One week after Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming hit the shelves—physical and virtual—it had sold some 1.4 million copies. Just more proof that the book-reading public is alive and well.
As we do annually, we asked faculty and staff for their suggestions for good books to help us make it through the dark months ahead—curled up on the couch in front of the fireplace—or space heater.
We have a rich selection of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—everything from mysteries, thrillers, classics, and literary fiction to biography, history, memoirs, and a couple of business books.
If you have other suggestions, let us know at [email protected], and we’ll post an update.
The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel, by Benjamin Black. I grant you, it’s not a promising thing when a writer tries to keep a famous author’s protagonist alive. It could just be mimicry, or it could fail spectacularly. Or, in this case, it could work out really well. Benjamin Black, novelist John Banville’s alter ego, took a very thin thread—in this case, a proposed title for a novel that Raymond Chandler left in a file when he died in 1959—and has spun a period noir mystery that evokes the master in all the right ways. It’s the post-war period, and Marlowe is still in his office at Hollywood and Cahuenga when the eponymous blonde shows up, dripping beauty and danger. A married heiress, she wants Marlowe to find her boyfriend, Nico. She initially neglects to mention that Nico was killed by a hit-and-run driver until Marlowe trips on to the fact, and then drops another bombshell: she’d seen him out the window of a car in San Francisco six months after his putative death. That’s just the beginning of the twists and turns, of course, as Marlowe runs into gangsters, drug runners, Mexican hitmen, jaded cops—and corpses. It’s pitch perfect, sharp and clever, with all the appropriate wise-guy gloom of a sweaty L.A. festering with corruption and malaise. If you like Chandler, you’ll take a shine to The Black-Eyed Blonde as well. —Taylor McNeil, deputy editor, Tufts Now
The Broken Girls, by Simone St. James. Two eras and two stories are linked by the persistent mourning of one woman for her murdered younger sister. The first setting: Vermont, 1950. Idlewild Hall is a boarding school for girls who just don’t fit well into the world into which they were born. The place is rumored to be haunted. Four roommates share their secrets, their fears, and become a mini-family unit, clinging to each other for comfort and support. But then one of them leaves for a weekend visit with her real family, and simply disappears. The second setting: Vermont, 2014. Journalist Fiona Sheridan still mourns her sister, whose body was found on the abandoned grounds of Idlewild Hall twenty years earlier. When she discovers someone has bought the place and intends to re-open the school, Fiona becomes obsessed with one burning question—why? Why would anyone want to bring back a place not only rumored to be haunted, but truly haunted by its own history? This dual-timeline plot zips the reader seamlessly back and forth over a sixty-four year gap, with the parallel stories gradually converging. Amazing character development, intricate twists and turns, and poetically described scenery make for an engrossing experience. It’s a psychological thriller, a murder mystery, and a ghost story wrapped into one, and the author weaves in the Gothic elements with just the right amount of spooky to raise gooseflesh. As a fan of Simone St. James, I believe this is her best work yet. —Frances S. Brown, manager of histopathology, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens. “Like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favorite child. And his name is David Copperfield,” said Charles Dickens, author of some of the most beloved stories in the English language (A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist). When I first read David Copperfield twenty-five years ago, I immediately judged it to be the best book I had ever read. The plot, about a young boy trying to survive—and rise above—a life of dire poverty in the hardscrabble London of the mid-nineteenth century, was both heartbreaking and, eventually, heartwarming. I recently re-read the book (at over 1,000 pages, no small task!), curious whether, so many books and years later, it still warranted the high esteem in which I had held it for so long. I’m pleased to say that I loved it just as much the second time around. The plot is merely one of the many captivating facets of the book. Like all Dickens books, it’s the finely-drawn characters and exquisite turns of phrase that place David Copperfield over the top. How delightful to become reacquainted with my old friends: Mr. Micawber, perennially in debt, but cheerily confident that “something will turn up”; Tommy Traddles, David’s classmate and chum, whose hair stands up on end when he’s excited and who amuses himself by sketching skeletons; Aunt Betsey, David’s redoubtable great-aunt whose seemingly cantankerous disposition belies her heart of gold. And is there a more loathsome villain in all of literature than Uriah Heep, the cloyingly obsequious clerk who oozes false humility while defrauding his trusting employer? I leave you with one of Dickens’ most beautiful, evocative sentences to savor: “As the elms bent to one another, like giants who were whispering secrets, and after a few seconds of such repose fell into a violent flurry, tossing their wild arms about, as if their late confidences were really too wicked for their peace of mind, some weather-beaten, ragged old rooks’ nests, burdening their higher branches, swung like wrecks upon a stormy sea.” —Carol Lidington, campaign management associate, University Advancement
