Summer Reading, Part 1: Exploring Global Conflicts and Adaptations

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story:

June 4, 2009 — No matter what your summer plans are, reading often makes the list of things to enjoy during long summer nights and even not-so-lazy days. Over the summer, UVA Today will catch up with faculty and other members of the University community to get recommendations of good books to absorb the hours and the imagination – and sneak in a little more learning, to boot.

• During one of his summer activities – traveling to China – U.Va. President John T. Casteen III took the time to send an eclectic list of titles.

He has just finished or is reading Roger Angell's collection of New Yorker essays, "Let Me Finish"; "Anil's Ghost," a novel about 1980s civil war in Sri Lanka by Michael Ondaatje, who was born in Sri Lanka and now lives in Canada; and "The Namesake," Pulitzer-prize winning author Jumpa Lahiri's story of an Indian family transplanted to the U.S. and the power of literature.

Listen for more summer reading suggestions:

Casteen also has tackled Salman Rushdie's 2008 novel, "The Enchantress of Florence," which the New York Times described as "a literal manifestation of the connection between East and West that's one of the novel's thematic strands. As one character puts it, 'the curse of the human race is not that we are so different from one another, but that we are so alike.'"

In nonfiction, Casteen is reading Joseph R. Rudolph's "Hot Spot: North America and Europe." Rudolph, professor of political science at Towson University, has published numerous books and articles on ethnic violence and politics, including Greenwood Publishing's "Encyclopedia of Modern Ethnic Conflicts" in 2003.

The book covers three regions and their geographic interrelationships: the established democracies of the U.S., Canada and Western Europe; the democratizing countries of post-communist Europe; and the more volatile region encompassing Russia, the Balkans, the Causasus and post-Soviet Eastern Europe. The book explores conflicts and potential hot spots in the relatively serene world of these regions, where domestic groups regularly instigate conflicts with the potential for sustained political violence.

• Cheryl Burgan Apprey, director of Graduate Student Diversity Programs, offers reading suggestions whose settings cross the Atlantic and back.

Dave Eggers' novel, "What is the What," tells the story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan, who walked hundreds of miles away from a bloody civil war to find freedom. Valentino resettles in the United States where life is very different for him.

"It's an unbelievable story," Apprey said.

Another suggestion she gives is the nonfiction crime drama, "Money to Burn," by Michael Mewshaw, a writer who taught at U.Va. in the mid-1990s. The book recounts the true story of the Benson family murders.

"It's about a very rich family who didn't know how to enjoy their money," Apprey said.

In 1985, tobacco heiress Margaret Benson and her adopted son, Scott, were killed when a pipe bomb blew up their Chevrolet Suburban while in the driveway of their Naples, Fla., home. Grandson Steven was convicted of the crime and serves life in prison. But did he really do it?

"It has a very different outcome. I really think it's worth reading," she said.

On the lighter side, Apprey recommends "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency," by Alexander McCall Smith, the first of a series about a woman detective in Botswana.

Apprey said it's a fun story to read, and you can solve the crimes along the way.

• Nancy Coble Damon, program director of the Virginia Festival of the Book, never stops reading, it seems. She recommends another title for those who like mysteries: Denise Hamilton's "The Last Embrace," a noir novel about a post-World War II murder in Hollywood.

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on this story:

For a true account of refugee children, try Warren St. John's "Outcasts United," about a kids' soccer program for refugees in a (formerly) quiet, small Georgia town just outside Atlanta.

"Very inspiring, about how people adapt to new cultures. With great soccer, too!" Damon said.

Although the goal of a summer book often is to carry the reader away, Robert Kaiser dispenses a dose of reality in "So Damn Much Money" about the changes in the way the U.S. Congress does business. Damon pronounces this tome "very readable and fascinating."

— By Anne Bromley

Summer Reading List (alphabetical by author)
"Let Me Finish" by Roger Angell

"What is the What" by Dave Eggers

"The Last Embrace" by Denise Hamilton

"So Damn Much Money" by Robert Kaiser

"The Namesake" by Jumpa Lahiri

"Money to Burn" by Michael Mewshaw

"Anil's Ghost" by Michael Ondaatje

"Hot Spot: North America and Europe" by Joseph R. Rudolph

"The Enchantress of Florence" by Salman Rushdie

"The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall Smith

"Outcasts United" by Warren St. John