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A Texas-Sized Reading List for 2022

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The Reading Round-Up is a popular summer book club that introduces new Longhorns to the college environment at The University of Texas at Austin. Over the summer, incoming freshmen choose from a large selection of books curated by faculty members. Then students and professors meet in small groups on campus the day before fall classes start. This beloved back-to-school tradition helps kick off the new academic year, connects students with one another and offers a more personal introduction to the outstanding faculty across departments.

So far, 824 students have registered, and incoming students can still sign up. It’s not too late. There are still lots of great books with seats open.

The School of Undergraduate Studies hosts Reading Round-Up, and although the event isn’t open to the public, the reading list of more than 60 books is a great resource for anyone looking for the next worthwhile read. Whether you are interested in fiction, biographies or nonfiction, this list has something for everyone. Ready, set, read!

Psychology, Self-Help, & Business

A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young

Join the legions of poets, scientists, politicians, and others who have learned to think at the invitation of James Webb Young's A Technique for Producing Ideas. This brief but powerful book guides you through the process of innovation and learning in a way that makes creativity accessible to anyone willing to work for it. While the author's background is in advertising, his ideas apply in every facet of life and are increasingly relevant in the world's knowledge-based economy. Young's tiny text represents an ideal start to university education with its tactics for viewing life through a new lens and its encouragement to look inside for a more creative version of ourselves.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Factfulness presents data about the health, economic condition, and safety of the world today and how all those and other features have improved significantly. Most people are misinformed about the world situation, and most people believe that the world is in much worse shape than actual data about the world reveals. If you do not have time to finish the whole book, no worries, just watch some of Rosling's TED talks.

Grit: The Power of Perseverance and Passion by Angela Duckworth

University of Texas first year students come from many backgrounds, but what we all have in common is a desire to succeed. This book reminds us that a fair bit of our success is in our willingness to give things our all.

In my years teaching college students, I’ve learned just how important this concept is both inside the classroom and in life. The stories shared in this book will resonate with you, and they are an ideal way for you to think about your own success from the first day you become a Longhorn for life! If you would like, take the Grit Scale as you read this book.

Mindset - The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

After decades of research, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., discovered a simple but groundbreaking idea: the power of mindset. In this brilliant book, she shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed. Mindset reveals how great parents, teachers, managers, and athletes can put this idea to use to foster outstanding accomplishment.

As you're reading, think about the following. When do you feel smart? When you’re doing something flawlessly or when you’re learning something new? Grow Your Mindset: How can you make striving, stretching, and struggling into something that makes you feel smart?

Is there something in your past that made you feel defeated? A test score? A dishonest or callous action? Being fired from a job? Being rejected. Focus on that thing. Grow Your Mindset: Now put it in a growth-mindset perspective. Look honestly at your role in it, but understand that it doesn’t define your intelligence or your personality or anything else about you. Instead, as: What did I (or can I) learn from that experience? How can I use it as a basis for growth?

Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

Our Iceberg is Melting uses a fable-like story about penguins to explain the complexities of creating organizational change in the face of uncertainty. Written in a style everyone can understand, the book acts as a crash course in change management based on the author's award-winning research. In our dynamic and turbulent world this interesting book, with its many levels, is a must read.

Range by David Epstein

Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. But a closer look at research on the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters, and scientists shows that in most cases generalists, not specialists are primed to excel. Provocative, rigorous, and engrossing, Range makes a compelling case for actively cultivating inefficiency. As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (Riverhead Books, 2015) is a book by English journalist Jon Ronson, who is mightily concerned about the ways in which the hive mind of the Internet can destroy lives for the slightest infraction. A single ill-advised Tweet, an old photo that you wish you hadn’t posted, a fishy quotation in something you’ve written—almost any misstep can get you ostracized by millions and even fired from your job in our hyper-mediated era. This provocative book raises interesting questions about the role of technology in our lives and how it impacts our behavior, ethics, and sense of self—questions that are very much on my mind as I write a book about surveillance in the contemporary US. Because this book came out seven years ago at a different moment in history the Internet, we will ask how much things have changed in subsequent years?

