Reviewed by Regina Raboin, Science Librarian, Tisch Library
The water’s not too distant from where I live in North Central Massachusetts and though considered just a “swamp” by many; David Carroll’s wetland mosaic is an example of beautiful ecosystems being destroyed by the deleterious changes in Earth’s ecology.
I discovered David M. Carroll’s (Tufts Alum, SMFA65) book, Following the Water: A Hydromancer’s Notebook (Houghton Mifflin 2009) in Tufts Magazine (Winter 2010) and thought it would be a wonderful title to review for TIE’s (Tufts Institute of the Environment) newsletter.
Mr. Carroll immediately drew me into his world with his illustrations. I was entranced by his detailed drawings of the wetlands near his home in Warner, NH where for over thirty years he eagerly anticipates the inaugural signs of spring, documenting first turtle sightings and changes to this wetlands brought upon by natural and human intervention. He tells the tale of our ecology through the turtles inhabiting these wetlands lovingly, yet precisely documenting and explaining their behavior and how their ecological niche is disappearing. His writing is affecting, poetic, drawing the reader into his world of naturalist and field biologist. These turtle documentations are windows into how our environment is changing through un-checked development, poor land stewardship and environmental ignorance.
I was moved by Mr. Carroll’s descriptions of the wetland’s seasons, his sighting of the first turtle, and how the wind and water moved through this glacial leftover. In describing a turtle’s first breath since winter, he equates it to all creatures, “For the moment I think of all the living breaths that have been taken in the world”. He laments an otter’s presence in this ecosystem, yet understands that this is the natural order, “I am familiar with reports by others who study turtles of heavy losses on colonies…by otters preying upon them during their hibernation.”
Threads of Thoreau, Carson and Burroughs echo through the book and Carroll makes clear that our species is responsible for the loss of natural landscape, “The species that came to invent wealth created poverty, for its own kind as well as for the natural landscape.” He advocates “…moving beyond stewardship and conservation to preservation…”, recognizing that his isn’t always the most popular view. Although he understands the call for “…getting out of the house and away from electronic pastimes…” he clearly states that open spaces and multi-use conservation lands are not “true preserves” in providing sanctuary for ecologies, and the landscape loses more natural space and thus, its meaning.
Mr. Carroll “follows the water” describing its flow, how it molds the species and land around it – reminding us that through our neglect and unwillingness to “know at least the place where one lives” we are stripping the Earth of “all original meaning”. This book isn’t just for TIE – this is a book for the entire Tufts Community.
Tisch Library Call Number QH105.N4 C267 2009
Great reads recommended by members of the Tufts Community. Compiled specifically for the Class of 2013 as part of the Common Reading Program.
Written by Toni Morrison
Recommended by Jean Herbert, Lecturer in English and Assoc. Dean of Undergraduate Education (last names A-E in Arts & Sciences)
Dean Herbert says “Beloved is a powerful and compelling story of America written in language that is pure poetry.”
|Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Written by Malcolm Gladwell
Recommended by Sam Sommers, Asst. Professor of Psychology and Tufts Professor of the Year
Professor Somers says, “Blink engagingly explores how unconscious and automatic thoughts shape daily life and the ways we respond to the world around us. Plus, it describes research conducted by one of my departmental colleagues here at Tufts, Nalini Ambady.”
|Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion
Written by Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis
Recommended by Diane Souvaine, Professor of Computer Science
Professor Souvaine says, “This is a wonderful book about the social and political issues that arise as we become dependent on the internet.”
|The Ethics of Identity
Written by Kwame Anthony Appiah
Recommended by Laura Doane, Director of Advising & Scholarships, Undergraduate Education
Director Doane says, “Appiah offers a wonderful introduction to moral philosophy, explained in an unusually accessible manner. This book is truly interdisciplinary, with a little something for everyone.”
|Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Youth and their Allies
Written by Ellen Bass and Kate Kaufman
Recommended by Tom Bourdon, Director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Center
Director Bourdon says, “This book is a practical guide for GLBT youth containing the stories and experiences of more than fifty GLBT youth.”
|The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy
Written by Allan Johnson
Recommended by Steph Gauchel, Director of the Women’s Center
Director Gauchel says, “Why should gender equity matter to women and men? How do our ideas and rules about what it means to be a man or woman affect all of use? What is patriarchy and how does it hurt all of us? This book answers these questions and asks all of us to envision and create a world in which we are free of pressures to be anything other than ourselves.”
|Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America
Written by Thomas L. Friedman
Recommended by Lewis Edgers, Professor, Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering, and Assoc. Dean of the School of Engineering
Dean Edgers says, “It describes the present time as an ‘energy-climate era’ and makes strong arguments for the development of sources of renewable energy.”
|In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
Written by Nathaniel Philbrick
Recommended by James Glaser, Professor of Political Science and Dean of Undergraduate Education
Dean Glaser says, “Set partially in New England, a harrowing true story of the Whaleship Essex which was the basis for Moby Dick. A quick read, perfect for summer.”
|Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
Written by Michael Pollan
Recommended by Regina Raboin, Science Librarian, Tisch Library
Ms. Raboin says, “Michael Pollan, an investigative journalist and author of The Botany of Desire, writes a book about the timeless American family question: ‘What should we have for dinner?’ He chooses four ingredients and then follows each of the food chains, industrial, organic/alternative, or foraged food from the source to a final meal. Along the way he reveals how food is raised/grown, stored, handled and marketed. The final question for the reader is ‘What and how should we eat?’”
|The Pillars of the Earth
Written by Ken Follett
Recommended by Dale Bryan, Asst. Director, Peace & Justice Studies Program
Director Bryan says, “Lengthy but hard to put down, a terrific tale of the building of a cathedral in 12C England during the struggle for the crown. This is a great vacation read.”
|Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage
Written by Stanley Cavell
Recommended by Nancy Bauer, Professor of Philosophy
Professor Bauer says, “In his virtuosic reading of seven film comedies from Hollywood’s ‘golden age,’ Cavell shows us both how philosophy can illuminate our everyday lives and how films can shed light on the human condition.”
|Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life
Written by Winifred Gallagher
Recommended by Martha Kelehan, Social Sciences Bibliographer, Tisch Library
Ms. Kelehan says, “An easy-to-read introduction to the neuroscience of paying attention, this book explains why it’s good for your brain (and your happiness) to stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time.”
|Renegade: The Making of a President
Written by Richard Wolffe
Recommended by Bill Gehling, Director of Athletics
Director Gehling says, “Whether you are a Democrat or Republican this account of Obama’s unlikely journey from relative unknown to President of the United States is a fascinating read.”
Written by Hermann Hesse
Recommended by Lindsay Helfman, AB11, Political Science, Academic Programs Coordinator for Undergraduate Orientation 2009
Lindsay says, “With a stimulating plot, and exemplary writing style, this book conveys an important message about finding meaning in the lives we lead. It is one of my favorite books, which I think is a perfect, inspiring read to share – especially for the students about to embark on their undergraduate journeys here at Tufts.”
|The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music
Written by Steve Lopez
Recommended by Laura Walters, Assoc. Director for Teaching, Research, and Information Resources, Tisch Library
Director Walters says, “A compelling and engaging true story about a gifted young cellist, Nathaniel Ayers, who ends up on the streets of Los Angeles due to mental illness. It’s a non-flinching and unsentimental look at the state of mental health care in America by the journalist who moves beyond seeing Ayers as just a story line to a human being in desparate need of help.”
|The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why it Matters
Written by Diane Coyle
Recommended by David Garman, Assoc. Professor of Economics
Professor Garman say, “Dr. Coyle skips the mechanical presentation of introductory economics that you may have see in AP or IB economics and describes how economists approach some of today’s most important issues.”
|Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time
Written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
Recommended by Alaina McGillivray, BS07 Civil Engineering
Alaina says, “It touches upon interfaith relations, political relations between the West and Arab nations of the Middle East, the role of Islam in Middle Eastern politics and education, and Mortenson’s strong position that non-fundamentalist education is the key to peace in these countries. These themes are discussed from Mortenson’s perspective as an educator for the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Peanuts: the illustrious history of the goober pea. Written by Andrew F. Smith
Review by Jumbo, Tufts University Mascot
Who knew they’d write a whole book about my favorite snack! The characters are tasty, but the plot line was a little thin. Can’t wait to download this title to my Amazon Kindle. Sure reads better than the books about P.T. Barnum (ugh). Now…where did I leave my laptop………
Call number for Peanuts: TX803.P35 S65 2002
Charlotte’s Web. Written and performed by E.B. White, with an afterword written by Peter F. Neumeyer and read by George Plimpton.
Review by Laurie Sabol, Tisch Library Instruction Coordinator
Ever slopped a pig? Ever read Charlotte’s Web? Seen the movie? Ever wanted to hear the original intentions of its author, E. B. White? If so, run, don’t walk, to the Media Center and request FCD 121.
