Summer Reading

Monday, May 30, 2011

Not sure what to read this summer? We asked some of our editors and contributors for recommendations:

Praying for Sheetrock by Melissa Fay Greene tells how the civil rights struggle came to one rural Georgia county, well after the big events of the movement had passed by this backwater, which remained a plantation society dominated by a sheriff who ruled the county with an outwardly benevolent hand.  The book came out in 1991.  A friend gave it to me years ago, and I just found it again and have been fascinated by this otherwise unrecorded piece of our history.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder – the life of Paul Farmer, who grew up in a hippie family on a houseboat in Florida, worked with Haitian migrant laborers during the summers, became an academic star at Harvard med school, and chose to do his internship in the poorest place in the poorest country in this hemisphere, Cange in Haiti.  And transformed the place by falling in love with it and introducing clean water and sewage systems.  Then went on to change the way WHO operates.  Farmer had (and has) plenty of help, but none of the enormous changes in the treatment of infectious diseases would have come about if he hadn’t kick-started them.  The book is also very well written, and fun to read.

— /One/ contributor, Chris Brandt

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I am drawn to stories that are somewhat off-center, more dark than light, and with more emphasis on character than plot. My summer reading recommendations are No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, Gun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem, and A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami.

— /One/ editor, Lisa Preston

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A couple of months ago, I heard Hanif Kureishi read from his first novel, The Buddha of Suburbia, at a Pen World Voices event and knew I had to read it. It’s a coming of age novel set in 1970’s London and narrated by a half-Indian, half-English young man working to make sense of his suburban roots and urban adventures. Kureishi uses addictive wit to tell the story of immigration, class, isolation and identity through lively characters. Well-written and a fun summer read.

–/One/ editor, Sara Goudarzi

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The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann: It will absorb and contain hundreds of hours of your life. You’ll be sucked into the world of a pay-as-you-go mental health retreat, where sane people go so doctors will tell them why they are sick. Or, perhaps, make them sick. Along with the Hans Castorp and the other patients you’ll be exposed to the grind of their daily routine, a routine that is interrupted only self-indulgent philosophy and intellectually removed political theory. Makes Gravity’s Rainbow feel like a quick read. Perfect for summer!

—/One/ contributor, John Dermot Woods

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Pieces for the Left Hand, by J. Robert Lennon: Perfect for poolside, beachside, or subway reading. One hundred little vignette-like stories, each less than two pages long, provide just enough information for readers to imagine the story structure but create the rest in their heads. Endearing human condition through very sparse prose that we can all relate to.

—/One/ editor, Anthony Rhoades

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I recommend Kusamakura, by  Natsume Sōseki. During the Edo period, Sōseki, one of the early masters of modern Japanese literature, became concerned about the new influence of Western culture in Japan. Western authors, such as Emile Zola, sought to craft novels out of the raw stuff of daily life–social realism. Plots became paramount, driven by characters who desire and collide against one another. Sōseki, however, wanted to craft a novel as if it were a haiku poem, carried by imagery and stillness, utterly devoid of plot and the bounding arc of well-rounded characters. I’ve always been wary of plot–once freed from the pressures of linear time, you can enjoy a story for the quality of its prose and the intensity of its insight. And in the manner of a haiku, Sōseki keeps it brief; you can read the novel in an afternoon. One memorable scene: the wandering poet narrator learns to enjoy a rainstorm, cold and dark, by imagining himself as a character in a woodcut or painting.

—/One/ editor, Joshua Korenblat

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Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom:  After years of asking “What does it mean to be a developed country? Who defines development, and how?” here is an answer that makes a lot of sense. Sen, winner of the Nobel prize for economics, suggests that instead of measuring development in terms of national GDP and other purely economic benchmarks, it can be measured by progress in the provision of “substantive human freedoms.”

His discussion of these freedoms–and their potential (positive) effects on the bottom line that is now the focus of our world–is eye-opening and provides the starting point, I think, for a very valuable discussion. I’ve been lucky to read this alongside a friend involved in grassroots development projects in India, and recommend it as a book to read and discuss with others.

—/One/ editor, Fayre Makeig

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