Whether you're looking for an engrossing novel, a fascinating historical read, or something else entirely, we hope you'll discover a few new books to while away the summer days in our annual summer reading issue. As in previous years, we have invited friends and board members of Humanities Texas to recommend summer readings in the humanities. The result is a wide-ranging list, encompassing fiction and nonfiction both new and old.

Mary Cassatt, Nurse Reading to a Little Girl, 1895.

Armando C. Alonzo, associate professor of history at Texas A&M University

Richard W. Slatta, Cowboys of the Americas

I recommend this book for summer reading for those interested in the history of cowboys. It is a very readable and informative comparative study of cowboys from Latin America to Canada. It examines their work, culture, recreation, and role in myth, literature, and popular culture. The book is very well illustrated with paintings, drawings, and other print media material.

Armando Alonzo leads a workshop in Fort Worth

Armando C. Alonzo.

Shana Bernstein, associate professor of history at Southwestern University

Nancy Langston, Toxic Bodies: Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES

This readable and gripping account tells the history of diethylstilbestrol (DES), the first synthetic chemical to be marketed as estrogen and one of the first to be identified as a hormone disruptor (a chemical that mimics hormones). The U.S. government failed to regulate it even though researchers knew that it caused cancer and disrupted sexual development. It instead has used scientific uncertainty to delay regulation, and, consequently, these chemicals are everywhere in our bodies and ecosystems. Doctors prescribed it for millions of women, initially for menopause and then for miscarriage, and farmers gave the hormone to cattle to promote rapid weight gain. The residues of DES and other chemicals in our food supply are changing human, livestock, and wildlife ecosystems in frightening ways. The book argues that the FDA must regulate such common synthetic chemicals, extending the discussion to contemporary chemical use like that of BPA (Bisphenol A).

Shana Bernstein.

Philip C. Bobbitt, distinguished senior lecturer in law at The University of Texas at Austin

Louis Begley, Schmidt Steps Back

This is a remarkably intelligent work, witty, allusive, and utterly charming and wise.

Philip C. Bobbitt. Photo by Rick Patrick.

Valerie Bridgeman, associate professor of Hebrew Bible, homiletics, and worship at Lancaster Theological Seminary

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

From School Library Journal: "In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and twelve districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in the Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the twenty-four participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When sixteen-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place."

Toni Morrison, Home

From PBS: "In her new novel, Home, author Toni Morrison tells the story of a soldier, Frank Money, who joins the Army—absorbing the atrocities of war—and then returns home after his service in the Korean War only to be greeted with both the institutional and casual realities of daily prejudice."

Valerie Bridgeman.

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

Rainn Wilson with Devon Gundry, Golriz Lucina, and Shabnam Mogharabi, SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions. Speak Your Mind. Unload Your Questions. Figure Out What It Means to be Human

Combine eye-popping art and journal-like activities with thought-provoking questions about philosophy, spirituality, love, truth, technology, and such, and put it in a book, and you have SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions. Speak Your Mind. Unload Your Questions. Figure Out What It Means to be Human. This heart-mind-and-soul-bending compilation is the brainchild of Rainn Wilson and his co-creators Devon Gundry, Golriz Lucina, and Shabnam Mogharabi. Wilson, better known for his role on the TV show The Office than he is for being an author, patterned the book after his website Part of his goal is to take philosophy, spirituality, and art out of traditional classrooms, galleries, and religious institutions and give it back to everyday people to create meaningful discussions.

Success? Yes! One of my high school humanities students introduced this book to our class this past school year, and the energized debates were the highlight of the course. Suggestion: You don’t have to be an inquisitive teenager to enjoy SoulPancake. Pull it out at a family gathering and generate a discussion about one of the 180 "Life’s Big Questions." Or relish a moment of solitude and ponder, "What is the purpose of your life?"

Shirlene Bridgewater.

Norma E. Cantú, professor of English and U.S. Latina/o literatures at The University of Texas at San Antonio and former Humanities Texas board member

Carolina de Robertis, Perla, and Max Holland, Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat

I just read Perla by Carolina de Robertis, and I think it is perfect for summer reading as it weaves intrigue and history into a moving story of love and a search for truth. Set in a Buenos Aires still deeply enmeshed in the aftermath of the dirty wars, where desaparecidos still haunt families, and written in clear evocative prose, Perla stayed in my mind long after I had read the last sentence. If you are not drawn to fiction, then Max Holland’s Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat fits the bill with its incisive and thoroughly researched backstory of the Watergate scandal and its aftermath.

Norma E. Cantú.

