Again this year, we have invited friends and board members of Humanities Texas to recommend a book or books for summer reading in the humanities. The result is a wide-ranging list, encompassing fiction and nonfiction, politics and history, new and old. We hope you'll discover a few new books to while away the summer. 

Frank W. Benson (1862–1951), The Reader.

John Aielli, host of KUT Austin's Eklektikos

Iain Pears, An Instance of the Fingerpost

Editor’s note: This historical thriller, set in 1660s England, focuses on the
 death of Robert Grove, a fellow of New College, Oxford. Four witnesses, three
 of them unreliable, provide their own versions of events through the lens of their own obsessions: science, history, religion, and politics.

John Aielli. Image by Patrick Dentler

Ward S. Albro, professor emeritus of history at Texas A&M University–Kingsville

Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano

Not the lightest reading, but I often return to Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. Although he wrote a few other things, Lowry was essentially a “one-book genius.” Under the Volcano is still acclaimed as the best book about alcoholism by an alcoholic but it is much more than that. The one day in the life of the British consul in Cuernavaca tells us so much about the human condition, amazingly getting into the minds of the protagonists. John Huston, who dearly loved Mexico, gave us the magnificent film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and his Night of the Iguana put Puerto Vallarta on the map and earned him a statue on the bay-front there. He insisted on filming Under the Volcano, although people told him it was not “filmable.” The movie got fairly good reviews, but don't watch the movie; read the book. It is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read.

Ward S. Albro.

JoAnn Balingit, poet laureate of Delaware

Jane Kenyon, Let Evening Come

Jane Kenyon’s Let Evening Come (Graywolf Press, 1990) is a powerful collection of poems. I recommend reading it on a quiet evening in late summer, with a glass of tea or a glass of wine, a view of the woods, and gratitude for the bounty of the season as it passes. Kenyon’s poems radiate love, a deep, urgent joy in being alive—even in the darkest moments of life. She is a poet of New England farm fields, lakes, and dirt roads, walking behind the dog and revealing a keen, almost mystical humor in the face of inevitable loss. Kenyon’s poems have been called melancholy, but they are luminous with emotion, and their images are clear and gorgeous. The book’s title poem is perhaps Kenyon’s most well known and may be familiar to moviegoers who heard it read by Cameron Diaz in a scene of the film In Her Shoes. There are many beautiful poems: the opening poem, “Three Songs at the End of Summer,” “The Blue Bowl,” and “Summer: 6 a.m.” There are poems of love and reconciliation written to the husband, like “Heavy Summer Rain.” Hers is so strongly a woman’s voice. I think these poems should be read aloud to the person you love the most.

JoAnn Balingit. Photo by Suchat Pederson.

Michael Les Benedict, professor emeritus of history at The Ohio State University

Peter Collier with David Horowitz, The Roosevelts: An American Saga

Wow, there are so many books to recommend. But I think I've most enjoyed Peter Collier with David Horowitz, The Roosevelts: An American Saga, of the books I've read lately for enjoyment. A very good read, full of intimate details about both Roosevelt families that I didn't know.

Michael Les Benedict. Photo by Humanities Texas.

Shirlene Bridgewater, humanities and English teacher at Marble Falls High School and Humanities Texas board member

Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone

Abraham Verghese declares in the acknowledgements of his debut novel Cutting for Stone that his is a “work of fiction, and all of the characters are imagined . . .” However, once you are immersed in his epic novel of birth and death, love and betrayal, foreign lands and familiar shores, you will not want to come up for air or separate yourself from characters who must surely live and breathe. Conjoined twins Marion and Shiva Stone, born in a mission hospital in Addis Ababa, are the progeny of an Indian nun and a British surgeon. Although the boys’ lives are intertwined, their presence in the worlds of India, Africa, and New York is different. They both become brilliant surgeons, but their internal dynamics lead them to sibling rivalry and betrayal within the backdrop of political unrest. The reader’s heart is magnetized to the story, hoping for revelation and redemption. Verghese, who himself is a physician, weaves medicine, a smidgen of magic, and masterful literary skills to create an unforgettable novel. Be prepared to nestle in for the read of a lifetime!

Shirlene Bridgewater. Photo by Humanities Texas.

Albert S. Broussard, professor of history at Texas A&M University and HTX board member

Edwidge Danticat, The Farming of Bones

Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones is a beautifully constructed and lyrical novel by a noted Haitian writer. Set in the Dominican Republican, the novel explores the little-known story of the state-sponsored mass murder of about forty thousand Haitian immigrants who lived and worked in the Dominican Republic. The story is told through the eyes of an orphaned Haitian servant. In this current era of hysteria regarding global immigration, Danticat's novel is as timely and relevant today as when it first appeared.

Albert S. Broussard.

Norma Cantú, professor of English at The University of Texas at San Antonio and former HTX board member

Richard Yañez, Cross Over Water

This past year I have read many books, including two of my favorites—fiction (Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna) and non-fiction (Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra)—so you can imagine how difficult it is to come up with one title. In the end, I choose a story set in El Paso, the coming of age of a young boy, Ruly.

Norma Cantú.

Mia Carter, University Distinguished Teaching Associate Professor of English at The University of Texas at Austin

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas: A Novel

I recently read Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, a fairly uncategorizable piece of fiction that represents a broad sweep of past, present, and future time in its five hundred-plus pages. The novel's style could be described as postmodern; Mitchell is a dazzling virtuoso of a prose stylist, and the novel's puzzles kept me riveted to each page. I had no idea where the novel was going, which was one of its great pleasures. Its six narratives include a clerk on a nineteenth-century mercenary merchant ship; an epistolary narrative formed from the letters of a talented and self-important modern interwar musical composer in the 1930s; a contemporary investigative journalist conducting research on criminal activities in the nuclear power industry; a calculating publisher whose comic personal misfortunes might be a movie script; and the prison narrative of a cloned individual from the future. The novel requires patience to be certain, but it is often funny and deeply moving. I have not been able to stop thinking about Cloud Atlas and its explorations of power, individuals' desires and ethical challenges, and its philosophical ruminations on what it means to act for oneself and on behalf of another. The novel is currently being adapted for cinema (directed by Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski), which is really exciting to envision.

Rosa Luxemberg, The Letters of Rosa Luxemberg

The book that I am dying to get to next is the new collection of the German socialist Rosa Luxemburg's letters, The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg (2011). My copy just arrived. The martyred Luxemburg was a great lover of literature and the arts, a committed humanist, social visionary, and fighter for justice, and a beautiful, poetic writer.

Mia Carter.

