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Good Books Beckon
Posted 11/21/2013 02:51PM

I have been traveling a lot lately—to Washington DC, Asia, and now Chicago. While sometimes I’m not altogether sure where I am or what time it is, being awake in the middle of the night with jet lag does have its benefits: the email is quiet, the newspapers are all read, and good books, so many good books, beckon.

One of the articles I read earlier tonight came via the Inside Higher Ed website and was by Joshua Kim (coincidentally, Josh works at Dartmouth College and used to be my next door neighbor!). It conveniently arrived in my in box at 3:46 am. Josh wrote mini reviews on several books he was reading. Although his list did not overlap much with my own recent reads, his questions were interesting: What do we read? Why? Who recommended them? What conversations do they generate? And in what format did we read them?

So here’s what am I currently reading or have recently finished this fall—in roughly the order in which I read them.

  • Allan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child—library book
  • Cathy Davidson, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business in the 21st Century—paperback and discussed with parents at the LCPA Book Club
  • Jon Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power—audiobook and then hardback because I set it for the Chaffee Book Club
  • Annette Gordon Reed, The Hemmingses of Monticello: An American Family—hardback
  • Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business—ebook
  • Jan-Philipp Sendker, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats—ebook
  • Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants—hardback
  • S.C. Quinn, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History—paperback
  • Solomon Northrop, Twelve Years a Slave—ebook
  • Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison—paperback
  • Ian Kershaw's Hitler: A Biography—audiobook
  • William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich—audiobook
  • Jo Nesbo, Phantom—hardback

The books fall into some predictable categories for me and come in all formats: ebooks, hardcovers, paperbacks, library, and audiobooks. I love independent bookstores anywhere but with all the travel I do especially appreciate them at airports. I usually treat myself to a book or two even though I always come fully loaded with my kindle and at least one hardbound or paperback book. We are lucky to have Cover 2 Cover at Bradley airport and the Barbara's Bookshops in Chicago—both are among my favorites. Will the new ruling allowing us to keep reading on our electronic devices during take-off and landing doom these? I hope not. Orange is the New Black was an impulse airport buy. 

I tend to buy real copies of my history books as I find it easier to take notes on them and tuck them inside the book for future reference. But I also love the convenience of being able to download a book instantaneously and to be able to take a pretty extensive library with me as I travel. I like historical biographies and enjoyed the Meacham book although his earlier work on Andrew Jackson was more substantial. Reading Meacham pushed me to also open Reed's The Hemmingses of Monticello, which I had had for a while. I'm glad I finally took it down from the shelf as it is brilliant, as too is The Empire of the Summer Moon, which tells the story of Quanah Parker and the Comanche Nation. Shortlisted for the Pulitzer the book is meticulously researched and compelling. Special thanks to Keller Glass for that recommendation. I will probably assign parts of both Twelve Years a Slave and the Empire of the Summer Moon this winter for my Civil War Class and will also need to catch up on a few more books in that area.

The books on German history came from reading Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts last summer on my youngest son's recommendation and from wanting to know more. I have been listening to the two books switching back and forth either in the car or on the treadmill although I cannot claim to fully grasp the complexities of German politics in the 1920s and 30s—it’s a morass.   

I’m always looking for a good novel and heard some students say that they liked The Art of Hearing Heartbeats from the summer reading list, although it didn't particularly resonate with me—too much faux Buddhist philosophy and forced sentimentality. I did love Hollingshurst's elegantly written story set in England. His earlier Line of Beauty is now on my Kindle waiting for the right moment. Jo Nesbo is one of my favorite crime writers and so Phantom was a must read, especially since I am way behind my husband Richard on Scandinavian noir.

I'm also a sucker for the Gladwell popular social science type quick read, and his most recent book included several chapters relevant to schools and education. Cathy Davidson is a very well respected English professor at Duke University where she has become an advocate for digital literacy. Her most recent book is an excellent discussion of the advances in brain science and technology and their implications for education.

Reading provides me with an alternative internal world that I go to as often as I can for all sorts of different reasons—for education, for stimulation, for fun. I read many different types of books in many different formats. I love getting recommendations and am always open to something different. Fortunately for me, we live in a world where books and the worlds they open up are more available than ever. So however you like to read, with the holidays coming up, now is a great time to squeeze in some quality reading. Enjoy!


I had just finished this column and started to read the Guardian website when I came across this story on James McBride winning the National Book Award for his historical novel The Good Lord Bird, which focuses on the abolitionist John Brown. I promptly downloaded the book—but I was also struck by the reported comments by Doctorow. He told the audience, "a 'bookmark' is not a bookmark because an ebook is not a book". Clearly, I disagree. Ebooks and audiobooks are a great convenience and, if anything, make more content more readily available. 

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