‘No Frigate Like a Book’ for Summer Reading Adventures

In preparation for a course (Travels in the Novel) she’ll teach in the upcoming fall semester, Marylou Gramm, senior lecturer in the Department of English’s Literature Program, is taking “one novel-trip after another.” She alluded to Emily Dickinson’s famous declaration that stories take readers on journeys not even ships can: “There is no Frigate like a Book/to take us Lands away.”

Gramm is starting with “the classic peregrinations” in “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes; “Robinson Crusoe” by Daniel Defoe; and “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. She also highlighted Julie Otsuka’s 2002 debut novel “When the Emperor Was Divine,” about the dislocation and incarceration of Japanese Americans and immigrants in the U.S. during World War II, as “compelling, poetic and relevant.”

Here are other “frigates” of the literary variety, both nonfiction and fiction, that faculty and staff are using to embark on book voyages this summer.

Honors College

Audrey Murrell

Acting Dean
Director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership, Professor of Business Administration and Kenneth R. Woodcock Faculty Fellow, Pitt Business
“Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng
“The Thing Around Your Neck” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Joseph Alter

Professor of Anthropology
“Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past” by David Reich
“The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve” by Stephen Greenblatt

“The combination produces a good mix of mythology and science. My recreational reading usually takes me farther afield, but these two books reflect my anthropological roots,” said Alter.

Office of the Chancellor

Katie Fike

Executive Communications Specialist
“A Man Called Ove” by Frederik Backman

Office of Community and Governmental Relations

Jamie Ducar

Director of Community Engagement
“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

“It follows many generations of a family split by the slave trade, one fork heads to the U.S. and the other stays in Africa,” said Ducar. “It’s incredibly interesting and has a rich cast of characters trying to make their place with the circumstances they’ve been dealt.”

Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Pam Connelly

Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion
“The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster
“No Walls and the Recurring Dream” by Ani DiFranco

“It is a kid’s book, but I met a grad student this year with a shared love of language who really made an impact on me, and she recommended it,” Connelly said of Juster’s book.

Office of Facilities Management

Will Mitchell

Director of Facilities Management
“Howard Stern Comes Again” by Howard Stern
“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-up” by John Carreyrou

“These two will keep me busy for the early summer,” Mitchell said. “I’m always fascinated by interviewers and their processes and I always love the nonfiction category.”

Office of the Provost

Ariel Armony

Vice Provost of Global Affairs and Director of the University Center for International Studies
“Becoming a Mountain: Himalayan Journeys in Search of the Sacred and the Sublime” by Stephen Alter

Armony had the opportunity to talk with author Stephen Alter (whose brother Joseph, a professor in the Dietrich School, shared pick above) on a recent visit to Mussoorie in the Indian state of Uttarakhand with a Pitt delegation. Armony said he’s dying to read Stephen Alter’s book.

Julia Spears

Associate Vice Provost of Innovation
“The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben

Steve Wisniewski

Vice Provost for Data and Information, Co-director of the Epidemiology Data Center at the Graduate School of Public Health
“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Start-up” by John Carreyrou

Office of Student Affairs

Sherdina DeNeon Harper

Cross Cultural Programming Coordinator and Advisor
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

Office of University Communications

Donovan Harrell

Writer, University Times
The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
“The Parable of the Sower” by Octavia Butler

“Currently, I’m reading through sci-fi/fantasy books written by black women,” said Harrell, who noted Jemisin’s trilogy follows a series of superpowered humans overcoming an oppressive government seeking to hold back or harness their powers. “Jemisin made history by being the first African American writer to get a Hugo award for best novel for the first book in the series, ‘The Fifth Season,’ and going on to earn two consecutive Hugo awards for the other books in the series.” Harrell also called Butler’s stories, about a young black woman surviving in a dystopia where extreme violence is the norm, “eerie, since some of her predictions for the state of the world post-1999 are spot on.”

Sam Moser

Social Media Specialist
“Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnus Nutter, Witch” by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography” by Eric Idle

Despite homework that pulled her into a brief hiatus from reading, Moser said she has “really enjoyed the quick wit and dry humor” of  “Good Omens,” after which she’ll go back to finish Idle’s “Sortabiography.”

