Readers & Writers 2010 Summer Reading List

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Our summer intern at the station, Sarah Harris, is staying in my home while she works with our news and web departments. Seeing her each morning—and evening—sitting with a book at the kitchen table reminds me of my younger self, never without a book to read in those snatches of free time caught throughout the day. When I was a teenager, nothing could be better than flopping on my bed with a library book and an apple and reading until my mother called me for dinner or suggested it might be bedtime. In the summer, stretched out on a beach or campground, I’d squint my way through book after book, terrified that I’d run out of books before I could borrow more. The insatiable lightness of reading. Not sure what that means, but it sounds right.

Here’s our annual summer reading list. Special thanks to John Ernst and Chris Robinson who co-host the on-air call-in during which listeners contribute suggested titles. John and Chris are also robust purveyors of recommended reads.

Scattered throughout this list, you’ll find definitions contributed by long-time station friend and reading list contributor, Chris Dunn. Hard to describe, so I’ll quote Chris:

“Then, there are the Phobias…All developed, I insist, in the closest possible collaboration with Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 15th Edition. As Dave Barry used to say, ‘I am not making this up.’ Mostly.”

Chris remembered a list of (alleged) phobias we ran in a reading list about five years ago, and he was off and running (see if you can figure out meaning before reading his “definition”):


Achtung!phobia: the fear of being ordered about in German (very prominent once, as you can imagine, and fairly closely related to achluophobia, the fear of darkness).

Or,

Microbibliokenonecrophobia: fear of books edited down to an empty nothing (say, Reader’s Digest Books). It might even include a touch of taphephobia, which has nothing to do with candy but is the fear of being buried alive…think of the stories interred deep within the condensation.


I wonder about the –phile definitions. What kind of “—phile” am I for being attracted to the minds of, hmm, unusual thinkers?

Send me those recommended book titles, any time of day or year. Here’s how to reach me:

ellen@ncpr.org or
Ellen Rocco
North Country Public Radio
Canton, NY 13617


Ellen Rocco, North Country Public Radio, station manager

  • Brooklyn, Colm Toibin. This is hands down my top pick from recent fiction. A quietly told story of a young Irish woman who, unwillingly, emigrates to Brooklyn. As John Ernst paraphrased one reviewer, this is the story of every immigrant, a foreigner in the adopted country and never again at home in the old country. Now I want to read Toibin’s short story collection, Mothers and Sons, and his earlier novels, The Master and The Blackwater Ship.
  • Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann. This won the 2009 National Book Award for fiction. I’m still in the middle of it. I’m not quite certain where I’ll land. Certainly worth reading. Other titles by McCann include Zoli, Dancer and This Side of Brightness.

In the “if you missed the first time around” category, I’d recommend these hits from not so long ago:

  • The News from Paraguay, Lily Tuck. This won the 2004 National Book Award. I stumbled on this when it was published in paper and loved it. Later found out it had received the Award.
  • Master and Commander series, Patrick O’Brian. The multi-volume series set in the era of the Napoleonic wars, rich with sea-going detail and memorable characters. I am a land-lubber and loved these books. I’m thinking about re-reading the whole lot of them.

Acropoliphobia: fear of finding oneself up on tall Greek monuments. Though, actually, with batophobia, it should be acrobatophobia—which will serve here pretty well—or for irrational fear of the Cirque de Soleil. (See batophobia.)

Batophobia: (Real! Though my interpretation may be extravagant. –CD) Fear of high objects, or being on them—fear, I assume, of thinkng at just the wrong moment that you’re Michael Keaton, or Val Kilmer, or Adam West, or…


Christopher Robinson, Readers & Writers Co-host, Clarkson University

My reading is tied intimately to mourning the recent death of my mother. What I have been seeking in my reading is the space and vocabulary for reconstructing a world characterized now by the absence of this kind, gentle and loving person I miss so much. As painful as mourning is, it is also an intensely creative process. The fabric of life has been torn; and while it can be mended it can never be the same. This is an opening for new seeing and thinking. You come to appreciate the fragility and ephemeral quality of the life you lead.  You look closely at where you have been, how you spend time now, and thoughts about the future are infused with the acknowledgement that time is finite. While mortality can be a source of anxiety and fear, for me it has become something of a gift. I find myself wallowing not only in sorrow, but also in the knowledge that I was so lucky to have such a wonderful parent for so long.  The relationships I have with my friends (who have been overwhelmingly kind and supportive) and with my family, particularly my wife, have all been cast in a light described best as sacred through mourning. The reading I have been doing has been slow and searching.  My list will reflect this, I think.

