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Chaparral 2016-2017: 25.1 What Are You Reading?

What Are You Reading: A GCC Roundup!
Chaparral’s new roundup column, written by … you!

Editor's Note

Chaparral is publishing short blurbs about whatever GCC employees might be reading right now. Each respondent answered three short questions:

1.    What are you reading (name and author and/or link if it’s on the web)?
2.    Would you recommend it?
3.    What do you like or find interesting about it?


New York Times Race/Related

I’ve subscribed and have been receiving these newsletters for free from the New York Times on race related issues.  The newsletter is called "Race/Related."  Anyone can subscribe to it and look at back issues as well.  Also, anyone can contribute to it so it’s an open forum of sorts.  I’ve really enjoyed the subscription so far and the newsletters come about every two weeks.

Hoover Zariani
Multicultural and Community Engagement Center

Unknown Quantity - A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra

What I'm reading:

Unknown Quantity - A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra by John Derbyshire

Algebra has a surprisingly rich history, and Derbyshire brings the reader through its development without getting bogged down in too many dates and equations.  Highly recommended even for people who don't like math. (ed. also an ebook in the Library)

John Fuhrmann

The Last Love Song

My current favorite read: Tracy Daugherty’s The Last Love Song, a long, long, long biography of Joan Didion.  I would recommend it only if you’re as big a fan of Didion as I am.  Daugherty's style seems sometimes to approach Didion’s own intellectual density, quirkiness, and neurotic-ness.   I’ve been tackling it nightly for nearly a month and am only sixty-some pages in.  Around 500 more to go.  Might finish sometime this semester.  Or not. 

Monette Tiernan

A Green and Ancient Light, The Book of Flying, The Practicing Mind

Reading a lot as usual.  Here are three highlights:

A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin: fiction set during war time somewhere. None of the details are given which makes the book even more intriguing.  None of the characters have names except for one.  It is the story of a boy, his grandmother, a downed pilot, and a forest all thrown together by the circumstances of war.  Picked it up “par hazard” and found it enchanting and the imagery gave me many interesting dreams.

The Book of Flying by Keith Miller: fiction.  Indescribably delicious. Finished the read, closed the back cover and immediately opened the front cover and read it again.  There is so much to gather in and integrate in this book! The story of a man trying to get his wings.  It is a real hero’s journey in the Joseph Campbell paradigm.  I found it profound & spiritual.. taps into metaphysical principles.  The prose is luscious and savory. I can’t remember the last time I read a contemporary book with such prosaic language. A great find. 

The Practicing Mind by Thomas Sterner: non-fiction. Developing focus and discipline in your life from the POV of a man who is a musician and golfer.  If you read these kinds of books you have probably read it all before.  But a reminder is always welcome “in my book” and his unique approach is a bit different while still addressing the general concepts of mindfulness.

Et Voila!

Elizabeth Barrett
Student Services


I recently read a book that fans of Huck Finn may find intriguing. It's called Finn by Jon Clinch, and it follows Huck's father's life prior to and concurrent with the events of Huck Finn. While there are a couple of times when the nonlinear plot seems to lose its clarity, the prose is vividly alive, and Clinch does a remarkable job bringing humanity, or at least depth, to the undeniably vile character of Finn... and provides a surprising answer to who Huck's mother was.

Happy reading!

Joanna Parypinski

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

I've just discovered David Sedaris! I have been hearing about him for years, but never actually read his stuff before. He's AMAZING!! Such a brilliant, observational humorist. Highly recommended!

I'm just finishing up, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, and about to start, Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Lynn Dickinson
Language Arts

Pit Bull: the Battle over an American Icon

Pit Bull:  the Battle over an American Icon by Bronwen Dickey

Whether you are a Pit Bull lover, a Pit Bull hater, or don’t care about Pit Bull breeds at all, this is an extraordinary read. How did these dogs go from being some of the heroes of two world wars and the silver screen to being feared, demonized and even banned? 

Dickey spent 5 years researching the history of the breeds as well as the social, economic, legal, and political controversies that have surrounded them. 

The result is a well-written, thoroughly documented, balanced piece of journalism.

Nancy Getty

West of the Thirties; Discoveries Among the Navajo and Hopi

I’m reading West of the Thirties; Discoveries Among the Navajo and Hopi by American anthropologist Edward T. Hall.