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Why did the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Or how did Castro fool the CIA for so many years? What about Bernie Madoff, who managed history's largest fraud? In this thrilling book, Malcolm Gladwell argues that we need to fix how we make sense of people we don't know. And because we don't know how to talk to strangers, we invite conflict and misunderstandings that can, quite literally, change the world. Be ready for a gripping discussion of history, psychology, scandals, and how we understand each other.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

Nobody’s perfect. So why are we so hard on ourselves when we don’t achieve perfection? As a new student at a large, competitive university, the lessons found inside this insightful guide, which Forbes named one of “five books that will actually change your outlook on life,” may be exactly what you need. University researcher in human behavior and best-selling author Brené Brown shows us how to cultivate the courage and compassion to embrace your imperfections, overcome self-consciousness and fear, and live authentically.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

This book tells the tales of patients afflicted with different neurological disorders. The stories are deeply human and highlight in bizarre and at times very comical ways the importance of the brain for our ability to interpret the world around us.

The Strange Order of Things by Antonio Damasio

Antonio Damasio, a professor of neuroscience, psychology and philosophy, sets out to investigate “why and how we emote, feel, use feelings to construct our selves … and how brains interact with the body to support such functions." This book gives us a new way of comprehending the world and our place in it.

Biography, Autobiography & Memoir

Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff

This best-selling memoir depicts a family's experience with addiction and covers a substantial portion of the author's son Nic's life and the struggles to live with, help, and understand the person with a substance use disorder. This book was #1 on New York Times best seller list, Entertainment Weekly named it the #1 Best Nonfiction Book the year it was published, Amazon named it "Best Book" in 2008, and it won the Barnes and Noble "Discover Great New Writers Award" for nonfiction as well. 

Beautiful Boy is used as a text in the Young People and Drugs UGS Signature Course. It elegantly weaves the narrative and experience with the best of the evidence-based science about addiction and recovery. The authors have visited our class in the past, so we can share insights beyond the written word. This book is an excellent vehicle to understanding addiction, recovery, and more about yourself in the midst.

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jouaud

This memoir addresses the experience of being diagnosed with aggressive leukemia at the age of 22; enduring three years of treatment; and then attempting to figure out how to live life as a cancer survivor. The memoir's focus on the challenges of transitioning back to the kingdom of the healthy has lessons for all of us as we face challenging transitions in our own lives. Jouaud shows how her own journey, and her own efforts to move forward, are not unique to her. She visits several people who wrote to her about their own life interruptions while she was hospitalized and encourages each of us to appreciate the moments of interruption that we will experience.

Earl Campbell: Life After Contact by Asher Price

This piercing and insightful biography of the great running back for The University of Texas is the story of a football player. But it’s also the story of “race, region and football mania,” according to Raymond Arsenault, the author of a biography of Arthur Ashe. The book will appeal to Texas sports fans as well as those interested in the forces that helped to create a Longhorn legend.

The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Edith Eger

The Choice is a memoir of surviving the Holocaust, but it is also so much more than that. Dr. Eger weaves her personal story with the lessons of her decades of experience as a psychologist, resulting in a book that guides us through finding the courage to overcome our struggles and suffering and ultimately challenges us to make the most of the gift that is life.

The Hero Code by Admiral William McRaven

Have you ever heard the phrase "not all heroes wear capes?" In The Hero Code, Admiral McRaven gives tribute to the real-world heroes he has met over the years and around the world. From battlefields abroad, to the homefront of health in hospitals and inspiring figures at universities. Born in Texas, Admiral McRaven explores the attributes of these real-life characters and describes how courage, humility, sacrifice and integrity, all create lives worthy of honor and respect.

