Recommended summer reading
  We've got a little list:
Fiction: Non-fiction:
  • Age of Innocence, The
  • Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned
  • Art of Happiness, The
  • Bat 6
  • Blindness
  • Catastrophist, The
  • Devil in a Blue Dress
  • Earth Abides
  • Everything in This Country Must
    Fire
  • For the Relief of Unbearable Urges
  • Galileo's Daughter
  • Gone Fishin'
  • Gorky Park
  • Hannah and Her Dad (Voyages)
  • Hours, The
  • Ice Storm, The
  • Journey to the End of the Millennium, A
  • Like Normal People
  • Lives on the Boundary
  • Nobody's Fool
  • Plainsong
  • Professor and the Madman, The
  • Remains of the Day, The
  • Remorseful Day, The
  • Rose
  • Sharpe's Fortress
  • Shoeless Joe
  • Stallion's Gate
  • Stonehenge
  • Storm
  • Straight Man
  • Walking the Dog
  • Where I'm Calling From
  • Where the Heart Is
  • The Big Text
  • Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
  • Hope for the Unseen, A
  • Horse Heaven
  • Perfect Storm, The
  • Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, The
  • Strange Fruit
  • Walk in the Woods, A
  • Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History
Poetry:
  • Entering the Mare

 

Laury Fischer: I've loved The Perfect Storm (soon to be starring George Clooney) I fear, am almost done with a book Judy Myers recommended a while back which is quite astounding: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, and a group of wonderful short stories by Nathan Englander, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. These wouldn't really be my student list, but ones I recommend for us all.

Sharon Pastori: I highly give my vote to "The Spirit Catches You". Wonderful book.

Karen Toloui: Well, as soon as I turn in my grades, I hope to settle down to some seriously fun summer reading, mainly the books I've stacked by the bed for the past four months. Some of those are Galileo's Daughter, Hannah and Her Daughters (?) [Ed. Is that Hannah and Her Dad (Voyages) by Raewyn Caisley, Meredith Thomas (Illustrator) ?] and the new book by Jane Smiley (Horse something). [Ed. Horse Heaven.] As you can see, I'm not too good with titles at this time of the year. However, I'm looking for something really good to take with me to Italy. Am packing very lightly and will be gone three weeks but would like something good to pick up and read on the train and plane. Suggestions?

As for books read recently and recommended, I have to say that I really enjoyed Michael Cunningham's The Hours and the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness, and Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, not to be confused with Into the Woods, which I also read recently. By the way, has anyone else ever read Earth Abides?

Dick Shoemaker: Maybe I am the last one reading The Professor and the Madman -- a fascinating account of the making of the OED -- by Simon Winchester (in paper). It's an education AND a page turner. Karen, are you referring to George Stewart's Earth Abides? (He was an English Prof at U.C. Spoke at DVC years ago.) If so, nearly every DVC English student read it in the 60's. It was much assigned then along with such books of the era as Siddhartha, Catcher in the Rye, and Rumors of Peace.

Brian McKinney: [On Earth Abides] When it was in print, my English 123 students chose it
for the novel of the semester twice, and I had read it before. The plot - a disease kills most of us, leaving a few survivors in Berkeley - and the major questions confronted by those survivors - what is civilization and how much of it can be passed on? - are fascinating, and more than compensate for George Stewart's frequently wooden writing.

I'm just finishing The Remorseful Day, the last (and one of the best) of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse novels. On an airplane, I read Sharpe's Fortress, by Bernard Cornwell, another in his excellent series of novels about the British enlisted man who is given a battlefield promotion to lieutenant (he saves the life of Lord Wellington) and exists in a never-never land between the aristocracy and the foot soldiers, though he does find his fair share of comrades and intriguing women. The battle scenes are wonderful. Cornwell is a magnificent storyteller; my wife recommends his newest novel, Stonehenge (possibly subtitled How They Did It).