Nonfiction

  • Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.  We place so high a premium on being right that the price for being wrong is the kind of humiliation that leaves us wanting to forget how important error is for personal growth, creativity and social progress. Schulz’s study in “wrongology” is a thoughtful and entertaining antidote to the dogmatism and anxiety that comes with the joy of being right.
  • Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell.  Solnit is one of my very favorite writers. This book is a study of how communities arise and meet the challenges of natural disaster.  She looks at the aftermath of earthquakes, hurricanes, and human-made disasters and examines closely that odd sense of euphoria we feel in the wake of ice storms and power outages as a source of communal engagement and social responsibility.
  • Tony Judt, Reappraisals.  Judt has long been an intellectual hero of mine.  About a year ago, I learned that he had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.  With his life coming to an end, Judt has been focusing on completing his literary legacy with new (short) books on social democracy and the future of Europe. To honor Judt, I have been re-reading a number of his books.  His thinking is intense, informed, and presented in clear and forceful arguments.  Judt’s writing is a model of scholarship and intellectual engagement.
  • Adam Phillips, Going Sane: Maps of Happiness.  Phillips is a psychoanalyst and provocative writer. So much has been written about the experience of madness. You would think we had a fairly clear idea about what sanity is all about. Phillips addresses the very large hole in the literature engendered by the lack of a clear definition or idea of sanity.
  • Terry Castle, The Professor and Other Writings. So many of our listeners are teachers and administrators of area schools that a book of this kind might find a wide audience here. Castle is a well-known literary scholar.  The essays in this book are more autobiographical, however. The title essay recounts an abusive affair Castle had with a professor in her graduate department. It is a unique study of obsessive infatuation, the dawning of sexuality and the distorting effects of the power a professor holds over her or his student.  The essay I enjoyed most was Castle’s memoir of her weird friendship with the late Susan Sontag.
  • Steve Almond, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life. We had a great interview with Steve Almond last year and he kindly sent me the galleys of his most recent essay collection.  Almond at his best matches the humor and quirkiness of David Sedaris.  As the title indicates, this is a volume devoted to Almond’s experiences as a fan of popular music and a music critic. It is great fun, but also smart and thoughtful.
  • Thich Nhat Than, Living Buddha, Living Christ. Yes, I know this book is regarded as a classic by many, and I read it because it had been recommended by a number of people whose opinions I respect. The central thesis is that there is consonance between the teachings of the Buddha and Christ. What struck me about the book, however, is the poetic quality of the language and how slowly I read it.  Works that can alter your experience of time are rare and come to you as great gifts.
  • Robin D.G. Kelley, Theolonius Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original.  This appeared on my winter list, but I was about a quarter of the way through it.  I finished it in an intense 300 page reading session because I could not put it down.  Kelley has written more than the biography of an individual genius; he captured something deep and important about jazz as a musical form and as the form American culture has taken in the twentieth century.
  • Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir.  I’m just starting this book.  I vowed to avoid it when it first came out.  Then, recently, Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and I felt compelled to pick it up.  Look, my relationship with Hitchens is personal.  I took him on as a political mentor when I was young.  We parted ways when he supported the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq.  It was hard losing such a powerful voice at that critical time, and I continue to find his position wrong, immoral, and unforgiveable. After several pages in this volume, I find myself absorbed and reminding myself that there was a time when I admired his thinking and writing because of its power and verve.
  •  Pete Hamill, Downtown. The focus of this memoir is that area of Manhattan from Battery Park at the very southern tip to Greenwich Village. This mass is regarded by Hamill as a palimpsest.  Buildings, streets, green areas, and squares are traced back in time to their construction or, in some cases to the pre-colonial origins. Hamill loves the city, and he breathes life into its history and architecture. He makes me miss it all the more.
  • Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About when I Talk About Running.  Writing and running require endurance and discipline. Murakami explores these two activities that have served him so well in life. I do recommend the book, but I kept thinking it should have been a deeper meditation on creativity and how it is invited by physical and intellectual labor.
  • Barry Lopez, About this Life.  This is a volume of autobiographical essays that I picked up immediately after seeing Lopez on the very last installment of Bill Moyer’s Journal.  Lopez is a truly fine writer who can convey thoughts on death and mortality with the same elegance as his descriptions of landscapes.
  • Orhan Pamuk, Other Colors.  I love Pamuk’s novels, and this volume of essays on reading and writing enrich the experience of reading his fiction all the more.  Pamuk is to Istanbul what Saul Bellow was to Chicago, what Raymond Chandler was to Los Angeles, and what William Kennedy is to Albany. Stories are not set in these cities by these writers.  Rather, the cities are lexical creations that give birth to stories.
  • Chris Hedges, Empire of Illusion. This is an important book that opens with the definition of psychosis as the inability to distinguish reality and illusion. For Hedges, this is an apt description of the United States today.  From academia to the porn industry to corporatism and foreign policy, America is displaying all the symptoms of a dying empire, and there is nothing exceptional about that.

Fiction and Poetry

  • C.K. Williams, Collected Poems. Williams writes what I take to be philosophical poetry. The play with ideas is performed with lyricism.
  • Milan Kundera, Ignorance.  Back in the 1980s, I went through a Kundera phase triggered by The Unbearable Lightness of Being. This is the first novel of his that I’ve read in two decades. As always, Kundera deals with the interplay of liberation and nostalgia that is so central to the experience of the political exile.
  • Richard Price, Lush Life. John Ernst recommended this a year ago.  I don’t usually read crime novels, but this one is something special. No writer is as good at street slang-inflected dialogue as Price. Just read the interrogation scene at the book’s beginning. There’s nothing like it anywhere!
  • Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach.  The reviews of this novella were overly critical in my estimation. Yes, it is the story of a disastrous honeymoon. But the tragedy developed in this short work is truly epic. The writing is extraordinarily compact and rich. I was thinking about these characters for weeks.
  • Sylvia Brownrigg, The Metaphysical Touch. This is a fat philosophical novel in the best sense. A Kant scholar loses her dissertation to a fire. The damage is so severe that she cannot go back to her old life and so she plunges into a disorderly existence that defies reason. There is no path to follow, but there is an interesting guy on the internet who is worthy of time and words. It takes improvisation, but order begins to take shape.
  • W.S. Merwin, The Shadow of Sirius.  I’m not so sure that being the Poet Laureate of the United States is anything more than an honorific, but I like to use the announcement as an excuse to read the poetry of the person so named. It has served me well.  Merwin’s writings feel like sermons delivered with quiet eloquence.

Agroergophobia: fear of finding oneself working on a farm.

Automysozoophobia: not fear of being dirty so much as its extreme form—fear of turning into Swamp Thing.


