What's on Your Summer Reading List?

What's on Your Summer Reading List?

The coming of summer brings days at the beach, vacations with friends and family, barbecues – and books. Here are some of the choices Rutgers faculty and staff members will tackle with some precious reading time they can find between semesters.


Mary-Catherine Bohan, vice president of outpatient services, Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care: My book club selects titles for the calendar year and I have been very much looking forward to reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. This novel is based on the true story of Lali Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew imprisoned at Auschwitz forced to tattoo numbers on the arms of thousands of incoming prisoners. In this role, he met Gita Furman, a Slovakian girl, whom he later married. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and I anticipate that it will be more compelling as it is based on the lives of two people who survived the atrocities of Auschwitz and went on to build a life together.

Where the Crawdads Sing
 Jill Friedman, associate dean, pro bono and public interest, Rutgers Law School in Camden: My mother-in-law recommended Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, as a lush and captivating, almost magical story that revels in the natural world of marshes and birds, but with a murder mystery and some coming-of-age themes embroidered in for good measure. I don’t usually take time to savor languid writing focused on nature, but I’m hoping this supplants my scrolling through Facebook on summer evenings. It’s set in North Carolina, a part of the world I’ve never visited, so I’m hoping to construct a vision of the place through what is supposedly Owens’ exquisite writing.

Rachel Hadas, Board of Governors Professor of English, Rutgers University-Newark: In preparation for my fall 2019 "Mythology & Literature" graduate course, which is a crossover that draws from both master of arts and master of fine arts students (fiction and poetry) at Rutgers-Newark – a course the reading list of which constantly changes – I look forward to reading Pat Barker's novel The Silence of the Girls and also Madeline Miller's Circe. I have zoomed through both, but now can sit and read them. Both are distinctively female and also wise and imaginative takes on well-known stories, motifs and characters in Greek myth, particularly The Iliad (Barker) and The Odyssey (Miller), but both writers also range and reach farther.  

Martha B. Helfer, professor of German and acting chair, Department of German, Russian and East European Languages and Literatures, Rutgers University-New Brunswick: I'm an eclectic reader and am looking forward to several books this summer. For his elegant, poignant prose: Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me. For a debut novel: Tommy Orange's There There. For a fun campus novel: Julie Schumacher's The Shakespeare Requirement. And for my love of children's books: Kelly Barnhill's The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

Terri Kurtzberg, associate professor of management and global business, Rutgers Business School-Newark and New Brunswick: The book I am most excited about reading next is Circe by Madeline Miller, which, according to The New York Times, is “a bold and subversive retelling of the goddess's story that manages to be both epic and intimate in its scope, recasting the most infamous female figure from The Odyssey as a hero in her own right.” My mother highly recommended it. I gave it to my nephew, an avid student of the classics, this past winter, and he devoured it in what felt like mere minutes. Though books like this are not my typical genre, with such enthusiastic endorsements, I'm looking forward to diving in!

 Kathy Sadowsky, assistant dean, School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program, Rutgers-New Brunswick: I am looking forward to spending a lot of time reading this summer, as I start to narrow down book selections for the 2020 SAS Honors Program common read. In addition to those, I will be rereading our 2019 common read selection, The Leavers, by Lisa Ko. This novel follows the lives of its two main characters: Polly, an undocumented Chinese immigrant living in New York, and her 11-year-old son Deming. I am excited to examine with our students the themes of family, identity, race, adoption and immigration that are raised in the book in our online summer discussion and in our fall honors colloquium class.

Camilla Stevens, associate professor of Latino and Caribbean Studies and Spanish, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers-New Brunswick: The category I always enjoy reconnaissance reading to update my literature courses. I taught a new course on Latinx spoken word poetry this past semester, and the Dominican poet Elizabeth Acevedo was a big hit with my students. I’m looking forward to finally reading her award-winning novel in verse, The Poet X, which speaks to the negotiation of cultures all immigrants face with a special focus on gender.

