We asked Colgate professors what they’ve recently read for fun.

The responses were as varied and interesting as the people who submitted them — from memoir, historical fiction, and classic 20th-century literature to economic analysis, science fiction, and a graphic novel. So,
whether you’re planning a week at the beach, a jaunt around the globe, or a “staycation” in your own backyard this summer, you’re bound to find a book you’ll treasure.

Marjane Satrapi

is a graphic novel about a little girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Marjane’s stories about her daily activities provide an innocent yet profound depiction of life under a repressive regime and the hopes for change.
        I quickly identified with Marjane, perhaps because she reminded me of myself as a 9-year-old (although I was never this cute!), trying to make sense of the revolt that eventually brought about democracy in Bangladesh in 1990. Some of the depictions felt like flashbacks: how the only television channel blocked out news of the revolt and showed ‘happy’ pictures all day; how the streets were deserted because of curfews; and how a foreign radio service provided the only credible source of information.
    Revolutions are rarely alike in a political sense — different motivations and vested interests, different demands, different actors, different patrons. But Satrapi’s portrayal shows that the impact of revolutions on ordinary people in autocratic regimes may not be that different after all.

>> Navine Murshid, assistant professor of political science, organized the spring South Asian Film Series on campus. She loves to sing, cook, and paint but hates doing dishes. She moved to the United States in 2000 to attend college at Lawrence University.

The Pillars of the Earth
Ken Follett

I’m not much of a spy novel fan, so I wasn’t entirely thrilled when my sister-in-law gave me a copy of Ken Follett’s massive tome
The Pillars of the Earth for Christmas a few years ago. But don’t be put off by the author’s name; and conversely, Follett fans should be forewarned: there are no secret codes or Russian temptresses here. This is, nevertheless, historical fiction of the most entertaining sort.
        The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the construction of a Gothic cathedral in a fictional English town. Its depiction of how these massive structures came to be, whose interests they served, how they stood up, and how the technology improved over the course of the 12th century is carefully researched and artfully presented — so much so that I now assign this book as summer reading before my fall-semester Introduction to Architecture course. Students are fascinated to discover how an architectural commission of this scale — and the migrant quarrymen, masons, carpenters, and merchants it would attract — could be the economic engine that transforms a sleepy village into a powerful city.
    In our globalized world of concrete and steel, digital design, and prefab components, even the most complex architectural undertakings are usually completed in under a year. Follett reveals the broad social ramifications of a major building project in the pre-modern era, and reminds us of the link we have lost between architecture and community.

>> Elizabeth Marlowe,
a visiting assistant professor of art and art history who specializes in Roman art, lived in Rome for two years as a Rome Prize Fellow at the American Academy. This spring, she will appear on the History Channel talking about the Arch of Constantine and the origins of Christianity.

The Happiness Project
Gretchen Rubin

People around the world desire happiness and consider satisfaction essential to a life well lived. Academic psychologists have ignored this basic longing and instead have spent much of the last century enumerating human failings and plumbing the depths of human misery. But over the last decade, with attention turning to the study of happiness and flourishing, a new subfield — positive psychology — has blossomed.

    In my Scientific Perspectives course The Good Life, students relish learning about the exciting findings from this new area of research on happiness (because, of course, they want to be happy). Yet, I always encounter at least one or two especially astute students who point out the limitations of this research. Specifically, they note, even if studies reveal some common processes associated with happiness, these processes might not yield happiness for every person who implements them.
    In The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, Gretchen Rubin chronicles her own deliberate pursuit of happiness. She tries to sort out which positive psychology findings hold true for her and which need to be supplemented by other sources of insight. Rubin is a reflective, well-educated lawyer-turned-writer with a voracious appetite for reading, so her sources are wide-ranging and include, among others, Benjamin Franklin, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, and Leo Tolstoy. In 12 corresponding chapters, Rubin devotes each month to a different arena of life, such as marriage, parenthood, leisure, money, work, attitudes, and eternity.
    Although some readers might find it difficult to relate to her privileged background and lifestyle, Rubin is remarkably frank about her own shortcomings and struggles, and this makes her a more sympathetic guide. She demonstrates well that, when applied to a single life, positive psychology research has much to offer, but is far from cornering the market on guiding peopleto a good life.

>> Rebecca Shiner, associate professor of psychology, has sung in a local madrigal group, and a funk group in college. She watches The Colbert Report and The Office because both routinely make her laugh out loud.