John Ernst, Summer Reading Co-host, Elk Lake/New York City

  • Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, Liaquat Ahamed. On the NY Times 10 best of 2009 list; Pulitzer Prize for history, 2010. The author, a Harvard and Cambridge trained economist, has been an investment manager for 25 years and has worked at the World Bank and as an advisor to hedge funds. In this book he traces the period from before the First World War through the turmoil of the twenties and into the Great Depression of the 1930s. Ahamed tells the story through the prism of four central bankers who were primarily responsible for economic policy during this period and whos errors of orthodoxy had tragic consequences. The story comes alive because Ahamed concentrates on the personalities and the relationships of the central characters. This is far from being a dull study of economics, and it has a striking relevance to the world we are living in today.
  • The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, Michael Lewis. The author is a brilliant story teller. He zeroes in on characters—in this case the people who unraveled the real estate credit doomsday machine that Wall Street created and that the rating agencies and government regulatory officials supported. The characters are as improbable as they are fascinating. One trader in the book asks, “How do you explain the importance of a credit default swap on a double-A tranche of subprime-backed collateralized debt obligations?” Well, after reading this book you will not only understand, but you will have been treated to a tale of heroism, stupidity, greed and narcissism that is completely enthralling and makes you feel you grasp, perhaps for the first time, what sent so wrong with our financial institutions, causing losses estimated at a trillion dollars. Lewis cuts right to the chase. His explanation of the problem is: “…making loans to people who were one broken refrigerator away from default.”
  • Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History, S.C. Gwynne (2010)
  • --and--
  • The Comanche Empire, Pekka Hamalainen (2008)
  • Empire of the Summer Moon is a big, sweeping, blood-soaked account of the extraordinary rise of a dark-skinned, short-statured, Shoshone-speaking people who called themselves Nermernuh (the people) but whom history has come to know as the Comanche. These people, unsurpassed horsemen and marksmen, ultimately occupied an empire that extended from the Arkansas River to the Rio Grande, from present-day Houston to Santa Fe. The author, a newspaper writer and editor, has framed the story with the brutal 1836 raid on the Parker Family homestead in Texas and the capture of the 9-year old Cynthia Ann Parker. She lived for 24 years with the Comanches, married a Camanche chief and gave birth to the great tribal leader Quanah Parker, a man who made the transition from ruthless raider to reservation days, when he became friendly with Teddy Roosevelt, among others. The contrasting careers and destinies of generals Ranald Mackenzie and George Armstrong Custer is only one of the good stories from this book.
  • As a corrective to Gwynne’s book, Hamalainen’s The Commanche Empire, which won the Bancroft Prize, is a groundbreaking study by an associate professor at the University of California that credits the success of the Comanches not exclusively with their savagery and prowess at war, but with their great skills as diplomats, adeptly playing off colonial powers and other tribes against each other, their adaptable social structure and government, and their ability to exploit others, building a unique economy of horses and trade goods. They were defeated in the 1870s, not by force of arms but by drought, disease, destruction of the buffalo herds, and the wight of their own expansion. This is not light reading, but it presents a serious and interesting thesis.
  • The last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Nathaniel Philbrick. I confess to being something of a Little Bighorn addict. I have spent several days walking the battlefield and have read a number of books on the subject. The story of Custer and the Seventh Cavalry still haunts Americans more than 130 years after the event and continues to raise questions and cause controversies. I am also a fan of Nathaniel Philbrick, whose Mayflower was the best book I have ever read on the relationship between Native people and New England settlers in the 17th century. Here he has done a prodcious amount of research, even discovering some family papers of a participant that have never before been published. His voluminous notes are a model of detail and clarity. And he covers the entire story from Custer’s early sorties into the Black Hills, through the Wounded Knee massacre and the murder of Sitting Bull in 1890, marking the end of the era of Indian Wars. But, if you want to read only one book about Custer and the Little Bighorn battle, I would recommend Evan Connell’s Son of the Morning Star (1984). For sheer writing skill, nothing else comes close. Also of interest, The Battle of the Little Bighorn, by Mari Sandoz, author of the masterpiece, Cheyenne Autumn.

Doxyphobia: related to venustraphobia, the fear of beautiful women—probably needs no further comment.

PlutoGoofiphobia: the fear of silly Disney characters—or silly rich people (or Donald Trump).


