Books, books, books. From the center of
a university campus in a city known for having the highest book
sales per capita in the country, it can sometimes seem like there’s
nothing but books. Amid the bustle of the academic year, they are
being toted, hastily scanned, researched, purchased, riddled with
highlights, drafted, scribbled with marginalia, shelved, sold and,
And then comes summer. Life slows down, and books can
be simply savored.
We’ve assembled a panel of bibliophiles from across
The University of Texas at Austin campus to guide you through your
this summer. The lists they have compiled range from Harry Potter
to Betsy Blair, a 19th century Tess to a new view of Khrushchev.
They offer sprawling novels and detailed historic accounts, old
favorites and new discoveries.
Read a little about our recommenders,
and then read their books. You’re sure to find plenty to
enjoy as you wile away the long days of summer.
Oscar Brockett’s “History
of the Theatre” is
used as a primary theater text from China to the U.S. A University
Distinguished Teaching Professor, Brockett says, “to a theatre
historian almost anything may be pertinent to an understanding
of what is going on in theatre.”
Don Carleton is director
of the Center for American History. In addition to publishing several
award-winning books, he has acted
as historical adviser to writers James Michener and Walter Cronkite.
Mia Carter is a University Distinguished
Teaching Professor and an associate professor of English. Her list
her interests in 20th
history and British, postcolonial and ethnic studies, as well as
her love of a gripping novel.
Amy Dolejs is an editor
at the Charles A. Dana Center, a Ph.D. student in American studies
and a true book buff with an eye for stories
that “illuminate the present.”
Geoff Leavenworth, special
assistant to the president and executive secretary to the Commission
of 125, is also a writer whose first
novel, “Isle of Misfortune,” was published this year
to wide acclaim.
James Magnuson is the author of seven
novels and numerous plays, and used to write for the television
Justice” and “Knots Landing.” He directs
the James A. Michener Center for Writers.
Victoria Rodríguez, vice
provost and dean of graduate studies, offers a range of books from
Latin America where, in many cases,
it’s winter right now.
Carter says forcing herself to stick to seven books was
both difficult and fun. Reflecting on her list, she is struck
by “the wisdom I have gained from these books and how
it might be useful for others to glean.”
- “Everything Is Illuminated” by
Jonathan Safran Foer (2002)
A multifaceted gem of a novel (and a rather stunning authorial debut) that
tells the story of a writer named Jonathan Safran Foer and his quest to find
the woman who, during World War II, rescued his grandfather from the Nazis
in the Ukraine.
- “Atonement” by Ian McEwan
McEwan’s novel is about the power of writing and the imagination, family
secrets, accidental and malicious crimes, class, war and ultimately, redemption.
A real page-turner with characters the reader comes to know, richly and fully.
- “Days and Memory” by
Charlotte Delbo (1990)
Delbo, a French Resistance fighter and a Holocaust survivor, examines, quite
eloquently, the wartime and post-war political traumas of the 20th century.
The book is composed of a series of encounters and conversations with other
survivors and witnesses. Their collective voices are haunting and instructive.
- “Paris to the Moon” by
Adam Gopnik (2001)
A terrifically wry and charming collection of The New Yorker regular’s
essays about his family’s five-year stint in Paris, French and American
cultural differences and connections.
- “Krik? Krak!” by Edwidge
A collection of stories about life in Haiti and Haitian Americans’ connections
to the U.S. and the island community to which they remain deeply linked.
This early collection represents the young writer’s dazzling storytelling
skills and compassionate understanding of justice, longing and loss.
- “Invisible Man” by Ralph
A jazzy, modernist American classic about the dream of democracy and the
messy, complicated labyrinth of race, identity and politics in the U.S.
- “The Birthday Boys” by
Beryl Bainbridge (1991)
An historical novel and an imaginative account of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s
doomed second expedition to the South Pole. Each chapter gives the reader
a view of the expedition from the respective party member’s eyes.
A fascinating, moving and complicated look at empire, national feeling and
Leavenworth has been reading books written by friends lately. “Fortunately,
living in Austin provides a rich selection of writing by
people you might bump into in Central Market,” he says.
Those same people may be reading his recent “Isle of
- “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett
I read this novel on vacation in Mexico and it transported me to still another
place, an unnamed South American country where a disorganized band of terrorists
take hostage the multinational guests of a formal birthday party. The beautiful
writing and fascinating characters draft the reader as an uninvited guest.
- “The Bullet Meant for Me” by
Jan Reid (2002)
I may have greater than average affinity for this true
account of a terrifying shooting in Mexico and its
aftermath, but I was riveted by its intelligent
and insightful view of manhood, guns, boxing, friendship and healing.
- “The Last of the Honky-tonk
Angels” by Marsha Moyer (2003)
The second installment of the story of a young widow
much more—is reawakened by a charming carpenter-country western singer
in small town East Texas. Irresistibly smooth writing by an author who
was a secretary in Welch Hall on campus until 2001.
- “Tortilla Curtain” by
T.C. Boyle (1995)
The life of a California suburban liberal environmentalist
tragically collides with that of an illegal Mexican
immigrant in ways that illuminate several
national woes: immigration, poverty, suburban flight, materialism and
the treatment of illegal aliens.
