Annual Faculty Reading List 2019

By College Prep PA

By College Prep PA

...or, what we read last summer

Akata Witch

Nnedi Okorafor

$10.99 $10.11

This was a fantastic reading experience, especially during the first couple months of taking care of my newborn, since events moved quickly and conversations were short and sweet. It's, dare I say it, Harry Potter but better...because, well, strong female lead!

Akata Warrior

Nnedi Okorafor

$11.99 $11.03

This was a fantastic reading experience, especially during the first couple months of taking care of my newborn, since events moved quickly and conversations were short and sweet. It's, dare I say it, Harry Potter but better...because, well, strong female lead!

The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb

Sam Kean

$30.00 $27.00

Sam Kean is the master of breezy science writing. He's written on the elements (The Disappearing Spoon) and gases (Caesar's Last Breath). His previous books have all been fabulous short stories linked by a broad theme. Here he focuses on one story - the Allies' attempts to interrupt the German atom bomb program during WWII. The raw material is compelling, and Kean keeps things moving. The truth is filled with improbable characters - any editor would dismiss Moe Berg, the polyglot Ivy League catcher who was friends with Babe Ruth and became an OSS spy, as a ridiculous creation - and hair-raising action. Kean gives some of the reasons why the Germans failed at creating a bomb but ultimately is at a loss why Werner Heisenberg couldn't have done better. We should all be glad he failed. Kean still feels like he is writing magazine stories rather than a longform history, but with material this rich and with so many moving pieces it doesn't matter.

Bel Canto

Ann Patchett

$16.99 $15.63

Bel Canto is a wonderful novel entirely set in the vice-presidential mansion in Peru. It won’t give much away - because it happens in the first few pages - to say that a party of international dignitaries is taken hostage by a group of Marxist rebels, and the remainder of the book is a touching and often funny story of the relationships that form among and between the hostages and the terrorists. There’s the beautiful and smart young rebel who slinks around the house at night, and the dopey vice president who discovers his calling as a homemaker. The young assistant to a Japanese business tycoon becomes the translator and teacher to everyone in the house. The chess loving rebel leader is either intimidating or incompetent; we are never quite sure. And ruling over it all is Roxane Coss, the brilliant opera singer. The novel itself reads like an opera. It’s a quick read and you’ll be disappointed when it’s done.

Big Sky

Kate Atkinson

$28.00 $25.20

I love Atkinson's adroit characterizations, prose, and layered plot lines. I always feel like I'm going somewhere and at a brisk pace when I read her books. While I eventually appreciated Life after Life (2013) and thoroughly enjoyed A God in Ruins (2015; a spin-off, essentially, of Life after Life) and Transcription (2018), I was among those readers who were eager for another one of her novels featuring Yorkshire and private detective Jackson Brodie. This one brings back some other characters, including his former lover and his son by that union (now a disgruntled teenager par excellence). Much of the story takes place in (or, what we read last summer) the seaside town of Whitby, which is a little like Santa Cruz but with more goths (Dracula was written there, so it is a kind of pilgrimage site for latter-day children of the night). The goths are generally in the background here but there is plenty of darkness in Big Sky.

The Bluest Eye

Toni Morrison

$14.95 $13.75

I loved reading Toni Morrison as a teenager. So much of her work were windows to the experiences of others' lives that were different from mine, and yet many were mirrors that reflected my own experience of growing up different. After Ms. Morrison passed away, I felt compelled to revisit one of my favorites. The writing is so beautiful and lyrical, the story- telling poignant and engaging. Rereading it as an adult was incredibly rewarding.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Trevor Noah

$18.00 $16.56

Trevor Noah, comedian and host of The Daily Show, was born in 1984 in apartheid-era South Africa, the son of a black Xhosa woman and a white Swiss man. He grew up in a time when apartheid was nominally abolished but when ancient and modern animosity still existed, and his tale is alternately poignant, funny, and matter-of-fact. He tells his story, not only through his own experience, but also through the determination, courage, and support of his mother Patricia. This book is especially enjoyable to me as I have watched so much of his TV appearances that I could hear his voice as I read. +++ This is my vote for best audiobook "read." In his own hilarious and compelling voice, Trevor Noah shares his experience growing up biracial in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. Noah's memoir tells both of his relationship with his force of a religious, ambitious, and loving mother, and his personal struggle to find and define himself in a world that didn't recognize his very existence. Through touching and insightful stories, he highlights the contradictions that exist within manmade categories like race, class, ethnicity, language, citizenship, and more while celebrating the forces that unite people or inspire dignity and hope in us all.

