What We’ve Been Reading

Our staffers have largely been cooped up at home lately, and many of us have been turning to books for escape. Here’s what we’ve been reading lately—you can grab your own copies by ordering through your local bookstore or through bookshop.org.

splendidProject Editor Ellen Goldlust writes, “Erik Larsen’s new book, The Splendid and the Vile, is about Winston Churchill’s first year as British prime minister, which included the Blitz, when German planes bombed Britain every night between September 1940 and May 1941. In large part as a result of Churchill’s leadership, British public support for fighting the Nazis never wavered in spite of the stress (imagine having your sleep disrupted by bombs every night for eight months!) and horrific damage and loss of life that these sustained attacks caused. In addition, knowing that Britain could not survive without US support, Churchill helped American officials navigate public sentiment on this side of the Atlantic to provide the necessary aid. The book is a stunning story about what real leadership in a time of crisis looks like and highlights just how badly the current US government is failing during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

dutch“I recently finished Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House, which was a perfect antidote to all the scholarly material I read during the day,” writes Editorial Production Manager Jessica Ryan. “The main characters are siblings who are obsessed with their family home, which they were forced to leave after the death of their father during their adolescence. It is the story of a family, a house, and growing up. Having to sell our family home after owning it for more than fifty years and sharing the complicated, wonderful, and often conflicting memories that house held for me and my six siblings made the idea of obsessive nostalgia real. With that in mind and the stories we tell around our family table, I continue to be amazed at the powerful presence a house can be in one’s life—and how empty a house can be when you can’t let others in.”

moominLaura Sell, Publicity and Advertising Manager, writes, “When the stay-at-home orders were first issued, I thought, ‘I’ll have so much time to read!’ But it turned out that I’ve had a lot of trouble concentrating during this time. In an effort to get off my phone and back into a book, I went to a shelf of childhood favorites, Tove Jansson’s Moomins series. I grabbed one at random: Moominvalley in November. It turned out to be a perfect pandemic read. Winter is coming to Moominvalley and four misfits converge on the Moomins’ house, only to find they’ve gone away. There’s not much of a plot, just little vignettes about the characters as they settle down together in the house and await the return of its owners. It gets darker and colder and the Moomins don’t return, but Snufkin, the Fillyjonk, Mymble, Toft, the Hemulen, and Grandpa Grumble become friends of sorts. But the book retains a melancholy air throughout, pondering loneliness and the transition of seasons. The Moomins never come home! What an odd little children’s book. It did help me get my reading groove back.”

dustMetadata and Digital Systems Manager Lee Willoughby-Harris’s first pandemic read was Dust Bowl Girls: The Inspiring Story of the Team that Barnstormed Its Way to Basketball Glory by Lydia Reeder. “OK, I’ll admit it. I miss sport. And given that society began to shift as March Madness was about to begin, I needed something to help fill the void. Centering around the Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals, the book is part social history (the ridiculous things people believed about athletic women in the early twentieth century is mind-boggling), part sports history, and thoroughly engaging. The story concludes with the 1932 AAU Women’s Basketball Championship in which the Cardinals face Babe Didrikson (Zaharias).”

9781480417168“I’ve read a lot of great books in the past weeks. But I’ve wanted to be comforted and read things that have definitive answers in this very uncertain time. So I’ve turned to the Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy L. Sayers,” writes Production Coordinator Erica Woods Tucker. “These books can be read in a day or two, and they’re just a fun read. I’d start with Whose Body? then maybe read Lord Peter Views the Body (a bunch of thriller and mystery short stories starring Wimsey that are just really fun and true to the genre.) [Please note these were written in between the world wars in Britain, so political correctness was not a thing. But I still enjoyed them.]”

irbyPre-Production Manager Lisa Savage’s recommendation is Wow, No Thank You, the latest collection of personal essays by Samantha Irby. “I was introduced to Irby’s writing by our colleague Erica Woods Tucker, and I’m so happy that she did! Irby’s writing is the perfect respite from the worries and anxieties of the state of the world—you can giggle at her wildly entertaining stories about her own worries and anxieties instead! She is candid, self-deprecating, and completely relatable. From her hilariously honest advice on love and marriage to her experience moving from a tiny apartment in Chicago to a house in Kalamazoo (‘what is that thing attached to the back of our house, a deck or a patio’) to her ‘Hollywood Summer’ as a writer on the Hulu show Shrill (she wrote the amazing ‘Pool Party’ episode), you’ll find lots to laugh about. Plus, all of her books have cute animals on the cover. Check out her Instagram, @bitchesgottaeat, too.”

9781400079988Editor Elizabeth Ault writes, “I’m thrilled to report that I’m almost two-thirds through War and Peace, a book that followed me (a voracious reader) around like a joke as a child. It turns out it is not a joke at all but rather a completely remarkable book that has, along with the community of readers convened as part of #TolstoyTogether by Yiyun Li at A Public Space, provided a deeply welcome stability to quarantine. Tolstoy’s genuinely sharp and funny observations about individuals and relationships along with his moving reflections on living through what congeals as history (or as recent birthday boy Karl Marx put it, the way people ‘make history, but in conditions not of their own making’) have all been compelling and delightful, enhanced by seeing what other readers are gleaning from the text and what background they’re able to provide. The daily ritual of reading 20 or so pages is something I genuinely look forward to as we live through our own epochal moment. Maybe I’ll just pick it back up from the beginning when I finish (…in June).”

