Summer Reading for 2017

What are you reading?

This is a question we love to ask, and answer.

In a conversation with my seven-year-old recently, I casually but deliberately mentioned that there are books about any question you could possibly ask.

“You mean there are books about where the first seeds came from, and who planted them?” she immediately replied. She was incredulous.

Yes, there are so many books. More than we’ll ever read in one lifetime. And isn’t that wonderful!?

Every summer we indulge ourselves in the fun of sharing some book recommendations with you. Here is our list for summer 2017, though these books will hold there own into 2018 and beyond. Enjoy!

Summer Reading List from the WHC Staff

CARMELO: I am currently reading Joshua Hammer’s The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts. Hammer’s book tells the story of a multi-generational group of librarians, antiquarians, and scholars who have taken on the mission of scouting the region of what is now Mali, to buy up ancient Islamic texts of Timbuktu from remote villages, over a period expanding several generations. To put the story in its proper context, Hammer recounts the rich cultural and intellectual history of the ancient city of Timbuktu as one of the centers of scholarship and literary production of the Islamic world during the Middle Ages.

The protagonist of Hammer’s story is Abdel Kader Haidara, an educated man from the village of Sankoré, who follows his father in the family crusade to collect and protect of the fine manuscripts of Timbuktu’s golden era, from their likely nefarious fate in the hands of contemporary jihadist groups in the region. Hammer’s book brings to light the complex, dialectical history of Islam in Africa and the Middle East, as a civilization that has witnessed both the historical development of Islamic intellectual enlightenment and the eventual spread of religious extremism in the region. This book provides a rich and complex picture of Islamic society that contrast the simplistic, one-dimensional image we often get from the region in the media.

DENA: If you are looking for some light summer reading, my recommendation won’t help.  But if you are looking for a novel that is hard to put down, although challenging to pick up — it weighs in at over 600 pages — I highly recommend Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. 

Matterhorn is rightly being hailed as one of the most important works about the Vietnam war.  This painfully vivid work by a decorated Marine veteran is set in mountainous jungle near the DMZ where a company of young white and black Marines, some working class and some more privileged, are told to take a hilltop and fortify it, only to be given orders to desert it as soon as the grueling and deadly work done.  And then they are ordered to take it again.  A complex portrait of men and of war, Matterhorn still haunts me.  It feels both terribly real and consequential.

MEG: I’m reading Historic Waterways – Six hundred miles of canoeing down the Rock, Fox and Wisconsin Rivers (1888) by Reuben Gold Thwaites. Thwaites, an early leader of the State Historical Society and editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, was the husband of my great, great aunt Jessie Inwood Turvill Thwaites. She accompanied him on the journeys described in this book. For a long time I’ve been toying with retracing Thwaites’ travels on Wisconsin rivers to revisit the history of then to now. When I picked up the book on May 23, 2017, the first lines I read stated that they embarked May 23, 1887 from the south shore of Second Lake (Turville Point on Lake Monona). It describes an alien Madison landscape and near pristine natural environment. What changes 130 years have wrought! I felt inspired. A few friends have stepped up with offers to help me do this, so reading the book has kind of turned into a research project.

I’m also reading a The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by another Wisconsin author, Patrick Rothfuss. This short fantasy focuses on a character from his Kingkiller Chronicles series.

JESSICA: I’m reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. It is the story of two girls growing up in the same household in Charleston, SC in the 1800s. Sarah is one of ten children of wealthy land-owners. She aspires to be a lawyer and abhors slavery. For her 11th birthday, she is given a slave girl her own age as her personal maidservant and told she may no longer read or study. The chapters alternate between the perspectives of these two girls, living under the same roof and suffering the pains of limitation, loss, and loneliness in such different forms. The mental and physical abuses of slavery are made vivid, as is the suffering a young woman who is left without purpose when her marriage options fizzle. I like the way the author parallels these tragedies and leaves the reader to grapple with the ways these two spirited women play out the hands they are dealt. The story, based on the real life of abolitionist Sarah Moore Grimke, is written in the highly readable style Sue Monk Kidd is known for, making this a great summer read.

GAIL: I am really excited to delve into Scott Turow’s new spy book, Testimony, after meeting him at the Madison Public Library Foundation event in May.  Turow is known as the master of a courtroom drama. His latest book is set in Bosnia instead of his usual setting of Kindle County, Illinois.  The story is about an American prosecutor who investigates a refugee camp’s mystifying disappearance. He is tapped by the International Criminal Court—an organization charged with prosecuting crimes about humanity—to bring justice to those who murdered hundreds of innocent gypsies and children.  He sets out to find those responsible and make them pay. Scott Turow continues to be “one of the major writers in American” (NPR) and I relish reading this international thriller in the weeks ahead. 

SHAWN: I’m reading This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, a collection of essays by Ann Patchett. As a participant in a long-term marriage, I was drawn by the title because when do we ever hear about happy marriages other than on the golden anniversary page of the local paper? Happy marriages make for humdrum novels and movies, so writers rely on a backdrop of deceit and subterfuge to interest readers and viewers. In Patchett’s title essay, chronic sequential divorces from generation to generation forms the framework here. The other essays are on subjects far and wide. They shine with insight from the author’s life and whims beyond marriage (like her relationship with her dogs and her feelings about RVs).

Wait, wait! Do you want more recommendations?

Our 2016 list!


Our 2015 & 2014 lists!


Our most recent Grant Awards

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