  • The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution and the Birth of America, Steven Johnson. This is not a conventional biography but rather a history of ideas centering on Joseph Priestly—a minister, teacher, scientist (they were called natural philosophers in his day) and a radical political thinker of the Enlightenment—a man whose career spanned the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The sheer range of Priestley’s energy and intelligence is astounding. He was the first person to isolate oxygen and to understand the role of plants in processing carbon dioxide. He was co-founder of the Unitarian Church. He was a friend of Benjamin Franklin and a deep sympathizer with the principles of the American Revolution. Steven Johnson, a graceful and intelligent writer, uses what he calls a “long zoom” approach to shift his focus from the carboniferous era to the lab instruments of the 18th century to trace and limn the meaning of intersecting events, ideas and theories. This is a heady performance—a book that is continually surprising.                                                                    
  • The Blue Hour: A Life of Jean Rhys, Lillian Pizzichini. This is an unconventional biography of an unconventional writer. Jean Rhys (real name: Ella Gwendoline Rees Williams) was born in 2890 and published a series of short novels and stories in the 1920s and 1930s that stirred literary interest but were too bleak to attract much of a general audience. Thirty years later, in 1966, when she was 76, she published Wide Sargasso Sea and her place was assured as one of the most important British writers of the century. Rhys was a difficult, self-defeating, half-mad alcoholic…but she wrote like an angel. Pizzichini does a remarkable job of telling Jeans’ story from her point of view—you might not like Jean Rhys, but only in reading her work can one recognize her importance.
  • The Anthologist, Nicholson Baker. This novel begins: “Hello, this is Paul Chowder, and I’m going to tell you everything I know.” That got to me right off the bat. Paul Chowder is a poet whose career has stalled. But he is an extremely interesting companion. I took four pages of notes from this novel in a desperate attempt to convey its quality. It can’t be done. This is an original voice and a delightful piece of bravura writing.
  • The Imperfectionists, Tom Rachman. This is a gangbuster first novel, written by a foreign correspondent and editor of the International Herald Tribune. Told in short, punchy bursts, the novel is constructed as a series of narratives, each featuring a different employee or reader of an English language newspaper published in Rome that is slowly working its inevitable way into irrelevance and bankruptcy in the era of the internet and 24-hour cable news.  Some of the chapters are funny; some are like a kick in the gut. But Rachman’s mastery of the characters and their relationships is unerring. In 265 pages you meet 11 people whose lives you enter just at the moment when they are revealed down to their core. This is, I think, a literary debut that will leave after-shocks for years. If you read it now you will get in early on the fun.

Chirrupiphobia or chirpyphobia: the fear of perky people (generally at its worst in the morning, hence the frequent prefix precaffein-).


Christopher Dunn, Reader, Potsdam                                                

Non-fiction:

  • May I recommend something I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned before, winter or summer? It’s been on my bookshelf, complete, for many years now, and I have read it through, but I doubt it’s available in any local library. For one thing, it’s in 6 volumes. For another it’s The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt. Yes, that Casanova. And it’s not what you think.
    …Well, all right, it is what you think. But much more, too: Jacques Casanova, during a long life (1725-1798), traveled through almost all of Europe, and in every level of society. And he seems to have remembered all the details, and not only from Bettina to Irene (so far as I can find out, the first and the last). And if you make the journey with him, you will come to know it almost as well. It is all entertainingly told (some that depends on the translator: mine is Arthur Machen in a reprint of the unabridged London Edition of 1894).
  • I know The Torture Memos (2009) has been mentioned long since, but I happened to get it from a book club right in the holiday season of 2009. Believe me, it makes sharp Christmas reading. And if I can recommend the season for reading as well as the book, it would be that book, in that season. You would think that a political party (I name no names), marinated in any form of Christianity, would remember—when they’re not listening to fulminatons against “Happy Holidays” and “Compliments of the season” instead of “Merry Christmas on radio and TV—that that’s the season we celebrate the birth of, as Mel Gibson reminded us in ghastly detail (I say nothing about the other details of The Passion), the best known victim of torture and murder in the name of State Security. A bit of the Gospels it would be good to remember.

I don’t know why so much of my reading is all from the past just now, maybe just because I stumbled onto some classics. For example:

