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Faculty Top Threes
For our Summer 2013 installment, we offer a reprise of last summer's topic: we asked our literature faculty to tell us what they'll be reading this summer. So, once again, treat the following as recommendations or simply as snapshots of the faculty's cluttered nightstands!
- Clifford D. Simak, City (1952). In this collection of linked stories, human beings have migrated to Jupiter, dogs have become the benevolent custodians of the Earth, and aliens from inner space threaten to colonize the planet. It's the dogs who gather round the fire to tell the tales of how these things came to pass. The generally pastoral nature of Simak's fiction should make for delightful summer reading. The first sentence of the book reads, "Gramp Stevens sat in a lawn chair, watching the mower at work, feeling the warm, soft sunshine seep into his bones."
- William Wycherley, The Country Wife (1674). This play boasts the most censored scene in all of Restoration drama, which is saying something considering the libertine tendencies of those times. I'm getting ready for the UM School of Theater's production of The Country Wife, scheduled for the coming academic year, which should be a special treat (though not for the squeamish!).
- Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, Teeming with Microbes (2010) and William Bryant Logan, Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth (1995). This summer I'm reading deeply into dirt. The first book is a practical primer on how to get to know the biological composition of dirt in your own backyard. I'm learning all sorts of things about the earthworms, nematodes, gastropods, fungi, etc. that make for fertile soil. William Bryant Logan appears to offer a more poetic perspective on the subject.
- Kevin Boyle, The Arc of Justice.
- Sarah Waters, Night Watch.
- Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man.
- Alice Rawsthorn: Hello World: Where Design Meets Life (because she has been called the foremost design critic writing today and because I am working on the way the everyday encounters affect our lives).
- Emily Danforth's The Miseducation of Cameron Post (because she is an alum, and because it is set in Montana and I tried to read everything set in Montana).
- Willy Vlautin's The Motel Life (because there is "buzz" about his work and it is set in Nevada).
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus (widely heralded as two of the greatest collections of 20th Century poems).
- China Mieville, The City and the City (a sci-fi "murder mystery")
- David Foster Wallace, Oblivion (a collection of short stories)
- Don Chaon, Among the Missing: Stories. A buddy recommended Chaon's work, and after reading the first chapter of Await Your Reply, I was hooked. This summer, I'm hoping to read a number of well-received short story collections -- including Bonnie Jo Campbell's American Salvage, Junot Diaz's This Is How You Lose Her, and Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth -- and Chaon's at the top of my list.
- What's summer without a Georges Simenon? This summer, another of the prolific Simenon's archetypal tales of loneliness and isolation, Across the Street.
- Since forever, I've been fascinated by ancient Greek culture -- why such staggering achievements in the arts, sciences, philosophy, law, and more, and why did it take the rest of the West nearly 2000 years to catch up? -- and this summer's purely-for-fun read is Jo Marchant's book on the Antikythera device, Decoding the Heavens. I first saw it in Athens when I was in college -- the same summer I climbed every ruin in the Peloponnese and on several islands -- and I've been following stories about it ever since.
- L.O. Aranye Fradenburg, Staying Alive.
A major scholar of Chaucer who has broken a lot of theoretical ground in medieval studies, Fradenburg recently has been passionately engaged in a defense of the liberal arts grounded in bio-psychological readings of human culture as rooted in animal thriving. In four essays, she argues generally that the purpose of an education is to cultivate "artfulness," the art of making knowledge in and through the work of the mind and body.
- Stephen Jaeger, Enchantment: On Charisma and the Sublime in the Arts of the West.
Building off work of scholars like Joseph Roach (It), Jaeger's book explores the philosophical, cultural, and literary concepts of "charisma" in a range of works, from Homer to Woody Allen.
- Ann Astell, Eating Beauty: The Eucharist and the Spiritual Arts of the Middle Ages. The late medieval resolution of the theological battle over the Eucharist opened the way for the exploration of the aesthetic implications of a sacramental element with spiritual qualities that could transform the individual through physical consumption. This book explores the idea of the "art" of spirituality in the dual sense of "inner" and "outer" forms of transformation.
- (As for novels, these are possibilities for the summer, too: J.M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello (I love narratives with meta-narratives at their root, so here the dialectics between and among fiction, literary study, philosophy, and animal rights seem right up my alley), Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, and Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day (started it a couple of times, but never finished it. Could this be the summer?).
- Colum McCann, TransAtlantic. Can't wait for this one. It's McCann's follow-up to Let the Great World Spin, which is one of the best (and maybe one of the most important) novels of this young century. Until it arrives, though, my fall-back (to which I also look forward eagerly) is Richard Ford's Canada.
- Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer. I've admired the way Wiman writes about poetry, and I'm anxious to see how he mediates (especially with a poet's sensibility, and especially given his recent battle with cancer) the divide between secular and religious approaches to life.
- My father is ill right now. The reflective state of mind this keeps me in tends to take me back to childhood and, inevitably, to baseball. Thus, I suspect I'll read at least one of these two books that have been in my queue for a good while. Chad Harbach's novel The Art of Fielding and Ron Darling's The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball and the Art of Pitching (and maybe it's also time to read, finally, Delillo's Underworld, which has a much-praised prologue involving a 1952 baseball game). It's not easy being a Mets fan at this moment, so Darling's book may have the effect of summoning better times ...