Matt Williams '20 is listening to...

After Laughter
By: Paramore

I have been a long time fan of the band Paramore but the group’s newest studio album, After Laughter, is my favorite project by the band. Being a bass player, the first thing that caught my ear were the melodic and interesting bass lines. Outside of that, what I find extremely interesting about this whole album is the fact that the music and the lyrics contradict one another. For most of the songs, the music is upbeat but, the lyrics are pretty dark and can be saddening. For instance, on the album’s second track, Rose-Colored Boy, lead singer Hayley Williams talks about how she’s tired of an upbeat and positive “boy” and how she just wants to be sad. She is rejecting the positivity and chooses to live in her depression. So, that lyric to music contrast creates a sense of confusion for the listener where, the music makes you feel happy while the lyrics make you kind of sad. The problems presented in the album’s lyrics are also very real and relatable. Hayley Williams sings about hard times, breakups, and toxic relationships amongst other things. Overall, I love the album and I think it is a good listen for anyone who is a fan of emo-pop or alternative rock and roll.

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Jeff Cosgrove-Cook, Science Library Assistant, is reading...

The Life and Times of Grigorii Rasputin
By: Alex DeJonge

Alex DeJonge’s “The Life and Times of Grigorii Rasputin” offers up a fascinating glimpse into the life and times of one of the twentieth century’s greatest enigmas, the so-called “Mad Monk” Grigorii Rasputin. DeJong’s work leads us through Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin’s life, beginning with his childhood in rural Siberia, a bleak landscape that was saturated with a strange mix of archaic regional religions and superstitions, poverty and inescapable despair. The book follows the young Rasputin’s life, from binge-drinking horse thief to one of the millions of wandering vagabonds that roamed the Russian countryside, eventually finding a reputation as a starets, a charismatic spiritual ascetic. It was in this role that Rasputin eventually climbed the social ladder of Russian society, finding his way into the inner sanctums of Tsarkoe Selo and eventually becoming a trusted advisor and confidant to the Tsar and Tsarina during a period of turmoil that would culminate in the fall of the Russian dynasty. Alongside the biographical information DeJonge also explores the history and socio-political landscape of Russia during Rasputin’s life, giving a solid understanding of the myriad of complexities that led to the ultimate fall of the Russian empire. The author also examines some of the more legendary aspects of Rasputin’s character, namely rumors of the starets possessing “second sight” to prophesize events and his uncanny abilities to alleviate the young Tsarevich Alexei’s haemophilia, providing a well-documented and enjoyable read that leaves us to form our own conclusions surrounding “the mystery of the history”.

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Prof. Hecht is reading...

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls​: 100 tales of extraordinary women
By: Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

A couple of months ago, while browsing at Royal River Books in Yarmouth, my daughter and I stumbled across Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls​. “Great choice,” the woman at the counter told us. “I can barely keep this one on the shelf.” I had never heard of it, but we quickly discovered why it’s so popular: the book is a beautifully illustrated collection of mini-biographies of 100 different brave, creative, influential, and inspiring women. It is carefully crafted to represent different eras, geographies, and professions. Some of the subjects are well known — such as Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, and Michelle Obama. Others are more obscure (to me, at least). We were fascinated by the stories of Ashley Fiolek, a motocross racer who was born deaf, or the transgender student Coy Mathis. Each biography consists of one page with a picture on the opposite side, making it the perfect length for bedtime – or binge — reading. The book also has a fascinating history; it came about because the authors were lamenting the lack of choice they had in presenting different kinds of female role models to young audiences. And it was published largely through funds raised via Kickstarter. Adults as well as kids can learn a lot from the book – and not just about the people featured. It stands as a great example of how we can do a better job with the stories we tell our daughters (and sons, friends, and ourselves.)

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Monica Xing '19 is reading...