Larry D. Carver, Doyle Professor in Western Civilization at The University of Texas at Austin and HTX board member

David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement

Brooks creates Harold and Erica to illustrate in a way that is fun to read how recent scientific findings from genetics, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, economics, and anthropology play out in real life. Harold and Erica were not born geniuses—they did okay on the SAT—are fine-looking, but not beautiful, play tennis and hike, but are not gifted athletes. Everyone who meets them senses, however, that they live blessed lives. Why? For Brooks it is because they possess “what economists call non-cognitive skills . . . a catchall category for hidden qualities that can’t be easily counted or measured. . . .” The research being done today, Brooks contends, points to a new understanding of human nature that stresses “the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, character over IQ, emergent, organic systems over linear, mechanistic ones, and the idea that we have multiple selves over the idea that we have a single self.”

Larry D. Carver.

Filipe Castro, assistant professor of anthropology at Texas A&M University

Peter Watson, The Medici Conspiracy

A true story of an extraordinary Italian policeman and his twenty-year struggle to stop the illegal traffic of antiquities in his country. An exciting thriller, this book takes us through the amazingly sophisticated channels of the market of antiquities and the astonishing diversity of the people that populate this world. And it has a happy end!

Steven Shapin, A Social History of Truth

Written around the life of the horrible Robert Boyle, this book is the clearest and most interesting voyage to the world of seventeenth-century science, reason, prejudice, and civility. A must.

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

A magic autobiographical book by a writer I don’t appreciate much. To read and re-read.

Luis Buñuel, My Last Sigh

The autobiography of one of the most important surrealists, by far the funniest and gentlest, and one of the least known heroes of this epic cultural movement. We only wish it was longer.

Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin, the Court of the Red Tsar

Because we should not ignore important things. Montefiore has written a biography of Stalin from within his house, his cabinets, and his entourage.

Filipe Castro.

Jay Clack, English and humanities teacher at Breckenridge High School and recipient of the 2009 James F. Veninga Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award

Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

I recommend The Painted Drum, a novel by Louise Erdrich. It offers a rich summer read that takes us from the sublime to the terrifying and back again. I enjoy its glimpses of contemporary New Hampshire and North Dakota life and the time travel to late-nineteenth-century Ojibwean culture in North Dakota. I appreciate Erdrich’s skill of translating the epic events of everyday lives into words that celebrate the human spirit. Published in 2005, the novel is fairly short, which gives us more time to luxuriate in its many poetic passages.

Jay Clack.

Thomas R. Cole, McGovern Chair in Medical Humanities and director of The McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, Houston

Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

My current favorite book is Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. I’m not the kind of person who says, “I can’t put this book down,” but this is an exception. It is about two young men looking for a way out of their small Texas town, which seems to promise no future worth pursuing. They set out on horseback for Mexico looking for a famous horse ranch where they hope to work. I hate to sound like a publicist, but you will definitely enjoy going along for the ride.

Thomas R. Cole.

Nan Cuba, professor of English at Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, and HTX Award finalist

Andrew Porter, The Theory of Light and Matter

The Theory of Light and Matter by Andrew Porter, associate professor of creative writing at Trinity University in San Antonio, has ten stories, and all but three are retrospectives. Each of these narrators is searching for the truth about his/her past. They are compelled to reconstruct a memory about something momentous that has happened to them in order to engage, emotionally repaired, with their current life. This duality—stuck in the present, trying to understand the past—creates a layer of complexity that adds intelligence and depth. These are stories of adolescence and young adulthood that address longing, desire, loneliness, guilt, and regret. The best intertwine overlapping threads, inviting the reader to interpret their connections, which are present but only subtly revealed. One example is the title story, which is narrated by a woman, Heather, who is married to her college boyfriend, Colin, but is recalling in detail the relationship she had with her physics professor, Robert. During their first encounter outside class, Robert says, “Arrogance is a physicist’s greatest hindrance . . . As soon as you think you understand something, you eliminate any opportunity for discovery.” This becomes a foreshadowing as Heather dissects her marriage, describing the moment she knew she’d marry Colin: “I wasn’t sure if I was in love with him . . . I could raise a family with him and grow old in his company. I could do all of these things, I realized, and not be unhappy.” She understood Colin’s limitations, and that left no room for discovery.

Tobias Wolff said in a 2003 Paris Review interview that when he reads a story, he needs to feel “the operation of some kind of grace in the world,” that “[i]t has to do with a certain courage and verve and even sense of play in facing things as they are.” The Theory of Light and Matter accomplishes this lofty aim, which might explain why it won the Flannery O’Connor Award and has been translated into seven languages.

Nan Cuba.

Light Cummins, state historian of Texas and Bryan Professor of History at Austin College, Sherman

James C. Kearney, Nassau Plantation: The Evolution of a Texas German Plantation

Texas has a unique history that blends together people from diverse cultures. The period before the Civil War, for example, witnessed the immigration of a considerable number of German-speaking people from Europe. Not all of the German immigrants to Texas, however, established themselves in the Edwards Plateau. I’m reading a fascinating book by James C. Kearney that highlights the little-known efforts of the German Immigration Society to establish a plantation in the cotton belt of the Colorado River valley. The immigration society, formally known as the Adelsverein, established Nassau Plantation near present-day Columbus in 1843. Count Joseph of Boos-Waldeck oversaw the operation of the plantation for the society, including its large slave population. The plantation also served as a waystation for German migrants traveling to their main settlements in the Hill Country. Immigration society leaders, including Prince Solms de Braunfels and John O. Meusebach, also visited Nassau Plantation for rest and recreation. Kearney has done a masterful job of research in reconstructing the story of this plantation, and of providing a firm historical foundation for understanding German immigration into Texas. Clearly, not all antebellum plantations looked liked those in Gone with the Wind.

Light Cummins.

Gregory Curtis, author and editor, Austin

Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry

I read this along with Babbitt and Main Street recently. They were all good and each one more affecting and less obvious than I would have thought. Of the three, though, I thought Elmer Gantry was the best. There is a compelling complexity to Gantry’s character. Yes, he is a religious hypocrite and, like many religious hypocrites, his hypocrisy involves sex and, to a lesser degree, money. But it isn’t as simple as it might appear and in the end Lewis shows that Gantry’s hypocrisy doesn’t consist in his being worse than everyone else but rather in not being any better, which, finally, may not be hypocrisy at all. Meanwhile, the book is filled with Lewis’s sharp renderings of manners, dress, dialogue, and interiors—especially interiors. He can make the furnishings in a room thrilling. And Elmer Gantry also contains one of the most bizarre and astonishing seductions in American literature.

Gregory Curtis.

