15 Reading Recommendations from Radcliffe’s 2019–2020 Fellows

December 5, 2019

The 2019–2020 cohort of Radcliffe fellows includes scholars, scientists, artists, writers, and practitioners. Below, a selection of Radcliffe fellows share books that inspired their research, activated their imaginations, and sparked their enjoyment.

These fellows provided reading recommendations as a thank you to Radcliffe’s donors, whose support is critical to the Institute’s people, programs, and research collections.

We Are Iraqis: Aesthetics and Politics in a Time of War (Syracuse University Press, 2013), edited by Nadje Al-Ali and Deborah Al-Najjar
Recommended by Esra Akcan, 2019–2020 Frieda L. Miller Fellow

This seminal anthology, says Esra, “brings together academics, journalists, novelists, playwriters, poets, and visual artists who display the destruction of life, arts, buildings, museums, universities, and archives during the United States invasion of Iraq.” Esra notes how readers are forced to confront the international community’s complicity—and hence their own—in the atrocities committed during the US occupation of Iraq while considering the resistant and restorative powers of arts and letters. Al-Ali was a panelist at Radcliffe’s 2012 gender conference, “Women Making Democracy.”


Educated: A Memoir (Random House, 2018), by Tara Westover
Recommended by Francine Berman, 2019–2020 Katherine Hampson Bessell Fellow

This acclaimed memoir details a woman’s remarkable journey through college and beyond after being raised without a formal education by a survivalist family. A recent discovery for Fran, “the story is both brutal and hopeful and gives great insight into the scope and diversity of life in America.”




Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors (Picador, 2001), by Susan Sontag AM ’57
Recommended by Allan M. Brandt AM ’92, 2019–2020 Rita E. Hauser Fellow

Sontag puts forth a critical theory challenging the societal constructs of disease in these combined texts. (Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors were published 11 years apart but often appear together today.) Noting that Sontag was “among the most influential public intellectuals of the 20th century,” Allan respects Sontag’s literary prowess and her examination of “how language shapes the meaning and experience of disease.”

Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone (Penguin Press, 2012), by Eric Klinenberg
Recommended by Paul Y. Chang MTS ’02, 2019–2020 Joy Foundation Fellow

In his book, Klinenberg evaluates the rise of single-person households, producing a data-informed, statistics-rich, yet compassionate analysis of an unparalleled transformation of the American family structure in recent decades. Paul is intrigued by the fact “that the motivations for, and consequences of, living alone vary dramatically depending on demographic and life circumstances.”


We Love You, Charlie Freeman (Algonquin Books, 2016), by Kaitlyn Greenidge RI ’19
Recommended by Liz Chiarello

In this debut novel, one African American family’s participation in a research study intersects with the troubling legacy of the American eugenics movement. Liz praises the author’s depth in her exploration of “the structural forces that help to maintain racial inequality today.” Greenidge was the 2018–2019 Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute.





The Embroidered Shoes (Henry Holt and Co., 1997), by Can Xue, translated by Ronald R Janssen and Jian Zhang
Recommended by Chaya Czernowin AM ’09, 2019–2020 Rieman and Baketel Fellow for Music

Can Xue provides a compelling collection of surrealist short stories set in contemporary China. Chaya concludes that the reader is left with “the most sensual but really abstract reading of our fractured, disoriented world, in which the onus is on living inside the cataclysm rather than finding ways out of it.”






The Seventh Function of Language: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), by Laurent Binet, translated by Sam Taylor
Recommended by Maria-Gabriella Di Benedetto, 2019–2020 William Bentinck-Smith Fellow

This satirical novel—which illustrates Binet’s humor and subversive nature—is a comedy and fictional historical narrative involving a French detective, a number of prominent 21st century intellectuals, and a linguistic mystery. Maria-Gabriella can only hope the English translation is as good as the original French text, in which, she says, “the writing is fantastic: sophisticated, sharp, fast, and also very funny.” More than a leisurely read, this book may find its way into Maria-Gabriella’s project at Radcliffe, which focuses on language and speech.