  • War in Val D’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943-1944, Iris Origo. (First published in 1947; republished in 1984 by Nonpariel, David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc.) Origo was an Englishwoman, married to an Italian landowner. The book is in diary form, which she edited a bit for publication (she was a noted writer, and her biography is well worth reading). One of the British POW escapees she and her husband aided referred to what he was able to tell them about events as a “worm’s eye view.” Without slighting her own and her husband’s courage and humanity, that could be called her view of the events around her—from the invasion of Sicily to the moment when the British and Americans drove the Germans out of the area where she lived. The view of the victims of war, occupation and to some degree of the allied victory. It is all—almost—equally frightening to those helpless in the midst of events. Even the rhetoric of Churchill, even the proclamations of the Allies about liberation sound very different when you live on the land being fought over.
  • The Autobiography of Michel De Montaigne, translated and edited by Marvin Lowenthal. (First published in 1935; this 1999 edition also from Nonpariel, etc.) Of course Montaigne (1533-1592) was and maybe still is the finest (and almost first) essayist in the western tradition. He never wrote an autobiography, but the translator/editor apparently has not only read but mastered his three volumes of essays and pieced together, seamlessly so far as I can tell, everything the author ever said about himself. It is Montaigne’s voice speaking. Its hold on the reader is astonishing. Whether because of the sanity and common sense of the author, or his calm frankness, both very evident, I can’t say. But the hold on the reader is gentle as gravity—at ground level—and as persistent.
  • Supreme Power, Jeff Shesol. This is the story of Franklin Roosevelt’s famous (or notorious) 1937 attempt to expand the Supreme Court. The “court-packing” scheme, as it is known to history and popular memory. One fascinating thing about this account is not only the events themselves, but the parallels with 2009 and 2010, which are almost uncanny, and which I could believe were deliberately sought by the author—though he does not preach or grow sarcastic with echoes of present time. FDR’s scheme is remembered now as a huge blunder, but Shesol has all the reasons why it did not look at all that way at the time, why in fact it looked for a while as if it would certainly succeed in some form. He is a fine storyteller and, so far as I can tell, has mastered the data. More than worth reading.
  • American Lion, Jon Meacham. Recommended because it is so readable and perceptive a biography—political biography—of Andrew Jackson, and because Jackson was such a dramatic figure and president. And also because there is one sentence in the book that will stop you cold. And creates a picture that will probably keep you from reading on for a minute or two—at least if you have misspent some of your life as I have.
  • Theodore Roosevelt’s History of the United States, compiled by Daniel Ruddy. Ruddy seems to have absolutely mastered TR’s writings. Quite a feat. The excerpts frange from the Revoluton to WWI, and are arranged chronologically in the order they happened in history. They come from everywhere in Roosevelt’s writings. What he says is almost always direct. If you’re ever in danger of forgetting the intellectual capacity and strength of TR, or the vigor of his writing, this is the book to get. Or, if you just want him “coming at us like a great roaring steam train from the past,” as Edmund Morris says in the introduction, this is the book to get—it’ll probably lead you towards much more. He can give quite a needed jolt, a shove from a more vigorous age. PS: TR knew what “pithecoid” meant, too. Do you? I had to look it up.

Fiction:

  • The Cuckoo Clock, Mary Stolz; Pamela Johnson, illustrator. This is in some sense a fairy tale, there is a small presence of the supernatural, but it is mostly (as the best of them always are) about people and adversity. There is Ula, an old clock maker somewhere near the Black Forest; Erich, a foundling who works for him sometimes; Frau Goddhart, who inflicts kindness on them; and, the perfectly named Baron Balloon. It is all told quietly, and very well, not least by realistic and soft-shaded pencil illustrations. Technically it’s a children’s story, and like the best of them for anyone who likes a good and heartening tale.
  • Lonesome Dove, Larry McCmurtry. This is a grand novel. A kind of epic. It is certainly one of the very best novels of the old west, and you would think the author had lived through those times himself, it has such authority. You never doubt for a moment that that was the way it was. Sudden and sad endings are the way life was, McM seems to be telling us, and you just go on afterwards.
  • I happened to be—mostly out of curiosity to see how it all came out—reading the last of the Harry Potter books at the same time (about which, in general, I have no comment except to say that the only word for her style, which has hardly changed from the first to last, was invented by Lewis Carroll—gallumphing) which is greatly concerned with the ambitions and fate of Lord Voldemort. Well, In Lonesome Dove there is a man by the name of Blue Duck, who is the most fearsome and downright scary bad-man I ever heard of. You might even be moved to set the story aside for a few days, once in a while, just to keep him away. I was. And I’d bet, in spite of how evil and powerful Lord V is said to be by everybody, Blue Duck could have had him for breakfast and not even belched.

Dismantleaphobia: as age increases, this one needs no comment.

Demo-ochloballotiphobia: mutation of ochlophobia, fear of mobs, with demophobia, the fear of crowds, and a faint touch of sociophobia—fear of how the d—n fools will vote this time.


