UCSC Currents online

Front Page Accolades
Classified Ads
Making The News
Take Note

July 3, 2000

Need a good summer read? The experts have some tips

By Barbara McKenna

Summer wouldn't be summer without certain things: barbecues, beach outings, mosquito bites, and, of course, a great book or two to get lost in. For those who are still searching for that perfect read, UCSC faculty and staff have some recommendations (after all, we know a lot about books around here).


Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (Doubleday, 1971; Modern Library, 2000). A retired professor imagines the experiences of his grandparents as he pieces together their pioneer life in San Jose, Santa Cruz, Colorado, Idaho, and finally Nevada City. As he interprets the traces they left behind in an abundant collection of letters, sketches, reportages, and photographs, glossed by his own memories, he has painful realizations about the likely reality of their interior lives as well as his own.
--Janet Jones, Assistant, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat (Soho, 1994). A luminous book that explores a Haitian woman's relationship with her mother, and moves between the Haiti of her childhood and New York. Very powerful.
--Patricia Zavella, Professor of Community Studies

Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx (Scribner's, 1999). It's fantastic--a short story collection that captures the essence of the West. Each one different, each one a gem.
--Sandra Faber, University Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (various publishers; originally published in French in 1844). This is not great literature, but it is a great read. It's more than just a melodramatic story of personal revenge, although it is that, but it's chiefly a novel of manners: pages, for example, on the differences between how audiences behave at the opera in Rome and in Paris. --Gary Miles, Professor of History

Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig (Atheneum, 1987). A chronicle of western pioneering, this is a vivid account of the glorious dreams and harsh realities of two untried but highly principled young Scots who settle in the Two Medicine area of western Montana in the late 1800s--one as a sheep rancher, the other as a schoolteacher. Doig follows his protagonists, who sail away in steerage from unpromising futures as apprentice wheelwrights in a poor, muddy village, to the wild, raw, open-sky foothills of the Rockies. This page-turner tells the compelling story of their friendship and enmity, of frustrated love, and a mismatched marriage, through four decades of western history.
--Janet Jones, Assistant, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester (Henry Holt, 1996). A great summer read: funny, quirky and intellectually satisfying. Part Don Quixote, part Martha Stewart gone mad. The narrator embarks on writing a great work of art, a cookbook. The mix of ingredients, however, create instead an offbeat, neurotic, and snobbish mix of philosophy, travelogue, gastronomy, and mischief. I never get tired of reading excerpts of this hilarious book to friends.
--Martin Wollesen, Director, Arts & Lectures

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee (Secker & Warburg, 1999; Viking, 1999). A South African writer. This book won the Booker Prize in 1999. A university professor lost in postmodern South Africa. Bleak but brilliant.
--Paul Whitworth, Professor of Theater Arts and Shakespeare Santa Cruz Artistic Director

The Hours by Michael Cunningham (Picador, 2000). A beautifully conceived novel by Pulitzer Prize-winner Cunningham. Sensitively and finely written as an homage to Virginia Woolf and, more than that, a stunning meditation on the strength of art as well as the ordinary to give meaning to the fragility of life. You need not have read any Virginia Woolf to appreciate this wonderful novel.
--Martin Wollesen, Director, Arts & Lectures

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki (Viking, 1998). A brilliant novel about meat, about being half, about domestic violence, about reproductive choices and impositions, about cultures, about hormones, about race, and about a lot more.
--Gwendolyn Mink, Professor of Politics

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki. This is an amazing first novel by a documentary filmmaker. I don't get to read enough fiction--this book I could not put down.
--Chip Lord, Professor of Film and Digital Media

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (William Morrow, 1994). About 12th-century life and the building of a cathedral and monastery, based in part on Salisbury and Canterbury Cathedrals and the chaos surrounding King Stephen's rule in England. Although I found most of his history believable, political and social historians find it fairly awry. It's a good read in any case.
--Virginia Jansen, Professor of Art History

Plainsong by Kent Haruf (Knopf, 1999). Life stories of a multigenerational community on the Great Plains of northeastern Colorado. Classic literary style and heartfelt stories.
--Connie Creel, Linguistics Research Assistant