The Care of Nuns: The Ministries of Benedictine Women in England during the Central Middle Ages (Oxford University Press, 2019), by Katie Ann-Marie Bugyis RI ’19
Recommended by Margot E. Fassler

Bugyis reconstructs the history of Benedictine nuns through examination of their own liturgical documents and recovers evidence of their liturgical functions, including preaching, reading the gospel, hearing confessions, and pronouncing absolution. Margot says that, with this book, Bugyis “offers a multidisciplinary approach to this history, drawing on methods from liturgical studies, codicology, paleography, and diplomatics.” Bugyis was a 2018–2019 Joy Foundation Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute.


Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote (Belknap Press, 2019), by Susan Ware AM ’73, PhD ’78
Recommended by Liette Gidlow BI ’00, 2019–2020 Mellon-Schlesinger Fellow

Ware’s historical text explores the American suffrage movement through the efforts of 19 little-known activists from a variety of socioeconomic, religious, racial, and cultural backgrounds. Liette highlights how the diversity of unsung suffrage heroes reflected in this collective “shows the complexity of the movement and connects it to today’s issues of gender and racial equality.” Ware, who serves on Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library Council and as the Library’s honorary women’s suffrage centennial historian, wrote her book in time for the 19th Amendment’s momentous anniversary.


Little Fires Everywhere (Penguin Books, 2018), by Celeste Ng ’02
Recommended by Anne Higonnet ’80, 2019–2020 Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Fellow

This contemporary novel highlighting interpersonal relationships in an Ohio suburb received much critical acclaim. Anne is “gripped by the narrative’s intertwined reinventions of maternity and women’s creativity.” Last year, Ng, who wrote the book with inspiration from her hometown, joined the Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jhumpa Lahiri for a keynote conversation at Radcliffe’s 2018 conference “Who Belongs? Global Citizenship and Gender in the 21st Century.”


Confessions of the Fox: A Novel (One World, 2018), by Jordy Rosenberg
Recommended by Every Ocean Hughes, 2019–2020 Mary I. Bunting Institute Fellow

This historical metafiction novel reorients readers to understand how marginal figures, movements, and thoughts are suppressed and eclipsed in the historical record. Every emphasizes that “it’s rare that such a radical intellectual project can be so fun—nothing short of a masterpiece.”




Sabrina and Corina (One World, 2019), by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Recommended by Nina McConigley, 2019–2020 Walter Jackson Bate Fellow

Another National Book Award finalist, this time for fiction, Sabrina and Corina is a story collection about Latinas of indigenous descent in the American West. Nina is “always interested in nontraditional stories from the West, and this book navigates land and place beautifully.”





Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History (W. W. Norton, 2017), by Camille Dungy
Recommended by Jennifer C. Nash ’01, JD ’04, PhD ’09, 2019–2020 ACLS Frederick Burkhardt Fellow

A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, this collection is a poet’s travelogue as she encounters a variety of characters and they encounter her. Jennifer is captivated by this “powerful rumination on black motherhood. If blackness is marked by being cast as a stranger . . . Dungy’s essays treat motherhood as a powerful and transformative experience of being daringly open to the stranger.”



The Unnamable Present (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019), by Roberto Calasso, translated by Richard Dixon
Recommended by Christopher Shinn, 2019–2020 Catherine A. and Mary C. Gellert Fellow

In this ninth and latest book in a series of critical work originally published in Italian, Calasso ventures into postmodernity with his explorations of society and culture. Christopher asserts that Calasso “makes a compelling case that it is in our artistic and philosophical intuitions that we have the best shot at truly grasping the unnamable dangers forming around us.”



The Water Dancer: A Novel (One World, 2019), by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Recommended by Manisha Sinha, 2019–2020 Mellon-Schlesinger Fellow

This evocative novel—which follows a biracial man born into slavery on a hero’s journey to be reunited with his family—explores slavery and the Underground Railroad. Manisha appreciates that this story “beautifully reveals the power of historical fiction to render the past in a manner that eludes most history books.” In 2017, Coates was the keynote speaker at the Radcliffe conference “Universities and Slavery: Bound by History.”


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