Bruce Reeves: Earth Abides was a favorite in high school, partly because it was about Berkeley, partly because there are a number of lush references to the Bible, but mostly because it raises seminal questions about us. Not navajo, seminal. Steward also wrote Storm long before The Perfect Storm and, somewhat better, Fire a moment-by-moment detailed description of how a major fire in California forests started, grew, and was weeks later put out. Good stuff.

James O'Keefe: Karen et al, I certainly read and re-read Earth Abides as an early teen
and as an adult, especially when I lived for a year or so in that neighborhood (much of the book takes place in the part of the Berkeley hills where the big rocks are, upper Thousand Oaks I guess, around Indian Rock). My father had had author George Stewart as a teacher at UCB in the 40s, and was an enormous fan of Stewart's Fire, Storm, and the non-fictional (sorta) Ordeal by Hunger, about the Donner Party. Stewart may have been in the English Department but he knew his natural history, which fires _EA_ and his other work (in fact, there is a cute reference, in _EA_, to Carl Sauer in the Geography Dept). Many of the fun lines from _EA_ became catch-phrases for my sister and me. and I think it inspired some nightmares as well.

Jessica Inclan: I would really recommend Like Normal People by Karen Bender. It just came out, but I got it from the library. Really great writing.

Judy Myers: I'm really pleased everyone is liking The Spirit Catches You.... Anne Fadiman has written one other book, a collection of lovely essays about the library and books. (I think she was a librarian in another life.) I also have a nagging suspicion that she's written another book, but I can't remember right now. [Ed: The book essays are probably Ex Libris : Confessions of a Common Reader; no other Fadiman books are listed at Amazon.]

For my 123 class, I reread The Age of Innocence, The Remains of the Day, Shoeless Joe, and The Ice Storm. (I stole an idea from Laury for their final novel project.) I still think Age of Innocence is a brilliant book. And I was surprised at how much the group of students who read it, liked it.

I recently finished a novel I picked up at Cody's for no apparent reason called A Journey to the end of the Millenium by A.B. Yehoshua, an Israeli writer. The book is translated from the Hebrew and is set in 999 A.D. It is really kind of an odd and disturbing book about a North African Jewish merchant who, along with his Muslim partner gathers goods in Africa and the mideast and sells them in Europe via a nephew who has settled in Europe (he flees the mideast when his wife commits suicide.) The merchant's polygamy (two wives) becomes the subject of a repudiation by a family of Europeans who are attached to the nephew. The novel raises many excellent and disturbing questions about the role of religion in personal and social contexts and in an odd way considers the role of women in the life of the family and the society. I can't really recommend it because it was so disturbing, but on the other hand, it was so subtly done and the guy has such an interesting
view of society and more importantly, actually conveyed something larger than self-consciousness in the novel, I feel a bit compelled by it. Oh well. Whatever.

I recently went to the Irish Writer's Festival called Finnegans Awake! in SF. It was great! I heard some first rate writers, so if you happen upon them.... Two fiction writers were excellent, Ronan Bennett. He has a new book called The Catastrophist and Colum McCann read a wonderful story from a book called Everything in this Country Must. I heard some really interesting and sometimes wonderful poetry. Ciaran Carson, from Northern Ireland read poetry that was full of life and anger and intensity. I thought some of his poems were really brilliant, but he struck me as a pretty fucked up guy. Also moments of brilliance from Katie Donovan whose book is called Entering the Mare, the title poem of which was the best thing read that night.

Jim Jacobs: I recommend anything by Martin Cruz Smith, a Californian who first came to fame with Gorky Park. His most recent novel, which is still in hardcover (I obtained a copy from the DVC library) is Havana Bay, set in Cuba. Smith's protagonist from Gorky Park, a police investigator, is in Havana to try to find out what has happened to his long-time KGB nemesis, whose body has been found floating in the harbor under extremely mysterious conditions. Of course, he also falls in love with a beautiful Cuban police officer who helps him solve the mystery. Moreover, Smith paints a picture of contemporary Havana, replete with that infamous tourist attraction--jinoteras--that is both compelling and fascinating.