- “Chinatown and the Last Detail:
Two Screenplays” by Robert Towne (1997)
Anyone who can appreciate the power of storytelling
stripped to its barest form will find Towne’s
“Chinatown” screenplay intriguing and informative.
Read the screenplay,
rent the movie and be dazzled all over again.
Carleton admits that his family teases him for bringing
history books to the beach. He compiled an eclectic list
in which “each book reflects a personal, and in most
cases, a professional interest of mine.”
- “Khrushchev: The Man and His
Era” by William Taubman (2003)
Making judicious use of a wide variety of newly accessible sources, Taubman’s
biography of Nikita Khrushchev is an engrossing read, especially for anyone
old enough to remember some of the most frightening days of the Cold War.
- “An Unfinished Life: John
F. Kennedy” by Robert Dallek (2003)
Suppress the natural tendency to think “Oh no, not another Kennedy
book!” In his deeply researched book, Bob Dallek not only fills in
a few of the blanks in JFK’s story, he also uncovers new information
that significantly alters our understanding of the complex physical obstacles
with which he struggled during his presidency.
- “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas
of Depression” by Andrew Solomon (2001)
Solomon is a gifted writer who suffers from severe depression. In this well
written and informative book, he paints a vivid picture of the effects of
depression and its related disorders, not only on the individual, but also
on society in general.
- “Sons of Mississippi” by
Paul Hendrickson (2003)
This is an unusual book that was inspired by the famous photograph of seven
sheriffs (and one deputy sheriff) gathering at the University of Mississippi
in 1962 to participate in the effort to keep James Meredith from enrolling.
Hendrickson has written a thought-provoking and moving book about the extremely
complex legacy of the civil rights movement.
- “Fast Food Nation” by
Eric Schlosser (2002)
Written by an award-winning journalist, this is a very critical, but judicious,
examination of the fast food industry and its wide-ranging and profound impact
on contemporary American life.
- “Five Days in London, May
1940” by John Lukacs (1999)
This is a concisely written little book that examines the dramatic period
May 24 until May 28, 1940, when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
and his war cabinet debated their military and diplomatic options in the
face of Nazi Germany’s imminent defeat of France.
- “The Modern American Presidency” by
Lewis L. Gould (2003)
In this deeply informed but accessible book, Lewis Gould, a distinguished
professor emeritus of history at the university, sketches the historical
development of the modern presidency. Among the many attractions is Gould’s
well argued brief against the office as it now functions and his provocative
suggestions about how to improve it.
- “This Just In: What I Couldn’t
Tell You on TV” by Bob Schieffer (2003)
Schieffer, a native Texan and longtime CBS news correspondent and anchor,
has written an engaging memoir about his career in print and broadcast journalism.
This book is chock full of interesting and sometimes humorous anecdotes about
some of the most memorable events and people that have made the news during
the last 40 years.
Dolejs is such an avid reader that her Dana Center colleagues
immediately look in her direction for reading recommendations.
Her tastes are varied, though she says, “When I’m
looking for something to read for fun, I tend toward mysteries
or novels with historical settings.”
- “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier
and Clay” by Michael Chabon (2000)
Using pieces of real comic book history, which was
heavily influenced by world events, especially in
the 1930s through
the 1960s, Chabon tells the
story of comic book creators Joe Kavalier and Sam Klayman. Not to be
too pretentious about it, but this book is really
the story of America and
Americans, and how we made it through some really
awful times by telling stories about
ourselves to each other. Also, it’s really funny.
- “Feed” by M.T. Anderson
This is a young adult novel set in the United States
of the future. The book’s
title comes from the transmitters that are implanted into almost everyone’s
brain at birth, allowing people to talk to each other, watch television,
and see and hear advertisements. Very “1984”-ish. And as in that
classic, this book’s language is almost a character in itself.
- “A Free Man of Color” by
Barbara Hambly (1997)
This is the first in Hambly’s series of Ben
January mystery novels. The series is set in 1830s
and the protagonist, Ben, is a free
man of color, a surgeon and a musician. These books are plotted meticulously,
but the best parts are the amazingly well-rounded characters and the
astounding amount of atmospheric detail.
- “Pride and Prejudice” by
Jane Austen (1813)
I don’t care if you’ve read it before. Read
it again, slowly, and savor it. This is one of the most
hilarious books I have ever read.
- “Going to Meet the Man” by
James Baldwin (1965)
This collection of short stories is heartbreakingly beautiful.
My favorite in this collection—and my favorite short story, period—is “Sonny’s
- “Harry Potter and the Order
of the Phoenix” by J.K. Rowling (2003)
I couldn’t not recommend “Harry
Potter.” This latest book forces Harry to grow up in ways
even the death
of his parents and his own battles
against Voldemort could not.
As director of a center for creative writers, Magnuson is
surrounded by good writing and keeps busy with the slew of
books Michener Center graduates have published this year.
The books below are recent ones he “went around pressing
on people for weeks.”
