Some Cool Reading for the Hot Summer
UA faculty and staff made time to read and re-read books that speak to some of the most top-of-mind issues today. Here are some of the highlights.

University Relations – Communications
Aug. 10, 2016

The summer lull, at times, presents a moment to pull away from strict academic and technical reading in favor of time with those books left on to-do lists and shelved away for a less-busy occasion.

In honor of National Book Lovers Day on Tuesday, UA employees share some of the books they spent reading, and re-reading, during the summer months:

"'Citizen: An American Lyric' by Claudia Rankine was selected by Honors College students for the common reading given to incoming students in 2016.  Little did they know that its treatment of race would be so timely. Rankine, known primarily for her poetry, examines what it means to be black using poetry, art, essay and rap.  This multifaceted approach provides emotional insight into the experiences of African-Americans in our culture and historical moment. The power of Rankine's writing and the images that she invokes are uncomfortable and thought provoking. She will be visiting campus on Sept. 16 to talk about this work and to read from her poetry."

Patricia MacCorquodale, Honors College dean

"I have always wanted to tour Canyon de Chelly and happened to come across 'Canyon de Chelly: Its People and Rock Art' by Campbell Grant on my bookshelf about three weeks ago. It is a fascinating read with a thorough, rich and factual history of this national monument in the Navajo country of northern Arizona. This book has renewed my desire to tour this magnificent canyon."

Jackson Boelts, School of Art professor and Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry board member

"College coaches spend most of the summer on the recruiting trail, and it's always exciting to get on the road to search and check in with future Wildcats. That being said, there's another thing I secretly love about the recruiting season: forced downtime on planes and buses offering a perfect opportunity to unwind and indulge in one of my favorite things, the written word. My summer started off with a trip to Australia to visit our incoming freshman and Australian World team member, Maddi Leydin. Flying to another continent inspired me to read 'Kisses From Katie,' a true story that shares the journey of an 18-year-old girl who moves to Africa and dedicates her life to serving youth in Uganda. It is an incredible book and an inspiring read about her faith, strength and courage in pursuing her passion. I was truly moved by her commitment to service and recommend the book to anyone looking for a little motivation. And, most recently, I traveled through the East Coast and spent a few hours on a bus from Pennsylvania to Connecticut. It seemed appropriate to revisit a favorite book of mine, 'The Energy Bus.' Jon Gordon takes readers through a story of a man who has lost his zest for work and life. When he is forced to take a bus to work, he is greeted by an enthusiastic bus driver who helps redirect his trajectory by sharing '10 rules' he can incorporate into his daily life. It's an easy read and a great reminder to take control of your positive energy, attitude and leadership style."

Tabitha Yim, head gymnastics coach

"'Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures' by Walter Moers is a hilarious fantasy book with complex characters, great illustrations and amazing flow and connections to the author's other book set in the same universe. I re-read 'The First 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear.' That is not a typo. Right now I'm reading 'Small Teaching' by James M. Lang and updating some of the things I do in the classroom to take advantage of some techniques so more students will be successful in my class. It's a quick and good read so far."

Paul Blowers, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering

"I re-read Shakespeare's 'Timon of Athens' and discovered so much that I had not noticed in the play before or connected to our modern world. The new insights inspired my scholarly writing and led to drafts of both a book chapter and article about Timon. He is a wealthy, philanthropic character whose fellow Athenian citizens take advantage of him economically and, in a metaphorical way, even sodomitically. Timon gives and gives to the other Athenian men until he cannot give anymore; and, to Timon's surprise and dismay, when his resources run out and he no longer has use, everyone abandons him. Timon then distances himself, relocating to the woods outside of Athens, and he redefines himself as 'Misanthropos,' a self-proclaimed hater of mankind who lives a solitary life. Timon's disenchantment transforms into palpable anger toward and protestations against mankind, which he no longer trusts. Timon of Athens, I believe, shows the potential for abuse of all kinds — social, political, sexual, economic — not only to produce anxiety but also foster civil disobedience and disorder fueled by the trauma and frustration that accompany an oppressed existence. I would recommend Timon of Athens because, in such a fascinatingly coded way, Shakespeare speaks to those who exist on society’s margins and because Timon is, I think, a reconceptualization of the Shakespearean tragic hero. In the end, unlike Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth or Othello, Timon gets a privileged opportunity to be more than he ever was before. And his ascension is nothing short of glorious."

