Summer Reading, Part I: Books That Transport Through Time and Place

June 21, 2011 — For the University of Virginia community, reading is most likely a year-round activity, but often summer offers a break to take time for those books stacking up on a bedside table. Whether you'll be reading at a cabin in the mountains, at the beach or during a "staycation" on your front porch, take the opportunity to delve into these book suggestions from U.Va. faculty, administrators and staff.

This first installment of a summer series offers the kind of fiction that transports the reader to faraway places, real or imagined. Also included are nonfiction titles that also transport readers through a specific topic or particular attitude, using humor, common sense, history and stories.

The books suggested by Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer; Maurice Apprey, dean of African-American Affairs and a professor of psychiatric medicine in the School of Medicine; and Allen Groves, associate vice president and dean of students, tell stories set in Turkey, Congo and West Africa, Europe and even in mythical worlds. One memoir recalls the University in the late 19th century.

Groves Focused on History

Groves is a self-described history and politics buff, but a memoir he stumbled upon captures "the lost art of beautiful writing," he said, as well as describing U.Va. on the eve of the 20th century.

In 1947, James P.C. Southall published "In the Days of My Youth When I Was a Student in the University of Virginia, 1888-1893" after a long career as a physics professor, mostly at Columbia University.

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report by Anne Bromley on Allan Groves' summer reading suggestions:

Although the book is out of print, Groves found a copy online at a website selling rare books. A text version can be found through the U.Va. Library's Scholars' Lab.

"I love this book. It's a fun read, because he's basically reminiscing about what the University was like in its formative years. His professors are the names on buildings now; he took classes in the Rotunda and he lived on Monroe Hill," Groves said. "He had to rent a horse and buggy to take a girl out on a date to downtown Charlottesville."

Southall's memoir shows the constancy of the student experience and the great affection and admiration alumni have for the University, Groves said.

He added a caveat, however: Readers must keep in mind the times in which Southall was living. It was about 20 years after the Civil War. Charles Scott Venable, who taught him math and astronomy, had been a lieutenant colonel close to Robert E. Lee. A black manservant waited on Southall, as was common at the time.

The topic of race relations comes up in another book Groves recommends about his hero: "Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary," by Ray Boomhower. Groves said he decided to attend law school at U.Va. because Kennedy went here.

"It was a fascinating time. There were only a handful of primaries back then," he said.

The book describes a speech Kennedy gave in Indianapolis at a rally for a mostly African-American audience. On the way there, he found out Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. He decided to break the news to the crowd.

"It was Kennedy's greatest speech," Groves said. "It was extemporaneous and moving." Kennedy appealed for healing race relations in America; Groves noted that Indianapolis was one of the few big cities that didn't experience riots after King's death.

"Kennedy was looking for fundamental reconciliation. ... His message was you can't allow people to divide us," he said.

Modern politicians could take a lesson from his speech, Groves said, saying he thinks today's tactics often make citizens mistrust each other and vilify groups they disagree with.

For another way into understanding global politics, Groves recommends "Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World," by Margaret MacMillan, which covers the Treaty of Versailles.

"I've always studied World War I. If you understand that war and its consequences and all that comes out of it, you'll understand better what's going on in the world today," Groves said. It's a "big read" that you can pick up and put down, with great details.

Carkeek Reads About Her Business for Pleasure

Carkeek loves reading about her professional work – management. She recommends "Lift: Becoming the Positive Force in Any Situation," written by Darden professor Ryan Quinn and his father, Robert, a business professor at the University of Michigan.

They use the analogy of flight and what it takes to get to that "magic moment" of a plane lifting off the ground and into the air, Carkeek said. The authors look at "what is going well to make that magic moment" in group situations.

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report by Anne Bromley on Susan Carkeek's summer reading suggestions:

The book's publisher, Berrett-Koehler, says the authors "combine cutting-edge social science and real-world examples to describe four mindsets that will help you become aware of the unconscious ways you're holding yourself and others back. They offer tested, practical guidelines and practices for exerting positive influence in any situation."