Larry D. Carver, director of the Liberal Arts Honors Program at The University of Texas at Austin and Humanities Texas board member

Andrew Delbanco, College:  What It Was, Is, and Should Be

Delbanco quotes the then-president of Barnard College, Judith Shapiro, talking to a group of young people about what they should expect from college: "'You want the inside of your head to be an interesting place to spend the rest of your life.'" This is a wonderfully concise definition of a liberal education. Delbanco, sensing that such an education is threatened, provides an illuminating history of higher education in the United States and an elegant defense of liberal learning.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

In a letter to his favorite niece, Sofya Ivanova (January 13, 1868), Dostoevsky wrote: "The main idea of the novel is to portray a positively beautiful man. There is nothing more difficult in the world and especially now. All writers, not only ours, but even all European writers, who have merely attempted to portray the positively beautiful, have always given up. Because the task is immeasurable. The beautiful is an ideal, but this ideal, whether ours or that of civilized Europe, is still far from being worked out." Later in the same letter, he writes, "I'm terribly afraid it will be a positive failure." It is not—a must read.

Larry D. Carver.

Ernesto Chávez, associate professor of history at The University of Texas at El Paso

Nayan Shah, Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality, and Law in the North American West

This summer I look forward to reading Nayan Shah's new book Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality, and Law in the North American West. Shah's study focuses on the heterogeneous populations that migrated to the West and the forces—both legal and social—that attempted to contain them. His book makes clear everyday people's ability to combat these structures and in so doing establish new forms of belonging that transcend borders, both physical and metaphorical. Nayan Shah imagines a different kind of past that has the potential to help us envision a more emancipatory future.

Ernesto Chávez.

Yolanda Chávez Leyva, associate professor of history at The University of Texas at El Paso

Luis Alberto Urrea, The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America

In 1892, Teresa Urrea (la Santa de Cabora) moved to the United States at age nineteen, exiled by Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz, who called her the "most dangerous girl in Mexico." The story of her life, albeit a brief thirty-three years, is intriguing as she moves from living as a poor indigenous girl to a privileged life as the daughter of a large landowner, to beloved healer and folk saint, newspaper editor, beauty queen, and spokesperson for a pharmaceutical company. Award-winning author Luis Alberto Urrea has written two historical novels based on the life of his great aunt. Both are beautifully written and engaging. The Hummingbird’s Daughter follows her life as a child in the Mexican North through her teenage years when she begins fully to develop her powers as a healer and her reputation, especially among native peoples. The story is mystical, poetic, and filled with everyday miracles. Queen of America picks up Teresita’s story as she begins life in the United States, experiencing places as distinct as El Paso, San Francisco, and New York. Both novels are lengthy: each is almost five hundred pages. They are each, however, the kind of book that you never want to end.

Yolanda Chávez Leyva.

Stephanie Cole, associate professor of history at The University of Texas at Arlington

Marge Piercy, Sex Wars

One of my favorite historical novels is Sex Wars by Marge Piercy. Piercy (known for her great historical novel on World War II, Gone to Soldiers) researches intensively and captures her characters in memorable ways. Sex Wars focuses on the lives of Victoria Woodhull, Anthony Comstock, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in New York City during the Gilded Age. Though I would never recommend assigning this book to high school students, I regularly recommend it to fellow adults for its superior explanation of the politics of gender and sexuality in the era just after Reconstruction, when Congress denied women rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Do take the "R rating" for adult content seriously: Woodhull and her sister in fact started the first brokerage house owned by women, but they were not tame characters (think "free love") and Piercy has some provocative (and not-based-in-fact) theories about why Comstock pursued the prudish policies he did. Read—and enjoy—at your own risk!

Stephanie Cole.

John W. Crain, president of the Summerlee Foundation

Robert Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

Robert Caro's book, The Passage of Power, is a truly great work. The contrast between the VP years and the ongoing fight with Robert Kennedy versus the Presidential years are unbelievable. Fortunately, Bill Clinton's review is on point. At any rate, it is an incredible book.

Hakan Nesser, the Inspector Van Veeteren Mystery series

My other book is a Swedish detective novel written by Hakan Nesser. Its main character is Van Veeteren, a detective who relies on psychology to solve crimes. It is an escape from reality—just what most of us need during the summer.

John W. Crain.

Nan Cuba, assistant professor of English at Our Lady of the Lake University

Laura Furman, The Mother Who Stayed: Stories

Laura Furman, former Susan Taylor McDaniel Regents Professor of Creative Writing at The University of Texas at Austin, has produced a stunning new collection, The Mother Who Stayed. The nine-story structure is an obvious fragmentation, but one with embedded patterns: each of the three narrative triptychs has a recurring female character.

