved in various places and why, incorporating such fields as architecture, public education, philosophy, and more. It's the kind of book that will have you saying "hey, you know what I recently learned?" all summer.

Hillary Kativa, manager of digital distinctive collections, Brandeis Library:
“Funny You Should Ask” by Elissa Sussman
A charming variation on the romantic beach read featuring an entertainment journalist and erstwhile James Bond actor. I especially enjoyed the story-within-a-story structure and the Hollywood insider bits felt genuine and well-developed.
"In the Dark" by Loreth Anne White
And Then There Were None meets the Canadian wilderness as a group of strangers (or are they?) run into trouble on a mysterious luxury vacation. I enjoyed the search-and-rescue component, which added an interesting layer to the mystery.
"A Scatter of Light" by Malinda Lo
A tender coming-of-age story and tribute to the dual power of art and love. Malinda Lo has such a beautiful eye for character and place even the minor characters are fully-realized and present.

Zoe Weinstein, academic outreach librarian for the humanities:
"Fortune Favors the Dead" by Stephen Spotswood
Willowjean "Will" Parker, a former circus runaway and a bisexual woman, is now 3 years into her time working for the preeminent New York city detective Lillian Pentecost, who is battling MS. Watch them figure out who killed Abigail Collins, a case that has the police stumped, while trying to avoid too many entanglements with potential suspects. Set in the mid 1940s in NYC, this is a smart, fast paced, snappy version of the traditional hard boiled detective story, with plenty of twists and a style of its own.
Becky Prigge, assistant dean of student affairs:
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng
The GSAS book club -- composed of staff and graduate students -- recently read this dystopian novel set in Cambridge, MA, about a son's search for his mother, who is a poet whose work has been banned by the government. Ng creates a haunting alternate version of modern America that shows us what happens when racism is unchecked, and injustices are ignored.
Ingrid Schorr, director of arts engagement:
“Your Brain on Art” by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross
This one is about the new science of neuroaesthetics. (I’m reading it for a discussion at a conference I’m attending later this summer.)
“The Make-Believe World of Maxfield Parrish and Sue Lewin” by Alma Gilbert
This is about the artist Maxfield Parrish and the woman who was his domestic servant, model and assistant (read between the lines) for 50 years beginning at the age of 15.
“The Hoffman Affairs” by Beth Schorr Jaffe
This novel is about the intertwined relationships of several families in Paris and New York City from World War II to the 1960s.
Abigail Arnold, assistant director of operations and academic administration for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences:
“Free Food for Millionaires” by Min Jin Lee
This novel follows Casey Han, a young Korean-American woman trying to find her way in the world of finance in 1990s New York, and her extended circle of family and friends. It has the expansiveness of a Victorian novel.
Rachel Theodorou, interim director of teacher education :
“Making Americans - Stories of Historic Struggles, New Ideas, and Inspiration in Immigrant Education,” by Jessica Lander
This book describes immigrant and multilingual PK-12 education from three perspectives: the past offering readers a synopsis of the social and political contexts, the present with a biographical story of a current immigrant student, family and/or teacher who works with them, and the personal with Landers' own experiences as a high school civics teacher in Lowell, Massachusetts. In reading this book, you will gain not only a very digestible history of immigrant education, but will feel the visceral and lasting impacts on children, youth, families, educators and educational systems in our nation. The current national political climate is still heavily influenced by what we thought of as xenophobic ways of the past, and Landers gives us tangible and meaningful ways to move forward with inclusive education for all.
Kathleen McMahan, senior department administrator for faculty affairs and communications, School of Arts and Sciences::
“Milk Blood Heat,” by Dantiel W. Moniz
This collection of intergenerational short stories is set in Florida, making it a nice read for the summertime. The author expertly weaves a number of tales, and I found myself having trouble letting each character go as I moved to the next story. You'll see the world through the eyes of a young girl as she reckons with the inescapable differences between herself and her white best friend, share in a woman's struggle to overcome the sorrow of her miscarriage, and the ride on a road trip with two siblings carrying their father's ashes. Needless to say, it's not necessarily a "light" read, but it will most certainly leave you feeling at once deeply moved and satisfied.
“Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance),” by James VanderMeer
I may have cheated a bit by compiling a trilogy into one submission, but I can't speak highly enough of this creative, suspenseful and unique sci-fi adventure. In a dystopian future, the 12th attempt to infiltrate Area X is taking place. The huge swath of land that has been cut off from civilization for decades, and previous expeditions have resulted in explorers going mad, coming back riddled with cancer, and more. There are mysteries to solve in the jungle, and a lot of them aren't particularly friendly. This is a page-turner, so be sure to set aside enough time to read it!
“The Immortalists,” by Chloe Benjamin
It's rare that I come across a book that is so good, it lingers in my memory for years after. This book opens with four teenage siblings who, on a lark, ask a fortune teller to reveal the dates of their deaths. What follows is a powerful story of how we process faith and superstition and the undeniable impact and tie of family bonds. Each sibling's life unfolds in unique ways that speak to both the zeitgeist of the late 20th century, and the power we have over our own fates. Highly, highly recommended.