I admit that when I reread Charlotte’s Web as an adult a few years ago, it did not move me. But when I listened to the CD version of it, as read by White, when he was 70 years old, in the late 60s, I was transported back to my carefree days as a child when I imagined that pigs might faint and spiders were good writers. White’s voice is young and strong, slightly accented by his upbringing in New York and his life in Maine and he is creative in his impressions of the various characters.
Highlights of the recorded version were the discussion between Fern’s mother and their family physician, in which Dr. Dorian assures Mrs. Arable that nothing is wrong with Fern’s active imagination and White’s interpretation of the good-for-nothing (well, almost nothing) Templeton, the rat. Wouldn’t you know that Steve Buscemi voiced Templeton’s in a movie version? A further highlight was that I could hear pages being turned towards the end of the CD.
The story runs for over 2 CDs, the third one ending with a 20 minute biographical and critical sketch of White by Peter Neumeyer, read by George Plimpton in his inimitable voice.
Call number for Charlotte’s Web: FCD 121
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale I: My Father Bleeds History
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale II: And Here My Troubles Began
by Art Spiegelman
Review by Laurie Sabol
When I was a kid, comic books meant Archie and Jughead or Superman. Adventures such as the Holocaust – during which my family and I could have been dragged out of our beds and transported to Auschwitz for likely extermination to fulfill a madman’s nightmare – were so far from my imagination as to be unimaginable. Born and bred a Jew on a primarily Jewish street in a primarily Jewish neighborhood who went to primarily Jewish schools, my few interactions with that blight on 20th century history consisted of a an elderly neighbor with an old-country accent who wouldn’t ride in Volkswagens and a nice lady who worked at the local department store with a numeric tattoo on the inside of her forearm. I used to try to steal glances at it while pretending to request that she reach things for me on a high shelf.
In the mid to late 1980s, Art Spiegelman, an artist of the comics genre, serialized Maus in Raw, a comics magazine he founded early in the 80s. Maus tells the story of his father, Vladek, who lived through World War II in Poland and was interviewed by his son for this first-hand account of his remarkable life before, during and after World War II. The product of those interviews is Maus I: My Father Bleeds History and Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began.
The two volumes, in simple black and white drawings, travel between the 1930s and 1940s and 1980s. Vladek tells his story, from the time starting in his late teens. Life is good, life is typical, life goes on. Until of course, Hitler and his infiltration into Poland. All the Jews in Maus are depicted as mice; Germans are cats, Poles are pigs, Americans are dogs, and so on. Spliced into Vladek’s story is his son’s increasing frustration with his aging father, depicted in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a doddering, cheap, stubborn old man. While the younger Spiegelman marvels not only at his father’s resolve to live through Auschwitz but also his shrewd dealings to get him and his wife through the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp, Art depicts himself as having trouble loving his father for what he has become towards the end of his life. This theme, for anyone who has an elderly father or grandfather who lived through World War II, has special poignancy.
Summer beach reading? Sure, if you’d like a little emotion and a little history with your pina colada.
Call number for My Father Bleeds History: D810.J4 S643
Call number for And Here My Troubles Began: D804.3 .S66
(Click on the call numbers for the library catalog records)
The Forever War 2: Lieutenant Mandella (2020-2203)
by Joe W. Haldeman
Review by Stephen McDonald
This volume is the middle of a trilogy of graphic novels based on the novel of the same name by Joe Haldeman. Haldeman is a well-known science fiction author who often brings his passion for history and his military experiences in Vietnam to his writing. The Forever War tells the story of a soldier in an interstellar war where the ships spend much of their time near light-speed. The military treats the soldiers like interchangeable parts. Technology and culture evolves rapidly in the war-time economy, while the time-dilated soldiers perceive the passing of mere months. By the time the transports return, the soldiers find that they are obsolete, too far behind to be useful for combat and unable to fit into a society they barely understand. The theme seems particularly appropriate these days. Soldiers in every war have faced this disorientation. Joe Haldeman has simply magnified the problem a thousandfold to emphasize it. Though volume 2 is the middle of the trilogy, it stands on its own fairly well. A good read, which I hope will inspire people to read the original novel.
