Currently viewing the tag: "2017 Summer Reading"

With each of the utterly optional summer reading lists I’ve posted so far, another has emerged.  Last week, Roxanne (who wrote for the blog from 2012-14, while she was in the MALD program, and is now a PhD candidate) asked me if I would like an additional list, this time focused on writers who are less often represented by traditional curricula.  I was delighted to receive her offer and I’m even more delighted to share her suggestions with you.  I’ll let Roxanne take it from here.

When we founded the Gender Analysis in International Studies Field of Study at Fletcher, a key tenet was that gender is not merely about identities or social relationships.  Rather, it is also about institutions, notions of credibility and authority, and — at its heart — about power.  Because gender does not exist in a vacuum, we considered how it intersects with race, social class, ethnicity, and other vectors, to affect conceptions and experiences of agency, vulnerability, power, or justice.

As we looked at syllabi, we asked ourselves: Who is considered an authority on international studies and why?  Which texts count as “the canon” — and which voices and opinions are left out of that imagination?  These are questions I have taken to asking about my leisure reading as well.  How are my notions of what is worth reading colored by gendered, ethnicized, and racialized expectations surrounding credibility and authority?  With that in mind, and with a commitment to interrupting the white-American-male streak on my own bookshelves, I am delighted to share a few of my favorite reads from the past year.

A common theme in the books I have read this year has been that of how people negotiate their relationship to solitude and their yearning for community.  I discovered Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone on the end-of-year round-up of favorite books in the Brainpickings newsletter.  Laing’s words at the conclusion of a tour through solitude, art, and urban alienation felt particularly timely: “Loneliness is personal, and it is also political.  Loneliness is a collective; it is a city.  As to how to inhabit it, there are no rules and nor is there any need to feel shame, only to remember that the pursuit of individual happiness does not trump or excuse our obligations to each another.”

Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing tackles the ways in which legacies of power, oppression, and loss layer atop each other from generation to generation.  It is the kind of book that lodges itself in your mind, and it reminded me of a mix between Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism and Hanya Yanagihara’s punching descriptions of life-long hardship.

Part of my professional work in the past year has centered on understanding the journeys of refugees, through a study I have co-managed with Professor Kim Wilson in Greece, Jordan, Turkey, and Denmark.  During the research methods summer seminar I participated in last year, one instructor had pointed out that academic writing is anemic when it only draws on scholarly texts.  A number of literary works on the experience of displacement have since been piled on my desk alongside our own footnotes.

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s short story collection The Refugees stirred me on many snowy February nights and Roberto Bolaño’s words in its epigraph still travel with me: “I wrote this book for the ghosts, who, because they’re outside of time, are the only ones with time.”  Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends, a long-form essay on immigration to the United States, also rang close to home.  Luiselli weaves her own insights as a new immigrant — a “resident alien,” in the words of Luiselli, the law, and my own experience — with her observations of the experience of Central American children seeking to avoid deportation from the United States.  Luiselli’s articulation of “the great theater of belonging” that immigration and nationhood invite and require has accompanied me as we work on the final report of our own refugee study.

One of the losses of displacement (even chosen displacement) is the ease of one’s own language.  I was born and raised in Greece, but, by virtue of where I live and my current research on Colombia, my life now unfolds primarily in English and in Spanish.  Until recently, I used to interact with Greek predominantly in the context of bureaucracy.  When my friend Niki introduced me to Titos PatrikiosThe Temptation of Nostalgia, the title felt like a phrase in which I have lived.  The book itself did not disappoint, and it prompted a return to Greek literature and a reacquaintance with the Greek language of joy, dreaming, and lightness.

I am new to short stories and have discovered two of my favorite collections in the past year.  Kathleen Collins’ Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? came into my life through an excerpt in literary magazine Granta’s “Legacies of Love” issue.  Collins writes injustice and structural violence with such subtlety that a sense of activating grief lingered long after I finished the book.  My other favorite short story collection was Randa Jarrar’s Him, Me, Muhammad Ali.  Jarrar writes about foreignness, youth, queerness, desire, and loss with a lightness that leaves her readers dizzy and that has me wanting to read much more of her work.

