Amherst Magazine

What They Are Reading

We asked Associate Professor of Religion Maria Heim what she read over the summer. Here’s what she told us:

My summer reading list was shorter than I would have liked—isn’t it always?—and often I am grateful just to grab enough time to glance over the newspaper, but I did manage to get in a few fun things.

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories, by Ursula Le Guin. This is a wonderful collection of short stories that I can read in one sitting. Le Guin is a master at constructing other worlds that force us to reconsider our own human condition. I am fascinated by how literature can do this—how it takes us out of ourselves while yet refining our sensitivities about who we are and what is important to us.

Love Marriage, by V. V. Ganeshananthan. A novel that spans several generations of a Tamil family in Sri Lanka and the United States. I haven’t decided yet if I like the author’s style, but I did appreciate the novel’s Tamil perspective on a country that I love.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. Pollan somehow pulls off an elegant read that delivers eye-popping facts about our food industry without overly larding the pages with moral indignation. At the same time, the book is a careful deliberation on what it means to take pleasure in food. One shouldn’t say this about many books, but really, everyone should read this.

Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Some of this slides into my scholarly interests in ethics, but I list it here as pleasure reading because it offers a pretty breezy case for what Appiah calls “rooted cosmopolitanism,” in which one is grounded in a specific locale and community yet is also a citizen of the world. Things get more hefty in the second half of the book as Appiah makes a strong argument for cultural contamination and hybridity (as opposed to notions of cultural purity), and as he argues against a concept of cultural patrimony whereby art and antiquities are somehow owned by, and must be returned to, particular nations or peoples.

On my list this semester, while I am on leave:

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. [Associate Professor of Music] Eric Sawyer’s opera [Our American Cousin] made me want to think about Lincoln more, and I am especially interested in contemplating his presidency during this election year.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. A novel loaned to me by my friend Paola Zamperini [assistant professor of Asian languages and civilizations] on occasion of my last sabbatical but never read, and she refuses to take it back until I read it. I’ve poked my head into it, and it’s about magic, so I am very much looking forward to it.