For most of the last 20 years (with a few exceptions), the Herald-Tribune has invited faculty, administrators and staff at New College of Florida to recommend books that had a particular impact on them during the past year.
Once again, Miriam Wallace, Professor of English and Gender Studies, corralled some of her colleagues to offer their suggestions, which touch on a wide range of subjects and styles, from non-fiction to novels and important current events issues. We thank them all for their contributions.
And we hope you find some ideas to keep you engaged in the weeks and months ahead.
Jay Handelman, Arts Editor
“A Good Country: My Life in Twelve Towns and the Devastating Battle for White America”
by Sofia Ali-Khan (Random House, 2022)
Sofia Ali-Khan has written a gripping memoir that traces her pathway as a daughter of Pakistani immigrants in Tampa through childhood in Pennsylvania, college years, social justice work, law school, marriage, and motherhood. “A Good Country” explores the history of those dozen communities through both her personal experience and their histories of dispossession and exclusion. In one chapter the history of the maroon community of Angola and the Ringling Brothers’s decisions and this alumna’s New College experiences frame her understanding of Sarasota. Weaving local history with personal experiences with racism, the book provides a pathway for understanding how the past continues to haunt the present. Her parents saw America as a good country, but good does not mean flawless. Read “A Good Country” to be inspired to learn about Sarasota’s history and the other eleven communities and consider an anthropological framework for imagining ways we can grapple with our complicated heritage.
Uzi Baram is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the New College Public Anthropology Lab.
“Lessons in Chemistry”
By Bonnie Garmus (Doubleday, 2022)
There is lots to like about this novel: it is intelligent and funny, and unpredictable. But my favorite part is the narration offered by a dog named Six-Thirty. And if naming her dog after the moment she found it isn’t enough reason to love Elizabeth Zott, being described as “pushy, smart and opinionated” seals the deal. Zott is a brilliant research chemist who struggles to find a research job. She finally accepts the only offer she receives, falls unexpectedly in love, tragedy strikes, and Elizabeth accepts a job hosting a cooking show, which has everything to do with being a brilliant chemist, a good cook, and a woman. The producers want a “woman in the kitchen” show, but Elizabeth wants a “lessons in chemistry show” that happens to take place in a kitchen. So the war rages on; the more battles she wins, the more successful the show is.
Ultimately, I love this book because of Elizabeth’s approach to life – and chemistry. As she tells her friend, “Chemistry is change… Which is good because that is what we need more of – people who refuse to accept the status quo, who aren’t afraid to take on the unacceptable…”
Barbara Feldman is Professor of Sociology at New College of Florida
“Project Hail Mary”
Andy Weir (Ballantine Books, 2022)
My research assistants once made party pins that said: “Science: We make fun things boring!” Well, ditch that thought with “Project Hail Mary: A Novel” by Andy Weir. After Thanksgiving, I found myself with a horrible cold, needing a GREAT book to distract me. Although I’m not a sci-fi aficionado, I was completely drawn in by this story entering the mind of an accessible, erstwhile Ph.D. middle-school teacher turned astronaut who solves problem after problem – from figuring out who he is after he experiences coma-induced amnesia to connecting chain links in zero-gravity to finding ways to communicate with aliens – using science. Being inside the head of this practical, funny guy sure was fun – the creative, useful, and collaborative science – shoot, even the math! Think science is boring? Let Weir prove you wrong. Although I’m guessing this entertaining story works in any medium, the audio version read by Ray Porter really rockets.
Heidi E. Harley is Peg Scripps Buzzelli Endowed Chair in Psychology and Director of Environmental Studies at New College of Florida
“Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice¨
Rupa Marya & Raj Patel (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2021)
This is a revelatory journey through the complex intersections of our internal systems with the environment, history, health and human evolution. Reading it provides me with resonant validation of my life experience, challenges and work. Through systematic review of organ systems – immune, circulatory, connective tissue, etc. – the deep interconnectedness of health, nourishment, environment and social justice is revealed. Dr. Marya eloquently describes imbalances that result in inflammation, connecting our food, environment and microbiome and the importance of restoring the multicultural matriarchal approach to Earth living inherent in societies around the globe. Immediate personal and policy decisions offer suggestions for a “radical new cure, the deep medicine of decolonization.” Hopefully those who dare to take on this powerful treatise will be inspired to engage family and colleagues in discussion of how we as a society and as humans on the grander scale living in one finite planet, will survive and thrive together.
Lisa Merritt, MD; Medical Professional in Residence and Adjunct Faculty; Executive Director, Multicultural Health Institute of Sarasota
“Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation”
By Damian Duffy and John Jennings (Abrams ComicArts, 2018)
Octavia E. Butler, the sci-fi Afro-futurist writer who died in 2006, is having a renaissance. Her prescient novels predicted our contemporary struggles with climate change, race, and gender. It is no wonder that numerous television and film adaptations of her work are on the horizon. The first, “Kindred,” premiered this month on Hulu, but before streaming the series, pick up Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ graphic novel adaptation. Following Butler’s original novel, the comic tells the story of Dana, an African American woman who unwittingly travels back in time to an antebellum Southern plantation, and in the process, uncovers a complex family inheritance rooted in slavery and trauma. Duffy and Jennings get to the heart of Butler’s words, translating the novel’s action through rich colors and thickly drawn frenetic lines: a master class in graphic adaptation. Once you’re hooked, check out the duo’s other adaptations of Butler’s novels, including “Parable of the Sower” (2020) and the forthcoming “Parable of the Talents.”
