Summer Reading: Staff Picks for 2015


Last year we shared with you our Staff Picks for Summer Reading. It was a fun and diverse list. And it generated a lively conversation, as well as a robust reading list, among friends and board members.

So once again we have been talking about what we are reading. The following recommendations are, of course, incomplete and somewhat off-the-cuff. Still, we hope it provides some inspiration. And we’d love to hear what books you are talking about these days!


Gail Kohl: I enjoyed reading Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan. This is an historical novel and love story about Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Ten years his junior, the lively Scotsman falls in love with an independent “belle Americaine.” Their love story spans the decades and the globe. You are in for a wonderful ride!

Shoshauna Schey: I’ve just finished reading the latest collection of poems titled Nameless Boy by Douglas Goetsch. Personable and personal, this poet has an engaging conversational tone for whatever topic his voice touches. He’s one of my favorite contemporary poets, and this is his 7th collection.

Mark Livengood: I finished this season’s baseball book, A Summer Up North: Henry Aaron and the Legend of Eau Claire Baseball, before the All-Star break, so now I’m onto Young Men and Fire, a book by Norman Maclean about the 1949 Mann Gulch forest fire in Montana. 

Dena Wortzel: Commuting isn’t something you usually look forward to, but I found myself happy to get in the car recently thanks to a recording of Carson McCullers’ first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.  Set in a mill town in 1930s Georgia, the book revolves around five very different characters:  a girl coming of age in her parents’ boarding house, a drifter would-be agitator, a doctor fiercely devoted to uplifting his fellow African Americans, and a mute who becomes the confidante of all of them.  Poverty and racism are more than a backdrop to the novel.  Their effect on the characters’ lives is profound, believable, and often wrenching.  If you love beautifully crafted fiction that transports you to another time and place, and opens you up to lives quite different from your own, this is a novel you’ll be glad you read.

Jesse Gant: I’ve been reading James Longhurst, Bike Battles: A History of Sharing the American Road. James Longhurst is a Historian at UW-La Crosse (a Wisconsin author!) and his book is one of the first to look at the legislative history of bicycling in the United States. It covers the full sweep—from the very first laws that regulated what exactly the “road” is or isn’t in British common law, on down to more recent efforts to decide where and why bikes belong.

I also heartily recommend Emily Lutenski’s West of Harlem: African American Writers and the Borderlands, which presents a view of the Harlem Renaissance from the American West. I love this book for many reasons, but am so thankful for the way it has helped me better understand  and appreciate such writers as Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Anita Scott Coleman, Arna Bontemps, Jean Toomer, and so many more.

Jessica Becker: I’ve recommended Women in Clothes written and edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton to more people (ok, all women) in the past month than any I can remember. Why? It defies description, and any attempt at a description might not convince you it is worth your time, but it is. The introduction alone is worth reading. It’s a conversation started by one woman (Sheila Heti) about how to figure out how to know how to dress. She admits to never having thought about it until she did, and then she went looking for a book with lessons or tips. She says she found nothing. The result of her inquiry is a completely entertaining, insightful, and self-reflective conversation with 639 people, addressing questions like “ARE THERE ANY CLOTHING (OR RELATED) ITEMS THAT YOU HAVE IN MULTIPLE? WHY DO YOU THINK YOU KEEP BUYING THIS THING?,” and “CAN YOU SAY A BIT ABOUT HOW YOUR MOTHER’S BODY AND STYLE HAS BEEN PASSED DOWN TO YOU, OR NOT?,” and “WAS THERE A POINT IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOUR STYLE CHANGED DRAMATICALLY? WHAT HAPPENED?” In addition to the answers to such questions (and many more) are quirky things, like a little section of fifteen photo-copied pictures of hands with short commentary from their owners, who work together in a newspaper office, about their rings.  This is a great (humanities) book!

What are you reading?

Leave a comment, post to facebook, let us know what you are reading this summer!


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