The Biblio File- August 2015

Publication Date

Faculty, staff and administrators share what they’re reading this summer. Share your current reads to the new Biblio File column by emailing Christen Gowan at

Stephen C. Ainlay, president of Union College

“The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown

Valerie Barr, professor of computer science

My summer reading has been, and will continue to be, a mixed bag. I've indulged in my intellectual vacation of reading mysteries, enjoying “The Farm” by Tom Rob Smith and “A Carrion Death” by Michael Stanley. I've also been working through a collection of things that I almost finished during the academic year, including “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” by Jeff Hobbs, which I think should be required reading for college faculty (and lots of other people). The other is “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki, which is a simply delightful gem of a book. On the work related side, I'll be reading “R in Action,” by Robert Kabacoff, as we are increasingly using the R programming language for data analysis and visualization work.

Christopher Chabris, associate professor of psychology

I finished re-reading “The Stranger” by Albert Camus. Actually, I listened to the audiobook of a translation by Matthew Ward. I first read the book in a French course in high school. I don’t remember what I really thought of the book at the time, but this summer, with the benefit of exposure to psychology, it seems to be the story of a psychopath. Meursault doesn’t seem to experience feelings the same way that most people do, nor does he seem to care much about what others feel, except as their feelings relate to his own ends. This psychopathy hypothesis makes a lot of the story cohere for me. Perhaps psychology can help us understand literature!

I’m currently working through “Sick in the Head,” which consists of about 500 pages of interviews in which the filmmaker Judd Apatow talks with dozens of comedians, including Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Amy Schumer and Stephen Colbert. There’s some fun psychology in the book: Upon hearing the argument that comedians become attention-seeking adults because they were beaten up as kids, Jerry Seinfeld complains “Why can’t you be a comedian just because you’re talented and you’re smart and that’s why you’re a comedian?” Garry Shandling replies, “Why so angry, Jerry?"

On the more data- and theory-intensive side of social science, I’ve read “Dataclysm” by Christian Rudder, the co-founder of dating website OkCupid, which is about the insights to be gained from all the data generated by our online behavior. I also enjoyed “Who Gets What And Why” by Al Roth, recent Nobel Prize winner in economics. Roth is an expert on the design of markets, and his book is about how markets of all sorts can be improved or created from scratch to allocate goods and services more effectively. I can also recommend “Misbehaving” by Richard Thaler, one of the founders of the burgeoning field of behavioral economics.

Frances Maloy, head librarian at Schaffer Library

I am currently reading “Very Old Bones” by Albany native William Kennedy. It is very interesting to learn about the way Albany was in the early to mid-20th Century plus he is an excellent writer. I just finished “No Country For Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy, another outstanding writer.

Jillmarie Murphy, assistant professor of English

Pleasure reading for me has always been found in the Victorian novel, and this summer I am re-reading four of Thomas Hardy's classics for a course I'm teaching in the fall titled "Hardy and His Women." I am revisiting “Far from the Madding Crowd,” which is a bit of a slow read for the first hundred pages or so, but after that the romantic twists and turns pick up, as the proud and independent heroine, Bathsheba Everdene, chooses the wrong mate - of course - when she marries the dashing but profligate Sergeant Troy. Hardy masterfully unfolds the seduction motif when Bathsheba finds out her husband had previously impregnated and abandoned her former maid. I won't give away the ending, but I will say the novel is definitely worth reading.

Chad Orzel, associate professor of physics

The most notable fiction I read over the summer was the new Neal Stephenson novel, “Seveneves.” It tells the story of a desperate attempt to save a tiny remnant of humanity in space, as the pieces of the Moon falling to Earth will incinerate anything on the surface, and then jumps 5,000 years into the future to when the Earth has recovered to a habitable state. Stephenson's books are really interesting not just because he has a gift for coming up with big ideas - the Moon exploding for no reason - and working out all the consequences, but because of the "info dumps," sections where he goes on for a couple of pages about the details of orbital mechanics, or the physics of a cracking whip.

Stacie Raucci, associate professor of classics

For my research this summer, I am reading “Rome, Ostia, Pompeii: Movement and Space,” edited by Ray Laurence and David J. Newsome. I am working on a sourcebook on the city of Rome and looking for inspiration on new ways to think about space in the ancient city. For fun, I am reading two books: “Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ” by Giulia Enders and “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Bunkong Tuon, associate professor of English

I’m reading Linh Dinh’s “Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam” and the poetry of Lưu Diệu Vân, Lưu Mêlan and Nhã Thuyên in preparation for my term abroad in the fall. I recently read unpublished poetry manuscripts of friends, such as Jim McCord, who retired from Union’s English Department several years ago, and Tony Gloeggler and Clint Margrave, whom I met at the Long Beach Poetry Festival in 2013. This is how we poets support one another: we read and comment on each other's manuscript. I also plan to read Toni Morrison’s “God Help the Child” because I will be teaching a seminar on her in the spring.