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (translated by Carol Brown Janeway) (Vintage, 1999). Set in postwar Germany, the story is told by a 15-year-old boy who falls in love with an older woman. She resurfaces later in his life when she is a defendant in a war crimes trial who is accused of an unspeakable crime. Beautifully written. Winner of Boston Book Review's Fisk Fiction Prize.
--Connie Creel, Linguistics Research Assistant

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (St. Martin's Press, 1997). It's the biblical story of Dinah (the only daughter of Jacob) retold from the female point of view. It was one of those books that I couldn't put down for two days until I finished it.
--Leta Miller, Professor of Music

Remembering Babylon by David Malouf (Vintage, 1994). Malouf is an acclaimed Australian novelist and essayist, and his novel deals with the ways in which race happened in Australia--specifically through the eyes of a fictional young white lad who is raised by Aborigines, then seeks to return to "his people." Wonderfully written, thoughtful, and thought-provoking, it's just the thing for summer.
--Terry Burke, Professor of History

The Romantics by Pankaj Mishra (Random House, 2000). A novel about a poor Brahmin student in Benares who gets entangled in two widely different social worlds: the western expatriate community and Indian student radicals. During this time, the protagonist also attempts to plow his way through the corpus of western literature, and his thoughts on how these people think and act are framed around the writings of Gustave Flaubert and Edmund Wilson.
--Melanie DuPuis, Assistant Professor of Sociology

The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe (first published in 1929). A fictional account of the life of a doctor based loosely on the author's own life. Munthe was a very popular doctor at the beginning of the 20th century who worked during the great plague pandemic in Naples, and who eventually built a house (San Michele) in Capri.
--Giacomo Bernardi, Assistant Professor of Biology

The mystery series by Donna Leon. Her novels take place in Venice, have a very attractive cast of leading characters, and often focus on political issues such as the failure of the Italian government to adequately control the dumping of toxic waste due to vast political corruption. These novels are literate, fun to read, sometimes disturbing--also hard to get in the U.S.
--Gary Miles, Professor of History

The Catherine LeVendeur series by Sharan Newman (Forge). Death Comes as Epiphany (1993), The Devil's Door (1994), The Wandering Arm (1995), Strong As Death (1996), Cursed in the Blood (1998). The "detective" is Catherine LeVendeur, who starts out as a novice at the convent run by Heloise (of Medieval Abelard and Heloise fame). So far, volumes have to do with Abbot Suger who is building St. Denis (that's a true historical part) and Medieval life in Paris and northern France. I find that they are lots of fun and enjoy a bit of "lite" history, knowing the author isn't distorting, as she is a serious historian.
--Virginia Jansen, Professor of Art History

Steven Saylor's mystery series. Each book focuses on a real historical event that took place during the late Republic of ancient Rome and follows the main lines of our historical knowledge very closely. These books try to re-create the minds of ancient Romans, to imagine the personal relationships between masters and slaves, between free Roman men and their freedwomen wives, between patrons and clients. I think these books do a good job of putting flesh on the bones of ancient evidence.
--Gary Miles, Professor of History


Against the Gods, The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter Bernstein (John Wiley & Sons, 1996). This is an amazing book that ties philosophy, mathematics, religion, investing, and risk assessment all together in a very readable way. It also gives very interesting perspectives on the history of science.
--Todd Wipke, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry

The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility by Stewart Brand (Basic Books, 1999). Brand writes a proposal for a monumental clock, really a public artwork, that thinks long-term--it strikes once a century--as a way of reshaping ideas of time and responsibility. The book is a series of short essays that expand on this theme. Stewart Brand is a good writer and a visionary thinker.
--Chip Lord, Professor of Film and Digital Media

The Code Book: The Evolution of Secrecy from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Quantum Cryptography by Simon Singh (Doubleday, 1999). A readable, clear history of codes and ciphers, from ancient days to the WW II Enigma machine (featured in the movie U-571) to the latest in electronic cryptography. Even the nonmathematical will enjoy the stories and the cryptographic challenges in this book.
--Nirvikar Singh (no relation), Professor of Economics

The Dons: Mentors, Eccentrics, and Geniuses by Noel Annan (University of Chicago Press, 1999). The book offers fascinating portraits of British professors from the Victorian era to the present. The late Noel Annan was a brilliant storyteller as well as a great intellectual historian, and his last book is a pleasure to read.
--Bruce Thompson, Lecturer in History