Ulka Anjaria, professor of English:
"Love Marriage,” by Monica Ali
It's a fun and light book about modern-day relationships that will keep you engrossed until the final page.
John Burt, Paul E. Prosswimmer Professor of American Literature:
“The Forgotten Hours,” by Katrin Schumann
The protagonist's father is convicted of a sexual offense involving her best friend. She is convinced he is innocent, but the facts are more ambiguous.
“So Long, See You Tomorrow,” by William Maxwell
A short novel about jealousy and murder in early 20th century Illinois."
Lisa Pannella, academic administrator, department of English:
"The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey,” by Candice Millard
The story of Theodore Roosevelt's journey down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon--not enough provisions, not the right style of canoe, etc. Your summer vacation will seem fantastic by comparison."
John Plotz, Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities:
"Birnam Wood,” by Eleanor Catton
 A rollicking soap opera pitting New Zealand eco-warriors and guerrilla gardeners against an American plutocrat--and sometimes against one another as well. It's got love, hi-tech surveillance and low-tech intrigue all against the fabulous background of a secluded forest valley in the wilds of the Antipodes. It ain't short, but I tore through it.
Ramie Targoff, Jehuda Reinharz Professor in the Humanities:
"The Silence of the Girls,” by Pat Barker
This book retells the story of the Iliad from the perspective of Achilles’ enslaved Trojan woman, Briseis. It is a powerful return to one of the most powerful works of literature in our tradition, with a strong feminist twist.
Jerome Tharaud, associate professor of English:
"Say Nothing: A True History of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland,” by Patrick Radden Keefe
This book weaves together the true story of the mysterious disappearance of a Protestant mother of 10 from Belfast in 1972 with the rise of the violent struggle for Northern Irish independence known as 'The Troubles.' It's a suspenseful, skillfully told story with lots of interesting characters, and you learn a lot of history along the way."
Maria Madison, Interim Dean of the Heller School:
“Closing the Equity Gap, Creating Wealth and Fostering Justice in Startup Investing,” by Freada Kapor Klein and Mitch Kapor
The Kapors beautifully demonstrate the value of DEI on society writ large. Their love as a couple informs their work to spread equity and justice.
Pamina Firchow, associate professor of coexistence and conflict:
“Reclaiming Everyday Peace: Local Voices in Measurement and Evaluation after War,” by Pamina Firchow
If you are wondering about some of the issues we discuss in COEX classes, my book gives a good overview of the challenges to measurement and accountability in peacebuilding and why it is such a fundamental challenge to get technical about building peace and coexistence. It then offers an alternative way forward for measurement by using community participants' data that are involved in the 'sausage-making' of creating statistics.
Rajesh Sampath, associate professor of the philosophy of justice, rights, and social change
“The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America,” by Carol Anderson
Anderson writes that the protection of 2nd Amendment rights to own a gun has always been about systemic white supremacy and anti-Blackness. Professor Anderson gives us the in-depth history from slavery to our contemporary times.
Monika Mitra, Nancy Lurie Marks Professor of Disability Policy and director of the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy:
“Being Heumann,” by Judy Heumann
Being Heumann is a memoir by the late Judy Heumann, describing her journey as a disability rights activist. It depicts her struggles from her early days in fighting for her own right to education, to her advocacy and activism in fighting for the civil rights of all disabled Americans.
“Disability Visibility,” by Alice Wong
The essays in this collection include a range of voices, perspectives, and experiences by a diverse group of disabled people and will challenge the stereotype of who is disabled. Judy's book is foundational to understanding the advocacy behind the Rehabilitation Act, IDEA, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Disability Visibility is essential to understanding disability justice.
Susan Curnan, Florence G. Heller Associate Professor of the Practice and director of the Center for Youth and Communities:
“All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis” by A.E. Johnson and K.K. Wilkinson
Edited by climate leaders Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Dr. Katharine K. Wilkinson, this book is a vital anthology of essays written by women authors featuring a feminist perspective and highly diverse voices in the field of climate change. The editors tell us, 'Climate is not gender neutral' and how climate change is a 'threat multiplier' for women and girls. If you choose the audio version, narrators include America Ferrera, Jane Fonda, Janet Mock, Alfre Woodard, and more. And check out the action-packed All We Can Save Project website for educator and community-building resources."
“The Environment and the People in American Cities, 1600s-1900s: Disorder, Inequality, and Social Change,” by D.E. Taylor
Taylor examines environmental problems in the U.S. through a sharp lens of race, class, and gender, illustrating, throughout the decades, the essential connections between the positionality of the people and their immediate environment. An excellent source for definitions of important theories and practices in environmental justice, spotlighting activism and movements.

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