John Buchtel

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

(Library of Congress Classification CT275.S8421 A3 2014)

Powerful: gripping narrative interlaced with thoughtful reflections on the failures of our criminal justice system. Disturbing, yes: but also inspiring and hopeful. A must-read. I haven’t seen the movie yet.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

(Library of Congress E185.615 .T57 2019)

Tisby provides a concise, clear history from the origins of American slavery to the development of segregated suburbia. Instead of merely offering an indictment, however, he issues a ringing call for repentance, reconciliation, and real unity, with practical ideas on how to achieve them.

Carolle Morini

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry

(Library of Congress PZ4 .B28138 Ni 2019)

In a Port of Algeciras waiting room of the ferry terminal, two aging Irishmen, partners in smuggling drugs, sit together and wait for the arrival or departure of someone. They are not sure. As they wait, you read about the messy tangle of their lives and you may think half way through the book: why isn’t this a mini series on Netflix?

Artforum by César Aira

(Library of Congress PZ4.A293 Ar 2020)

Do you have a stack of your favorite periodicals at home? Is that stack more of a tower? Do you wait by the mailbox for a new issue? Do you live in fear of accidentally leaving a window open in your home when you leave—because what if it rains?! Are you behind in your reading goal for 2020 and need a short book to bump up your numbers? If you said yes to any of these questions, this little novella is for you. A funny and insightful story about a man and his passion for Artforum. Oh, and you may want to check out the actual Artforum in the Art Department or even a back issue or two or three or four…

Elizabeth O’Meara

Vincent’s Books: Van Gogh and the Writers Who Inspired Him by Mariella Guzzoni

(Library of Congress ND653.G7 G94 2020)

Along with many people, I’ve always been drawn to Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings and life story.  Several years ago I began Naifeh and White’s biography Van Gogh: The Life but didn’t finish it because I found it too sad. Guzzoni’s book was a pleasure to read. Van Gogh was a voracious reader and prolific letter writer. Guzzoni did a wonderful job pulling together his reading, writing and painting. It was a pleasurable journey into that piece of Van Gogh’s life.

Autumn by Ali Smith

(Library of Congress PZ4.S64231 Au 2017)

This is the first book of Ali Smith’s Season Quartet book series, AutumnWinterSpringSummer.  It seemed like a no-brainer suggestion for our autumn book recommendations.  I read this book last year but decided to reread it, and I’m so glad I did. I read it much too quickly that first go around. This book’s prose calls out for a careful, attentive pace. The structure, such as it is, centers on the caring relationship between two neighbors, a young girl and an old man. It was published in 2017 and has as its background the political disturbances of the time in Great Britain, which also resonates in 2020 America.

Leah Rosovsky 

Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

(Library of Congress TX652 .C714 1988)

My recommendation is Home Cooking by the late Laurie Colwin. During the pandemic, many of us have found ourselves producing many more meals. This series of charming short essays and recipes, originally published in Gourmet Magazine, contemplates the role of food in our daily lives and in our families. It’s a lovely read that may even add a new dish to your rotation!

Mary Warnement

Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby

(Cutter Classification 8AB1 .N429)

Newby is best known as a travel writer, a genre especially appealing now that armchair travel must suffice, but I started with his last book, a memoir about his time as a prisoner of war in the autumn and early winter of 1943–44, which seemed appropriate as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. (My colleague rewards—figuratively rather than literally—book recommendations evoking the season; I point out that mine not only takes place from September to December, but my edition sports pumpkin-hued cloth boards.) Newby amusingly describes the operation in 1942 in which he was captured, and that tone prevails, although it borders on Kafkaesque humor.

Early on I wondered how he could possibly write with so much detail over 25 years later, but he was taking notes. He even had a few books: Boswell’s Tour of the Hebrides (which he regrets leaving behind at one point), a Lunario Barba-Nera (an almanac belonging to a farming family that harbors him), one volume of Gibbons’s Decline and Fall, a Bible, and something he called Mr. Sponge.

I wasn’t entirely sympathetic to Newby in the first 50 pages or so. His writing about women passing his prison as if they had no other existence but to appear in his imaginings put me off, but once he met a woman he fell in love with that attitude petered off. It didn’t disappear, look at his descriptions of Rita and Dolores who live and work on the farm where he’s given refuge, but it faded. I could appreciate his story and his manner of telling it. 

Rachel Wentworth

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wung

(Library of Congress RC514 .W36 2019)

I made a few false starts before I was able to read this collection of essays through to completion. There is something about the way Wung wields her pen from inside the experience of her illness that is jarring. It feels naked and vulnerable, like an open wound. Although at times almost academic, this collection weaves deeply intimate confessional prose with cultural criticism to profound effect. To quote The New Yorker, there is something radical about this collection. Wung confronts various interpretations of mental illness with a level of incisiveness that is only attainable with an #OwnVoices writer. She doesn’t promise clarity, instead sitting comfortably inside her uncertainty and inviting the reader to join. Anyone can benefit from this mold-breaking, mind-bending, eye-opening read, but I encourage those with direct experience with mental illness to treat themselves kindly when deciding whether to read it in its entirety.

The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine

(Library of Congress PZ4 .S3362 Gr 2019)

I came to this book in the last days of my (seriously procrastinated) 2019 reading goal and, boy, did I read it quickly. Despite my panic-read, this quirky little novel made a huge impact. Ultimately a lifelong conversation between a set of grammarian twins, one a die-hard prescriptivist and the other an improvisational descriptivist, this text takes its reader on a wild ride. The way the twins (and this author) play with language like one might play with Play-Doh is a joy for grammarians and goofs alike. It is clearly a love letter to language, and its author makes her joy shine through every page. Read this if you live for the thrill of spotting a typo in the New York Times.