Summer has officially arrived,
even though the air conditioners have been humming for weeks. Once
again, we’ve gathered up a group of willing bibliophiles from
The University of Texas at Austin to offer their recommendations
for the best books to read with your iced tea and flip flops this
The books on this year’s list can teach you how to have a
happy life or how to transform your swimming skills. They can take
you to a reading group in Tehran, a childhood in Nigeria or an old
farmhouse in Italy. You’ll find books that untangle politics
and others that simply want to thrill you. You can flip the pages
of tender memoirs, brainy nonfiction, some love poems and a few
good, thick novels.
Read about our recommenders, and then read their books. They’ve
assembled some good page-turners to get you through the summer months.
Jack Brannon is the founder and coordinator
of Poetry at Round Top, a festival hosted each spring, and author
of the poetry collection “Vigil.” He works in the College
of Fine Arts.
Tommy Darwin directs the university’s
Professional Development and Community Engagement Program and has
admittedly eclectic taste in books.
Toyin Falola, a professor of history, was
recently appointed a chief in the council to King Oba Asulu V in
Margo Gutiérrez, assistant head
librarian at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, says
that each day memorable books pass through her hands.
Angela Solis, a self-described “porch
swing traveler,” is assistant dean for student affairs and
lecturer in the College of Pharmacy.
The University of Texas Center for Reading and
Language Arts (UTCRLA) works to enhance educators’ knowledge
base of effective reading instructional practices. Members of its
board of directors offered favorite books.
Tommy Darwin likes to ask the big questions. The books on
his list reflect his interest in the way ideas are generated,
spread and ultimately change the way we live.
- “Reading Lolita in Tehran:
A Memoir in Books” by Azar Nafisi (2003)
A testament to the necessity and power of literature and
intellectual life in the face of a totalitarian government—as
beautifully written as any novel I’ve ever read.
- “The Lunar Men: Five Friends
Whose Curiosity Changed the World” by Jenny Uglow
A good book for intellectuals in particular—it counters
the myth of the heroic individual so prevalent in the academy.
Uglow shows in detail how great work emerges from our entanglements
- “The Three Questions”
by Jon J. Muth (2002)
“When is the best time to do things? Who is the most
important one? What is the right thing to do?” Muth
adapts Tolstoy for children, with beautiful illustrations.
- “Emergence: The Connected
Lives of Ants, the Brain, Cities, and Software” by
Steven Johnson (2002)
This book totally changed the way I approach my work at
UT and in the community. It taught me about the intelligence
of the whole—we can learn from it, but never master
- “The Coffee Trader” by
David Liss (2004)
“Coffee is a drink that brings out great passions
in men, and you may be unlocking great forces if you trifle
with it.” Starbucks wasn’t the first to capitalize
on this. A “historical thriller” for all of
us who think coffee is as important as water.
- “Free Prize Inside: The Next
Big Marketing Idea” by Seth Godin (2004)
Even if you’re not in the business of marketing, read
it for insight into how ideas spread. Besides, it comes
in a cereal box.
Margo Gutiérrez says she has a dream job, one that
combines her interest in and love for all topics Latin American
with her profession as a librarian in a premier research institution.
Her list reflects the vibrancy, tenacity and beauty of Latin
America and its peoples.
- “Living to Tell the Tale”
by Gabriel García Márquez (2003)
Colombian born master storyteller and Nobel Prize winner
García Márquez remembers his first 28 years
in this first of a planned three-part memoir. We are told
of family and ghosts, landscapes and politics, lessons learned
and events remembered—all fascinating and yes, magical.
May Gabo live to tell it all.
- “Dancing with Cuba: A Memoir
of the Revolution” by Alma Guillermoprieto (2004)
The author’s achingly honest story of her six-month,
and life changing, sojourn in Havana was a dance instructor
in Cuba’s National School of Dance in 1970. Today,
Guillermoprieto is a highly regarded journalist and author
of numerous books, all on contemporary Latin America.
- “Women with Big Eyes”
by Angeles Mastretta, translated by Amy Schildhouse Greenberg
First published in Spanish as “Mujeres de ojos grandes,”
Mastretta’s book pays homage to her female ancestors,
the tías, in this series of vignettes situated primarily
in Puebla, Mexico. Some are fearless, others eccentric,
but through all the current of passion runs deep.
- “The Essential Neruda: Selected
Poems” by Pablo Neruda, edited by Mark Eisner (2004)
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pablo
Neruda, revolutionary and giant among poets. Luminous and
profound, the poems in this newly translated bilingual edition
evoke love, youth and fervor, and should be read and savored,
again and again.
