Books, books, books. Even if you're not a big reader, summer seems ready-made for hours in the hammock, by the pool or even at the beach with a book. You probably have a long list of books you want to read already, but we thought it would be fun to share some of our staff favorites with you. After all, you can never have too many book recommendations.
Lyda Carpen, art director
I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell. I am always drawn to things that beg to be read out loud, so I'd been meaning to try something by our own professor emeritus and poet laureate Fred Chappell for some time now. My friend Mary said this novel was his best. A series of stories about the Kirkman family and growing up in western North Carolina, it is funny, bittersweet, and true in a way that only a good yarn can be. Speaking of reading aloud, chapter eight, Satan Says, is one you should keep on hand for a dark night when your kids are restless, bored and on your last nerve. They'll never forget it. Just thinking back to the scene where the horse speaks to Jess raises the hair on the back of my neck.
Primate Behavior and Twigs and Knucklebones by Sarah Lindsay. Still thinking about reading aloud, these are two of my favorite poetry collections by Sarah Lindsay MFA '84. Sarah is a different kind of poet. At heart, she's a botanist or astronomer or paleontologist, and her curious poems are full of obscure oddities of the natural world like the spadefoot toad or the extinct Quagga. People who make appearances in her poems tend to be adventurers, explorers or ancient grave diggers. It seems to me that her words make the world seem more solid, more smelly and fleshyâ€¦ and yet beautiful and surreal. How does she do that?
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. My 10-year-old daughter sometimes brings me good books to read. I love it when she does this. This 2010 Newbery Medal winner is perhaps her best recommendation to date, and would make a great summer read no matter your age or gender. I loved it partly because it takes place in the 1970s, when I was about the same age as the narrator, Miranda this is lost on my daughter, of course, but poignant for me. A mystery with elements of fantasy, the book tells the story of Miranda who receives messages she believes are from the future and must figure out how they relate to her everyday life before it's too late. The story has a touching (but not sentimental) and entirely satisfying conclusion.
Beth English, editor
Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer. I admit, when my friend handed me this book and told me I had to read it, I was skeptical. I'm not much for yoga (although I enjoyed it when my body was 20 years younger), and I worried that this memoir would lose me with too many yoga references. But my friend sold me on it when she said the author talks like we do. She was exactly right. Dederer talks about her life as a wife, mother and daughter that was in turns laugh-out-loud funny, touching and powerful.
A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King. This is a pure beach read. If you enjoy Sherlock Holmes, you'll enjoy this twist on the classic. In King's continuation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle series, Sherlock Holmes takes on a young female apprentice, Mary Russell. Mary must solve the mystery of young women dying after naming a religious group in their wills. King does a great job of painting a realistic 1920s London as well as a believable Sherlock Holmes. Great fun.
The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker. This seems like an obvious pick, since we've written about him in this issue, but I bought the book and read it before we decided to write about it. I read his previous novel If You Want Me to Stay and found it to be a powerful book. This one is equally rich. The story line involves the 1813 true-life disappearance of Theodosia Burr Alston off the coast of North Carolina combined with the story of the last three inhabitants of Portsmouth Island some 150 years later. In his fictional work, two of these inhabitants are the descendants of Theodosia. What I enjoy most about Parker's writing is his language. Everything is so tactile I could feel the muggy air and the pounding surf. Beautiful.
Chris English, photography editor
Summer is a rather busy season for me, which doesn't lend much time for reading. To counter my busy summer schedule, I am attempting to read with my children each night of the summer. So far, the two books that have caught our attention were both written pre-WWII.
Snippy & Snappy by Wanda Gág. This 1931 tale of two sibling field mice who live in a grassy hay field is filled with stories from their father about gardens in large fields, houses with kitchens, and kitchens with large cupboards filled with cheese. Their adventure begins when the smell of cheese entices them into a large house full of mouse traps. Not only did writer Wanda Gág write the book, she was also the artist. The illustrations do a great job of capturing the wonder of being in a new place as well as the playfulness of Snippy and Snappy's adventures.
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne. As a child, I saw cartoons and read short books about Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and the rest of the gang, but I never made the time to read A.A. Milne's 1926 novel about Christopher Robin and the famous bear. With a free version available on the iPad, I decided to see if my children would like to hear the stories from the original book. Even though a lot of it is a bit over my nearly 5-year-old daughter's head, each night she asks if we can read one more chapter. My 9-year-old son enjoys listening to it too. It's a fun read that your children or grandchildren just might enjoy as well. And with the soon to be released Winnie-the-Pooh movie, reading it now might be good timing.
Mike Harris, assistant editor
Just Kids by Patti Smith. It won the National Book Award for fiction last year. Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe are young, penniless and want to be artists. It's a great look at life in New York in the 1970s for young idealists struggling to get by with no money. She describes going to an art museum saving enough money for one to go in while the other waits, so one can come back outside and describe what they saw. They were desperately hungry, sometimes but their hunger to create art was greater.
Nobody Turn Me Around by Charles Euchner, a behind-the-scenes look at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963. I knew it mostly for one wonderful speech, MLK's. Talking with our alumni who marched to integrate Tate Street businesses that same year led me to want to find out more about all the planning and politics that were a part of that famous march.
Clear Pictures by Reynolds Price. I'd read his wonderfully candid memoir A Whole New Life, detailing his spinal tumor and his life after the treatments that robbed him of the use of his legs. This memoir is about his youth. I am from Vance County; my branch of the Harrises are from Franklin County and Warren County. I feel a sense of kinship with him, in that we're from the same area. I attended Duke University's celebration of life for him in May a moving event in Duke Chapel.
Michelle Hines, staff writer
Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste, a fictional but historically accurate look at the overthrow of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie through the eyes of one family. Two brothers and their father have very different reactions to the coup against Selassie and the bloody reign of terror that follows as a new government overthrows and murders him. An eye-opening, sometimes nail-biting, look at a people caught between an out-of-touch, self-declared royal and the cut-throat military regime known as the Derge that takes his place.
Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger. One word: salacious. However, Kashner and Schoenberger's portrait of the iconic beauty, who cooperated with them before her recent death, and the fiery Welshman with the melodic voice, is also a respectful, balanced look at two complicated people, deeply in love, pulled apart by their fame. The Battling Burtons do not disappoint, but you can't help but like them both.
To the End of the Land by David Grossman. Beautiful. A poetic look at love and war, written by a man who lost his son to war even as he was writing. The conflict between Israel and Palestine provides the background for the almost mythic journey of Ora and her ex-lover Avram as they hike along the Galilee. For Ora, the hike is a way to save their son, Ofer, who has voluntarily departed on a mission with the Israeli army, and an exercise in magical thinking: If she's not home to receive notice of his death, he can't die. For Avram, Ora's memories of Ofer become a way for him to know the son he never met.