Call number: PS3558.A353 L53 1990 (Click here for the library catalog record)
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth by Chris Ware
Review by Tom Dodson
Chris Ware’s almost four hundred page graphic novel presents a time-spanning and intergenerational story of broken relationships between fathers and sons. The tale ranges from the White City of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 to modern non-places such as airport lounges, office cubicles, and park benches in the shadow of block apartment buildings.
The focus of the story is Jimmy, a lonely and alienated man, who seeks to reconnect with an absent father. Ware doesn’t just show us the pathos of Jimmy’s humdrum life; he also reveals its uncommon beauty and hidden emotional intensity. The book is also intricately drawn and saturated with color–the canary glow of light from the window of an empty diner or the pale lavender of a snowy dusk falling over the ash-black silhouettes of street lights and telephone wires. Hailed by literary critics and art historians alike as a 20th century masterwork, Ware’s novel is a strange and welcoming world to enter anytime you have a chance to set the textbooks aside.
Call number: PN6727.W285 J56 2000 (Click here for library catalog record)
Ethel & Ernest: A True Story by Raymond Briggs
Review by Regina Raboin
Let me just admit this now…I love cartoons! I love to laugh, I need to laugh and I insist on my “daily dose” of “Zits”, “For Better or For Worse”, “Baby Blues”, “Non Sequitur”, “Doonesbury”…I can’t be held responsible for anything that happens during the day if I don’t read my cartoons. Anything by Gary Larson makes me start snorting and don’t even get me started on the cartoons of S. Harris!
I think this is because while growing up I, like others in my baby-boomer generation, read “Peanuts”, “Archie & Jughead”, and of course, all of the Marvel comics. But my parents wanted me to read better stuff–you know, the classics–and being an obedient, academically inclined kid, I did. You know them well, Alcott, Austen, Hemingway, O’Hara, Michener (ok, a little ‘light’ reading never hurt anyone), James, Fielding, Thurber, Buck, etc. – you get the picture. And as I matured and became “serious”, I began reading comic books less and less.
So when the call came out to read and review a “graphic novel”, I thought, why not? I know nothing about them and haven’t ever read any in Tisch Library’s collection. But the memories of my youth beckoned and I volunteered to review one. Not knowing anything about this new, yet old genre, I sought guidance from one of my more “with-it” colleagues and Ethel & Ernest: A True Story by Raymond Briggs was suggested. Now being a parent I knew about the author’s children’s books, such as The Snowman and Father Christmas, but didn’t know that he had authored and illustrated a graphic novel (doesn’t this name just conjure up visions of books wrapped in brown paper with warning labels?).
It is a beautiful novel. Briggs tells his parents’ story in text and illustrations of their romance and lives from the end of the Victorian Era, World War II, the Sixties, until their deaths in the early Seventies. I was charmed and moved by this book, especially with the way Briggs reveals their simple and uncluttered life though his illustrations. I was able to feel their grief when Ethel was told she could not have any more children; their helplessness when faced with more rationing and having to send their son away during World War II for his safety. His parent’s complementing personalities are wonderfully drawn…Ethel cautious, but very proud; Ernest fun-loving, yet slow to judge; and this comes out strongly in both his drawing and text. Some critics have said the book is too sentimental, but I disagree. It is a loving remembrance and celebration of who they were, how they influenced him and how their generation shaped the future world.
Perhaps it is time for me to go back to reading comic books, I mean graphic novels!
Call number: CT 788.B7742 B75 1999 (Click here for library catalog record)
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Review by Abby Cross
What is it like to grow up female in Iran during the Islamic Revolution? At age 6, Marjane Satrapi was sure she was the “last prophet.” At play, she and her friends pretended to be Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. She was 9 years old when she was suddenly required to wear a veil in public. Her liberal and progressive-minded family protested in the streets and shared their politics with their daughter, whose views on the Revolution and her religion oscillated with the daily-changing tide of history. This autobiography shares not only the story of Satrapi, but also of the complicated history of her nation, which is too often “judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists,” as Satrapi says in her introduction. The black-and-white drawings are clean and clear-cut, but also evocative and beautifully stylized in their simplicity. The marvelous story-telling is funny, tragic, hopeful, angst-ridden, joyous, and loving all at once–the gamut of realistic human emotion shown reminds the reader that no matter who and where they are, humans are still human.
This book was recently made into a fine animated movie, supervised by Satrapi herself; the book and the movie each manage to supplement the other, so I whole-heartedly recommend both.