First is Rachel, whose stories are imbued with longing since she was a teenager when her mother died. In "The Thief," adult Rachel mentions her mother’s death and then remembers being falsely accused three years after that of stealing a string of pearls. Following an interrogation by the owner's insurance agent, she stood in the apartment building's lobby, watching the agent waiting for the elevator. Rachel recalls: "I waited also, hoping that when the elevator doors parted, someone I loved would emerge, walk straight past Mr. Martino and across the lobby to embrace me. When the elevator came, I turned and left the building, out onto Eighty-Sixth Street and into the rest of my life." A child alone, accused: is there any question about the quality of those subsequent years?

The second trio of stories revolves around a pretty, narcissistic writer, Marian Foster Todd, who is an incarnation of Katherine Anne Porter. The stories are not only intriguing because of their associations with Porter; they interact like a sonata’s thematic variations, building on and reflecting each other. Secrets are revealed, a Texas literary icon is paid tribute, and four female characterizations adeptly reflect the complexity of human fallibility.

The third and final three stories are about Dinah, who was abandoned by her mother as a girl, and in the title story, is a recent widow. Never knowing why her mother left, Dinah longs for a connection to the author of a set of 1874 diaries she's discovered. In interviews, Furman has said that her inspiration was several diaries she found in her own attic. Mother and daughter relationships are an obvious thematic concern in this book. But time is the real subject. Besides the diary entries, there are historical reports, research discoveries, and Dinah, like an archaeologist, uncovering the remains of the diary writer’s house.

Nan Cuba.

Light T. Cummins, Bryan Professor of History at Austin College, former State Historian of Texas, and former Humanities Texas board member

Stephen Harrigan, Remember Ben Clayton

I grew up in the Olmos Park and Alamo Heights areas of San Antonio in the decades after World War II. As such, it was my good fortune to have personally encountered the then elderly Alamo City sculptor Pompeo Coppini, who was a fixture of the suburban neighborhoods of my childhood, and to have known for a much longer period of time his younger protégé Waldine Tauch, a friend of my family, especially my aunt. Pompeo Coppini was truly a colorful person, and Stephen Harrigan’s 1984 Texas Monthly article "Coppini the Great" remains the best biographical treatment ever published about the famous San Antonio sculptor. Now, over a quarter century after that magazine piece, Remember Ben Clayton, also by Stephen Harrigan, presents in the form of a novel the fictionalized treatment of a famous chapter from Coppini's real-life artistic career. Given my interest in Coppini and Tauch, I could hardly wait to read it and was not disappointed when I finished it in one long session. This fine book is loosely based on the historical story of the Charles H. Noyes statue located in Ballinger, Texas. In the actual crafting of the 1919 Noyes statue and in the fiction of the book, a headstrong and accomplished sculptor works with the despondent and wealthy father of a fallen son to memorialize the young man's memory with a life-sized sculpture. The historical youth, Charles Noyes, died in a horseback riding accident on the family ranch in West Texas, while in Harrigan's novel the son, Ben Clayton, fell as a casualty in the trenches of World War I. The fictional sculptor, Gil Gilheaney, reflects much of Coppini's personality while the artist’s daughter in the novel is mostly based on the real Waldine Tauch. All of the characters in the book capture both the ethos of the time and the subtle interplay that can exist between people of action and people of art. Harrigan skillfully blends the realities of actual history into the development of his novel, creating in the process one of the most memorable characters to be found in recent Texas fiction—the grief-stricken father Lamar Clayton. As a literary character, Lamar Clayton embodies profound complexities and very human emotions in coming to terms with his son's death, harbors deep secrets, and operates within the codes of the west Texas ranch country in ways that make him the full equal of Charlie Flagg, the iconic rancher in Elmer Kelton's The Time It Never Rained. This very pleasing novel, Remember Ben Clayton, contains many universal truths, all of which are presented to the reader in Texas trappings.

Light T. Cummins.

Gregory Curtis, author, Austin

Patrick Hamilton, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Hamilton wrote two plays called Rope and Gaslight, which were filmed by Alfred Hitchcock and George Cukor, respectively. These plays made Hamilton wealthy, but you would never know it from reading his novels. He writes about people clinging at the edge of society, desperate and unlucky people who seem to be slowly losing in a struggle against their own doom. At the same time, these characters are full of life, full of schemes and hopes and deep, complicated emotions. The main characters in Twenty Thousand Streets are named Bob, Jenny, and Ella. Bob is a waiter at a London pub. He is in love with the very pretty Jenny, who is a prostitute. Ella, a plain but witty and sensible girl, is the bartender at the pub and is in love with Bob. Bob dreams of rising in the world and carefully saves his salary for the publications he thinks will help him. Ella wants a home and a family. Jenny wants money the easy way. Out of this very basic, even clichéd situation comes a vivid novel that is full of surprises, of humor, and of suspense as we see how those dreams are either thwarted or, what can be worse, fulfilled.

