Paperbacks and Sunblock

Paperbacks and Sunblock

St. Kate’s community offers tips on books to read and places to go.
By Pauline Oo

Summer’s here! It’s time to dangle your feet over the docks, throw a backyard barbecue with your friends or round up the family for a road trip. With the dizzying array of things to do (or not do) this season, we decided to choose two activities — reading and roaming — and ask seven people to tell us how to enjoy them.

Their recommendations and friendly advice — on books, travel and music activities, and kid-friendly places — are below.


Alan Silva, Ph.D.

What do you plan to read this summer? 

Lately, I have been in the mood for reading more poetry. Many months ago I started a practice in Deans' Council (a weekly meeting of the Provost and deans) by reading a poem at the beginning of the agenda. Some of the deans believe my poetry selections are too depressing. More depressing than the budget, I ask them? So I'm thinking possibly of re-reading Walt Whitman's Song of Myself. Maybe I'll ask the Deans' Council to read it in its entirety, though it could be dangerous to ask deans to "celebrate themselves and sing themselves." 

What genres are good for summer reading? What's not? 

Isn't it always winter in Minnesota? I often like to read long Victorian novels in the winter, something by Dickens, because the only thing that lasts longer than a Minnesota winter is a Dickens novel. In the summer, I often turn to more contemporary novels that have been adapted into films (a strong interest of mine), as you will see from some of the selections below. It's a way of re-thinking some of the films you have seen during the winter or preparing for some you have yet to see. I usually read the novel first, then the film, but sometimes I change the order to disrupt by perception and experience. ​

What’s on your nightstand?

Right now, the stack is getting larger, but in the foreseeable future it looks like:

  • Under the Wide and Starry Sky — by Nancy Horan; I recently read her novel Loving Frank, about the relationship between Mamah Borthwick Cheney and Frank Lloyd Wright, while in this novel the protagonist has a relationship with Robert Louis Stevenson
  • In the Country — by Mia Alvar
  • The Sun Also Rises: The Hemingway Library Edition — a re-read for the fourth or fifth time, but this time in the new Scribner edition with the early drafts and deleted chapters
  • Room — by Emma Donoghue
  • Lost Lake — by David Auburn, it's a play, he's the author of Proof
  • Birthday Letters — by Ted Hughes; I'm returning to this collection of poems after reading the restored edition of Sylvia Plath's Ariel
  • The Danish Girl — by David Ebershoff

If you could require college students to read one book, what would it be?

The Scarlet Letter, for two reasons. It does a lot of cultural work for us latent Puritans and, as a “tale of human frailty and sorrow,” it tells us more about ourselves than we wish to know.

LaVonne Moore DNP’10

What are you reading?

I’m going to finish The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. My most recent favorite book is Island Beneath the Sea.

Who are your favorite authors?

J. California Cooper and James Baldwin. I love J. California Cooper because she is one of the last, and best, African American folklorist of our time, and James Baldwin was just a wonderful storyteller of the African American experience. 

What should students read?

I think all college students should be required to read two books: Medical Apartheid and Killing the Black Body. The reason I choose those books is to inform them about institutional racism in this country. I’d have to add to that list The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

Real books or e-books?

I still like the feel of paper, and it’s still amazing how the printed word can give such an amazing visual picture in the mind.

Sarah Park Dahlen, Ph.D.

What are you reading?

Our family is doing the “1,000 Books Before Kindergarten” challenge, so I plan to read as many picture books as possible with my daughter. Specifically, I'll be looking for picture books with diverse characters and strong female protagonists. I also plan to read, and reread, the Harry Potter series and scholarship on Harry Potter in order to finalize one research project and begin another. One book I can't wait to finish is Mike Jung’s Unidentified Suburban Object (Arthur Levine 2016), in which the Korean American protagonist finds out some really surprising truths about her parents and heritage!

What genres should a child read over the summer? 

Children should read books in whatever genres interest them! According to reading expert Stephen Krashen, children learn to love to read and improve reading and writing skills most when when they engage in what Krashen calls free voluntary reading — when they can choose the books themselves. This means we should encourage them to read in any genre. Some children might like reading biographies, others may like fantasy, or both! As long as they keep reading throughout the summer, their literacy skills will improve, and they'll be ready to start school again in the fall.

What books are currently on your nightstand? 

Too many to count! ... Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, Black Lives Matter by Duchess Harris, Bookwomen: Creating an Empire in Children's Literature Publishing, 1919-1939 by Jacalyn Eddy...

If you could require all children to read one book, what would it be? 

I highly recommend Shannon Gibney’s young adult novel See No Color (CarolRhoda Lab 2015), a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award. I believe it is the first novel written by a transracial black adoptee that has as its protagonist a black transracial adoptee. For a younger audience, Zetta Elliott's Let the Faithful Come (Rosetta Press 2015) reimagines the nativity story as a way to promote our common humanity. It emphasizes unity and compassion, which are particularly important in our increasingly xenophobic and fractured world. For our youngest readers, the bilingual board books from Lil Libros — these are a favorite in our house!

Cecilia Konchar Farr, Ph.D.

What are you reading?

