In the latest installment of our Recommended Reads series, we celebrate the end of the school year by bringing back a post from our archives by associate professor Dr. Debbie Mix. Below, Dr. Mix recommends her list of summer reads, headlined by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and followed by several other fantastic books!
Anyone who has talked to me for more than, say, five minutes, probably knows the first book on this list: Moby-Dick. Why? Because it’s about everything! Love, grief, justice, power, gender, epistemology, language, disability, anger, belief, history, responsibility, humor, awe, identity, race—and that’s just the beginning. I’ll admit that I didn’t pick up this book by choice the first time (I had to read it in grad school), but now I pick it up regularly, and I really think you should, too. After Moby-Dick the choices get harder, but here are a few more books I read this summer that I think are worth your time and effort:
Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood: These two books are linked—two perspectives on a single set of events—and I read them side-by-side. These stories take us to a future riven by economic and genetic distinctions, and ask us to follow, and care about, the lives of characters living in different circumstances in that world. Global warming, genetic modification, the gap between the haves and have-nots, pandemic diseases, all these subjects (and more) are Atwood’s concern.
Stuck Rubber Baby, by Howard Cruse: It tells the story of Toland Polk, growing up white and gay in a small southern town in the middle of the Civil Rights movement. The combination of image and text creates a compelling and profoundly human narrative about the intersections of the personal and political. Cruse’s book is a great example of the nearly unlimited potential of graphic narrative to address complex issues in more than black and white ways.
The Circus in Winter, by Cathy Day: Even if Cathy Day hadn’t just joined our English Department, I’d encourage you to read this wonderful collection of linked short stories. Set in the fictional town of Lima, Indiana (a stand-in for Peru, Indiana), these stories center around the Great Porter Circus, which makes its winter home in Lima. We see the lives of performers, clowns, animal trainers, and others linked to the circus by chance, desire, and heredity. At times funny, poignant, and heartbreaking, this collection is always humane and always fascinating.
The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich: Too often American Indians are represented in American culture as artifacts of the past rather than as citizens of the present. One of Erdrich’s most important projects as a novelist has been to challenge that myth through her beautiful and unflinching depictions of present-day indigeneity. This book, set on an Ojibwe reservation and the nearby town of Pluto, North Dakota, reaches back to the past—the brutal murders of a white family near the reservation in 1911—but its attention is on the present as Erdrich’s signature style of multiple intersecting narratives and gorgeous detail fills in the whole story.
Awood, Margaret Eleanor. Oryx and Crake. Anchor, 2004. Print.
Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. Anchor, 2010. Print.
Cruse, Howard. Stuck Rubber Baby. Vertigo, 2010.
Day, Cathy. The Circus in Winter. Harcourt, 2004.
Erdrich, Louise. The Plague of Doves. HarperCollins, 2008.
I STILL HAVE MY COPY OF MOBY DICK (on this desk now) FROM MY CLASS WITH DR. SATERWHITE (nights, winter ’72). IN THIS BEST-EVER CLASS, DR. SATERWHITE INSISTED THAT THIS STORY BE READ FOR “THE EXPERIENCE,” IN OTHER WORDS, NOT DRAINED FOR A THEME OR USEFUL APHORISM AS FLANNERY O’CONNOR WARNED ABOUT IN HER CASUAL PROSE. FOR ME, THIS QUESTION REMAINS UNSETTLED AND MOBY DICK IS AS GOOD A PLACE TO FIGHT IT OUT AS ANY. HOWEVER, BE ALL THAT AS IT MAY, I OFTEN REPAIR TO THE STREETS WHERE ISHMAEL THREW ROCKS TO KNOCK OFF THE TOP HATS AND TO THE DOCKS WITH HIM WHEN HE FINALLY ADMITTED TO HIMSELF THAT HE COULD NOT STAY ON LAND ANOTHER MOMENT. FOR ME, IT IS ALL ABOUT THE ENDURING CHARACTERS THAT ARE WITH ME STILL. BACK WHEN I USED TO DIVE WITH PROFESSIONALS 20 YEARS AGO, IT WAS THE GREAT TURTLES FROM THE ENCANTADAS, “SLIMY WITH THE SMELL OF THE SEA,” THAT I DRIFTED OFF TO AS I WORKED ON DECKS WITH GEAR.