Finals are a few days away. Your students are probably dreaming of a long, hot summer with lots of time for rest, relaxation, recuperation from the semester. But college is the beginning of a lifelong journey of learning, and reading is a huge part of that. In recent years, adults are gathering in large numbers for book clubs and conversation, and even the least intellectual books can be cultural phenomenons (to wit, Fifty Shades of Grey made the cover of Newsweek a few weeks ago).
So we hope you will encourage your students to keep reading and thinking throughout the summer. The Parent Programs office turned to our good friends in the Z. Smith Reynolds Library and a few other offices for recommendations on good books. Some are easier reads, some are heavier. Some more intellectual, some lighter, some more charming.
We hope you find this list interesting and helpful – and if you have suggestions of books to recommend, send them to email@example.com. Happy reading!
From Maria Henson (’82), Associate Vice President and Editor-at-Large
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World by Tracy Kidder
The story traces the life of physician and anthropologist Paul Farmer. The book was a New York Times Notable Book for 2003. Maria says of this book: “It provided a riveting account of a student who bootstrapped his way into Duke University, discovered his passion for Haiti, made it through medical school and launched one of the most important health initiatives on the planet. Kidder explains Haiti and its history thoroughly and deeply; I view Haiti’s current events through the lens that this nonfiction book provided.”
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin
After his father’s heart attack in 1984, Peter Godwin began a series of pilgrimages back to Zimbabwe, the land of his birth, from Manhattan, where he now lives. On these frequent visits to check on his elderly parents, he bore witness to Zimbabwe’s dramatic spiral downwards into the jaws of violent chaos, presided over by an increasingly enraged dictator. Maria recommends this book for this reason: “I have a passion for peaceful Botswana. Godwin’s book about neighboring Zimbabwe helped explain the chaos of the Mugabe regime so that I better understood the African continent. While this nonfiction book pulls back the curtain on human rights atrocities and political corruption, it always makes clear that at its heart is Godwin’s love for his home country, its people and its landscape.”
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Published in 2000, this is a memoir of the prolific author’s experiences as a writer, and also serves as a guide book for those who choose to enter the craft. Maria says: “While I can’t say I have read many of King’s horror books, I can say that I give a big thumbs-up to this memoir. King writes a can’t-put-it-down memoir about his lessons and insights along the way. Any aspiring writer would see its value and find inspiration to keep revising drafts and striving to improve.”
From Mary Pugel, Chief of Staff, Office of the President
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, State of Wonder presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity. As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness.
When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale
Nine-year-old Lawrence is the man in his family. He carefully watches over his willful little sister, Jemima, and his mother, Hannah. When Hannah becomes convinced that their estranged father is stalking them, the family flees London and heads for Rome, where Hannah lived happily as a young woman. For Lawrence, fascinated by stories of popes and emperors, Rome is an adventure. Though they are short of money, and move from home to home, staying with his mother’s old friends, little by little their new life seems to be taking shape. But the trouble that brought them to Italy will not quite leave them in peace.
The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett
When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch.
From Rosalind Tedford (’91, MA ’94), Director for Research and Instruction, Political Science Liaison and Communication Liaison
The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins
“A fascinating look at how those things that make us outsiders in high school, actually make us successful in the real world,” says Roz. ”Based on case studies and a fascinating look into the research, this easy to read book gives hope to those feeling out of place in high school and college, and clarity to those of us who have realized that the real world values our quirks!! ”
Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James
Roz encourages that “if you like Jane Austen, you’ll love this ‘sequel’ of sorts to Pride and Prejudice. This incredibly well written book by acclaimed mystery writer P. D. James stays true to the characters, atmosphere and wit of Austen, while weaving a fascinating mystery into the fabric of Pemberly.”
From Marybeth Wallace (’86), Special Assistant to the President
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
Marybeth says: “For all of you who wrote about identifying with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre in one of your college application essays like I did (Mr. Rochester, wherefore are thou?) this gives you a different perspective on one of our favorite novels—told from the point of view of the mysterious ‘madwoman in the attic,’ Mr. Rochester’s first wife, Antoinette Bertha Cosway, who grew up in the Caribbean Islands and is transplanted to Britain where all is not what it seems.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Marybeth says that she recently re-read this and had not read it since she was 18. ”It’s one of those time-honored classics that is fascinating to read at different stages in life because you will read it differently—and this would make for interesting discussion in a household. Beautifully written. Read it and be transported to 19th Century Russia. You’ll feel the cold air nip your nose even on those 90 plus days of summer. Then watch the recent film about Tolstoy’s last days, The Last Station with Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren (or better yet, read Jay Parini’s book upon which the film is based.)”