Maceo C. Dailey Jr., associate professor of history and director of African American studies at The University of Texas at El Paso and HTX board member

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating foray into the complications and abuses of medical practices and research as they pertained to a young African American woman in the South. The book jacket cover notes, “Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multi-million-dollar industry.” The book has deep personal meaning for me. My mother and Henrietta Lacks originated in the same Virginia village of Clover and moved to Baltimore, Maryland, within the same time frame, 1941–1945. This summer my mother’s family (the Brittons) will hold its family reunion in Clover alongside four other African American families, including the Lacks. We all look forward to discussing consanguinity of the four families that issued from this small tobacco-growing region where our ancestors owned and worked their farms.

Maceo C. Dailey.

Jesús F. de la Teja, professor of history at Texas State University–San Marcos and HTX board member

Arturo Pérez-Reverte, the Captain Alatriste novels

For erudite and entertaining swashbuckling adventure, forget about Jack Sparrow and his new mermaid friends and turn instead to Captain Alatriste, Spanish journalist and author Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s protagonist in a series of novels set in early seventeenth-century Spain. There are six novels in the series, and all have been translated into English. They are witty, reflective, and evocative. Captain Alatriste, a veteran of Spain’s decades-long effort to retain possession of the Low Countries, becomes involved in a series of adventures in Spain itself as well as a campaign in Flanders that includes participating in the famous battle of Breda, Spain’s last major victory against the Dutch. In the first novel, Captain Alatriste, narrated by Diego Alatriste’s adopted son Iñigo, characters are established and the mood of the series is set. As with any historical fiction, the stories all involve fictional characters in real events, including in this case the visit to Madrid by two secretive Englishmen whose presence turns out to have international consequences. The realistic approach juxtaposes the Golden Age of Spanish arts with the political and social dysfunction of an empire in decline. I can’t attest to the quality of the English-language versions of the novels, since I read them in Spanish, but if they are serviceable, you are in for a wonderful time, including an encounter with pirates of the Mediterranean.

Jesús F. de la Teja.

Elinor Donnell, Corpus Christi civic leader and HTX board member

Ildefonso Falcones, Cathedral of the Sea

In the tradition of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, Cathedral of the Sea is a historical novel of friendship and revenge, plague and hope, love and war, set in the golden age of fourteenth-century Barcelona. Arnau Estanyol arrives in Barcelona and joins the powerful guild of stone workers building the magnificent cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar.

Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

Editor’s note: Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden tells the story of a tiny girl abandoned on a ship sailing for Brisbane, Australia, with nothing but a few clothes and a beautifully illustrated book of fairy tales. Taken in by a dock master and his wife, she begins to piece together her past at the age of twenty-one, on a journey that takes her to the estate of a doomed family on the Cornish coast of England.

Elinor Donnell.

Maria Espinosa, novelist, poet, translator, and teacher, San Francisco

Gail Tuskiyama, The Samurai's Garden

I just finished reading The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tuskiyama, which I greatly admired. The story of a young Chinese man who spends a year recuperating from frail health in his grandfather's house in a remote Japanese island village, it has an elegance and a spare yet profound beauty that captivated me. The time is 1938, and Japan has invaded China. The complexity and sensitivity of the characters—Chinese and Japanese—caught up in an international struggle beyond their control—is expressed with great skill and sensitivity.

Maria Espinosa.

Daniel Feller, Betty Lynn Hendrickson Professor of History at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville and editor/director of The Papers of Andrew Jackson.

Bernard DeVoto, The Year of Decision, 1846

The American history books I like most are the ones that make me say, “I wish I could write like that.” Some are well known (Henry Adams's History of the United States, George Dangerfield's The Era of Good Feelings, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s The Age of Jackson) and others less so (William R. Stanton's The Great United States Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842, Bray Hammond's Banks and Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War). But my favorite author of all is Bernard DeVoto, and my favorite of his books is The Year of Decision, 1846. It's the first in a trilogy that DeVoto wrote in reverse chronological order on what might be called the “westering” of Americans. The second book, Across the Wide Missouri, was about the Rocky Mountain fur trade in the 1830s, and the last, The Course of Empire, began with the early Spanish explorers and ended with Lewis and Clark. (Wallace Stegner's Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, about John Wesley Powell and the Southwest, is often considered the fourth volume in the trilogy.) Most academic historians don't read DeVoto, and those who do generally don't like him. His book has very little scholarly argument, and the argument it tries to make—that 1846 really WAS the “year of decision”—isn’t particularly convincing. As an academic myself, I understand this criticism; this is not a book I'd assign for discussion in a graduate seminar or recommend to a student preparing for doctoral comprehensive exams. It doesn’t fit into any particular historiographic conversation or relate to “important” works in its field. It might not even get its author tenure in my university history department. It’s not scholarly. BUT—I wish I could write like that!

Daniel Feller.

Jim Furgeson, history teacher at McCallum High in Austin and 2009 Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award winner

Eric Foner, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

This year marks the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the American Civil War. I find that hard to believe because it seems that I have been trying to teach the war to high school juniors for at least that long. Each year I teach it, and then I promise myself that I will teach it more effectively next year.

So as school ends, I can think of no better way to spend a summer morning than reading historian Eric Foner at Barton Springs. In his most recent book, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, Foner examines Abraham Lincoln’s transformation on the issues of race and slavery. In the midst of our nation’s greatest crisis, Lincoln was not only able to conduct a successful war, but he was able to come to a new understanding of freedom. It was that understanding that moved us onto the path of addressing the commitments to liberty and equality that we made in the Declaration of Independence. In Lincoln’s story, Foner reminds us of the potential for greatness in humanity. That is a lesson truly worth teaching.

Jim Furgeson.

Julius Glickman, Houston attorney and civic leader and HTX past board chair

Lincoln Steffens, The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens

Lincoln Steffens did not just cover the events of the early twentieth century, but he participated in them. The great muckraker knew the famous and the infamous of his day—presidents, revolutionaries, reformers, “honest crooks,” dishonest politicians—and wrote about them with humor and insight. His keen observations about his youth and people are timeless and unforgettable. One of the fifteen best books I have ever read.

Julius Glickman.

Miguel Gonzalez-Gerth, professor emeritus of Spanish and Portuguese at The University of Texas at Austin and HTX board member

Editor's note: The following three descriptions come from Publisher's Weekly

W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

Sebald's unnamed, traveling narrator is making his way through the county of Suffolk, England, and from there back in time. Sunk in his own thoughts, he becomes obsessed with the ubiquitous evidence of disintegration he views in the landscape and history of the small coastal towns. . . . He spirals deeper into his own considerably learned historical memory to explore, for example, slavery, the Chinese opium wars, Joseph Conrad's life on the high seas, and Chateaubriand's memories of estranged love. 