Call number: PN6747.S245 P4713 2003 (Click here for library catalog record)
Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi
Review by Miriam Allman
This short book by the author of Persepolis provides a glimpse into the personal realm of Iranian women from several generations as they gossip over tea, revealing their experiences and thoughts about the men, sex, courtship and marriage in their lives. Their stories are sometimes hilarious, a bit risqué, occasionally poignant, and shed light on the sexual politics in a society where women outwardly lead very conservative lives. A quick fun read, illustrated with simple black and white drawings.
Call number: PN6747 S245 E42 2005 (Click here for library catalog record)
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Review by Miriam Allman
A silent story with no words told in lovely sepia pictures of a man’s immigration to a new land, and the adventures he has in trying to find a place to call home. Everything is odd and Tan has fully captured through his powerful illustrations the feeling of being in a strange new and bewildering world. Our man meets other immigrants who tell their own stories, establishes friendships, encounters mishaps, develops a fondness for the strange little white legged cat-like creature that has adopted him, and in the end finds a place for his family who eventually join him.
Although the book has been marketed as a children’s book, it can readily be appreciated by adults with its great emotional depth and its evocative and beautiful drawings – a rare gem indeed.
Call number: PZ7.7.T36 Ar 2007 (click here for catalog record)
We’re pleased with this Tufts Daily article highlighting the issue of leisure reading. A quick note: we don’t expect everyone to want to read every book on our list! But we do hope, over the course of our series, to interest people in books they may not have heard of, and may never have thought they would have been interested in. MAKE TIME TO READ!
Students’ grades may suffer as reading for pleasure, once revered, falls by the wayside – Features
Wondering if it’s truly worth setting aside time to read for fun? This report from the National Endowment for the Arts, called To Read or Not to Read: a Question of National Consequence, is worth looking at–particularly chapter 7, beginning on page 68.
Hello all, and thank you for the feedback we’ve been getting about enabling comments! We have been in touch with UIT (before we started the series) to find a way to enable comments for just the Tufts community. It is a functionality that works in the Spark Wikis, but not yet in the Spark Blogs. It would be terrific to be able to post comments from the Tufts community alongside the books we recommend, so we hope this happens soon.
The Cloudspotter’s Guide
The Science, History, and Culture of Clouds
by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
We start off our first series with a book especially designed to put your head in the clouds! When you need a break from the rigors of university life, turn your eyes heaven-ward and discover a whole new world. This book provides an engaging look at the science of clouds, put forth in layman’s terms, and is just perfect for the amateur meteorologist. It is also full of humor and fascinating anecdotes, and includes a section of color photographs and a quiz for those who are ready to test out their cloud knowledge.
CALL NUMBER: QC921 .P78 2007 (Click to see library catalog record)
The Golden Compass
Volume One of the His Dark Materials Trilogy
by Philip Pullman
This book made our list because of one of its characters, Iorek, a fantastic polar bear who is plenty wild and wooly (despite his official “Armoured Bear” rank). Perhaps you are turned off by talking animals, or a trilogy that smacks of fantasy, or by the fact that it was recently made into a (plot-poor but effects-rich) movie, but don’t let any of this daunt you. While this is considered a “children’s book,” it is not for the faint of heart, and you will find its metaphorical struggle between religion and science to be very mature indeed. The characters are well-developed and resist categorization on either the “good” or “bad” sides. The breathtaking adventures had by the young heroine Lyra make it hard to put down.
This book has been banned or boycotted by various churches and schools systems both in the US and in Canada, so if for no other reason, read this book in support of intellectual freedom!
CALL NUMBER : PR6066.U44 N67 1995 (Click to see library catalog record)
Alaska by James A. Michener
This absorbing collection of mini-novels tells a tale of the history and peoples of Alaska, starting with the moving of tectonic plates millions of years ago. One chapter chronicles the lives of a family of wooly mammoths and their first encounters with mankind, other chapters deal with the Russian appearance on Alaska’s coasts; all stories are told in an engaging narrative style and a vivid descriptive language. Michener did much of his research for this book at the Sheldon Jackson College Library in Sitka, AK, which happens to be a port of call for many Alaskan cruises. This book is a must for anyone who has ever dreamed of visiting Alaska.
CALL NUMBER: PS3525.I19 A79 1988 (Click to see library catalog record)
Three Bags Full: a sheep detective story by Leonie Swann
Oddly whimsical–in a good way–is probably the best way to describe this story about a flock of Scottish Highlands sheep who set out to succeed where the townsfolk have failed in solving the murder of their shepherd. Each sheep has its own personality and its own way to contribute to the case; the variety of characters within the flock almost makes you forget they are sheep! This mystery has its comical moments, and a few philosophical ones as well.