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 Humanities Texas board member

Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention

Rightfully chosen by the New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2011. A work of enormous importance by a biographer whose intellectual role model was the famed Harvard scholar, NAACP founder, and crusader for American democracy W. E. B. Du Bois.

Maceo C. Dailey Jr.

Steven L. Davis, curator at The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University-San Marcos

Stephen King, 11/22/63

Stephen King may not be everyone's idea of a serious writer, but he has produced a serious book. 11/22/63 is a meticulously researched, deeply satisfying novel that focuses less on JFK and more on the story of King's protagonist, thirty-five year-old high school English teacher Jake Epping, who goes back in time to try to prevent Kennedy's assassination. But the past, as Epping comes to realize, is obdurate. King is a master of horror, and a pronounced evil lurks at the heart of 11/22/63. King has infiltrated Lee Harvey Oswald's mind, deftly exposing the ordinariness of the assassin's misanthropy. This "banality of evil," as Hannah Arendt has described it, is precisely what makes Oswald so terrifying. And he's not the only murderous person in the book. One of the unexpected pleasures of King's novel is seeing his genuine warmth for Texas, particularly small-town Texas. The novel doesn’t shy away from the problems of the time, including racism, but King manages to create something that few Northeastern writers have ever managed: an optimistic yet believable portrait of the state.

Steven L. Davis.

Jesús F. de la Teja, Regents and University Distinguished Professor of History at Texas State University-San Marcos, former State Historian of Texas, and Humanities Texas board member

Patrick O’Brian, the Aubrey-Maturin series

As I did last year, I want to recommend a historical fiction series, this time the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O’Brian. Some readers may be familiar with the Russell Crowe film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, which takes material from a handful of the twenty novels (O’Brian was at work on a twenty-first entry in the series when he died) that make up the series. Set in the early nineteenth century, the first novel, Master and Commander, begins sometime after the battle of Trafalgar and introduces us to "Lucky" Jack Aubrey, a British naval commander who in the course of the novels will be promoted, broken, decommissioned, rehabilitated, and wounded more times than one could think possible. Accompanying him on the adventures, which, like the British empire of the time, spanned the globe, is the Irish-Catalan physician, naturalist, and secret agent Stephen Maturin. Subsequent novels are also set against the backdrop of the War of 1812 and the Spanish American wars of independence. The great strength of the series is the very complexity of characters, situations, and events that O’Brian throws at the reader. While some of the material is necessarily didactic, the author often allows the audience a generous portion of intelligence, particularly when it comes to matters nautical. He is also respectful of the times and peoples he writes about: the British are not paragons of virtue, truth, and justice, the French aren’t all deceitful megalomaniacs, and the Spanish aren’t simply incompetent fools. Tackling these novels is a challenge, and they won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for anyone interested in the world as it was when (and why) Britannia did rule the waves, you can’t do better than following Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin on their adventures.

Jesús F. de la Teja.

Crista DeLuzio, associate professor of history at Southern Methodist University

Nigel Slater, Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch

For all those who cultivate home gardens, have ever dreamed of cultivating a home garden, or just love cooking and eating vegetables, I recommend Tender: A Cook and his Vegetable Patch. British food writer Nigel Slater writes with gentle wonder about tending his London garden and preparing his bounty for the table. Each vegetable entry—from asparagus to zucchini—offers a mix of lush description, gardening advice, cooking tips, and recipes. The color photographs of Slater’s yield—in the garden and on the plate—are luscious. While it is a long way from Slater's wet and cool London plot to my own dry and hot one in Dallas, I turn to this book for information and inspiration in all seasons. It abounds with lessons in the arts of coaxing, waiting, and savoring that are essential for every gardener and cook, accomplished and aspirational alike.

Crista DeLuzio.

Keith Erekson, assistant professor of history at The University of Texas at El Paso

Keith Erekson (editor), Politics and the History Curriculum: The Struggle over Standards in Texas and the Nation

The politicians and pastors who revised the Texas social studies standards made national and international headlines. However, much of that coverage was sensational and squeezed the process into a narrow "culture war" storyline. Politics and the History Curriculum sets the debate over the Texas standards within a broader context by exploring the tangled and powerful mixture of politics, religion, media, and education. This volume provides a clear analysis of what happened and why, along with sensible recommendations for teachers and policy makers.

