Summer Reading Lists
Summer reading lists from the Millikin University English and history departments.
Powers by Ursula K. Le Guin- The final volume in Le Guin's Annals of the Western Shore series, Powers tells the story of Gavir, a slave who eventually grows to despise and change his social status. This series has young adults as its protagonists, but don't let that fool you- it definitely does not present a sterilized view of adolescence. The psychological, sociological, and ethical dilemmas that the series presents make this series worth your while. Recommended by Dr. Mike George.
Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin- Set in the same world as Gifts, it moves the focus to a southern city-state occupied by a hostile force. Memer, also a young person, navigates the treacherous setting of a colonized culture, and the story revolves around her abilities to cope with the situation and its eventual outcome. Recommended by Dr. Mike George.
Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin- Gry and Orrect struggle with their place in a society that values mental powers. Each person has a particular power, such as calling animals, and the stability of the political structure of Le Guin's world depends on the interplay of those powers. Gry and Orrect are young adults attempting to cope with these gifts. Recommended by Dr. Mike George.
To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl & Carol McD. Wallace- An enlightening and accessible social history of wealthy American heiresses who, from 1870 to 1910, traveled abroad to snare a husband of English peerage. The lifestyles, personalities, and etiquette that defined the era and The Entitled on both sides of the pond are vividly brought to life, replete with photos and illustrations of the people and places who played a role in this compelling chronicle. Recommended by Prof. Judi Crowe.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline- For fans of video games and 80s pop culture. In the future, people spend their time escaping reality by plugging in to OASIS, a massive virtual world that at the center of work, school, and entertainment. When Wade learns that its creator has died, willing his legacy to the player who can solve a series of complicated puzzles based on 80s pop culture, he joins the rest of America in the search. A fun, roller coaster of a book. Recommended by Prof. Juli Case.
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill- Soon after little Victoria McQueen is given her first bicycle, she discovers she can travel wherever she wants simply by conjuring up an old, windy, covered bridge as a portal. But Vic as an adult has more compelling journeys to make as she comes up against Charlie Manx, a Nosferatu-ish man, and his accomplice, Gas Mask Man, who drive a 1938 RR Wraith bearing the titled license plate numbers. Recommended by Prof. Judi Crowe.
Marvel Comics: the Untold Story by Sean Howe- An engaging history of Marvel Comics. Teeming with interviews and insider information, Howe paints a clear picture of the ups and downs of Marvel Comics. Learn more about Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranki, and Chris Claremont (and many more), along with the origin of some of your favorite superheroes. Recommended by Dr. Jeff Kirchoff.
The Magician's by Lev Grossman- A young man grows up feeling crushed and saddened that real life is not as exciting as the Narnia-like world he reads about in fantasy novels. When one day he stumbles onto a high school for young magicians, he imagines he's hit the jackpot. Things, of course, are not as they seem. Like Harry Potter written in the style of literary realism, a perfect gruesome read about what happens when your wildest dreams come true. Recommended by Prof. Katie Henson.
Just Kids by Patti Smith- A book about art, youth, and friendship, set in the lovingly-evoked bohemia of downtown New York in the late 1960s and early 70s. In Smith's memoir, she recounts her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe- from their first chance meeting as 18-year-olds to Mapplethorpe's early death from AIDS. Recommended by Prof. Andy Matthews.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer- English and arts majors, this is your jam. A group of friends meets at a summer arts camp and they quickly bond over their shared sense of their own potential. As the group grows older they're confronted by the limitations of their own talents, their struggles to make a living and make their art, and their complicated love lives. A perfect summer read. Recommended by Prof. Katie Henson.
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride- 10-year-old Henry is freed from slavery by abolitionist John Brown, and conscripted to join Brown's ragtag group of outlaws. The problem? Brown believes Henry is a girl. Dressed in a bonnet and pinafore, and answering to his new nickname, "Onion," Henry accompanies Brown on his raids and helps him free slaves and attempt to recruit them. Recommended by Prof. Juli Case.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt- About a young man, Theo Decker, and a famous stolen painting of a Dutch master. A wildly inventive read spanning a decade and several countries, the story following Decker's quest for his dead mother's favorite painting is so much more than a mystery: it's a meditation on grief, loss, all-consuming love, antique furniture, Russian gangsters, and the role art should play in our lives. Recommended by Prof. Katie Henson.