The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting In by Paisley Rekdal

The book is a collection of Paisley Rekdal's enlightening and humorously insightful personal stories of growing up in a “Third Culture” as a mixed-race person in the U.S. As a Norwegian/Chinese native of Seattle, Rekdal takes us to Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and the American South. Her running commentary on the significance of being mixed-race in today's global culture, which includes former President Barack Obama, reveals insightful and thought-provoking observations delivered in a light-hearted style. She suggests that especially for the mixed-race, race is a passé concept for one's identity, that race is a social construct based on the way we look.

The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams

A memoir by a young mother dying of cancer?  This may not sound like a great summer read, but it is. This is a story about the randomness of life, overcoming obstacles, relationships, and hard decisions.  This memoir provides a great opportunity to think about what is really important and how you want to live.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

If you've ever had a teacher that touched your life in a very positive way, this book is for you. Short, very readable, and yet, quite profound in its reflection, Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie describes rediscovery of that mentor and a rekindled relationship that goes beyond the classroom and brings us to lessons on how to live.

Working on a Song: The Lyrics of HADESTOWN by Anaïs Mitchell

The musical hit HADESTOWN has quickly captivated the world as a re-imagining of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. It is the culmination of more than a decade of creative process. Anaïs Mitchell takes us through the journey of her work, from her inspiration, to curating the lyrics, and managing the challenge towards opening. A fantastic story for both newcomers and fans alike.

History & Social Science

Eligible for Execution: The Story of the Daryl Atkins Case by Thomas G. Walker

On August 16, 1996, 18-year-old Daryl Atkins was involved, along with a co-defendant, in the murder of Eric Nesbitt, a young naval mechanic stationed in Virginia. Found guilty and then sentenced to death in 1998, Atkins’s case was taken up in 2002 by the Supreme Court of the United States. The issue before the justices: given Daryl Atkins’s reported intellectual disability, would his execution constitute cruel and unusual punishment? Their 6–3 vote said yes. Despite the SCOTUS ruling, Daryl Atkins’s situation was far from being resolved. The determination that Atkins actually had an intellectual disability, under Virginia law, occurred a few years later–a process in which I (Jim Patton) was involved.

Eligible for Execution gives readers a front row seat into the twists of the judicial process while addressing how disability, race, and other issues play into society’s evolving view of the death penalty. Personal reflections, as an insider to a part of Atkins judicial process, will be shared.

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe

Many of our day-to-day problems have very sensible, practical solutions. This book is not about those. Through the pages of this book you’ll encounter some truly ridiculous potential solutions to challenges and learn about some of the science and engineering which makes them possible, though not necessarily practical.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, they rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to die...under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West—where oilmen like J. P. Getty made their fortunes and where desperadoes like Al Spencer, the “Phantom Terror,” roamed—many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll climbed to more than twenty-four, the FBI took up the case. It was one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. Based on years of research and startling new evidence, the book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals.

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

Dr. Gordon-Reed was the keynote speaker for UT’s first Juneteenth Summit hosted by the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy in 2021. She is a native daughter of Texas, raised in Conroe, and eloquently situates herself in the complex history of our home state. There’s an amazing quote that is part of the book that I have returned to many times: “Love does not require taking an uncritical stance toward the object of one’s affections. In truth, it often requires the opposite. We can’t be of real service to the hopes we have for places—and people, ourselves included—without a clear-eyed assessment of their (and our) strengths and weaknesses. That often demands a willingness to be critical, sometimes deeply so. How that is done matters, of course. Striking the right balance can be exceedingly hard.”

T. Rex and the Crater of Doom by Walter Alvarez

You have heard about it. A massive comet impact hit the earth and wiped out the dinosaurs leaving the planet available for the rise of mammals. How did this story come about? What was the evidence behind it? Dr. Alvarez takes us through the history of this idea in a charming and compelling way. It is a great example of the scientific method at work.