Jill Vaughan, NCPR commentator, Malone

  • The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves, Andrew Potter. Potter believes that once we tag something as authentic, it’s been co-opted.
  • The Lake Shore Limited, Sue Miller. A fictional paeon to ambiguity and conflicting desires.
  • Imperfect Birds, Anne Lamott. A novel that should be required reading for parents of adolescents.
  • Coop: A Year of Parenting, Poultry, and Pigs, Michael Perry.
  • Pierce the Skin: Selected Poems, 1982-2007, Henri Cole.
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl. This book is like performance art—not for the faint of heart, but pay attention and you’ll enjoy.

Linda Cohen, Old Forge

  • Adirondack Kids series, Justin VanRiper and Gary VanRiper. There’s a new one out in this mystery series by father and son team.
  • The Earl Covey Story: A Biography, Frances Alden Covey. Now in print again…Covey was a highly respected Adirondack builder.
  • Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Bill McKibben.

Fred Goss, Ogdensburg

I continue to slog through my campaign to read a biography of each president and have hit the lower rungs. Pierce, Arthur, but I would recommend:

  • Millard Fillmore, Robert Rayback. Gave me new respect for a forgotten President who basically sacrificed his political future to his own belief in the necessity of keeping his party together to “save the country.” Also interesting for New Yorkers to read that our state politics in the 1830s and 1840s were just as convoluted (and corrupt) as today.
  • My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins and Fenway Park, Steve Kluger. This is a young adult book aimed at whatever that is but both my wife and I found it an absolute, smile out loud hoot from start to end. Give it a chance.
  • The Power Broker, Robert Caro. This is my War and Peace-like summer reading choice. Before the massive LBJ project, this made Caro famous. I read the endless New Yorker excerpts in 1975 and thought I’d had it. Not true. A truly “massive” work on every scale. Along with Mr. Moses (and how many of us in the North Country know why the park in Massena is Robert Moses State Park), wonderful thumbnails of allies and antagonists during his career: Al Smith, FDR, Harold Ickes, LaGuardia…I’m only about 550 pages in with 600+ more to go in the paperback edition.

Jackie Pray, Parishville

Raiding the kids’ lockers: fantastic books for teens, that parents will want to borrow. Great change for parents and teens to be excited about the same books and characters!

  • I teach English to adults who speak other languages so I’m always on the lookout for great books written at teen reading levels. Eureka! Big success this year. I discovered the Hunger Games triology by Suzanne Collins. Real page turners with marvelous characters. I was hooked in 10 pages; one of my adult readers said she was groggy at work—twice—because she stayed up half the night reading. The stories, set in a future dystopia, feature original plotting, wry social commentary (without preaching, thank you), resourceful gamesmanship, along with romance, a few lessons in high-end marketing, and wonderfully drawn characters. Wickedly rewarding.
  • Another exceptionally good book written for young adults is Iqbal, by Francesco D’Adamo, translated by Ann Keonori. Listed as appropriate for kids in grades 4 through 7, it is a book whose triumph and pain is best shared between caring adults and kids. In this docu-novel, D’Adamo fills in the blanks in the life of a real boy, Iqbal Masih, who, along with other children, was forced to work in a Lahore carpet factory. He escaped and helped other children escape exploitation. As difficult as the story is, D’Adamo artfully makes a case for protecting others from exploitation without further exploiting the victims in the telling.

Parmelee Tolkan, Lake Placid

  • The Road Home and The Colour, Rose Tremain. Anything by her. The first is about a Russian immigrant’s adventures in London, before finding the road home again. The second is set in the 1880s, during New Zealand’s gold rush.
  • Zeitoun, Dave Eggers. The trials and tribulations of an Arab-American family during Hurricane Katrina. The NY Times called it the one book to read about that event.
  • Parrot and Olivier in America, Peter Carey. Historical fiction by the two-time Booker Prize-winning author.

Catapedalophia: the fear of little cat feet.

Sesquipedalian-Xsegmentiphobia: fear of really long caterpillars (Shakesperian “caterpillars of the commonwealth” or just the multiple-legged kind—the former never turn into butterflies…maybe moths.)


