Here at Duke University Press, many of us read for a living, but that doesn’t stop our book-loving staff from enjoying a huge range of titles in their off-hours as well. Whether you’re looking for a great book to give or something for yourself to delve into over the holidays, we are pleased to offer you the best books we read this year.
Many of our staff enjoy reading novels in their spare time. Senior Project Editor Liz Smith read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies: “I loved her intimate portrayal of Thomas Cromwell and his relationships with Wolsey, Henry VIII, and the Boleyns. Her writing is poetic and sharp, and she makes these iconic historical figures feel recognizably human. I’m now enjoying the miniseries!” Katie Smart, Publicist and Exhibits Coordinator, recommends Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, a YA fiction novel steeped in magical realism and thrills. Katie says, “Ruby keeps your attention through diverse descriptions of unique landscapes and characters, and her interesting take on relationships, both familial and romantic, is refreshing. I truly did not know how the book would end, and that is one of the best compliments an author can receive as far as I’m concerned!”
Senior Editor Courtney Berger enjoys novels, too, but her choice doesn’t stray too far from our own list! She recommends The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. She says, “With a poetic yet enchantingly conversational style, Nelson deftly weaves the work of feminist and queer theorists–such as Sedgwick, Butler, Edelman, and Gallop–into her account of lives and bodies in transition. She casts an unflinching eye on the brute physicality of maternity, the everyday negotiations of desire, and the pleasures and betrayals of physical embodiment.
Publicity and Advertising Manager Laura Sell recommends a cautionary tale for those in the book industry: A Window Opens by former Glamour magazine books editor Elisabeth Egan. “Ever thought about leaving your delightful but low-paid job in publishing, bookselling, writing, or librarianship? Well, read this charming, well-done chick-lit book first. When her husband fails to make law partner, Alice Pearse, a book editor at a magazine, takes a job at Scroll, which seems to be a combination of Amazon and Wal-Mart. Her descent into corporate culture will fill you with a sense of looming dread. Hopefully you will not recognize Genevieve, her boss, whose favorite management technique is ‘befriend-berate,’ in your own, but you will be sure to recognize some of yourself in Alice and feel for her as she negotiates a difficult family transition.”
Copywriter Christopher Robinson channeled his 15 year old self this year and read science fiction – lots of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Orson Scott Card, and Robert Heinlein. But he says what he hasn’t quite been able to shake is Timescape by Gregory Benford, written in 1992. “It’s about physicists in 1998 England trying to contact American physicists in 1963 to try and prevent the worldwide environmental disaster that humanity brought upon itself,” he says. “It’s full of complex characters – much more so than most science fiction – and it deals with some of the difficulties navigating life in academia, which hits close to home for me. I’ve also started reading two really good jazz books by friends of mine: New Dutch Swing by Kevin Whitehead and Spirits Rejoice by Jason Bivins.”
Anita Joice, Digital Collections Sales Manager, recommends The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo by Kent Nerburn. “I could not stop reading this book, but I can’t exactly tell you why it was so compelling,” she says. “If you read what it’s about you might think it sounds depressing, as on one level it’s about uncovering the story of what happened to a Native American girl in the early 1900s who was sent to a boarding school. It’s by far the best book I read all year. It’s not fiction, but it reads like it is. I felt like I had an insight into some people’s lives, in a completely different part of America, and Native American history that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Being a newcomer to America, this was really fascinating. It was nothing like North Carolina, or England for that matter…” Duke Math Journal Senior Editorial Assistant Marisa Meredith also suggests a book about the Native American experience: Daughters of Copper Woman by Anne Cameron. “I really enjoy reading origin stories and the mythology and language of this story is vivid and beautiful,” she says. “The female archetypes are so powerful, I feel strengthened reading about them. I can imagine being a young girl sitting with her mother, grandmother, aunts and cousins and learning about her heritage. I also quite like the ambiguity of how the story balances myth and folklore and truth when describing the traditions of the Pacific Northwest American tribes.”
Marketing and Sales Associate Jessica Castro-Rappl says, “I fell in love this year with The Color Master, a collection of short stories by Aimee Bender. She’s a linguistic genius—her wording is consistently beautiful to the point of being overwhelming. I still haven’t been able to shake the first story, ‘Appleless,’ out of my head. It’s original, intense, and incredibly well written, just like the collection as a whole.” Assistant Editor Jade Brooks suggests poetry: [Insert] Boy by Danez Smith. “This book will grab into your stomach and pull you towards it. Smith writes with echoes of James Baldwin, capturing with raw emotion and religious resonance the queer Black American experience, the ways to love, survive, and worship the truth of others’ bodies in the midst of white supremacist violence directed at Black people. Smith writes what is holy and terrible.”
Other staff members turn to nonfiction in their off hours. Direct Marketing Manager and Sales Associate Julie Thomson recommends Sally Mann’s Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs. “In this stunning memoir the renowned American photographer uses text and photographs to offer eloquent and vivid reflections on photography, life, family, landscape, and place. I loved learning about her friendship with the artist Cy Twombly and how his choice to live and work in Virginia, gave Mann the confidence to do that too.” Assistant Managing Editor Roy Pattishall says his favorite book of 2015 was The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Ed Baptist, who teaches at Cornell but grew up right here in Durham. “This is a very engaging piece of historical work,” says Roy, “and the way it connects so many aspects of the Peculiar Institution to key developments of modern capitalism, like the concept of every-increasing ‘worker productivity’ and the true significance of not only bondage, but the torture of human beings, to the wealth of the nation on the eve of the Civil War is a welcome antidote to the never-ending apologetics for America’s ‘original sin.’ This is absolutely essential reading to anyone curious to know what the antebellum South was really like—and how cool, that it was written by a Durham native!”
We hope you’ve found your next read. And don’t forget to #giveabook this holiday season!