The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict between the US and Xi Jinping's China by Kevin Rudd

A war between China and the US would be catastrophic, deadly, and destructive. Unfortunately, it is no longer unthinkable.  The relationship between the US and China, the world’s two superpowers, is peculiarly volatile. It rests on a seismic fault—of cultural misunderstanding, historical grievance, and ideological incompatibility. No other nations are so quick to offend and be offended. Their militaries play a dangerous game of chicken, corporations steal intellectual property, intelligence satellites peer, and AI technicians plot. The capacity for either country to cross a fatal line grows daily. Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who has studied, lived in, and worked with China for more than forty years, is one of the very few people who can offer real insight into the mindsets of the leadership whose judgment will determine if a war will be fought. The Avoidable War demystifies the actions of both sides, explaining and translating them for the benefit of the other. Geopolitical disaster is still avoidable, but only if these two giants can find a way to coexist without betraying their core interests through what Rudd calls “managed strategic competition.” Should they fail, down that path lies the possibility of a war that could rewrite the future of both countries, and the world.

The Care We Dream Of: Liberatory and Transformative Approaches to LGBTQ+ Health by Zena Sharman

What if you could trust in getting the health care you need in ways that felt good and helped you thrive? What if the health system honored and valued queer and trans people’s lives, bodies and expertise? What if LGBTQ+ communities led and organized our own health care as a form of mutual aid? What if every aspect of our health care was rooted in a commitment to our healing, pleasure and liberation? LGBTQ+ health care doesn’t look like this today, but it could. This is the care we dream of.

The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston

The bestselling landmark account of the first emergence of the Ebola virus. A highly infectious, deadly virus from the central African rain forest suddenly appears in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. There is no cure. In a few days 90 percent of its victims are dead. A secret military SWAT team of soldiers and scientists is mobilized to stop the outbreak of this exotic "hot" virus.

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the 19th Century’s On-Line Pioneer by Tom Standage

People often say that the internet offers unprecedented ways to engage in politics and cultivate personal connections. But over a century ago, many of these same comments were made about the telegraph. The Victorian Internet looks at the history of the telegraph and the ways that people could be extremely online even in the late 1800s. The book gives us a chance to think critically about the contemporary uses of the internet and whether claims about the internet’s effects on the world may be exaggerated.

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color by Edited by Cherríe Moraga & Gloria Anzaldúa (40th Edition)

This collection is a testimony to women of color feminism as it emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Through personal essays, criticism, interviews, testimonials, poetry, and visual art, the collection explores the complex confluence of identities--race, class, gender, and sexuality--systemic to women of color oppression and liberation. This Bridge Called My Back continues to reflect an evolving definition of feminism, one that can effectively adapt to and help inform an understanding of the changing economic and social conditions of women of color in the United States and throughout the world.

Please read the fortieth edition of This Bridge Called My Back.

To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science by Steven Weinberg

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg tells a compelling history of science, from Ancient Greece, to medieval Baghdad and Oxford, to the Royal Society of London. He explores the struggle and difficulties of science throughout history, either because of limitations, or because of the clashes between ideologies, beliefs, and philosophy.

We Do This 'Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kaba

Here at UT, the saying is “What starts here changes the world.” But there’s so much wrong with the world. How do we really change things? Mariame Kaba outlines her methods and philosophy related to “transformative justice,” which focuses on reducing harm rather than punishing people. In addition, a powerful component of transformative justice is that it starts with us. How do we solve conflicts in our own lives? How do we maintain friendships and keep people in community? That is the first step to making a more just and safe world. Each chapter is a short, independent article, so it makes for quick reading. And Mariame Kaba is a community organizer, so her writing is very focused on action, which includes dreaming a better world.

Literature & Fiction

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

How do we teach our children to understand the world around them? Will the damage that mankind is inflicting on the planet leave much hope for future generations? What promise does science provide, both for rescuing the environment and the welfare of an emotionally unstable young boy? These are just some of the themes that Richard Powers explores in this stunning new novel. The recipient of many accolades in his lengthy career (MacArthur Genius Grant, National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize), Powers is one of our most celebrated writers and this is his most personal and socially connected book to date.