Keith Erekson.

Steven Fenberg, author and community affairs officer at the Houston Endowment

Stephen Prothero, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World

This book provides basic, useful, and enlightening information about the world's prominent and influential religions.

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

Burrough offers an entertaining look at the influence four Texans had on history, culture, the state, and the nation. 

Jordan Schwarz, The New Dealers: Power Politics in the Age of Roosevelt

In this volume, Schwarz tells about the people who saved capitalism and transformed the United States during the New Deal.

Steven Fenberg.

Carlos Nicolás Flores, author and producer of the Teatro Chicano de Laredo

Andrei Makine, Life of an Unknown Man

Andrei Makine’s Life of an Unknown Man, a profoundly moving novel about the triumph of love against overwhelming odds during the Nazis' siege of Leningrad, is one of the great literary works of our time.

Carlos Nicolás Flores.

Ignacio M. García, Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr. Professor of Western and Latino History at Brigham Young University

Ignacio M. García, United We Win: The Rise and Fall of La Raza Unida Party

I would like to recommend the first book that I wrote as a history scholar, United We Win: The Rise and Fall of La Raza Unida Party. While I know it is presumptuous to recommend one's own book, I do so because recently I had to read it again for a larger work I'm doing, and rediscovered what it is to write with passion. Other works, possibly better, have come out on the topic but mine remains in my own mind the most passionate and the one that best describes the feelings of everyday people that arose during the Chicano Movement in Texas.

Ignacio M. García.

Suzan Glickman, Houston civic leader

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

One of my favorites is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. It is the story of the occupation of the Guernsey Islands in World War II. The Guernsey Islands were very important to the Germans because the islands enabled the Luftwaffe to fly night bombing raids over London. The book shows the strength and stamina of the British to undermine the German's plans. You will also learn about the Todt and what Hitler thought of his people.

Suzan Glickman.

Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, professor of English at The University of Texas at Austin

Voltaire, Candide; Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent; and Graham Greene, The Fallen Idol and The Third Man

I plan to reread some oldies, and here are the four I've chosen for the first three weeks: Voltaire's Candide, Conrad's The Secret Agent, and Greene's The Fallen Idol and The Third Man. The rest of the summer, I'll be reading at two German universities and teaching creative writing (Graz Universität). No idea what I'll find there.

Rolando Hinojosa-Smith.

Joseph O. Jewell, associate professor of sociology at Texas A&M University and Humanities Texas board member

Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic

This is a beautiful, lyrically written novel about the experience of the Issei (first-generation) Japanese immigrants to the U.S. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Otsuka tells this story through the collective impressions of a group of "picture brides" who travel from Japan to meet their husbands and begin new lives in California. In doing so, she explores the inner lives of women who were too often rendered silent in the historical record. The storytelling technique is especially intriguing—I think of it as a literary version of what historical researchers call "collective biography," in which we tell the story of a group of historical actors by looking at the similarities and differences in their experiences. If you are are a descendant of people who immigrated to or migrated within the U.S. in hope of a better life, there is much here that will put you in touch with those who made the difficult journey.


Joseph Oscar Jewell.

Joseph O. Jewell.

John Kerr, author, businessman, San Antonio civic leader, and Humanities Texas board member

Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes

This is a fascinating and very well-written family memoir in which the author, a world-renowned ceramist in England, traces the history of his forebears, the Ephrussi family, one of Europe's most prominent Jewish banking dynasties in the nineteenth century, from their origins in Odessa in Russia, to Paris and Vienna, where the family fortune is ultimately destroyed by the Nazis following the Anschluss. De Waal is entrusted with a collection of rare Japanese netsuke (miniatures carved in wood or ivory) collected by his great-great uncle in Paris and passed down to his great grandmother in Vienna, which provides a leitmotif for the story. It's a rich retelling of family history with a very keen eye for fine art, objets d'art, and architecture as well as the increasing prejudice against prominent Jews in Austria in the decades before the Nazis’ rise to power.

John Kerr.

Wright L. Lassiter Jr., chancellor of the Dallas Community College District and former Humanities Texas board member

Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power

This book shows how LBJ went from being a powerful Senate majority leader who felt very much in charge, to a vice president who was largely relegated and disdained, and then, in an instant, to the leader of the Western world.

James McPherson, Tried by War

Tried by War interestingly takes on the subject of Lincoln as commander-in-chief.

John Graves, Goodbye to a River

Goodbye to a River provides an interesting context and vantage point for the broad scope of Texas natural history.

Brendon Burchard, The Charge

The author argues that the only way to measurably improve the quality of your life is to learn how to activate the very ten drives that make you most human. The drives are more control, competence, congruence, caring, connection, change, challenge, creative expression, contribution, and consciousness.

