Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Guest Post: Vanderbilt Faculty Members on Their Favorite Reads of 2014

| 13 Comments

Friend of Bacon Louise Bryan kindly sent me the link to this terrific post, which I’m so happy to share with you today!  Maybe you’ll find a peach on the list, too!  I’m picking The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach, based on Professor Tony Earley’s description of it as “the kind of big, fat, wonderful book Dickens might write if he were an American and a baseball fan, and well, you know, not dead.”

From Kara Furlong, editor of myVU:

MyVU asked a handful of Vanderbilt faculty members to name the book that left a lasting impression on them this year – some couldn’t name just one.  Their diverse recommendations span fiction, nonfiction, history, thriller, biography, memoir and more.

We also asked, “Which do you prefer: e-reader or traditional book format?”  While some liked the convenience of e-readers, especially while traveling, an overwhelming majority said nothing beats cracking open a book and seeing the printed word on page.

Unknown-24André Churchwell, Professor of Medicine and Senior Associate Dean for Diversity Affairs:
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940
by William Manchester

“I read William Manchester’s middle book (in his trilogy) on the life of Winston Churchill.  This large book chronicles Churchill’s fall from political influence after World War I and his climb back to leadership as England’s warlord and prime minister during World War II.  I learned a lot about how to manage terrible personal defeat so that it doesn’t destroy you.”

 

Kate Daniels, Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program:
Regeneration (1991), The Eye in the Door (1993), The Ghost Road (1995)
by Pat Barker

“Thinking about the centennial of the first world war (and also about poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sasoon, who wrote so memorably about the war from their firsthand experiences on the battlefield and who are characters in the novels), I read British novelist Pat Barker’s trilogy.  The books are an extraordinarily imaginative entrance to a very fecund period in the early period of Modernism, and helped me to think about war, technology, poetry and pacifism.”Unknown-17

Tony Earley, Samuel Milton Fleming Professor of English:
The Art of Fielding
by Chad Harbach

“The book I read this year that I liked most was The Art of Fielding.  It struck me as the kind of big, fat, wonderful book Dickens might write if he were an American and a baseball fan, and well, you know, not dead.”

Unknown-11Jennifer Kim, Assistant Professor of Nursing and Co-Director of the Vanderbilt Hartford Center for Gerontological Nursing Excellence:
All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr

“It’s a lyrical account of two teens, a blind French girl and a brilliant German boy, who are on opposite sides of World War II.  The story, set in Saint-Malo, France, is so captivating and rich with detail, that I am now planning a future trip to this historic city.”

 

Lorraine López, Associate Professor of English:
A Cup of Water Under My Bed
by Daisy Hernandez

“In her memoir, Hernandez, a former reporter for the New York Times and editor of ColorLines, writes of her experiences as the daughter of immigrants (Colombian and Cuban), her struggles to acquire English, and her complicated sexual and political identity as a queer, leftist feminist writer of color.  The writing is moving and powerful and the narratives inscribed here are unforgettable, such as the story of Gwen, the victim of a trans-hate crime that Hernandez covered as a young reporter.  This is a great read with the power to open minds and alter perspectives.”

Jim Lovensheimer, Associate Professor of Musicology:
Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn As Told by a Friend
by Thomas Mann

“I don’t get a lot of time to read for fun, but I re-read Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus in preparation for my fall Blair class on 20th- and 21st-century art music and was blown away by it all over again.  It deals with specific issues of artistic and moral identity during the first half of the 20th century, especially in Germany, but Mann’s points – not to mention what Germany and Europe went through during that period – still reverberate in today’s society as both a memory and a warning.  It’s not an easy read, but it’s worth the effort.”

Unknown-18Jonathan Metzl, Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Medicine, Health and Society:
Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community
by Kenneth MacLeish

“The best book I read all year was Making War at Fort Hood by my amazing colleague, Ken MacLeish.  The book is an empathic, critical and wholly brilliant analysis of the brutal things we ask soldiers to do (to others and to themselves) in the name of protecting freedom.”

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?
by Martin Luther King Jr.

“I also re-read King’s Where Do We Go From Here.  Its central argument – about the differing paths we might take in the aftermath of racial protest – seems so vital for our current moment.”

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
by David Shafer

“I’m also a big fan of junk airport action novels, and the best one I read this year – by far – was David Shafer’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.  The writing is just terrific.”

Unknown-26A. Scott Pearson, Associate Professor of Surgery and Medicine, Health and Society:
The Painter
by Peter Heller

“I enjoyed reading about Heller’s character, Jim Stegner, a self-made, gifted artist who hides out in the mountains of northern New Mexico with his tripartite muse: women, fly-fishing at night, and the occasional, ever-present propensity for violence.”

 

Alice Randall, Writer-in-Residence in African American and Diaspora Studies:
1Q84
by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 is a thousand pages set in a Tokyo that may or may not ever have existed.  At once sincere and surreal, playful and plodding, 1Q84, Marakami’s masterpiece, explores (among many things) the territory of the erotic framed by sexual violence, the connections between vengeance and tenderness, and the ways art (particularly certain music and certain novels) may find, cocoon and save us.  While calling back to and eclipsing George Orwell, 1Q84 dares nothing less than to passionately tell the significance of making love in a culture of rape.”

Unknown-20Or, if you want something softer:

Cinnamon and Gunpowder
by Eli Brown

“Set at the intersection of the opium wars and the slave trade, the protagonist of this delicious novel is a mulatto woman pirate who takes a chef captive while searching for her son and arch enemy.  I like the book so much, I’ve joined forces with a young producer to option it and make it into a movie.”

Robert Scherrer, Professor of Physics:
Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination
by Neal Gabler

“What impressed me about it was not so much the book itself, but the actual story it told – at least three times in his career, Disney was floundering and his company was on the verge of failure, and yet each time he bounced back and came up with something even bigger that totally transformed the entertainment world: first the Mickey Mouse shorts, then the first full-length cartoon (Snow White), and finally the Disney TV show and Disneyland conglomerate.”

Unknown-21Daniel Sharfstein, Professor of Law and Co-Director of the Social Justice Program:

China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa
by Howard W. French

“China’s Second Continent explores the Chinese diaspora in Africa – the hopes and dreams of a million people who have moved to Africa for fortune and freedom, as well as their larger effect on countries that are at a crucial moment of transition from exploiting natural resources to developing human capital.  It manages to be an amazing book about both Africa and China.  On just about every page there is a revelatory story, about people, places and situations that very few people in the West have ever imagined let alone been witness to.  French is an extraordinary reporter, nimble and fearless, and his language skills (he’s a longtime foreign correspondent for the New York Times and now a journalism professor at Columbia) enable him to go where no one else can.”

Tracy Sharpley-Whiting, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of African American Studies and French:

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life
by William Deresiewicz

“An incisive look at the system of higher education in America and inequalities across class and access, the bane of the ‘return on investment’ model and mantra plaguing higher education, and the stressors facing today’s students. This book – an eye-opening, must-read for parents and students alike – rocked!”

Georgene Troseth, Associate Professor of Psychology:
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
by Karen Joy Fowler

“Without giving away a major plot twist, I can say that this book starts out being about a normal family that has endured a mysterious loss.  The character of that loss emerges halfway through the book.  Themes include the benefits and costs of research, and how early experiences influence the direction of a life.”

Unknown-22Holly Tucker, Professor of French studies and Professor of Biomedical Ethics and Society:
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
by Jill Lepore

“When asked what historical figure I’d most like to invite to dinner, I’ve always said Benjamin Franklin.  After reading Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages, there’d be a place at the table for his sister Jane instead. (Benjamin had 17 brothers and sisters in all; Jane was his favorite.)  Unlike the polymath statesman, Jane struggled to hold a pen properly and lived “a quiet story of a quiet life of quiet sorrow and quieter beauty.”  Still, her life and interactions with brother – which were often teasing and always frank – offer a rich look into 18th-century American life.”

Sten Vermund, Amos Christie Chair in Global Health:
Jerusalem: The Biography
by Simon Sebag Montefiore

“The book treats the city as its protagonist and tells over 3,000 years of history through the prism of that unique city’s role.  The author (a descendent of the famous Moses Montefiore, a 19th-century financier and supporter of Jewish settlements in the Levant/Palestine/Israel) is masterful in his focus on the best historical evidence, and I think any aficionado of history, religion or the roots of the modern world would get the same pleasure from this that I did, though it may not please people with rigid preconceptions.  The book is long, but it reads like an adventure story, which it is.”

David Weintraub, Professor of Astronomy:
Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation
by Aili McConnon and Andres McConnon

“A story about a world-champion bicycle rider who used his athletic gifts to help save the lives of Italian Jews.  You don’t have to be a cyclist to enjoy this story about Gino Bartali.  His story is the stuff of legend, except that it’s true, and he has been honored by Yad Vashem, in Israel, for his heroism.”

Unknown-23Sharon Weiss, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering:
The Gruffalo
by Julia Donaldson

“With a 3-year-old and a 9-month-old at home, the vast majority of the reading I do these days is for the kids.  Accordingly, my recommendation is for one of my daughter’s favorite children’s book that we have read innumerable times, The Gruffalo.  This story relates that with a little clever wit, you do not need to be the biggest or the fastest to come out on top.”

 

 

Contact:
Kara Furlong, (615) 322-NEWS
kara.furlong@vanderbilt.edu

13 Comments

  1. This is a terrific and useful list, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing, and Happy New Year!

  2. Very handy list! Thank you!’ Luminaries musing on laudable reads.

  3. Fascinating list! Small world department: David Weintraub is the son of noted historian Stanley Weintraub. Stanley and I attended the same university, several decades apart. Happily, Stanley has discussed three of his books on my local TV author interview show. At his most recent appearance, he bragged about his son the astronomer. Father’s are allowed to do that. Happy New Year’s to all!

  4. Jennifer, I love this list and your blog! I’ve just placed a hold on the ebook versions of a few of the books through the library.

    • Hi Judy! I’m so happy you enjoy the blog! It gives me such pleasure to be on the lookout for great books and to share what I (and others) find! Thank you for your kind comment, and happy reading!

  5. Thanks for this list, Jennifer! A couple of these will be getting added to my 2015 list of books. Coincidentally, I also read The Art of Fielding in 2014 and enjoyed it. Happy New Year!

  6. Thanks, Louise and Jennifer. And Happy Birthday to you, too, Louise!

Leave a Reply