Angels in America: a gay fantasia on national themes
By: Tony Kushner

Currently I am reading (and re-reading) Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. I think it was instantly popular when it originally came out, but I’d never heard of it until Professor Hansen’s ‘Modern and Contemporary American Literature’ course. I’ve already recommended it to so many of my friends. The play explores the religious, political, and social climate of America during the 1980s AIDS crisis. It is all at once witty, honest, and informative. As someone who has had little to no exposure to this time period in America’s history, I am extremely grateful that this play was able to increase my awareness. Most of the characters in the play are relatable and I think I have a hate/love relationship with all of them. I suggest reading it when you have a lot of free time on your hands because it’s not likely you’ll be able to put it down easily. It’s intense, it’s funny, and it’s out of this world (literally, a few scenes are in a San Francisco-esque heaven). Once I have some more free time on my hands I plan on binge watching the HBO miniseries (Meryl Streep and Al Pacino are in it)!

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Bethany Taylor, Sustainability Outreach Coordinator, is reading...

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
By: Timothy Snyder

I’m reading On Tyranny:  Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. A friend of my mother’s recommended the book as a timely look at the parallels between current political turmoil and the Fascist forces that gave rise to WWII. This woman has sent On Tyranny to every US Senator, as a means of encouraging them all to rise above partisan squabbles and, together, stand up for Democracy and freedom. The book is a short 115 page read and Snyder makes every word matter. I recommend it to anyone who wonders how we got to where we are as a country, where we might be going, and what ordinary people can do to not be ruled by fear and hatred. I’m waiting for confirmation that the books have been delivered to Washington because I’m excited to call my Senators to ask what they thought about the book.

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Professor Kong is reading...

American Born Chinese
By: Gene Luen Yang

Over winter break, I was asked by a family friend to recommend some literary readings for her four Chinese American children, ages 5, 7, 9, and 14.  For the teenage daughter, I immediately thought of one of my favorite books, Maxine Hong Kingston’s classic memoir The Woman Warrior.  But what of the younger kids?  It was in this context that I recently revisited Gene Luen Yang’s 2006 award-winning graphic novel, American Born Chinese.  The cover blurb helpfully summarizes the basic plotline for us: “Jin Wang starts at a new school where he’s the only Chinese-American student.  When a boy from Taiwan joins his class, Jin doesn’t want to be associated with an FOB [fresh off the boat] like him.  Jin just wants to be an all-American boy, because he’s in love with an all-American girl.”  Other key figures appear along the way, including a cousin visiting from China and the legendary Monkey King or Sun Wukong.  What strikes me about this text is its potential appeal to a range of audiences.  Never a big reader of comics myself, I can nonetheless see layers of genre here: this is at once diasporic folklore and ethnic bildungsroman, fictionalized memoir and psychic allegory, gothic camp and racial critique, Kung Fu Panda and Better Luck Tomorrow.  In addressing the theme of Asian versus white masculinities, the damaging effects of model minority and perpetual foreigner stereotypes, the persistence of Yellow Peril discourse and the construction of the immigrant as alien, the novel tackles some of the central issues in Asian American studies as well as our current U.S. race and immigration policies.  Without giving the final plot twist away, I’d add that readers interested more generally in theories of psychoanalysis and trauma, tricksterism and colonial mimicry, power and the assemblage will also find much material of note here.  Hence, not only have I recommended American Born Chinese to my family friend for her children, but my upper-level seminar on “Imagined Asias” will be reading it this week, a fortuitously timely work for our time.

Library Note:  A copy is on order!

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Olivia Ware '20 is reading...

Defending Jacob
By: William Landay

During winter break I reread a book that continues to keep me engaged and anxious to turn the page with every read.

Defending Jacob by William Landay, is the deceptively remarkable story of a 14 year old boy named Jacob who is accused of murdering a fellow classmate. When the bludgeoned body of the murdered middle schooler is first discovered, it is Jacob’s father Andy, the city’s Assistant District Attorney, who takes charge of the investigation. When evidence appears to point to Jacob, Andy is removed from the case and finds himself defending his own son from the charges pressed. Like any parent, he believes strongly in the innocence of Jacob despite the build up of evidence, tensions between neighbors, friends, and eventually even his wife. Doubt begins to creep in and Andy’s devotion as a parent to his son is tested. How well does a parent really know their child and how far will they go to protect them?

