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Holiday Reading List 2001

[This page is preserved for historical and reference purposes only.  The information contained on it may no longer be current.]

Prepared and presented by Darren DeFrain, Assistant Professor of English

Here is the reading list I was threatening you all with. I had a particularly good response from people whose surname began with the letter ‘K,’ though I’ve spent hours trying to make something out of that. I know this didn’t come at a very easy point in the semester for anyone, so I’d like to thank all the letters of the alphabet for their involvement. And if you didn’t participate, this is still a lively, diverse list of recommended readings for the holidays. I hope you’ll find it interesting and useful during this busy gift-buying season (whether you’re shopping for yourself or for someone else). This is also my covert learning community plug: if something on this list grabs your attention I’m sure the reader would be glad to discuss it further. I hope you all have wonderful holidays, and that you take on some pleasurable reading in the interim.

Malcolm Allen, Professor of English

I have particularly enjoyed two books over the last months.  The first is William Makepeace Thackeray's *Pendennis*  (1848-50).  Arthur Pendennis falls disastrously in love twice before marrying the perfect woman.  Outside his love life, he gets into debt as a university student and then earns some success on the fringes of London's literary world, the rivalries and machinations of which are depicted in some detail.  A thousand pages of good stuff, cheaply available in an Oxford World's Classics paperback.

On a less exalted level, I have reread for the fourth or fifth time P. C. Wren's preposterous story of the French Foreign Legion *Beau Geste* (1924).  A best seller in its day, the novel is vigorously and excitingly narrated.  Wren is gloriously unPC--ethnocentric, sexist, and ridiculously snobbish--and a breath of fresh air in today's conventional world. 

Carin Allhiser , Associate Lecturer of Biology

A General Theory of Love--Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, Richard Lannon
(biological nature of love and emotion)

The Code Book--Simon Singh
(history of codes and ciphers)

Bill Barrett,  Lecturer of English

I recently finished ME TALK PRETTY SOMEDAY by David Sedaris. Not just funny, this book has some absolutely wonderful rhetorical structures that actually boosted my prep for English 101 my first semester at UW-Fox. For example, Sedaris compares his limp-wrested ways to his father's two-fisted McGruff old guard. There's the comparison and contrast; but there are plentiful good and humorous examples of argument by analogy, the definition papers, and excellent first-person singular fluff.

Also, while we're the subject, if you haven't read BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS OF THE CENTURY, edited by Joyce Carol Oates, better read that one cover to cover.

John Beaver, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy

The Empire City
Author: Paul Goodman
Published:      1959, but just (or just about to be) reissued
Category:       fiction

Taylor Stoehr calls this "...a comic epic written in the tradition and with the zest of Don Quixote."  I am the only person I know who has read it, and I've read it twice + 2/3 (soon to be thrice).  So, somebody please read it so I'm not the only one.

Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America
Author: Barabara Ehrenreich
Published:      2001
Category:       nonfiction

Very moving, very funny, full of facts and passion.  Barabara checks out the prospect of getting a job, with no resume, and living off the wage -- by actually trying it out for several months (maid service, waitress, Wal-Mart, retirement home).

Sue Benedict, Lecturer of Mathematics

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher    fiction

Winter Solstice is one of Rosamunde Pilcher's best, second only to the "Shell Seekers."  It's basically a love story written through the eyes of a woman and in Rosamunde's descriptive style.  Ed Benedict (my husband)

Caravans by James A. Michener  (fiction)

Caravans is one of James A. Michener's first novels.  It brings together the wild barbaric glory of Afghanistan in a fast-paced novel of passion, adventure and death.  Readers glean an understanding of the culture of the real Afghanistan as unchanged in 2001 as it was in 1946,the period portrayed in the adventure.

Will Curl , Lecturer of English

Sorry this is so late, and hope it's still in time to make the list. Recently, while doing some birthday shopping for a middle-school age cousin, I ran across Daniel Pinkwater's _Five Novels_, a compendium of reissues of his young-adult novels of the later '70's and early '80's. I'd forgotten how wonderfully subversive they were, and actually got a huge kick out of rereading them. Anyone familiar with Pinkwater's NPR commentaries can easily imagine the content. They're wonderfully creative and unpredictable, and are at least as much fun for older folks are they are for younger. After 20 years, my personal favorite is still "The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death," and I'm pleased to report that my cousin has similar tastes. His parents are less than thrilled, not so much because they're afraid he'll Snark Out as because he won't let them borrow his copy.

