Summer Reading Recs from Detroit Mercy English

Each summer, the Detroit Mercy English Department offers reading recommendations for the season of rest and relaxation. We hope you find time to curl up, stretch out, and read a whole stack of good books. Leave your own recs in the comments!

Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS

Stephen Pasqualina, Assistant Professor

“An equal parts experimental and political poetry collection written as a direct response to the “Apology to Native Peoples” in the 2010 U.S. defense appropriations bill. In her response, Long Soldier, an Oglala Lakota poet, appropriates and reimagines the language of the federal government’s apology for its ‘long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies … regarding Indian tribes.'”

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake

Liz Lulis, Adjunct Faculty

“Lahiri details the trials of understanding who we are against our backgrounds, our experiences, our parents, and our childhoods.  A family from Calcutta migrate to America and try to find the balance in shaping their home and children to be both Indian and American.  Their son Gogol searches for answers he thinks will change the trajectory of his life, or at bare minimum, find contentment.”

The short stories of Carol Emshwiller, especially “Pelt.” 

Stacy Gnall, Poet-in-Residence and Adjunct Faculty

“Emshwiller’s work is lyrical, “avant garde,” feminist sci-fi from the mid-twentieth century. A newer discovery for me, she belongs more solidly in the canon.”

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See

Mary-Catherine Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair

“This novel follows the crossing paths of two children in WWII Occupied France–Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, and Werner, a German boy. It is beautifully written and haunting. I read it several years ago on a trip through southern Europe, so it transports me, doubly, through time and space.”

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun

Nick Rombes, Professor

“The story of Klara, an Artificial Friend (AF) hired to be friends with an ailing girl. But this is Ishiguro, and so it’s about so much more than that! The book’s meanings unfold gradually and culminate in a remarkable ending.”

John Williams’ Stoner

Heather Hill, Professor

“This novel is so beautifully written. It is focused with precision, depth, and understated passion on its main character, William Stoner. At first, Stoner seems like an American success story – overcoming a very poor background to become a college professor. Yet, as his life proceeds, the novel becomes a deeply moving study of the painful progression of how we define success–perhaps especially in American culture. It is an amazing, deeply moving book.”

The poetry of Tina Chang

Stacy Gnall, Poet-in-Residence and Adjunct Faculty

“Especially check out her poem “Lion” which appeared as a March 2022 Poem-a-Day on the Academy of American Poets website. I wish that I had written this piece myself, which I’ve always considered the highest praise.”

Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life

Erin Bell, Adjunct Faculty and Assistant Director for Educational Development at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

“This beautifully-written novel explores how the small moments in our lives can lead to an infinite number of possibilities. Atkinson’s protagonist, Ursula Todd dies and is reborn again (and again) as major 20the century events unfold around her.”

Richard Powers’s The Overstory

Lauren Rinke, Adjunct Faculty and Director of the Writing Center

“A beautiful tribute to nature and the magic of trees! This novel features several multi-generational timelines woven together… a story about listening to our inner voice, appreciating the natural world, and joining forces to preserve something bigger than us. “

Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments

Rosemary Weatherston, Associate Professor

“The sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Moves in unexpected and satisfying directions.”

Zora Neale Hurston’s You Don’t Know Us Negroes

Stephen Pasqualina, Assistant Professor

“A new collection of essays by the Harlem Renaissance icon and “Genius of the South,” Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston is best known as a novelist (especially of Their Eyes Were Watching God). Her essays are only recently gaining wider acclaim. This collection includes some previously unpublished/out of print gems: “Art and Such” (on the expectations placed on Black artists), “What White Publishers Won’t Print,” and Hurston’s coverage of the Ruby McCollum murder trial. This collection is punchy, political, controversial, and clever.”

Rebecca Solnit’s Recollections of My Nonexistence

Amanda Hiber, Senior Lecturer

“If you love Rebecca Solnit, this is a look behind the curtain, where and how that brilliant mind might have sprouted. The memoir’s interiority reminds me of Patti Smith’s M Train but is more cerebral than sensual–and shot through with Solnit’s trademark feminist analysis.”

Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air

Liz Lulis, Adjunct Faculty

“Perhaps the most beautiful memoir I have ever read, Kalanithi is a neurosurgeon battling terminal cancer. The emphasis is placed upon understanding how we construct our lives when dealing with death.  His journey is both philosophically reflective and objectively scientific–simply sublime.”

Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things: Essays

Nick Rombes, Professor

Cole’s essays and photos are so sharp and memorable and it’s a great book for dipping into at random.”