Floreana: A Woman's Pilgrimage to the Galapagos by Margret Wittmer (Moyer Bell, 1990). Mrs. Wittmer recounts the story of her life, how she ended up with her husband and son in the 1930s in one of the most remote islands of the Galapagos, living the life of true "natural" people.
--Giacomo Bernardi, Assistant Professor of Biology

The Greek Achievement: The Foundations of the Western World by Charles Freeman (Viking, 1999). At last there is a really good book on Greek history that is accessible to the nonspecialist, well-written, and very up-to-date in its scholarship. I recommend it highly to anyone who wants a good, readable overview of ancient Greek history.
--Gary Miles, Professor of History

I Wish I'd Made You Angry Earlier: Essays on Science, Scientists, and Humanity by Max Perutz (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 1998). A collection of essays from Nobel Laureate Perutz, exploring a range of topics on both science and his own life, including the story of one woman's love affair with crystals, a man's gruesome fascination with poison gas, his internment in the U.K. as an enemy alien, and his involvement in a plan to create ships out of ice for refueling aircraft in the North Atlantic during WW II.
--William Scott, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War, edited by Anthony Arnove (South End Press, 2000). A documentation of the impact of a decade of sanctions by the U.S. and the U.K. against Iraq.
--William Scott, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry

The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods by Julia Butterfly Hill (Harper San Francisco, 2000). This is by and about the woman who sat up in the redwood tree for two years to try to stop some of the clearcutting going on just north of us. I was struck by the power, dedication, and presence of this young woman, which stayed steady through time, through physical harassment, El Niño storms, and international attention. I was also struck by how much effect one dedicated person can have on the course of events. She started with almost no resources beyond a strong desire and religious foundations. It is not particularly well-written, but the story is gripping and quite moving.
--Richard Montgomery, Associate Professor of Mathematics

The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto "Che" Guevara, translated by Ann Wright (Verso Books, 1995). A journal begun in 1951 when Che and a friend traveled around South America on a Norton 500. The motorcycle didn't last very long, but the trip was an important formative experience for the emerging revolutionary. A great biker read with some history and social studies that elevate the book beyond the average.
--Rick Ortenblad, Lecturer in Theater Arts

Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence by John Hockenberry (Hyperion, 1995). Hockenberry is an Emmy-award winning reporter who is confined to a wheelchair. He describes his adventures as a disabled person in a candid tone that is at times hilarious and at other times challenges your ideas of what it means to be disabled.
--Karen Holl, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies

My Own Country: A Doctor's Story by Abraham Verghese (Random House/Vintage, 1995). An eloquent memoir by a compassionate doctor about his 1980s AIDS practice in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. Born in Ethiopia to expatriate Indian teachers and trained in medicine in India and the U.S., Verghese understands the yearning for a true home, and that understanding becomes central to his doctoring.
--Sarah Rabkin, Lecturer in Writing and Environmental Studies

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester (Harper Perennial, 1999). A great tale of the making of the first Oxford English Dictionary along with murder and insanity.
--Tricia Sullivan, Lecturer in Linguistics

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1998; Vintage Books, 1999). The story of the shipwreck in 1857 of a sidewheel steamship carrying 21 tons of gold and the salvage effort led in 1989 by Tommy Thompson. I thought it one of best I've read recently, particularly as it describes, in a wonderfully rich context, the kind of scientist/engineer we would naturally encourage amongst our students at UCSC.
--Peter Scott, Professor Emeritus of Physics

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (Noonday/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997). An evenhanded and fascinating inquiry into the cultural collision that ensues when a Hmong immigrant family in Merced, California, bring their infant daughter to the local hospital for epilepsy treatment.
--Sarah Rabkin, Lecturer in Writing and Environmental Studies

Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit (Viking, 2000). An insightful history full of social insights and analysis of what has been lost with the dominance of the automobile in American life. The last chapter describes a walk from the center of Las Vegas out to the distant foothills.
--Chip Lord, Professor of Film and Digital Media

Return to Front Page

  Maintained by pioweb@cats