David Sterling Brown, assistant professor in the Department of English

"Among the books I've been entranced by this summer is the book-length essay 'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Written as a letter to his teenage son, the book is both inquiry and indictment from the perspective of being a black male in America. In a season of tossed-off slurs, this book is a welcome antidote. It is deep, thoughtful and eloquent, challenging — a book about the plunder of the black body from "the great American injury" of slavery to the current stowing away of black bodies in ghettoes and prisons — and finally about the plunder of Earth, all part of a cultural mindset that is "the deathbed of us all." But the book offers a redemptive vision as well, and a beautiful story of a man who has found the power of language to expose injustice and heal." 

Alison Hawthorne Deming, professor of creative writing and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in Environment & Social Justice

"I am currently in the middle of Michael Omi's and Howard Winant's third edition of 'Racial Formation in the United States.' Not only is this one of the foundational texts in understanding racial theory, I really respected the author's approach to the third edition. All too often, new editions are slightly modified versions of the previous version. This one is a complete rewrite with more specific applications to the 'postracial' state of racial formation in the Obama era. It is amazing how this theorizing first offered in the 1980s is still relevant and cutting edge for the study of racism. During the summer, I also took the time to re-read James Baldwin's 'The Fire Next Time.' In the wake of the police shootings of unarmed black people and the rise of the Black Lives Matters movement, the book remains one of the greatest writings on race ever produced in this country. In typical Baldwin fashion, the prose is strikingly beautiful even amid the difficult subject matter."

Nolan L. Cabrera, associate professor in the Center for the Study of Higher Education

"For this summer, I decided to focus on one of those major medieval German romances that constitute the 'classical' canon. I read 'Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival' (ca. 1205), which I know, of course, from many other previous readings (in part, or as a whole), but I wanted to return to this text because it offers so many incredible perspectives on human life, spirituality, social conditions, heroism, love and more. I focused on this text because it is such a classic from the Middle Ages, which you can re-read many times and encounter always new perspectives." 

Albrecht Classen, University Distinguished Professor and undergraduate advisor for the Department of German Studies

"I've read so many interesting and thoughtful books this summer. I was deeply moved by Sebastian Junger's short book, 'Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.' Junger is not only a master reporter, but he's a true anthropologist as well, and in this book he covers a wide range of topics related to the social fabric of human well-being. Most touching is his modern account of PTSD in our veterans and how so much of their struggles can be understood in terms of social disconnection. So far, my favorite book of 2016 is Paul Kalanithi's 'When Breath Becomes Air.' This book has garnered much critical acclaim, but all if it is deserving — it's just an incredibly powerful meditation about what really matters in life. To balance out the intensity of Kalanithi's book, I also highly recommend Tim Kreider's 'We Learn Nothing.' It's a wonderfully hilarious book of essays about how ridiculous we can be at times — a bit of dark comedy."

Dave Sbarra, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and director of the Laboratory for Social Connectedness and Health

"I just finished the book 'Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers' by 1992 UA alumnus Jay Baer, a digital marketing and customer service expert. I read his book for a few reasons: I care about marketing and customer service, and I love seeing UA alumni succeed. And the Alumni Career Lab had two events with Baer this summer, Cats in the Corner Office and a career webinar on the topic of his book. This book was a great reminder about the power of excellent customer service. It focused on the importance of always responding quickly and consistently to customer complaints, in every channel, whether the complaint comes from offstage or onstage. Baer argues that being responsive to haters with negative feedback can actually create a competitive advantage for your organization."

Susan Kaleita, director of the Alumni Career & Professional Development Lab

"At UA South, we are creating a multifaceted program in cyber operations involving a rigorous curriculum, an extensive virtual learning environment and a series of labs that will support both instruction and research. The many aspects of this project have filled my time, but I came across a book that blurred the lines between reading for work and pleasure: 'Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War,' by Fred Kaplan. It presents an abbreviated history of how our government has taken up the challenge of dealing with the increasingly connected society in which we live. While we are aware of the fact that we are vulnerable because we are connected via the internet, we sometime forget that this includes our televisions, automobiles, garage doors. It begins with Ronald Reagan's recognition that cyber warfare was a real possibility after watching the movie 'War Games,' and ends with reactions to Edward Snowden. This is not heavy reading, but it is important reading for many people. It is not fiction. To the contrary, it is well researched and documented. It is also timely. We hear on a daily basis of new data breaches, international cyber intrusions, and systemic failures … all of which can erode confidence in our ability to connect electronically with any assurance of safety. I am no more confident after reading 'Dark Territory,' but I have a much better understanding of our nation’s response to the challenges created by exploding connectivity."