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine —no matter what she says. A bright and efficient office worker in Glasgow, Scotland, she is alone, but insists she is not lonely. Manners are a mystery to her. Her coworkers mock her behind her back. The only person who phones her is her harassing, abusive mother. She sees no reason to form attachments to anyone—that is, until she attends a concert featuring local rocker Johnnie Lomond. Lovestruck, she cuts her hair for the first time since age thirteen, gets a manicure (despite not seeing the point of the expense), and buys a whole new wardrobe. Crucially, she accidentally forms a friendship with big-hearted coworker Raymond, pulling her into a new community. Her new relationships force Eleanor to examine her own traumatic past, and change the way others view her. Quirky and funny, without realizing why she is, Eleanor reminded me of a Scottish Ove, the curmudgeon at the heart of Fredrik Backman’s novel about loneliness. Fans of that wonderful book will love Eleanor, too. —Robin Smyton, A09, public relations specialist, Communications and Marketing
The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. I read this novel with astonishment at Roy’s ability to render seven-year-old twins’ confident mutual and shared understanding of phenomena of their world. In a recent review of Michael Pollen’s new book, How to Change Your Mind, the reviewer mentions the primitive part of the brain that connects us to how a child sees the world. Roy makes that connection in almost every sentence of this book. Opening a random page, I see these lines: “The taxi smelled of sleep. Old clothes rolled up. Damp towels. Armpits. It was, after all, the taxi driver’s home. He lived in it. It was the only place he had to store his smells.” This kind of language snakes through the book, winding and slithering through tropes that are repeated, and that endeared me to each of the characters. I know the convention here is to mention the plot, it’s a doozy. Suffice it to say that the twins are deeply immersed in the richly alive and menacing world of their childhood during a summer when events that would change everything occur. Happenstance slowly—inexorably—comes to seem inevitable. So many things become heartbreaking details in light of what is happening around the twins—and to them—in the adult world. —Rebecca Kaiser Gibson, lecturer in English, School of Arts and Sciences
Goodbye, Vitamin, by Rachel Khong. Ruth is home for Christmas for the first time in years. Her fiancé has left her. Her father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and he’s occasionally uninterested in wearing trousers. Now her mother would like her to stay home a little longer—“just the year.” Told in the form of journal entries, Rachel Khong’s first novel is sweet, smart, and funny. Ruth’s year of living familially includes learning about her father’s disease and what the internet says she can do to help him; working with his teaching assistant to distract him with a fake class to teach when his university puts him on leave; confronting the reasons she’d stayed away from home for so long; and moving on from her ex-fiancé, who is newly engaged. The book succeeds at adding levity to emotionally heavy topics, respecting the seriousness while appreciating the need to laugh at life. “AUGUST: You’ve been eating the bananas too early, the ones that are spotless and still tinged green. I’ve taken to hiding a few from each bunch in the seat of the piano bench, but as of just now you’ve located this secret banana stash. ‘Annie!’ you marveled to Mom. ‘There’s fruit inside this seat!’” —Lisa LaPoint, assistant director, public relations, Boston Health Sciences Campus
The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman. A few years ago, I fell into a pattern with a small group of friends whereby I give them as a gift on their birthday the best book I discovered in the previous year. The tradition started in an organic way and I’ve just kept it going—and they reciprocate—without our having examined if, in fact, our tastes are sufficiently in sync. I hope they are; I understand that “best book of the year” is highly subjective. But it’s a fun tradition all the same. In 2011, my gift book was Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists. I offer this because I am really dislike short stories, which in many ways these lightly linked chapters are. But in spite of that, I loved this book—and have heard the same from many of the folks to whom I have given it. Set in the world of 1990s journalism, just as the digital age was turning that world upside down, the characters are as flawed as the title promises, and the action is completely screwball. But it’s clear that Rachman must have known—and loved—versions of all these editors and stringers and obit writers during his time as a foreign-news editor at the Associated Press. That love for them comes through and the result is funny, moving, and nearly impossible to put down. I’ve read everything he has written since and nothing can touch The Imperfectionists. Fun for you—and it makes a great gift. —Dave Nuscher, senior director of operations and planning, Office of Communications and Marketing