The Sparrow
Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow
is not the typical book that I would pick to read for fun; I generally steer clear of “science fiction.” But from the outset, Russell caught my attention and held it, even into the sequel (Children of God), by creating interesting characters who deal with the consequences that come from exploring a new world.
      The Sparrow tells the story of humankind’s first encounter with an alien race. In 2019, a group of scientists at the Arecibo Observatory pick up radio transmissions from an alien planet, Rakhart. As Earth’s governments slowly put together an expedition, the Society of Jesuits much more quickly forms a team of Jesuit priests, scientists, and doctors. The group departs in 2019 and, after a few transmissions of their scientific discoveries, is not heard from again until 2059, when a sole survivor, Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz, arrives back on Earth.
    The bulk of the novel is set in 2059. The Society of Jesuits are questioning Emilio, attempting to understand what happened on Rakhart and why only one person returned to Earth. As Emilio tells the story, we find out that, upon arriving on Rakhart, the group discovered two species of intelligent beings. Although they attempted to have no impact, they had deeply changed the social structure, leading to profound consequences. By the time Emilio returns to Earth, he has lost his faith and is trying to understand how so much harm could come from attempts to do good.
    With its often emotionally wrenching and uncomfortable scenes, I remain uncertain as to my feelings about The Sparrow, yet it has drawn me to read it three times, and leads to plenty of interesting discussions. In fact, one of my readings was with a Madison, Wis., book club where The Sparrow won the award of producing the longest and liveliest discussion.

>> Rebecca Metzler, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, has taught Fundamental Physics 1; Molecules, Cells, and Genes; and Biophysics. An avid distance runner who tends to take running-related vacations (Estes Park, Colo., is a favorite destination), she doesn’t own a television.

Light in August
William Faulkner

Over Christmas, I picked up William Faulkner’s
Light in August. It was tucked quietly into my bookshelf, next to his As I Lay Dying, and a couple of others. I admit I was a bit nervous. Faulkner? For pleasure? I recalled enjoying As I Lay Dying, but that was years ago, and I suspected that 20-something pretentiousness colored my review. I settled on a no-commitment policy — just a few pages, with the option to quit. I was immediately gripped.
        The book opens with a pregnant (and barefoot!) girl, Lena Grove, walking, with dull-witted, mechanical certitude, in search of her baby’s father, Lucas Burch, who is working, she has heard, at a planing (lumber) mill. What follows is — surprise! — a page-turner: a daringly plotted murder mystery in Jefferson, Miss. Lena Grove finds Lucas Burch, but by accident. Byron Bunch, not Burch, works at the mill and falls in love with her and seeks a disgraced Reverend Hightower to connive in the most generous act of caring for Lena and adopting the unborn baby as his own. Lucas is running a still with Joe Christmas, the most sympathetic character, a “mixed-blood negro” who passes for white, whose fault is to trust Lucas, and who may or may not be the murderer of a woman, an older white descendent of abolitionists whom he takes nightly in her bed more or less by force. (We meet Joe as a child hidden in the closet of an orphanage devouring gobs of toothpaste.)
    Anthropologists tend to praise fiction in the highest terms as “ethnographic.” This book could be ethnography. At least, I felt that I was riding a wagon into a humid, almost ectoplasmic, southern life-past along-
side a really smart observer.

>> Emilio Spadola, assistant professor of anthropology, is teaching courses on North Africa (CORE 170) and mass-mediated cultures (SOAN 374) this spring. In his slivers of spare time, he enjoys basketball and playing cars and trains with his children, Bruno and Orlando — and says he is hoping for the best with The Office post-Steve Carell.

How Markets Fail: The Logic of
Economic Calamities

John Cassidy

How Markets Fail
surveys the history of economic theorizing and identifies the ways in which economists have fallen for various forms of “utopian economics” — an exaggerated belief in the efficacy of markets as the solution to social problems.
        The biggest example of market failure would have to be the Great Recession, which was enabled by overzealous deregulation of financial markets and misplaced faith in the idea of a self-regulating market society. If you have been exposed to the standard curriculum in economics, this book will undo some of the damage. And it is readable; Cassidy is a regular at the New Yorker.
        The two economists who come out as heroes are Hyman Minsky, an American Keynesian who spent his career being ostracized by the economics profession, and Paul Sweezy, a Marxist who founded the independent magazine Monthly Review. (Incidentally, his granddaughter is a Colgate graduate in economics.) Both foresaw the addiction of modern capitalism to debt financing, as well as the instability that it creates.

>> Thomas Michl, professor of economics at Colgate since 1983, teaches a course on Marxian Political Economy. He’s been leading the London Economics Study Group this semester.