I always like to tackle a big book in the summer, something I can get lost in for days in a way I can’t during the busy semesters. ​I also enjoy rereading something I love, so this summer I’m planning to reread George Elliot's Middlemarch. That novel spoke to me so deeply the first time, I’m eager to see how it reads some 25 years later. 

What genres are good for the summer? 

Even if we’re not at the beach, things slow down for most of us in the summer. That gives us time to go after heavy stuff classics, big novels, things we can't indulge in during the more demanding work seasons. When else can you actually plan to read Ron Chernow's 800-plus-page biography of Alexander Hamilton, for example? ​I've only been able to listen to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s soundtrack, and even that takes more time than I can usually find for one sitting (or running — it has a great driving beat for running). But summer is also lighter, more playful, so a good mystery, a weepy romance novel, an excellent whodunnit also appeal. 

​I'm looking forward to indulging in the latest Robert Galbraith novel Career of Evil and the romance (soon to be a major motion picture) Me Before You — preferably in my hammock or on my kayak in the middle of a lake. 

What books are currently on your nightstand?​ 

I can’t find my nightstand, there are so many books there! ​I’m enjoying Rebecca Solnit's essay collection Men Explain Things to Me; I just finished the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, so they are still close by for me to leaf through and linger in; and I’m in the middle of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun. She’s an even more powerful novelist than she is a TED speaker, and that's saying something. Also, Claudia Rankine and Jennifer Willoughby’s poetry collections are there for me to indulge in like chocolate when I have only a few minutes to read.  

What should students read?

Whatever book would demonstrate for them the pleasures of a reading life and inspire them to pick up the next book and the next...

The challenge for literature professors is that we never know what that book will be, but we spend our whole lives trying to find it, for every one of our students. ​But if you want a title, the one I most often recommend to my midwestern undergraduates is Willa Cather’s My Antonia to my Midwestern undergraduates. No one makes the tall grass prairie come alive with light, and darkness, the way she can.


Sarah Rand, Ph.D.

You’ve been scaling mountains for years, and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2012. What’s next?

I go to Colorado every year to hike one or two 14,000-feet mountains with a friend. It’s our “bucket list” item. We are up to 13. There are 53 total!

What do you bring?

Sunblock, lots of water (or drinks with electrolytes), healthy snacks (nuts and dried fruit), a cellphone with GPS technology (cross your fingers that it will work when you need it; great for taking pictures at the summit too!) and rain gear.

What’s your advice for not getting lost?

Confirm that you are at the right trailhead and, when in doubt, think twice before starting out. I once spent an entire day hiking horizontally in the Canadian Rockies. We were lucky to find our way down after several thwarted attempts to find our way up.

Favorite short hike?

Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona. There are two trails to choose from that vary in distance and difficulty.

Tips for deciding where to travel: 

Like most people, time and budget drive my travel plans. I love to read the travel section in the Star Tribune on Sundays to get ideas, and Trip Advisor is a great website for dreaming up fun trips for every interest and budget. Hearing from friends and colleagues about their favorite places also influences my travel bucket list.

Rachel Neiwert, Ph.D.

Where would you go if you took Friday afternoon off? 

My favorite Friday afternoon with my kids (Liam, 8, and Lucy, 6) would involve an adventure to a fun park; our favorite near where we live is Tamarack Nature Center. Our next stop would be a visit to the library or our favorite bookshop, The Wild Rumpus or Micawbers, for some new stories to get lost in. Finally, no afternoon would be complete without a stop for ice cream! Both my kids would have chocolate ice cream — Liam’s with caramel sauce and Lucy’s with chocolate sauce.

Favorite historical place? Firefighters Hall and Museum in Minneapolis. My kids think this is so much fun. They can try on boots and jackets and hats that firemen wear. There are a variety of different parts of fire trucks (both modern and historical) that they can climb on and play in. There is also an outdoor section, where they can practice "putting out a fire" with a hose (no real fires of course). There are also rides on a older fire truck. It’s also a good size for kids — big enough to keep them engaged but not so big that it is is overwhelming and requires hours to get through.

Editor's Note: Dr. Neiwert received the 2016 Excellence in Teaching and Advising Award on May 20. 

Catherine Medin ’16

You’re the lead vocalist in your family band (since the age of nine). Where do you sing?

Churches, parks, campgrounds and rock concert venues — such as Skyway Theatre and Pure Rock Studios — in Minnesota, South Dakota and Switzerland. We perform annually at the Black Hills Children’s Home, and we’ve traveled with The Extreme Tour over the summers. This year, we’re staying local.

Favorite spots for live music?

First Avenue in Minneapolis and Sonshine Festival in Somerset, Wisconsin. I’ve also been to the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand. But I prefer smaller venues that play mostly local bands and where nothing separates the fans from the stage.

Any advice for music fans?

Always talk to the artist, if you have the chance. Ask us what we’re working on or tell us something personal. I’m more likely to remember you if you have a real conversation with me.

Editor's Note: Read Catherine's Commencement speech on leadership and personal sacrifices at St. Kate's Newswire.

Catherine Medin '16 in concert.

Catherine Medin '16 in concert.

Medin and her six siblings tour with the Christian rock band Breakthrough. ​

Pauline Oo
MAOL Cert ’14, MBA '16

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