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng. This novel was recommended to me by a friend who is a writer (Diana Martin, author of A Couch Named Marilyn), so I knew it had to be a good read. It’s a story of a complicated planned community and the people who make their homes there. It is also a story of mothers, a story of daughters, and a story of mother-daughter relationships. But most of all, for me, it is a story that has the underlying theme of communication—and how difficult and vital it is. —Betty Ann Kearney, senior director of development and alumni relations, School of Dental Medicine
A River of Stars, by Vanessa Hua. Neither Scarlett nor Daisy intended to get pregnant. Nor did they intend to end up on the lam in San Francisco, hiding out from immigration, a ruthless Hong Kong media mogul, and the father of Scarlett’s baby. The two are an unlikely duo: Scarlett is a late-thirties factory manager from mainland China who has pulled herself out of poverty; Daisy is the rebellious teenage daughter of a well-off Taiwanese family. They have unintentionally upended the shady resort known as Perfume Bay, where wealthy Chinese women come to give birth—and bestow American citizenship on their children. In the tradition of many literary and cinematic odd couples before them, they take off together, and end up grappling with first-time motherhood, a cash-strapped life in Chinatown, and uncertain futures. Vanessa Hua weaves an engaging narrative that’s fun to follow, but it’s the life she breathes into her characters—not just Scarlett and Daisy, but a rich universe of supporting roles, as well—that makes the book such a good read. One note: several reviewers—and Hua herself—have referred to the book as a Chinese Thelma & Louise. Knowing this gave me an unsettling sense of foreboding as I read. (Remember what happens at the end of T&L?) But—and this really isn’t a spoiler—not to worry. —Helene Ragovin, editor, Tufts Dental Medicine magazine
Stay With Me, by Ayobami Adebayo. If you follow book lists, you might recognize Stay With Me, the debut novel by Nigerian writer Ayobami Adebayo. It was called one of the best books of 2017 by NPR, the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, Entertainment Weekly, and many others, and with good reason. Set in contemporary Nigeria, the story is told from the alternating viewpoints of a husband and wife facing intense pressure to have a child. How that pressure affects their relationship—starting with consulting fertility doctors and local healers and leading to more heart-wrenching decisions—shapes the narrative, which unfolds like a mystery. Against a backdrop of Nigerian politics and traditions, Adebayo’s portrait of a marriage is a gripping read. —Heather Stephenson, editor, Fletcher Magazine
Transcription, by Kate Atkinson. We’re in London in 1940, the early months of the war, and eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong has been co-opted by MI5 to help infiltrate the ranks of local Nazi sympathizers, expose them, and bring them down. At first, she has the mundane task of transcribing the conversations of a fairly pathetic Fascist sub-cell that take place in a bugged room next door to where she sits headphones on, typewriter at the ready. Soon, however she’s thrown into more dangerous work with bigger stakes. It’s impossible not to be seduced by the twists and turns of Kate Atkinson’s plot, its structural brilliance and subtle surprises. But, like Graham Greene’s spy fiction “entertainments,” Transcription is a lot more than a high-end page-turner. As we follow Julia in her post-war years, first working at the BBC and then abroad, Atkinson’s political and social acuity begins to complicate the way that we apprehend her characters. No one is quite who they appear to be, and the novel’s epigraph (“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”—Winston Churchill) resonates throughout. Whether she is skewering treasonous members of the English upper classes, satirizing the prim and outmoded children’s programming on BBC radio in the 1950’s (I remember it!), or plumbing the British academic system that produced the Communist Cambridge spies, Kate Atkinson always writes with wit and charm. She really is a gem of a novelist. —Jonathan Wilson, professor of English, School of Arts and Sciences
Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje. “We order our lives with barely held stories.” This is the through line that connects all that is invisible and unspoken in this mesmerizing novel, set in two parts. It begins in 1945 London, unfolding the “haphazard and confusing” life of the narrator, fourteen-year-old Nathaniel Williams. After his parents allegedly embark for Singapore where his father has a job for year, he and his sister are left in the care of a lodger they dub “The Moth.” In time, other “family” figures will enter their lives. The Darter—a charming liar—enlists the adolescent Nathanial in smuggling greyhounds by night through London’s narrow canals. Nathanial reflects that while the job brought exciting “tension and risk,” it came with a price. “When you are uncertain about which way to go as a youth,” he mused, “you end up sometimes not so much repressed, as might be expected, but illegal, you find yourself easily invisible, unrecognized in the world.” Those themes of cause and effect, of complicity and innocence, continue in the second part of the book, set amid his mother’s rural inheritance—thatched-roofed Suffolk villages with Norman churches and “water meadows sloping to the river.” Now Nathaniel has become like his mother, sharing “a preference or privacy and solitude,” enjoying the quiet of a walled garden. Still, he continues to search government archives that might shed light on his mother’s ambiguous role in aiding British espionage. In the end, the narrator becomes the storyteller, finding truth because “I know how to fill in a story from a grain of sand or a fragment of discovered truth.” Nathaniel’s journey, in the hands of a subtle and gifted writer, is a history both personal and universal. —Laura Ferguson, senior writer, Office of Communications and Marketing
