Some of my most cherished memories have unfolded on the balcony of the home in which I grew up in Greece. I associate that balcony with memorizing high school biology and learning SAT words, with stretching my legs in the sun while reading my first Joan Didion book and writing graduate school essays. Much of my summer nostalgia centers on the balcony as a site of memory and on the pages I have turned while sitting on it.
This summer is balcony-less, but full of pages regardless — as well as full of airplanes and transition and field notes and other makers of (new) memories. Here are the books that are accompanying these adventures, gathered through endless browsing of my favorite independent bookstore in Boston. Much like this digital space, the books are disparate and reflective of different interests, ranging from international law and enforced disappearance to qualitative research to essays to memoir to fiction. I have already read some of the books below, while others are still on my to-read shelf. None of the links are affiliate links, meaning I receive no benefit from your clicking or ordering any of them. For my complete reading list in the past three years, you can visit me on Goodreads. Enjoy, and please share your own favorites in the comments!
Fiction for Pleasure Reading
Girls I Know, Douglas Trevor. A story of Boston, grief, and loss (sounds familiar?)…
The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer. Bildungsroman tracing the stories of five individuals who met at summer camp and exploring “the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.”
Harvard Square, Andre Aciman. I loved Aciman’s “Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere,” so I was excited to read his novel that unfolds in Harvard Square, a former home for me. This was, in fact, the first book I read for pleasure this summer. This was a nostalgic book, and I suspect it will resonate more with Bostonians, though its reflections on ambition, youth, loneliness, and the experience of being an immigrant have an obviously more universal appeal. I’ve added a lot of Aciman to my to-read list after having read these two books.
Second Person Singular, Sayed Kashua. I first stumbled into Kashua’s work through his essays on being an Arab man living in Jerusalem, and greatly appreciated his biting insight and ability to render tragic or unjust situations in a humorous light that does not deprive them of their gravity. This book traces two different sets of Arab lives in Jerusalem, with all their surrealism, intersections, tension, conflict, and moments of epiphany. A beautiful, occasionally dark read.
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I was inspired by Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk on “the danger of a single story,” and I find her words gracefully and carefully chosen. Looking forward to reading this novel.
Life is Elsewhere, Milan Kundera. It has been a long time since I have read anything by Kundera but after having spent my second semester of graduate school reflecting on memory and memorialization, I am inclined to revisit his works — hence Life is Elsewhere found its way onto my summer reading list.
Memoirs and essays
Where I Was From, Joan Didion. Reflections on place, home, California, personal and collective histories by one of my favorite authors. It’s not a real summer without Joan Didion.
Maphead, Ken Jennings. I started reading this on the subway yesterday and was smiling to myself, as it is stoking wanderlust. It has also supplied me with two new favorite words: ‘cartophilia’, which is the love of maps, and ‘cartacoethes’, which, according to Jennings, is “the uncontrollable compulsion to see maps everywhere.”
Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memoirs of a Prodigal Daughter, Azar Nafisi. I added this to my list after having read Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran. This is a memoir about Nafisi’s childhood in Tehran, Iran, and I am excited to explore the parallels.
Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag. A must-read for journalists, humanitarian workers, storytellers and anyone whose life crosses paths with narratives of vulnerability.
This is Running For Your Life: Essays, Michelle Orange. Orange’s essays reflect on modern connectivity and interaction, spanning from Beirut to Hawaii. I am picky with essayists, in part because essays are my favorite genre to write, so I am cautiously looking forward to this one.
To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism, Rebecca Walker. In this collection of essays, 21 activists and thinkers “recast the concepts of feminism to reflect their personal experiences and beliefs.”
And, while we’re at it, I’m adding Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In to the list, both because the subject generally reflects issues I think and care about, and because I am finally ready to be part of the conversation about it.
On Qualitative Research and Fieldwork (The Happy Dork’s List)
I have been reading many of these in the past few months, but here is a glimpse into some of my reading on qualitative research methodology, which invigorates me in ways I had not quite expected. The pricier ones of these are borrowed from libraries…
Thinking Anthropologically, Philip Salzman and Patricia Rice
Designing Qualitative Research, Catherine Marshall
Fieldwork Under Fire: Contemporary Studies of Violence and Culture, Carolyn Nordstrom
Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, Robert Emerson, Rachel Fretz, Linda Shaw
Feminist Dilemmas in Fieldwork, Diane Wolf
Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research, Jean Clandinin and Michael Connelly
Books Specific to the Content of my Summer Research
This is a very, very long list and it is likely only of interest to maybe two of you (optimistically!). If you are curious about my research this summer and would like to take a look at the bibliography, send me an email (through the Contact tab above) and I am happy to discuss in greater length. In the meantime, two of my favorite research reads are Simon Robbins’ brand new Families of the Missing: A Test for Contemporary Approaches to Transitional Justice, which covers the topic of enforced disappearance, as does Lisa Ott’s Enforced Disappearance in International Law.
Your turn: What are you reading this summer? What is on your to-read list?