The Best Books for the Worst Times – Reading for the summer that wasn’t

July 15, 2020

By Anna Brennan-Curry

There has never been a better time for reading, and who better to provide book recommendations for the summer than English Professor Meg Cronin. On Tuesday, June 30, Professor Cronin hosted a virtual webinar “The Best Books for the Worst Times – Reading for the summer that wasn’t” for alumni looking for advice on books for themselves and family members.

“What is a beach read, and is it still a beach read if you can’t go to the beach?” asked Professor Cronin to the group. “It can be a book that is beyond your regular reading habits, that’s fun to read, or one that teaches you something new.”

After discussing what makes a great novel and her theory of the different types of summer reads, Professor Cronin dove into recommendations in a few categories. She started with some great contemporary novels: some were challenging works and others were books that bind the past to the present. She moved onto classics worth discovering for the first time or revisiting, including a side trip about classic horror novels.

Finally, Professor Cronin took some time to recommend books written about Black lives by Black writers. During the question and answer session again, Professor Cronin provided a few final recommendations, this time for young adult fiction. She also talked a bit about her current reading, which included “Anna Karenina,” which she described as “the best book I’ve ever read in my life.”

A full list of book recommendations can be found below, and a recording of the webinar, along with others, on the Office of Alumni Relations page.

Great Contemporaries – Challenging Works by Living Authors:

  • Margaret Atwood: “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Robber Bride,” “Oryx and Crake,” “The Penelopiad”
  • Pat Barker: “The Silence of the Girls”
  • Michael Chabon: “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” “The Wonder Boys,” “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” “Telegraph Avenue,” and “Moonglow”
  • Elena Ferrante: “My Brilliant Friend”
  • Hilary Mantel: “Wolf Hall,” “Bring Up the Bodies,” “The Mirror and the Light”
  • Madeline Miller: “Circe”
  • Rohinton Mistry: “Tales from Firozsha Bog,” “Such a Long Journey,” “A Fine Balance,” “Family Matters”
  • Celeste Ng: “Little Fires Everywhere”
  • Toni Morrison: “The Bluest Eye,” “Sula,” “Song of Solomon,” “Tar Baby,” “Beloved,” “Jazz,” “Paradise,” “Love,” “A Mercy,” “Home,” “God Help the Child”
  • Viet Than Nguyen: “The Sympathizer”
  • Colm Toiben: “The Master,” “Nora Webster,” “Brooklyn,” “The Testament of Mary”
  • Marilynne Robinson: “Housekeeping,” “Gilead,” “Home,” “Lila”
  • Donna Tartt: The Secret History, “The Goldfinch”
  • Angie Thomas: “The Hate U Give”
  • Colson Whitehead: “John Henry Days,” “Sag Harbor,” “Underground Railroad,” “Nickel Boys”

Can’t Miss Classics:

  • Jane Austen: “Pride and Prejudice”
  • Anne Bronte: “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”
  • Willa Cather: “My Antonia”
  • Wilkie Collins: “The Moonstone,” “The Woman in White”
  • Charles Dickens: “Great Expectations,” “Bleak House”
  • George Eliot: “Middlemarch”
  • Ralph Ellison: “Invisible Man”
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Tender is the Night”
  • Elizabeth Gaskell: “North and South”
  • Thomas Hardy: “Far from the Madding Crowd,” “Tess of the D’urbervilles”
  • James Joyce: “Dubliners”
  • Edna O’Brien: “The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue”
  • Robert Louis Stevenson: “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”
  • Bram Stoker: “Dracula”
  • Leo Tolstoy: “Anna Karenina”
  • Anthony Trollope: “Barchester Towers,” “The Way We Live Now”
  • Mark Twain: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”
  • Oscar Wilde: “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

Black Lives by Black Writers – Reading to Learn, Understand, and Reflect

  • Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie: “Purple Hibiscus,” “Half a Yellow Sun,” “We Should All Be Feminists,” “Americanah”
  • James Baldwin: “If Beale Street Could Talk”
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates: “Between the World and Me,” “The Water Dancer”
  • Edwidge Danitcat: “Breath, Eyes, Memory,” “Krik? Krak!,” “The Farming of Bones,” “Claire of the Sea Light,” “Untwine”
  • Ibram X. Kendi: “Stamped from the Beginning”
  • Zora Neale Hurston: “Their Eyes Were Watching God”
  • Taiye Selasi: “Ghana Must Go”
  • Jean Toomer: “Cane”
  • Jesmyn Ward: “Sing, Unburied, Sing”
  • Bryan Washington: “Lot”
  • Richard Wright: “Native Son”

Young Adult Fiction:

  • Tomi Adeyemi: "Children of Blood and Bone" (series)
  • Cornelia Funke: “The Thief Lord,” “Inkworld”
  • John Greene: “Looking for Alaska,” “Paper Towns,” “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Turtles All the Way Down”
  • Maggie Stiefvater: “The Scorpio Races,” “The Raven Boys" (and sequels)
  • Ibi Zoboi: “American Street”