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Book Recommendations: The Librarian Is In

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Looking for a new book to crack open? From dystopian futures to political intrigue and the poetry of John Ashbery, faculty from Pace's New York City English Department share what's on their nightstands.

Brought to us by the Mortola and Birnbaum Libraries, "The Librarian Is In" seeks to answer the age-old question—what should I read next? This month we have a number of guest recommendations from none other than the New York City English Department. Here’s what you should be adding to your list!

The Intuitionist—Colson Whitehead
Recommended by: Erica Johnson, PhD, Associate Professor
The most timely genre to read right now is dystopian fiction—and sales of such classics as 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale are skyrocketing—so I’d like to recommend a novel that defies categorization but has distinctly dystopian elements: Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist. Ostensibly about the unlikely heroics of elevator inspectors, the novel reveals the invisible mechanisms of race and class mobility in a “vertical society.” What Whitehead does with the metaphors of elevators, tall buildings in a crumbling metropolis, and the life-or-death conflicts between “empiricist” and “intuitionist” elevator inspectors is nothing short of genius. In his portrait of Lila Mae Watson, the first black woman inspector, Whitehead also reveals the deep, overlooked role of black history in the most widely used American inventions and institutions (yes, think Hidden Figures). Given that our New York City Campus is built around elevators, The Intuitionist is all the more appropriate and will transform your view of society and your vertical commute.

Waking the Dead—Scott Spencer
Recommended by: Mara Lee Grayson, PhD, English Department Lecturer
In this novel, an ambitious young politician begins to question his ideals when the lover he thought was killed years earlier helping political refugees reappears. It is easy to get caught up in the captivating narrative and Spencer's vivid depictions of grief and desire, but underneath this individual story lies a deeper political question: is it possible to make change from within the system or can it only occur from the outside, through revolution?

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White AmericaMichael Eric Dyson
Recommended by: Meaghan Brewer, PhD, Assistant Professor
In this book, sociologist and cultural critic Michael Eric Dyson returns to his roots as a Baptist minister, using the format of a sermon to deliver a powerful message about the history of white supremacy in America. Dyson’s central message is that if we want to end the brutality against African-Americans, embodied in recent police killings of unarmed African-Americans, then white Americans need to work to stop the legacy of white supremacy that often subconsciously informs their thinking. This is an emotional work, and although at times the message Dyson delivers may be uncomfortable and even painful to read, he addresses the reader throughout as “Beloved,” indicating that this is a message delivered with love.

Don QuixoteMiguel de Cervantes
Recommended by: Kelley Kreitz, Assistant Professor
This semester, I am immersed in Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote as part of a learning community, called “Fearless Texts: Rethinking Writing in Don Quixote and Beyond,” that I am teaching with Professor Lamartina-Lens in the Modern Languages Department. Re-reading this book (for the first time since graduate school) has led me to fall in love with it all over again—for its humor, for its bold critique of the social norms of Cervantes’s day, and for its surprising relevance to our current moment of tumultuous politics and rapid media change. This book is a must-read for all undergraduates. If you are not able to read the original Spanish, I recommend Edith Grossman’s English translation.

The Manticore—Robertson Davies
Recommended by: Steven Goldleaf, PhD, Professor
A book I re-read every year or so (last time was over winter break) is the Canadian author Robertson Davies’ novel The Manticore, which is the middle volume of his Deptford trilogy (volumes one and three are also excellent). It tells, via an extensive Jungian analysis, of a wealthy lawyer eager to find out what he really wants to do with his life, and to understand the reasons he has done with it as he has so far. Though I am not wealthy, not a lawyer, and not particularly fond of Jungian thought, this novel made me confront issues in my own life and change it for the better, as I think it can do for anyone.

Commotion of the Birds—John Ashbery
Recommended by: Eugene Richie, PhD, NYC English Department Chair
One of the most humorous and profound of all modern writers, Ashbery places each reader at the center of the poem. This is the 27th collection of new poems by the last-standing of the very first New York School poets. Ashbery, who will turn 90 this year, is an inspiration to us all, with titles such as Tales from Shakespeare, The Old Sofa, Dangerous Asylum, Glitch, and People Behaving Badly a Concern. As the title poem says, “It’s like being left out in the rain, and coming / to understand that you were always this way, modern, / wet, abandoned, though with that special intuition / that makes you realize you weren’t meant to be / somebody else.”

Do you have a book you would like the Pace Library to buy? Please send your book recommendation to Michelle Lang