Patty Jones: What I’m Reading

Patty Jones is Associate Director for Research at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.


I am always reading three or four books at the same time, usually a mix of fiction and non-fiction. I got a Kindle Paperwhite for a holiday gift, so now I am also starting to read e-books more often. I just finished reading George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo as an e-book and loved it. I had never read Saunders’ work before, and it was an unexpected treat. The book is an unusual style of fragments from different narrators, but it does tell a story that is elegiac yet sometimes playful. As a parent myself, I also found certain plot elements particularly wrenching. Now I am reading The Book: A Cover to Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of our time by Keith Houston – and this is a book that you must have in a physical hardcopy because that is precisely the point. It is beautifully made with lovely paper and stitching, makes interesting use of color, and is also “meta” – the physical book itself has annotations pointing out its hinge, binding tape, foot, and so on. It is a concise and well-written history of the elements of the book – the invention of paper from papyrus to parchment to wood-based paper; the invention of writing, illustrations, and more. Right now I’m enjoying reading about illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages.

My second book I recently found at the Illini Union bookstore – Seven Words for Wind: Essays and Field Notes from Alaska’s Pribilof Islands by Sumner MacLeish. It is a short and beautifully written account of the author’s move to the Pribilof Islands that includes elements of ethnography, nature, journalism, and history. Each chapter is named after a type of wind in the Aleut language; for example, “Asxi-lix” means roughly “to go against the wind”. The colonialism elements of this history still reverberate with the native Aleuts to this day. The natural world is dynamic, harsh, and beautiful, and its exploitation by fishing and other industries is a fact of life. The people are a wonderful mix of perspectives. It makes you think about your own “village” and why it is the way it is. My third book is one that I purchased a long time ago and finally popped open – the time travel science fiction classic The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. A 1983 everyman English professor gets swept up into a secretive millionaire’s scheme to travel through time – but this is only possible during certain windows of time and space. I am only about 15% of the way through the story so far, and it is very engaging to see nineteenth-century London through the eyes of a somewhat modern American. It is fun, mysterious, and fast-paced, and I can certainly imagine it as a really cool HBO mini-series. Speaking of which, if I was in charge of HBO, here is my slate of books to turn into the next Game of Thrones-style lavish juggernaut series of mystery and adventure:

1. Orphan of Creation by Roger MacBride Allen.

2. The “Southern Reach Trilogy” by Jeff VanderMeer.

3. The “Hyperion” series by Dan Simmons.

4. The “Pliocene Saga” by Julian May.

5. Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card.

(PS: And, I am really looking forward to “American Gods” later this month on Starz!)

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About iprh

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was established in 1997 to promote interdisciplinary study in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.
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