For a sequel, you might try his Stallion Gate, set in 1940's Los Alamos, a historical mystery novel with all of the characters who worked on the A-bomb, including Oppenheimer. Smith's protagonist this time is a Pueblo Army sergeant, a combat vet and champion boxer assigned to be Oppy's bodyguard whose real job, as it turns out, is to protect the nation's first nuclear experiment from sabotage...by a mixed cast of brilliantly-imaged foes, both foreign and domestic. At the same time, the sergeant struggles with problems of identity, relationship/commitment (the love interest) and violation of his people's sacred ground.

Dee Allen-Kirkhouse: Earth Abides used to be required reading in these parts. It was one of those books that had a profound impact on me when I was a teenager. Like Karen, Into the Woods reminded me of Earth Abides. It's funny that this book came up because my husband and I were just talking about it last night. He reads fantasy and science fiction, which of course Earth Abides was supposed to be. It scared the bejabbers out of me when I read it in high school--I have an overly active imagination according to my family--so that my father and I had several heart to heart talks about the possibilities of disaster striking the Bay Area.

Sharon Pastori: My book group just finished The Hours by Michael Cunningham.. wonderful writing.. and an interesting point of view.. although a man, he writes from the POV of a woman I think.. he's a Virginia Woolf scholar and weaves 3 different stories...

Keith Mikolavich: I just began The Hours by Michael Cunningham and am enjoying it a lot though he tries to write like Virginia Woolf and only sometimes gets it right. I'm not sure I like the idea of him taking on her voice though I love anything by Woolf. Like so many others, I strongly recommend The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. Jim J. said he loved it too.

Brian McKinney: When I was looking for airplane books at Orinda Books, I stumbled across Rose by Martin Cruz Smith. I love the Renko books, so grabbed it up. The saleslady/bookperson said that Smith had stumbled across a description of "pit girls" in English coal mines in the last century and thought he could fashion a story from them. Has he ever. Romance (one of the best I've come across recently), mystery, the British class/colonial system at its worst, a vivid description of the experience of mining coal a mile below Wigan, and Smith's brilliant storytelling skills combine to make this wonderful reading.

Clark Sturges: Four or five years ago we went to the SF Book Fair, and Barbara persuaded me to attend a lecture by Walter Mosley, one of Clinton's favorite writers, and the author of Devil in a Blue Dress, which she had read. I went reluctantly.

Well, as you might expect, it was one of the most brilliant talks I've ever heard. He read a little from Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, his new collection of linked short stories. And then he began to talk about black people in America, and how there has never been an alliance to keep black leaders in touch with one another. A large part of this was pairing people in contrast: Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson, etc. I wish I could remember more specific examples. I called the book council the next day to see if they had taped his talk, which they had not, which is a real shame.

Amway, I became a fan of Mosley and have read all he's written. His earlier "detective" books were about a seedy private investigator named Easy Rawlins. There are about six books in this series starting with Devil and ending with Gone Fishin'.

With "Always Outnumbered ..." he has a new character, Socrates Fortlow, a huge black man out on parole for murder, which he indeed committed. Socrates lives in a shack in Watts, and he tries to mind his own business, but he keeps coming into contact with situations that require him to become
involved, often teaching lessons to others.

Walkin' the Dog, released last year, is a sequel to "Outnumbered". Both would make good summer reading, but I suggest you read them in order.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf is set in rural Colorado, and it involves three dysfunctional families: a pregnant teenager who is kicked out of her house by her mentally unstable mother and is taken in by a high school teacher who lives with her senile, potentially violent father; a man, another high school teacher, and his two sons whose wife withdraws from the world, moves out, and ultimately moves away; and two old brothers who live on the farm where they grew up, neither having married.

