I donned my regalia for Commencement yesterday, rolling up my jeans under the gown, and had a lovely time cheering my students in the Class of 2013 as they crossed the podium on a fine Saturday morning. I also celebrated the end of the school year over tea today, on a lazy Sunday morning, by composing a list for summer reading.
Here’s the collection of titles so far:
All We Know: Three Lives by Lisa Cohen (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012). Reviewing this biography of three lesbian acquaintances who lived as members of ‘cafe society’ during the early to mid twentieth century, Terry Castle notes:
Cohen’s book itself is one of these odd, wayward, portentous things; you don’t quite know where it’s come from; you are stunned by its depths; and you hope its excellence and pertinence and originality will not lead, doomfully, to its sinking without a trace, as fine things connected with the subject of lesbianism have had a way of doing for so long. It’s a major work of scholarship and interpretation…
Looks like a great read, and bio’s are a favorite genre of mine for summer, as the next item also reveals.
Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life by Jonathan Sperber (Liveright). In his review at the NYRB, John Grey notes this work as both “subtly revisionist” and “likely to be definitive for many years to come.” One reason is that Sperber’s biography of Marx is the first, as Grey notes, that’s “situating Marx fully in the nineteenth century.” Such contextualization, of course, makes historians such as myself positively gleeful. All aboard, esp. all you Frankfurt School freaks!
Writing War: Soldiers Record the Japanese Empire by Aaron William Moore (Harvard UP). A study of diaries composed by men fighting on all sides of the Asia-Pacific theater of World War Two, including those written by Japanese, Chinese Nationalist, and American servicemen. As Moore notes in his intro, an examination of these diaries reveals not only the significance of the China conflict in World War Two more broadly, but also, importantly, the “diaries show us the way in which wartime states ultimately relied on the proactive support of their citizens to carry out the most brutal conflict in history.” It’s a work that I’ve been looking forward to read both as a historian of East Asia and as a resident of another age (sadly) of warfare today…
Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey by GB Tran (Villard). I’ve also been thinking much lately about complexities of life as a first-generation American, and especially about issues of memory, narrative, and elision related to our parents’ own life experiences amid the mid-twentieth century wars. Mix those themes together with a graphic novel and memoir, two favorite genres for the summer, and we’ve got another title for the list.
But perhaps it’s time to add some lighter items for reading whie lounging at the beach and the cafe this summer, including…
The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (Penguin). Does this count as a lighter title? As an old Edward Gorey fan with an affection for the gothic, this seems like a no-brainer of a selection for my list (cue nefarious, muh-waah-haa-haa laughter here.)
Finally, I’ve also been eyeing another YA novel, namely John Green’s The Fault in our Stars (Dutton). I’ve added it to the list in part because I myself am a c. survivor (yes, full disclosure, but not to dwell on it here) and what I’ve read in this work so far rings so true. But that’s also a reason I may not be up for bringing it to the beach… I’m still deciding. On the other hand, I’ve found the beach to be just the right place for contemplating the Big Stuff sometimes, so we’ll see.
Image: “12” by S. Fernsebner / All Rights Reserved