Summer Reading, Part IV: A Time for Pleasure

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on Tom Skalak's recommended reading:

July 26, 2010 — From books by Jean Auel to Ernest Hemingway to Virginia Woolf, summer reading often entails dipping into favorites from earlier summer days.

Like many book lovers, Theresa Carroll, an administrator in the School of Nursing, and Tom Skalak, vice president for research, have always loved reading. Their recommendations are not only fun to read, but also have universal and personal meanings.

"So many of the books I have loved the most were books that people recommended to me," said Carroll, assistant dean for academic and student services for nursing.

When she graduated with her master's degree, Carroll's faculty adviser gave her an unlikely book set at the dawn of humankind. It's a timeless story Carroll carries with her and passes on when her graduate assistants say goodbye.

Listen to the UVA Today Radio Show report on Theresa Carroll's recommended reading:

"The Clan of the Cave Bear," the first book of a series that was published in 1984, recreates the life of an early homo-sapiens female. The bestseller touched a chord in Carroll as she began creating her own life independently.

"It's about a woman making her way in the world and figuring out how she wants to do that and what type of person she wants to be," she said.

Switching to a more intellectual arena, Carroll tries to reread Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own" every summer, she said.

"I can remember reading 'A Room of One's Own' for the first time sitting on the beach that summer I was about 19 or 20 years old," she said. That was a formative time to read the British author's advice that a woman needs to be financially independent to become an artist.

Shamim Sisson, now retired from the student affairs office, served as another important mentor to Carroll and introduced her to an author she has seen at the Virginia book festival. Clyde Edgerton of North Carolina is now one of her all-time favorite authors.

"She suggested the book, 'Raney,' to me," Carroll said. "What a great book and such a wonderful introduction to an amazing Southern author."

Edgerton has published a shelf of books set in the South, as has another Southern writer who's a favorite, Lee Smith, whom Carroll first read with her husband. Smith has become another frequent book festival guest.

Carroll said once she read "Fair and Tender Ladies," just one of Smith's dozen books, there was no turning back.

"Almost every character in every Lee Smith book I've read since then I want to be friends with."

Tom Skalak finds camaraderie when he rereads the books of an American icon, Ernest Hemingway.

When he opens Hemingway's first novel, "The Sun Also Rises," he pairs it with a glass of fine red wine, he said.

"It's perfect for long, hot summer days."

Set in France and coastal Spain between the two world wars, the story is "about a set of American expatriates who go fishing and try to find their way in life," Skalak said.

Hemingway, who started out as a news reporter, covers the annual running of the bulls at Pamplona.

"It's probably the best description of that festival in literature," Skalak said. "By taking you into the festival at Pamplona, he shows by his direct, observational and austere style a lot about Spanish values and interactions in the culture in Spain at that time."

Skalak, a biomedical engineer who was named vice president two years ago, also suggests other classics, such as Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim" and Thornton Wilder's "The Bridge of San Luis Rey."

For a more recent nonfiction volume, Skalak has enjoyed "Let's See" by Peter Schjeldahl, longtime art critic for the New Yorker magazine.

"What I like about 'Let's See' is that, just in the title, you can see what he tries to do. I admire his willingness and his habit to go take a fresh look at any artist in any exhibit that he attends, and then capture what he sees in a very emotional way."

Schjeldahl puts his own interpretative spin on a particular art exhibit in historic context and relates it to human experience in a way that is "just fantastic," Skalak said, adding it's a fun book to tote around with you.

Because it's organized in short essays, it's good to read during breaks in summer activities, not to mention when strolling art museums.

"It'll take you into multiple new worlds two pages at a time," he said.

Skalak has visited another world in the memoir, "Aké: the Years of Childhood," by African writer Wole Soyinka. Although it takes place in distant Nigeria, its tale highlights "universal aspects of growing up," he said.

Another nonfiction title he really enjoyed was John McPhee's "Giving Good Weight," a collection of short essays "by one of the greatest observers of nature and life," Skalak said.

Whether books take forays onto foreign soil, the world of art or nature, or humankind, Skalak is interested in titles that bridge science, industry and creativity. Peer into the world of an automobile assembly line in Ben Hamper's "Rivethead."

"It's a piece of American life you won't forget. It'll help you concentrate," Skalak said.

Sit down with a Yale Renaissance scholar's rediscovery of Major League Baseball in A. Bartlett Giamatti's "Take Time for Paradise." Skalak said the author "suggests a value of sports – as a window onto brief moments of transcendence and a return to the pure joy of play."

That sounds like what summer is all about.

The Book List
"The Clan of the Cave Bear" by Jean Auel
"Lord Jim" by Joseph Conrad
"Raney" by Clyde Edgerton
"Take Time for Paradise" by A. Bartlett Giamatti
"Rivethead" by Ben Hamper
"The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway
"Giving Good Weight" by John McPhee
"Let's See" by Peter Schjeldahl
 "Fair and Tender Ladies" by Lee Smith
"Aké: the Years of Childhood," by Wole Soyinka
"The Bridge of San Luis Rey" by Thornton Wilder
"A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf