Recommended reading

Sharp book coverSharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean (2018) is not a collection of truncated biographies of celebrated writers Dorothy Parker, Rebecca West, Hannah Arendt, Zora Neale Hurston, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Pauline Kael, Joan Didion, Nora Ephron, Lillian Hellman, Renata Adler, and Janet Malcolm. It’s a skillful and compulsively readable narrative of these women in relief, set against the often bumpy terrain of their time and their relationship to feminism and to each other. Dean observes elements of and relates deep-dive tales of these writers’ careers that are not written about elsewhere, at least not with such rich context. These are not odes or hagiographies, but honest portraits that cleverly reveal the breadth of the iconoclasm and humanity of the women. Rather than deliver a discrete set of linear narratives, Dean discovers surprising and telling ways their paths parallel and cross. Kathleen Collins


Gospel of Trees book cover Educated book coverTara Westover’s Educated (2018) and Apricot Irving’s The Gospel of Trees (2018) are two recent coming of age memoirs that have received a lot of critical praise. Set worlds apart—in the mountains of Idaho and in Haiti, respectively—they both feature strong-minded young women who grow up in the shadow of their charismatic fathers’ beliefs. Although Westover’s and Irving’s narratives are about leaving the father behind, they also touch on the complexity of familial love and the many transgressions it withstands. Westover’s trajectory from a scrap metal junkyard to a Cambridge Ph.D. illustrates the power of education, or learning how—not what—to think, as she puts it. Irving’s nuanced reflection on her family’s missionary tenure in Haiti, on the other hand, confronts the enduring effects of colonization, as well as the power and race inequalities that persist in its aftermath. Marta Bladek


Horse Walks into a Bar book cover

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman.  A cocktail of  the stream of consciousness, jokes and tears in one glass. One evening of a stand-up comedy act by one man is described on almost 200 pages. Are you laughing at the man or with the man because he has no tears anymore? Did he plan this evening or is he improvising on the spot? This book is not a light reading although it is impossible to put it down until you read it all. Maria Kiriakova


Campus Rape Frenzy book coverKC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr., The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities (2017) [Stacks LB2345.3 .R37 J65 2017]. This book is filled with horror stories of male college students falsely accused of sexual assault and how campus disciplinary procedures condemned them despite inadequate or even exculpatory evidence. The authors trace the history of how Title IX came to be weaponized in the area of sexual relations between students, and offer many examples of how the process went awry. At the same time, they do not in any way minimize the reality of the crimes of rape and sexual assault. Jeffrey Kroessler


Animal Vegetable Miracle book coverBarbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2018) [Stacks S521.5 .A67 K56 2008]. Most of us can’t lead lives that allow us to commit to eating only locally-sourced food for a year as this family did. This book presents a new perspective on where our food comes from and offers small practical changes we can make to our diets and food shopping for a healthier planet and body. I particularly recommend the recipes for strawberry & rhubarb crisp and asparagus & mushroom bread pudding, both of which use ingredients that grow on the East Coast in April. All of the recipes and updates on the family are also available on the companion websiteEllen Belcher


Odyssey book coverAlthough reading The Odyssey might be a well-worn path for many, I nonetheless suggest reading Emily Wilson’s lively new translation (2017). What is so impressive about Wilson’s translation is her ability to use contemporary language in a way that is not distracting. The prose flows seamlessly, and Wilson’s skill as a translator shines clear. Highly recommended! Matt Murphy



Tell me a Mitzi book coverI have been reading Tell Me a Mitzi by Lore Segal to my daughter for at least 8 years. Three stories about a family with two kids, their daily routines, illnesses, seeing a President, visiting the grandmother across town. That’s all  but is unbelievably charming.  Very New York stories that bring you comfort and never get boring. If it is all imagination or reality, you can decide by yourself. Or just look at Harriet Pincus illustrations and create your own mitzi. Maria Kiriakova

Exit West book coverExit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017) is the most moving novel I’ve read this year. A meditation on immigration and human relationships, the story considers the forces that push people to leave their homes—and the hardships and pleasures they endure in new lands. Hamid portrays his characters with great tenderness as they make difficult decisions. A wonderful, touching read. Call number: Stacks PS3558.A42169 E95 2017. Robin Davis


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