W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz

For a long time, Austerlitz did not know his real mother and father were Prague Jews. His first memories were of his foster parents, a joyless Welsh couple. While exploring the Liverpool Street railroad station in London, Austerlitz experiences a flashback of himself as a four-year-old. Gradually, he tracks his history, from his birth in Prague to a cultivated couple through his flight to England, on the eve of WWII, on a train filled with refugee children. 

Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach

Not quite novel or novella, McEwan's masterful thirteenth work of fiction most resembles a five-part classical drama rendered in prose. It opens on the anxious Dorset Coast wedding suite dinner of Edward Mayhew and the former Florence Ponting, married in the summer of 1963 at twenty-three and twenty-two respectively; the looming dramatic crisis is the marriage's impending consummation, or lack of it.

Miguel Gonzalez-Gerth.

Celeste Guzman Mendoza, author and assistant director of development at The University of Texas Press

Tami Lynn Kent, Wild Feminine

Wild Feminine by Tami Lynn Kent is the best summer read for any woman who is interested in uncovering or discovering her true femininity—not the femininity we are overfed by the fashion and beauty industries, but the innate feminine self that every woman possesses no matter what size or wardrobe.

Kent, a women's health physical therapist and founder of Holistic Pelvic Care for Women, uses stories from some of her patients, visualizations, and various creative exercises to engage the reader to encounter and engage her own feminine wisdom. And don't think it's cheesy, because this book is for the faint of heart, the strong of heart, and even those of us that think we have no heart. Kent's straightforward writing style and the book's well-organized structure are anything but nebulous.

Celeste Guzman Mendoza.

S.C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon, Austin

Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

Stegner is not read much these days, which is too bad. He is a brilliant writer and this story of a family's odyssey through the American West is simply one of the best novels I have ever read. Monumental, romantic, peripatetic, whatever you want to call it, I consider it the best novel of the West. If you don't know Stegner, this will serve as a wonderful introduction.

S. C. Gwynne.

H. Palmer Hall, director of Pecan Grove Press and library director at St. Mary’s University, San Antonio.

Bryan Burrough, The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes

Good summer reading? It’s difficult to imagine a book Texans might enjoy more than Bryan Burrough’s The Big Rich. This beautifully written, 440-page depiction of the Big Rich of Texas kept me engrossed for two days as it spelled out the story of the four Texas oil families that have pretty much dominated the state for decades: the Hunts, the Basses, the Cullens, and the Murchisons. While the story of those families would be compelling in a dry, encyclopedic treatment, Burrough treats them with wit and with a writing style that continues to amaze me. “It wasn’t until I was sixteen, the weekend I served as an escort at Waco’s Cotton Palace debutante ball, that I was introduced to the class of Texans known as the Big Rich: boys from Highland Park and River Oaks in white dinner jackets and gleaming hair, willowy Hockaday girls with enormous eyes and glistening jewels. Ogling them from within my rumpled rented tux, they seemed like royalty. And they were. Texas royalty at least.” That is Bryan Burrough in his introduction to the book and that is Texas writing of a very high order. The Big Rich was the 2010 Texas Institute of Letters nonfiction book of the year, and it’s easy to see why.

H. Palmer Hall.

Rolando Hinojosa, Ellen Clayton Garwood professor in the English Department at The University of Texas at Austin

George Sessions Perry, Hold Autumn in Your Hand

A novel set and written during the Great Depression. A native of Rockdale, Texas, Sessions Perry brings humor and the hard as steel reality of those dreadful times. A movie with Austin's own Zachary Scott was directed by Jean Renoir and titled The Southerner in 1945. A horror, but the novel is not dead; I teach it and so does my friend and colleague Don Graham as well as other university professors.

Rolando Hinojosa.

Kathleen Hodges, art teacher at Walnut Glen Academy in Garland and 2009 Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award winner

Alexandra Morton, Listening to Whales

I have always been fond of any story involving an independent, self-motivated, and courageous heroine. If the story happens to be true, all the better. Such is Listening to Whales by Alexandra Morton, one of my favorite books. 

Morton’s account of her own life’s journey in pioneering research involving orcas in the back country of Alaska is captivating, often harrowing, and ultimately bittersweet. This book left me feeling that Morton is to the orca world what Jane Goodall is to the world of the chimpanzee. Her tenacious character mixed with her solo adventures in the wilderness as a young woman in the 1970s gives way to an enormously great read. I did not want the book to end.

Have you ever been asked the question, “If you could invite any five people to dinner, who would they be?” For me, Alexandra Morton is guaranteed a seat at my table.

Kathleen Hodges.

Jorge Iber, history department chair at Texas Tech University, Lubbock

Yoani Sanchez, Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today

This work chronicles the life of a woman of remarkable courage. By this, I mean the type of courage required to survive daily life in a dystopia that many who certainly should know better (including a not insignificant percentage of American academicians and glitterati) constantly and consistently praise: the island nation of Cuba. The story of Yoani Sanchez brings to mind the photo of the Chinese student who stood up to the tanks in Tiananmen Square in the late 1980s. She is a person of conscience (indeed, she returned to Cuba after leaving the island for freedom in Switzerland, willing to live her life “as a free person, and accept the consequences”) and is determined to attack the abuses of the Castro dictatorship through the publication (often with great difficulties) of her internationally renowned blog, Generation Y. This book provides readers with a sense of why she started the blog in 2007 and the often brutal attempts by the regime to silence this effort to speak truth to dictatorial power. Even more significantly, Sanchez’s poignant entries document the depredations suffered by the Cuban people as they seek, by any means necessary, to eke out an existence under this disastrous planned economy. This is a worthwhile read that will give readers a picture of what true pluck and valor are all about.

Jorge Iber.

Ray M. Keck III, president of Texas A&M International University, Laredo and HTX board member

Books! I can't land on just one. Each of these has reoriented my perspective and expanded my capacity to think.

Joseph J. Ellis, First Family: Abigail and John Adams

For historians, anything by Joseph Ellis—he just released a new book on John and Abigail Adams.

Garry Wills, Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography

Garry Wills has a new edition, with copious notes, of St. Augustine's Confessions. I am sure it is brilliant—everything Wills produces is.

E. D. Hirsch, The Making of Americans: Democracy and Our Schools

Best and most lucid account of what our schools ought to be doing.

Richard Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope

A progressive-pragmatist's handbook, John Dewey-style. One chapter, “Education as Socialization and Individualization,” is about the most brilliant and concise description I have ever read of what should happen K–12, then what should continue in college.

Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America

One of the most exciting and thrilling books I have ever read. Not a new one. Anyone who has not read it should begin here. I think Menand puts to rest the question of whether or not a writer's or philosopher's life should be considered when examining his or her writings.

Mark Lilla, The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West

Religion and politics from Hobbes to the nineteenth century. Brilliantly written, easy to read, breathtakingly innovative in its treatment of old and familiar topics. His conclusion is both disturbing and stirring. I am happy I didn't sneak a peek at the last chapter before I got there.

Mario Vargas Llosa, The Dream of the Celt

I can't do much fiction these days—to read a novel, one needs extended time. My reading is in unpredictable snatches, followed by dry spells—great for philosophy or history, bad for fiction. But I read Dream of the Celt because Vargas Llosa got the Nobel, and I felt obligated to see what his latest novel is like. It is a wonderful book, beautifully written in Spanish, and I expect the translation is a good one. An historical novel about a man I had never heard of: Roger Casement. My ignorance. He was an important figure in the Anglo-Irish issue of the twentieth century, as well as the European penetration into the Congo.

Ray M. Keck III.

Cynthia A. Kierner, professor of history at George Mason University

Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello

Gordon-Reed's book won virtually every award for scholarly and popular history a few years back, so a lot of people have already recommended it. Gordon-Reed tells a fascinating and complicated story that encompasses not only the Hemingses, but Thomas Jefferson's entire extended family. Perhaps because she's a law professor, Gordon-Reed's approach is to let readers see how she, as a historian, weighs evidence and constructs arguments, which is very enlightening. It's rare that such a massive tome qualifies as vacation reading—but, in my opinion, this book does!

Cynthia A. Kierner.

Wright Lassiter, chancellor of the Dallas Community College District

Fred D. Gray, Bus Ride to Justice: Changing the System by the System

“The surest way to determine whether an American society truly works and adheres to its stated values and declaration is to evaluate it from the perspective of a black civil rights lawyer.”

Fred D. Gray of Montgomery and Tuskegee, Alabama, is a veteran of the modern civil rights crusade. He was one of the chief architects of the strategies that sustained the Montgomery bus protest and represented Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as other movement principals in those tumultuous early years. Fred and everyone involved viewed him as the “movement lawyer.”

Fred Gray was my neighbor during my seventeen and a half years living in Tuskegee. I first met him during the Montgomery bus protest. Reading this book would serve as excellent additional reading to support articles in the current issue of Humanities.

Wright Lassiter.

Jerry Lincecum, professor emeritus of English at Austin College, Sherman

Charles Portis, True Grit

For a stimulating Sudoku challenge for your imagination, read the 1968 novel True Grit, by Charles Portis, and view either the 2010 film version by the Coen brothers or the 1969 film starring John Wayne. The order in which you consume print and film versions doesn't matter. The important thing is, after experiencing both, jot down a short list of compare/contrast points. See which points of difference you can account for in terms of intended audience difference, artistic choices, and audiovisual medium vs. print. It's even more fun if you can discuss it with a friend or a group. Portis came up with a marvelous premise: using nineteenth-century American vernacular speech, have an eccentric old lady narrate a series of her improbable adventures that took place in the 1870s on the Southwestern frontier. Her cast of characters included the Ned Pepper Gang, Marshal Rooster Cogburn, a dandified Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf, and a heroic horse named Blackie. Dark humor abounds. For the front porch of this snug little house of fiction, Portis described a wild and woolly Fort Smith, Arkansas, with scenes from a hanging as well and the courtroom of a famous hanging judge, Isaac C. Parker. The back porch is an unforgettable cave well stocked with venomous rattlesnakes. Enjoy!

Jerry Lincecum.

Alison Macor, author of Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: Thirty Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas, Austin

Brad Matsen, Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler

A couple of years ago, on a whim, I picked up the nonfiction book Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler by Brad Matsen (Twelve, 2009). The haunting cover image caught my eye even though I wasn't especially interested in the subject matter. Matsen's book turned out to be hugely suspenseful despite covering a topic that's been extensively chronicled. Matsen combines riveting archival research about how the great ship came to be built with the modern-day drama of experienced divers Chatterton and Kohler, who in 2005 unearthed previously undiscovered wreckage on the ocean floor. Their team's discovery offers a compelling new theory about how the Titanic actually sank and why it happened so quickly.

Alison Macor.

Sandra Mayo, director of multicultural and gender studies and associate professor of theater at Texas State University-San Marcos

Maxine Hong Kingston, Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

This book is fascinating because it demonstrates how cultural traditions from the old world are deeply ingrained in the minds of many Americans. The memoir chronicles the struggles of a young woman growing up in Stockton, California, trying to reconcile her current life with the “talk stories” about Chinese women warriors from her mother. The narrator/author faces the tensions inherent in her cultural background, and by doing so forges a greater understanding of her bicultural identity for herself and her readers. Published in 1975 by Vantage Books, this work continues to inform and inspire today.

Sandra Mayo.

Archie P. McDonald, Regent’s Professor of History at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches

Thomas M. Hatfield, Rudder: From Leader to Legend

My “favorite” book usually is whatever I am reading at the time, but just now that designation belongs to one finished recently: Thomas M. Hatfield's Rudder: From Leader to Legend, published by Texas A&M University Press. Here is the reason: in the 1960s, Stephen F. Austin State University recruited some good teachers from Texas A&M when many wanted to leave that campus because of the way President Earl Rudder ran the place. I also knew something—not much, but something—about Rudder's leadership in enabling American forces to scale the heights at Pointe de Hoc on June 6, 1944. Hatfield's biography helped me understand that Rudder's blunt tactics as president actually enabled a great university to emerge from that small, narrowly focused military academy without losing its esprit de corps, and I gained a fuller understanding of Rudder as a man and a soldier.

Archie P. McDonald.

Fred McGhee, archaeologist, deep sea diver, and historical anthropologist, Austin

Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship

From the Penguin website: “In this widely praised history of an infamous institution, award-winning scholar Marcus Rediker shines a light into the darkest corners of the British and American slave ships of the eighteenth century. Drawing on thirty years of research in maritime archives, court records, diaries, and firsthand accounts, The Slave Ship is riveting and sobering in its revelations, reconstructing in chilling detail a world nearly lost to history: the ‘floating dungeons’ at the forefront of the birth of African American culture.”

Fred McGhee.