Jessica Young, Assistant Professor of Global English
“Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosphy”
By David J. Chalmers (W. W. Norton, 2022)
As virtual reality technology becomes more advanced, questions about the nature of our own reality become increasingly relevant. What does it mean to create virtual realities? Might we already be living in a simulation? In his latest book “Reality+,” Australian philosopher David Chalmers explores the implications of virtual reality in light of foundational questions in philosophy, including what do we know, what makes something real, and what constitutes a good life. Chalmers defends the bold view that virtual worlds are just as real as the physical world and that we might just never know whether or not we live in a simulation. His style is highly accessible, his use of popular culture references, from video games to science fiction, engaging. The book even includes pictures to illustrate its many far-fetched cases. Even if you are new to philosophy, “Reality+” provides a unique perspective that will have you questioning what you really understand about the world around you.
Marina Sidlow, Philosophy student working with Professor Delon, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies
“Ghosts City Sea”
By Wang Yin (Seaweed Salad Editions, 2021)
“Ghosts City Sea” is both portable and transporting. A collection of 19 poems and nine photos by Wang Yin, a Shanghai-based poet, reporter and art critic, it takes you to familiar sights in another space and time – “Storm,” “Pelican,” “The Mariner Loses His Love,” “Today’s Heavy Rain Poured Down Last Night,” to name a few. The display of both the Chinese original and the English translation (nimbly done by Andrea Lingenfelter) turns this little book into a delightful luxury. With the two versions echoing one another lengthwise line by line, each poem unfolds like an accordion. You hear “a frenzy of waterlilies blooms at down/ wooden oars soft as butterfly wings” at “a summer day in the company of ghosts.” “[T]oo many gods/ have rendered the season a lie,” the poet laments in one poem, while “the balm of lyricism/ lifts the cover on lies” in another.
Jing Zhang, Associate Professor of Chinese Language, Literature, and Culture
“Wisdom from the Wild: The Nine Unbreakable Laws of Leadership from the Animal Kingdom”
By Julie Henry (Greenleaf Book Group, 2022)
Local author Julie C. Henry (aka KiwiE), trained as a scientist and an educator, shares her experiences as an animal advocate, leadership entrepreneur, parent, and nature observer in “Wisdom from the Wild.” Part memoir, part self-help book, it explores leadership through stories that demonstrate managing change, developing teams, and cultivating resilience through the emulation of living beings. Mangroves and coral provide models for the value of roots and a solid foundation. Giraffes and termites serve as examples of differences necessary to a successful team. Sea turtles demonstrate faith and persistence in the face of the unknown as they lay eggs on a beach. Pelicans and cheetahs represent persistence and the need to rest. The often-overlooked spider, naked mole rat and sea cucumber illustrate overcoming fear, working with others, and defending yourself from attack. Entertaining and educating in turn, this creative volume provides worksheets of essential questions at the end of each of the book’s three parts. It’s a thought provoking read.
Maribeth Clark; Chair, Division of Humanities; Professor of Music
Book choices for young readers
“Show Way” by Jacqueline Woodson with illustrations by Hudson Talbott (Putnam Juvenile, 2005); “Sueños de una Matriarca,” written and illustrated by Minerva García Niño de Rivera (Ediciones Tecolote, 2019); “We are the Water Protectors,” by Carole Lindstrom with illustrations by Michaela Goade (Roaring Brook Press, 2020).
Looking for a gift for your young readers? “Show Way” narrates the history of the author’s family across generations. With beautiful illustrations, a “show way” quilt that embeds a map to freedom narrates the stories of seven generations and their “show ways” into the future. Written in accessible Spanish, and mixteco, “Sueños de una Matriarca”offers a glimpse into life in the cloud forests of Oaxaca, Mexico. This book invites us to honor the resilience of those who helped us become who we are now. Finally, “We are the Water Protectors” follows a little girl through her story, where she helps protect water in her community. A beautifully illustrated book (and winner of the Caldecott Medal), this is a powerful invitation to respect and be kind to nature at a young age.
Erika Díaz-Almeyda is an Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at New College of Florida
“Notes to Self”
By Emilie Pine (Tramp Press 2019; reprint Dial Press, 2019)
These days my attention span feels shorter, so I was grateful for the resonant but self-contained essays in “Notes to Self,” winner of the 2018 An Post Irish Book of the Year and the 2018 Butler Literary Award. Each stands as an effort to explore out loud a painful moment in the author’s life as truthfully as possible; together they build to powerful insights. Pine’s accounts—of her father’s medical emergency brought on by raging alcoholism, her struggles to become pregnant and her miscarriage, her turbulent teens and the core devaluing of young women that undergirded her self-destructive actions—are born of her situation as an expatriated Irish girl with separated parents, but they resonate beyond that locus. This is a story of someone who has not merely survived but thrived, despite multiple points of real danger. What makes her accounts so compelling is her complete honesty—Pine holds up each like a multifaceted crystal—turning it so that we can see the deep cuts, the sharp points, and the rainbows.
Miriam L. Wallace is Professor of English & Gender Studies
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