Walnut Hill Recommends 2019
August 9, 2019
Looking for some interesting reading to chew on (or chill out with) this summer? Look no further than this eclectic mix of books that our faculty and staff are recommending as reads right now.
Compiled by Jason Stumpf, Humanities Department Head
Naomi Bailis, Theater Faculty
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Shades of Heller, Conrad, Greene, Genet, Kafka. A wickedly funny, suspenseful, strange, and tragic novel in which Nguyen offers a voice to the previously voiceless within the literary canon of the Vietnam War. Nguyen's debut novel. Won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize; National Book Award Finalist.
Ian Buttermore, Humanities Faculty
A Most Wanted Man by John le Carré
Who is Issa Karpov? Arriving illegally in Hamburg, Germany, in the middle of the night, is he a political refugee? Or a Chechen terrorist? Since he is scarred and bearing a bank account number with access to a tremendous amount of money, everyone wants to know. Gunther Bachmann, a German spy, is looking to recruit Issa to infiltrate local terrorist organizations. For Tommy Brue, a wealthy banker, Issa’s arrival brings up complications from his father’s shady past, and for immigration lawyer Annabel Richter, Issa is the newest case on her docket. And of course, the CIA is watching them all. At turns dark and brooding and occasionally funny, John le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man is relevant to many current issues, raising questions about the War on Terror and all of its collateral damage.
Jay Crawford-Kelly, Humanities Faculty
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
How much do you love books? Did you ever wish you could walk into a book and meet its characters? For the bibliophilic residents of the alternate universe that Fforde has created (that’s not a typo in his name; he’s Welsh), including the female protagonist, Thursday Next, books are precious, and crossing into the world of a book is common. There is even a Department of Jurisfiction with the job to keep changes to the plots of famous books to a minimum. Of course, that never works. It’s the first of a series of seven funny, engrossing books, and it’s fantastic!
Jennifer Elowitch, Director of Music
Becoming by Michelle Obama
In this time of political discord, Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, is a refreshing read. I hadn’t realized how reluctant she was to enter the political realm. Given this, her decision to step forward to model intelligence and humanity to the world is remarkable and inspiring.
Cathy Gorman, Math Faculty
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Andrew Sean Greer’s Less was a pleasure to read. I often reread passages just to enjoy Greer’s beautiful and insightful writing. The story is about a man who wants to avoid going to his ex-boyfriend's wedding so badly that he creates a work schedule that involves traveling around the world. It was great fun to join him on his adventures. I believe everyone will be able to relate to his experiences of love and loss. The lengths he will go to in order to avoid an awkward encounter are hilarious. I found myself laughing at him, with him, and at myself, all at the same time.
Benjamin Gregg, Director of Academic Studies
Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan
In this collection of surreal tales, animals and empty cities glitter dark and beautiful on the page. Here Shaun Tan, best known for his wordless masterpiece The Arrival, unleashes the full force of his powers as writer and painter, revealing mysterious and magnetic glimpses of an urban future where nature and city have melded. His words explore and explain while his gorgeous full-page color illustrations provoke and perplex. If you relish the resonance between words and images, and if you thrill at the building of a world with a single phrase, do yourself a favor and discover the work of author and illustrator Shaun Tan.
Natalia Gutierrez-Smith, Executive Assistant to the Head of School
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This historical fiction based on the cruel reality of a slave’s life in the plantation South was not a comfortable read. The pain and horror of Cora’s life as a slave-turned-runaway are soothed only by the incredible resilience of her character. To know intimately Cora's inner life is to begin to understand the history seen through the eyes of a black slave and not the history written by a white man. It was an inspiring read that I would highly recommend!
Keenan, Head of Math & Science
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Hopefully, you have not seen the movie version of this sci-fi comedy classic. The book is a far more entertaining and satirical take on our overinflated view of our importance in a world (and galaxy) that we can barely begin to comprehend. It is ridiculous and laugh-out-loud funny while also being thought-provoking.
Kathy Liu, Science Faculty
Because of Sex by Gillian Thomas
Did the title grab your attention? It’s not what you are thinking! The subtitle is “One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work.” Are you interested in women’s rights? Modern American history? The law and the Supreme Court? Then this book is for you! Did you know “sexual harassment” was a term coined by Cornell professors in the 1970s? Or that taking maternity leave might cause you to lose your job? Or that having preschool-aged children could prevent a woman from being hired—but this rule did not apply to her husband? And of course, RBG makes a few appearances in the book as well!
Pat McDougal, Campaign Coordinator
Call Me American: A Memoir by Abdi Nor Iftin
Call Me American is the deeply stirring memoir of a young charismatic and resourceful boy growing up in war-ravaged Somalia and his struggle to survive and immigrate to America. This is a timely story of ingenuity and perseverance and also gives us insight into what those seeking asylum in America endure.
Anne Murphy, Math Faculty
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This is a novel set in the marsh coast of North Carolina during the 1950s and 1960s. The main character is a girl known as Kya, who is abandoned at a very young age by each member of her family, one by one, as they escape the tyrant who is her father. Kya survives loneliness, depression, prejudice, and judgment in an intricately woven story of a community. I was greatly impressed by this Marsh Girl, as town members referred to her, and her resiliency, determination, and resourcefulness. It brought to mind my work with the SEED program this year, and the reality that diversity and inclusivity are lacking on so many levels.
Tedi Shoemaker, Accounting Manager
The Girl of the Sea of Cortez by Peter Benchley
My favorite book when I was in high school. A classic heartfelt novel about the sea and humanity’s relationship with it. An important topic in the current world of global warming, plastic pollution, and ocean conservation.
Kelly Tempest, Humanities Faculty
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
This YA novel is a quick read, but it has stuck with me ever since I read it with my previous school’s book club (the students were big fans too!). It explores themes such as identity, family, and friendship, but what I love about it is that it both made me laugh and made me incredibly sad—not in a heartbroken, depressing way, but in the haunting, life-affirming way that you want a book to make you sad. The characters are easy to connect with, and the writing is simple, yet beautiful.
Jennifer TumSuden, Director of Development
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
In The Immortalists, a childhood prophecy shapes the lives of four siblings in wildly different ways. The novel is ultimately about destiny and choice as each protagonist struggles with the existential question of how to best live out their days. The family saga plays out over 50 years, amid beautiful vignettes of American culture. This is a highly addictive story with characters and moments that stay with you long after you finish the last page.
Antonio Viva, Head of School
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
A timely book to read in light of the political landscape we find ourselves in, not only here in the United States but also around the world. Powerful, short, and poignant, this book could be enjoyed in under an hour at a coffee shop. A must-read for any global citizen of the world who wishes to preserve the ideals of democracy.
- Behind Stowe