Manuel F. Medrano, professor of history at The University of Texas at Brownsville

Manuel F. Medrano, Américo Paredes, In His Own Words

I'll be selfish and nominate my recent biography entitled Américo Paredes, In His Own Words (Texas A&M Press, 2010). It is about one of the most respected border folklorists in U.S history, who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and became a scholar at The University of Texas at Austin. It is based on interviews and archival documents.

Manuel F. Medrano.

Bryce Milligan, author and publisher/editor of Wings Press, San Antonio

Charles Williams, The Image of Beatrice

I'm headed to Europe this summer, to teach in Prague for a few weeks, and on the way I will stop in Florence. Dante has been a big influence on my own life and writing, so I am taking this opportunity to re-read all of his work. I just finished Charles Williams's book The Image of Beatrice, which has to be one of the best books ever about Dante’s relationship to his muse. Richly poetic in itself, it is very insightful as to how Dante consciously adapted his “muse encounter” to turn a romantic attachment into a sacramental one.

John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me and Prison of Culture: Beyond Black Like Me

On a different note altogether, Wings Press will publish this year the fiftieth anniversary edition of John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me. I am always struck when I re-read this book by how important it has been, and just how courageous the author was to undertake the project. Wings is also publishing a new collection of Griffin's later writings on racism and spirituality, Prison of Culture: Beyond Black Like Me, which includes some pieces written just shortly before he died in 1980. At the same time, Wings has reissued all of Griffin's published works as e-books. Griffin is undoubtedly one of the finest and most thoughtful writers Texas has ever produced. Aside from that, I've been collecting and editing materials for Literary San Antonio, forthcoming from TCU Press. This will be a fascinating collection ranging from Coahuiltecan chants to current work by local writers.

Bryce Milligan.

Debra Monroe, author of On the Outskirts of Normal, San Marcos

In the age of salacious memoirs, I want to recommend the most quietly beautiful memoirs I've ever read:

Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness

Amos Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness is an intimate glimpse of vanished time. Oz's mother's childhood seems straight out of Chekhov. Oz's childhood was spent in brand-new Israel, populated by somber adults with PhDs now working clerical and janitorial jobs. This is a story about how family endures through the most unimaginable shortfalls and emergencies.

Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

Speak, Memory is Vladimir Nabokov at his amazing, deft best. This book is an elegy to the lost light that was the author’s childhood in Russia before Lenin. He has lovely asides to the reader: one directed to stockbrokers only, not regular readers, who might think he's grieving the loss of land and money, not the loss of his “unreal estate.”

Debra Monroe. Photo by Suzanne Reiss.

J. Sam Moore, former HTX board member, El Paso

Lapham's Quarterly 

Although not quite classed as a book, this handsome quarterly publication is limited to a single subject each quarter and is the most useful read I have encountered in decades. It is a finalist this year for a National Magazine of the Year award.

 J. Sam and Greta Moore.

Joe Nick Patoski, author of Big Bend National Park, Wimberley

Elmer Kelton, The Time it Never Rained

In light of the extreme drought that has been visited upon Texas, I suggest Elmer Kelton's The Time It Never Rained. It is a novel guided by the personal experience of the author, who was the Farm and Ranch editor for the San Angelo Standard Times during the historic drought of the 1950s. No one has captured the difficult, somewhat complicated relationship between humans, the land, and the elements so eloquently.

Joe Nick Patoski.

Monica Perales, assistant professor of history at the University of Houston and HTX board member

Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

An amazing—and often heartbreaking—true story about race, science and medicine, and power in America.

Linda Gordon, Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits

A fascinating look into the life and times of one of the most important documentary photographers of the Great Depression.

Monica Perales.

Hermine Pinson, poet and associate professor of English at the College of William and Mary

Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower

I would recommend Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, a dystopian tale of a young girl who comes of age at a time when the world as she knows it is literally collapsing into chaos, and, with a few seeds, a strong spiritual foundation, and a strong will to survive, she leads a multicultural cast of believers and nonbelievers to safety and a new way of knowing.

Hermine Pinson. Photo by Lynda Koolish.

Victoria Ramirez, W. T. and Louise J. Moran Education Director, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

We are excited to feature two novels for our Summer 2011 Online Book Club. The novels are compelling, but different as night and day, with significant thematic and artistic parallels to the museum’s American/European fin-de-siècle and Belle Époque and sub-Saharan African art collections:

Susan Vreeland, Clara and Mr. Tiffany

In 2005, art historians were astonished when previously unknown correspondence revealed that the exquisite stained glass lamps attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany were most likely conceived and designed by Clara Driscoll, one of the “Tiffany girls” who labored anonymously in Tiffany workrooms in New York City. It was workers like Clara who created the lamps, vases, and windows—including the spectacular window permanently installed in the MFAH’s Audrey Jones Beck Building, A Wooded Landscape in Three Panels—that were Tiffany’s signature styles.

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart tells two intertwining stories, both centering on Okonkwo, the self-made leader of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first, a modern fable of the age-old conflict between the individual and society, traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace. The second, as modern as the first is ancient, follows the impact of European missionaries on the traditions of the Ibo culture—many of which are richly depicted in the MFAH galleries of sub-Saharan African art.

Book Club Tours for these books begin in June and will be offered through September 30, 2011. (Tours for previous Book Club selections may be arranged, as well!)

Victoria Ramirez.

Raúl Ramos, associate professor of history at the University of Houston

David Montejano, Quixote’s Children: A Local History of the Chicano Movement, 1966–1981

I'd like to recommend David Montejano's recent book, Quixote’s Children: A Local History of the Chicano Movement, 1966–1981. In it, Montejano vividly reconstructs the energy and ambition of the youth movement in San Antonio. He reveals the deep impact of that political shift on the entire city and on lives of countless individuals.

Raúl Ramos.

Barbara Ras, poet and director of Trinity University Press, San Antonio

John D’Agata, About a Mountain

D'Agata focuses on the stupefyingly bad idea of storing nuclear waste inside Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, while interweaving narratives that layer the book the way dreams stack in the movie Inception. Though nonfiction, some of D'Agata's reportage has a surreal cast, and About a Mountain contains information that reads like a (bad) dream, proving again and again the old saw that truth is stranger than—well, you know.

D’Agata creates a foolproof indictment against the Yucca Mountain storage plan by exposing the slippery and often misreported studies meant to clear the way for storing spent radioactive material in an unstable and insecure place using unproven methods. But he also writes about helping his mother make an improbable move to Las Vegas, about our government's most recent treachery visited upon the Shoshone Indians, about the iconography of Munch’s The Scream, and about politics at its slimiest and science at its greasiest. He portrays Las Vegas in its proud folly: a fantasyland dropped into a desert incapable of sustaining a metropolis that size, and a city that happens to have the highest suicide rate in the U.S. D’Agata investigates the overall reasons for this last bleak statistic, as well as the particular circumstances around the suicide of a high-school student whom the author may have spoken with before the boy leaped to his death from the top of the Stratosphere Hotel.

