I welcome you to the 14th Annual Bates College Store Non-required Reading List, or Good Reads for Leisure Moments XIV. As in the past, this list includes submissions from across the Bates College community.
Receiving three or more recommendations on the 14th annual list:
The Help (Kathryn Stockett)
Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout '77)
Stieg Larsson trilogy
Still Alice (Lisa Genova '92)
Per usual, submissions are listed alphabetically by submitter's surname. We apologize for overcrowding, typographical and grammatical errors or other misrepresentations.
Enjoy! — Sarah Potter '77, College Store director
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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
This is an entertaining mystery, whose quirky 11-year-old investigator, Flavia deLuce, will have you laughing out loud (wait until you see what she does with the poison ivy oil she distills in her chemistry lab...). Apparently, it's the first in a series, and while I might not read every one, this one is a hoot.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I'm sure this will appear on many people's list of books they have enjoyed this year. This is a story of America in the 60's - as the civil rights movement becomes part of every evening's national news. It is written from the perspective of several black maids who are encouraged to tell their stories in a book written by a young Southern woman (white, college grad, naive, a little lost, and redeemingly good-hearted). The juxtapositions of human kindness and cruelty, Northern and Southern prejudices, and the naiveté of youth and the wisdom of age are spellbinding. A fabulous read that will keep you interested and thinking about where you were "then."
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Foer
This is billed as the story of a boy whose father is killed in the September 11 tragedy. It is that, but it is much more about human emotion and the way the heart survives and heals in the face of incomprehensible loss. Set in New York in the 1990's, the book also flashes back to the bombing of Dresden in World War II, as told by the boy's paternal grandparents. It is a testimony to survival and abiding love. Don't let this description scare you away. While it deals with heavy stuff, there is humor and lightness as well, and it will leave you in a good place.
Lee Abrahamsen, Associate Professor of Biology
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Don't Start the Revolution Without Me by Jesse Ventura
A "shoot from the hip," honest, non-partisan politician lets us into his political experiences and encounters to see just how far we've come from the original foundations of this country. He offers plans on how to right the ship, including a lot of things people just take for granted nowadays that our founding forefathers would have found simply atrocious. The book is written during his journey from Minnesota to Mexico (where he now lives) and about all the places, things and people along the way that force him to reminisce about his political career. A very passionate man with refreshing, yet simple political views encourages people to stand up to the government in a democratic way and tell them to STOP THE COURSE (as opposed to our last president's motto of "Stay the course"). That is, if the people still actually have the power to stand up to the government...
Jonathan Anctil , 2nd shift Custodian (Olin Arts)
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The Stieg Larsson trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fireand The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Nail-biting thrillers with a great female protagonist.
A fascinating read about the bankers at the heart of decision-making during the Great Depression.
The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works--and How It's Transforming the American Economy by Charles Fishman
A highly readable analysis of Wal-Mart's impact on the world.
Áslaug Ásgeirsdóttir, Associate Professor of Politics
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Joe Coomer's A Pocketful of Names -- one of the best novels I've read in years. (Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God and Apologizing to Dogs were both good, too)
Anything by Kate Atkinson, but especially When Will There be Good News? and Case Histories-- grim but amazing.
Zoe Sharp's Charlie Fox series -- kickass woman bodyguard is the heroine...
For anyone with kids around, Owl Moon is a beauty. And Dr. Seuss's lesser-known My Many-Colored Days.
Anna Bartel, Friend
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The Help by Kathryn Stockett is a must-read. If you were around in the 50's-60's it brings back a lot of historical memories. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry and sometimes you do both at the same time.
Jane Bedard, Admissions Office Specialist
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Evidence (Beacon Press, 2009)
Mary Oliver's latest book of poetry, is lively and suggests that her more overtly religious tone is quieting down a bit, making room for more holy and surprising visitations.
God: Stories (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998), edited by Michael Curtis, is a collection of short stories, good ones, by good writers such as James Baldwin, Flannery O'Conner, Alice Munro, and John Updike.
Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community (Oxford, 2009), by Social Psychologist Kenneth Gergen, is his latest appeal for a radical reconsideration of the self as sufficient unto its....self.
Bill Blaine-Wallace, Multifaith Chaplain
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I'm Here if You Need Me: A True Story by Kate Braestrup
Victoria Blaine Wallace, Wife of the chaplain and friend of the college!
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The Race for the Triple Crown, Joe Drape
This summer, Disney brings its version of the Secretariat story to the movies with its adaption of Bill Nack's excellent Secretariat: The Making of a Champion. As a primer, Joe Drape's The Race for the Triple Crown, about the 2000 campaign, gives a good sense of the hoopla and intensity surrounding this part of American thoroughbred racing. While American racing is increasingly disconnected from the average person's understanding or experience, the sport's stories remain no less compelling and, in a sense, pure — at least when compared with all the other highly packaged sports-entertainment crap we're fed.
Jay Burns, editor,Bates Magazine
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My Enemy's Cradle by Sarah Young
A historical-fiction about the WWII Lebensborn, maternity home for Aryan girls carrying German babies and Cyrla, Jewish girl who takes shelter in the most notorious Lebensborn. Once inside, she learns if she gives birth in the Lebensborn, her child will be taken from her and given to the father or the child will be "destroyed" when she is discovered to not be of pure blood.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Twin brothers - Marion and Shiva Stone - are orphaned in childbirth in a mission hospital in Addis Ababa, Africa during the political upheaval of Ethiopia's revolution.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
An unforgettable, extraordinary story set Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s about black maids and the white women for whom they work.
Anne Marie Byrne, Staff Assistant—Dean of Students Office
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Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer
It's about learning to live the life you are meant to live and that wants to be lived in you, compared to living a life that has (without your consent or even awareness) been imposed on you through any of a number of avenues, such as education, media, family expectations, and the like.
Ned Carr, Assistant Treasurer
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East of the Sun, by Julia Gregson
A novel about women traveling from England to India in the early 1900's, some to find husbands, all somewhat naive about what lies ahead. Not really a book about India, but a good read about these women's lives and the way they intertwine.
Light on Snow, by Anita Shreve
I liked this one by Anita Shreve. I have found some of her books to be hit or miss (didn't likeChange of Altitude much), but this one was a very good read. A father and daughter live in the middle of nowhere as the father cuts himself off from his feelings and others after tragedy. Then they find an abandoned baby and must deal with the feelings it brings up, the mother's sudden presence, and a detective's search for answers.
Delta Wedding, by Eudora Welty
A gentle, slow moving story about a southern family set in the early 1900's (?) about a young girl who goes to be with extended family as they prepare for a wedding. It is more of a portrait than a compelling narrative, a story that unfolds through the characterizations of people set in a particular place and time. An interesting read, but you can't be expecting a dramatic plot line. It's a novel of place, time and character.
Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie
A very sad book that takes the protagonist from the bombings of Japan, where she loses her fiance, to India, and then to Pakistan, New York and Afganistan (after 9/11). It tells the tale of survival of the spirit through horrors, and of the complications of family and relationships. I really liked this story, although it got a bit long toward the end.
Haunting Bombay, by Shilpa Agarwal
A funny, poignant, and somewhat surreal book about a ghost that haunts a family. Set in India, seen through the eyes of a young girl.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See
A poignant story set in 19th c China, about a friendship that is bound by -- and fractured by -- the tight bindings of tradition, as tightly wrapped as the bindings of their feet. An interesting read! I enjoyed this book a lot.
Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
I can't recall if I mentioned this one on last year's list, but it's worth another mention in any case. This wonderful book won the Pulitzer Prize and is written by a Bates grad! It is a series of short stories that center around the same town and in particular touch on one woman's life, Olive, who is sometimes harsh, sometimes gentle, sometimes mean, sometimes kind. She makes at least a cameo appearance in each story, and the basic "line" throughout follows her character, loosely. I like the way the story is
unassuming yet makes a strong sketch of character, of lives interwoven, sometimes randomly, of imperfection. An interesting read.