- “Atonement” by Ian McEwan
From a 13-year-old girl watching her older sister’s
flirtation to the carnage of World War II and beyond,
this is a novel that may restore our
belief in surprise. An astonishing, cunning book.
- “Norwood” by Charles Portis
This man is the funniest writer in America. Norwood,
one of the world’s
great innocents, gets on the bus in Ralph, Texas, setting off for New
York to get his $70 back from one of his old Marine
- “The Story of Lucy Gault” by
William Trevor (2002)
A heartbreaking, unpredictable novel about a lost
girl and her Irish parents who depart for Europe after
- “The Caprices” by Sabina
This year’s PEN-Faulkner winning collection
of short stories is about the Japanese occupation
Philippines during World War II, told from
a Filipino point of view. Sabina is a former fellow at the Michener
Center for Writers.
- “Everything Is Illuminated” by
Jonathan Safran Foer (2002)
Accompanied by a Ukrainian translator equipped with
seriously flawed English, a young man sets off in Eastern
Europe to find the woman who may have saved
his grandfather from the Nazis.
- “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” by
Thomas Hardy (1891)
I know there are milkmaids in it, but give yourself
a treat. Read a classic, just one, and you’ll
feel a lot better about being in Texas in August.
Brockett maintains that while his list may seem disconnected,
his choices are all ultimately related. “Cultural context
is always one of the most important factors in trying to
understand theatrical practices and values in any period,” he
- “Changing Stages: A View of
British and American Theatre in the Twentieth Century” by
Richard Eyre and Nicholas Wright (2001)
A selective overview of significant theatrical productions in England and
America during the past 100 years, written by Richard Eyre, artistic director
of the Royal National Theatre for 10 years, and Nicholas Wright, first director
of the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs and an associate director of
the Royal National Theatre for 14 years.
- “The Memory of All That” by
Betsy Blair (2003)
Memoir by Betsy Blair, covering her career in the New York theatre during
the 1930s and 1940s and then in Hollywood as an accomplished actress and
wife of Gene Kelly. An articulate and perceptive view of her world, in which
she was a part of a group that included, among others, Orson Welles, Leonard
Bernstein, and Charlie Chaplin.
- “Curzon” by David Gilmour
Biography of George Nathaniel, Viscount Curzon, who was viceroy of India
from 1899 to 1905 and later foreign secretary in the British government.
Not only is this a comprehensive overview of the life of one of the most
important figures of the age, but also an excellent insight into the colonialist
views of the British Empire at the beginning of the 20th century.
- “The Parthenon” by Mary
As the title suggests, a history of the building in Athens known as the Parthenon
from its construction in the fifth century B.C. through its later incarnations
as a Byzantine Cathedral, a mosque and ultimately as tourist attraction.
- “Turner” by James Hamilton
A biography of J.M.W. Turner, perhaps England’s best known 19th century landscape
painter. Turner comes in for much criticism as a person, being depicted as
arrogant, greedy and neglectful of his family.
- “Power and Profit: The Merchant
in Medieval Europe” by Peter Spufford (2003)
A study of how the economic world changed during the 13th century, when many
of the characteristics of the modern business world began to take shape.
Of her list, Rodríguez says, “All these books
provide important insights into the life and cultures of Latin
America through different points in history. The mix is most
interesting, however, because you sometimes wish the facts
presented in the scholarly books were fiction.”
- “Modern Latin America” by
Thomas Skidmore and Peter H. Smith (2000)
This popular book is a lively interpretive history that has been brought
up to date in all areas in its most recent edition. The authors use an in-depth
case study approach to guide readers through the major countries of Latin
- “Politics in Mexico: The Democratic
Transformation” by Roderic Ai Camp (2002)
This book follows the dramatic changes in the political
landscape of Mexico since the election of Vicente Fox.
It discusses the historical background
and evolution of voter behavior responsible for sweeping Fox into office.
- “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by
Gabriel García Márquez (1970)
Probably García Márquez’s finest and most famous work,
this novel is a masterpiece of fiction. It tells the story of the rise and
fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history
of the Buendía family.
- “The Conquest of the Incas” by
John Hemming (1973)
Praised as one of the finest accounts of the annihilation
of the Incan empire, this compelling, authoritative
account removes the Incas from the realm of
prehistory and legend and shows the reality of their struggle against
the Spanish invasion.
- “The House of the Spirits” by
Isabel Allende (1985)
The magnificent epic of the Trueba family—their
loves, their ambitions, their spiritual quests, their
relations with one another and their participation
in the history of their times, a history that becomes destiny and overtakes
- “Engendering Democracy in Brazil” by
Sonia Alvarez (1990)
This book offers an engaging analysis of the potentialities
for promoting social justice and transforming relations
of inequality for women and men
in Latin America and elsewhere in the Third World.
- “Twentieth Century Art of Latin
America” by Jacqueline Barnitz (2001)
Barnitz is a professor of Latin American art at The
University of Texas at Austin. Her book covers well-known
artists such as Frida Kahlo and Roberto
Matta as well as less-known yet compelling artists. Published by the
University of Texas Press.
Photo on banner graphic: Marsha
Book cover images from BookPeople