 Anthony Tobia, Division of Consultation Psychiatry, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School: This summer I am looking forward to reading Stephen King’s IT. It is arguably the best work of fiction ever created. I readily identify with the characters and the fantasy worlds created by the author. If this wasn’t enough, the fact that King’s characters suffer from amnesia 27 years later due to their childhood experiences related to Pennywise is particularly horrifying. I read IT the summer before I left for medical school in 1992. The moment I put the book down, I realized that every year that went by, like Pennywise’s victims, I would remember less and less of my earlier experiences related to the story. I’ve come to realize that one thing potentially more terrifying than my fragmented memories is a personal anamnesis or “loss of forgetting.”  With It Chapter Two due in theaters this September, I recently contacted Stephen King and invited him to a special Grand Rounds at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School on IT and related works I use in our psychopathology curriculum. No word yet, but fingers crossed.

Nyeema C. Watson, associate chancellor for civic engagement, Rutgers University-Camden: I am most looking forward to reading, or should I say rereading, Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston. I have read this book many times over the years and have been enthralled with the main character, Janie Crawford, and Hurston as a writer since first reading the book in high school. Hurston lived life on her own terms – bold and independent – breaking norms of gender, race and love during the early 1900s, and she wrote this into Janie’s story. I believe this book is a must-read for those who wish to be liberated from society’s pre-conceived notions of how women should live their lives.


 Grace Agnew, special advisor for strategic initiatives and analytics, Rutgers University Libraries: The book I have just begun is The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect, by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie. Pearl is a leading scientist in causality and Mackenzie is a science writer who makes a complex theory that bristles with supporting equations and graphs surprisingly readable. In our nuanced, contextual world, everyone is leery of assigning cause to an effect, of claiming that anything, from the actions of the many, to the choices we make in our own lives, has an impact that can be as cataclysmic as climate change or as basic and simple as making today a better day than yesterday. 

Emily Barrett, associate professor, Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health: My summer reading list spans work, family and fun. On the work side of things, I had the pleasure of meeting new Rutgers faculty member Martin Blaser recently, and his book Missing Microbes is at the top of my list. I’m looking forward to seeing how his work on the microbiome can inform my research on how the modern environment is transforming human physiology. On the family front, I’ll be reading the novelization of the musical Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich. My tween daughter will be in a production of it this summer, and has been playing the soundtrack non-stop. To lighten things, I’ll pick up Big Sky, the latest in novelist Kate Atkinson’s series about private investigator Jackson Brodie. I’ve been a fan of Atkinson’s work for over a decade.

The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt
Stephanie Bonne, assistant professor, Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, New Jersey Medical School: As a trauma surgeon, the idea of a “summer” or a summer reading plan makes me chuckle, because summers are the busiest time of the year. I have a hard time reading fiction – not because I don’t love it, but because I rarely find I have the time to read something purely for pleasure. However, I’m looking forward to reading The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. I love history, and I have always admired her as a warrior for women and the downtrodden, and a champion for what is fair and right in the world. In these unusual political times, I’m hoping that some wisdom will shine through her work and I will be reminded of why being an advocate is important, even in tough times.

Perry Halkitis, dean, School of Public Health: Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity by Michael Kinch is a compelling examination of the science of immunity, the public policy implications of vaccine denial, and the real-world outcomes of failing to vaccinate. This book is especially timely as we are seeing an unprecedented rate of preventable infectious diseases, like measles. I’m also looking forward to  the publication of Out in Time, my new book, which comes out this month just ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. It documents the personal histories of gay men who came out across three modern time periods (Stonewall, AIDS, and Queer), showcasing how radically distinct social and political contexts changed the coming-out experience. 

 Oscar Holmes IV, assistant professor of management, Rutgers-Camden: One book I’m particularly interested in reading this summer is Boundaries of Love: Interracial Marriage and the Meaning of Race by Chinyere Osuji. The book interrogates the myriad reasons why couples date interracially and the challenges they face. Osuji juxtaposes the experiences of Brazilian and Los Angeles interracial couples, ultimately answering the questions of how these couples navigate the “us” vs. “them” ethnic boundaries. In addition to the fact that the book is being written by my friend and Rutgers-Camden sociology colleague, I’m looking forward to reading it because I love research that answers questions about couples and investigates issues of racism from a cross-cultural perspective.