The City of Falling Angels, by John Berendt
I am still reading this one – you can pick it up and put it down easily, as there is no real central "plot line." It's a nonfiction story of the author's trip to Venice and his own journalistic investigation into an opera house fire, but it is primarily a book filled with eccentric, charming, theatrical and colorful characters! And a fine portrait of the city of Venice as well that becomes a character in its own right, with anecdotal vignettes that bring the city to life. I didn't expect to like this book as much as I do!
Paths of Glory, by Jeffrey Archer
I confess I've yet to read beyond the 5th page of this, because my son is reading it right now. But it seems like a very good read – a novel based on the life/quest of George Mallory who may or may not have been the first person to reach the top of Everest. The speculative aspect, combined with the real sense of history (his body was actually discovered in 1999), makes this story a fascinating exploration of what might have happened. And you can google Mallory and find all sorts of additional documentation, photos, and maps.
The Bone series, by Jeff Smith
These are not only kids' books, they are graphic novels, not the type I'd typically add to a "must read" list! But these are so clever and fun that anyone with kids between the ages of, say, 9 onward, should read these! They are funny and endearing. The first one is Out of Boneville and the series continues from there. My kids and I have thoroughly enjoyed these books, and we are making our way through the series.
Anita Charles, Lecturer in Education
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Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michele Young-Stone
Kristen Cloutier, HCCP, Assistant Director of Center Operations
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Here are two books-one I've read, one I haven't (yet):
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (read it, loved it)
Walking in Circles Before Lying Down by Merrill Markoe (picked it up at the store, wanted to buy it; decided to get it at the library; have to pay fines first.)
I just finished this extraordinary novel, interlocking stories of a motley, surprising crew of New Yorkers on the day that Phillipe Petit tight-rope walked between the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan. The characters are amazing, Colum McCann's spirit is compassionate and wise. He has a wonderful way with voices and language.
Home by Marilynne Robinson is brilliant. This is a gripping revisitation of some of the characters from her earlier Gilead, but you can read it as a separate novel. It's an American version of the Prodigal Son, with a prodigal daughter as well.... amazing ending, that made me reconsider the whole novel, 1950's America, and why the characters had acted as they did.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Bleak, bleak, bleak - but an amazingly realized vision of a world we hope never to see: a father and his son on the road in a post apocalyptic landscape. The relationship between the father and son is wonderfully tender, and it's also an incredible novel of place - the lower Appalachian mountains once the climate has been completely screwed up. I couldn't put it down.... and if it sounds crazy to read this during the summer, I'll just say (no spoiler alert) that it's ultimately a profoundly affirmative work of the imagination.
Jane Costlow, Professor of Russian
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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
An astounding memoir of the author's childhood of transiency and poverty, and the challenge of understanding her parents' choice to live the way they did.
Marianne Nolan Cowan, Director of Bates Networks and Regional Outreach
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I really liked Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomer
Karen Daigler, Assistant Director of Med Studies, Career Services
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The Deportees and Other Stories by Roddy Doyle
I found Doyle's characters and prose lively and charming like all his books.
The Island at the Center of the World, Russell Shorto
Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Homer and Langley, E. L. Doctorow
Marty Deschaines, Asst. Director for Community Volunteerism and Student Leadership Development, HCCP
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Exile is a political thriller by Richard Patterson which engages the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a fictional trial for an accused Palestinian political assassin being defended by her former lover, a Jewish-American lawyer.
Patterson does an excellent job of explaining the history and describing the real life in Israel and the occupied territories.
A good love story, blended in with suspense and history. The plot is non-stop exciting from beginning to end.
Exile is a story of intrigue, conspiracy and a fatalistic love between two people whose cultures separates them in a timeless void.
Donna Duval, Administrative Assistant, Leadership Gifts
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For the Sci-fi experience I just re-read the Landover Series by Terry Brooks.
For the mystery buffs, Donna Andrews - Murder with Puffins, was a fast read and takes place on Monhegan Island.