"It's an easy read. It uses a lot of stories," Carkeek said. Their ideas apply not only to work, but also to personal life and relationships, she said.

Carkeek also recommends U.Va. alumna Tina Fey's memoir, "Bossypants." Fey, a 1992 drama  graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences and former "Saturday Night Live" headliner, is executive producer and head writer of NBC's three-time Emmy Award-winning comedy series "30 Rock."

Carkeek found some unexpected advice in Fey's book. In one part, Fey talks about her time working with Chicago's Second City improvisation group. Fey describes using a technique for improvising that builds on what the other actor has said by thinking, "Yes, and ...," which continues the skit, rather than firing a quick rebuttal or choosing an answer that cuts off the dialogue.

"It's relatable to work and life. It's almost like advice on conversation," Carkeek said. Fey also writes about what she learned about management from "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels.

Besides, Fey's humor is like candy, Carkeek said. "She's a hoot!"

One author whose new fiction Carkeek seeks out is Barbara Kingsolver, who has a gift for describing people and places, she said. "The Poisonwood Bible," about a missionary family in Africa, is Carkeek's favorite. "You get transported into the story," she said.

Apprey Enjoys 'Magical Realism'

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report by Anne Bromley on Maurice Apprey's summer reading suggestions:

Apprey recommends a writer with an African perspective, Ben Okri. Born in northern Nigeria, Okri grew up there and in London, where he now resides and writes in English. Considered one of Africa's best living writers, Okri has been compared to "magical realism" authors Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salmon Rushdie, but his writing infuses Yoruba culture and myths into stories that take place in postcolonial Nigeria or a similar African country.

"He writes about the interplay between magic and reality ... and he goes between the world of the living and the world of the dead," Apprey said.

An article in the British newspaper, The Guardian, described Okri's "The Famished Road," which won the Booker Prize in 1991: "Set in the run-up to Nigeria's independence in 1960, and shifting from the tangible world to its spiritual, supernatural parallel, 'The Famished Road' revealed the plight of a country perpetually struggling to be born, by portraying the faith and betrayed dreams of its poor."

Apprey encourages readers who like Okri to pick up his other novels, "Astonishing the Gods," "In Arcadia" and most recently, "Starbook: A Magical Tale of Love and Regeneration."

Another corner of humanity that Apprey explores through literature is Turkey. He knows the country firsthand from teaching psychiatry students there in short rotations from 2003 to 2010. He learned about the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk's novel, "My Name is Red," from his students.

Pamuk, currently perhaps Turkey's best-known writer, won the Nobel Prize and also uses another cultural variation of magical realism.

Apprey said Pamuk reveals "the emotional lives of Turkishness." Five civilizations have contributed to the country's history: Hittite, Byzantine, Roman, Ottoman and the hybrid culture that exists today, Apprey said. He considers the way these layers of culture and history "linger on in people without them realizing it and get reactivated," which can be seen in Pamuk's stories.

A 2006 Time magazine article said of the genre, "Magic realism, as all writers know, is a way of subverting the harder-edged world we all share in order to reach essential truths."

The Reading List

  • Ray Boomhower, "Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary"
  • Tina Fey, "Bossypants"
  • Barbara Kingsolver, "The Poisonwood Bible"
  • Margaret MacMillan, "Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World"
  • Ben Okri, "The Famished Road," "Astonishing the Gods, "In Arcadia" and "Starbook"
  • Orhan Pamuk, "My Name is Red"
  • Ryan Quinn and Robert Quinn, "Lift: Becoming the Positive Force in Any Situation"
  • James P.C. Southall, "In the Days of My Youth When I Was a Student in the University of Virginia, 1888-1893"

Check out the U.Va. Bookstore's trade books section for these and other titles. To order online or make inquiries, email bookshop@virginia.edu.

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications