Now that it is nearly August and we’re rolling towards the last of the summer hurrahs, maybe you are looking for something to read on the beach or the plane or in the car as you head to a vacation destination. Well, there is a great list of eye-opening, thought-provoking books already online for your perusal: you could dive into the books our incoming freshmen participating in Project Wake are reading. In fact, if your incoming freshman is doing Project Wake, maybe you want to read the same book and have a family book discussion?
Of course you don’t have to have a freshman to read these. Maybe you want to read something that makes you feel like you are going back to college (or going in the first place). Something that is not in your normal repertoire, but gives you an opportuntity to learn about subjects you hadn’t explored before.
A caveat: these are books that will make you think. May challenge you. May provoke strong or uncomfortable feelings. They will almost certainly expose you to different opinions and experiences from what you have known. They might take you out of your comfort zone. But my hunch is they will stretch your mind in new ways.
There is a reason these books were chosen for Project Wake. A college education is about challenging the mind. It isn’t about just giving students safe, sanitized, comfortable material all of the time. We would be doing your students an injustice if we didn’t ask them to learn about things that are new, maybe even unsettling. The world is a complicated place, and we all bring different experiences, backgrounds, and voices to our little corners of the world. Your students will be better prepared for Life After Wake Forest if they are well versed in people, cultures, traditions, experiences, etc. that are not their own. It will deepen their understanding of others, perhaps their empathy and compassion too.
Here are the titles and links to the books if you want to purchase online. Parents, if you are coming for Move-In, there are also copies of the books available in the Bookstore.
Accidents of Providence, by Stacia Brown – Rachel Lockyer is pregnant, and the father of the baby cannot marry her. Not only is he married to someone else, but now he is imprisoned for treason. The tides of political change are sweeping 17th century England as Cromwell rules the land, but in the absence of a king a kind of religious absolutism is taking control of the justice system.
A Hope in the Unseen, by Ron Suskind – This book follows Cedric Jennings’ imposing journey from a failing inner-city Washington, DC high school to the Ivy Leagues.
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr – This beautifully written book describes the intersection of two lives during World War II. Marie-Laurie is a blind young woman from France, which later becomes occupied by Germany. Werner is an orphan from Germany who is recruited into the Nazi forces.
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – This award-winning novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie deals with race and identity in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.
Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay – Bad Feminist is a smart, fun and important contribution to contemporary feminist debates. This series of essays deals with everything from her love of Sweet Valley High Books, to her domination of Scrabble tournaments, to her survival of sexual assault, to her challenges as a young, black woman college professor.
Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel, by Helen Oyeyemi – An adaptation of the classic Snow White story set in 1950s Massachusetts, Oyeyemi’s novel raises questions about identity, race, vanity, and perception.
Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics, by Marie Gottschalk – This book will expose students to the rise of prison-culture in the US in a comparative/global context.
Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar – Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Disgraced is a highly provocative play about stereotypes of religious and ethnic identity in contemporary America. It grapples with competing ideas of Muslim identity.
Everything that Rises Must Converge: Stories (1965), by Flannery O’Connor – This is O’Connor’s second short story collection, published posthumously in 1965. The stories will interest students who find themselves grappling with the many categories of difference that intersected with O’Connor’s life and writing: religious, regional, racial, medical, and gendered.
Finding Zero: A Mathematician’s Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers, by Amir D. Aczel – The invention of numbers is one of the greatest achievements of humankind, evidenced by their acceptance into all facets of everyday life. The number zero was an abstraction that came relatively late in the history of numerology. Its discovery had a significant impact on ideas.
Gray Mountain, by John Grisham – This book is set in western Virginia and the main character is a young attorney. The book follows her experiences with issues surrounding coal mine families in Appalachia, including, poverty, health, and environmentalism.
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World, by Tracy Kidder – This is the story of Dr. Paul Farmer and his groundbreaking work with Partners in Health in Haiti. Farmer’s story, as told by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Tracy Kidder, takes us from Harvard to Haiti and beyond as he pursues his calling to cure infectious diseases and bring life-saving medical care to poor communities.
Quiet, by Susan Cain – Introverts can get a bad rap in our society. They can be classified only as “shy”, and because of the different ways their strengths manifest, can be overlooked. Introverts themselves can also miss opportunities to build on their strengths, thinking they need to behave, think, and speak more like extroverts. (Aside: this book was a gamechanger in my life. If you are an introvert – or you love an introvert, work with one at the office, etc. – I cannot recommend this book enough).
Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, by Eboo Patel – In this prophetic and thought-provoking book, Eboo Patel speaks to the necessary work that must be done to support, strengthen, and promote religious pluralism in the United States.
Sacred Hunger, by Barry Unsworth – A beautiful and unsettling historical novel of the Atlantic slave trade. The book follows William Kemp, a failing merchant who pins his last hope to a slave ship; his son whose love of a rich young woman demands a fortune; and his nephew, a broken man who has lost all he has loved, who sails as the ship’s doctor.
Talking to Strangers, by Danielle Allen – This book revisits an important time in American history and education, Brown vs Board of Education, and invites us to reflect on the need to engage those like and unlike us.
The Book of My Lives, by Aleksandar Hemon – A finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Book of My Lives is a memoir published in 2014 by the writer Aleksandar Hemon, who came to Chicago in his mid-twenties just before the outbreak of the bloody civil war in Bosnia separated Hemon from his family and his earlier life in Sarajevo.
The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot – This historical account describes the source of the HeLa cells. Henrietta Lacks was an African American, tobacco farmer, who had a sample of her tumor cells removed without her permission and disseminated throughout the scientific community. The HeLa cells have enabled innumerous scientific discoveries in the last 60 years including over 60,000 publications. (Aside: also a gamechanger for me in understanding socioeconomic and racial experiences in the US. And if you really want to read something truly outstanding on that topic, try The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. It showed me a side of American history I never learned).
The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd – This fictionalized story of the real-life Sarah Grimke gives an eye-opening and compelling view into the lives of slave owners and slaves in the 1800s.
Think Like a Freak, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner – This book attempts to examine non-obvious approaches to problem solving. The book isn’t valuable for the solutions to the problems it discusses, but, rather, for the processes it outlines for approaching problems.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, by Naomi Klein – Deploying thorough reporting and compelling storytelling, Naomi Klein argues that the very system that has enabled mankind to prosper — capitalism and the fossil-fuel economy — is now imperiling the health of the earth.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirzig – This is the story of a summer motorcycle trip by a father and son but it is also a reflection on how we perceive and judge the value of seemingly conflicting aspects of science and art, objective and subjective, in our world.