Summer Reading Reviews

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Introduction

There is something about summer and books, especially those we’re not required to read.

I think it has to do with how many places there are that one can sit and read, where the reading is enhanced by the place itself and the setting, in turn, completed by the act of reading. Porches come to mind, as do beaches and garrets with a crossbreeze. One imagines faculty members Rob and Sharon Merrifield settling into a tent somewhere out in the woods, the pages of their books illuminated by a lantern. Perhaps English teacher Doug Compton, in a rowboat off the rocky coast of Maine, reading In the Heart of the Sea. Or mathematics department chair Latta Browse, on a couch in his living room in Blairstown, a month or more of summer stretching out before him as he marches through a stack of volumes accumulated just for this purpose during the course of the year.

In my case, I spent many hours in a cafe in Shanghai in July reading a detective story of sorts called When We Were Orphans, by the contemporary British writer Kazuo Ishiguro. It is always gratifying to read a book where it is set, and so, intrigued to learn what of 1930s Shanghai might still exist, I began most mornings with a run along the Bund, the historic district along the Huangpu River. During those forays, I was pleased to discover that the columned buildings and tree-lined settlements of the novel are still there, standing as a reminder of the impact of Western imperialism and a real backdrop for the narrator’s search for his lost parents. When We Were Orphans is both a page-turner and a haunting historical travelogue that I recommend to anyone who enjoyed Ishiguro’s most-famous work, The Remains of the Day, or who simply enjoys a richly detailed mystery.

I read another notable book in between coaching sessions on a shaded bench outside the Williams College squash courts in western Massachusetts: an advance copy of Über Alles, the first novel by Robert Neff ’49, P’83, P’08. If it’s precise historical detail you’re looking for, Bob Neff is your man; a retired lawyer and businessman, he has spent much of the last decade developing a remarkably comprehensive understanding of the political, societal and cultural atmosphere in Europe in the years before World War II. Through these lenses, Bob reveals a tale that is equal parts historical treatise, star-crossed romance and escape thriller. In Über Alles, we encounter the larger-than-life Hitler consigliere Hermann Goering at Carinhall, expounding on the importance of family while surrounded by artwork pillaged by Nazi troops from the homes of prominent Jews. We follow the heroine Sophie, caught between her rising fame as a singer for Django Reinhardt’s Quintette du Hot Club de France and the necessity to conceal her Jewish heritage. And we suffer along with Dieter, the book’s reluctant hero, during his incarceration at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in German-occupied Czechoslovakia, as he watches his fellow artists and musicians die before him or simply disappear all the while wondering whether he will be next. Ü ber Alles is a big, compelling read and I hope you’ll all look for it when it’s released by John Clark ’66’s Old Stone Press later this month.

As I did, other members of the Blair community students, alumni and faculty found a good place to recline with a book this summer. I hope you’ll take a look below to learn what they read and what they thought about it.

Best,

Jim Moore
English Department Chair

What the Blair Community Read This Summer

  • This I Believe (Jay Allison)

    Darrius Campbell ’13
    Posted September 19, 2016

    Starting out as a 1950s radio segment on National Public Radio (NPR) of the same name, Jay Allison’s This I Believe features the work of 80 essayists. With topics ranging from being nice to the pizza guy to explaining the importance of attending funerals, This I Believe really makes readers ask themselves what is important to them.

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  • Plain Tales from the Raj: Images of British India in the Twentieth Century (Charles Allen)

    R. Latta Browse P ’08, P ’13, Mathematics Department Chairman
    Posted August 19, 2016

    This book was written from interviews of the British men and women who lived in India during the final decades of Britain’s imperial control of the subcontinent. This is not the geopolitical story of how Britain came to rule over such a vast empire. Rather, it is a compilation of fascinating vignettes of the daily life of those who left their homes to live and work in a culture and environment far different from the one in which they were raised. An example of oral history at its best.