Finally, what is on my summer to-read list?  Besides a lot of research-oriented reading on the Colombian peace process in preparation for my upcoming fieldwork, I am looking forward to Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (furthering the refugee theme), Hisham Matar’s The Return (a memoir of, among other issues, fatherlessness), and Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me, a novel tracing a Nigerian couple’s parallel accounts of a marriage.  Happy reading!

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Our friends who manage the Fletcher Facebook page have put together a collection of books written this year by Fletcher alumni and members of the faculty.  Click on the photo for details on the collection.

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Wrapping up the reading suggestions for summer 2017 is a list from the faculty.  My request to the professors was only that their book picks be interesting or have relevance to the courses they teach, but if they described a selection, I’ve included the explanation.  Where there’s no explanation of the book choice, you can find the theme by looking at the professor’s profile.

Professor Antonia Chayes

Beach Music, by Pat Conroy.  A relaxing novel before the work begins

Professor Michael Glennon

Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
The Law of Nations: An Introduction to the International Law of Peace, edited by Sir Claud Humphrey Waldock and James Leslie Brierly
Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, by Rebecca Goldstein
The Essential Holmes, edited by Richard A. Posner
“Melian Dialogue,” in Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, (translated by Rex Warner)
A Man for All Seasons, by Robert Bolt
West with the Night, by Beryl Markham
Imperium, by Robert Harris
The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America, by Thomas Healy
The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, by Louis Menand
Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
An Imaginary Life, by David Malouf.

Professor Hurst Hannum

While everyone by now should have read Albert Camus’ The Stranger (L’Etranger), it is worth reading again as an introduction to Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation (Meursault, contre-euquete).  The latter, a reprise of Camus from the perspective of the Arab victim in The Stranger, received well-deserved critical praise when it was published in 2015.  While not as profound as Camus, Daoud’s reply is well worth reading and offers both an anti-colonial counterpoint (not innovative, but well done) and an interesting gloss on existence and identity.  It’s probably better to read both in French, if possible, but it’s not necessary to do so.

Professor Jette Steen Knudsen

The Promise and Limits of Private Power: Promoting Labor Standards in a Global Economy, by Richard Locke.  This book is the most comprehensive study to date evaluating the impact of company codes of conduct on labor standards in global supply chains.
The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done About It, by David Weil.  This book argues that widening income inequality has more to do with organizational innovations than technological change.
Why Diversity Programs Fail,” Harvard Business Review (2016, July 1), by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev.  This is an easy to read article with a provocative view of diversity programs.
50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark.  If you have not written papers in a long time (or maybe ever) this book contains many helpful insights.

Professor Michele Malvesti

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman.

Professor Pearl Robinson (Professor Robinson is primarily affiliated with the Tufts Department of Political Science but also teaches at Fletcher.)
Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa, by Ousman Oumar Kane.  This is one of the best books I’ve read about Africa in the past decade.  I consider it a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the political, religious, and intellectual complexities of the Islamic landscape in contemporary Africa.

Professor Kimberly Theidon

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

Professor Phil Uhlmann

In God’s Name: An Investigation Into the Murder of Pope John Paul I, by David Yallop.  This is a tremendous book, regardless of your religious views.  There is much more about banking in this book than you might imagine.  Given the situation in Italy, this is really must reading.
Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton: The Secret Agent Who Made the Pilgrimage to Mecca, Discovered the Kama Sutra, and Brought the Arabian Nights to the West, by Edward Rice.  This is an awesome story, it will change you.

As a member of the Admissions staff, I freely offer my advice on putting together a strong application, but I leave it to others to provide suggestions to incoming students.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing the tips I’ve collected this spring.  I’m going to start today with a summer reading list offered by Colin Steele, who just completed his first year in the MALD program.  I had put out a call to the Social List for their suggestions and, nearly instantly, received a fully formed suggested library from Colin.

Lest you worry, there truly is no required pre-Fletcher reading, but we always hear from incoming students who simply want to get their brains thinking in a Fletcher-ish way.  Colin’s list strikes the perfect balance between more and less scholarly material, and he starts by describing the principles that guided him as he made his selections.

