Summer Reads 2022

Written by
Jamie Saxon, Office of Communications
July 6, 2022

Monica Huerta and Shamus Khan are among six Princeton professors who talk about how the books on their shelves relate to their work and share what’s on their summer reading lists. Some book choices reflect their scholarly research and teaching. Others illuminate personal interests and current issues in the headlines, as well as books by their fellow Princeton faculty members.

 Read about all six professors’ choices in the full article on princeton.edu.

Monica Huerta

Tell us about a particular book on your shelf.

One favorite is the classic and crucial The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor by the brilliant Patricia Williams. I don’t remember when I first read it, it must have been in college, but it was the first time I read a scholar analyzing — in Williams’ case — law and society from the vantage of being a Black woman and law professor, using scenes from her everyday life as a teacher, sister and writer, but also through her chance interactions with strangers.

When I was writing my book Magical Habits (Duke University Press, 2021), it was Williams and a longer tradition of women of color theorists like Gloria Anzaldúa, Saidiya Hartman and many, many others who helped me imagine my own book’s critical experiment about genres and knowledge from my specifically specific vantage. And in my new book The Unintended: Photography, Property, and the Aesthetics of Racial Capitalism (New York University Press, forthcoming 2023), I’m building on the way Williams introduced me to thinking seriously about the slipperiness of property as a concept and as an accumulation of legal protections, which is also an accumulation of uneven and unevenly told histories. In The Unintended, I expose a series of colonial intimacies, in Lisa Lowe’s [the Samuel Knight Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Race and Migration at Yale University] sense, embedded in the translation of unruly photographs and their reproductions into legal conventions for ownership and privacy in the United States at the turn of the 20th century.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Every summer, my brain-eyes are inevitably bigger than my time-stomach. I have so many Princeton colleagues who have published incredible books I want to spend slow time with, like The Matter of Black Living: The Aesthetic Experiment of Racial Data, 1880-1930 by Autumn Womack [assistant professor of African American Studies and English] and Black Bodies, White Gold: Art, Cotton and Commerce in the Atlantic World by Anna Arabindan-Kesson [assistant professor of art and archaeology and African American studies]. It’s really special to do work where one of the ways we have relationships with one another is to read each other’s writing; there’s something beautiful about honoring someone’s work by spending quiet, engaged time alone with it. It’s a kind of intimacy we don’t often talk about but is an aspect I value so much about this work.

I also have books that Princeton friends and colleagues have highly recommended waiting for me on my “Things I Want to Read” shelf this summer: Paul Nadal [assistant professor of English and American studies] raved about Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s Dreaming of You, a novel in verse; Russ Leo [associate professor of English] sent along Stephen Graham Jones’ novel The Only Good Indians because he knows I’m a horror fan, and Dan-el Padilla Peralta [associate professor of classics] couldn’t say enough about Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s memoir Children of the Land.

I’m also excited to read things I’m long overdue for, like Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, Elizabeth Hinton’s America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s, Robert Jones Jr.’s novel The Prophets, José Esteban Muñoz’s The Sense of Brown and the collection on American artist Carrie Mae Weems that Sarah Lewis and Christine Garnier edited.

Shamus Khan

Tell us about a particular book on your shelf.

Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms is a microhistory of the 16th century Friulian miller, Domenico Scandella Menocchio. He was not a famous person by any means but he was tried by the Roman Inquisition. Menocchio believed that Jesus was born a man and Mary was not a virgin, that the Pope had no power given to him from God, and that Christ had not died to redeem humanity. In his inquisition he was told to renounce his ways and adhere to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. He returned to his village and continued to talk about his ideas. For these ideas he was declared a heresiarch and burned at the stake.

Using inquisition records, Ginzburg traces Menocchio’s life and ideas; few other archival records of his life or the world around him are available. Nonetheless Ginzburg is able to craft a beautiful portrait of something we rarely get to see: the mind and world of a medieval peasant, from his own perspective. There are no claims that Menocchio is representative — he was literate, after all.

I marvel at the range of books Menocchio drew upon to form his vision of the world: classics of Italian literature like the Decameron, the Italian translation of a book of travels attributed to Sir John Mandeville, an Italian translation of the Qur’an, and at least a dozen others. There was a world of books, circulating among men like Menocchio, that they used to make sense of their existence. Menocchio read these works and spoke about them openly.

I am writing about the history of New York, and Ginzberg’s book is a helpful reminder that the vast majority of people who have lived in that city are unknown to us. How could I do something to recover a few of their stories? It reminds me of the power of ideas, and the violence of orthodoxies. My own scholastic skepticism creeps in as well: how could Ginzburg really trust these records as authentic accounts of Menocchio’s vision, rather than biased accounts with the aim toward justifying inquisition? The book is small, imperfect and beautiful. It is a tribute to the wonder of human curiosity and a reminder of the violence of intellectual conformity. There is still much we can glean from this tale of Menocchio. I like to think he would very much have liked the thought that his ideas continue to be shared among communities of the curious. 

What’s on your summer reading list?

In addition to revisiting The Cheese and the Worms this summer, these books are on my list:

  • Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (And Everything Else) by Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò
  • Exhalation by Ted Chiang
  • Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence by Christina Hanhardt
  • The Parable series by Octavia Butler.