For 16 years, the Herald-Tribune invited faculty, administrators and staff at New College of Florida to recommend books to our readers they thought had a particular impact during the year.
In 2017, we put a pause on the project to give our own Herald-Tribune staff a chance to share some of their recommendations. Now, New College returns with 11 book ideas. They are not all new, but most have been published since 2020. The contributors cover a range of subjects and styles.
We thank Miriam Wallace, Professor of English and Gender Studies, for spearheading this renewed relationship and getting her colleagues to contribute. We hope you find some good reading in this list.
Jay Handelman, Arts Editor
Emeritus professor of mathematics and New College alumnus
In “Klara and the Sun” (Faber & Faber, 2021), a poignant follow-up to “Never Let Me Go,¨ Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro continues his exploration of what it means to be “human.” His naïve writing style brings Klara to life, an android that serves as the AF (artificial friend) of the little girl, Josie. Through Klara, Ishiguro examines human emotions and interactions in this world, set some time in the near future. How the androids are treated serves as a metaphor for how modern society often treats those who don’t fit in as the world evolves. That mistreatment is mirrored in a more subtle way with the human characters in the story. You will grow to love Klara as she bonds with Josie, tries to save her through the mystical powers of the sun, and watches Josie grow up.
New Stage III season:Florida Studio Theatre touches varied issues with play series
Remembering a legend:Cherishing a lifetime of musical theater created by Stephen Sondheim
Former co-director of environmental studies and New College alumnus, author of ‘The Palmetto Book: Histories and Mysteries of the Cabbage Palm’
It is impossible to understand modern Florida without comprehending the environmental damage and baked-in social challenges wrought by a few dozen shrewd entrepreneurs who bought raw Florida land by the square mile and sold it off it as small, buildable lots. You’ve heard of some these places: Cape Coral, Marco Island, North Port and Port Charlotte. Lots commonly sold for $10 down and $10 a month. These installment sales looked like great value to northerners dreaming of retirement. But all too often the lots had no functional access, no sewer, no water, no electricity; many seasonally flooded. To make matters worse, these “cities” (some more than 100 square miles in size) had no downtowns. “The Swamp Peddlers: How Lot Sellers, Land Scammers, and Retirees Built Modern Florida and Transformed the American Dream” (UNC Press 2021), Jason Vuic’s readable exposé, unearths the high-pressure sales tactics, Tallahassee complicity, infighting and duplicity that permanently transformed more than 800 square miles of Florida, creating profound infrastructure dilemmas that remain to be solved.
Assistant professor of epidemiology and core faculty in the Health, Culture and Societies department
Robbie Arnott’s beautifully written “The Rain Heron” (Text Publishing, 2020) weds environmental import with magic realism to create an emotional – albeit violent at times – story. We witness the novel’s characters discovering themselves and seeking meaning in a stark post-coup land. The titular “rain heron” is a mythical beast composed of water that controls the weather; it is sentient, fierce, independent and enigmatic. In the post-coup period, we follow Ren as she escapes into the mountains and lives a subsistence life near the rain heron’s nesting site, revealed to her by her grandmother. A military officer and troops who are seeking to capture the rain heron disrupt and destroy Ren’s mountain life, in an effort to force her to lead them to the rain heron. As the story progresses, we gain an understanding of the characters’ lives and witness their self-discovery and resilience. “The Rain Heron” was named Age Book of the Year for 2021 and shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, 2021.
Six degrees of John Ringling:Tracing the roots of Sarasota’s arts and culture explosion
Assistant professor of philosophy and environmental studies
Following the success of his 2016 “Other Minds” (a superb book on octopuses), philosopher and avid diver Peter Godfrey-Smith leads a masterful foray into the origins of life and consciousness with “Metazoa” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020). It starts from the very beginnings, long before there was even anything around looking like an animal and takes the reader, over mind-boggling time-scales, to the fascinating forms of intelligence and sentience of fish, crustaceans and cephalopods, along the quirky trajectories of evolution. Hermit crabs, fishes, octopuses and other critters on land and in the air all shine under the spotlight of fine philosophical distinctions, splendid writing and illustrations. “Metazoa” is bubbling with ideas. It is literally the opposite of shallow. Godfrey-Smith is a profound, original thinker who makes the depths of the mind and the sea accessible to anyone daring to dive from the armchair.
Professor of history and medieval and renaissance studies and the author of two books on medieval Genoa
Frank M. Snowden’s “Epidemics and Society” (Yale University Press, 2019), a masterful exploration of how epidemic diseases have changed history and society, was published – perhaps presciently – about six months before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically reshaped our world. Engagingly written, “Epidemics and Society” will fascinate anyone interested in how epidemic disease intersects scientific knowledge, medicine and public health, as well as politics, religion, economics, the arts and literature. Snowden parallels how people experienced disease and reacted to it, and in particular how the experience of epidemic disease defined particular historical eras in ways many of us had conveniently forgotten about until COVID-19 arrived. While “plague” is now both a historical disease and a generic description, “smallpox” defines early modern exchanges between Western and non-Western cultures, “yellow fever” illuminates the cultural dynamics of the Haitian Revolution, and the wartime scourges of dysentery and typhus explain much about Napoleon’s failure to take Moscow. Snowden also addresses more recent panics over HIV/AIDS, SARS, and Ebola, while questioning (again, presciently) the world’s preparedness for the next generation of epidemic disease. Epidemics and Society offers historical perspective on COVID-19 and a salutary reminder that infectious diseases, old and new, have never just been a thing of the past.