About a Mountain is a sobering and exhilarating book. Sobering because it reveals the limits that knowledge has on our behavior, exposing what’s inane and broken in our society, while portraying us, we who have so much information and use it so ineptly. About a Mountain is exhilarating because its writing is transcendent, lucid, and lyrical. In D'Agata's hands, the abundant statistics are almost musical. In the end, About a Mountain, like all original art, is impossible to describe adequately. My best advice is to buy the book and see for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

Barbara Ras.

Ellen Riojas Clark, professor of bilingual education at The University of Texas at San Antonio

Cristina García, The Lady Matador’s Hotel

This summer, pick a great, off-the-beaten-path, comfy-yet-lush hotel and take Cristina García’s latest book, The Lady Matador’s Hotel, for an imaginative and provocative read. With her usual style of mixing reality and the mysterious, set in a luxurious Central American hotel, García makes her wild cast of characters dance throughout a multifarious week. What brings them together? Passion, politics, volatile women, and bullfighting. It’s a small book, just over two hundred pages, but so filled with drama, excitement, color, vibrancy, and craftswomanship. Read it once for the exploration of the characters’ behaviors, another time to enjoy García’s wonderful writing, then for her subtle humor, and one more time to contemplate the age-old esoteric question: Who am I and what should I do with this life? “I” is Suki Palacios, a Japanese Mexican American matador from California, who, before her bloody afternoon, performs passionately and superstitiously in a taurino ritual as she speculates about her life. Oops, and how can I forget a left-wing assassination attempt, black-market adoptions, a civil war, and the battle of the lady matadors in the Americas. I am ready for Cristina García’s haunting saga to be turned into an epic movie.

Ellen Riojas Clark.

R. Todd Romero, assistant professor of history and director of technology and library services at the University of Houston

Henning Mankell, The Troubled Man

Over the last few years I have been reading a bunch of crime fiction and I tend to burn through a series of novels by a single author from beginning to end. My current favorite is the “Wallander” series by the Swedish writer Henning Mankell, most recently The Troubled Man. I am particularly drawn to the main character, Inspector Kurt Wallander, because he seems very real to me: a well-meaning man who is always missing key connections or misunderstanding the people whom he loves most. More strikingly, Mankell uses the crimes that Wallander obsessively seeks to solve—murder, violence against immigrants, and sex trafficking, among others—to explore how far Swedish society has drifted from its highest ideals. Wallander has seen it all but also marvels at how violent and chaotic Sweden has become. I cannot claim any special knowledge of Sweden, but, for me, the terrain that Mankell surveys resonates deeply with much in American life. Best of all, I have been able to return to some of the novels in another form, as the BBC has been kind enough to turn some of Mankell’s books into two seasons worth of episodes in the Inspector Wallander series which has aired on PBS and also is available on DVD.

R. Todd Romero.

Ricardo Romo, president of The University of Texas at San Antonio and HTX board member

Soledad O’Brien, Latino in America

In Latino in America, Soledad O’Brien takes us on an interesting journey across this vast country as she explores the many facets of Latino society and culture. Recent census figures show that the Latino population grew by 43 percent in the last decade, surpassing the fifty million mark. Once considered an invisible minority, Latinos now represent 20 percent of the nation’s K–12 students. O’Brien is a superb storyteller, and her many insights are compelling, if not refreshing.

Ricardo Romo.

René Saldaña Jr., author and professor of education at Texas Tech University, Lubbock

Martin W. Sandler, The Dust Bowl Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Helped Remedy a National Disaster

I'm reading Martin W. Sandler's The Dust Bowl Through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Helped Remedy a National Disaster. I'll be using it for a graduate-level adolescent literature class, and in addition to it being regionally relevant (I'm living in West Texas and teaching at Texas Tech) it is also very timely, as we are going through a dry spell like no other.

Karen Hesse, Out of the Dust

Couple it with Karen Hesse's classic novel in poetry, Out of the Dust, and you've got some awesome summer reading.

René Saldaña Jr.

Rebecca Sharpless, professor of history at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

If you’re interested in the writing process or in being a writer, I heartily recommend Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (Anchor Press, 1995). Lamott is funny, profane, and profound, sometimes all at the same time, as she offers up the advice she assembled in years of teaching writing workshops. My students find her instructions to be both concretely helpful (you don’t have to write an entire book in an afternoon; you just have to write what you can see through a one-inch picture frame) and psychologically right on (“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do”). The only problem is reading it at night, because you’ll wake up your partner, shaking the bed with your laughter. But the instructions—on both writing and on life—will stay with you long after you finish the book.

Rebecca Sharpless.

Max Sherman, former dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, Austin

Jay Silverman, Elaine Hughes, and Diana Roberts Wienbroer, Third Edition of Rules of Thumb, A Guide for Writers

My 2011 recommendation is an unusual one. Recently a friend asked me to recommend a book about writing. I loaned her a copy of my Third Edition of Rules of Thumb, A Guide for Writers, McGraw-Hill, Inc., by Jay Silverman, Elaine Hughes, and Diana Roberts Wienbroer (upon checking, the book is now into the eighth edition). Upon return of the book I rediscovered Part IV: "Writing with Elegance," which has given me a renewed appreciation of reading good writing.

Max Sherman. Photo courtesy of the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Ellen C. Temple, Lufkin civic leader and HTX board alumni co-chair

Judith N. McArthur and Harold L. Smith, Texas Through Women’s Eyes: the Twentieth Century Experience

I’d recommend Texas Through Women’s Eyes: the Twentieth Century Experience by Judith N. McArthur and Harold L. Smith, published by University of Texas Press, 2010. Not only is it my “go-to reference book” for all things about Texas women's history in the past century, but it is also a great read. The book is a breakthrough work of impeccable scholarship and excellent writing. It recommends many topics for further research and writing in a field that we have barely tapped. I enjoyed every word.

Ellen C. Temple. Photo courtesy Jean Johnson, The University of Texas at Austin.

Sergio Troncoso, author of From this Wicked Patch of Dust, El Paso

Sarah Cortez, ed. You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens

I recommend You Don't Have A Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens. It just came out this month, and I have a story in there, entitled “Nuts.” This anthology received great reviews.

Sergio Troncoso.

