What I’m Reading

January 19, 2017

SSM faculty and staff members share what they are currently reading.

We recently caught up with several Shattuck-St. Mary’s faculty and staff members who shared their thoughts on the books they are currently reading.

I recently read “The White Darkness” by Geraldine McCaughrean. It caught my eye as I was searching the Middle School library for something to read. It’s an odd young adult novel about a teenage girl, her imaginary friend, her quirky uncle, and their shared obsession with Antarctica that quickly turns dark. There are some haunting scenes that really bring home the harsh realities of that bleak landscape.

I’m currently reading “Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine” by Sarah Lohman. Her historical gastronomy blog Four Pounds Flour is really fascinating, and it led me to her book. She surveyed a slew of historical cookbooks to find the most popular flavors over time—black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and sriracha—and she writes in-depth cultural histories of each one.

- ESL Instructor Kate Callahan

My youngest child, Lucia Engelhardt ’23 is the inspiration for my reading Ron Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton.” Riding in the car last spring, Lucia begged to play me Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” (musical) soundtrack. Quickly, our whole family became obsessed with the music. We logged hundreds of hours listening in the car and singing along. When Lucia and I lucked out with getting tickets to see the Chicago production, I decided I needed to read the book. My goal was to complete the book before seeing the show (I haven’t, only because my time for pleasure reading is so limited right now). 

I’m about half-way through the book, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely. In reading the book, it is evident that Miranda worked closely with Chernow when writing the musical. I especially appreciate how masterfully Chernow captured the psychological complexities and relationships among the story’s characters. Miranda, in turn, was able to capture those same complexities and relationships in the musical. That, to me, is what brings history to life.

- weCreate Director Stephanie Vagle

I am currently reading “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance. The author grew up poor working class in the rust belt and eventually became the first person in his family to go to college. His memoir gives a lot of perspective on a segment of the American population that is frequently overlooked, and also sheds some light on the current political climate in our country. I come from a very similar environment as the author, and I see a lot of truth in what he writes.   

- Director of The Major and Assistant Director of weCreate Craig Peck

I recently finished reading “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki, and I loved it. Ozeki’s novel combines the story of a teenage girl named Nao growing up in Japan before the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Her life is difficult: her father is struggling to take care of himself and his family, and Nao is facing terrible bullying at school. Nao begins to keep a diary about her life and in the process of doing so, she decides to write the biography of her beloved great-grandmother, who is a Buddhist nun.

Ozeki then takes us a couple of years into the future and across the ocean to the Western Canadian coast; here Ruth, an author living on a remote island with her husband, finds Nao’s diary wrapped up in a plastic bag inside a Hello Kitty lunchbox. She can’t help to wonder if the diary is debris that has floated all the way from Japan after the tsunami. So she starts to investigate.

It’s true that I partially wanted to read this book because the words “Hello Kitty” were in the blurb on the back cover. But I never would have found out about it if I hadn’t stopped into an independent bookstore in St. Paul called Common Good Books. It happened to be Mr. Cav’s and my anniversary, and our big night out included browsing in a bookstore. I’m glad we did because at the time I was upset with myself because I didn’t read one single book during the summer of 2016. As an English major, an English teacher, and a book lover, I couldn’t understand how I let an entire summer go by without reading a book. As a mother of young twins, however, I knew exactly how it happened!

So, I asked the guys working at the store to give me some recommendations, and they gave me four suggestions, including A Tale for the Time Being. I happily bought all four, and I am proud to tell you that I am currently reading the 4th book now. It’s a good reminder to me about how helpful librarians and booksellers can be when you are looking for a great read!

- Associate Head of School for Academics Courtney Cavellier


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    Andrew Nolan