The early chapters deal with each of the families, and then as the story progresses the families connect and their lives become intertwined. The writing is strong and direct, and the characters are bold and full. I was really taken by this novel.

Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts is set in Oklahoma and it, too, deals with dysfunctional people, and it too has as a main character (in fact THE main character), a pregnant teenager whose boyfriend abandons her on their way to California so he can become a rock star, and she lives in a Wal-Mart sleeping in a closet at night. She delivers her baby there, delivered by a customer named Forney Hull, who works at the library though his sister, a hopeless alcoholic who doesn't leave the second floor, is the actual librarian.

The girl, Novalee Nation, names her baby girl Americus Nation. They are aided by Forney and a whole bunch of poor people living on the fringe as they struggle to survive and help each other deal with the challenges put before them.

The characters' names are different and interesting: Whitecotton, Goodluck, Sister Husband, and two of the main characters are black and Native American. This is a sentimental book and certainly doesn't display the craft that Plainsong does, but it's a good story when you're on a plane or sitting by the lake and you don't want to deal with Kafka!

Jim Jacobs: Clark-- I never saw Easy Rawlins as "seedy." He is a Korean War vet who is forced to quit his working class job because of a racist confrontation; he owns his own home and, in order to make mortgage payments, decides to help solve some people's problems. He's not quite a private detective, just a good-hearted sleuth. His wife has deserted him (that's a switch I liked) and he takes care of two orphaned children. Rawlins lives and operates in a part of LA of the 1950s which, according to an African-American friend of mine who grew up in those very same South Central/Watts neighborhoods, Mosley depicts exceedingly well). True, Rawlins is familiar with the bar/club scene there, but it's one whose denizens are a very mixed bag, not just seedy, and, after all, where's a brother and sister to go to have fun...in those times?

Took me back to places I felt privileged to frequent in Syracuse and Rochester, NY (Club 800, Satellite Club, Phoebe's) where the hottest musicians performed, both during and after-hours and the clientele ranged across a wide spectrum. I once sat next to Oscar Robinson ("The Big O") at the Club 800. He came down to the club after the Cincinnati Royals played the Syracuse Nationals to hear Sy Simpson and his All-Stars play. (Sy's daytime job was with the Syracuse Department of Public Works--collecting trash.

Easy also has run-ins with the LAPD, whose racism and nethworld shenanigans, Mosley reminds, have deep roots (and not just in Chinatown). Those depictions are among the best you can find in American fiction. Of course, Mosley also displays a deft (and understated) touch with Black Dialect, featuring grammar, vocabulary and tonality that is period-perfect.

James O'Keefe: Clark, I appreciated your comments about Walter Mosely, and wondered if
you had read the recent non-fiction book he has out, which deals with wealth, race, policy? and does this book resonate at all with the fiction? [Ed: Workin' on the Chain Gang : Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History (Library of Contemporary Thought)]

Clark Sturges: (Responding to Jacobs] You're absolutely right. Easy Rawlins isn't himself seedy -- he's a man of high character who does good deeds. What I meant was his environment is seedy -- the margin of LA in the 1950s. Poor modification on my part.

In the literature I've read he's referred to as a "detective" and "private investigator" in terms of the roles he's asked to play. I've never heard of him being called a "sleuth" but that seems to work fine too. And his ear for black dialect is indeed superb as it is in the Socrates Fortlow stories.

Mosley is a fascinating man (he bolted from PEN because of their elitist policies) and writer. My only disappointment was Blue Light, which is kind of new-age. I wouldn't recommend it and critics didn't either. He was raised in LA by a black father and Jewish mother and now lives in New York. He had lots of jobs, including computer work, before he established himself as a writer.

