Guide to Summer Reading: On Our Faculty’s Nightstands

OPENERWith the summer months meaning a hiatus from the classroom for most Middlebury faculty, we were curious to learn what books they would choose to help pass the time.

Katy Smith Abbott, Dean of Students; Assistant Professor, History of Art and Architecture
Molly Caro May’s newly published memoir, The Map of Enough: One Woman’s Search for Place. Molly is a former student (Class of ’02) who has remained a friend since her graduation, and I find her sense of adventure and her fearlessness are sources of real inspiration. In addition, she’s a beautiful writer—I am savoring this book.

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. This book was recommended to me as the favorite book of my son Elliott’s favorite English teacher at Middlebury Union High School, Kate Carroll ’92, English MA ’99. With limited time and the haunting knowledge that I’ll never read all I would like to, a ringing endorsement from someone whose taste and teaching I respect can be just the nudge I need.

Mary Ellen Bertolini, Director, Writing Center; Senior Lecturer, Tutor in Writing
I’m reading Jane Austen, Game Theorist by Michael Suk-Young Chwe. I hope that it will give me new insights into Austen, who is my specialty, and will help me learn something about game theory. And the book was a gift from my wonderful husband.

Rick Bunt, Joseph Burr Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry
Organic Chemistry by Joel Karty. We are using this textbook for our new—and, we think, highly innovative—organic chemistry curriculum that starts in the fall. Among many benefits, it will allow premedical students (and others) to only take one semester of organic chemistry before taking biochemistry. This contrasts with the current two semesters of organic chemistry typically required at most schools.

Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids by Vicki Hoefle. We have four- and six-year-old children. Enough said.

Reading anything else? (See second paragraph)

Jack Byrne, Director of Sustainability Integration
Biology Is Technology: The Promise, Peril, and New Business of Engineering Life by Robert H. Carlson. I’ve been following the evolution of synthetic biology now for quite a few years, which is an interest that comes from my training as a biologist and in environmental law and policy. I like Kevin Kelly’s definition of technology (anything produced by a mind) and it seems that our minds are quickly developing the technology to design, write and “print” up a specified set of characteristics that can be expressed in a form of life arising from our coding of ACGTs. And it’s already playing a transformative role economically. Carlson’s book is a good introduction to this rapidly evolving technology and its implications for a sustainable future.

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. As a career environmentalist, I am woefully ignorant of the works of one our more famous American writers who was also an environmentalist. I have been a frequent traveler to the West now that I have a daughter who has been living in Wyoming for several years. From the novel I’m gaining a better appreciation of what it was like to raise a family in the Wild West through the eyes of a cultured Victorian Easterner as interpreted by her grandson through his take on her many letters and illustrations of that experience.

Svea Closser, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology
Summer for me means a Nora Roberts paperback, the beach, and a drink. My first book of summer opens, “Elizabeth Fitch’s short-lived teenage rebellion began with L’Oreal Pure Black, a pair of scissors and a fake ID. It ended in blood.” I don’t need to explain why this is fantastic, do I?

Jon Isham, Professor of Economics; Faculty Director, Center for Social Entrepreneurship
To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild. It’s a sobering account of how the world ended up in the Great War, with revealing stories of the women and men who understood its folly and raised their voices on behalf of a better way.

Andrea Lloyd, Vice President for Academic Affairs; Dean of the Faculty; Stewart Professor of Biology
Chicago Dreaming: Midwesterners and the City, 1871-1919 by our very own Tim Spears. This doesn’t quite fit the “beach reading” profile that I aspire to in the summers, but I am coteaching a course on American landscape history with Tim in the fall—and we plan to spend some time talking about the rise of Chicago. Since my knowledge of Chicago does not extend much beyond terminals B and C of O’Hare International Airport, I thought I’d better learn a thing or two. And what better place to start?

Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney. I started reading this collection of Heaney’s poetry last summer, when he died, and have resumed my meanderings through it this summer.  (My progress is slowed by the fact that every time I open it, I start again at the beginning. The first poem, “Digging,” might be my favorite in the entire collection, so I am compelled to revisit it again and again.)  I know of nobody who writes more lyrically about soil, or blackberries, or really anything else for that matter; his words are a perfect way to end a summer day spent tending the vegetable garden.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart. This is not the memoir of a wayward scientist, but rather a botanical exploration of the origins of modern-day alcoholic beverages. The text is an entertaining combination of the history of distillation, the botanical basis of different spirits, a bit of chemistry, and an excellent assortment of recipes for those interested in adding a hands-on component to their botanical education.

Kevin Moss, Jean Thomson Fulton Professor of Modern Language and Literature
I’ve been traveling too much to even think about reading, though I did pick up two memoirs in Belgrade, by two different gay activists, that I hope to get to.
Also on the shelf is Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia. I’ve enjoyed the excerpts in the New Yorker and need some kind of amusing reading to remind me that there are still reasons I like Russia, in spite of the current regime and its homophobic policies. If I have any huge yawning gaps, I’ve got Péter Nádas’s Parallel Stories, which should last for quite some time.

Erin Quinn ’86, Director of Athletics
Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. With Mandela’s death in December, it seemed an apt time to read his autobiography and celebrate his life.

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. I’m re-reading this after about 20 years of first discovering the book. I think of myself as optimistic but am trying to give a little more psychological foundation to it, so I am doing some reading regarding positive psychology, appreciative inquiry, and growth mindset.

Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax. This was recommended by a friend as a good book to read for parents of sons, but also for leaders of men and young men. I’m interested for both reasons.

Jim Ralph ’82, Dean of Faculty Development and Research; Rehnquist Professor of American History
My three-year-old son’s fascination with dinosaurs and his question “Where did all the dinosaurs go?” have led me to The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. I also hope to read two books about the purpose of higher education, Ken Bain’s What the Best College Students Do, and Rebecca Chopp et al.’s Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts. The latter features a chapter by John McCardell.

Michael Roy, Dean of the Library
Gun Guys by Dan Baum. This book explores the complexity of America’s gun culture, and as someone who lives in a community that has a deep history of guns, I want to better understand why this is and what it means.

Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better by Clive Thompson. This book rebuts some of the Luddite claims that new technology is getting in the way of our ability to think clearly.

Jacob Tropp, John Spencer Professor of African Studies
The Circle by Dave Eggers. I’m looking forward to plunging into this critical fictional look at questions of privacy and corporate power in our contemporary world of social media, e-commerce, and digital information.

Cion: A Novel by Zakes Mda. This is a sequel to Mda’s wonderful novel Ways of Dying, which concerns the life and relations of a professional mourner in a poor urban community of South Africa shortly after the end of apartheid. Cion brings this man’s story to the United States, to rural Ohio, and interweaves his life story into the history of America’s slave-holding past and the legacy of the Underground Railroad. I’m curious to see how he pulls this all together.

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