2019 Summer Reading Lists
The Swarthmorean is happy to bring our readers a curated list of recommended books for 2019, submitted by our readers. The list consists of the best books our readers have read over the past year, and a list of books they plan to read over the summer. We hope these lists help you fill your own summer reading list.
A History of Rutledge: Compiled for the 100th Anniversary of Incorporation as a Borough 1885-1985 by Mary E. Woodling (nonfiction)
Railroading in Swarthmore by George Gillespie (nonfiction)
Frederick Douglass by David W. Blight (biography)
An exhaustive if exhausting biography of a major figure in the history of black civil rights. We have perhaps come less far than one would have hoped.
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (fiction)
The story of a young Mennonite in her senior year at high school. Toews is by upbringing Mennonite so the story is convincing.
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (fiction)
This is an astonishingly good book. A family, father, son, mother and daughter, set off to the South West from New York. The adults have differing destinations. The father wants to spend time in “Apacheria,’’ and the mother is looking for missing children. In the end it is their children they have to find as the children wander off and encounter migrant children briefly. But it is the power of the writing and the ability to conjure up the land that makes this book so good.
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer (nonfiction)
In fact the book goes back further than 1890 and is in a sense the history of Native Americans. Wounded Knee is the low point and the author (himself Ojibwa) sees that now Native Americans have achieved a status that is stable and begins to be prosperous.
Insurrecto by Gina Apostol. A tour de force. It takes some time to work out how to interpret the book, as chapters are numbered in strange orders. What results is a series of snapshots, or movies fragments. Two women set out to make films about the Philippines, one following an earlier filmmaker and another seeking shades of the Philippine-American massacre.
Carol L. Kennedy
The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age (Columbia Global Reports) by Tim Wu (nonfiction)
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist (fiction)
It begins, beautifully but horrifically, with the death of his wife just after she gave birth to their daughter. It was so authentic and so wrenching I assumed I was reading a memoir, but it’s classified as “literary fiction.”
I loved this book, painful as it was to read. The style reminded me a little of Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose books have also been termed autofiction. Some reviewers disliked the literary flourishes: running conversations together in one paragraph so that it was difficult to figure out who was talking; shifts in tense and time periods. To me, this was its beauty. It’s the way one’s brain works after horrific tragedy. It felt poured from Malmquist’s heart and soul.
The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (fiction)
Yet another book so realistic I had to check to be sure it wasn’t a memoir. (And yet another about coming to terms with grief.) Only one character in the book has a name, and it is Apollo, the 180-pound Great Dane bequeathed to the narrator in a suicide note left by her married lover. She is a writer, teaching writing and living in a tiny New York apartment. At first Apollo is a burden, as she is not a dog person, and her descriptions of her upended life can be quite funny. But she and Apollo are both grieving, and the day he lay on her feet as she read one of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s volumes to him (after he had picked it up in his jaws and brought it to her) won her over. As it did me. It won the 2018 National Book Award.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (fiction)
If I told you one of the major themes, you wouldn’t want to read it, which is why it took me so long (both to pick it up and to read: it’s over 700 pages). So I will just say it’s an exquisite book, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. It follows four men in New York City whose lives are built up, layer by layer, over the years. By the end you know them, you care for them, and you miss them.
From the Corner of the Oval: A Memoir by Beck Dorey-Stein (memoir)
Read this if you’d like a break from all my grim themes, as well as from the current occupant of the Oval Office. Dorey-Stein (who’s from Narberth!) was a stenographer during Obama’s second term, and the magic of the book is that she was so close to everything that was happening – traveling with him, recording everything he said, getting to know the staff around him. It would have been fascinating had she only included what it’s like to work in the White House, travel on Air Force One, and interact with the President. What made it even more interesting, though, was that she was so open about her tumultuous life during that time, about her friendships and her obsessive love affair. A great beach read.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (fiction)
I don’t usually read Young Adult books, and I didn’t expect to read something by the author of The Fault in Our Stars, but then I heard Green interviewed on NPR and went right out and bought it. In the interview Green talked about his own OCD, and you could actually hear the anxiety in his voice when, asked about his fear of microbes, he shakily said he really couldn’t talk about it. In the book a teenage girl with a paralyzing fear of germs, infection, and physical contact falls in love; and as she tries to explain to her boyfriend what goes on inside her head, you know that Green knows those spiraling thoughts firsthand.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb (nonfiction)
The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing by Marve Emre (nonfiction).
The Valedictorian of Being Dead: The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live by Heather Armstrong (nonfiction)
Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration by Emily Bazelon (nonfiction)
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (nonfiction)
Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates (nonfiction)
This seemed to be my year of the spy. Although my regular reading list has the predictable titles like Where the Crawdads Sing, Becoming, and Born a Crime, I seemed to be spending more time with the heirs of John Le Carre.
Here are some of my favorites in that genre:
The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris by Mark Honigsbaum (nonfiction)
The Invention on Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders (nonfiction)
Mary Coin by Marisa Silver (fiction)
This is such an unusual and gorgeously written novel, based on the figures in Dorothea Lange’s famous photograph, “Migrant Mother.”
The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcom (nonfiction)
Malcom is a journalist writing about a writer who wrote about a murder. A complete page-turner.
Why Religion? A Personal Story by Elaine Pagles (nonfiction)
A Princeton professor of religion, Pagels writes about her spiritual journeys (plural), in light of two tragic losses.
Long Players: A Love Story in Eighteen Songs by Peter Coviello (memoir)
This absorbing memoir about the sudden ending of what the author thought was a beautiful marriage weaves in a history of popular music.
A Delicate Aggression: Savagery and Survival in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop by David O. Dowling (nonfiction)
Daughters of the Lake by Wendy Webb (fiction)
A woman out to restart her life gets involved in a mystery from the past century.
Midnight Crossroad (Book 1 of trilogy): A Novel of Midnight Texas by Charlaine Harris (fiction)
Supernatural story about a group of people brought together to solve a murder mystery.
The Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton (fiction)
First book in a long running series, British sleuth Agatha Raisin moves to the country and gets involved in a murder mystery that starts her career as an unofficial detective.
The Mueller Report (Washington Post edition) by A U.S. Government Investigation of Donald Trump (nonfiction)