Wright L. Lassiter Jr.

Frances Leonard, founding director of the Texas Humanities Resource Center

Paula McLain, The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife, a novel by Paula McLain, stands like a mirror reflection of Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, in the same way that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead mirrors Shakespeare's Hamlet. Hadley Richardson narrates her experience as the Paris wife, who stands by unknowingly and then helplessly as her friend Pauline Pfeiffer moves in upon the Hemingway marriage, displacing Hadley and baby Bumby, by cheering on the baser aspects of Hemingway's antagonistic feelings about writers who have helped him along the way. She recreates the harsh life of penniless expatriates in Paris, the holidays in Spain and Switzerland, and the hospitality of Gerald and Sara Murphy, who are savaged as "pilot fish" by Hemingway. This novel is not a payback for Hemingway's abandonment; rather, it is a loving and sorrowful reflection upon his overwhelming admixture of genius and anxiety.

Frances Leonard.

Alison Macor, author, Austin

Carole King, A Natural Woman

I recently started reading Carole King's new memoir, A Natural Woman. King's writing style is very similar to her songwriting: straightforward, introspective, and often funny. The chapters about her personal and professional collaboration with Gerry Goffin are particularly insightful and offer great context for the development of American popular music in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Alison Macor.

Manuel F. Medrano, professor of history at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Humanities Texas board member

Américo Paredes, Folklore and Culture on the Texas-Mexican Border

From the University of Texas Press: "In an illustrious career spanning over forty years, Américo Paredes has often set the standard for scholarship and writing in folklore and Chicano studies. . . . Paredes's books are widely known and easily available, but his scholarly articles are not so familiar or accessible. To bring them to a wider readership, [editor] Richard Bauman has selected eleven essays that eloquently represent the range and excellence of Paredes's work."

Manuel F. Medrano.

Virginia Mithoff, Houston civic leader and Humanities Texas board member

Junot Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The book I want to recommend is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. It's not new; it was published in 2007 and won that year's Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards. To quote the San Francisco Chronicle: "Genius. . . . A story of the American experience that is giddily glorious and hauntingly horrific. . . . [Díaz's] narration is a triumph of style and wit, moving along . . . the story with cracking, down-low humor, and at times expertly stunning us with heart-stabbing sentences." It may not be for everyone, bit I am captivated by it and will be looking for more books by Díaz.

Virginia Mithoff.

J. Sam Moore Jr., El Paso civic leader and former Humanities Texas board

James Shapiro, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? 

Shapiro is a noted Shakespeare scholar (he also wrote A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599). Professor Shapiro and myself both believe that William Shakespeare wrote his works and not such alternate Shakespeare authorship candidates such as the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and many others. I can also recommend Lapham's Quarterly, a prize-winning quarterly on many subjects.

J. Sam Moore Jr.

Judith Ortiz Cofer, author and Regents' and Franklin Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights

I am reading Joan Didion's two memoirs on the loss of her husband and daughter: The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. Her elegant writing on this most personal and difficult subject of the death of loved ones is helping me conceptualize my own memoir-in-progress, a project I am calling a cultural elegy, on the loss of my mother, who was the last close link I had to my native Puerto Rico.

Judith Ortiz Cofer.

James W. Pennebaker, Centennial Liberal Arts Professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin

Robert Caro, Master of the Senate

This is the third volume in Caro’s series on LBJ. It's ironic that I'm recommending this one rather than his new one, but this book provides a rich view of history, government, and human behavior.

James W. Pennebaker, The Secret Life of Prounouns: What Our Words Say About Us

This might be perceived as self-serving, but I found The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us to be quite interesting. Riveting really.

James W. Pennebaker.

Anthony Quiroz, professor of history at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Alexandra Robbins, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive after High School

About a year ago I read The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive after High School, by Alexandra Robbins. The author followed the lives of six high school students, each from a different state, for a year. By documenting these students' experiences and reactions to their lives and their peers, she offers the reader valuable insight into the social viper's nest often referred to as high school. Although the group names have changed from the "kickers" and "heads" of my day to "emos" and "indies" today, the social divisions remain and the unwritten rules of socialization still apply, enforced by the popular students and some faculty. The argument is simple enough: high school enforces homogeneity, and any behavior that falls outside the norm is shunned. But it is exactly that kind of independent thought and spirit that cause outsiders to succeed after graduation. This is a very quick, easy, and fun book to read. As a professor of history who teaches first-year students almost every semester, I found it helpful to be reminded of the reasons students bring "baggage" and "drama" with them as they enter the new world of university. I think, however, that this would be an interesting book for almost anyone. High school students would gain insight into their current situation. Parents of teens will be offered solace, and the general public will be educated about the waters in which today's students swim.