Colin’s List

Book Listing philosophy: These are all books that have shaped my worldview, my appreciation of language, and/or how I approach Fletcher.  In general, I think about the summer before Fletcher as an on-ramp to the education itself: reading, experience, and reflection over the summer can really help get you up to speed and thus ease the transition into campus life.  (That was certainly my experience, anyway.)  As trite or generic as it might sound, I’d recommend reading at least one really fulfilling, edifying book.  Maybe you always (or never) wanted to read Cicero, but you’re worried about the state of society.  Maybe you haven’t read Steinbeck since 10th grade, or you’ve never been to the U.S.  Maybe you just haven’t read a book for real in a while.  In any of those cases, summer is a great opportunity to do so.

One final word: as Dean Stavridis writes in The Leader’s Bookshelf, it’s not about what you read — it’s how you read.  That’s certainly true of grad school, and the summer before is an opportunity to practice reading intentionally.  Whatever you choose, make it something that seems like it will frame the Fletcher education and experience you’re looking for, and approach the text that way.  That’s a habit of mind that will pay off in spades at school.

Fletcher-y books
A Passion for Leadership, Robert Gates
The latest from the former U.S. secretary of defense and author of Duty.  A short, readable, and eminently usable guide to leading and transforming organizations large and small.  Also includes a call to consider public service.

Painting as a Pastime, Winston Churchill
A very short, perhaps lesser-known work on achieving balance in life and work.  Even at Fletcher, it’s important to have interests and recreational outlets outside of work and study.

All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
One of the great American novels; a thinly fictionalized account of the rise and reign of Huey P. Long of Louisiana.

In the Garden of Beasts, Erik Larson
In 1933 — the same year Fletcher was founded — the U.S. ambassador to Germany has a ringside seat to Hitler’s rise.  True history told with Larson’s characteristic page-turning zip.

The Leader’s Bookshelf, James Stavridis
Fifty more book recommendations (with reviews and synopses), plus useful articles on reading, writing, and leading.  A good opportunity to get to know the dean virtually before arriving on campus.

The Cardinal of the Kremlin, Tom Clancy
My journey to Fletcher probably started with my first Tom Clancy book, and I went back and read a couple last summer to see how I’d find them en route to grad school.  They’re still great yarns, and this is one of the best.

The classic or classics you’ve always wanted to read: Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Waltz, Kissinger, Lawrence Freedman, whomever.  Tackling some giant in your field with purpose before arriving will pay big dividends when classes start, especially if you’ve been out of school for a while.  The actual classics — Aristotle, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Laozi, etc. — are also worth it.

Finally, here’s link to a PDF version of an old article the dean wrote for the U.S. Naval Institute called “Read, Think, Write, and PUBLISH.” I printed myself a copy before I made my way to Fletcher, and it really helped shape my approach.

Not-so-Fletcher-y books
The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay
Recommended to me by the person who introduced me to Fletcher 10 years ago.  A bildungsroman about a boy learning about boxing and life in apartheid-era South Africa.  (One of the top three on this list, in my opinion.)

Mink River or The Plover, Brian Doyle
Just when you thought you’d outgrown talking-animal books, Doyle comes along and convinces you that untranslated Irish and the “dark, secret tongue of bears” might actually make sense.

Blood Meridian: Or, the Evening Redness in the West, Cormac McCarthy
This is a gut-punch of a book.  McCarthy does things with the American language that you didn’t know were possible.

No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
The shortest and most accessible of his books (and infinitely better than the movie).  Worth (re)reading now.

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
And/or other Steinbeck, e.g. Travels with Charley.  One of the great storytellers of the American land and its people; worthwhile for both U.S. and non-U.S. students.

A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, Norman Maclean
Very short, exceptionally well-turned prose.  For my money, some of the best writing around.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, David Lipsky, and This is Water, David Foster Wallace
To ponder.

Angela’s Ashes and Teacher Man, Frank McCourt
Not uplifting, but elegiac.

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