Also any of the J.S. Borthwick, books with the Maine locations and her characters of Sarah Deane and Alex McKenzie are enjoyable.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, has me hooked to the point that I carry it with me, so I can read whenever I can. All the books in the series are a big read, with over 800 pages.
Can't wait to see what others are reading.
Melinda Emerson, ILS Purchasing, Sales and Accounting Specialist
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Richard Holmes-- The Age of Wonder
(Herschel, Banks, Davies, balloons across the Channel! Science in the Romantic Age! Brilliant.)
Nicholson Baker-- The Anthologist (novel); (poignant travails of a minor poet.)
Justin Tussing-- The Best People in the World (novel);
(a runaway comes of age in VT with back-to-the-landers, early 70s.)
Sarah Manguso-- Two Kinds of Decay (illness memoir-- sharp insight, striking formal conception.)
Don Paterson-- (3 books, poetry) Landing Light; Rain; Best Thought, Worst Thought
Wendy Cope-- (poetry) Serious Concerns
Derek Walcott-- (poetry) White Egrets
Jonathan Skinner-- (poetry) With Naked Foot
Jason Brown-- (stories) Why The Devil Chose New England For His Work
Rob Farnsworth, Senior Lecturer-English
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My book club read these three books and we all LOVED them.
How about Old Filth [by Jane Gardam, Whitbred Award winner]? Just finished it, and enjoyed it.
From The New Yorker:This mordantly funny novel examines the life of Sir Edward Feathers, a desiccated barrister known to colleagues and friends as Old Filth (the nickname stands for "Failed in London Try Hong Kong"). After a lucrative career in Asia, Filth settles into retirement in Dorset. With anatomical precision, Gardam reveals that, contrary to appearances, Sir Edward's life is seething with incident: a "raj orphan," whose mother died when he was born and whose father took no notice of him, he was shipped from Malaysia to Wales (cheaper than England) and entrusted to a foster mother who was cruel to him. What happened in the years before he settled into school, and was casually adopted by his best friend's kindly English country family, haunts, corrodes, and quickens Filth's heart; Gardam's prose is so economical that no moment she describes is either gratuitous or wasted.
Joan Fischer, Leadership Gifts Officer
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Anita Shreve's Change in Altitude.
Rae Garcelon, Class of 1962, Former Alumni Director
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The book that the Maine [Bates Alumni] book club did last week was fantastic:
The Help [Stockett].
Leigh Graham, Assistant Director of Alumni and Parent Programs
I have been reading two books about the War of 1812, a much neglected part of our history. The first for genealogy (because I had an ancestor stationed there during the war), Blockhouse and Battery: A History of Fort Edgecomb by Joshua Smith.
The second for town history, Strange Fatality: The Battle of Stoney Creek, 1813 by James Elliott, because it features two founders of the Town of Monmouth, Henry Dearborn and John Chandler. Both well researched and well written. They won the battle but lost their general!
On a completely different note, I am enjoying Madeleine Albright's memoir Madame Secretary, having worked with Senator Muskie's papers at the Muskie Archives. She was one of his staff people, and her account of the "dirty tricks" perpetrated by Segretti is one of the highlights.
Lois Griffiths, Retired staff member, Class of 1951
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The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Precious by Sapphire
Lorraine Groves, Bookstore Sales Floor Supervisor
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I just finished Martha Grimes' Dakota, which I had been meaning to read last summer--pretty good.
Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher mysteries have been short, light reads until now. While certainly not literature, Midsummer Night takes it up more than a notch both in length and content. I had to read it twice, spending hours, the second time, looking up references to art genres, artists, paintings, wall paper (Who knew that wall paper was a serious art form?), plays, playwrights and antiquities. I never did figure out why Dulac blue, which appeared throughout, was significant, nor why she deliberately misled the reader regarding the origin of a particular gold artifact. The usual murder mystery elements, greed, jealousy and subterfuge, are there, along with silly things like a butler named Butler, but Midsummer Night is worth more than a "skim" read.