Blindness by José Saramago

How would people react if everyone went blind almost simultaneously? What would these reactions tell us about the human spirit? About our strengths and weaknesses of character? A Nobel Prize-winning author, Portugal’s José Saramago explores these issues in Blindness.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag has an important job as a fireman: burn the most illegal and dangerous of commodities. In Ray Bradbury's acclaimed novel, that commodity is books. Guy blindly follows the orders of burning books and lives in a mindless routine with his wife, Mildred, who spends her days with her "television" family. Until his young neighbor Clarisse, introduces Guy to a past long-forgotten where people read and had ideas. Decades after its publication, Bradbury's dystopia and its message are more relevant than ever.

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (trans. Megan McDowell)

"Sooner or later something bad is going to happen,” says a character in this short, terrifying novel by Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin. And indeed we feel in our bones the threat of bad things happening—to people, to animals, even to the environment. But are the threats real, or instead imagined? Schweblin grabs you by the throat on page one and doesn’t let go until the end, demonstrating the power of prose to entertain us, to scare us, and to change our outlook on the world around us. Definitely not for the faint of heart!

Floaters by Martín Espada

Espada's poems show a singular insight into Latinos' and other immigrants' legal challenges, life struggles, and unique accomplishments in North American society. They are proof of how poetry can become more politically efficacious with superior craft. Each of Espada's poems is a carefully wrought capsule of political epiphany that helps the reader navigate the symbolic dimensions of a concrete social story.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

In this controversial sequel, set two decades after the events in Pulitzer-prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, 26-year-old Jean Louise "Scout" Finch returns home to Maycomb, Alabama to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights era that was transforming the South, Scout's homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family and the small town that shaped her.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

While controversial from its publication in 1847, Brontë’s novel has always had devoted followers who admire Jane’s strong will, self-worth, and determination to make her own way. Many readers have admired the brooding Rochester as Jane’s ideal match, a romantic anti-hero who has weathered trials and finally found his soulmate. Today more than ever, other readers have found Rochester—and Jane’s attraction to him—problematic and are disturbed by Brontë’s depiction of Bertha Mason, the so-called mad woman in the attic. Why? What is at stake in our reading of this classic novel?

Kindred by Octavia Butler

This is the story of Dana, a Black woman in Los Angeles circa 1976, who finds herself violently transported back in time to the antebellum plantation where her ancestors were enslaved. Each time she pinballs through past and present, Dana’s stays at the plantation become longer and more dangerous, forcing her to confront the gruesome legacies of slavery, misogynoir, and white supremacy. As Harlan Ellison once said, “Octavia Butler is a writer who will be with us for a long, long time, and Kindred is that rare magical artifact… the novel one returns to, again and again.” Almost like time travel, we keep coming back to it.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

From Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro, comes the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities who stays in the store where she lives, and watches how customers come, browse, and go. One day, she hopes, a customer will choose her. This thrilling novel offers a specific view of how our world is changing, and through an unforgettable narrator, explores one of the most fundamental questions: What does it mean to love?

Me and You by Niccolo’ Ammaniti

From internationally best-selling author Niccolò Ammaniti, comes a funny, tragic, gut-punch of a novel, charting how an unlikely alliance between two outsiders blows open one family’s secrets and how they are forced to confront the very demons they are each struggling to escape. In this novel, Ammaniti focuses on the themes of transformation and the passage from adolescence to adulthood. Published in 2010 in Italian, translated in English in 2012.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

Memory is a science fiction novel that was nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. Chronologically, it falls roughly in the middle of a long-running series (the Vorkosigan saga). It marks a turning point for the series' protagonist, who makes a bad choice driven by his own long-standing insecurities and flaws, pays a high price for that choice, and then has to figure out who he really is and what he is willing to sacrifice. It's a very relational book in which family and community are super important and also, sometimes, super difficult to negotiate. I gave an interview about this book to The Daily Texan in 2021.