- “Writing on the Edge: A Borderlands
Reader” edited by Tom Miller (2003)
Writers and artists as diverse as Gloria Anzaldúa,
Ry Cooder, Elena Poniatowska and William Carlos Williams
are represented in this eclectic assemblage of poetry, fiction,
essays, corridos and cartoons, that collectively capture
the essence of la frontera.
Jack Brannon’s list combines some fairly recent books
with some golden oldies. It reflects his background in poetry
and his interest in memoir.
- “Heaven’s Coast”
by Mark Doty (1996)
“Heaven’s Coast” is a memoir concerning
the illness and death of the author’s life partner.
It is also a magnificently written meditation that takes
the memoir genre to new places with an innovative narrative
approach, beautiful language and a thoughtful perspective.
- “Rose” by Li-Young Lee
I consider “Rose” one of the classic poetry
collections of the last 25 years. A superb poet is at his
best, with strong narrative poems and a fascinating look
at a remarkable family that figures prominently in Chinese
history of the 20th century.
- “19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems
of the Middle East” by Naomi Shihab Nye (2002)
This beautiful little volume brings together many of Nye’s
poems about the Middle East and her Palestinian family.
In poems that are finely crafted, Nye has an exceptional
ability to convey the reality of living in one of the world’s
most troubled regions.
- “The Hours” by Michael
This novel is an absolute tour de force and fully deserved
the serious treatment it received in the recent Hollywood
feature film. Playing off of Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs.
Dalloway,” Cunningham weaves his own story brilliantly
through the storyline of Woolf’s classic.
- “The Dharma Bums” by
Jack Kerouac (1958)
I find “The Dharma Bums” much the most interesting
of Kerouac’s writing, in considerable part because
it focuses on the character of poet and backwoodsman Gary
Snyder (Japhy Ryder in the book) and Kerouac’s time
in California with Snyder and other literary friends.
- “Atlantis” by Mark Doty
“Atlantis” is Doty’s most powerful book
of poetry to date. Dealing often with his partner’s
fatal illness, as well as the impact of AIDS on his life
and the lives of friends, these poems combine Doty’s
always-elegant language with a riveting, emotional narrative.
- “The House at Otowi Bridge”
by Peggy Pond Church (1973)
A gem of a biography/memoir, this is the story of Edith
Warner, who moved to the wilderness of northern New Mexico,
befriended the neighboring pueblo Indians, and through some
of the strange accidents of history, ended up as host to
Robert Oppenheimer and the other physicists who were secretly
building the first atomic bomb at nearby Los Alamos.
Some of Angela Solis’s favorite books transport her
from her Hill Country home to other lands, other cultures
or other times in history or in the future.
- “The Five People You Meet in
Heaven” by Mitch Albom (2003)
I am always enchanted by a look at afterlife, and this imaginative
fable could allow you to view your own life from a new perspective.
Eddie, a disabled war veteran who believes he leads a “nothing”
life, dies trying to save the life of a child, then arrives
at an unexpected version of heaven.
- “Gates of the Alamo”
by Stephen Harrigan (2000)
This Austin author paints an accurate and detailed historical
story around well-known figures, including David Crockett,
William Travis and James Bowie, and he successfully blends
them with several fascinating fictional characters whose
lives become interwoven at the Alamo in this battle so central
to American and Texas history.
- “The Novel” by James
A. Michener (1991)
Every bibliophile who has not discovered this novel needs
to do so. Its story explores the creation and publication
of a novel from four very different perspectives—the
author, editor, critic and reader. It has unexpected charm,
suspense and mystery, and it simultaneously explores the
background, customs cooking and art of the Pennsylvania
- “Shelters of Stone” by
Jean M. Auel (2003)
The fifth in the Earth’s Children series examines
a prehistoric heroine’s epic journey as her life blossoms
to include marriage and motherhood in a new tribe and as
she delves into becoming a resourceful and creative Cro-Magnon
- “Gone to Texas” by Bedford
Forrest Carter (1973)
This is a Civil War era novel of a rebel whose wife and
son were murdered by Yankees and who then becomes an outlaw
endlessly haunted by bounty hunters. It was made into the
movie “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” However, the
book contains considerably more interesting depth and detail.
- “Aztec” by Gary Jennings
This is a graphic and captivating story of the sophistication
mixed with the barbaric customs of a once great but now
vanished native civilization. The central fictional character
rises from a lowly station in life to become a scribe, then
finally a traveler and explorer across the entire Aztec
- “Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home
in Italy” by Frances Mayes (1996)
This memoir echoes so many of my own loves – restoration
and love of a very old house, country life, the growing
and cooking of wonderful food, travel and the customs of
fascinating people. The book differs quite significantly
from its recent film incarnation.