Darren DeFrain, Assistant Professor of English

This was actually a good, kind reading year for me. But I’d like to especially recommend a couple of works that aren’t necessarily new, but that were new to me. Patrick McGrath’s novel Asylum is currently being produced as a film starring Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, so now’s a good time to read this novel of astonishing grace and terror. McGrath is an absolute master of point of view. McGrath is the king of the so-called New Gothic, and like any good gothic novel this one involves a castle (an asylum), a tortured soul, and some bad doings. The question is, who is doing the doings?

A lot of my creative writing students cite Stephen King as an influence (God help us), so I took it upon myself to read his book On Writing. The book is one part autobiography and one part writerly advice. King makes no bones about being a "popular" writer rather than a literary genius, and that candor is a large part of what I admire about this work. Also of interest to me were the early scenes of life in West Virginia (where I came from prior to Fox) and De Pere, Wisconsin. No wonder he’s so influential up here! Also, King provides his own recommended readings list at the back of the book. Surprisingly good and varied titles (and good and varied writing) for someone who seems to be such a one trick pony.

I also very much liked Ron Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler, a book that looks at the political and social implications of the more pervasive theories of Hitler’s evil genesis. For lighter fare, I’d like to suggest Gregory McGuire’s Wicked, deftly told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch from the Oz books. And finally, Jim Crace’s Being Dead. This book is a stunner. It is from the point of view of a recently murdered middle-aged couple as their bodies wait to be discovered on a deserted beach. It is winner of the Booker Prize and one of the truest love stories I have read in years. Kind of a grim list, I know. And I violated my request for ONE or TWO recommendations, but then I’m in good company here as well.

Tom Frantz, Director of IIT Department

This is info about the book, "Mr. Mee" by Andrew Crumey, I recently read.  Crumey has a nice style mixing intellect & fantasy, humor, and originality.

"Following the advice of his long-suffering housekeeper, genial octogenarian Mr. Mee abandons dusty books and turns to the Internet in search of Rosier’s Encyclopedia, a lost book proposing the philosophy of an alternative universe. Instead he finds a photograph of a naked girl reading Ferrand and Minard: Jean-Jacques Roussaeu and the Search For Lost Time.

Meanwhile, in spring of 1761, the two French copyists Ferrand and Minard find themselves in possession of Rosier’s Encyclopedia and pursued by the authorities who want to claim its secrets for themselves. The interwoven stories which follow concern Rousseau’s madness, a dying scholar’s love, and Mr Mee’s belated discovery of sex, drugs and Jimmy Shand.

Crumey, whose writing has been widely compared to Borges and Calvino, has produced a philosophical thriller of breathtaking originality. The seamless collage of history’ fantasy and intellectual caprice results in a witty narrative which ultimately provides a history of the Internet."

Tony Garton, Senior Lecturer of Music

Two wonderful books stand out from this past year. I read Tolstoy's novella, The Kreutzer Sonata. Malcolm and I are thinking of adding it to our syllabus for Great Books to Great Music. It is the story of one man's descent into madness, told as only Tolstoy can do it. The other book is Ghost Light: A Memoir, by Frank Rich. He is the long time chief theatre critic for the N.Y.Times. A wonderful reminiscence of his childhood and Broadway experiences.

Debra Glasheen, Multicultural Advisor

Why Men Can't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps; and Sex and Temperament by Margaret Mead - most interesting when read one after another as they give contrasting accounts of whether or not there are innate differences in personality between men and women.

Becky Hoffman, Campus Services

I read Laurel Mills' Undercurrents over the weekend--a story about ordinary people dealing with tragic happenings--I liked it--it's a very gentle tale. (Darren’s emphasis!).

Valerie Jahns, Lecturer of English

1) American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001) is a mythical novel about, essentially, forsaken gods brought here from other countries.  Metaphorical/mythological concepts focus on who and what we as Americans worship or hold in high esteem.

