Summer Reading is a series that asks Haverford’s librarians and library staff for book recommendations that will enlighten, entertain, and educate during this vacation season. Take these titles to the beach, on a plane, or just enjoy them indoors with the fan on.
This week: Five fantastical suggestions from Senior Administrative Assistant Rachel Hochberg. Says Hochberg: “For me, the greatest pleasure of reading is being transported from everyday reality to someplace else entirely—so here are some windows to worlds that are better, worse, and just plain different.”
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell:
At the risk of drawing the ire of the masses, I have to admit that Carry On is the book I wish the Harry Potter series had been. A loving homage and a keen commentary in one, it follows four students in their final year at a premier U.K. magic school, struggling against a mysterious force threatening the magical world. Though this story might sound familiar, it’s told in delightful ways: with a tightly-woven plot, beautifully fleshed-out characters, clever and unique magic, queer romance, and a twist I completely didn’t see coming. It’s a fantastic read whether or not you’ve read and loved Harry Potter. I also highly recommend the audiobook; I’ve listened to it a dozen times already!
Abarat by Clive Barker:
I missed my bus stop two days in a row while commuting with this book. In some ways it’s a classic fantasy: a girl is swept away from her mundane life (in this case, by a magical ocean that appears in the middle of a field) and journeys with several companions to another, stranger land. The world-building is masterful and completely engrossing, the characters sometimes bizarre but always relatable, and the plot pleasingly focused on a young woman discovering her own strength and power. If you’re going to pick this one up, try to find the illustrated edition packed with Barker’s surreal paintings of the characters and settings—and then check out the sequels!
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente:
Another book with a classic fantasy premise, this one is in many ways a spiritual successor to The Wizard of Oz: A Midwestern girl gets swept away to Fairyland, goes on an adventure, picking up companions along the way, and vanquishes the evil Marquess who rules with an iron fist. What makes Girl Who Circumnavigated stand out is the prose—it’s artfully crafted, beautifully expressed, and heartwarming to boot. Valente also incorporates mythological elements from a wide array of cultures, creating a Fairyland that continually surprises, and remains fresh and new in each of the four books that continue the series.
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers by Fumi Yoshinaga:
Set over an 80-year span of the 17th century, this ongoing manga spins an alternate history of Japan in which a plague wipes out the majority of the male population and women take over the rule of household, clan, and country. Yoshinaga reveals the personal dramas and political machinations of the titular Ōoku, the men-only inner sanctum of the shogun’s palace where her servants and concubines are retained, and the rise and fall of generations of female shoguns. I love these books for their beautiful art, intricate plotlines, and the variety of women with agency and power. They’re accessible without prior knowledge of Japanese history—the copious cultural and historical notes at the end are your friend—and a good choice if you like comics but have never tried manga before.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan:
It’s very difficult to describe this graphic novel in any way that does it justice. It’s completely wordless, but Tan’s mastery of his craft makes the story entirely understandable: a man leaves his family to find work in a distant and fantastical country where he doesn’t speak the language, and must make his way communicating by gesture and drawing, until he eventually is able to adjust and to send for his wife and daughter to join him. Genius use of visual storytelling tools convey the man’s homesickness, confusion, fear, and bright moments of happiness and connection, expressing an immigrant experience that is broadly relatable and surreal at once.
Photo by Cole Sansom ’19.