814039944Book Designer Aimee Harrison recommends black seeds on a white dish by Shira Dentz. “I’ve been finding it necessary in isolation to read poetry, particularly poetry of my friends, as a way of remembering intimacy and friendship. Shira Dentz’s poems have a way of shifting the familiar world so you rediscover the brilliance of fruit and leaves, and of finding joy in the small anomalies of what appears at first to be a monotonous day. Her understandings of loss, and the love she gives in spite of it, write a path into hope for those of us who have found ourselves, at times, too alone.”

9780143128762Book Designer Courtney Leigh Richardson has also been reading poetry. “During this time of pandemic, I’ve been ‘working’ from home with two toddlers, which has been challenging and exceedingly, supremely beautiful. I have experienced explosive growth personally, especially as a mother, but also as a human being (at least I’d like to think so!). As things have been incredibly scattered, I’ve read only one thing, in short spurts: a collection of poems by Mary Oliver, Felicity. If ever there was a time to be reminded of the beauty of human connection, especially as it relates to the magic and wonder of the natural world: this would be it. Supreme bliss, indeed!”

9781101907870Journals Marketing Manager Jocelyn Dawson has been rereading Rebecca, a 1938 novel by Daphne Du Maurier. “It’s an eerie and beautifully written English novel that draws the reader in and presents a nice escape. I’ve been doing a lot of rereading for comfort since the pandemic began but am looking forward to starting Invisible People: Stories of Life at the Margins by Alex Tizon as part of the AUPresses Community Read.”

9780399589652IT Project Manager Sonya Johnson recommends Prince’s memoir Prince: The Beautiful Ones. “It contains his autobiographical account of his life and career up until his death. He was still working on the book when he died, literally had just begun writing it. The original handwritten notes, rare photos of him through the years, and photos he took as an amateur photographer are really heartwarming and heart-wrenching considering how he died. As a ‘Purple Fam’ member (what he called his fans), it’s an addition to the stories I’ve heard through my visits to his home Paisley Park over the last four years. Stories told by his friends and bandmates of his life, his wit, concert tours, and the phenomenal work ethic; he worked more than he slept. I’m thankful to grab a few moments to read a portion of my Christmas present, even if it’s in chunks. I love autobiographies, and this one is extra special.”

Copywriter Chris Robinson writes, “I’ve been in a reading rut lately, but I’m really enjoying Philip K. Dick’s classic The Man in the High Castle. It’s a richly imagined world in which the Axis Powers won World War II, with Japan governing the West Coast and Germany the East. I never connect much with Dick’s characters, but his treatment of some of the cultural dynamics—especially around race and religion—makes it feel a little too real.”

9780385351102“Jenny Offill’s Weather turned out to be a very appropriate quarantine read,” writes Senior Project Editor Charles Brower. “The narrator, in wry, fragmentary anecdotes and observations, relates her day-to-day life as an academic librarian, restless wife and mother, and sister of a recovering addict, all in the shadow of the slow death of the planet. But even in the face of dread, it’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny.”

9781601427595Senior Production Coordinator Amy Walter picked up a copy of Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber when she attended the American Academy of Religion conference in November on behalf of the Press. “Bolz-Weber, a tattooed, swearing Lutheran pastor from Denver, shares stories from her own life and those of her parishioners in an attempt to show the harm that can come from the patriarchal, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQIA+, purity-obsessed teachings about sex and gender that are often disseminated in conservative Christian circles. The book is an attempt to aid readers who have been reared in such contexts from the effects that it can have on one’s mental and sexual well-being. I definitely recommend to anyone who has come out of purity culture, or those who are just curious to see a pastor say positive things about sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc., that are different than what many of us are used to.”

20200514_165709 (1)Assistant Managing Editor Joel Luber writes, “After our public library closed with no advanced notice, I made a panic borrowing run to Duke Library, getting as many books as I could carry. When they announced a few days later that they would be closing too—but at least gave us twenty-four hours’ notice—I made a second panic run. The books I’ve read (right) now tower over the books left to read (left), and I’m starting to get worried!”

9781523097890Lastly, Cathy Rimer-Surles, Assistant Director for Contracts and Licensing, recommends Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance by Edgar Villanueva. “Rereading this book in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic where the inequalities in our society are so starkly laid bare despite the efforts of a plethora of well-intentioned philanthropic institutions, I am struck by Villanueva’s prophetic call to use money as medicine to heal us from the “colonizer virus” that has infected our country since the 1400s. Arguing that what ails philanthropy at its core is colonialism, he draws from his own Native American heritage in urging both us individually and the institutions we are a part of to engage in the Seven Steps to Healing: to grieve, apologize, listen, relate, represent, invest and repair.”

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