Summer Reading

We’re about halfway through summer, and odds are you may be looking for your next summer read. Emma Willard School faculty and staff have shared some recommendations, based on their favorite reads so far this summer.
Mónica Guzmán’s book I Never Thought of it That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times is on all of our reading lists this summer! Mónica was our 2022 Commencement speaker, and will also be back to speak to our community during Fall Family Weekend. Students and employees will receive copies of the book in preparation for fall!

Head of School Jenny Rao
I’m reading The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner and LOVING it! I always find wisdom and inspiration in the natural order of the world. This book is a fascinating read that combines groundbreaking scientific research on evolution and a new understanding of life itself.

Henry L. Thompson Instructor in Mathematics Alan Berry
Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times by Jonathan Sacks
John Ball and I are considering this book as a possible choice for a student/faculty/parent book discussion in the fall. I am only about one quarter through it, but it promises to give hope and a way forward for the US and other nations who appear to be hopelessly fractured.

Science and History Instructor John Ball
Among the best books I’m reading is Gary Gerstle’s timely The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order, which explains why it feels we don’t agree as a country on where we should be heading. Others include: Shakespeare’s “Richard II,” Tolstoy’s magnificent Anna Karenina, and any of a number of Agatha Christie novels!


Head of Enrollment Management Kristen A. Mariotti
Time Is A Mother by Ocean Vuong is a collection of poetry—powerful, often haunting, and overwhelmingly beautiful. Having only read Vuong's prose, I was so excited to dive into his poetry and I was not disappointed. This book was written shortly after his mother's death and explores themes of grief, loss, and joy in the aftermath of it all. I loved it from start to finish. Others include: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, Ocean State by Stewart O'Nan, The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner.


History Instructor John Riley
I am currently reading James Romm's Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the Bloody Fight for his Empire. Although I'm a US Historian by training, I took several undergraduate courses on the ancient Mediterranean and near east. I enjoyed them so much that I continue to read classical history to this day. Romm is a professor of classics at Bard College with a penchant for writing accessible, narrative history. His books read like a thrilling work of fiction, but they are deeply rooted in solid archival and archeological research and reflect the current best practices of the field. And for a nonexpert like myself, they are a great way to dip my toes into ancient history!

Math Instructor Brett LaFave
I am currently reading Indra Nooyi's My Life in Full. In this book, Nooyi discusses her remarkable life journey—from growing up in modest circumstances in India, to attending business school at Yale, to consulting for companies around the world, to serving as CEO of PepsiCo and on the boards of Fortune 500 companies. She discusses her thought processes when making hard decisions like determining how to balance her career and family or how to restructure legacy companies to adapt to the modern world. Nooyi discusses important issues facing the economy—like employee access to childcare and paid family leave, environmental issues, and the increasingly international nature of the world—and proposes ways that businesses can generate solutions and make positive change.

Digital Content Strategist Kaitlin Resler
I anticipated the release of Elif Batuman’s Either/Or, a sequel to The Idiot (so if you haven't read that one, please do, it's a fave), and have been taking my time reading it a little slower than usual because I don't want to rush through it. So far, I am enjoying it, although in a very different way from the first book. It makes me nostalgic for 90s email and music, a college experience I never had, and the way it feels to think/talk about language. Mostly, I missed Selin and it's lovely to read her voice again (even if she's super depressed right now). Others include: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures by Mary Ruefle, Patricia Lockwood's Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals (poetry), and Jay Hulme's The Backwater Sermons (also poetry).

Director of Curriculum and Innovation Peter Hatala
I'm reading The South: Jim Crow and Its Afterlives by Adolph Reed, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. Reed tells the story of his day-to-day experiences and indignities of living in the Jim Crow south. In doing so, he illustrates how the Civil Rights victories of the 1960s, while eliminating the practice of segregation by law, did not end de facto racial segregation, the legacy of which can be felt today. As a careful historian, Reed highlights differences in the lived experiences of segregation based on Black class position in southern society, noting how a Black middle and upper class emerged from this period better positioned to find social advancement and security than their working-class and poor counterparts. He is also takes care to note both the ways in which the Jim Crow south is entirely unlike the present and where we might observe continuities with this past. As historian Barbara Fields writes in her foreword to the book: "mistaking familiar imagery for actual continuity (for example, by identifying voting restrictions or the disproportionate incarceration of black persons as a new Jim Crow) 'obscure[s] how the present differs most meaningfully from the past.' Failure to grasp the differences condemns persons of good will to fight the last war while letting the present one go by default."

Senior Associate Director of College Counseling Abbey Massoud-Tastor
I am reading Horse by Geraldine Brooks. It is a beautiful novel that spans generations, covers slavery and race relations, love and class. I am blown away by the smart and insightful writing. I highly recommend this book!

Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Gemma Halfi
This is actually the second time I'm reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, because I was asked to lead a book discussion this summer with a religious congregation in Albany who is focusing on anti-racism work. I recommend it because it gives a framework to race in America in a way that isn't often examined. Wilkerson presents a compelling comparison between three of the most prominent caste systems in the world, both historically and in the present-day. Seeing race through the lens of a caste system has helped me make even stronger connections between events and injustices of the past to present-day systems of oppression. It also helped me understand the complicated relationships between race, class, gender, religion, country of origin, and other important aspects of one's identity. Caste addresses these larger systems while simultaneously exposing a wide variety of personal narratives that serve as supporting evidence to her theory that a caste system is alive and well in the United States.

Director of Admissions and Recruitment Katie Myer
The Maid by Nita Prose. It is a light murder mystery with a unique main character. I loved it!

Computer Science and Mathematics Instructor Chiara Shah
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is a haunting tale of a childless couple living in Alaska in the 1920s. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2012. The writing is vivid and memorable. I am still thinking about it four weeks after finishing it! Also: Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton. Just when you thought the zombie apocalypse genre couldn't possibly give you anything more exciting, along comes a book from the point of view of a crow. Yes, a crow. This book is a breath of fresh air and humor. This crow has an attitude and an obsession with television and cheetos. I loved it! (Oh, and the sequel was good too).


Math Department Chair Judy Price
I’ve been reading: Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng; I'll Show Myself Out - Jessi Klein; The Lyrics - Paul McCartney; and The Shame Machine - Cathy O'Neil (she was a speaker at Emma a few years ago).


Mathematics Instructor Alexandra Schmidt
This past week I've read I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times by our 2021 Commencement speaker, Mónica Guzmán, and Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I read them in quick succession, and in that order, and what turned out to be interesting is the extent to which they are counterpoints to each other. Guzmán's book discusses the ways in which we self-identify with some groups and identify other groups as "not us" and offers a conversational toolkit for bridging those divides, both by how we speak and by how we listen. Rabbi Sacks's book takes both a broader and a more focused look at why and how our society has evolved away from a "we" focus to an "I" focus--politically, economically, philosophically, and personally--and what we can choose to do to reverse this social parallel to climate change.