This well-written thriller is powerful, complex, and shocking and puts a family to the ultimate test while also addressing questions concerning whether the human capacity for violence is an inherited trait, or something we learn. I’m sure the twist at the end will leave you speechless; I know I was.

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Beth Hoppe, Social Sciences Research & Instruction Librarian, is reading...

A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age
By: Daniel J. Levitin

I picked this up when it first came out and have found it to be a fresh perspective on something I talk about all of the time.  Levitin takes a look at the different types of information that constantly surrounds us and provides a critical lens through which to view them.  Wondering how someone can lie when the statistics are right there?  He’s got you covered. Rhetoric and coding as a way of loading your text? Here’s how to see through it.  Especially given the recent focus on fake news this is a good reminder to be ever aware and critical of all sources of information. Want to know more?  Come talk to a librarian!

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Prof. Wheelwright is reading...

Death of a Naturalist
By: Seamus Heaney

It has been just over three years since Seamus Heaney died. Considered one of the greatest Irish poets since Yeats, Heaney was awarded a Nobel laureate in literature in 1995 for his “works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past.” For some reason, I cut out his obituary from the New York Times, folded it, and placed it on the corner of my desk where it has sat, yellowing and brittle, ever since. Last week I finally climbed up to the fourth-floor stacks in Hubbard Library to check out a volume of his verse. It was his poem “Death of a Naturalist” that I particularly wanted to read.

Do you remember what it felt like as a child to wade barefoot in a pond, warm mud oozing up between your toes, gassy organic odors released from the depths, the buzzing of summer flies? Heaney’s poems—”Digging,” “The Barn,” “Blackberry-Picking”—will bring you back there. They speak of the sogginess and chill of Ireland, of hard country labor and the sea, of soil and peat. In their imagery of the land and their remembrance of a simpler time, they feel grounded.

“Death of a Naturalist” starts with a celebration of the fecundity of life bursting from a rural “flax dam,” a small pond used for soaking flax stems to soften them for spinning into yarn. “Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottles wove a strong gauze of sound around the smell… But best of all was the warm thick slobber of frogspawn that grew like clotted water in the shade of the banks.”

Then Heaney’s boyhood fascination with the innocence of nature takes a dark turn: “gross-bellied frogs were cocked on sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped: The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting. I sickened, turned and ran. The great slime kings were gathered there for vengeance and I knew that if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.”

That night I could not get the sound and richness of Heaney’s words out of my mind. Some of his words even reappeared as characters in a dream: physical, coupled in motion, and slightly menacing, like frogs.

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Michael Lee '19 is reading...

All the Light We Cannot See
By: Anthony Doerr

Over the summer, I started reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I found the book on my mom’s bookshelf and after hearing it circulate the Bowdoin headlines last year decided to read it for fun. I’ve never been much of a pleasure reader, but this book is great example of how so many people are. Doerr creates an incredibly vivid picture of Europe during the World War II. The novel follows Marie-Laurie Le Blanc, a young blind girl living in Paris, and Werner Pfennig, a brilliant German boy entering the Nazi Army. Doerr addresses the tragedy of war but also the sense of shared humanity that exists even in the darkest of times.

As I read the book, it was hard to put down after being lost in the use of gorgeous metaphors and stunning imagery. It is easy to understand how Doerr has received nationally acclaimed reviews and awards (like the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) after reading a few pages. The novel tackles some serious historical and contemporary messages, but never loses the compassion drawn between the characters. This combination of utter tragedy and renewed hope absolutely makes this book worth the read and even a second read if you have the time. Plus it is always great to read and appreciate a fantastic Bowdoin author.

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