Kathy Curro, Canton

  • The Places in Between, Rory Stewart. The story of a young journalist’s 21-month walk across Afghanistan. It was the winter of 2002. In the US, we watched NATO troops oust the Taliban from power in a country that seemed exotic and remote, with a mix of cultures largely unfathomable to Westerners. Walking 40 kilometers a day, Stewart’s route took him from the country’s border with Iran, all the way east to Kabul. Staying inmosques, guard stations, and poor and fin homes along the way, he tried to piece together an understanding of the people and history of Afghanistan.

Selena Baillargeon, via email

Some of the best young adult books out there (many also great for adults):

  • My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult.
  • Carlos is Gonna Get It, Kevin Emerson.
  • Sand Dollar Summer, Kimberly K. Jones.
  • Petey, Ben Mikaelson.
  • Loser, Jerry Spinelli.
  • Hatchet, Gary Paulsen.
  • Ink Heart, Cornelia Caroline Funke.

Emrys Burl, via email

  • The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman. Young adult.

Nancy de Flon, via email

  • Sunflowers: A Novel of Vincent Van Gogh, Sheramy Bundrick. I highrecommend this for summer rading. The author is a young art history professor at the Univesity of South Florida and this is her first venture into novel-writing.

Val Moody, via email

I’ve been reading the short stories of Max Brand—Westerns and others from the ‘20s. He’s funny, he’s cool, he’s funky. Try “The Girl They Left Behind Them”—very funny. Also, these books:

  • The Darling, Russell Banks.
  • Last Night in Twisted River, John Irving.
  • The Golden Veil and The Autumn Castle, Kim Wilkens.
  • Forever Amber, Kathleen Winsor.
  • Columbine, Dave Cullen.

I’ve been re--reading some of the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker.

And, for the equine set:

  • Beautiful Jim Key, Mim Eichler Rivas.
  • Crazy Good, Charles Leerhsen.

Richard Vang, via email

  • Cornflower’s Ghost, Thomas Pullyblank. A great summer read—combines the suspicious death of a SUNY professor and a 200-year old historical murder into a wonderful upstate NY mystery.

John Briant, Old Forge.

  • Adirondack Mysteries: And Other Mountain Tales, Dennis Webster

Andrew McNamara, Indian Lake

  • I am reading Stuart M. Kaminsky’s Russian detective mysteries, featuring Inspector Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov. My favorite may be The Man Who Walked Like a Bear.

Wanda Renick, Canton

  • America, America, Ethan Canin. Lois at the SLU bookstore recommended this one—a good summer read.

Charlie, Canton

  • La Marine: The French Colonial Soldier in Canada, 1745-1761, Andrew Gallup and Donald F. Shaffer.

Kathy, Old Forge

  • Adirondack Detective series, John Briant.

Mike, Tupper Lake

  • Dracula, Bram Stoker.
  • Lord of the Flies, William Golding
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley.
  • Anything by Octavia Butler.

Sarah, Watertown

  • The Book Thief, Markus Zusak.
  • The Middle Place, Kelly Corrigan.

Dorothy, Indian Lake

  • Personal History, Katharine Graham.

Nathalie Thill, Adirondack Center for Writing Director, Lake Clear

  • The Frozen Rabbi and The North of God,  Steve Stern.
  • Short Carries, Elizabeth (Betsy) Folwell.
  • Cormac McCarthy’s triology.

Larry, Chases Lake

  • Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes.
  • The Birds, Daphne DuMaurier

Hickwickerphobia: widespread in the Adirondack-area—the fear of rustic artiness (related to sticker-shock, hence the full name, hickwickerstickerphobia).

XenoblennoBlobophobia!: the popular version of fear of slime—blennophobia, you remember—the fear of being eaten by alien slime from outer space.


Want to add more titles to this list, or talk about books, or have me post a book-related entry to our ALL IN blog? Contact me: ellen@ncpr.org. You can always contact me at:

Ellen Rocco, North Country Public Radio, St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY 13617.


Okay, one final one from Chris Dunn:

Phobophobia: a real live phobia, page 1288, Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary—“Morbid fear of acquiring a phobia.” Positive feedback carried to extremes.