Summertime, and the reading is easy

Like science fiction? Spy novels? Family sagas? Find these and more in our reviews of novels by alumni authors.

Leigh Bardugo ’97 is a number-one New York Times bestselling author of fantasy novels, including Shadow and Bone, Six of Crows, and Ninth House—set at Yale.

Rose Wong

Rose Wong

View full image

As an undergrad, I took very few creative writing classes: a brilliant poetry seminar with Wayne Koestenbaum, a misbegotten screenwriting course in the Hopper basement, and Daily Themes, of course, which was meant to build the habit of writing each and every day, a practice that certainly would have been beneficial to my future career as a novelist had I not been such a slipshod student.

My real education as a writer came from the breadth of language to which I was exposed, not just in my English classes, but everywhere at Yale—discovering Elizabeth Bishop in Harold Bloom’s Modern Poets and Hart Crane in Langdon Hammer’s lectures, hearing Laura Esquivel read to us in Spanish, having my mind set on fire by Donald Kagan’s concluding lecture on Demosthenes. That education arrived in the phrase “rete mirabile,” culled from my botched attempt to take a proper science class (Biology of Fishes), and in the luscious absurdity of the slang in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (Organizational Disasters). It gained clarity in the words of philosopher Louis Dupré, attired in mustard-yellow shirt and emerald-green tie, telling us (I am paraphrasing from memory here, but boy is the memory clear): “I don’t read poetry so I can talk about it at cocktail parties. I read it because it’s the last place where heightened language truly exists.” It  took shape in the rapid-fire humor of an improv group, the monologues I learned for The House of Blue Leaves, the first 18 lines of The Canterbury Tales we all had to memorize and that I can still recite to this day, the battle I waged with Doll’s dialogue from Henry IV when Murray Biggs saddled me with it in Shakespeare Acted.

Great writing is like great humor in that it demands surprise, and it’s our job to read broadly enough to create the possibility for astonishment. As I put the finishing touches on Hell Bent, my sequel to Ninth House, a dark fantasy set at Yale, I am buried in nonfiction about New Haven and its history—and let me tell you, this town never ceases to surprise.

Now that we’re heading into what I hope will be a summer spent gathering indoors or outdoors or wherever we please, curling up beneath beach umbrellas, or grabbing a few spare minutes on a lunch break to devour just one more chapter, here is my wish for you: may your summer reading bring you escape if you desire it, edification if you require it, and always, the pleasure of the unexpected.