I had no time for recreational reading during First Year. I was lucky if I could snatch a few paragraphs of a NY Times story once a week. Novels? Forget about ’em.
So this summer it’s been a joy to read what I want again. I’ve been plowing through books, some good, some bad. Here’s a look at my summer reading list (rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best).
And since I’m always looking for recommendations, please send me yours!
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
I feel like the last educated person on the planet who hadn’t read this book about our modern food system and all of its woes. So when I heard two Darden students say this year that it was one of the best books of the decade, I decided it was time for me to crack it.
In short, I loved it. I wish I had something more original to say, but I’m probably going to echo everyone else who raved about the book. Pollan is a great writer who makes it easy to follow his research, so the actual act of reading is a pleasure.
Which is a good thing because the content is disturbing. When I think about the fact that so much of our food system is powered by corn — and all the problems that has created — it makes me want to opt out of the regular food chain and buy chicken and eggs from Polyface Farm in Swoope, Va. I realize that’s not a practical option now, but it does make me think that we all need to start pushing for systemic change.
And it also made me feel not-at-all guilty about not eating organic!
How to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo
This is my guilty chick lit summer splurge. Its author was a story editor for “Sex & the City” and co-authored the bluntest relationship book of all time, “He’s Just Not That Into You.” So I thought at least it would be funny.
It wasn’t. It’s the story of a 38-year-old New York City woman who, after seeing her single-and-desperate friends at their worst, decides to take off on a round the world trip to find out how women are single in other countries. But instead of being a smart, funny travelogue, the book was a collection of glaring stereotypes and bitter reflections on singledom. It was depressing as hell.
My fun and funny beach read ended up being a complete bummer.
Too Big To Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin
The shear size of this book make me wonder if I’d ever get through it. But Sorkin’s tale of how the banks and the government responded to the collapsing financial markets read like Wall Street’s gossip column. For the first time I was able to see Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner, Jamie Dimon, Dick Fuld and Lloyd Blankfein as people.
Slightly terrifying was the realization that a lot of the deals (failed and successful) during that crucial period lived and died on personal relationships and leaders’ ability to communicate. It makes all those Leading Organizations classes we take at Darden seem all that much more important. A few Wall Street CEOs and Washington officials could probably use a refresher.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
This novel about a Nigerian girl and an English family caught my attention with its first line: “Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl.”
Any book with a first line like that has to be good, I thought. And, luckily, I was right.
It’s the story of Little Bee, a Nigerian girl who comes to England under very difficult circumstances. Her life is tied to an English family there and she soon bursts into their world.
Cleave’s characters are all-encompassing and their voices ring true. His story is painful and insightful at the same time, and it manages to say something about the state of our world without slapping the reader over the head with it. I’ve found that the hardest thing for a writer to do is simeltaneously write well and plot well. It’s usually one or the other. Cleave, like one of my other favorite writers Michael Chabon, manages to do both.
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph Ellis
Caveat: I’m only 2/3 of the way through this one but already I’m loving it. It’s six short stories about the leaders of the American Revolution. Ellis tells stories that all of us have heard at one point (the Hamilton-Burr duel, Washington’s resignation) and fleshes them out with all the context and background they didn’t give you in history class.
As a result, I feel like I have a fuller understanding of what conflicts and fears plagued the young America and how these leaders tackled them in completely different ways. So far it’s left me with a pretty hearty appreciation of George Washington and John Adams and more than a little contempt for Thomas Jefferson. Which is odd since this is required reading for a reading seminar I’m taking on Jefferson in the fall!