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  • All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)

    Savannah Doelfel ’18, Allamuchy, NJ
    Posted August 19, 2016

    Set during World War II, the story rotates between the lives of Marie—Laure and Werner—one a blind girl from France, the other a boy from Germany studying at a Hitler youth academy. As the story develops, they find their stories intertwined, both making hard decisions to survive the war. Doerr uses period details to further enhance his story, while using history as a guideline to create his own tale of what happens when two countries collide.

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  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Jesse Andrews)

    Nancy Dufour ’19, Clinton, North Carolina
    Posted August 19, 2016

    Narrated by high school senior and amateur filmmaker Greg Gaines, the book is laid out as if it were a screenplay. Although this seems like a depressing concept for a novel, Andrews’ use of colloquial language brings out a dimension of humor and allows the reader to relate to these characters as real people.

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  • Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)

    Jane Fitzpatrick ’17, Bloomsburg, PA
    Posted August 19, 2016

    A ghost story, a coming-of-age chronicle, a struggle for social equality, a tragic love legend… Wuthering Heights is all of this and more. Wuthering Heights is a tale as haunting as its own paranormal spirit. The Sisters Bronte are known for capturing the heart and soul of their readers, and this novel does not disappoint.

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  • Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House (Kathleen Grissom)

    Erin Fortunato, Blairstown, NJ
    Posted August 19, 2016

    This historical fiction novel is a follow-up to the author's previous book, The Kitchen House, which I loved and highly recommend. While Glory Over Everything takes place about 30 years before the Civil War, it offers up page-turning drama akin to what we see today among celebrities and reality stars—forbidden love, scandal and secrets. It also leads us to consider the value we place on race and the alienation, struggle and risks to which we will subject ourselves for a shot at freedom.

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  • What to Remember When Waking (David Whyte)

    Technology entrepreneur & executive Eric Katerman ’98, Berkeley, CA
    Posted August 19, 2016

    The first time I listened to What to Remember When Waking—what a pleasure!—I was hiking in the beautiful Berkeley Hills, and as I alternated between feeling lost and found, I constantly had to rewind 15 seconds to try to meditate on each word and unpack all of the meaning in Whyte's teachings and poetry. His fierce words and precise language keep drawing me back to this audiobook whenever I seek escape from routine and guidance through challenging times.

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  • My Struggle, Book 4 (Karl Ove Knausgaard)

    Penn Graves Lunger P ’17, Blair English Department
    Posted August 19, 2016

    The fourth book of this autobiographical series by Karl Ove Knausgaard straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction. I have read one book from the series for the last few years, so it has become my guilty pleasure for the past few summers.

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  • Dreaming Spies (2015) & Locked Rooms (2010) by Laurie R. King

    Holly Newcomb, Library Assistant, Blair’s Timken Library
    Posted August 19, 2016

    These two books, one the most recent offering in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, are a lot of fun. The author blends mystery, history, literary allusion and fine characterization. The series includes about a dozen full-length novels, beginning with The Bee Keeper’s Apprentice (1994), and several short stories describing the joint adventures of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. Well worth making their acquaintance.

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  • The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)

    Michael Sayers, PhD, Blair’s Science Department
    Posted August 19, 2016

    An entrancing story of a young boy's maturation through the traumas of living as a minority in a wickedly divided society, the cruelties of war at a distance and the consequences of decisions he himself makes.

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  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Patrick Süskind)

    Tys Sweeney ’17, Wilmington, New York
    Posted August 19, 2016

    A deeply disturbing yet appropriately satirical novel that traces the life of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man born in 18th-century France with an unparalleled sense of smell and ability to discern odors—even to the extreme that he can navigate in total darkness by smell alone.

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  • The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Alan Bradley)

    Caeley Tierney ’19, Allamuchy, NJ
    Posted August 19, 2016

    Following Alan Bradley’s Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the sequel entices the reader to join Flavia Sabina DeLuce, an 11-year-old chemistry genius on her adventures.

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  • White Teeth (Zadie Smith)

    Ann Williams P’12, Director, Blair’s Timken Library & History Department
    Posted August 19, 2016

    White Teeth is a timely novel that touches on all the issues that dominate the daily headlines: fundamentalism, racism, fanaticism, and the the underlying human desire for love and sense of belonging.

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