Calypso

David Sedaris

$17.99 $16.55

If you’ve read David Sedaris in the New Yorker, you’ve read all but a few of these essays already. I really enjoyed experiencing them again and rereading them as a whole. After hearing Sedaris’s cranky interview on Fresh Air last year, it is difficult not to look for the surliness that percolates beneath the archness. But those harsher notes have always been a part of his style – Barrel Fever could be downright mean. If you have seen him in person, you know that he is both charming and adorable (and I'm not just saying that because he is short of stature) as well as biting and hilarious. For me, he is always interesting and his heartfelt observations on his own aging (as well as that of his parents) is compelling.

The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California

Mark Arax

$30.00 $27.00

The Dreamt Land gives us a fresh look at the mythology of the California Dream. Veteran journalist and native Fresnan Mark Arax is especially well-positioned to show a history of 2 California through a lens covered in San Joaquin Valley alkali. He updates some of the themes of Mark Reisner's landmark Cadillac Desert (think: "Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fightin' over.") through profiles of the modern-day robber barons of San Joaquin agribusiness. Having worked as a picker for his father and for his father's landlords, Arax is sympathetic to the struggles of the California farmer (and farm worker) trying to stay ahead of the drought/flood cycles that shape the California environment. He is a little—just a little—less sympathetic to the businesses and billionaires that insulate themselves in the image of the yeoman farmer as they leverage monumental federal and state infrastructure to line their own pockets, all while consolidating unsustainable agriculture into massive holdings of grapes, pomegranates, and almonds for export. There is no mistaking his leftist bent, but Arax reads as an honest broker of the San Joaquin Valley farm scene. Thanks to Arax, I learned a bushel about farming and an acre-foot about irrigation, and I drink my almond milk with a knowing nod.

The Dry

Jane Harper

$9.99 $9.19

Two mysteries in the Australian-set Detective Aaron Falk series. The Dry introduces us to Falk with a murder mystery set in his hometown. It sucked me right in and kept me guessing and constantly wanting to know what was about to be revealed and what was about to happen. Force of Nature did not disappoint as a follow-up--I listened to this one on a long drive, and it kept me riveted the whole time.

Force of Nature

Jane Harper

$16.99 $15.63

Two mysteries in the Australian-set Detective Aaron Falk series. The Dry introduces us to Falk with a murder mystery set in his hometown. It sucked me right in and kept me guessing and constantly wanting to know what was about to be revealed and what was about to happen. Force of Nature did not disappoint as a follow-up--I listened to this one on a long drive, and it kept me riveted the whole time.

Every Tool's a Hammer: Life Is What You Make It

Adam Savage

$27.00 $24.30

Adam Savage, former Mythbuster and all-around cool guy, slowed down his busy building schedule to write this book. Much like Mythbusters, the book is a mixture of lots of things. It's part memoir, with Savage describing his meandering life path to a job that is really just being himself all the time. He often makes bad choices, such as promising he can build a set by himself in one weekend. Or rather, wasting a lot of time so that he only has one weekend to build it. It's part life advice, revealing how a lot of those bad choices taught him valuable lessons. It's part shop advice. There is a section on the advantages and disadvantages of different types of glue. No grand life lessons there, but a lot of hard-won information for people that need to stick one thing to another thing. Overall, this book feels like Adam Savage - excited, humble, generous, and full of adventure. At every point, he reminds you to pay attention to what others have to share and to keep sharing of yourself. He's done some amazing things but he is just as excited by little cardboard models as he is about giant special effects. I felt rejuvenated by his enthusiasm for building and for life.

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger

Rebecca Traister

$17.00 $15.64

Again, a book I read while taking care of a newborn, so here's the Goodreads summary: "Traister explores women’s anger at both men and other women; anger between ideological allies and foes; the varied ways anger is perceived based on its owner; as well as the history of caricaturing and delegitimizing female anger; and the way women’s collective fury has become transformative political fuel—as is most certainly occurring today. She deconstructs society’s (and the media’s) condemnation of female emotion (notably, rage) and the impact of their resulting repercussions." I just remember really enjoying it, finding the examples interesting, resonating, and impactful, and well, just learning a lot.

Heavy: An American Memoir

Kiese Laymon

$16.00

During a talkback with Kiese Laymon, a black woman in the audience commented that reading Heavy almost made her feel like [Laymon] "was airing out our community's dirty laundry for white people to see." For the first time, someone had put into words exactly what made reading this book both so uncomfortable and so compelling for me as a black reader. Laymon's memoir is as raw and honest as it is heart wrenching and essential -- simply put, it is "heavy" and, at times, almost too real. Heavy deals brilliantly with Laymon's experience of growing up under the dual weights of family violence and American violence and their impacts on the black body and the black psyche. Certainly to read what Laymon has endured on his way to becoming a writer and academic is not to understand it, yet it is a necessary and eye-opening first step.

