Year of Wonders

From July 9-30, join the #ColgateSummerReads virtual reading group for Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. Read a few pages a day and join (or follow) our discussion on Twitter.

Year of Wonders Book Cover

Inspired by the true story of a village in Derbyshire, England, Year of Wonders unfolds from the point of view of Anna, a young housemaid and shepherdess who is recently widowed and the mother of young boys. She is employed in the home of a charismatic new minister and his otherworldly wife, who teaches Anna to read and write.

In thrall to progressive ideas from his time at Cambridge, the minister persuades the villagers to seal themselves off from the outside world until the plague runs its course. Not a single household in the village is spared; in some cases, entire families succumb. Bonds between the living fray, and faith is in short supply.

To make sense of the horror and chaos, some villagers resort to superstition, theft, rape, and murder. Others, like Anna, dig deep to find reserves of strength they never knew they had.

That a twenty-year-old novel about events that occurred centuries ago can speak trenchantly to our present moment is one of the marvels of literature. Brooks’ characters practice what we, in 2020, now call “social distancing” and “self-quarantine.” When the clatter of traffic and commerce cease, they feel the silence in their bones. They marvel, as we do, at the natural world, which cycles through its seasons, spinning beauty, heedless of the affairs of humans. They seek a cause as well as a cure. And they wonder, as we do, what version of themselves will emerge from this ordeal.

In a recent interview with NPR, Ms. Brooks described how COVID-19 has forced her to ask hard questions.

“Will I be my best self?” she asks. “Or will I become a selfish monster? Will I become the person pushing my neighbor away to grab the last roll of toilet paper, on a trivial level? I think it’s a challenge for us all.”

Geraldine Brooks
Geraldine Brooks (Photo by Randi Baird)

Born and raised in Australia, Geraldine Brooks had a distinguished career as a foreign correspondent before turning, with Year of Wonders, to fiction-writing. The novel appeared in the summer of 2001, weeks before 9/11. Her second novel, March, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. Her other works include:

  • Caleb’s Crossing
  • People of the Book
  • Nine Parts of Desire
  • Foreign Correspondence
  • The Idea of Home


Order the book now at a 10% discount from the Colgate Bookstore. Discount available until September 1.

Reading Schedule

Read just a few pages each day and keep up with the virtual reading group’s conversation on Twitter #ColgateSummerReads.

Day Date Pages
Thursday July 9 pp. 3-19
Friday July 10 pp. 23-37

end with "...door to the real learning that I craved."
Saturday July 11 pp. 37-50

end with "...golden-green gashed by flames of bright vermillion."
Sunday July 12 pp. 50-64
Monday July 13 pp. 65-79
Tuesday July 14 pp. 80-94
Wednesday July 15 pp. 95-106
Day Date Pages
Thursday July 16 pp. 107-123
Friday July 17 pp. 124-133
Saturday July 18 pp. 134-156
Sunday July 19 pp. 157-170

end with " the sleep of the exhausted."
Monday July 20 pp. 170-187
Tuesday July 21 pp. 188-199
Wednesday July 22 pp. 200-215
Day Date Pages
Thursday July 23 pp. 216-229
Friday July 24 pp. 230-244

end with " the sour smell of smoldering ashes."
Saturday July 25 pp. 244-258
Sunday July 26 pp. 261-272
Monday July 27 pp. 273-283
Tuesday July 28 pp. 284-293
Wednesday July 29 pp. 297-304
Thursday July 30 pp. 305-308


Enrich your reading by listening to short podcasts throughout the month. Additional information including reviews and recommended readings are posted below.

Podcast Schedule & Participants

The podcast schedule features conversations between Jennifer Brice, an associate professor of English at Colgate University, and the special guests below. Brice is the author of The Last Settlers, a work of documentary journalism, and Unlearning to Fly, a memoir-in-essays. Her essays have appeared in a number of anthologies and journals, including American Nature Writing, The Dolphin Reader, The Gettysburg Review, Iron Horse, and River Teeth.

To wrap up our reading of Year of Wonders, listen in to a conversation with the author herself, Geraldine Brooks.

Nimanthi Perera-Rajasingham is an associate professor of English and Women's Studies at Colgate University. Her book is titled Assembling Ethnicities in Neoliberal Times: Ethnographic Fictions and Sri Lanka's War. She has published in journals such as Research in African Literatures, South Asian Review, Contemporary South Asia, and Truthout.