Emptying the Nest: Launching Your Young Adult Toward Success and Self-Reliance by Brad E. Sachs
Marybeth recommends this for parents: ”For my 19 years of parenting, I have always interspersed reading fiction with whatever I can get my hands on about parenting. I found this book extremely helpful entering the stage of having one leave the nest and realizing that this is what we prepare them for all along, challenging as that can sometimes be.”
College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be by Andrew Delbanco
Delbanco is the Melville Scholar at Columbia University and winner of the 2011 National Humanities Medal. Says Marybeth: “[He was] one of our panelists at the recent Rethinking Success Conference put on at Wake Forest by Andy Chan’s Office. After hearing Dr. Delbanco speak, I am eager to embark on reading his latest book, as his insights on American education were thought-provoking indeed.”
From Hu Womack (’90, MBA ’00), Librarian, Instruction and Outreach
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Chronicles the migration of 6 million African Americans from the South to the North and West from 1915 to 1970. Hu writes: “This will be the WFU Alumni Book Club book for September AND it is one of two books for the ‘On The Same Page’ community read of the Forsyth County Public Library (along with ‘Big Fish’). It also ties in well with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of integration at WFU that kicks off next Friday and runs through the 2012-2013 school year!”
Divergent by Veronica Roth
“For those who liked ‘The Hunger Games,’ try Divergent by Veronica Roth (and Insurgent when it comes out May 1st!),” says Hu. Divergent is part of a new brand of “dystopian” young adult novels. The protagonist, Beatrice, lives in a society divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives.
On the Grid: A Plot of Land, An Average Neighborhood, and the Systems that Make Our World Work by Scott Huler
In our daily lives, we’re surrounded by wires, pipes, utility poles, cell phone towers, and a myriad of other infrastructure that facilitate almost everything we do. Even though these systems are essential, when was the last time you gave them much thought? Not only is infrastructure shrouded in mystery, much of it is woefully out of date—bridges are falling, public transportation is overcrowded, and most roads haven’t been updated since the 1950s. In On the Grid, Scott Huler sets out to understand all of the systems that shape our society—from transportation, water, and garbage to the Internet coming through our cable lines. Hu confesses: “I know, I’m such a geek, but it is about Raleigh!”
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
This is book one of the Century Trilogy (the second will come out in September 2012). A thirteen-year-old Welsh boy enters a man’s world in the mining pits; an American law student rejected by love finds a surprising new career in Woodrow Wilson’s White House; a housekeeper for the aristocratic Fitzherberts takes a fateful step above her station, while Lady Maud Fitzherbert herself crosses deep into forbidden territory when she falls in love with a German spy; and two orphaned Russian brothers embark on radically different paths when their plan to emigrate to America falls afoul of war, conscription, and revolution.
Finally, here are my own recommendations (Betsy Chapman (’92, MA ’94), Director of Parent Programs and author of the Parents’ Page)
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
“‘The circus appears without warning’ begins the story. And this circus travels from town to town, weaving its particular blend of magic and charming everyone who goes to see its black and white tents. This is an enchanting story, full of magic and mystery, impossible feats, fascinating characters, and love.” (Note: Roz Tedford and Hu Womack also listed this in their recommendations).
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
“I stumbled upon a TED Talk by Susan Cain about this book. And her story just sang to me, because I am also an introvert. Susan’s book helps uncover and unwrap the hidden strengths and positive qualities of introverts, and talks about all that we add to our society. For those of us who like to think, feel, learn, work, and/or socialize quietly and privately – or within the safety of a much smaller circle of friends – this book is a revelation. But even if you are not personally an introvert, chances are you live or work with one, and understanding them better might make your personal and professional relationships easier.”
Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest
“This one is a gritty read with very mature themes and language, so be warned. It’s the story of Emma Forrest, a talented but deeply troubled young writer who has a history of cutting and suicidal thoughts. Her life is at once glamorous (she runs in very interesting social circles) and disturbing (as her mental illness drags her into a very destructive downward spiral), but she meets a wonderful therapist who helps her learn to rescue herself. There are some amazing lyrical moments in her writing, and she is particularly poignant when she writes about grief and loss. I found her story to be absolutely fascinating.”
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
“Our book club just read this one, and despite the heavy subject matter, everyone who read it liked it. It’s the story of Alice, a Harvard professor of psychology and leading expert on linguistics, who finds herself turning 50 and being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers. The story follows the gradual assault on her memory and the impact it has on her career, her marriage, and her children. You see from Alice’s perspective the progression of the disease – both what it robs from her, and the unexpected ways she can let go of her former life and appreciate what she can while she can. Kleenex required.”
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
“This is on my always-recommend list, especially for college students who are in the midst of the big question ‘what should I do with my life?’ It’s a sweet little fable about following your dream. Santiago, a young shepherd boy, has a dream and a vision, and literally travels the across the world to pursue that dream. It’s also a reminder to each of us that we can live a life full of magic, mystery and purpose, if we open ourselves to it.”