Faculty and Staff Recommendations

Recent Recommendations

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life
Recommended by Ms. Tyson

Life’s main character, Ursula Todd, is prone to intense feelings of déjà vu and is described as feeling as though her future is behind her. It’s not surprising; the opening pages, for example, depict a February 11, 1910, that, lived over three times, sees Ursula dying at birth, then having a narrow escape but living, with the third scenario depicting events later in the day. As the book goes on and the century ages, readers are treated to an extended what-if regarding the consequences of tiny decisions and changes in the character’s life, right up to world-altering actions, as Ursula lives and relives various days and other periods.

It’s often satisfying to enjoy, through Ursula and her large family and cast of friends, the idea that you don’t have to wish you had delivered that zinger or saved yourself one heartache or another; a do-over is possible. On a more serious note, Atkinson succeeds brilliantly at bringing home the everyday grimness of war and the unfairness and casual bigotry that were part of life in an earlier England."

—Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Library Journal

Oryx and Crake (trilogy) - Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood's trilogy series Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and Maddaddam
Recommended by Ms. Lai

"The doyenne of Canadian literature (she's won both a Booker and a Giller Prize), the versatile Atwood has an uncanny ability to write in a number of literary genres. Like The Handmaid's Tale, her latest work is set in a near future that is all too realistic and almost too terrifying to contemplate. Having once led a life of comfort and self-indulgence, Jimmy, now known as Snowman, has survived an ecological disaster that has destroyed the world as we know it. As he struggles to function without everything he once knew, including time, Snowman reflects on the past, on his relationships with two characters named Oryx and Crake, and on the role of each individual in the destruction of the natural world. From its opening scene, in which the children of Crake scavenge through debris, to its horrifying conclusion, this novel challenges the reader, cleverly pairing familiar aspects of the world with parts that have been irrevocably changed. A powerful and perturbing glimpse into a dark future, this is Atwood's impassioned plea for responsible management of our human, scientific, and natural resources and a novel that will cast long and lingering shadows in the reader's mind, well after the book is closed.

—Caroline Hallsworth, Library Journal

Bloodchild and Other Stories - Octavia Butler

Octavia E. Butler's Bloodchild and Other Stories
Recommended by Ms. Lai

"This collection of novellas and stories is quirky only in its diversity of subject matter. From what she calls her 'pregnant male title story' to a sympathetic tale of incest to a bleak futuristic world of violence and nonverbal communication, Butler's imagination is strong--and so is her awareness of how to work real issues subtly into the text of her fiction. A nice addition is the afterwords that follow each story or novella. Written by Butler, they contain firsthand analysis and discussion of the impetus and influence in her own work. Although this book is little in size, its ideas and aims are splendidly large."

—Janet St. John, Novelist

The Heart of Everything That Is - Bob Drury & Tom Clavin

Bob Drury and Tom Clavin's The Heart of Everything That Is
Recommended by Ms. Thompson

"'The Heart of Everything That Is' is a vivid if melancholy story that may make readers ponder our relationship with the memory of the American West. Just the other day, the New York Times reported that some rich folks are hellbent on saving Montana. Ranchers up that way feel strongly otherwise. They believe they've already saved the Big Sky Country. A photograph of endless rolling plains and one lone buffalo illustrated the article. Naturally, one wonders what Red Cloud might have thought. Once upon a time this was all his kingdom, the very heart of everything that is."

—Christopher Corbett, The Wall Street Journal

The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed
Recommended by Ms. Glenn-Haber

The "K." in Le Guin's name is her maiden name of Kroeber: her father, Alfred Kroeber, was a pioneering anthropologist at Berkeley. Not surprisingly, for someone who grew up surrounded by ethnographers, Le Guin's fiction involves richly imagined societies that tweak our own in interesting ways. (The Left Hand of Darkness, for example, imagines a frozen world where people change genders every few years, though what was really memorable to me were the picks worn around the neck to break through the ice that formed even on the hot beer.) The Dispossessed's exploration of freedom in an anarchist society should be of interest to any Rollerskaters (anarchist or archist) interested in what it means to live in a society based on principles, not rules. Thanks to alums Harry Huchra and Taeer Bar-Yam who convinced me to read it!

Ten Years in the Tub - Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby's Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books
Recommended by Ms. Tyson

"In this collection, Hornby (High Fidelity; About a Boy) assembles the first ten years of his monthly Believer column “Stuff I’ve Been Reading,” from 2003 to 2013, into a single, irresistible tale about the reader’s life. Each column begins with a list of “Books Bought” and “Books Read,” a number that does not always correspond: “I certainly intend to read all of them, more or less,” he offers in defense. Hornby writes about the material he pursues and what he abandons, about how sometimes he prefers a breezy biography about a soccer star to Wilkie Collins. In keeping with The Believer’s philosophy of “acid-free literary criticism,” Hornby avoids acerbic or intellectually tedious (boring) critiques. He focuses more on reading books than on the texts themselves, and any biting remarks are directed inward, in the form of charming, self-deprecating humor. Although compilations often run the risk of monotony, Ten Years in the Tub is actually served by the form. Reading these columns one after another adds depth and complexity. Not since Somerset Maugham’s Books and You (1940) has there been a more eloquent and richly presented meditation on the value of books and reading."

—Meagan Lacy, Purdue University

Dept. of Speculation - Jenny Offill

Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation
Recommended by Ms. Dale

"It’s a novel that’s wonderfully hard to encapsulate, because it faces in many directions at the same time, and glitters with different emotional colors. If it is a distressed account of a marriage in distress, it is also a poem in praise of the married state. If it brutally tears apart the boredom and frustrations of parenthood, it also solidly inhabits the joys and consolations of having a child. If it laments the work not done, the books not written, the aspirations unfulfilled, it also represents work well done, a book written, the fruit of aspiration. (It has been fifteen years since Offill published her first novel, and one of the teasing metafictional motifs here concerns the narrator’s apparent inability to write a second book.) It is often extremely funny, and often painful; earnestly direct but glancingly ironic, even whimsical."

—James Wood, The New Yorker

I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith

Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle
Recommended by Ms. Tyson

"Originally published in 1948, Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is a coming-of-age novel about an eccentric family living in poverty in a remote, romantic English castle. When they meet two wealthy American brothers, Cassandra and her sister fall in love, but complications ensue. Comedy and tragedy take turns in this meditation on the mysteries of artistic expression. A true classic, Smith’s novel continues to be a favorite for generations of readers."

—Neal Wyatt, Library Journal

Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity
Recommended by Ms. Tyson

"Elizabeth Wein’s YA novel Code Name Verity (Hyperion)... is of the so-good-I-almost-missed-my-stop-on-the-train variety. The book takes place during World War II, just after a British spy is caught in German territory. She buys herself time in prison by agreeing to write out everything she knows about the mission, but the story she tells—which is this book—is much more than that. It’s about her friendship with Maddie, the pilot who flew the plane she arrived in (now charred remains on a French field), interspersed with her current thoughts and treatment at the hands of the Gestapo. Things in her account aren’t always quite what they seem though, as I’m finding out. I am completely invested in these characters and already looking up last year’s companion novel, Rose Under Fire."

—Amanda Mastrull, Assistant Editor, Library Journal