Toyin Falola sent his list from a great distance. He’s
abroad for the summer. As one of the grand historians of Africa,
he chose books that reflect various ways of looking at and
understanding the continent.
- “The Devil that Danced on the
Water: A Daughter’s Quest” by Aminatta Forna
This book is both memoir and detective story. Forna, a journalist,
searches for the truth about her father’s execution
in Sierra Leone, where he was a cabinet minister. She intersperses
descriptions of her childhood and recent anarchy in Africa’s
- “The Skull Beneath the Skin:
Africa After the Cold War” by Mark Huband (2001)
With powerful reporting and expert research, Huband traces
the devastating postcolonial histories of several African
nations and argues that the West should stay out of the
continent now and in the future.
- “Purple Hibiscus” by
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2003)
This debut novel has been called “by turns luminous
and horrific.” First-person narrator Kambili grows
up privileged Nigerian home that is full of secrets. The
novel examines the complexities of family, faith and country
through the haunted but hopeful eyes of a young girl on
the cusp of womanhood.
- “Slavery in the Twentieth Century:
The Evolution of a Global Problem” by Suzanne Miers
Miers places modern slavery in a historical context and
demonstrates how the problem of eradicating slavery seems
greater today than ever in the past.
- “Good Muslims, Bad Muslins:
America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror” by
Mahmood Mamdani (2004)
An important contribution to the national discussion on
terrorism and Islam, Mamdani looks at the relationship between
U.S. foreign policy and modern-day terrorism.
- “A Mouth Sweeter than Salt”
by Toyin Falola (2004)
Falola’s own long-awaited memoir is due out in August.
Told in a language rich with proverbs, poetry, song and
humor, it weaves together personal history, communal stories
and political and cultural developments to offer an intimate
view of the Yoruba city-state in Nigeria.
of Texas Center for Reading and Language Arts
The directors of UTCRLA work to help teachers make reading
accessible to every child. Their list is varied and full of
- “A Short Guide to a Happy Life”
by Anna Quindlen (2000)
This unique, entertaining “little” book written
by best-selling novelist and columnist Anna Quindlen is
one of my all-time favorites. I keep it close at hand, regularly
taking a few minutes to pause from my busy lifestyle to
reread the beautifully inspiring story. [Recommended by
- “The Curious Incident of the
Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon (2003)
This book takes you into the first-person world of a boy
with Asperger’s Syndrome. This view of the microworld
of someone who is “different” is engaging, enlightening
and sensitive. That a mystery within a mystery is being
unfolded adds to the entertainment but is secondary to the
enhanced understanding we gain from this extraordinary work.
[Recommended by Sharon Vaughn]
- “The Miracles of Santo Fico”
by D.L. Smith (2003)
When Leo returns to his boyhood village to settle his mother’s
estate, he finds that the sleepy Italian village of Santo
Fico was just as it was when he left it. A hilarious novel
chock full of disasters in love, friendship and nature,
you will find yourself casting the characters for the movie
that most assuredly will be based on this novel. [Recommended
by Pam Bell Morris]
- “Maiden Voyage” by Tania
Aebi with Bernadette Brennan (1996)
This inspiring true story is about a high school graduate,
Tania, with no direction in life and a fear of being alone.
Challenged by her father to either go to college or sail
around the world, she chooses the latter and becomes the
youngest and first American women to circumnavigate the
globe. [Recommended by Shari Levy]
- “The Secret Life of Bees”
by Sue Monk Kidd (2002)
This novel was selected by Good Morning America’s
“Read This!” Book Club. It is a story about
a motherless daughter who learns through many adventures
what family really means. Set in South Carolina in 1964,
the tale portrays racial tensions and their impact on the
lives in the story. [Recommended by Diane Pedrotty Bryant]
- “Total immersion: The revolutionary
way to swim better, faster, and easier” by Terry Laughlin
with John Delves (1996)
This book will help you become a more efficient swimmer.
If you are a beginner this book will help you start out
right. The explanations of how and why the recommended techniques
will improve your form and stroke, dry land exercises and
step-by-step skill drills to do in the water with illustrations,
and practice sets provide everything you need for a stroke
makeover. [Recommended by Sylvia Linan-Thompson]
- “Texas Gardening the Natural
Way” by Howard Garrett (2004)
This guide to organic gardening in Texas is a “must”
for the avid gardener. The reader will find color photographs
and useful information about plants for the Texas garden,
from trees to herbs to perennials, as well as how to maintain
a beautiful lawn without using chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
[Recommended by Carolyn Denton]
Photo on banner graphic: Marsha
Book cover images from BookPeople