Homegoing

Yaa Gyasi

$16.95 $15.59

In a word, Homegoing is: ambitious. Not just because of the sprawling tale(s) it tells but because inherent to this novel is an exploration of all the obstacles, both historical and present, faced by members of the African diaspora, or more simply put: all the reasons a novel like Gyasi's shouldn't exist. But exist it does and it is well worth the read! Homegoing is a historical fiction novel that follows the progeny of an Asante woman named Maame, beginning with her two daughters whose different life paths serve as the backdrop for the two main threads of the story: one branch of the family dealing with the realities and aftermath of colonialism in Ghana and the other facing slavery and its enduring legacy in the U.S. Each chapter switches narrative voice by moving forward a generation to the next member of Maame's line until the two branches of the family eventually extend to present- day. Despite the narrative and temporal shifts, Gyasi's novel somehow masterfully embodies each narrator's perspective leaving the reader both wanting more of each individual story but understanding the interconnectedness of all the stories into one greater tale of black struggle, resistance, resilience and healing.

Kentukis

Samanta Schweblin

$15.95 $14.67

Imagine buying a kind of cute stuffed animal whose eyes are cameras that can see everything you do in your house, a 'kentukis'. On the other side of the camera, there is a real person who can live anywhere in the world and is completely anonymous to you. Even more disturbing for me is the fact that you actually buy it knowing that there is a person on 4 the other side, and that is the reason you let this thing into your house: to be watched in your daily life. Sort of a creepy reality show for one person (if reality shows can be creepier). On the other side, there is a person who buys the right to be a kentukis, get into the life of someone anywhere in the world (but you cannot choose who or where), and not have a lot of mobility, only as much as that person allows. You are supposedly not allowed to try to make contact with the real person. From the first page, you know this is not going to be an easy novel. It will deal with the reasons, emotions, and behaviors of humans, and dive into the complex relationship we have with technology. I have not finished this thought-provoking novel by Argentinian author Amanda Schweblin, but I decided to include it here because I am fascinated/scared of this world that seems so real.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

David Grann

$16.95 $15.59

The unbelievable true story of the brutal murder of about sixty members of the Osage tribe after it turns out that the land where they had been relocated was rich in oil. A page turner, a must read for anyone who wants greater understanding of the injustices forced upon the native people of this nation.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden: Stories

Denis Johnson

$17.00 $15.64

This raw, gritty book isn’t for everyone. I wanted to read it because it’s Johnson’s last book; he died in May of 2017. Known for Jesus’ Son and Tree of Smoke (the Vietnam War novel which won the National Book Award in 2007), Johnson writes lyrically about and in the voices of down and out, bewildered loners, personas he inhabited. I’m planning to teach one of the stories in my Falling from Grace seminar and am eager to hear the students’ reactions both to the poetry of his prose and the difficult, self-destructive characters he writes about.

The Library Book

Susan Orlean

$16.99 $15.63

Framed around the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library, this is an ode to books, reading, libraries and librarians. There is mystery, history, nostalgia and adventure. Loved it!

Machines Like Me

Ian McEwan

$26.95 $24.26

This book is a departure (I think) for Ian McEwan. It’s sci-fi-ish, set in an alternate, technologically-advanced 1982 London, where the first set of thinking, feeling, artificial humans has just been manufactured. The storyline follows the relationship between two humans and one very life-like robot. I found really interesting (and puzzling) the moral questions the novel raises.

News of the World

Paulette Jiles

$15.99 $14.71

I'll borrow the Goodreads description:"In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction...that 5 explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust." I loved the writing, the story and the "vibe" of this lovely book.

On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal

Naomi Klein

$27.00 $24.30

Not quite a summer read, as this book dropped on September 17th (hooray for book pre orders) but it's too important not to include: Naomi Klein's "On Fire" is exactly what it says: A (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. In this book of essays, Klein chronicles with clarity and conviction the devastating impact of climate inaction all over our globe. She then characterizes our obstacle as extending beyond the fight against climate crisis, stating the reality that political greed and barbarism corrupt efforts toward positive change and that now "by far the biggest obstacle we are up against is hopelessness." Although sobering, Klein's message is ultimately one of hope -- citing the many actions of today's youth as a generation that has reaped a world in crisis yet refuses to lose it without putting up a fight. Do we deserve such hope? Only time will tell.

