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Made in the Shade: As summer heats up, chill out with top book picks from faculty and staff

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 summer.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, front of book jacket
Emergence by Steven Johnson, front of book jacket
Rose by Li-Young Lee, front of book jacket
Free Prize Inside by Seth Godin, front of book jacket
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, front of book jacket
Writing on the Edge: A Borderlands Reader, edited by Tom Miller, front of book jacket

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 Nigeria.

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

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.

  1. “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.
  2. “The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World” by Jenny Uglow (2003)
    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 and friendships.
  3. “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.
  4. “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 it.
  5. “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.
  6. “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.


It rippled thickly in the bowl, dark and hot and uninviting. Miguel Lienzo picked it up and pulled it so close he almost dipped his nose into the tarry liquid. David Liss, The Coffee Trader


The Coffee Trader, David Liss, front of book jacket


Margo Gutiérrez

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.

Aunt Leonor had the world's most perfect belly button: a small dot hidden exactly in the middle of her flat, flat belly. Angeles Mastretta, Women with Big Eyes
Angeles Mastretta, Women with Big Eyes, front of book jacket
  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. “Women with Big Eyes” by Angeles Mastretta, translated by Amy Schildhouse Greenberg (2003)
    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.
  4. “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.
  5. “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

Jack Brannon’s list combines some fairly recent books with some golden oldies. It reflects his background in poetry and his interest in memoir.

  1. “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.
  2. “Rose” by Li-Young Lee (1986)
    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.
  3. “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.
  4. “The Hours” by Michael Cunningham (1998)
    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.
  5. “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.
  6. “Atlantis” by Mark Doty (1995)
    “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.
  7. “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.
Hopping a freight out of Los Angeles at high noon one day in late September 1955 I got on a gondola and lay down with my duffel bag under my head and my knees crossed and contemplated the clouds as we rolled north to Santa Barbara. The Dharma Bums


The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac, front of book jacket


Angela Solis

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.

I am about to buy a house in a foreign country. A house with the beautiful name of Bramasole. Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun


Under the Tuscan Sun, Frances Mayes, front of book jacket

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. “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 Dutch.
  4. “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 medicine woman.
  5. “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.
  6. “Aztec” by Gary Jennings (1980)
    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 Empire.
  7. “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

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.

  1. “The Devil that Danced on the Water: A Daughter’s Quest” by Aminatta Forna (2002)
    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 poorest nation.
  2. “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.
  3. “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.
  4. “Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem” by Suzanne Miers (2003)
    Miers places modern slavery in a historical context and demonstrates how the problem of eradicating slavery seems greater today than ever in the past.
  5. “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.
  6. “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.
In the early morning he stands in the doorway of his hut and listens for the distant rumble. The cool air bears the earthy scent of promised rain. Aminatta Forna, The Devil That Danced on the Water


The Devil That Danced on the Water, Aminatta Forna, front of book jacket


University 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 favorites.

It's no mystery why people have trouble swimming as fast or as far or as smoothly as they'd like--most of them are doing it backward. Terry Laughlin with John Delves, Total Immersion


Total Immersion, Terry Laughlin with John Delves, front of book jacket

  1. “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 Martha Smith]
  2. “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]
  3. “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]
  4. “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]
  5. “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]
  6. “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]
  7. “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]

Vivé Griffith

Photo on banner graphic: Marsha Miller

Book cover images from BookPeople

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  Updated 2014 October 13
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