Rachel Kushner’s Telex from Cuba: A Novel

Erin Bell, Adjunct Faculty and Assistant Director for Educational Development at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

“I really enjoyed the sense of place and space in this novel as well as the multiple narrative threads. Kushner explores the complexities of colonialism’s end in Cuba through the eyes of numerous characters.”

Karan Mahajan’s The Association of Small Bombs

Amanda Hiber, Senior Lecturer

“This amazing novel centers around a 1996 terrorist bombing in Delhi, India. The reader sees the before, during, and after of the attack through the eyes of a victim’s father, a survivor, and the bombing’s mastermind.”

Ben Mcintyre’s Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy 

Rebecca Tull (our English librarian!)

“I’m not usually drawn to spy stories, but this one, drawn from the subject’s diaries, correspondence and interviews with her two adult sons, was fascinating. It’s the story of German-born Ursula Hamburger, who goes on to become a Communist, secret agent, and colonel in the Red Army, living in China, the Soviet Union, and England, among other places, all while married and raising children. Ethical questions aside, how the subject could have kept the details of her life straight – not to mention secret – is completely beyond me!”

Angus Fletcher’s Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature

Rosemary Weatherston, Associate Professor

“We might not normally think of literature as a “technology,” but this book is a fascinating look at literary innovations like through the lens of the story science. From the book description: ‘Wonderworks reviews the blueprints for twenty-five of the most powerful developments in the history of literature. These inventions can be scientifically shown to alleviate grief, trauma, loneliness, anxiety, numbness, depression, pessimism, and ennui—all while sparking creativity, courage, love, empathy, hope, joy, and positive change.'”

Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate

Megan Novell, Adjunct Faculty and Interim Title IX Director

“The queen of all interwar British comic novels, Love in a Cold Climate is smart, light, and super funny.  Tell me you don’t hyperventilate at the chubb fuddling scene.”

Veronica Raimo’s The Girl at the Door

Heather Hill, Professor

“Told from the alternating perspectives of the two individuals involved in a romantic relationship and tinged with dystopian elements—the couple has moved to a country which has reinvented the rules of how people should live, work, and socialize with one another—this novel explores what happens when both the couple’s relationship as well as this alternative, utopia-seeking society are challenged by the misdeeds of the male half of the couple.”

Claude Steel’s Whistling Vivaldi

Mary-Catherine Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair

Whistling Vivaldi is one of my favorite pieces of academic research written for a general audience. Dr. Steele’s work changed how I understand the cognitive toll of stereotypes, what he calls stereotype threat.”

Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet

Heather Hill, Professor

“I just love this book—full of depth and texture, and plants and herbs, and disruptive women and, yes, Shakespeare but Shakespeare from a wonderfully different and revealing angle. ” (Prof. Harrison seconds this recommendation!)

Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox 

Michael Barry, Professor

“Maggie O’Farrell makes the list twice!”

Ronald Takaki’s Strangers From A Different Shore

Megan Novell, Adjunct Faculty and Interim Title IX Director

“This history of Asian Americans is excellent.”

Oliver Sacks’s An Anthropologist on Mars

Michael Barry, Professor

“Essays by a neuroscientist, full of stories. I just read most of Musicophilia and really liked it, but it reminded me of how much I was intrigued by this earlier work.”

Andre Alexis’ s Fifteen Dogs

Rebecca Tull, English librarian

“Hermes and Apollo meet up at a pub in Toronto and speculate about how dogs would behave if given human intelligence. A wager and events at a nearby veterinary clinic drive the ensuing story. I can still remember that pit-in-my-stomach feeling as the short allegory unfolds.” 

Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars

Lauren Rinke, Adjunct Faculty and Director of the Writing Center

“Not your typical post-apocalyptic story. The story of a pilot, his dog, and the strangers surrounding him, and how they manage to survive a devastating sickness and recognize the remaining beauty in the world. Equal parts musings on human nature, gratitude, simple pleasures, and plenty of action, too!”

Happy reading, and don’t forget to support your local library or bookseller!

2 thoughts on “Summer Reading Recs from Detroit Mercy English

  1. Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham
    Talk about alternative history—what if Hillary had never married Bill? Wow. Reading this is frustrating, suggestive, and puts a whole new spin on the phrase “who knows what might have been?”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I will second Heather Hill’s recommendation for Stoner. The caption on my copy says it best: “The Greatest Novel You’ve Never Read.” I will also second Mary-Catherine’s recommendation for All The Light We Cannot See. I read my copy while studying in Los Angeles several summers ago. I was immediately catapulted into war-torn Europe. A great list, overall!

    Liked by 1 person

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