Robinson Crusoe and Cast Away by Daniel Defoe

For more than 20 years, in the early 1700s, Robinson Crusoe survived in isolation on an uncharted island. He had only a few items rescued from what was left of his ship. Besides being a captivating story of the era of pirates and sailing ships, Robinson Crusoe is generally regarded as one of the very first novels ever written. This classic tale has gone on to influence an entire genre of island survival adventures, including the movie Cast Away, in which the character played by Tom Hanks is stranded on a South Pacific Island after surviving a plane crash. He has only the items he scavenges from the Fed Ex packages that wash ashore from the plane's cargo. Although these two characters were born 250 years apart, they end up in the same situation. One question we might discuss: who was better equipped to survive?

Ruined by Lynn Nottage

Where can you find safety, or love, in a nation torn by civil war? You might look into life in a brothel, where women are protected from gang rape and violence, as Lynn Nottage does in this brilliant Pulitzer-Prize winning play, produced in 2007. The play is based on interviews the author and director conducted in Africa. The New York Times review said of this play: “Ms. Nottage has endowed [her characters] with a strength that transforms this tale of ruin into a clear-eyed celebration of endurance.” The play is raw and beautiful, a tribute to the human spirit. The playwright started out to imitate Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage, and then found her own distinctive voice. You may want to have a look at that play also, but that’s not required.

Paul Woodruff is a philosopher, playwright, and former dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies. He has published translations of Greek plays, as well as a book on theater, The Necessity of Theater. His hobbies include furniture design, rowing, and chamber music.

Sherlock Holmes: Selected Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories offer a collection of twists and turns, emblematic locations like 221B Baker Street, and a pair of characters that have captivated readers for more than a century. In this edition, you will find Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson involved in stories filled with seemingly unsolvable mysteries. I will reach out later this summer with a selection of stories we’ll discuss as a group. Please read the Oxford World's Classics edition from 2014.

Swann's Way by Marcel Proust (trans. Lydia Davis)

Swann’s Way (Du côté de chez Swann), is a difficult book to define. It was the first volume of seven that make up Proust’s magnum opus known as In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu): the world’s longest novel (and in the mind of many readers, the greatest). Reading this first volume on its own, as Proust’s first readers in 1913 did, immerses us in the philosophical questions that obsessed him. The narrator’s search to recapture “lost time” is, in essence, a search to create meaning for the whole of one’s life by remembering it through the transformative sensibility of an artist. A spoonful of tea and cake crumbs opens the floodgates of involuntary recollection for Proust’s fictional alter ego, unleashing an uncannily modern exploration of society and art, imagination and reality, desire and loss, and challenging us to question the nature of our own consciousness. 

Here’s a link to the Penguin paperback I recommend.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful description of life on the Mississippi River. It takes place before the Civil War, though it was written just shy of twenty years after the War ended.

This book is especially relevant for Reading Round-Up for many reasons, but in particular there are two. You are entering The University of Texas at Austin, and probably experiencing a new level of social awareness and responsibility as future leaders of an America that still struggles with a history of racism. You are also now more independent than ever before, and on our campus you will live as individuals in a diverse community that nevertheless faces challenges, as it works to find ways to become the most effective possible "mixing bowl" of people from many different backgrounds.

If we believe that “what starts here changes the world” you might think of your UT years as a time when you can experiment with ways of living that promote real harmony among diverse groups of people. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a catalyst for thinking about racism, and maybe how to understand its pernicious roots in American culture. As such it is a challenging read the day before your first class!

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

An enchanting novel about a shepherd boy who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried near the Pyramids. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the transforming power of our dreams and the treasure found within us.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

What does it mean to belong? How do we live in community with others? Linus Baker is a quiet worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. However his tranquil and isolated life changes when he is tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children could bring the end of the world. But the task will not be easy since Arthur Parnassus, the master of the orphanage where the children live, will do anything to keep the children away from the Department. Are the children really dangerous? Or is there some deep secret behind this investigation?