Diving into the Wreck, by Adrienne Rich. The recent publication of a new volume of selected poems covering Adrienne Rich’s entire career prompted me to go back to her landmark collection Diving into the Wreck, winner of the National Book Award in 1974. On its publication, the volume was immediately recognized for its articulation of the concerns animating second-wave feminism, exploring one woman’s own experiences in the context of larger social and political structures. Nearly half a century later, in our #MeToo moment, the issues feel as pressing as ever. Some early reviewers accused Rich of writing agitprop, but the best of these poems seem to me as enduring as the issues they confront, creating vivid dream- and nightmare-landscapes in which the power struggles in human relationships and communities play out in powerful and unexpected images: poems like “Trying to Talk with a Man” and “From a Survivor” repay careful, repeated reading, disclosing layers of meaning and resonance. The title poem famously reveals Rich’s ambition to disclose “the wreck and not the story of the wreck/the thing itself and not the myth”—an ambition she had the talent and insight to achieve. Rich abundantly fulfills Wallace Stevens’ requirement that a poem must give us pleasure—but also makes a compelling case that it should not give us easy answers or evade the challenges and, yes, ugliness of life as it is really lived. —Michael Baenen, chief of staff, Office of the President
Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah. This is a fascinating and enlightening book even if you don’t watch late night television and aren’t familiar with Trevor Noah’s comedy. He tells the history of South Africa, along with his own harrowing history navigating the country’s institutional racism as a person of mixed race. Being the son of a black woman and white father, his existence was illegal. He did not fit into any of the systems, prescribed groups, or townships and therefore spent a good part of his childhood in hiding indoors, a tumultuous upbringing with his tough-loving, independent, and fervently religious mother. Sadly, he was rarely able to see his father, but was able to develop a relationship with him as he neared adulthood. He paints a vivid picture of his extended family and the various communities he is able fit into and thrive in using his adaptability and wit. His path through life is seems like a circuitous obstacle course. His tales are achingly funny, maddening, and terrifying. —Margot Grisar, design director, Office of Communications and Marketing
Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy, by Imogen Sara Smith. I first stumbled upon Buster Keaton in the late 1980s, at a retrospective of his silent movies at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, and have been a fan ever since. He first burst into film in 1917 in Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s two-reeler The Butcher Boy, taking funny falls that seemed impossible—tricks he learned performing in his family’s vaudeville act starting when he was four. He went on to produce almost twenty comedy shorts of his own, some of them, like One Week and Cops, classics and still hilarious, almost 100 years later, before he started making feature films. Those movies took his storytelling and comedic skills to even greater heights (capped by The General, which often makes the top-movies-of-all-time lists). But they weren’t enough to save him as personal troubles (a bad marriage, a drinking problem) coincided with a bad move signing a contract with MGM, which took away all his creative control. From there it was downhill until he was rediscovered in the fifties, and he became a regular on TV shows and a cameo actor in movies. I’ve read many books about Buster, but I’d heard about Smith’s and wanted to check it out. Though it’s got a self-published look, it’s the best book about Buster I’ve read. Smith tells Buster’s personal story with subtlety and compassion and deftly analyzes the films, exactly in the right mix. She’s insightful about what drove Buster’s craft (he would never call it “art”) and casts a sensitive eye on the backstories to his movies. Best of all, she’s a talented writer who both loves her subject and yet can still see him objectively. If you want to understand Buster Keaton, Smith’s book is the best place to start—after watching his films, of course. —Taylor McNeil, deputy editor, Tufts Now