Carina Haden ’21 is a senior English major and Art & Art History minor from Whitesboro, New York. This is her second year working with Professor Brice on the Living Writers program. Her favorite read from the 2019 list was How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee, and her favorite author visit was Justin Torres for his book, We the Animals.

Kathrine Roell ’21 is a senior from Manchester, New Hampshire, studying both English Literature and French. This is her second year as a research assistant with Living Writers, and she is excited to be engaging with such an exciting group of texts and authors. This year, she is most looking forward to reading  Charles Yu’s novel Interior Chinatown. Last year her favorite Living Writers’ work was John Banville’s The Sea.

Frank Frey is a professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Colgate University. His teaching specialties include biostatistics, evolutionary biology, and global environmental health. He has published in journals including American Naturalist, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Evolution, International Journal of Geographic Information Science, International Journal of Plant Sciences, and Plant Species Biology. He has spent over a decade working in partnership with Bwindi Community Hospital in southwestern Uganda, and is currently investigating, along with Prof. Peter Scull and BCH collaborators, the emergence of antibiotic resistance in bacteria that cause upper respiratory infections in U5 children in the region.

Alan Cooper is an associate professor of History at Colgate University.  He works mainly on eleventh- and twelfth-century England, focusing on the cultural history of law and power.  His publications include Bridges, Law and Power in Medieval England, 700–1400, and articles in the English Historical Review, the Journal of Medieval History, and Anglo-Norman Studies.  He is currently working on a book about William FitzOsbert, a traumatised crusader turned doomed revolutionary, and a novel set against the backdrop of the First Crusade.

Jane Pinchin’s publications include Alexandria Still: Forster, Durrell, and Cavafy. Among her many roles at Colgate University were provost and dean of the faculty as well as interim president. She received an honorary degree from this university at the May 2018 commencement. In 2019, a new dormitory, Jane Pinchin Hall, was named in her honor. She is now the Thomas A. Bartlett Professor Emerita in the Department of English. She serves on the Board of Trustees of Bowdoin College.

Brian W. Casey was inaugurated as Colgate's 17th president in 2016. After starting a career in law, Casey transitioned to higher education after earning a PhD from Harvard University in the history of American civilization, focusing specifically on the history of American higher education and American intellectual history. At Colgate, Casey is refocusing a commitment to Colgate's core identity: academic excellence and an immersive residential program in the liberal arts, preparing Colgate's students for well-rounded lives and careers.

Full biography

Enrich Your Reading Experience

  • Year of Wonders is a tale of fragile hope pitted against overwhelming disaster,” writes Alfred Hickling in his review for The Guardian. “Like the flaring rosettes of the bubonic rash, it gets under the skin of what it means to be human.” 
  • " 'Wonder' is a word that has multiple meanings....'Wonder' also means 'inexplicable.' " Diane Rehm and others explore Geraldine Brooks' use of the W-word in this NPR round-table discussion of Year of Wonders
  • In an April essay for The Wall Street Journal, “Two Villages, Two Eras, Two Plagues,” Geraldine Brooks writes about how the pandemic came to Martha’s Vineyard.
    Note: Library users can access the WSJ online using ProQuest
  • What do readers do in the midst of a pandemic? They read, of course, says Melissa Block in this NPR piece, “'A Matter Of Common Decency': What Literature Can Teach Us About Epidemics.” (Geraldine Brooks makes a cameo appearance.)
  • We’ve compiled our own eclectic reading list for the coronavirus pandemic.

Join us for a Zoom cocktail hour on Thursday, July 30, 6-7 p.m.

We'll bring a few questions to get things started, but you should feel free to tell us your thoughts about the novel, the podcasts, or the Twitter format.  *Registration is now closed. Please email <> to be added to the conversation.

It's one of our most primal fears as human beings, the idea of this silent stalking killer.

Geraldine Brooks NPR

Continue your reading this fall with the annual Living Writers program, featuring the work of nine authors through the fall semester:

  • Geraldine Brooks, Year of Wonders, Sept. 10
  • Emily Bernard, Black Is the Body, Sept. 17
  • Greg Bottoms, Lowest White Boy, Sept. 24
  • David Sedaris, Calypso, Oct 8
  • Ilya Kaminsky, Deaf Republic, Oct. 22
  • Yaa Gyasi, Transcendent Kingdom, Oct. 29
  • Maisy Card, These Ghosts Are Family, Nov. 5
  • Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown, Nov. 12
  • Etgar Keret, Suddenly, a Knock on the Door, Nov. 19

More about the fall 2020 program

Join the conversation on Twitter.