Deaf Sentence
David Lodge

I’ve been a big fan of the English novelist David Lodge ever since 1991, when I first lived in Manchester (U.K.) as the director of Colgate’s Manchester Study Group. My students and I read
Nice Work (1988) as part of our study of the Manchester conurbation and its industrial past. My other favorites are Out of the Shelter (1970) and Paradise News (1991), and, of course, the satire of American and British academics in Changing Places (1975) and Small World (1984). I met Lodge briefly once at a conference in London — he wouldn’t remember me — and his sense of humor was just as evident in person as on the page. He is famous for his sympathy and affection for his protagonists, whose lives always seem to turn out as well as one might hope under his relentless but gentle satire.
        Deaf Sentence is no exception. It is written about, and for, folks like me: middle 60s, increasingly hard of hearing, anxious about parents in their 90s, and forced to think more and more about the later stages of life. What a downer, you might think — not cheerful material. Yet Lodge manages to make Desmond Bates’s misadventures both realistic and benign.
        My copy is a Christmas gift from my 30-something daughters at a family reunion in honor of my almost–93-year-old father. Just as Desmond reflects on the promise of a new grandchild, at our reunion, my family celebrated a new baby coming soon.

>> Margaret Darby,
associate professor of writing and rhetoric, taught a class on Wilkie Collins’s Victorian-era suspense novel The Woman in White for the Madison County Office for the Aging Education Unlimited program at the Hamilton Public Library in February. A lifelong sewer, she can often be seen in the classroom wearing garments she crafted herself.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot

One book, two takes
What a coincidence — of all the choices in the world, two professors recommended the same book. Maybe that says something about the book, but it also gives us a chance to see what people from two totally different disciplines thought about it — one who actually specializes in its subject matter, and one for whom it was a venture into unfamiliar territory.

This book tells the story of one of the most profound scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century: the ability to grow human cells in a culture dish. Although not exactly a subject that typically catches the attention of readers (outside of cell biologists!), Skloot’s book is nevertheless thoroughly engaging, and became one of the most acclaimed books of 2010.
        Far from dryly outlining a scientific technique, Skloot documents the life of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman whose tragic death from cervical cancer unwittingly changed the course of biology. Without her knowledge or consent, cells were taken from Lacks’s tumor, becoming the first human cells successfully grown in culture. These cells, known as HeLa, led to a vaccine for polio and several other diseases, and remain an essential tool for biologists worldwide.
        The main focus of the book, though, is the Lacks family, who were unaware of the existence of these cells for many years — and, despite the multi-billion dollar industry that developed from Henrietta’s cells, did not receive any form of compensation. Their poignant discovery of the existence of the cells, and the subsequent impact of this knowledge on their lives, provides much of the emotional thrust of the book. Skloot spent 10 years researching the history of HeLa and developing a relationship with the Lacks family, and this labor of love results in a fantastic story that probes questions of bioethics and material ownership in the age of modern medical science.
        On a personal level, I have used HeLa cells in the lab for many years without knowing the complete story about their origins, and this book truly influenced how I think about my research. I read it last summer while at a conference, and saw a large number of the other participants reading it as well — so it gets a “thumbs up” from the American Society for Virology!

>> Geoff Holm, assistant professor of biology, teaches microbiology, immunology, and virology. He plays the violin with the Colgate University Orchestra and is into tennis and skiing.

I am an avid reader, but I must admit that books about the medical industry have never been high on my list of preferences. I therefore consider myself lucky to be a member of a local book club that has repeatedly exposed me to books I might never have chosen to read on my own. My favorite — one that I have already recommended to a wide array of readers — is Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
        The Immortal Life documents two parallel histories: the origin and development of a line of human cancer cells that have been used extensively in medical research throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, and the life and legacy of the poor African-American woman from whom these cells were taken, without her knowledge, in 1951. Skloot documents the lives of Henrietta Lacks’s children and other family members, and thus delves into the human stories behind the famous HeLa line of cancer cells (named after the first two letters of her first and last names).
        In delving into the history of Lacks and her family, Skloot simultaneously brings to light a seminal piece of modern medical history — a history entangled with such key issues as the invention of the polio vaccine, the struggle to discover a cure for cancer, and the evolution of doctrines of informed patient consent. Rarely have I read a book that has so thoroughly engaged me in a topic in which, initially, I thought I had no interest at all. This, in my mind, is the mark of a great piece of summer reading.

>> Jenna Reinbold, who teaches in the Department of Religion, is interested in religion and law, particularly in the United States, and her favorite course to teach is Church, State, and Law in America. She gave birth to her first child, a son named Isaac, in January.