The Order of Time

Carlo Rovelli

$15.00 $13.80

If you are looking for a book to hurt your brain and leave you feeling unsure about it all, this one is for you. Rovelli is a professor of theoretical physics, and a wonderful writer. In this book he asks the question, what is time? Did you know that time moves more quickly at higher elevation? Why is time directional and only seems to move from past to future - spoiler alert, it probably doesn’t! I can’t say that I put this book down with a deeper understanding of time - it would be more accurate to say that it exploded some of the things that I felt most assured of. If you are looking for a slim and challenging read, try The Order of Time.

Paris to the Past: Traveling Through French History by Train

Ina Caro

$17.95 $16.51

This is a travel book unlike any I have ever read. With her husband in tow (as the one with a sense of direction, Robert Caro was critical as a travel partner for his wife), Ina and her husband became more besotted with France on every trip. What she had experienced on their trips to France is the disorientation that any of us feel when the ancient, medieval, and every other era between then and now is simultaneously present in a particular region. One walks away from a region with all of those eras ricocheting in one's mind and none of them any of the clearer. Caro realized that it might be more illuminating for the history- minded traveler to instead follow an itinerary that started prehistorically, then covered ancient sites, then sites that would help illuminate what France was like after the fall of Rome, and so on. In preparation for our trip to France this past summer (Women's World Cup! Go team USA!), my husband and I truly enjoyed reading Caro and her ruminations on the strata of French history. While we certainly could not follow exactly in her footsteps, her deep dives into certain places made all the difference in our understanding what we were seeing. She is an extremely entertaining chronicler of history, travel, and cuisine, and she a remarkable appetite for it all (I was so amused to hear her describe the huge quantities of food she can put away). The affection between Caro and her husband is as clear in her travel history as in her husband’s memoir. It is hard not to imagine that someday there will be a biography of this married pair of historians.

The Sixth Man: A Memoir

Andre Iguodala

$28.00 $25.20

I am in the middle of reading this memoir by Iguodala, but I can heartily recommend it nevertheless. And full disclosure, I am a huge Iguodala fan so I may not be the most critical reader. But I am loving this book. Yes, it is about basketball, and the vignettes and behind- the-scenes action from the book are fantastic for anyone who appreciates sports. Still, the book is mostly a study of race, class, family, and the personal qualities that allow some individuals to rise to the top of their game. Highly recommended for anyone who likes basketball, and a good read for anyone else.

Small Fry: A Memoir

Lisa Brennan-Jobs

$17.00 $15.64

You know a bit about what to expect from this memoir by the daughter of Steve Jobs. She had a difficult father. Remote, self-absorbed, glacial, clueless, sometimes cruel, usually wearing a black turtleneck. Brennan-Jobs also had the challenges of a hippie-artist mom who was repeatedly deflected by Jobs. When Apple became a going concern, his legal team did their best to keep Lisa and her mother sidelined (to the point of hunger) for years. Also for years, Steve Jobs denied paternity. Brennan-Jobs tells her personal story very well and is also an eyewitness to the historical shifts taking place as Silicon Valley transformed the Peninsula.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: A George Smiley Novel

John Le Carré

$17.00 $15.64

To be honest, this one took me a while to get into. Like reading Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, there are just a lot of names to keep track of. But all of a sudden, le Carré has trapped you into the British spy world and you just can't put it down. While it's definitely a bit sexist at times (and there are few female characters), the crafting of this novel is remarkable.

Working

Robert A Caro

$16.00 $14.72

A collection of memoir pieces from the scholar-journalist Caro, whose multivolume and many-years-in-the-making books of city maker Robert Moses and LBJ are gold standards for biographers. Hearing about his extended, analog research helps gives texture to those books and their road to becoming. Because the former neighbors of LBJ in Texas were clearly too suspicious of him to share their stories with this New Yorker, Caro and his wife decided to move to the Hill Country so as to avoid being perceived as one of the other journalist-carpetbaggers who descended after LBJ died. Instead of parachuting in and leaving with the story, Robert and Ina Caro became neighbors (and soon the stories came tumbling out, especially after Ina started bringing fig preserves with her). The most touching asides includes those where Caro reflects on the collateral damage of the actions of the single-minded change-makers he was on the trail of (in the case of Moses, Caro interviewed the individuals displaced by eminent domain and the boroughs’ many expressways). He is clearly still smitten with his wife, who's always been his researcher and first reader. She is a historian in her own right and has written fascinating books about the history of France.