Anthony Quiroz.

Victoria Ramirez, W. T. & Louise J. Moran Education Director, and Jay Heuman, public programs coordinator, both at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

In the summer of 2012, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Book Club has selected two titles that, though written by British authors, are closely tied to the arts of Japan.

Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist of the Floating World

An aging artist is caught between two manifestations of Japan: the imperial movement that led his nation into World War II and the devastation of postwar Nagasaki. Ishiguro’s protagonist lives in a culture with strictly defined roles, and tries to reconcile "what is" with "what could be." The psychological repercussions are profound when it comes to actions that cannot be undone and of words spoken that cannot be unspoken. At the MFAH, tours will highlight works in the museum’s Arts of Japan Gallery and the highly anticipated exhibition Unrivalled Splendor: The Kimiko and John Powers Collection of Japanese Art (June 10 through September 23, 2012).

Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes

This is the true story of a collection of 264 netsuke—decorative Japanese toggles—inherited by the author. Originally designed as kimono accessories, these small, beautiful objects were enthusiastically collected in Paris at the turn of the twentieth century. Among the most ardent collectors was De Waal’s great-great-grandfather, the scion of a fabulously wealthy banking family and a great patron of the arts. De Waal follows the path of the collection throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, tracing the family’s struggles during World War II, when their once-legendary wealth is reduced to a few possessions, including the prized netsuke. At the MFAH, tours will focus on the passion to collect and philanthropy in the arts.

Book discussion guides (in PDF format) that link the books with art at the museum are available for download at Tours for individual readers or existing book clubs, will run from July through September 30.

Victoria Ramirez and Jay Heuman.

Elizabeth M. Richmond-Garza, director of the Program in Comparative Literature at The University of Texas at Austin

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Inspired by a decadent French novel and a notorious English serial killer, Oscar Wilde published The Picture of Dorian Gray in a magazine in the United States in 1890. Drawing on his own circle of friends, as well as the period's fascination for novels that fused science with fantasy, Wilde invites us into an elegant world of wit and style while opening a secret door into the attic where an unspeakable secret is stored. The novel pairs a smitten artist with an amoral aristocrat, each of whom becomes fascinated with a beautiful unattached young man. For the painter Basil Hallward,3 the story is an act of love and admiration. For Lord Henry Wotton, however, Dorian Gray is a scientific experiment in depravity. This dark tale of the double life is rendered all the more startling by its inclusion of a richly textured portrait of the double life of the city of London itself, from Sybil Vane's dingy theatre to Basil's fashionable studio. There may be something disturbing in the pleasure we take in reading a novel filled with such deception and destruction, but, as the locus of some of the most beloved Oscarisms, its power and charm are irresistible. As summer reading, one could not do better, and as Wilde himself encourages us: "There's only one way to get rid of temptation, and that's to yield to it."

Elizabeth M. Richmond-Garza.

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

Julia Alvarez, A Wedding in Haiti, and Dagoberto Gilb, Before the End, After the Beginning

I have the perfect summer reading sandwich for you. Grab a glass of tea with menta from your garden, settle into your hammock, and start reading. Dagoberto Gilb's exquisite book Before the End, After the Beginning can form the bread; read the first five short stories, then make a wonderful filling with Julia Alvarez's A Wedding in Haiti, and then the last five stories from Gilb's collection. Yummy! Warm your palate with these stories from their experiences of family, friends, and memories.

These two sandwich-size books are easy to hold and read; they are seductive, yet both are quite provocative. In my opinion, the styles of both books are unique yet different from the writers' previous books. They are both concise in their writing, raw with the emotions exposed, and their identities are divulged as they cross into different contextual settings. Gilb has always had that straightforward staccato articulation that sets a great rhythm and momentum, while Alvarez's use of detail or journalistic reflections gives us great visual descriptions that put us next to her as she moves along in her storytelling.

Because Gilb's short stories are so powerful in their simplicity, you need some time to breathe. Alvarez's descriptions of a friendship with a sister country she hardly knew gives you respite. Gilb's first story, "please, thank you," seems to be a personal account of his months of recovery and relearning after a debilitating stroke that also affected his writing hand. It is a forceful stream of thought written in lower case as Dago struggles with typing using one finger and the protagonist deals with the indignity of having to relearn everything after his stroke. Then, stories follow about bad friends, bad experiences, a lovely, sad birthday, and then, a coming-of-age story, "Uncle Rock," and his love for a young boy's mother. A relationship that embarrasses little Erick, magnifies his insecurities, and compounds his understanding of adults; so bona fide that even at our age it can still make us squirm. 

