Summer Reading, Part 1


Everett

I’m always curious about what other people are reading; I’m the kind of person who will skim someone’s book shelves looking not just for new books, but also for clues to their personality. (This tendency is common to people I know, and has led to some immediate curtailing of dates and the demise of friendships—“really? That’s what you read? I’m sorry. Just no.” Even if that dialogue is all internal.) So it was with great pleasure that I surveyed the English department faculty, asking what books were on the top of their summer “must read” pile. Here’s the first installment.

Dr. Heather Smythe
Percival Everett’s novel I am Not Sidney Poitier: he gave a reading at the conference in Montpellier I just attended and several people gave papers on his books. I read most of it on my Kobo on the plane ride home and hope to finish it after I tackle my email inbox. The protagonist, product of a 14 month long hysterical pregnancy, is named “Not Sidney” by his mother, Mrs. Poitier, and the book is a very funny explosion of many stereotypes and restrictive roles for black men in the US, as signaled by Not Sidney’s need to continually redirect people who pigeonhole him. Lots of great one-off jokes, edgy at times.  Also, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (begun on the beach and now sandy and covered in sunscreen) and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, bought in Paris at Shakespeare and Company bookstore (for obvious reasons).

Dr. Randy Harris
This only proves how boring some professors can be: Diogenes Laertes’s Lives of Eminent Philosophers. I’ve read bits and pieces of it over the years, but now that I have a nice copy (scooped at Russell’s in Victoria during Congress) I’m looking forward to hitting the hammock with it. Upside? A cast of characters that features Socrates, Heraclitus, and Pythagoras, not to mention the infamous drowning scene over incommensurability and Plato’s snit fit when Aristotle left the Academy to found his Lyceum. Downside? No girls, and the Stoics can be a bit of a drag.

Dr. Victoria Lamont
Andrew Taylor’s The Scent of Death is a murder mystery set in revolutionary America. I love historical fiction, and a good murder mystery is always fun.

Dr. Andrew McMurray
I’ve started to listen to an audio version of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which was a bestselling “literary suspense” novel last year. I like audiobooks while driving, and I’ve developed a taste for the kinds of voices I prefer to hear reading such books. The two readers of this book–who voice the central male and female protagonists–are particularly irritating. The man has a sort of drippy Missouri accent that you could imagine as Brad Pitt with a head cold, and the woman’s voice is all New England prep school with a touch of Valley Girl for spice. Anyway, they’re annoying, and I almost gave up. Form was bludgeoning content. But then I realized they were the perfect matches for the developing characters, who are every bit is unlikeable as their vocal avatars. So now everything is synced up, and I look forward to a trip to the grocery store. And I’ve still go nine disks to go.

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8 responses to “Summer Reading, Part 1

  1. Gord Higginson

    Russell’s is a terrific bookstore, but not as legendary as Munro Books of Victoria–where an awe-struck Alice Munro once worked the cash till and sold books to Canadian poet P.K.Page. As Victorian as tea at the Empress!

  2. One question I have: can some modality of social media replace the informal intellectual collegiality and exchange that was enjoyed by many of our senior colleagues in Arts in the early days of UW? My sense is that this blog is too public for that purpose, but I wonder what others think?

    • Andrew McMurry

      I think some of the decline in intellectual collegiality correlates, unfortunately, to the rise of social media themselves. Electronic communications (group emails, posts, blogs, and other forms of mostly one-way assertions and statements) increasingly stand in for face to face dialogue, and they obviate the need for “being there.” The advantages–for mostly solitary and self-guiding intellectuals–are obvious. But the drawbacks are now beginning to be felt: even as we are enabled to communicate more strategically and perhaps with greater precision, we seem to be creating a new academic habitus marked by higher levels of isolation, distance, and disengagement.

      Or maybe it’s just me…

      • Kate Lawson

        I don’t know about causes and effects, but I worry that “isolation, distance, and disengagement” also afflicts the undergraduate experience. If we don’t remedy that in the classroom we may as well be replaced by MOOCs, etc.

  3. Gord Higginson

    I like reading about recommended titles. I hope the recommendations keep coming!

  4. I just finished Alan Furst’s Spies of the Balkans–my plan for a fun summer read. A bit disappointing, if I am honest.
    I am now re-reading Portrait of a Lady, having last read it as an undergraduate.

  5. Gord Higginson

    I’m reading Kincaid’s latest (after 10 years!) novel, her dizzying See Now Then. It’s different than Annie John or Lucy, and I’m having trouble with it (why all the classical allusions?, for example), but still interesting. Perhaps it is a satire or certainly satirical in parts.I think it is about a dissolving marriage in which the husband has grown to dislike his wife, but I think it may actually be about “time and space intermingling, becoming one thing, all in the mind”–the style and frequent repetitions (postmodern?) is
    confusing to me.
    And since I’m on a Victorian novel jag, I read a Victorian novel a week. This week is Oliphant’s Kirsteen which has an unusual (for Victorian novels, apparently) ending because the heroine doesn’t die or end up marrying, but lives a happy single life. (But doesn’t Villette end that way too, or so I read somewhere? I haven’t read Villette, but it is definitely on my reading list.)
    I appreciate your reading recommendations!

  6. Pingback: Summer Reading, Part 3 |

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