Keith Mikolavich: I like how Clark and others have given a synopsis of their summer reading picks. I, however, am only sending a list that my critical thinking class requested for their summer reading. Here goes:

Mikolavich’s Suggested Summer Reading (2000)

Fiction

Toni Morrison’s Beloved
Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony
Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From
Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried
Kobo Abe’s Woman in the Dunes or The Ruined Map
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse
Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View
Graham Greene’s The Quiet American or The Human Factor
T.H. White’s The Once and Future King
Nikos Kazantzakis’s Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ
Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
Ian Frazier’s Cold Mountain
James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room
M. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge
Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint or The Breast
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis
Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient
Kenzoburo Oe’s A Personal Matter
Voltaire’s Candid
Jean Toomer’s Cane
Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell with Grace from the Sea
Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities
Willa Cather’s My Antonia
Jorge Louis Borges’s Labyrinths

Non-Fiction

Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman
Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own
Martin Luther King’s Why We Can’t Wait
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost
James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son

Poetry

Louise Gluck’s Meadowlands
Philip Levine’s What Work Is
The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry
Mark Strand’s Selected Poems

James O'Keefe: Strange Fruit by David Margolick. A book about the song. Quick and easy reading which nevertheless makes a bunch of connections between song and artist, audience and response, white and black, past and present, north and south.

Bat 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolff. Sixth-grade girls in very small-town Oregon, 1949, play softball while taking up lingering issues of race and violence they have inherited from their WWII-washed parents. Not terribly satisfying, though the girls themselves tell the story and the voices are a little hypnotic.

Currently in The Big Test, history of the SAT and the first selection of the Assessment Book Club. Join us in reading it and be ready to meet to chat in July (date and place and time TBA).

Jessica Inclan: I have some reading, too: The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie. Some of the stories seem very Ursula K. Le Guin. But good. I read Fiona Range by Mary Morris McGrath (what a potboiler, but I was completely sucked in). Based on Clark rec, read Where the Heart is and "The Spirit Catches....." both great. Also reading . Really good. All in all, an A for all the above.

Keri Mitchell: I just finished The Hours by Michael Cunningham (as it seems many have or are about to); I thought it was good, but it certainly didn't wash over me the way V. Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway did.

I just started Raymond Carver's Where I'm Calling From (a collection of what some call his best work) as I sat on BART today and tried not to laugh too loudly; so far so good.

Next up are A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind--a story about an African-American boy's transition from inner city life to Brown University (Laury, have you read this?) and Blindness by Jose Saramago, which sounds like a totally depressing tale but powerful, nonetheless. Oh, and I'm thinking of using Mike Rose's Lives on the Boundary for 116 (recommended by both Marcia and Patrick). And somewhere in the middle of that I would like to read Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk, if only because I need to understand the person behind such an acute philosophical mind.

Laury Fischer: I have read and loved A Hope for the Unseen. The student whom the book follows just graduated from Brown and was the subject of numerous pieces in the Brown paper -- he's done quite well there, but not without the tremendous difficulty described in the book.

Unlike Patrick and Marcia, I did not have great success teaching Lives on the Boundary in 116. I found that I had to do much more scaffolding and vocabulary in class than I want out of a book -- I know my students enjoyed talking about the themes, but the reading itself didn't give them the kind of pleasure and success I want to occur in 116. I've pretty much stuck with novels since then (The Bluest Eye, Rumors of Peace have both worked well).

Jim Jacobs: Just finished Straight Man by Richard Russo, a satirical novel about a dysfunctional (Pennsylvania) college English Department and its embattled, 50-year-old chairman who also teaches a section of creative comp. It may hit too close to home for some of you (if it does, maybe you need to work on some stuff), but it is hilarious in many parts. He targets all the sacred cows you could imagine.

Jessica Inclan: I don't know if you all recall, but I went through a Richard Russo phase last year. I loved Straight Man and went to the others--Straight Man actually seems like a departure for Russo. The others are all very similar in theme and tone and POV. But good. Nobody's Fool and the Paul Newman movie of the same title wouldn't be a bad teaching deal.

 

 

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