It is one of those rather rare books that is both a page-turner and an invitation to slow your horse so that you may at once feel your mount and reflect upon all the clear pools of wisdom you’ve both just galloped by.

Consider the following in “The Fragility of Understanding” chapter: “The Indians in the Southwestern part of the United States have one belief in common, which I fortunately picked up at an early age from my Tewa friends: questions not only are not a good way to get information but are actually intrusive, as though we were taking over the mind of the other, which is what a question does….By avoiding questions, I simply did what the Indians do; I emphasized the use of my eyes and ears and the gray matter in between. Since somewhere between 85 and 90 percent of communication between humans and virtually all communication between animals is of the nonverbal, highly contextualized variety, I had a rich field to study that avoided the distortions of words and the discomfort of intruding. Needless to say, cultural material gathered in this way is different from what we get from questions.”

Dominique Margolis
English Lab

The Joy of Yiddish, Seeing Mary Plain, Travels in Hyperreality

What am I reading? Oy vey! Stuff from the back-catalog

The New Joys of Yiddish - Leo Rosten 

I would highly recommend Leo's book. It is an eternal pleasure.  Yiddish, though of Eastern European origin, is such an important component of the American vernacular. 

Seeing Mary Plain - Francis Kiernan

A  biography of Mary McCarthy.  I've had this book for years and finally read it.  Very intimate, revealing, and dishy. 

Travels in Hyperreality - Umberto Eco

The maestro's recent passing was occasion for me to revisit this classic collection of essays.  Eco curiosities were broad and deep.   He is the mimosa of literature.

David Fulton

Being Zen

1. Being Zen by Ezra Bayda

2. Would you recommend it?  Yes! 

3. What do you like or find interesting about it? Love that it's about living life more presently and using meditation, easy read. 

Tiffany Nakawatase
Student Services

The Girls, Seveneves, The Inseparables, The Sympathizer

This late summer, I read:

The Girls, by Emma Cline, follows a 14-year-old girl in the late 1960’s who is increasingly drawn to a young woman living in a Manson-like cult (and to the cult itself), and it follows her again, as a present day woman, unsure of how to make sense of that time and of the (Manson-like) murders. The writing is intensely lyrical and poetic. Maybe even overly so. Even as the prose should move us deeper into Cline's characters, it is often so shiny that it's distracting. For example, Cline writes that girls have an abstract longing waiting for something to attach itself to: their love is “pinging around the universe, hoping for a host to give form to our wishes.” I almost whizzed by gorgeous lines like, “the air was candied with silence” because the rich prose layers almost ceaselessly. And, with that caveat, I absolutely recommend it. 

I also read Seveneves, Neal Stephenson's very humanistic space opera. The novel spans 5,000 years and centers around the impending destruction of our planet by a random astronomical event, the effect of which will create an eventual raining of rocks onto earth's surface (very much like how scientists understand the early days of earth's existence). In fact, this a great book for science geeks -- it's loaded with biology, geology, astrophysics, robotics, and psychology. The novel is more science than science fiction (and the speculation that exists stays true to physical laws, as well as expanding on emerging fields of scientific inquiry, such as epi-genetics). Stephenson follows two groups of characters who he seems to be using to explore epistemological and existential questions; even so, he cares about his characters just as much as his questions, and the plot is compelling.  I would definitely recommend it. 

And, I read The Inseparables, by Stuart Nadler which was a perfect tonal twin to the show, Six Feet Under. Nadler writes about three generations of women (this book received specific attention for being written by a man; I haven’t read the debates, but I have to say that he did a fine job). The matriarch is a former women’s studies professor who, in her youth, wrote a book which she intended to be ironic, but which turned out pretty smutty (like a “50 Shades of Grey”) and which sold briskly. The novel begins with her reluctantly agreeing on a reissue of the book, because she’s broke. Women’s sexuality is a prominent theme in the novel, but it's ultimately a slow-burning story of a family surrounded by loss, and finding their way to one another (thus the Six Feet Under reference). I would recommend it.  

Finally, I started The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, just as the semester started, so wish me luck with that one! It's nuanced, and dense, and I'm really enjoying it so far, at my two-pages-a-night rate. If anyone else is reading it, let's e-book-club! (ed. Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2016)

Julie Gamberg


I've been reading a novel called Kindred by Octavia Butler, for Pasadena College's College 1 course. 

