Great winter reads

Faculty and staff share their favorite books — the perfect companions for long winter days.

On American SoilMichael Quiner, director of administrative technology
“On American Soil: How Justice Became a Casualty of World War II” by Jack Hamann (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005)

“This is an investigative piece about several incidents that happened at Fort Lawton in Seattle during 1944. An Italian POW was murdered, soldiers rioted and a sham trial was held. An amazing story that is unusual because it really happened. This little known incident, which is a combination of murder mystery and military history, raises questions about race relations in America, patriotism and the treatment of prisoners of war.”

Gang LeaderNoah Leavitt, visiting assistant professor of sociology and general studies
“Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets”
Author: Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh (The Penguin Press, 2008)

”Each semester I start my ’Social Problems’ course (Sociology 110) with this book. ’Gang Leader’ is incredibly engaging — academic and at the same time totally fun, accessible and fast. It is a friendly and informed introduction to the field of sociology, and also to an aspect of American life that most people don’t know anything about, or know the wrong things about. Basically, this is a story of how a nerdy and inquisitive (and courageous) sociology grad student at the University of Chicago took up with drug gangs in Chicago public housing and learned about the underground economy in urban America. Of all the texts we read in ’Social Problems,’ this is the one that most sticks with my students. It helps them understand poverty, race, family structure, crime and other important sociological areas of concern.”

Click here to see Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh talk about his work with drug gangs in Chicago public housing.

KingsDalia Corkrum, director, Penrose Library
“Kings of the Earth” by Jon Clinch (Random House, 2010)

“Jon Clinch is my favorite author and a friend of mine. The many-voiced narrative draws the reader into the lives of three brothers who live on an Upstate New York dirt-poor dairy farm. Now old men, the bond between them is strained when one of the brothers appears to have been murdered in the common bed they shared. Ultimately, this story is about community and about the way people listen and respond to each other. The characters are real people, who care very deeply about each other and the corner of the world that they call home. Clinch’s use of language and ability to evoke emotion from the mundane are unparalleled. He develops each character with compassion, yet distills the essence of their tragic nature with breathtaking clarity, making this one of the best books I have ever read.”

ZeitounJosie Hendrickson, assistant professor of religion
“Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s, 2009)

“I don’t know if saying I loved the book is the right word, because it recounts painful experiences — but I very much appreciated Eggers’ bringing this very important story to light. As a professor of Islam constantly battling stereotypes about Muslims, I also found it refreshing and courageous of Eggers to introduce us to two Muslim American heroes. Kathy and Abdulrahman Zeitoun may insist they are just regular people, but to me they are amazing and inspirational.”

Editor’s note: ”Zeitoun” was the 2010 assigned summer reading for first-year students. The nonfiction story chronicles the plight of a Muslim American family in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. Read about their campus visit with the author here. See a faculty panel discussion on ”Zeitoun” here.

Homemade LifeLaura Krier, integrated systems/metadata librarian, Penrose Library
“A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table” by Molly Wizenberg (Simon and Schuster, 2009)

“This is a kind of memoir with recipes. Wizenberg writes warm, funny and sweet little stories about her family, how she met her husband, and how they are building their lives together, told through food. The recipes are inventive and simple and, so far, all delicious, and her writing is just as delicious. It made me want to be friends with them both just so I can hear more of her great stories.”

Hunger Games“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press, 2008)

“This is actually the first in a trilogy of books written for young adults, set in a bleak, post-war future. The protagonist, a young girl, is selected to fight in a reality show-like game where the last person to survive is the winner. She’s resourceful and tough and smart, and the books are compelling and, like the best dystopian fiction, offer some interesting critiques of our current world.”

Belong to Me“Belong to Me” by Marisa de los Santos (William Morrow, 2008)

“This is a moving novel about a young couple who moves from the big city to the suburbs, and how their lives surprisingly intersect with that of some other newcomers, a mother and her genius son. It’s got a good twist at the end, but what makes it so great is Santos’ well-developed characters and explorations of how complex human emotions can be.”

Major PettigrewNancy Simon, Garrett professor of dramatic arts and professor of theatre
“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” by Helen Simonson (Random House, 2010)

“This gentle comic tale of the romance between a starchy widower, British as a hedgerow, and the local shopkeeper, identified by the village as Pakistani though she has never been further than the Isle of Wight, reflects on the value of caring for others and the courage to defy upbringing, routine and the expectations of others in the pursuit of happiness.”

QuirkologyMatthew Prull, associate professor of psychology
“Quirkology” by Richard Wiseman (Perseus Books Group, 2007)

“Wiseman is a research psychologist who uses the scientific method to try to answer some of the most interesting questions we ask about ourselves: What is the funniest joke? Can we reliably detect a liar from their facial expressions? What’s the best pick-up line? His research studies are unorthodox, and his results are surprising and illuminating. Well written and a fun read.”