Millie’s Summer Reading List

Alumnae-created works to help you learn, reflect, and escape this season

Launched in March 2020 to help our global network cope with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, Millie’s List features hundreds of shows, movies, books, podcasts, recipes, and more created by Barnard alumnae. With updates made regularly, this curated selection seeks to help the community stay connected to the College while supporting graduates’ endeavors beyond the gates. Explore these picks from Millie’s Summer Reading List — you may want to consider tossing a few into your beach bag this summer.

Peggy Backman ’60

Peggy Backman, a psychologist turned fiction writer, explores how people’s behaviors can sometimes baffle us in The Painter’s Bad Day and Other Stories of Life’s Mysteries and Idiosyncrasies (2014). This collection of entertaining short stories — some realistic, some surreal — as well as essays and verse were inspired by the author’s dreams, daydreams, and nightmares, all written to amuse or give cause for reflection.

Anne Bernays ’52, P’81

The Man on the Third Floor (2012) is a fictional read that chronicles the life of Walter Samson, a successful book editor living in post-World War II New York City who seems to be “leading the good American life” alongside his “extremely attractive” wife and two children. Everything changes when Walter falls for Barry Rogers — blue collar, handsome, single, and poor — and endeavors to keep their years-long relationship secret during a time of pervasive and virulent homophobia.

Katherine Boo ’88

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (2012), an insightful and thoroughly researched piece of narrative nonfiction from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Katherine Boo, chronicles the memorable stories of families in Annawadi, a slum near the Mumbai Airport, striving to make a better life in a city of remarkable inequalities.

Suzanne Walker ’12

Mooncakes (2019), an award-winning graphic novel co-created by Suzanne Walker and illustrator Wendy Xu, tells a story of self-discovery through the eyes of Nova Huang, a teen witch whose feelings for a childhood crush — Tam Lang, who happens to be a werewolf —are rekindled as they work together to fight off dark forces in their New England town.

Sasha Cagen ’96

In her book Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics (2004), an interactive guide to self-empowerment, Sasha Cagen celebrates “singledom as a natural resting state.” Cagen coined the term “quirkyalone” — someone who enjoys being single (but is not opposed to being in a relationship) and generally prefers to be alone rather than date for the sake of being in a couple — and she deftly weaves comedic pop culture and self-help references into this fun and engaging read.

Diana Chang ’49

With The Frontiers of Love (1956), a book that explores cultural identity through Asian and Western lenses in Japanese-occupied Shanghai during the 1940s, Diana Chang became widely known to be the first American-born Chinese person to publish a novel in the United States. Frontiers tells the story of three young Eurasian socialites searching for love while trying to resolve the inner confusion brought about by their dual identities.

Edwidge Danticat ’90

Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994) evolved out of an essay about her life that she wrote while at Barnard. The novel follows 12-year-old Sophie Caco as she is sent from her impoverished Haitian village of Croix-des-Rosets to New York City — much as a young Danticat herself was — where she becomes reunited with a nightmare-plagued mother she barely remembers and uncovers painful, life-altering secrets along the way.

B.G. Firmani ’90

In Time’s a Thief (2017), a fictional but relatable coming-of-age story about a Barnard student’s transition to big-city life during the colorful mid-1980s, Francesca “Chess” Varani reflects back on the meaningful experiences that shaped her — from the distance of several decades of learning and the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Follow along as Chess explores and reevaluates her choices, from a turbulent and sometimes toxic friendship with upper-crust classmate Kendra Marr-Löwenstein to a glamorous yet gritty first job after graduation and a dynamic love affair with the boss’s troubled son.

Anna Quindlen ’74 Trustee Emerita

Rise and Shine (2006) is the compelling story of two sisters who are forced to reflect on what really matters after being unintentionally thrust into adversity. When Meghan Fitzmaurice, an ambitious talk-show host, reveals a truth on air, the implications echo through her personal and professional spheres and propel her sister Bridget to reevaluate her own life. Anna Quindlen effectively captures the power of sisterhood through these two sisters’ ability to tackle challenging circumstances with wit and resilience.

Latest IssueSpring 2023