Also--while I read this some time ago, I'd like to recommend Gaiman's terrific Sandman graphic novel series.  The Sandman series won numerous awards, some of which follow:  "The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for best writer (1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994), best continuing series (1991, 1992 and 1993);... the Harvey Award for best writer (1990, 1991) and best continuing series (1992); and Sandman #19 took the 1991 World Fantasy Award for best short story (making it the first comic ever to be awarded a literary award)./...Norman Mailer said of Sandman 'Along with all else, Sandman is a comic strip for intellectuals, and I say it's about time'."

2) The Wood Wife by Terri Windling (1996) is most easily categorized as magical fiction (or in the library, as fantasy).  The novel is equal parts myth, folklore and fairy tale.  Provides a fresh perspective on life.  As you may have surmised from my recommendations, I am quite fascinated by myth and how it impacts our modern lives.  For more information on The Wood Wife, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wood_Wife.

David L. Jordahl, Assoc. Prof. of Music

David Sedaris, "Me Talk Pretty One Day"
Tom Wolfe, "A Man in Full"
Garrison Keillor, "Lake Wobegon Days"

Mark Karau, Lecturer of History

Allright, here goes:  Far and away the best book I have read this past year was Richard Pipes' "The Russian Revolution."  Coming in a very distant second was Stephen King's excellent "Dreamcatcher."

Elizabeth Keggi, Library Services Assistant

Vegetables Every Day: The Definitive Guide to Buying and Cooking Today’s Produce, with more than 350 Recipes by Jack Bishop

I got hungry listening to Bishop being interviewed on "Fresh Air" on public radio. The book takes vegetables one at a time, giving complete descriptions, seasonal availability, selection, storage, basic preparation, and best booking methods. Then he gives a number of simple and delicious recipes.

ISBN: 0-06-019221-6

Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold by C.S. Lewis

Lewis retells the story of Cupid and Psyche from the point of view of Psyche’s oldest sister, who is jealous and confused on the inside. From her young teen years on she wears a veil over her face to hide her ugliness. She eventually rules the kingdom with cunning and with physical skill in battle. She comes to realize that her veil becomes a political strength. But she is sad as she writes down her story in old age.

Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins

It’s an apocalyptical novel, with the characters converging on Jerusalem and New York City. A book of ideas and a comedy at one and the same time. The characters include Dirty Sock, Spoon, Can o’Beans, Painted Stick, and Conch Shell. Yes, they are animate inanimate objects. There are humans too, of course.

Karen Klamczynski, Director of Barlow Planetarium

I really liked and recommend

E=mc^2  A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation
David Bodanis (2000)

This book is delightfully organized with chapters devoted to "E," "=," "m," "c," and even the squared, to name a few.  Enough history is included to put the development of Einstein's most famous theories in fascinating context with world events and Einstein's personal life.  Relativity and its implications might seem hard, but I thought this book was an interesting and easy read.

The Lord of the Rings (trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King)
J. R. R. Tolkien

These will keep you busy, since this 1200+ page trilogy is more like six books.  (And don't the best trilogies have more than three books--like Adam's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"?!)  Tolkien skillfully inspires the reader's imagination to bring to life the fantastic world of the Hobbits and their adventures.  Sometimes Tolkien's attention to detail seemed too extreme, but in retrospect, I think that's because I was more concerned about getting back to certain story lines and certain characters' predicaments. I don't consider myself a big fan of science fiction, but once I really got into this story (perhaps a quarter way through the first book), I couldn't put it down.

Joanne Kluessendorf, Curator of Weis Earth Science Museum

A book that I re-read recently is "Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies" by Jared Diamond (1999).  Prompted by a question from a New Guinea tribesman about why white men had invented so much stuff but his people hadn't, biologist Jared Diamond sets about to determine why.  Using scientific  facts (but without scientific jargon), he looks at the development of civilization from the time of the last Ice Age.  What results is a unifying concept of civilization in the manner that natural selection is to biology and plate tectonics is to geology.   Not to spoil the ending, he shows how  human history developed when, where and how it did because of the luck of the ecological draw.   This is such an enlightening, engaging and fascinating book, it is difficult to put down.