Gilgi, One of Us by Irmgard Keun, trans. by Geoff Wilkes- First published in 1931, this became an overnight bestseller. Keun fled Germany in the midst of huge success to escape the Nazi rise to power. This wonderful translation is a long-overdue treat. Gilgi tells the story of a young, ambitious woman finding her way in a world faced with the double-bind of love and work and sexual, personal independence. Recommended by Dr. Stephen Frech.
The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan- For those that love epic fantasy series and need another set of books to dive into, I strongly encourage you to investigate Jordan's Wheel of Time series. It begins with The Eye of the World, where readers are introduced to an appealing, diverse array of characters. With plenty of magic, action, and intrigue, this first book immediately immerses the reader in an engaging adventure and won't disappoint. Recommended by Dr. Jeff Kirchoff.
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy- On his deathbed, Ivan realizes that everything he's lived for was a "terrible and huge deception which had hidden both life and death." At the final moment, he acts to relieve others' suffering and his own. Dying is literally the best thing- the only good thing- that Ivan ever does. Recommended by Prof. Andy Matthews.
David Bowie's Low by Hugo Wilckin- If you don't yet know the 33 1/3 series of books, you owe it to yourself to browse their listings. Each short volume profiles the making of some landmark record (hence the series title, an LP speed). I have been an David Bowie fan since junior high, so this discussion of Low (1977), one of a trio of albums Bowie recorded in Berlin, is a welcome glimpse into a rich, experimental work. Recommended by Dr. Stephen Frech.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell- Six related stories that span thousands of years. The writer offers a journal of a nineteenth-century traveler, letters from an early twentieth-century composer, the adventures of a mid-1970s journalist, the more comic adventures of a contemporary small publisher, the ordeal of a clone in a corporate-driven future, and a post-apocalyptic tale in the far distant future. Definitely worth reading, even if you have seen the film. Recommended by Dr. Mike George.
Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads 43 of the World's Best Poems by Camille Paglia- This is an anthology of short poems that Paglia, a sometimes-controversial critic, particularly enjoys teaching, from Donne to Dickinson to Sylvia Plath and Joni Mitchell. Her explications are engaging and erudite. If her interpretations don't always convince, to me that's part of the fun. A wonderful books for browsing around in- and diving into- some great poetry. Recommended by Prof. Andy Matthews.
Boxers/Saints by Gene Luen Yang- The two volumes tell the historical narrative of the Boxer Rebellion in China at the end of the 19th century, each volume from the perspective of a young person on either side of the conflict. Together, Boxers & Saints create a moving tale of how, while seeking to right great wrongs, people can go too far and find themselves committing deeds far worse than those they sought to redress. Recommended by Dr. Tony Magagna.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak- Actually, this book is at the top of my summer reading list. I was going to hurry through it so I could write a recommendation. However, after reading just a few pages, I decided to save it for a time when I could really enjoy the book. The Book Thief is about a young girl in Germany in WW2 who steals a book and then learns to read. Her love for reading changes her life. Recommended by Cindie Zelhart.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson- In 240 short, poignant essays, Nelson explores her love affair with blue and with language itself. Throughout the work, she strives to find a way to make each prose piece resonate with associations of the color- from blue objects to blue moods, landscapes, situations, and emotions. Recommended by Dr. Carmella Braniger.
A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy- The pleasantly peaceful and, unfortunately, final book by the late Binchy tells the story of Chicky Starr, a young Irish woman who opens an inn in the quiet hills of Stoney Bridge, Ireland. A variety of guests- some from Ireland, others from much farther away, visit Stone House and offer intriguing, engaging backstories that Binchy masterfully intertwines into a tapestry of friendships, family, conflicts, and camaraderie. Recommended by Prof. Judi Crowe.
Among Other by Jo Walton- Here we have the diary of a 15-year-old Welsh girl, at the turn of the 1980s, attempting to deal with not only being displaced from Wales to England but also her perceived ability to see and so what others cannot. She sees fairies. She does magic, but few, if any, of her family and friends ever notice. Walton's prose and, especially, her character development, maintained by attention, even began to obsess me. Recommended by Dr. Mike George.