James Shockey, UA South dean

"For me, the summer is always a time to catch up and a time to try to stretch forward to books that I'm excitedly anticipating. I most enjoyed re-reading 'Madness, Rack and Honey' by Mary Ruefle, her collection of lectures. It is a book I'd read quickly when it came out in 2012 but that I was most excited to re-read more slowly this time through. The whole collection is fantastic. In particular not to be missed: Ruefle's thinking on metaphors; her essay on fear, exploring the relationship between fear, feeling and art making; and the essay that gives the collection its title, 'Madness, Rack, and Honey,' three ways to register poetry's sometimes complicated sensorial and figurative pleasures. A second book that reminds one of the gift of watching a gifted mind at work: Aracelis Girmay's 'The Black Maria.' Girmay visits the Poetry Center on Oct. 13 as part of the series that welcomes poets to present readings on the relationship between poetry and climate change. Her book has much to say about the contemporary environmental moment, and does so by showing us the ways we can feel the magnitude of the moment: in the individual and collective occasions for our grief and our joy. One lens is migration and immigration; another is the shaping influence of racism on the American experience; another is joy above suffering of all kinds. Girmay is implicitly interested in the space where climate change intersects with lived or personal experience."

Tyler Meier, executive director of the Poetry Center

"I realized a few weeks ago, after watching the instant classic film 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,' that while I knew the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy, I hadn't actually read the original novel. Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' is about meddling family, false assumptions, class and hierarchy, and of course pride. If you enjoy current romantic comedies, Austen is often an influence for many rom-com movie plots, while showing some of the absurdities of class, hierarchy and the treatment of women — all topics still relevant today. Classic literature informs so many movies, books and television shows today; reading some of these works provides a greater context and sometimes appreciation for current popular culture. I also read 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne. For me, the latest installment of Harry Potter had two primary themes: parenting is hard and scary, even when you are an awesome wizard and have magical powers, and being a teenager is confusing, scary and difficult. As the book is really a play, it reads differently than the other Harry Potters. But it's great for getting a good, quick Harry Potter fix."

Jenny Nirh, assistant director of Academic Success and Achievement

"When a package containing the novel 'Homegoing' arrived on my doorstep, I wasted no time diving into the book. Written by first-time novelist Yaa Gyasi, 'Homegoing' had already garnered praise as a sweeping work of historical fiction. I wasn’t disappointed. Of all the books I read this summer, 'Homegoing' left the most lasting impression. The book begins with the story of two sisters born on the Gold Coast of West Africa in the 18th century. One sister marries a British slave trader, while the other is captured and sold into slavery in the United States. The rest of the book focuses on the descendants of the sisters. Over the course of the 300-page novel, the West African branch of the family tree grapples with the Atlantic slave trade, British colonization and Ghanian independence. Although most of 'Homegoing' is set in the past, the book captures our modern fascination with ancestry. The popularity of, the television shows 'Finding Your Roots' and 'Who Do You Think You Are,' or even the recent revival of the mini-series 'Roots,' reveal a national obsession with genealogy."

Tyina Steptoe, assistant professor in the Department of History

"My summer reading so far has included 'The Other Side of Silence,' the latest in the critically acclaimed Bernie Gunther series by British author Philip Kerr and Montalbano's 'First Case and Other Stories,' a collection of short stories by Italian author Andrea Camilleri. 'The Other Side of Silence' is the 11th and most recent in the noir series set during the Nazis' rise to power and into the time of the Cold War featuring the cynical German private detective Bernie Gunther. So far, there are 23 books in the hugely popular and captivating Inspector Montalbano series. Along with the collection of short stories, I've only read five of the novels starring the surly Sicilian policeman and I'm eager to start the sixth. Along with the intriguing settings and historical information, the appeal of both series is that they feature flawed heroes who navigate dark worlds while maintaining their morality. Both Camilleri and Kerr have created works within the detective genre that are largely social commentaries. Both Kerr and Camilleri have created main characters who have hard shells and soft interiors, possess keen social insight, have sharp wits and who provide moments of great humor. Because of their huge popularity, compelling characters, inherent narrative conflicts and potential for strong visual design, adaption for the screen seemed inevitable for both series."

Vicky Westover, director of the Hanson Film Institute in the College of Fine Arts