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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Stephen Houser, Director, Academic Technology & Consulting, is reading...

Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built
By: Duncan Clark

Recently I’ve been reading about an Internet shopping company in China that is larger than Amazon, yet in the U.S.A. we are only just beginning to hear about it. The company, or three pillars, as it’s founder calls it, consists of Alibaba, Alipay, and Aliexpress. Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built, by Duncan Clark, is the story of a former English teacher, Jack Ma, and the company he built from nothing to the largest initial public offering (IPO) ever in 2014.

Though the writing is rough and repetitive at times, Duncan Clark clearly has the inside track on Jack Ma’s life and company building over the last 10-15 years. This insider information, including Jack’s early Internet failures helps to explain how different and yet similar the business atmosphere is in China and the U.S.A.. From early startup days and venture capital fundraising to its current global market position worth billions of dollars, the process was very similar to stories of U.S. companies. With added complications of China’s central government of course. Which is where Jack Ma differentiated himself and his company from other global giants like Yahoo trying to enter into the Chinese market. I don’t want to reveal too much, but in the end, Jack’s companies have succeeded where a number of others have failed.

As a technology professional I tend to read a lot of technical non-fiction. However this book, while still about technology, contains little to no jargon or technical information. It’s really a story about business. In fact, Jack is not a software developer and seems to pride himself on not being one. I enjoyed the story and would recommend it if you are interested in the Internet business scene in China or just a modern Chinese business story.

 

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Professor Morrison is reading...

The Moonstone
By: Wilkie Collins

After assigning Kathryn Lofton’s Oprah: Gospel of an Icon, which discussed, among other things, how Oprah’s book club created a quasi-religious community, I was thrilled to be asked to be on this web page!  I am currently reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.  Completed in 1868, The Moonstone is the first detective novel in English. As you may be able tell from the dated copy I am holding, I was given this book in the early 1980s, but couldn’t get through it.  Now that I spend most of my time worrying about the 14th and 15th centuries, I have found that 19th century novels are akin to futuristic science fiction page-turners.

The moonstone is a legendary diamond looted from a temple in India by British soldiers.  The temple’s hereditary guards, Brahmins I believe, seem to stop at nothing, including infiltrating upper-class British parties as jugglers, to get it back from the families of the British soldiers.  As a scholar of religion, I am, of course, cheering for the guards, but am also struck by how, on one hand, the novel depicts a dichotomy between a religious Orient and rational, secular Occident.  Yet, on the other hand, the British certainly believe the legend that the diamond will bring bad luck to whomever possesses it and how the Indian guards, while ostensibly motivated by religion, are certainly aware of the diamond’s economic value.

The book’s portrayal of the servants, particularly Rosanna Spearman, is complex and sympathetic.  Rosanna was once in a reformatory for theft, becomes a suspect in the theft of the diamond, and ends up committing suicide even though she was not the culprit.  As a whole, the novel is more character-driven than modern examples. Yeah, the 500 page length and slowish pace turned me off as a 12 year-old, but as I read I am struck by how well-crafted the book is and by how the experience of reading is much closer to what solving a mystery might actually be like.

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John Sledge '18 is reading...

The Third Reconstruction
By: William J. Barker

Growing up in South Louisiana, the Black church was a large part of my childhood. My mother was incredibly religious; we were a member of three churches and Sunday was our busiest day of the week. As exhausting as that was, I am still reminded of the powerful sermons and the moving music. The Black church, however, is so much more than that; it is the bedrock of the Black community, a hospital for healing, a center for community engagement, and a great organizer for political activism.

Reverend William J. Barker, II creates a beautiful history of his political engagement through his book, The Third Reconstruction. To him, religion is not an excuse to stay away from politics, but is the very call to politics, an obligation that truly defines what it means to be a religious leader: to make the lives of the people surrounding you better. He talks about his early work of establishing a union in a small town in North Carolina, heading the state’s NAACP, working in defense of public education, and fighting for marriage equality. All the while, the echoing chorus seems to be that the work for justice will never be completed; it is a laborious process, and it requires a willingness not only to stand up for the issues that are important to you, but also the issues of importance for others. Each chapter is a stage used to highlight the importance of fusion coalitions.

Dr. King said that the arc is long but it bends toward justice. Reverend Barker would extend that metaphor and say while it bends toward justice, each and every one of us is responsible in ensuring its bend. The war isn’t over; celebrating victories are fine, but the Reverend uses his book to remind folks that we are called to stay engaged in the struggle.

I highly recommend this book. It’s an encouraging piece of work that has helped me understand why some of my passions and interests are linked to the church. Most importantly, this book reminds me and others to keep on keepin’ on. We must stay woke.

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