Micaela Fox Corn

Communications Specialist
“The Periodic Table” by Primo Levi
“Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee

School of Education

Greg Latshaw

Director of Marketing and Communications
“Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson
“The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson

“It was phenomenal,” said Latshaw of the Jobs bio.

School of Law

Vivian Curran

Distinguished Professor of Law
“The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World” by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro

“It is an utterly trustworthy book in terms of the thoroughness of its underlying research,” Curran said. “The book revisits tried and true assumptions in international human rights by going back to original texts and upending our understanding of the past.”

School of Medicine

Ann Thompson

Vice Dean and Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Pediatrics
“What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays” by Damon Young
“Educated” by Tara Westover
“Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country in the World” by Sarah Smarsh
“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles

Thompson acknowledged “A Gentleman in Moscow” as “totally different” from her other choices and “a book you don’t want to ever end.” She called the memoir by Young (a local author) a powerful commentary on being black in our country and Westover’s book an astonishing memoir about the power of education.


Stephen Robar

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Political Science
The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
“The Southern Reach Trilogy” by Jeff Vandermeer

“I grew up a huge sci fi and fantasy fan, and I teach — once in a while when I can gift myself and our students — several courses on political science fiction,” said Robar. “I’m both doing personal and work reading in the areas of ecological sci-fi, as well as race and gender sci-fi. I’m developing two new online summer courses for summer 2020, and so I’m fun reading and work reading.”

Marietta Frank

Director of Hanley Library
“Madonna in a Fur Coat” by Sabahattin Ali (translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe)
“Istanbul: Memories and the City” by Orhan Pamuk (deluxe edition)

Karen Bell

Instructor of English
“The Girl with All the Gifts” by M.R. Carey

“I've been reading a string of pretty fantastic dystopia novels,” said Bell, who just finished Carey’s novel. “I don't usually read zombie books because then I can't sleep for days, but I loved this one because the emphasis was more on the complexity of human relationships. Grotesque detail and engaging characters with dash of hope.”


Bobby Walch

Library Specialist
“Red White and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston
“Again but Better” by Christine Riccio
“Kiss Number 8” by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

“It’s an awesome story that revolves around a romance with the Prince of England and the President’s son,” Walch said of “Red White and Royal Blue.” He called “Again but Better,” which he is reading for a book club, “a fluffy contemporary fiction book about Europe” by a popular YouTuber.

Kelly Safin

Reference and Public Services Librarian
“Magpie Murder” by Anthony Horowitz
“Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results” by James Clear

“The science behind habits in general interests me,” said Safin, who plans to listen to the audiobook during her commute.

Lou Ann Sears

Director of Learning Resources Center and Assistant Professor of English
“The Last Train North” by Clifton Taulbert
“There, There” by Tommy Orange
“Education” by Tara Westover
“Parkland” by Dave Cullen

Sears plans to use the titles by Westover and Cullen in a fall Collegiate Reading course. Meanwhile, she called Taulbert’s book a recent good read.


Maryl Roberts McGinley

Assistant Professor of Communication
“Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” by Annie Dillard
“Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens

Pitt Business

Kristy Bronder

Executive Director of the Business of Humanity Project
“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gaim Honeyman
“Daisy Jones & the Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“You can’t help but root for Eleanor to pull her life together and find happiness. She’s a wonderful and complex character,” said Bronder. Of Jenkins Reid’s novel, which recounts a fictional rock group in the 1970s, including their rise to fame and messy break up, Bronder said, “It reads very much like a Rolling Stone magazine interview where each member of the band recounts the stories behind how they got together, their recording sessions, tours and relationships. I would compare it to the movie ‘Almost Famous’ — it is very much in that style.”

University Center for Teaching and Learning

Tahirah Walker

Manager of Learning Design
“The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arundhati Roy

“The book opens with a portrait of the lives of hijrah women (we would likely refer to them as trans) making a family life for themselves,” said Walker. “I think this book is important for folks interested in intersectionality on a global scale. It raises voices that are often quieted: Asian borderlands, queer identity outside the Eurocentric imaginary, non-Christian religious tensions and womanhood beyond the binary. So far, it is positively captivating.”