Jim Hart, Programmer/Analyst, ILS
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Giddins, Gary : Jazz , W.W. Norton & Co., c2009
SUMMARY History of jazz that explains what jazz is, where it came from, and who created it and why, all within the broader context of American life and culture. Emphasizing its African American roots, Jazz traces the history of the music over the last hundred years. From ragtime and blues to the international craze for swing, from the heated protests of the avant-garde to the radical diversity of today's artists, Jazz describes the travails and triumphs of musical innovators struggling for work, respect, and cultural acceptance set against the backdrop of American history, commerce, and politics. With vibrant photographs by legendary jazz chronicler Herman Leonard, Jazz is also an arresting visual history of a century of music.
The above summary is from the catalog record; my own "review" is that this is very well written and covers up to the recent past. The most interesting feature is the detailed musical analysis of selected recordings--analysis that a non-musician (like me) can understand and follow as s/he listens to the record. This illuminates and deepens the appreciation of both favorite tunes and unfamiliar music. One of the better jazz books of recent years.
Tom Hayward, Humanities Reference Librarian
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Here's my recommendation: Leo Tolstoy, "The Cossacks" and "Hadji Murad." Both are short stories and published in The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Short Stories in the Oxford World Classics series. I rediscovered Tolstoy by reading them. More importantly, I realized how much the current history of the area north of Iran was actually related to the Russian expansion into that region in the nineteenth century.
Atsuko Hirai, Kazushige Hirasawa Professor of History
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A few books about Asia:
Ted Morgan, Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu that Led America into the Vietnam War
In this thoroughly researched 700-page book, Morgan, a Pulitzer Prize winner, balances painful portraits of the months-long battle with detailed accounts of how American foreign policy was gradually pulled into the collapse of French colonialism. Like many books by Westerners about Vietnam, the Vietnamese except for Ho Chi Minh and General Giap almost completely disappear into the background, despite that almost half the forces fighting on the French side at Dien Bien Phu were Vietnamese.
Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn
A powerful Vietnam war novel by a former Marine officer, 35 years in the writing is a monumental attempt at self-healing, perhaps likely to become a war classic.
Leslie T. Chang, Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
A reporter's look (Chang was a WSJ writer) at the immense social transformations caused by the migrations of millions of young women to the factory cities and their dormitories. The book is also for Chang a "Roots" experience, as she traces her own family roots to a rural northern village near the Great Wall. Three great China books in one marriage: Chang's husband is Peter Hessler, author of the equally well-written River Town and Oracle Bones.
James Bradley, The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War
Bradley, the acclaimed author of Flags of our Fathers, may be stretching his luck with this book. Theodore Roosevelt sent his Secretary of State and future President William Howard Taft with a Congressional delegation and his daughter Alice on a cruise to Hawaii and Asia. It was presented to the press as a good will junket, but Taft secretly negotiated treaties in Korea, Japan, China and the Philippines that negatively affected later Asian history.
Two chilling books about explorers in South America:
Candice Millard, River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey
Faced with political loss, Roosevelt's impulse was often to charge into some grand adventure, on San Juan Hill, in North Dakota, or in this book, in a terribly misconceived expedition to follow an unexplored river through the heart of interior Brazil. That any of them survived is a miracle.
David Grann, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
The author, a talented New Yorker journalist with little jungle experience, found a set of diaries of the early 20th century British explorer Percy Fawcett and resolved to follow his track to find the lost Indian empire the Spaniards called Eldorado. Grann barely survived; Fawcett and his son were never found.
Bill Hiss '66, Executive Director for International Advancement and Lecturer in Asian Studies
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There is a series of books by JD Robb. It is the Lt. Dallas Homicide detective series. They may not appeal to everyone, but the rapport between the characters is great, and I have loved and read all in the series. I eagerly await each new book as they come out (not fast enough for me). So, hope this helps. Don't be turned off by the NAMES of the books and not for the faint at heart as the subject IS murder, but if a reader can get beyond that fact, the characters MORE than make up for the subject matter.