From the beach to the airport to an air conditioned refuge from the heat, summer is a time for reading. Here are 10 summer book suggestions from an equal number of top UT faculty members. These titles will transport you to a distant planet, to revolutionary Iran, to “America’s holiest university,” and beyond. A feast of great writing and ideas for the long, hot summer days ahead.
“Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows” Melanie Joy (2009)
It’s just the way things are. Take a moment to consider this statement. Really think about it. We send one species to the butcher and give our love and kindness to another apparently for no reason other than because it’s the way things are. What could cause an entire society of people to check their thinking caps at the door—and to not even realize they’re doing so?
“Embassytown” China Mievelle (2011)
A great science fiction story that, at its heart, is an exploration of the nature and power of language. Embassytown is set in the far future on a planet that humans share with the resident Ariekei. The Ariekei hosts tolerate the humans, but they speak a language that only a few genetically engineered human Ambassadors can understand. The arrival of a new Ambassador brings chaos to the carefully balanced society.
“Jane Fairfax—the Secret Story of the Second Heroine in Jane Austen’s Emma” Joan Aiken (1997)
Fans of Jane Austen’s Emma will truly enjoy Jane Fairfax. Before “fan fiction” became a widespread cyber genre, novels that re-imagined classics were called by the misleading term “sequels.” Jane Fairfax retells the story of Emma from the perspective of the “rival” female protagonist, delving into the characterization of Emma from the original novel’s first impressions of Emma as spoiled, complacently self-centered, and somewhat unpleasant. On the surface, Jane Fairfax is a paragon of virtue, but plot twists create interesting contradictions about this character, and hint that the untold whole story of Jane Fairfax is one worth knowing. As it turns out, just as with Emma Woodhouse in Austen’s novel, Jane Fairfax in Joan Aiken’s retelling is not who we thought she was from first impressions, either.
“Packing for Mars” Mary Roach (2011)
Mary Roach explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity. From the Space Shuttle training toilet to a crash test of NASA’s new space capsule, Mary Roach takes us on a surreally entertaining trip into the sciences of life in space and space on Earth.
“Life is Yours to Win: Lessons Forged from the Purpose, Passion, and Magic of Baseball” Augie Garrido (2011)
What can you learn about life from someone who has built a national reputation training college students to succeed, during and after their years at the University of Texas? This book, by famed coach Augie Garrido, leads its readers through a series of helpful lessons about competition, ambition, desire, and self control. You will like reading this book, for it is only superficially about sports. Life is Yours to Win summarizes a lifetime of insights into human achievement, and its wisdom will help you in every endeavor you take up.
“The Ajax Dilemma” Paul Woodruff (2011)
I liked the book so much that I bought additional copies for both my children so they would have an opportunity to think about the issues discussed in the book, and return to them from time to time in the future. There are no facile answers to hard questions, but a thoughtful consideration of personal character traits needed to face difficult decisions. It’s very entertainingly written and full of wisdom. I’ve been recommending it to everyone.
“Persepolis: the Story of a Childhood” Marjane Satrapi (2004)
In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Marjane Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and the bewildering contradictions between home and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity.
“A Mountain of Crumbs: A Memoir” Elena Gorokhova (2010)
The lyrical and moving memoir of a young girl growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s. It is an extraordinary document, by turns revealing–of the Soviet reality of the time–ardent and funny. Gorokhova’s English is smart, limpid, and beguiling: she is a splendid writer. Her book is a very good read and a remarkable portrait of a place and time now all but faded from view.
“The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University” Kevin Roose (2009)
What happens when a student at one of the country’s most liberal Ivy League universities goes undercover at one of the most conservative evangelical schools? This is his story of that adventure at Liberty University, and what he learned—about the students he met as a participant ethnographer, and about himself.
“Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology & Less from Each Other” Sherry Turkle (2011)
As you enter college, your mobile phone will come with you. You will use social media to remain connected to your friends and to learn about the latest meetings and parties on campus. Your devices will enter our classrooms and some of you will Google content to contribute productively to a class discussion. But our constant connection to technology can also create problems as we learn to manage our time and create new relationships. Alone Together explores the benefits and challenges created by technology. Professor Turkle invites us to examine our communication and rediscover the humans around us. Her book provides a justification for why students in my communication technology classes are asked to try to live 24 hours with no communication technologies and share their experiences with the class. Check out her Ted Talk.
Looking for more great reads? Check out this summer’s book list at “Freshman Reading Round-Up” from the School of Undergraduate Studies.