William M. Tsutsui, dean and professor of history at the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, Southern Methodist University, Dallas

John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

John Dower's Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the American occupation of Japan (1945–1952) is every inch the classic: rich in detail, sensitive to the little ironies of history, aware that what didn't happen can sometimes be more revealing than what did. In the wake of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis of March 2011, Dower's retelling of Japan's turbulent revival from the devastation (and humiliation) of World War II is very timely indeed. Embracing Defeat reminds us that recovering from trauma is never an easy, linear process, even for a nation with the formidable cultural resilience (and unenviable history of catastrophes) of Japan.

William M. Tsutsui.

Ron Tyler, author and former director of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth

Jim Dent, Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football

Jim Dent's Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football is perfect summer fare. Dent, who also wrote about "Bear" Bryant's now-famous preseason training for the 1954 Texas A&M Aggies in The Junction Boys, tells the unbelievable story of the courageous orphans who made up the Fort Worth Masonic Home football team, which dominated Texas high school football during the 1930s, when they were able to compete against opponents from much larger schools in Fort Worth as well as Highland Park, Wichita Falls, Lubbock, and Amarillo. Dent slips into caricature when discussing some of the Fort Worth legends (Amon Carter, et al.), but the story of the gutsy, rag-tag orphans is an inspiring one. Some of the boys were good enough to play pro football, and Dent satisfies the reader's curiosity by quickly tracing their careers as he closes the book. Their coach, Rusty Russell, is generally credited with creating the spread offense, so popular today. He left the Masonic Home to coach at Highland Park and, later, at Southern Methodist University.

Louis Auchincloss, A Voice from Old New York: A Memoir of My Youth

I followed that with Louis Auchincloss's small volume of memoirs, A Voice from Old New York: A Memoir of My Youth, for a completely different kind of book and person, but an equally light read. Unlike the orphans, Auchincloss was born into society and wealth, tracing his family on all sides through generations of New York and European society. The result is, inevitably, I suppose, a name-dropping experience, and it is clear that Auchincloss was quite comfortable in his own skin.

Ron Tyler.

Chase Untermeyer, former U.S. ambassador to Qatar and HTX board member, Houston

Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich

What I recommend is what I'm currently re-reading, Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer. It's the chilling tale of how a young architect fell in with Adolf Hitler, not because of ideological or racial views but because Hitler (who loved architecture and drawing) offered him the chance to build great structures and grand avenues. It is a modern Faust story.

Chase Untermeyer.

Mark Updegrove, director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Austin

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

I resolved many years back to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird every few years— and, of course, haven't till now. Upon reading it, I'm reminded that while I've changed since I last read it, it hasn't. It's a timeless reminder of the importance of character; we should all be a little more like Atticus Finch.

Mark Updegrove.

Abraham Verghese, senior associate chair and professor of the theory and practice of medicine at Stanford University, and former HTX board member

Stephen Harrigan, Remember Ben Clayton

I have not yet finished the book, but it is the kind of book where the writing is so fine that I am not wanting to race through it. I am a fan of Harrigan's writing after The Gates of the Alamo, which was also so beautiful.

Abraham Verghese.

Mary L. Volcansek, professor of political science at Texas Christian University and HTX board chair, Fort Worth

My summer reading recommendations are both by Central European authors:

Stefan Sweig, Beware of Pity and The Post Office Girl

The first is a cautionary tale about an Austro-Hungarian army officer's romance with an emotionally impaired young woman, and the second chronicles the life of a young woman struggling in postwar Austria.

Hans Keilson, Comedy in a Minor Key and Death of the Adversary

Hans Keilson wrote two masterful volumes about life under the Nazis. Comedy in a Minor Key follows a Dutch couple that harbors a Jewish refugee in their home. While the story is not uncommon, Keilson's rendering of it is anything but common, and his prose reads at times like poetry. His Death of the Adversary represents the haunting emotions and feelings that the rise of “B,” presumably Hitler, evokes in a young man coming of age as Hitler comes to power in Germany.

Mary L. Volcansek.

Jennifer L. Weber, assistant professor of history at the University of Kansas

Margaret S. Creighton, The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Hidden History

July brings with it the anniversary of the battle at Gettysburg. As the bloodiest fight in American history (fifty-one thousand casualties), the battle has rightly received enormous attention over the years. The town and the townspeople, however, have not. In The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg's Forgotten History, Margaret Creighton explores what happened to the people of Gettysburg in the days before, during, and after the battle. Her accounts of what happened to the residents of the community during the battle are nothing short of terrifying. Equally compelling, though, is her discussion of what happened to Gettysburg after the armies pulled out. How does a small town deal with thousands of dead bodies, human and animal? By the time Abraham Lincoln arrived to help dedicate the cemetery, many of the dead still had not been found and relocated there. And the wounded? Nearly every house became a hospital. Creighton's decision to focus on the “forgotten” people of Gettysburg—women, immigrants, and African Americans— has produced a fascinating and previously untold story.

Jennifer L. Weber.

Diana Welch, author of The Kids are All Right, Austin

Cookie Mueller, Ask Dr. Mueller: The Writings of Cookie Mueller

Cookie Mueller is mostly known for being photographed by Nan Goldin and filmed by John Waters, but her writing is where we can experience her true power. Whether as an art critic for Details or a health columnist for a now-defunct New York weekly, Mueller always told it like it was. The most complete collection of her work, Ask Dr. Mueller holds the secrets to living life to its fullest—no fear, no hate, and above all, no rules. Once you read this, I guarantee you'll have the same reaction I did: You'll wish you were lucky enough to have known this woman.

Diana Welch.

William P. Wright, author, photographer, Abilene civic leader, and HTX board alumni co-chair

Tom Standage, A History of the World in 6 Glasses

I recently finished a charming book entitled A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage. It is now available on Kindle/iPad, which is where I read it. Standage divides history by each era’s prevalent beverage. He begins with beer in Mesopotamia and Egypt, introduces us to wine during the florescence of Greece and Rome, and discusses the role of spirits in the development of sea power and colonial America. Coffee makes its appearance during the Age of Reason, and tea powers the British Empire. Finally, to no one's surprise, our age, the age of globalization, belongs to Coca Cola. Even a person with no interest in world history will find the book wonderfully readable and certainly informative. If all history books were written with this humor and interest, we would all be historians.

William P. Wright.

Gwendolyn Zepeda, author of Houston, We Have a Problema, Houston

Various authors, The Paris Review Book of People with Problems

To me, the best books for carrying around in summer are old, paperback short story anthologies. You can read them in short bursts without getting lost. You can take them to the beach and not feel too bad about getting them sandy. The Paris Review does good ones, and this is one of my favorites.

Gwendolyn Zepeda.