Professor of English and author of “Orphic Bend: Music and Innovative Poetics.”
With a National Book Award, two Pulitzer Prizes and a MacArthur Genius Grant to his name, Colson Whitehead has long established himself as one of the most powerful voices in contemporary American fiction. In his most recent book, “Harlem Shuffle” (Penguin Random House, 2021), Whitehead takes his turn with a historical crime novel. Set in the early 1960s, Harlem Shuffle is an episodic novel whose three parts focus on the furniture salesman, Ray Carney, as he navigates the criminal underworld while aspiring to attain mainstream success. Each section of the book presents Carney with a clear moral dilemma – perhaps almost too clear, in that the crises can feel a bit overly familiar. But the real strength of the book is the way Whitehead uses these set-pieces of the genre as opportunities for sharp character development matched with insightful social commentary, all rendered in Whitehead’s distinctive voice. A must read by a truly important writer.
Associate professor of music, and Florida native who recently published “Musicology and Dance: Historical and Critical Perspectives” with Davinia Caddy
When fashion designer Dodge Maddison asks his old friend Ben “Big Ben” Benson, a retired detective now bartending at the Old Salty Dog on City Island, for help resolving a kidnapping, an imaginative murder mystery from Donn Fleming begins to unfold in the forthcoming “Cutthroat Key,” the fourth in his “Big Ben” series. The story takes the reader from restaurants and bars on St. Armands and City Island to old Florida stops on the Manatee River to Milan, the mountains of Sicily, San Diego, a sweatshop on the Yucatan peninsula, and the eponymous island deep in the Gulf of Mexico with red sand – a mystery in and of itself. I started reading for the local references, but kept reading to see where the fast-paced, zig-zagging plot would go next. You can meet the author at his regular book signings at The Old Salty Dog on City Island, where, like his character Ben, he bartends. Details on publication are available at donnfleming.com.
Jocelyn Van Tuyl
Professor of French, an expert in children’s literature and co-editor of “Dust Off the Gold Medal: Rediscovering Children’s Literature at the Newbery Centennial.”
Adjusting to college at 16 and grieving her mother’s recent death would be hard enough, but Bree Matthews didn’t expect to spend her first night on campus fending off unearthly hellhounds. She didn’t expect to discover a powerful secret society descended from King Arthur’s Round Table. And she certainly didn’t expect to exhibit stunning magical powers inherited from her African American ancestors. “Legendborn,” (Simon & Schuster, 2020), Tracy Deonn’spage-turning YA debut (winner of the Coretta Scott King-John Steptoe Award for New Talent 2021) will leave teens 14+ eager for the second book in the cycle, due out in November 2022.
Casting himself as Scheherazade from 1001 Nights, a middle-school immigrant spins stories that transport readers from ancient Persia to an Italian refugee camp to Oklahoma’s Tornado Alley. Daniel Nayeri’s “Everything Sad is Untrue” (Querido, 2020), winner of the 2021 Printz Award for YA literature, leavens a poignant refugee tale with boundless humor and adventure. Readers 11-adult will be captivated by this immensely inventive novel.
Professor of English and gender studies and a specialist in late eighteenth-century literature and culture
Readers familiar with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice may barely recall Lady Anne de Bourgh – the daughter of the formidable Lady Catherine, heiress to the estate of Rosings Park, and the subject of Elizabeth Bennet’s amused speculation about what a poor wife she will make the proud Fitzwilliam Darcy. In “The Heiress: The Revelations of Anne de Bourgh” (William Morrow), an expansion on Austen’s novel, Molly Greeley offers us the story of a chronically ill child who grows up dependent on her “brown drops” and the poetic opium dreams they induce. To discover herself and claim her birthright, Anne must determine to escape her medicated existence and leave her beloved Rosings for the whirlwind of London, discovering the nature of her own desires and talents along the way. Written in lush evocative prose, Greeley’s novel is both historically accurate and a highly original contribution to the long list of Pride and Prejudice spinoffs.
Producer for New Music New College
“You’ve got ears, haven’t you?” my exasperated mother would query when, lost in a daydream, I’d failed to respond to her. We all have ears, but much of the time we aren’t fully cognizant of that fact. “The dominance of the visual has in fact dulled all of our other senses, especially our hearing,” writes Trevor Coxin the prologue to his delightful and eminently readable “The Sound Book” (W.W. Norton, 2014). An acoustic engineer, Cox makes you want to open your ears to sounds both mundane and unusual: “There are sounds in our everyday life that, if we choose to listen to them, will surprise us with their diversity and uniqueness.” The Sound Book is an aural travelogue, a journey around the world to places with intriguing sounds, and Cox is the best of travel guides, writing for a lay audience while lucidly explaining complex phenomena.