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The Dean's List

Fr. William B. Neenan

By William B. Neenan, SJ | Special to The Chronicle

Published: Oct. 18, 2012

We live in an Anno Mirabili: the Sesquicentennial of Boston College, the Centennial of Fenway Park and the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Dean’s List. Therefore these four new titles will always be known as members of the celebrated Class of 2012.   

David Pietrusza’s 1948 captures the high points of another historic year. You may recall that photo of a triumphant Harry Truman holding aloft the Chicago Tribune’s bold headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.” That pivotal election year was set against the backdrop of the emerging Cold War, the founding of Israel, postwar reconstruction in Europe and the emergence of the civil rights struggle. A momentous period. In that year an idealistic William Neenan entered the Jesuit novitiate at Florissant, Mo. A significant year indeed.

“Yalta” has become a code word for establishing the Soviet Empire that stood astride Eastern Europe for a half century.  That word is politically charged: denoting either a sellout to the communists by the Western allies or simply a realpolitik acceptance of realities on the ground. Yalta, by S.M Plokhy, is a richly detailed narrative of the eight days Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill spent in the Crimean resort town of Yalta in the final months of World War II and settled the fate of Eastern Europe.  Those fateful eight days were only a few short months before FDR’s death.     

Jane Gardam’s The Queen of the Tambourine is the second Gardam volume to appear on the Dean’s List only because I just recently discovered Gardam and her great writing.   Eliza Peabody is the central character of this novel. The story develops through the letters Eliza writes to Joan who may or may not exist. Humorous and poignant, it ends with a startling conclusion that you will not discover from me.  Just read it. I promise you that you will then move along to other Gardam novels. Don’t worry, there are many.

Mark Whitaker’s My Long Trip Home is the autobiographical story of a talented American journalist with a French mother and an Africa- American father — a tale that in the 1960s and 1970s was rare but more and more common today. His parents’ broken marriage, the son’s anger at his absent and narcissistic father and his affection for a caring mother are movingly set against Whitaker’s own professional and family success. Then, just before his father’s death, there is perhaps not a “happy ending” but a certain closure for Whitaker that is implied by the memoir’s title. This book’s ring of authenticity is a very readable personal testimonial as well as a commentary on American society in the 21st century.

Fr. Neenan is vice president and special assistant to the president. He has issued his annual Dean’s List of recommended reading since 1982.

THE DEANS LIST FOR 2012-13 (new additions in bold)

James Agee, A Death in the Family    
Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim    
George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest             
Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons    
Albert Camus, The Fall    
Clare Dunsford, Spelling Love with an X: a Mother, a Son, and the Gene that Binds Them    
Joseph Ellis, His Excellency:  George Washington    
Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby    
Jane Gardam, The Queen of the Tambourine    
Lisa Genova, Still Alice    
Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory    
Patricia Hampl, The Florist’s Daughter    
James Martin, SJ, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything    
David McCullough, Truman    
Alice McDermott, After This    
Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son    
John O'Malley, SJ, The First Jesuits    
David Pietrusza, 1948    
S.M. Plokhy, Yalta  
Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels    
Wallace Stegner, Collected Stories    
Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter        
Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men    
Mark Whitaker, My Long Trip Home      
Garry Wills, Saint Augustine    
Simon Winchester, River at the Center of the World    
Jay Winik, April 1865, The Month that Saved America