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: Librarian of the College Terry Snyder recommends five relatively recent titles from across different genres—historical fiction, science, mystery, literary fiction—that will help keep any vacation interesting.
Disgruntled by Asali Solomon:
This is the debut novel for Assistant Professor of English Asali Solomon and follows her collection of short stories, Get Down. The story tracks the growth of Kenya Curtis, a Philadelphia-raised, eight-year-old girl, and her coming of age. The story weaves issues of class, race, religion, blackness, and otherness in masterful ways. The writing is gorgeously clear, accessible, and soulful; it simultaneously challenges the reader through the story’s complexity, told with wit and wisdom. For those familiar with Philadelphia and Haverford, you will find resonance in the descriptive landscapes. You will read it in one sitting, forgetting everything and everyone around you. Line up the sunscreen, beverages, and snacks!
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead:
The Underground Railroad moves from metaphor to a physical (but other-worldly) train. It points to the courage and danger that fleeing slaves and their accomplices faced in the act of liberation. The main story-line follows the movement of Cora, an escaped slave fleeing first a Georgia plantation and finding temporary respite in South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Indiana. There are bounty hunters, informers and lynch mobs to avoid as well as friendships and relationships to savor. The brutality and horrors of slavery, racism, and false justice are heartbreaking, and they demand an intensely personal empathy from the reader. The content of the story is a difficult one to come to terms with, but it is well worth reading for the larger opportunities of connection to our past, to our present and with one another.
Broken Harbor by Tana French:
Summer reading requires a mystery or two, and Broken Harbor is my first Tana French read. The book presents a grisly murder in a newly developed planned community by the Irish Sea. The community formerly named Brianstown holds its own history and sees a partial, and ultimately failed, transformation as a result of the real estate boom just before the economic downturn in 2008. The details build one on another, slowly, until there is clarity on how the characters (the murdered, the investigators, and the extended family members) are interrelated. The ending is not tidy; there isn’t the sigh of good closure that accompanies many mysteries, but that makes the read more interesting and satisfying.
A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel by Amor Towles:
Count Alexander Rostov received the Order of Saint Andrew. He was a Master of the Hunt and a member of the Jockey Club. He was rich, a gentleman, an unrepentant aristocrat, and as a result of the revolution, a “former person,” who is sentence for detainment in the luxurious Metropol hotel. With his resources significantly diminished, the novel follows Rostov and the life he makes over decades spent in confinement. The book unfolds with descriptions of how the count lives his life following his mantra: “If one did not master one’s circumstances, one was bound to be mastered by them.” Plausible? Perhaps not, but delightful in the richness of the writing, the desire for purpose, and the vignettes that reveal meaning.
The Hidden Life of Trees, What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben:
My first reaction when I picked up this book at the store: Great! I love trees and want to read this as I head into the Adirondack forest. My second reaction: Eeewww: “How they feel?” “How they communicate?” That’s a little creepy: trees don’t like to be anthropomorphized. What’s more, my reaction is still secret—I am recommending a book I haven’t read. The favorable reviews are interesting, and I am heading to the Adirondack forest with said book in hand. I invite you to read it along with me and to compare notes in a couple of weeks.
Photo by Cole Sansom ’19.