What better way to stockpile for summer than the Westminster Annual Book Sale? Be on the lookout for these reading recommendations tomorrow at the book sale, 11:30-1:00. Due to weather concerns, books will be in Lied Art Center, not the garden. Don’t worry, hot dogs and Laura’s List will still be available.
Professor Casey Andrews: Not everyone’s idea of a beach read is to cozy up on a blanket with a World War I novel, but even skeptics will be taken with Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of George Sherston. Unlike other classics in the wave of Great War books that emerged in the late 1920s and early 1930s (e.g., Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Barbusse’s Under Fire, or Graves’ Good-bye to All That), Sassoon’s work stands out as a comic masterpiece. His presentation of foolishness in the English upper-crust reads like an even more sardonic E. M. Forster, and his depiction of trench life full of buffoonish officers and absurd situations anticipates the later antics of Thomas Pynchon and Joseph Heller. On top of all this, Sassoon’s book is a wonderful experiment in genre, being an “autobiographical novel,” a “fictional memoir,” or even an “exaggerated history.” That one of the greatest pieces of anti-war writing can be so experimental and witty has been a delightful discovery in my current research.
Professor Laura Bloxham: Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland. Okay, let’s get the accolades out there: National Book Award Finalist. Shortlisted for the Man Booker 2013 Prize. Oh, and by the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning collection Interpreter of Maladies. But to my mind it is just plain good reading. Engrossing. An epic story moving back and forth between Calcutta and Rhode Island. Highlighting two brothers and one woman. Their history. Politics and yearning for knowledge, self-fulfillment, but also finding an ethical basis for choices they make. Living with the consequences over a lifetime. I’ve already written “epic.” Epic, indeed.
Professor Laurie Lamon: For poetry, The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa and The Great Enigma by Tomas Transtromer. For novels, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk and The Gold Finch by Donna Tartt, which just won the Pulizter for fiction. It’s astonishing.
Professor Nicole Sheets: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters. How can I consider myself a Spokanite if I haven’t read a Jess Walter book? I began with Beautiful Ruins and found myself, against all pedagogical wisdom, staying up too late on a couple of school nights just to finish it. In Beautiful Ruins, it’s hard not to fall for Pasquale, whose capacity to dream far exceeds the economic potential of his remote, bedraggled, seaside hotel. When a beautiful movie actress arrives without warning, her distress sets into motion events that unfold across decades and continents. This novel is many things: a Hollywood romp, a commentary on modern courtship, a testament to the trials of the artistic temperament, a satire of self-help and memoir, and at its core, a love story.
Professor Leonard Oakland: A wise person said, “When a new book comes out, read an old one.”
Read one of the Big Books:
Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary
Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov
James Joyce’s Ulysses
George Eliot’s Middlemarch
Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland
Penelope Lively’s The Photograph
P.D. James’s Devices and Desires
Not so New:
Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth
William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom
J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey
Rainer Rilke’s poetry
Professor Doug Sugano: I like post-apocalyptic fiction as a genre, and my latest favorite trilogy is Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam group. But that’s not my recommendation, although I do recommend reading Atwood’s. Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea is a novel that fits into that post-apocalyptic genre, but not necessarily for the reasons that you’d think. Yes, it’s in the future, but that future U.S. (Is it the U.S.? In what way is it the U.S.? Who is running the country? What is there of the country beyond the planned communities? Is this a post-racial U.S.?) isn’t what most of us have imagined. Rather, what appears to be the U.S. is a rigidly stratified, loose castellation of “cities” that are defined only by economic status and productivity—i.e., cities are known largely by what they produce. And this future U.S. seems to be populated by newer Chinese immigrants. Hence, the protagonist, Fan, is a resident of B-Mor (Baltimore), is known for her diving exploits (since B-Mor produces mostly seafood for the rest of the country). The plot meanders about Fan and her quest to find her missing boyfriend, who has mysteriously disappeared out in the “counties,” where there is no government, no services, and few vestiges of civilization. On her odyssey, Fan dives through many layers of the country’s social strata laid bare. In a sense, she discovers the perverse social products of each stratum. It seems that Lee is depicting what happens (or will happen) to all of us when corporations run everything—as if we are that far from that point, even now.