Jeff Kuepper, Student Activities Coordinator

Recent events found me rereading parts of three books I had read a few years ago:

The Fourth Turning by Neil Howe
Jihad vs. McWorld by Benjamin Barber
The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington

Howe reflects upon past periods of crisis in American History such as the American Revolution, Civil War, the Great Depression and World War II.  Based upon his cyclical theory of history, we were due for another "crisis" just after the start of the new millennium.  His predictions as to the nature of the crisis and it's outcome are vague, but I couldn't help reflect back upon his book after 9/11.

Barber's book (mentioned today by George Waller in his presentation) also seemed worth a brief review after 9/11.  He comments upon the coming clash of cultures between corporate globalism and fundamentalist religious movements (the latter perhaps influenced by the former).  Huntington's book also comments (though more broadly and less concisely) on this clash of cultures.

All three books are a bit apocalyptic (and simplistic) and short of specific advise on how to confront these phenomena.  Nevertheless, these authors seemed to have offered a vision, that for now, makes them appear somewhat prescient.


Two short, satirical books from Christopher Buckley--Thank You For Smoking and Little Green Men  are quick reads and provide wonderful light amusement, particularly for those with an interest in politics.

New non-fiction:

Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks.  An amusing, yet interesting account of how "Dumb good-looking people with great parents have been displaced by smart, ambitious, educated, and antiestablishment people with scuffed shoes."

Paula Lovell, Associate Lecturer of Communications & Theatre Arts

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Madison has included delicious recipes that range from the simple to fabulous.  Her instructions are easy to follow, most ingredients are readily available, and the resulting dishes are delicious.  As someone who was raised on meat and potatoes, I'd add that her main dishes are really quite satisfying.

Dick Oakland,  Lecturer of Mathematics

At present I'm reading "Nickel and Dimed", subtitled "On (Not) Getting By in America" by Barbara Ehrenreich, who, inspired by the welfare reform rhetoric, left home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she could find as waitress, hotel maid, cleaning woman, clerk, and nursing home aide. As someone who's work life and income level changed markedly this year, I've become more sensitive to the impossible situations in which the less fortunate find themselves. Surprisingly, the book has a lot of humor as well as pathos.

It's hard to imagine how I could have grown up in South Dakota in the 1950s without reading Frederick Manfred's "Lord Grizzly", but, thankfully, I remedied that deficiency earlier this year. This is the story of Hugh Glass, a nineteenth-century mountain man of Dakota territory who was mauled by a grizzly and left for dead while on a scouting expedition. When he regained consciousness, he began his 200 mile journey literally crawling back to civilization. My favorite part was about the male grizzly who licked the maggots out of the gaping wound in his back just about the time they had finished their mission of keeping the wound clean. After reading Manfred's graphic descriptions of life in "the old west", you might want to place Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour in a category with Barbara Cartland. Check the used bookstores for this gem.

I read a wonderful one by Josephine Tey but I can't find it now.

Joy Perry, Lecturer of Biological Science

Betrayal of Trust by Laurie Garrett. This is a HUGE book detailing several case studies of how our public health systems have been eroded, both nationally and internationally, and the threat this poses. Includes highly relevant sections on development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens and bioterrorism.  Anybody who was interested in Dr. George Mejicano's seminar in November should read this. Scary!

The Cobra Event  by Richard Preston. Another scary book, this time a fictional account of a bioterrorism event, but based on extensive research by the author and well grounded scientifically.

Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley. A novel, and not scary. Like horses adn dogs? This is the novel for you. Follows the fortunes of several people - and horses - associated with thoroughbred racing. Excellent characters, especially the animal ones.

Tom Pleger, Associate Dean & Asst. Prof of Archeology

Birmingham, Robert A. and Leslie Eisenberg 2000         Indian Mounds of Wisconsin. University of Wisconsin Press. 

Excellent introduction to the archaeology of Wisconsin.  This book also includes a list of archaeological mound sites that can be visited in Wisconsin.

