Summer Reading List, Part I

May 22, 2012

Pacific University English faculty members share their summer reading recommendations. First of two parts.

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What are you reading this summer? The Pacific University English faculty members each offer a couple of recommendations, ranging from light fiction to poetry, graphic novels to nonfiction. Have you read any of these books? Have your own recommendations for the summer? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments. The following is the first of two parts:

Professor Pauline Beard’s recommends:
Wolf Hall (fiction) by Hilary Mantel
Wolf Hall is long (historical novel) but packed with good history. Henry VIII conniving with his minister, Thomas Cromwell, to get rid of Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn. The sequel shows the machinations to get rid of Boleyn to marry Seymour. This Cromwell is the uncle (great uncle?) of Oliver Cromwell. Wolf Hall is the country seat. It led to a brilliant discussion in my Book Club."

Professor Alex Bove’s recommends:
The Other City (fiction) by Michal Adjvaz
"I’ll have to go with Michal Adjvaz’s very strange novel, The Other City. It’s a short though, in some ways, challenging read, but it is my favorite novel that has been published in the last few years. Ajvaz is the literary descendant of Borges and Kafka and, to my mind, is on par with them both as an author. The novel begins with the main character wandering into an old bookstore in Prague and stumbling across a strange book written in an unknown language. From this moment, he begins inadvertently stumbling over secret thresholds into a kind of magical or surreal “other city” that dwells invisibly alongside Prague. Stranger and stranger things happen to him as the novel progresses (he has to battle a shark in the copula of a baroque cathedral, for instance, and witnesses a political rally in which the politician speaks from a TV on a small sled pulled by weasels), but there is a lovely pattern woven into the madness and chaos, and it is full of unexpected moments of insight and lucid reflection. Moreover, it is written in a kind of stunning dream realism influenced by Lewis Carroll and contains some scenes of unbearably dreamlike beauty as well (drawing on the mysterious beauty of Prague winters)."

Professor Lorelle Browning recommends:
Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human(nonfiction) by Jonathan Gottschall
Bound Together(nonfiction) by Nayan Chanda
“I am reading two nonfiction books this summer, from both of which I've already read sections: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Gottschall and Bound Together, a wonderful overview of the beginning of most of humanity from Ethiopian man through a look at how preachers, merchants, warriors and others began globalization, by Chanda (from Yale). I especially plan to use the first chapter of Chanda on human history (and the controversy about racial differences, when most of us have a common ancestor, now proven by DNA) and the later chapter on "Who's Afraid of Globalization?" I used the first chapter in Vietnam and the students really responded to it. We even wrote Chanda and sent him a pic of our class with "We are All one Family" in Vietnamese on a banner—a phrase he uses in the book. He was truly touched.”

Professor Brent Johnson recommends:
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (nonfiction)by Annie Dillard
“…One of my all time treasures, is Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Not only is the writing beguiling and fantastic, but the book causes me to see my backyard anew with fantastic, winged possibilities.”

Professor Brent Johnson recommends:
Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (poetry)by Tony Hoagland 
“The other (recommendation) is a book of poems of Tony Hoagland. Really, any will do. His latest is Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty. Contemporary, dark humor that's risky and continually causes me to consider, ‘What is a poem, exactly?’”

Professor Kyle Lang recommends:
An Unfinished Life (fiction) by Mark Spragg
“They may have seen the Robert Redford/J.Lo movie, but it is nothing in comparison to the book. Absolutely one of my favorite books of all time. Set in rural Wyoming, it tells the story of a broken family trying to bring itself back together after tragedy. Language, language, language. I have a man-crush on Mark Spragg after reading this book. An absolute must read! A beautiful book that reads fast like a ‘summer’ read.”

Professor Darlene Pagan recommends:
Conquistadora (fiction) by Esmeralda Santiago
“Conquistadora by Esmeralda Santiago is about a wealthy girl who leaves Spain in the mid-1800s for a sugar plantation in Puerto Rico. When the Civil War breaks out in the U.S., they find themselves turned on by the folks who have provided all their wealth.”

Professor Kathlene Postma recommends:
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (fiction) by Helen Simonson
“Recommended because of the fine work with plot and humor. This is classically good novel storytelling: Take a seemingly unremarkable character living a staid existence and thrust him into a situation that will hilariously test him. Add racial tensions in England and, at the very core, a complicated path to love. Result: A complete change of heart and perspective for our central character and a longing on the part of the reader to know these people personally. Witty and well-crafted. An aging Romeo and Juliet turned into a classic, contemporary comedy.”

Professor Lara Vesta recommends:
Cloud Atlas (fiction) by David Mitchell
Into the Forest (fiction) by Jean Hegland

“I love to reread Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell in the summer for its structural complexity and out-of-the-box storyline. Linguistically it is transporting. Also some futuristic dystopian essence—always of interest to me.... And with dystopia in the line of thinking, After the Flood and The Hunger Games aside, I am adding Jean Hegland's Into the Forest to my soon-to-purchase list.”

Professor Doyle Walls recommends:
Why Read? (nonfiction) by Mark Edmundson
“Perfect for the undergrad who would like to step back and get a better sense of why we are reading these individual works of art and what a major in English means. (It’s great on teaching and on the consumerist virus attacking universities today.) Beyond entertainment, what does this kind of study mean for our lives? Perfect for the undergrad heading to grad school. This book explains why most of us in the liberal arts took a secular route after having been presented with a religious route. Nominated for the Frederic W. Ness Book Award (from the Association of American Colleges and Universities)”


Check out the next set of recommendations, and let us know what you recommend reading this summer!