Sharlene Joseph-Brown, senior administrative assistant to the dean, School of Nursing-Camden: I will reread Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider. This book has been life-changing for me. It is a passionate plea for social justice, humanity and humility, and Sider calls us to share love for the poor and to be change. There is still so much I can learn and want to learn, and this book is still relevant today.

 John Keene, chair, African American and African Studies (AAAS), professor of English and AAAS faculty, Rutgers-Newark: There are numerous books I'm looking forward to reading, but if I must pick one, I'd say it's Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval, by Saidiya Hartman. Hartman’s newest masterpiece constructs the lives of black women – and more broadly, black people and America – through subtle, creative readings into and through the scant archive of photographs, writings and other materials that exists in the period between the end of chattel slavery and Reconstruction, and the Modernist era of the 1920s and 1930s. Hartman, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, has modeled new ways of undertaking humanities research in her prior work, and this new book appears to follow in that revelatory direction.

Suzanne Piotrowski, associate professor, School of Public Affairs and Administration, Rutgers-Newark: The top of my summer reading list is Administrative Burden: Policymaking by Other Means by Pamela Herd and Donald Moynihan. The authors tackle the issue of bureaucracy, confusing paperwork and complex regulations. They explain how this trifecta can lead to delay and frustrations when dealing with government agencies. They find that these administrative burdens disproportionately affect individuals who lack the resources to navigate these obstacles. This topic is timely and important, and the book is quickly becoming an instant classic in the field.

 Jason Rivera, vice chancellor for Student Academic Success, Rutgers-Camden: One of the books I am looking forward to reading is Dare to Lead by Brené Brown, who has spent 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Dare to Lead, her most recent book, is described as “the ultimate playbook for developing brave leaders and courageous cultures,” two important concepts in the student success movement. Engaging in the work of dismantling systemic and institutional barriers to student academic success requires bravery, honest conversations, and a commitment to caring for students that I believe one develops when taking the journey inward and deeply understanding how to be courageous and vulnerable. This book promises an opportunity for that deep inward exploration.

Mark Gregory Robson, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Plant Biology, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers-New Brunswick:  Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante or in English: The Physiology of Taste, which was published in 1825. I bought a copy of the 1949 English translation that was translated by food writer and critic M. F. K. Fisher. I have been teaching a class with Bill Hallman in human ecology for several years, and I have also been teaching a senior colloquium for many years. I decided to read the book after referring to one of the book’s most famous quotes by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, which is roughly translated, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.”  Brillat-Savarin was a politician, attorney and food critic whose quotes are still applicable today, and his writing is captivating.

Patricia Roos, professor, Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers-New Brunswick: I’m writing a memoir about grief and resilience in the age of the opioid epidemic. I plan to reread my favorite book on the epidemic, Maia Szalavitz’s Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction. While documenting her own story of addiction, Szalavitz offers a new approach, moving beyond the tired arguments about choice vs. chronic brain disease to a model of addiction as a learning disorder. I’m drawn to memoirs and novels about strong, resilient women dealing with tragedy, so I’m also looking forward to reading historian Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason. I already like the sarcasm inherent in her title and am intrigued to see how she integrates personal memoir with historical insights. 

Sam Starnes, editor, Rutgers-Camden Magazine: I’m looking forward to reading Jersey Joe Walcott: A Boxing Biography by James Curl. Walcott was born and lived in Camden County and won the World Heavyweight Championship in 1951 at the age of 37. His fighting style and flamboyant footwork influenced a young Muhammad Ali. After retiring from boxing, Walcott served in a number of civic positions and was elected sheriff of Camden County in 1974, a political victory that made him the first African-American elected to a countywide office. A number of Walcott’s relatives have graduated from Rutgers-Camden, including his grandson Vincent Cream, Class of 1983, whom I profiled in Rutgers-Camden Magazine. Walcott’s biography will be featured in a panel at the Collingswood Book Festival on Saturday, Oct. 5.