Susan Rabideau, Asst. Prof of Communications and Theatre Arts

The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman

Kaufman and his team of theatre artists  interviewed over 200 town members of Larmie (where Matthew Shepard was killed)  The play shows us the best and the worst of huminity.

Any of the Harry Potter books. 

Heck any book that can capture so many generations must be worth something.  I am personally on my fourth time through the cycle.  Great fun.  The first book is a bit slow but give it time and you too will be hooked.

Kristin Runge, Associate Lecturer Communication Arts

My picks are...

How Good Do We Have To Be? A New Understanding of Guilt and Forgiveness  - Rabbi Harold S. Kushner --  The solution to family induced stress.  Particularly soothing during this time of the year.

A Year In Van Nuys - Sandra Tsing Loh -- I laughed myself into a nasty episode of the hiccups.  I too want to know "Where's My Oscar?!"  It's dry, it's witty, it's self-deprecating, it's for anyone with an unrealized dream.

Paradise - Toni Morrison -- Communities seek to perpetuate themselves.  This book is about one such community.  I read it over two years ago and still continue to find layer upon layer of truth in this novel.

Max Schultz, Bohrod Gallery Curator

I just finished an interesting book: The Cheese Monkeys (A novel in two semesters) by Chip Kidd.

Chipp Kidd, in reality, is a graphic artist. This is his first novel and it is quite witty and funny, touches upon some aspects of academia, creative thinking. Basic theme is of a student attending college in a sort of 50's time period thinking about majoring in graphic arts, etc. A different type of read.

Janet Speth, Associate Lecturer of Biological Sciences

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and A Woman's Education by Jill Ker Conway (former President of Smith College, continues the story in The Road frm Coorain and True North).

George Waller, Lecturer of Political Science 

Although it's been a while since I don't get much of an opportunity for personal reading during the course of a semester, I did read a number of books over the summer. Among those were the following that I most enjoyed.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham: This was a very well-written novel that examined the pathos of three women (and the people they interact with) through a stream of consciousness narrative. The characters are separated by time and space but are connected by a common sense of uncertainty about life and relationships. It is a novel about depression and sadness but also about love. It is a rich and original novel and Cunningham does an excellent job of making the reader feel the emotions of his characters. The way that Cunningham ties everything together at the end is a master-stroke!

Jim the Boy by Tony Earley: This is a deceptively simple book. Its prose is evocative of the childhood understandings it portrays. It is simple and innocent without lapsing into overly simplistic sentimentality.  The narrative is provided by a ten year old boy who is beginning to see the world in a new way as he grows up in a rural Southern small community. His sunny life is edged by an increasing understanding of the harsh reality of adult life. It is about the wistfulness of childhood and the gradual loss of innocence that occurs on the road from childhood to adolescence. The writing is simple and yet lyrical. It is a novel that you will finish in one sitting and remember long after you put it down.

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb: The character of Delores Price is unforgettable for her good and bad qualities. I think that people can appreciate this book because they will see pieces of themselves in Delores--the unattractive, scary, crazy, insecure, parts of themselves that are always just bubbling under the surface even if they don't just come charging out to reveal themselves. Delores comes undone by essentially unraveling all of the parts of herself that she wanted to keep tightly bundled up inside. Delores is a character the reader will alternately love and hate. Her behavior is by turns pathetic and heroic and in the end very human. It's a funny, sad, disgusting, uplifting, and thoroughly enjoyable romp of a read!

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien: I read this trilogy again (for the fifth time!) over the summer and once again was drawn into Tolkien's fully realized world of Middle Earth. This is a real pleasure of escapist fantasy literature and the fact that it so completely realized in Tolkien's storytelling draws the reader into that world hook, line and sinker! The basic conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil is fleshed out in such incredible fantastic detail, in a marvelous and compelling storytelling fashion, that it continues to endure as one of my favorite reading experiences.

Frank Zetzman, Art Professor

The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie
Soft Machine by William S. Burroughs
The Cat’s Inside by William S. Burroughs
The Beat Hotel by Barry Miles (non-fiction)
Rat by Andrzej Zaniewski (translated from Polish)

Posted 12/11/2001