CALL NUMBER: PT2721.W36 G5413 2006 (Click to see library catalog record)
The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: an adventure with sixteen sheep, three dogs, two donkeys, and me
by Jon Katz
Here is a book you will either enjoy or hate depending upon your experiences with dogs and country living. Katz is a rookie when it comes to rural living; nevertheless he buys a farm and stocks it with sheep, and with his three border collies moves to upstate New York. Delineated are amusing tales of his adventures with dog training, lost sheep, harsh winters, and his observations that dogs are a reflection of their owners.
CALL NUMBER: SF426.2 .K3824 2005 (Click to see library catalog record)
The Road from Coorain and True North: a memoir
by Jil Ker Conway
Jil Ker Conway, former president (and first woman president) of Smith College and now a professor at MIT, recounts her life on her family’s sheep farm in the Australian Outback. A well written and inspiring tale of hard work, drought and sorrow, the struggle for an education, and what it meant to be a woman in the 1950s. True North is a sequel to The Road from Coorain and deals with Conway’s life here in the United States and Canada. Well worth the read.
CALL NUMBER for The Road from Coorain: HQ1397 .C66 1989 (Click to see library catalog record)
CALL NUMBER FOR True North: LD7152.7.C66 C66 1994 (Click to see library catalog record)
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
In my book -my book about books- Michael Chabon can do no wrong. Not that I am biased. His 2000 The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was a joyous romp across continents and decades. While The Yiddish Policemen’s Union mainly situates itself in a small sliver of Alaska, albeit a parallel universe in which Jews migrated to Sitka rather than to Israel, it refers back to pre-World War II Europe and to current day middle eastern religious warfare.
Central character Meyer Landsman is a rumpled, down-on-his-luck detective with a murder on his hands that occurred in the fleabag hotel he has called home ever since he and his wife -also a law enforcement officer- broke up a few years back. The situation would be a bit more routine if 1) the “reversion” (when Sitka can legally kick all its Jews out) were not scheduled to occur in 6 weeks and 2) the corpse in question were not the son of a very powerful local rabbi, a chess genius junkie and rumored Messiah. These facts, we learn in the first 10 pages or so. The next 400 introduce the reader to a truly bizarre cast of characters that will have you laughing out loud when you’re not running for your Yiddish dictionary.
Chabon, never at a loss for words, is in inestimable form. His evocation of people and events, simply using the printed words, is a talent that doesn’t come around often. It’s the kind of book that you can flip through and find a paragraph to marvel over on almost every page. Here he describes Landsman’s first meeting with the rabbi:
“Rabbi Heskel Shpilman is a deformed mountain, a giant ruined dessert, a cartoon house with the windows shut and the sink left running. A little kid lumped him together, a mob of kids, blind orphans who never laid eyes on a man. They clumped the dough of his arms and legs to the dough of his body, then jammed his head down on top. A millionaire could cover a Rolls-Royce with the fine black silk-and-velvet expanse of the rebbe’s frock coat and trousers. It would require the brain strength of the eighteen greatest sages in history to reason through the arguments against and in favor of classifying the rebbe’s massive bottom as either a creature of the deep, a man-made structure, or an unavoidable act of God. If he stands up, if he sits down, is doesn’t make any difference in what you see.”
I will spare you the description of Shpilman taking a shvitz; but it’s on page 341 of the hardback edition if you must take a look. I recommend this book, part murder mystery, part love story, part fantasy, part family history to anyone. Enjoy and let me know how you liked the trip!
CALL NUMBER: PS3553.H15 Y54 200 (Click for library catalog record)
Submissions for Series One submitted by Miriam Allman, Laurie Sabol, and Abigail Cross
Welcome to WHAT SOPHIA RECOMMENDS from among the (little-known) Leisure Literature found in Tisch Library!
Sophia is, of course, our lovely bronze mascot, who sits on a bench across from the New Books Shelf, always with a book on her lap. She serves to remind us that even in these busy days, as people rush through the lobby to the computers, the cafe, the book stacks, or the classrooms, it is important (and enjoyable) to read for fun, outside of the research and news and websites and television shows that fill our brains every day.
Before each academic break, we will post some leisure reading recommendations, sometimes based around a theme, sometimes by a guest compiler. We hope you find time to relax with a book when you travel from campus…and maybe also in those rare spare moments you might have on occasion while you’re on campus!