Octavia Butler was one of the first black women writers of her time to write science fiction, and she was a Pasadena College alumni.  The novel is about a modern black woman's accidental time travel back to her ancestral roots in slave-holding Southern plantations in the 1800's.   

It's a very painful read, detailing the brutality towards slaves during those awful days.  But it is enlightening as it helps students understand the current social and racial tensions our country is going through, and gives some historical context the Black Lives Matter movement. If you have the stomach to read violent passages, this book is a prize winning work to explore. It will teach compassion, and provoke some mind-bending questions about time travel and alternate realities.

Faye Lao
Hospitality Management

The Tsar of Love and Techno

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra 

I recommend this dark but engaging novel, which is comprised of intertwining short stories of characters in the former USSR, from the 1930's Leningrad purges to the recent wars Chechnya.  The bleak world he reveals is punctuated by violence, corruption and pollution but the characters find small glimmers of hope in their lives. The stories illustrate how the influence of the Soviet era still plays on post-Soviet Russia. This book and his previous novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, are both beautifully written and engrossing.

Caryn Panec
Parent Education

Hamilton the Revolution


With my kids, we read Hamilton the Revolution by Lin Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. I would definitely recommend this. It's a book about the writing and producing of the broadway musical, Hamilton.  My kids have loved the cast album and this book included lots of notes about how it was written that we all really loved. it also gave more context the history behind it.

Mary Jane Biancheri
Child Development

The Underground Railroad

I finished reading Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad last week. We're reading it in my English 102 (I'm teaching black writers). It is a torturous journey through a history we know too little about and is also frighteningly close to current events. It will leave you devastated and enthralled. Whitehead's storytelling skills are inspiring and while his language is jarring, his characters are unforgettable. My students are devouring it. 

I had the chance to see him at the LA Library Foundation's ALOUD series in BH in Sept 15 and met him afterward. We later connected on Twitter. I hope to be able to interview him via Skype for this class or my section next spring. A pure happenstance that I was reading the novel just before this class landed in my lap, so I was able to include it in my syllabus.

Howard Ibach

The Summer Before the War, Testatment of Youth

I’m reading Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War. The novel is set in the celebrated small town of Rye in south eastern England, and the conflict of the title is World War I. The events are seen through the eyes of a number of people of varying ages and genders, one of them a female Latin teacher! Because of the times, readers know that sad things will happen to some of the characters, and yet the empathy I feel for them, and their day to day experience of life in that time holds my interest. The period of this world-changing war has gotten increasing attention  over the last couple of decades, and this story mainly sees it from the home front. At 479 pages, a middling long, leisurely read. Non-fiction readers might want to check out Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth from GCC or a public library.

Lynne McGrath



Winter Journal

I'm reading a pretty cool book right now.

1. I'm reading Paul Auster's latest novel Winter Journal. Here is a link to Auster reading an excerpt from it:

2. I would recommend it if you are interested in reading experimental forms of writing. This can get a bit tricky, but once you find its rhythm, the text explore really interesting concepts of sentience and how we respond to the world, both physically and emotionally.

3. It's an account of his life through the actions and responses of his body. It is also written entirely in 2nd person, making it both more corporeal as well as more human. You are exploring your own experiences as you witness his- fascinating :)

Rolando Rubalcava


The Black Widow

The Black Widow by Daniel Silva, a timely thriller featuring Gabriel Allon, art restorer and Israeli secret agent.  Very well written-- a page turner.

Charlene Worthley
ESL Noncredit


Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

I know, it's been about 9 years but I just got around to reading Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell (or rather listening to it--which is how I get most of my reading done these days.) 

Basically the book gives scientific (and anecdotal) evidence on why rapid cognition can be both a good and bad thing. There's not much advise on how to tell the difference between situations where we should or shouldn't trust our instincts and in some instances I felt his argument wasn't cohesive (and contradictory). Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed his examples and found him a great story-teller. (Did I mention the audio was read by the author himself? Well, it is.) 

I'll be happy to lend the CDs to anyone who's interested in giving this topic a try. 

Rosemarie Shamieh
Continuing Education


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