Summer brings an opportunity to read books from outside our professional areas of focus. For this issue of Campus Connections, faculty and staff were asked to share some of their favorites from summer 2014. All books mentioned in this article can be found in the Carlyle Campbell Library—check out the faculty/staff summer reading display on the main floor.
Dean of Students Ann Gleason
This summer, in addition to reading our Summer Reading Program selection (of course), I enjoyed reading Longbourn by Jo Baker. The author gives us an opportunity to peer into the lives of the servants who could have worked at Longbourn, the house/estate where the Bennet family lived as featured in the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice. Think of it as a version of Downtown Abbey as it gives the reader a glimpse into the lives lived by those who served the Bennet family and describes how the servants lived, what they experienced, and how they interacted. The Bennet women and parents fade into the background as the servants (Sarah, Polly, James, Mrs. Hill) are the central characters in this story about love, power, and hope. It would be a wonderful companion book to read along with Pride and Prejudice - and the characters are full of humor and warmth.
Professor of Theatre Catherine Rodgers
I read David Sedaris' Naked and laughed so hard that I was afraid the people around me on the train were going to think I was crazy.
Professor of English Robin Colby
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter by William Deresiewicz
Head of Library Technical Services Ted Waller
Ulysses by James Joyce: The most important book of the 20th century. A difficult read, but try it and see what the fuss was all about.
Professor Emerita of Biology Janice Swab
I spent some time in Cape Town and surroundings this summer and in preparation for visiting Robben Island, I read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. South Africa is a very different place today because of the way Mandela chose to live his life in the face of adversity that we can hardly imagine. Cape Town is a wonderful city to visit!
Professor of Dance Alyson Colwell-Waber
Two books by Barbara Kingsolver — Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (after which you should go to Virginia to eat in her restaurant, The Harvest Table) and her novel, Flight Behavior. I also enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, as well as Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.
News Director Melyssa Allen
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
This book was on the shortlist for the Bailey’s Prize, which is an annual prize in the U.K. for women writers. Every year I find several good books on this list that I might not otherwise read. Burial Rites is historical fiction about Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a woman convicted of murder in Iceland in the 1820s. A family is forced to house Agnes on their farm as she waits to find out if her appeal will be successful. The author did a great job describing the story’s setting, and though the story is a dark one, the winter atmosphere was refreshing to read about in the summer.
We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
This funny and quirky book examines family dynamics, how people treat animals, and how people treat each other. A college-age woman tells the story of her childhood, and how the family falls apart after her sister’s disappearance from their home. I saw the author at the North Carolina Literary Festival, and she said she wanted the central story to be a surprise to readers. Unfortunately, it is spoiled right on the back cover of the paperback, so apparently the publisher disagreed. If you want the twist to be preserved, don’t look at the book description.
Adjunct Professor of French Julia Mastro
I read The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal. In a nutshell: A modern day artist inherits a collection of Japanese figurines from his uncle who has been living in Japan. BUT, the collection itself actually dates from the 19th century when French Impressionist artists began the craze for anything Japanese and exporters brought the figurines to Paris, where they were purchased by de Waal's ancestor, a rich Jewish banker. But how did this Jewish family manage to retain possession of the figurines during Hitler's mass extermination? It's a historical piece, but follows the story through anecdotes and family. De Waal combines artistic and social culture from Japan, France, Austria and Russia with a dose of England and is highly engaging while shedding light on popular movements in history.
Financial Aid Counselor Katie Nagel
Last summer, I read the Meredith summer reading book and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Unbroken will premiere as a move in December 2014 so please be sure to read the book before then. My brother strongly recommended Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. Both books are very different from my usual reading list! Lone Survivor not only focused on the author's role in his experience and survival as a Navy Seal but of his comrades, his family, and even his twin brother (also a Navy Seal.) Luttrell also has a dry sense of humor that is very entertaining when introducing you to the different characters in the book.
Chaplain Stacy Pardue
My favorite summer book was The White Man’s Burden by William Easterly, economics professor at NYU. William Easterly criticizes the ineffectiveness of Western organizations to mitigate global poverty, a response to Columbia University’s well-known Jeffrey Sachs.
Director of Alumnae Relations Hilary Allen
Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt, a professor at NCSU
Set in Charlotte, North Carolina, Lookaway, Lookaway highlights the low, highs, dysfunction and skeletons in the closet of a prominent Old South family. This was a light, easy, funny and sometimes outrageous read. I particularly enjoyed that each chapter was told from the perspective of one of the cast of characters that make up the family. And believe me, they are a cast of characters! An interesting note is that HBO has recently optioned the rights to the novel and will be creating a comedy series based on Lookaway, Lookaway.
This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
Much like Lookaway, Lookaway, this novel was sometimes over the top. However, it is yet another glimpse into families and all of the love and dysfunction that encompass those dynamic relationships. This book centers on the death of the father of this family, whose dying request was for the entire family to sit Shiva for an entire week. For such a dysfunctional family, this becomes a challenge with hilarious trials and tribulations as siblings, spouses, exes and children gather for the seven days. Speaking of cast of characters, there is a great cast starring in the film version, which opens in September. I can only imagine how much the talents of Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Connie Britton, Adam Driver and many others will bring Tropper’s writing to life on the big screen.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Given all of the accolades and that it a seemingly stayed on the New York Times bestseller list, I had to read The Goldfinch! After reading it, how do you not feel an incredible amount of sympathy for Theo Decker? This massive, all 700+ pages, details the life story of Theo Decker beginning with the loss of his mother at the age of 13. Her death changes the fate of his entire life. The thread throughout the entire novel is The Goldfinch itself, his mother’s favorite painting. Tartt writes in such thorough detail and is able to connect all of those details over the course of Theo’s journey; even now, I can picture the apartment Theo shared with his mother in New York. At the end of the novel, you really feel as if you know Theo, and that speaks to Tartt’s ability to develop her characters and the plot.
Professor of Health, Exercise and Sports Science Melinda Campbell
The New School by Glenn Harlan Reynolds is an interesting forecast for higher education and education in general.
The Fur, Fish, Flea and Beagle Club by Robert Byrd –he's my cousin, not the late senator, but I am promoting his first book - wonderful storytelling.
Tell Me No Lies - by Elizabeth Lowell, suspense and romance.
Associate Professor of English Laura Fine
Amy and Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
The Professor’s House by Willa Cather
Professor of Human Environmental Sciences Deborah Tippett
My favorite book as a teen was To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, so I devoured the new non-fiction The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills. It is a reflection of living next door to the Lee sisters for a year and half while the sisters are in their 70s and 90s. The Pulitzer Prize winning author does an excellent job of describing their day to day ordinary lives in a small town in Alabama while at the same time sharing their extraordinary lives of accomplishments. The lesser known sister, Alice, was still practicing law and was part of the inspiration for Atticus. If you read the book then you will understand the controversy found in so many reviews of this book. The book was filled with authenticity and kindness towards the Lee sisters and made me want to write to the author to tell her how much I enjoyed the book and how much better I understood why I still loved To Kill a Mockingbird.