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Summer Reading 2013

Do you remember back when you were in middle school or high school and had a summer reading list?  Those were the summer assignments where teachers wanted you to read over the summer so you didn’t lose your focus on school and to help your mind grow and stretch.  In today’s world, many people belong to book clubs, and that is a fantastic way to engage both intellectually and socially with others.

Deac parents and families, while we don’t have any authority to assign you a summer reading list, we did want to offer you (or your students) some suggestions on what you might want to read over the summer.  These suggestions have been gathered from some trusted colleagues who are avid readers, great thinkers, and lots of fun.   Enjoy their recommendations.

(Update 6/3/13) – our reading list just got picked up by NerdScholar.  Wake Forest is among some very fine universities on this list.  Go Deacs!)


Descriptions are from unless otherwise noted

From Mary Beth Lock, Director of Access Services 

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Olievira.  Mary says:  “My Name is Mary Sutter is a gritty but compelling book about the role of women in providing health care for men in combat in the Civil War.  At the start of the story, Mary Sutter is a midwife who wants to be a surgeon.  When the Civil War starts, she believes it might be an opportunity to serve both the nation and her own desires, but finds herself relegated to maid, and to nurse’s assistant, struggling to affect change in an environment that does not value even basic sanitation.  The conditions of the war cause more men to die of disease than the wounds inflicted during battle.  I loved this book for its insight into the conditions regiments on both sides lived in, as well as the story of this woman who fights vigorously to be viewed as equal to the task of surgeon in a time when women just didn’t do those things.”

From Hu Womack (’90, MBA ’00), Associate Librarian, Instruction and Outreach

A Time to be Born by Dawn Powell.  Set against an atmospheric backdrop of New York City in the months just before America’ s entry into World War II, A Time To Be Born is a scathing and hilarious study of cynical New Yorkers stalking each other for various selfish ends. At the center of the story are a wealthy, self-involved newspaper publisher and his scheming, novelist wife, Amanda Keeler. Powell always denied that Amanda Keeler was based upon the real-life Clare Boothe Luce, until years later when she discovered a memo she’d written to herself in 1939 that said, “Why not do a novel on Clare Luce?” Which prompted Powell to write in her diary “Who can I believe? Me or myself?”

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.  On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich.  One of the most revered novelists of our time—a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life—Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalistThe Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family.

State of Wonder: A Novel (P.S.) by Ann Patchett.  Award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Ann Patchett returns with a provocative and assured novel of morality and miracles, science and sacrifice set in the Amazon rainforest. Infusing the narrative with the same ingenuity and emotional urgency that pervaded her acclaimed previous novels Bel CantoTaft, RunThe Magician’s Assistant, and The Patron Saint of Liars, Patchett delivers an enthrallingly innovative tale of aspiration, exploration, and attachment in State of Wonder—a gripping adventure story and a profound look at the difficult choices we make in the name of discovery and love.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. Of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t by Nate Silver.  Nate Silver built an innovative system for predicting baseball performance, predicted the 2008 election within a hair’s breadth, and became a national sensation as a blogger—all by the time he was thirty. The New York Times now publishes, where Silver is one of the nation’s most influential political forecasters.  Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data. Most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too.

College: What It Was, Is And Should Be by Andrew Delbanco.  Prominent cultural critic Andrew Delbanco offers a trenchant defense of such an education, and warns that it is becoming a privilege reserved for the relatively rich. In arguing for what a true college education should be, he demonstrates why making it available to as many young people as possible remains central to America’s democratic promise.

Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student by Arthur Levine.  An understanding of today’s undergraduate college students is vital to the effectiveness of our nation’s colleges and universities. As Generation on a Tightrope clearly reveals, today’s students need a very different education than the undergraduates who came before them: an education for the 21st Century, which colleges and universities are so far ill-equipped to offer and which will require major changes of them to provide. Examining college student expectations, aspirations, academics, attitudes, values, beliefs, social life, and politics, this book paints an accurate portrait of today’s students.

From Maria Henson (’82), Associate Vice President and Editor-at-Large

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.  Katherine Boo spent three years among the residents of the Annawadi slum, a sprawling, cockeyed settlement of more than 300 tin-roof huts and shacks in the shadow of Mumbai’s International Airport. From within this “sumpy plug of slum” Boo unearths stories both tragic and poignant–about residents’ efforts to raise families, earn a living, or simply survive. These unforgettable characters all nurture far-fetched dreams of a better life.

Canada by Richard Ford.  The only writer ever to win both the Pulitzer Prize and Pen/Faulkner Award for a single novel (Independence Day) Richard Ford follows the completion of his acclaimed Bascombe trilogy with Canada. After a five-year hiatus, an undisputed American master delivers a haunting and elemental novel about the cataclysm that undoes one teenage boy’s family, and the stark and unforgiving landscape in which he attempts to find grace.

From Tom Phillips (’74, MA ’78), Director, Wake Forest Scholars, Director, Program in Interdisciplinary Humanities, Director, Flow House (Vienna), Spring, 2014

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman.  Tom says:  “[Goodman] writes a substantial sibling relationship story that culminates in 9/11 and reaction.  It’s a fine study of women taking on or resisting intellectual or social or other leadership roles, and at what price.”

Fun Home – A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel.  This book comes with a caution that it might not be for everyone.  Tom said that this book is “a graphic memoir — autobiographical — quite famous and worthily so — about a young woman’s coming out (in multiple contexts) from under a difficult upbringing, her parents in a marriage of ill-suited and unhappy people. True, and truly powerful.  (But raw at times.)”

From Rosalind Tedford (’91, MA ’94), Director for Research and Instruction, Politics and International Affairs Liaison

At Home or A Short History of Nearly Everything  by Bill Bryson.  In A Short History of Nearly Everything, beloved author Bill Bryson confronts his greatest challenge yet: to understand—and, if possible, answer—the oldest, biggest questions we have posed about the universe and ourselves. Taking as his territory everything from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization, Bryson seeks to understand how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us.

DaVinci’s Ghost by Toby Lester.  Everybody knows the image, but nobody knows its story.  In 1490, Leonardo da Vinci produced his iconic drawing of a man inscribed in a circle and a square: Vitruvian Man. Today the image appears on everything from coffee cups and T-shirts to corporate logos and spacecraft, and has become the world’s most famous cultural icon. Yet few people know anything about it. In this remarkable book, Toby Lester, the author of the award-winning Fourth Part of the World, tells the picture’s story, weaving together a saga of people and ideas that sheds surprising new light on the life and work of Leonardo, one of history’s most fascinating figures.

The Stockholm Octavo by  Karen Englemann.  One man’s fortune holds the key to a nation’s fate in this sensational debut novel set in 18th-century Sweden.  The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann transports readers to a colorful Scandinavian world of intrigue and magic in a dazzling golden age of high art, music, and opulent fashion.

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling.  When Barry Fairbrother dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…. Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the town’s council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? Blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising, The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling’s first novel for adults.

From Michele Gillespie, Kahle Family Professor of History

Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Natasha Trethewey.  Michele says: “I love anything by Natasha Trethaway, our poet laureate.  I just read her book on Katrina, and it is quite powerful and moving.”

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  Michele says: “I also love Quiet, by Susan Cain, on the power of introverts.  It’s a strong corrective in a culture that champions the hallmarks of extroversion as the key to success.”

Flora by Gail Goodwin.  Michele’s third pick is Flora: “I read everything and anything by Gail Godwin, a brilliant southern-born novelist, and have her latest book, Flora, on my nightstand as my next read.”