Profs’ Picks What’s on the nightstands of Yale’s Professors

Amy Bloom
Lecturer, English Department

My summer reading ranged from the minor (the Robert Tannenbaum mysteries—with Butch Karp, the DA with the soul of a Jewish mother and his sexy, one-eyed gun-toting wife) to the life-changing (The Deptford Trilogy, which I re-read every few years and which, despite the middle novel, The Manitcore, being unfortunately centered on a Jungian analysis—and you have to give Davies props for imagining that this would be a good idea—is the best trilogy, and two of the best novels, period— in the world). I also read an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Jamesland by Michele Huneven and liked it so much I volunteered a blurb, instead of begging off. It is both sweet and honest and down-in-the-dirt about people’s mistakes and only a little up-in-the-sky about human nature. It reminded me of Anne Tyler, with slightly more urbane goings-on. Also, I read McCullough’s glorious biography of John Adams and found myself warning Adams: “Don’t trust that Tom Jefferson, he’s all smooth talk but he’ll turn on you!” I also found myself longing for great leaders, with vision and passion and a genuine sense of public duty, for our country.

Beatrice Gruendler
Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

I love the wry humor and deep human understanding of Mark Twain, and often his short prose has consoled me from a crazy day at work. Henry James is my other favorite, particularly The Europeans and The Sacred Fount. The first shows the subtle cultural differences between Europeans and Americans in New England at the beginning of last century (but much of it is still valid today), and the second is a fantastic journey in which the reader and the author switch places.

Linda Peterson
Niel Gray Jr. Professor of English

Summer reading means a chance to dive into contemporary fiction—often a pleasurable diversion from the 19th-century literature on which I concentrate during the academic year. This summer I’ve been reading novels by the British Caribbean writer Caryl Phillips, including his first, The Final Passage. The early section “Home” is filled with sharply described landscapes and characters, a Caribbean dialect new to me, and a compelling 19-year-old heroine who is sorting out her relationships with her mother, her new husband Michael, and her West Indian home. As the novel progresses, with Leila and Michael taking their passage to England, I’ve begun to realize that I’m not on a diversion from the 19th-century novel, but following a long tradition of protagonists journeying to London, a city of myths, hopes, and dreams. Of course, I should have known that Leila dreams would be disappointed, her hopes deferred; Pip’s first sight of London in Dickens’s Great Expectations teaches the pattern of expectations lost. But we learn anew in reading fiction, and when Leila comments that London has taught her the meaning of “overcast,” I’m hearing more than weather commentary and reading anxiously to see how this journey ends.

Diana Kleiner
Dunham Professor of History of Art and Classics

I have just finished Jacques Steinberg, The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier University— a gripping expose of undergraduate admissions at Wesleyan University. Expanding on a series of articles for the NY Times, it compellingly tracks the eight-month quest for the class of 2004 by admissions officer Ralph Figueroa and his colleagues and includes affecting portraits of a diverse group of applicants. I am now deep into Michael Parenti, The Assassination of Julius Caesar: A People’s History of Ancient Rome, with its new and controversial interpretation of the events of the Ides of March 44 B.C. Parenti suggests that Caesar’s aristocratic murderers were motivated more by fear that Caesar would democratize Rome and strip them of their influence than that his monarchical ambitions would grow. The story is vividly told from the perspective of those at the lowest end of the Roman social pyramid. I can’t wait to begin David Nolta, Grave Circle: An Ivory Tower Mystery. Just released and authored by a History of Art Ph.D. from Yale, the book promises to be a page-turning mystery and a masterpiece of great storytelling and writing. Since the tale begins on a college campus in October, it should make perfect fall reading.