Hot Books - Favorites

Judith Stokes
Librarian and
Associate Professor
In April, Judith Stokes looked at the fiction books in the Browsing Collection that have been borrowed most frequently, as of spring 2009. In May, she checked out the top 10 nonfiction books. Now, she’ll review 10 of her favorites. Perhaps among these books you will find some to put on your personal summer reading list.

10 Books from the Browsing Collection Recommended for Summer Reading

"A Plague of Doves" by Louise Erdrich is the spellbinding story of Evelina Harp, daughter of an Objiwe mother and a white father, raised on the reservation. Three generations of Ojibwe people and white neighbors have lived side by side. Over time, the two communities have intermarried, yet there is a compelling mystery in their past. The gruesome murder of a white farm family has remained an unsolved crime since it occurred in 1911, and the lynching of innocent Ojibwe men that followed has not been spoken of, but neither has it been forgotten.

"The People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks is a highly engaging novel about a truly famous and completely unique book, the Sarajevo Haggadah, a lavishly illustrated medieval Jewish manuscript with a mysterious history. It was hidden from the Nazis during the occupation and stored in an underground bank vault during the Siege of Sarajevo. Our protagonist, Hanna Heath, a rare book conservator, is called in to assess its condition, and we are swept away by adventures both historical and contemporary.

"Indignation" by Philip Roth is a darkly comic return to 1950s America. The Cold War hovers, the Russians have the bomb, young men are being drafted to fight in Korea, and young Marcus Messner is off to the seemingly ideal safety of Winesburg College. Ironically, the straight-A student’s escape from his over-protective father back home in Newark, lands him in the fictional Winesburg, Ohio, of Sherwood Anderson’s stories, the picturesque town of repressed dreams and lonely frustrations.

"A Mercy: a Novel" by Toni Morrison creeps up on you with the awkward syntax of a slave girl child, but soon sweeps you into a settler’s adventure, a homestead in early Virginia, frontier hardships, riches that can only come from the rum trade. The girl is befriended by other slaves, and under the protection of a kind master, she grows to womanhood. Her story pitches into chaos with the arrival of a free black man. To him she tries to offer her life and story, but neither is truly hers to give. This is a short but completely spellbinding read, best started when there’s time to get well into it.

"The Right Mistake" by Walter Mosley is one of his Socrates Fortlow books. In the course of helping a friend, the old ex-con acquires a lease on a house in South Central L.A. and turns the property into a meeting hall. Gradually, with the help of many friends, he expands it into a full-service community center. All the while, the police are spying, convinced that drugs or guns or prostitution have to be the real deal, and Socrates needs his community to stand by him.

"Alfred and Emily" by Doris Lessing is an intimate book containing two stories about Lessing’s parents, a novella and a memoir, in one volume. Nobel laureate Doris Lessing imagines what the lives of her parents might have been had World War I not intervened, exploring their personalities, pursuing their strengths and their loves. Then, in the same book she tells the story of their lives as it was, and the marriage they settled for, after the war took her father away from his sweetheart and his home, killed the doctor his mother had loved; took her father’s leg from his body and left him shell-shocked in the Royal Free Hospital where her mother nursed him.

"Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex" by Mary Roach will give you equal parts science and humor. Roach not only reviews the historical and contemporary research, but participates in some. She seriously respects and appreciates the responsible researchers working with human subjects, while at the same time fully pursuing her own enthusiasms, among which are the euphemisms and circumlocutions necessary to get this kind of research funded. From the Personal Pelvic Viewer (penis-camera) to sexual intercourse in an MRI, you will learn as you laugh your way through this very unusual book.

"Final Exam: a Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality" by Pauline W. Chen follows Dr. Chen from her first medical school cadaver to contemporary advances in palliative medicine and hospice care for dying patients. When her own “unbearable, unspeakable grief” overcame her, a highly successful surgeon, she realized the repression of natural human feelings about death that had allowed her to cut into that first cadaver had grown into a barrier between her and her patients when they approach end of life. By writing, which helped her get in touch with her feelings, and investigating the whole question of how doctors deal with death, she made herself a better doctor as well as the author of this touching and deeply meaningful book.

"When You Are Engulfed in Flames" by David Sedaris is, of course, absurd. That’s why we laugh so hard and chuckle so grimly at Sedaris’ observations and misadventures. He has hit middle age and it has hit him back. He even quit smoking. Most of these essays have been published previously, some are new.

"Bicycles: Love Poems" by Nikki Giovanni joins her 1997 collection, Love Poems, in exploring love’s many faces. Opening and closing this slim volume with poems about the massacre at Virginia Tech, where Giovanni teaches, she reminds us of love’s solace, the only antidote to tragedy. Why bicycles? “… because love requires trust and balance.”