Barry McNamara  |   Published June 02, 2020

Summer Reading

College’s professors, past professors and librarians offer plethora of titles to read through the summer.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – With the rigors of the 2019-20 academic year behind them, now is the time when members of the Monmouth College community turn their attention to unassigned reading. The recommendations from professors, past professors and librarians at the College require no book reports or reaction papers.

Languages professor Francisco Ángeles plans to read The Undocumented Americans, by Karla Cornejo ... Languages professor Francisco Ángeles plans to read The Undocumented Americans, by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, who he met at Princeton University.Philosophy and religious studies professor Anne Mamary has a couple books on her reading list: Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman and Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution That Changed America by David Kamp.

“I’m a fan of Lightman’s earlier novel, Einstein’s Dreams, about different conceptions of time,” said Mamary. “I’m looking forward to Lightman’s discussion of place and meaning in Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine. A physicist and a philosopher, Lightman exemplifies the liberal arts.”

The other book, she said, “is on all the shows I grew up on, including Sesame Street, Electric Company, Mister Rogers, and, of course, Zoom.”

Before he became dean of Monmouth’s faculty, Mark Willhardt was an English professor who specialized in Scottish literature, and his recommendation comes from that niche.

“I always push people toward Lanark by Alasdair Gray,” he said. “He’s a Scottish novelist and former illustrator for the City of Glasgow and he writes trippy novels. They are postmodernist in that they have all sorts of tricks and turns in them, but they’re all great reads. Lanark is about an ennui-filled narrator who gets swept up into a revolution; he doesn’t exactly become a hero, but he plays key roles along the way – no matter which of several timelines he’s operating in. Plus, he meets both ‘Alasdair Gray’ and God, and getting to meet your maker – twice – seems a worthwhile fictional pursuit.”

Willhardt’s former English department colleague David Wright recommends Eve Ewing’s poetry collection 1919, set a century ago in Chicago during the “The Red Summer,” a season of national riots and unrest.

“Ewing weaves historical documentation with intense poetry to detail the experiences of everyday folk, particularly African-Americans, as they tried to survive riots and political injustice,” said Wright, who recently published his third book of poetry, Local Talent. “We read it during this last spring’s Advanced Poetry Writing. I’m glad to have read it, and very sad at how relevant it is, again, right now. It’s an important read.”

Francisco Ángeles, a professor in the College’s department of modern languages, literatures and cultures, chose a book with both a personal and timely tie – The Undocumented Americans, by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. He met Villavicencio at Princeton University in 2011 when they were prospective Ph.D. students.

“I was living in my native Peru at that time; she was a 21-year-old girl about to graduate from Harvard,” said Ángeles. “When I was introduced to her, I thought: ‘OK, here I am the poor Hispanic guy, and she’s the privileged Latina.’ The years to come showed me how little I knew.”

Far from privileged, Villavicencio came to the United States from her native Ecuador at the age of 5.

“Thanks to (the U.S. immigration policy) DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), she became the first undocumented immigrant to graduate from Harvard,” said Ángeles. “This year she published her first book to explain how it feels being undocumented in this country – particularly women and elderly immigrants. This inspiring and breathtaking must-read introduces us to the voices of those people, whom for obvious reasons I identify with and who sometimes seem invisible.”

His department colleague, Jennifer Thorndike, is reading The Book of the Unknown Americans.

“It recollects the testimonies of Latin American immigrants who have come to the United States and the first generation of Latinos born in this country,” she said of the book by Cristina Henríquez. “Their journeys, struggles and fight for rights are both inspiring and heartbreaking.”

Public Services Librarian Anne Giffey plans to read Pachinko, a National Book Award finalist by 2... Public Services Librarian Anne Giffey plans to read Pachinko, a National Book Award finalist by 2018 Monmouth Commencement speaker Min Jin Lee.Hewes Library Director Sarah Henderson, Public Services Librarian Anne Giffey and Reference and Serials Librarian Denise Dimmitt offered recommendations.

“I am looking forward to reading The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel,” said Henderson. “It is the last book in the (Thomas) Cromwell trilogy and is set during a period of time in which I am interested. Even though we know Cromwell’s fate, it will be interesting to see how Mantel gets us there.”

Giffey said: “I am currently reading Progress of Love, a short story collection by Alice Munro. A Canadian writer, Munro focuses on rural settings and manages to fit a lot of character development into a short amount of space. Many of the stories reach back into pre-WWII times and remind me of stories my father told of his simple rural upbringing. I look forward to reading Pachinko, a National Book Award finalist. It’s been on my list since the author, Min Jin Lee, received an honorary degree at Monmouth’s 2018 Commencement.”

Dimmitt plans to read one of the classic modern American authors.

“I’m looking forward to reading The Stories of Ray Bradbury this summer,” she said. “It has a little bit of everything to appeal to a wide audience, including sci-fi, horror and some nostalgic stories set in Illinois. You can pick it up and put it down at your leisure, and Ray Bradbury is a fabulous storyteller.”

One of the College’s most prolific authors recommended reading Willa Cather’s My Antonia.

“It is a slow-paced reminiscence of a time already being forgotten when the book was written, a time when my parents’ families moved from upstate New York, from Iowa, and from Germany to totally new lives, living in sod houses far from neighbors, through hot summers and freezing winters,” said emeritus history professor Bill Urban. “Many could benefit from reading a novel that can remind them of whence they came and the struggles their families went through to produce the families that produced them.”

Although the College’s Hewes Library remains temporarily closed, staff are available to facilitate lending library materials to local faculty, staff and students this summer. Requests for books in the library’s catalog can be emailed to

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