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"The Elegance of the Hedgehog"
February 10, 2011

Oh, what to read next. You’ve finished your stack of novels, and it’s overwhelming to browse in the library or bookstore. What’s a bookworm to do?

Not to worry. ASU’s Department of English has you covered once again with its annual list of books recommended by its faculty and staff.

Here’s a look at what some of them have read in the last year, or are currently enjoying. Perhaps you’ll find a title that will pique your interest for 2011. Their selections range from serious topics to “beach books.”

Robert Sturges, professor of English in medieval literature, recommends “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell. “It's actually half a dozen books in one, each paying homage to a different genre,” he said.

“These narratives are nested inside one another, and all their worlds turn out to be the same world at different moments, from distant past to distant future. They all concern the exploitation of the less powerful by the more powerful. These themes repeat themselves cyclically, but the characters do too, and in a more hopeful fashion.”

Shirley Rose, professor of English in rhetoric and composition and Director of English’s Writing Programs, is currently reading “As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto—Food, Friendship and the Making of a Masterpiece.”

“This volume of letters exchanged between the famous cookbook author and the wife of Bernard DeVoto offers a window into the development of the cookbook project that was eventually published as ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking,’” Rose said. “The content related to French food and French cooking techniques and tools is interesting, of course; but even more fascinating to me is seeing a friendship be initiated, develop and evolve through an exchange of personal letters, which was their only communication with each other, over a period of a dozen or so years.

“As a writing teacher, I’m also fascinated to observe the ways that Avis DeVoto played the role of informal ‘peer editor’ for Child, offering advice and encouragement as well as helping her to find a publisher for the cookbook project.”

Laura Turchi, clinical professor of English in English education, recommends a book not to be read while one is floating in a swimming pool: “Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West” by James Lawrence Powell.

She says, “’Dead Pool’ is a cautionary history for desert dwellers enjoying our pools, spas, hot showers, irrigated xeriscapes, and general existence in a climate meant for lizards and cacti rather than us of the tender and evaporating flesh.

“Powell examines the consequences of manifest destiny—the story of the U.S. and the ‘conquering’ of the west—in terms of water use for survival that becomes water demands for prosperity. Powell's book is also about the future: Hoover Dam and Lake Powell may be technological marvels meant to ease our survival in this landscape, but their existence has consequences, perhaps not to be felt in our immediate lifetimes.”

To escape all thoughts of a barren desert future, you can turn to Tina Norgren’s book choice, “South of Broad,” by Pat Conroy.

Norgren, an administrative assistant in the English education program, says the book is “a story of friends from different sides of the tracks who were brought together in a very strange way in high school. Their bond takes them through many years as they all grow and branch out into their own lives.

“A tragic incident brings them all back together to help out one of their friends 20 years after high school. The story shows the love a group of friends can share.”

For poetry aficionados, there are suggestions, too. Richard Newhauser, professor of English in medieval literature, turned to a book published in 2001 for some of his leisure reading.

“Practical Gods,” by Carl Dennis, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002, “is not a new collection of poetry but still a fascinating place to return for the quiet, reasonable, unexpected and sometimes unsettling drama of its monologues, often focusing on the (im)possibility of faith,” Newhauser said.

“Dennis writes with the accessible vocabulary of a high school teacher, even when speaking of the Delphic oracle or Persepolis. He frequently begins with received wisdom or a common situation and moves with steady steps to change the perspective, disarming the reader and himself along the way.“

There’s even a detective story on the list.

Gregory Castle, professor of English in literature (who is a James Joyce specialist), recommends “Tropic of Night” by Michael Gruber, which he describes as “one for the beach.”

“The story features Detective Jimmy Paz of the Miami PD, whose mother claims to be the original of the Cuban hit “Quantanamera” and runs a restaurant by that name.

“The novel is by turns a classic police procedural involving a serial killer and a thriller featuring an over-achieving anthropology graduate student, a poet, and santería rituals. Gruber knows his stuff, and anyone interested in Yoruba and African religions—as well as the variants of them brought over on slave ships—will not be able to put this one down.”

Other recommendations: Sally Ball, assistant professor of English in creative writing: “The Stranger Manual” by poet Catie Rosemurgy.

Jennifer Chinn, academic success specialist – undergraduate advising: “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson.

Maureen Daly Goggin, professor of English in rhetoric and composition: “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America,” by Erik Larson.

Cynthia Hogue, the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry: “Reversing the Spell: New & Selected Poems” by Eleanor Wilner; “Just Breathe Normally” by Peggy Shumaker; “Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster,” by Rebecca Solnit.

Tara Ison, assistant professor of English in creative writing: “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” by Nicholas Carr.

Wes Jackson, academic success specialist – undergraduate advising: “The Shadow of the Wind” and “The Angel’s Game,” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves.

Kristen LaRue, outreach program coordinator: “1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina,” by Chris Rose.

Joe Lockard, associate professor of English in literature: “To the End of the Land,” by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen.

Heather Maring, assistant professor of English in literature: “In Other Rooms, Other Wonders,” short stories by Daniyal Mueenuddin.

Keith Miller, professor of English in rhetoric and composition: “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory,” by David Blight.

For full descriptions of all the recommended books, visit