Drop the Ball, by Tiffany Dufu. As luck would have it, my trek through the Simmons Leadership Conference one afternoon led me smack into the path of Tiffany Dufu, author of the New York Times bestselling book Drop the Ball, which I had been fully and completely engrossed in for the past several days. Compliments rolled easily off my tongue: how I adored the book’s concept of empowering working parents to achieve more by doing less; reveling in her approach to achieving a purpose-driven life by narrowing down your core values and cutting out the rest. Lower your expectations, embrace imperfection, and above all, not to try to do it all was her mantra. Yes! I declared myself captivated and longing for more, right then and there. Then, out of nowhere, she asked: “Well, what do you dream of?” Her megawatt smile masked a clear expectation for an answer, which I did not have. Another person hoovered to greet her, we said our goodbyes and I moved on. But since that moment, I stayed curious about the unexpected query and my lack of a response. The exchange prompted me to engage with others on the subject and ultimately commit myself to figuring out the answer. The journey has been a wonderful recalibration of self; a learning to cultivate those areas that bring me joy while consistently and gloriously letting go of things that do not. Dropping the ball, it seems, was a necessary stop on the road to a better me. —Kalimah Redd Knight, deputy director, Office of Public Relations
Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, by Scott Kelly. A retired American astronaut—as is his identical twin brother—Kelly set the record for the most consecutive days in space by an American when he spent a year on the International Space Station. Kelly documents these twelve months, sharing about all aspects of life in space—the challenges of eating and sleeping, his intense exercise regimen, and the intricacy and high demands of concentration during space walks. He also tells how scientists studied the effects of a year in space on his body and compared it to his twin, who did not spend a year away from earth. With all this detail, the book could get bogged down, but Kelly keeps it readable with many humorous anecdotes. He also includes more personal accounts, including his struggle of being so far from home and his loved ones, and his concern of being unable to get home if emergencies arise. In addition to his account of his year in space, Kelly gives his story of how he went from being an underperforming student to a being an engineer, fighter pilot, test pilot, and eventually an astronaut. This book is inspirational in its story of hard work and perseverance to reach a goal, and is informative in explaining so much about the International Space Station through a unique, easy to read, first-hand perspective. I highly recommend it. — Britta E. Magnuson, assistant professor, Department of Diagnostic Sciences, School of Dental Medicine
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win, by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Willink and Babin take their many years of service and experience as U.S. Navy SEALs not only to the business world, but to the average citizen. They were among the leadership on SEAL Team 3 in 2006 in Ramadi, Iraq, one of the most violent places on earth at the time. With insurgents and coalition forces battling in close proximity to each other, only what the authors call “extreme ownership” could help deter further accidental use of deadly force in “friendly” Blue on Blue situations. Sadly, this is exactly what would cause both men to look deep within themselves for answers. Instead of putting the blame on others for what happened, they both took a long hard look into themselves and the processes and procedures they were using, and by doing so in the long run saved lives, ultimately having a huge effect on the outcome of the battle. Taking this type of experience and bringing it to the business world with their book and consulting company Echelon Front, they are changing the way companies lead, as well as the way people live their lives. Taking extreme ownership, day in and day out, in a disciplined manner, is the key lesson. —Chris Jackson, senior IT support specialist, Tufts Technology Services
Far Flung and Well Fed: The Food Writing of R.W. Apple Jr., by R.W. Apple, Jr. We are all good at finding justifications for what we do. The late New York Times reporter Johnny Apple, as he was known, did not need to apologize for any of his writing, particularly the penning of this book, combining descriptions of foods and his travel to the places around the globe where this food was most in demand. His descriptions of these locales often capture wonderful historical detail, more than just the Sheboygan bratwurst or the “Secret Sauces of Worcester” (in England, not Massachusetts). I also recommend Apple’s America: The Discriminating Traveler’s Guide to 40 Great Cities in the United States and Canada from 2005. In it, he describes the nuances of many cities, including the Hub: “Boston contains two constants: ideas, and the accents. Hear a man say ‘farm’-‘fahm’ in that special way, and you know where he’s from. The sound of a ‘brick-throated-bullfrog,’ as Ford Maddox Ford called it.” —Helen Rasmussen, research dietitian, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts
The Improbable Wendell Willkie: The Businessman Who Saved the Republican Party and His Country, and Conceived a New World Order, by David Levering Lewis. Wendell Willkie is a reminder that politics is an ever-changing business. A Hoosier businessman who made a name in conservative circles for challenging aspects of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, he would emerge as the Republican Party’s candidate for the 1940 presidential election. Willkie would lead the party down an internationalist path that acknowledged the need for U.S. engagement to stabilize a world in crisis. His electoral loss is proof that there are second acts. With FDR’s blessing, he took a remarkable world tour in 1942. He recounted his travels in the book One World, which became a huge bestseller that sketched the world at the moment the tide was turning for the Allies, while highlighting the Republican’s anti-racist and anti-imperialist views. His popularity and position are a reminder that political parties change over time (for good or ill). In the hands of David Levering Lewis, Willkie’s life is artfully told, even if the pitfalls of political biography are apparent—profound changes in politics and public life get lost with the focus on an outsized, yet truly remarkable figure. —David Ekbladh, Associate Professor, Department of History
The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of Little Bighorn, by Nathaniel Philbrick. The iconic last stand is captured in this superb book, but so is everything leading up to it, and much of what followed. The portraits of Custer, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Reno, Benteen, and others are vivid, and Philbrick tells the story in such a compelling way. But he also steps back and puts the events in the context of the times—the Civil War, the Black Hills gold rush, and the devastation of the Sioux. There are other books that capture the same set of events, but Philbrick wins for both clarity and excitement. A visit to the Little Big Horn battlefield outside Billings, Montana, is worth it, too. —James M. Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, professor of political science
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, by Yvon Chouinard. Whether you manage one employee or 1,000, this book is a manual on how and why to treat everyone with respect, including Mother Nature. Chouinard, who discovered a passion for rappelling as a teenager, soon was driving to northern California, Utah, and Wyoming to find bigger and more challenging rock faces. But he didn’t like how his sport could scar nature’s singular beauty; pitons, used to secure climbing ropes, had to be permanently nailed into the rocks, forever leaving a mark. Chouinard knew there could be a better way. He purchased a coal-fired forge and an anvil and stamped out re-usable pitons. American climbers, well-read in Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, lined up, willing to pay premium prices to tread gently on Mother Nature, not conquer her. Today Chouinard Equipment is a billion-dollar company known as Patagonia. Readers of all outdoor abilities—even armchair adventurers—will be inspired by Chounard’s ethos of environmental stewardship, employee respect, and collaboration with staff, suppliers, and distribution networks, all proven essentials for business success. —Tom Williams, A92, director of outreach and engagement, Office of Alumni Relations
Never Stop: A Memoir, by Simba Sana. I went to the same Jesuit high school as Simba Sana, just off Capitol Hill, in Washington, D.C., though he attended about five years later, in the early 1980s. His life was radically different than that of most of the guys there: he had grown up on the streets of Northeast D.C., and in this memoir tells of those times in rich detail, completely without sentiment. His grade school and middle school years are the main focus of the first 100 pages, and they are to me the best part of his book, tales of young guys trying to figure their place in the pecking order, learning to fight, learning when not to fight, learning how to get along with all types of people. Sana talks about the groups of guys he ran with, especially in the neighborhoods of Trinidad, Little Vietnam, and 8th and H Streets, Northeast. Some made it safely out of those hard neighborhoods; some fell into gangs; some later died, usually in drug business dealings gone wrong. Sana paints all of them with respect; everyone was simply getting by, much as we all do, though with so much more in the way of odds stacked against them. Sana learns early that carrying a burner—a gun—is not a wise thing, and gives up low-level dealing for school: with help, he makes it to college, and later founded what was at the time the largest chain of black-owned bookstores in the country. But it’s those early years that define who he becomes, and we see it in rich detail. —Taylor McNeil, deputy editor, Tufts Now
Paul Revere’s Ride, by David Hackett Fischer. This is a fascinating narrative account of the Boston area at the onset of the Revolution, by a terrific historian at Brandeis. (Fischer’s Champlain’s Dream is another winner.) As the title implies, the book centers on Paul Revere and his famous midnight ride, but it actually covers quite a lot of ground, ranging from the Powder Alarm of September 1774—the colonial response to British soldiers seizing the gunpowder from the magazine at what is now Powderhouse Square, adjacent to Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus—through Lexington and Concord to the Battle of Bunker Hill. For a local, one of the joys of the book is familiarity with so many of the locations that play key roles in the narrative. Revere turns out to have been a central actor in a remarkable number of events and institutions in colonial/Revolutionary Boston, making him a perfect vehicle for telling this story. Also, don’t be put off by the 100-plus pages of endnotes; in addition to being meticulously researched, this is an engaging and fairly quick read.—Dennis Rasmussen, Professor and Chair of Political Science, School of Arts and Sciences
If you are a member of the Tufts community—faculty, staff, student, or alumni—and would like to contribute a book review for our summer books feature in June, please email [email protected].