Summer Reading ’13

May 12th, 2013 § 4 comments


Summer’s here!

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.)

The Diviners by Libba Bray (Little, Brown). “Because,” as reviewer Elizabeth Burns notes, “of the sheer fun and terror.” And because I’m a fan of YA works.

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.

Other suggestions?

 Image: “12” by S. Fernsebner / All Rights Reserved






§ 4 Responses to Summer Reading ’13"

  • Claire says:

    I’ll be interested to see what you think of “Fault In Our Stars”. I think I had impossibly high expectations when I got around to it and may have to try it again. I have yet to read “The Diviners” but I really enjoyed Libba Bray’s first series, “A Great and Terrible Beauty.”

    If you’re looking for something well-researched but Hollywood-adjacent enough to seem like beach reading, I highly recommend Lawrence Wright’s “Going Clear” on Scientology. It was one those books I literally could not put down, to the point that I risked car-sickness to keep reading.

  • Susan F. says:

    Thanks for the suggestions, Claire! I’ve been trying to remember the author & title of the Scientology book for a while. It’s been one of those nagging “I know I heard about something good that I wanted to read, but what… was… it?” titles this spring.

    I’ve heard almost nothing about “Fault,” which may be a good thing, actually, before I read it. But then, still not sure I’m up to that one (when, readers, is the right time to pick up a book about ca.?) I may start with Cohen’s “Three Lives” and then move onto Bray and Scientology.

    BTW, if there’s anything above that folks would like to read together and discuss online, do tell. I’d be happy to get a post+comments convo going here at DA.

  • Andi says:

    I’m both impressed and envious of your list. The books look interesting, and also generally related to your work. While I read a bunch, it’s pretty much all for fun… Planning books are dry as dirt. In case you want to venture in the land of dorky books, I would recommend:
    Wool by Hugh Howey (self published sci-fi. Best I’ve read in a while.)
    The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (fantasy. I liked it.)
    and, in case you haven’t read him before, anything by Neil Stephenson, particularly Snow Crash.
    Yay, beach reading!

    • Susan F. says:

      Thanks for the suggestions. I do need more on the non-work related side of this list, light but interesting. Will check these out… just spotted the Stephenson book for sale w/ proceeds benefiting the Baltimore Reads program. Looks like a good place to start.

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