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

T.S. Eliot called The Moonstone "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels." Its multi-narrator format allows us to assess the evidence piecemeal, almost like a jury hears testimony, in order to solve the mystery, and along the way to recognize the elements that Collins introduced that have come to define the detective story we know today.

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

In the second volume of her planned trilogy on the experience of women and enslaved people in the traumatic events of the Trojan War, Pat Barker picks up the story from the end of the first novel, The Silence of the Girls, after the death of Achilles and the marriage of Briseis to one of his warriors. As The Silence of the Girls basically covered the events of the Iliad, Barker's Women of Troy retells some of the events described by the Greek playwright Euripides in his play "The Trojan Women". Her focus on the perspective of the women themselves, embodied by the first-person narration of Briseis, sheds new light on this old story and helps us to understand its relevance for our own time. This book can be read on its own, without the first book, although reading the two together will provide more context.

We by Evgeny Zamyatin

Before Brave New World...before 1984...there was We. A page-turning futuristic adventure, a masterpiece of wit and black humor that accurately predicted the horrors of Stalinism, We is the classic dystopian novel. It is also an enjoyable bit of 1920s-era science fiction. Fun... and strangely apt in 2022!

Philosophy & Politics

Fight: How Gen Z is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America by John Della Volpe

An interesting examination of Gen Z voters' brains that analyzes what issues have become important to Zoomers in light of the 2020 election and social media which so thoroughly affects how they think and feel.

Not Exactly: In Praise of Vagueness by Kees van Deemter

If we could all only be totally precise in what we say, we could eliminate so many errors of thinking, we could just clearly see who is right. Right? Or... is total precision not what we should strive for?

In fact, human language is often vague: How hot, exactly, is a coffee that is hot? How tall, exactly, is a person who is tall? There does not seem to be a single clear dividing line between tall and not-tall -- and still we have no problem with using and understanding this word.

This book argues that vagueness is not a bug of the human language, but a feature. It allows us to talk about the world that we see around us even when the world doesn't always come neatly divided into black and white, yes and no. But now where things get tricky is when we try to exactly characterize the vague terms that humans use, for example in the realm of logical reasoning and proofs, or artificial intelligence. Many people have grappled with this, more or less successfully. This book leads us through the history of the vagueness problem, and gives us an appreciation of this surprisingly complicated thing we do by using simple words like "tall" or "hot".

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis

What is the difference between price and value? What is money? Debt? Labor? Capital? Inflation? Deflation? Bitcoin? Instead of formulas and jargon, this short book uses examples – from Star Trek, Frankenstein, and Oedipus – to answer these questions. You may agree or disagree with the author’s conclusions, but if you are looking for food for thought, you will not end up hungry.

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

From the Preamble by the author: “Here is the central question of this book: In this modern era of cosmology, evolution, and the human genome, is there still the possibility of a richly satisfying harmony between the scientific worldviews? I answer with a resounding yes!...Science’s domain is to explore nature God’s domain is in the spiritual world, a realm not possible to explore with the tools and language of science. It must be examined with the heart, the mind, and the soul—and the mind must find a way to embrace both realms.”

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. has served as Director of the National Institutes of Health since 2009, overseeing the work of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research. Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA. Thus, Dr. Collins must be considered as one of the top medical scientists in the world, and at the same time he is a leading thinker and expositor of the Christian faith. This book is an honest and insightful look at the controversial interface between science and faith.

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand

Selfishness — a virtue? Ayn Rand chose this book’s provocative title because she was on a mission to overcome centuries of demonization.“In popular usage,” Rand writes, “the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends . . . and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

“Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is: concern with one’s own interests.

“This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.”

In this collection of articles, Rand offers a “new concept of egoism” based on reason as man’s means of survival and opposed to all forms of sacrifice.