Short stories. Adventures. Heavy on history. If you’re looking for good reads to take up on these hot, lazy summer days, whether or not you’re on vacation, two University of Virginia readers offered a range of captivating suggestions on Facebook Live on Wednesday.
UVA Today called on Roy Cadoff, the UVA Bookstore’s general books manager, and Lisa Woolfork, associate professor of English, to share some of the books they’ve recently enjoyed.
Cadoff, a 1990 alumnus of the College of Arts & Sciences, has worked at bookstores for more than 15 years. Among his duties, he keeps the shelves stocked with UVA authors and other new books.
Woolfork studies and teaches African-American and American contemporary literature and popular culture. She just finished teaching a summer course on the hit HBO show “Game of Thrones” and the George R.R. Martin books on which the series is based. On the English department faculty for 16 years, she published “Embodying American Slavery in Contemporary Culture” in 2008.
Here are a few samples from their list of 16 books, which are included below.
Cadoff and Woolfork both had the nonfiction book, “Our Declaration” by Danielle Allen on their lists. Woolfork said the book will be the common reading experience for first-year students taking the “engagement” component of courses that are part of the College of Arts & Sciences’ new curriculum pilot this year. The author will visit in the spring to give a public lecture at the Paramount Theater. The book is a close reading of the Declaration of Independence, line by line. Woolfork said the author taught it to a class of night students in Chicago and incorporates what these working adults found meaningful to their lives.
Another serious and important nonfiction work Woolfork discussed is “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X. Kendi, a 2016 National Book Award winner. “He goes all the way back to the 15th century to understand how we perceive racial differences and how racial differences work, how this kind of jockeying for power and supremacy ends up having long-lasting effects that even last today.”
“And doesn’t he make the case that the concept of black-white is an American construct?” Cadoff asked. “Yes,” she said. “It’s a powerful history.”
Other suggestions not quite so long and weighty but still covering serious topics also made their list.
Cadoff mentioned a book of fiction, “The Refugees,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen that tells the small stories of people’s lives in characters who are Vietnamese refugees to the U.S. The author’s first novel, “The Sympathizer,” won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2016. If you’re going to be inside for days and want to get totally absorbed, read “The Sympathizer,” he said, but if you’re waiting in an airport, “The Refugees” as a collection of short stories will be good accompaniment.
“You get this little portrait of each person. It doesn’t paint the town. Each human being comes forward. It’s completely character-driven, with the little quirks that make everyone interesting and special,” Cadoff said.
For another short book, Woolfork recommended the novel, “Ghachar Ghochar” by Indian writer Vivek Shanbhag, the first of his works to be published in English. The title is a made-up phrase to describe something tangled beyond repair. The story is about a family’s rise from working class to wealthy, and “shows how having a lot of money can turn you into a pretty bad person,” Woolfork said. “It’s a must-read book, a beautiful character study. It’s very delicately put together. And a marvel of venal people – that could be the subtitle.”
Different kinds of journeys and the fleshed-out characters who take them popped up as a recurring theme during their conversation. Cadoff also recommended “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid. The Pakistani author’s fourth novel, it follows a migrant couple fleeing civil war in an unnamed country and the long, harrowing journey they take to eventually get to the United States.
Woolfork also suggested David Sedaris’ “Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977-2002).” “I think it says a lot about his character as an artist and a thinker that he decided to save everything he’s ever written since 1977,” she said. It’s a book you can dip in and out of – not necessarily meant to be read cover to cover. The author is funny as usual, but there are a lot of small stories of the minutiae of everyday life that become powerful as they depict his life.
Another real-life journey among Cadoff’s suggestions was “River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” by Candice Millard, who’s a great writer, he said.
After being president and losing reelection 100 years ago, Roosevelt decided, “as an adventurer, that it would be great to go down to Brazil and see about navigating that river that no one had successfully done,” Cadoff said. “It did not go great.” The trip on the uncharted tributary of the Amazon was anything but relaxing – but it’s a well-written adventure story, he said.
From Roy Cadoff:
“Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid
“The Refugees” by Viet Thanh Nguyen
“Running Snob” by Kevin Nelson
“River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” by Candice Millard
From Lisa Woolfork:
“Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)” by David Sedaris
“Ghachar Ghochar” by Vivek Shanbhag
“Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi
“The Blood of Emmett Till” by Timothy B. Tyson
“Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly
“Our Declaration” by Danielle Allen
“Off to Be the Wizard” by Scott Meyer
“The Dew Breaker” by Edwidge Danticat
They didn’t get a chance to talk about all their suggestions during the Facebook Live conversation, but also recommend:
“The Big Sort” by Bill Bishop
“You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” by Sherman Alexie
“Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya” by William Carlsen
“Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster” by Jon Krakauer