What I love about Julia Alvarez at this point in her life are her reflections on her personal life as she describes her present life crossing different types of borders as she goes from the Dominican Republic to Haiti with her husband, coping with her aging parents in the midst of Alzheimer’s, and assuming the role of madrina to a young Haitian couple. The book is so filling for it is written like a diary recounting all the adventures that take place surrounding the wedding, the young marriage, the coming of age of Piti, the groom and father, and all the people that flow in and out on a daily basis. And then, an earthquake in Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world, so horrific an event that a comment often heard, "We are thankful and we are in mourning," makes sense.

It could be called a travel book, but it is a story. As Alvarez puts it: "Like the Ancient Mariner, we feel compelled to tell the story over and over again. As a way to understand what happened." So descriptive, so real, so insightful, we are also thankful and we also mourn how people's lives are affected as we read and cross the same borders that Alvarez illustrates.

And now, before the end, Gilb's final five short stories, which explore the borders of the Southwest and Texas, of maleness, of feelings, of baseball and beautiful women, of tragedy and of hope, of Latino, Chicano, and U.S. culture, of limits and frontiers, and most of all, of reaching for the sun. The book is just like the photograph in the cover—a maguey—tall, spiky, succulent, and with all that is needed in life contained within. Put a slice in your sandwich or, better still, finish off with a shot of tequila or mescal. 

Ellen Riojas Clark.

Todd Romero, assistant professor of history at the University of Houston

Benjamin Black, Christine Falls and The Silver Swan

I am a crime fiction addict. Typically, I read a book series from beginning to end. This summer I started reading the novels of Benjamin Black, the pen name the Irish writer John Banville uses for his crime fiction. Thus far I have finished Christine Falls and should finish The Silver Swan shortly. While both books are populated by arresting characters, follow interesting plots, and convincingly evoke dour 1950s Dublin, I am especially struck by Black’s lyrical prose. I frequently find myself stopping to reread passages—marveling at the startling beauty of his writing. To date, there are six novels in the series. I suspect that I will be yearning for the publication of the seventh book by the end of this summer.

Todd Romero.

John Rumrich, professor of English at The University of Texas at Austin

Patrick O’Brian, HMS Surprise

I recommend HMS Surprise by Patrick O'Brian. It's part of a series of historical novels concerning the Royal Navy in the era of the Napoleon. (The recent film Master and Commander was based on them.) The novels tell the story of a friendship more than anything else—between Jack Aubrey, a naval captain of great prowess as a sailor, and Stephen Maturin, a physician and intrepid intelligence agent. This novel is the third in the series and my favorite. 

John Rumrich.

Rebecca Sharpless, associate professor of history at Texas Christian University

Eve LaPlante, American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans

A good read is American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans by Eve LaPlante. Anne Hutchinson was a seventeenth-century Puritan who stood for religious liberty and was banished from the Massachusetts Colony. LaPlante's compelling account clearly shows Hutchinson's role in establishing America as a place with tolerance for freedom of conscience. My students are routinely blown away by this book: many of them have never heard of Hutchinson, and they don't realize how oppressive the Puritans were to women and anyone who didn't fit into their theological mold. Even though she was legally nonexistent under English common law, Hutchinson had enough of a presence to be a threat to the hierarchy of the Boston colony. The Puritan authorities dealt with her swiftly and thoroughly, leaving behind a trial transcript that gives us more insight into seventeenth-century Massachusetts than they would ever have dreamed.

Rebecca Sharpless.

Naomi Shihab Nye, poet and author

Zachary Lazar, Evening’s Empire

Recently I read a fascinating, incredibly well-crafted memoir by Zachary Lazar, who teaches at Tulane, called Evening’s Empire. A carefully researched book about his father's murder, and a captivating timepiece of the 1960s and 1970s, this book gripped my attention for days, carrying me away into a son's loving curiosity about what on earth happened in his family. It left me feeling tenderly uplifted, grateful again for the power of writing to broaden our lives. The paperback's afterword is a stunning bonus.

Naomi Shihab Nye.

Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin

John Lewis Gaddis, George F. Kennan: An American Life

This deeply researched and beautifully written book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. It is a compelling account of the domestic and international transformations in American society during the twentieth century, as seen through the life of one of the nation's most influential policy-makers and observers: George F. Kennan. The author spent thirty years conducting interviews and documentary research for this extraordinary book. He captures how a Midwestern child of immigrants became a major influence on the conduct of the Second World War, the Cold War, and late-twentieth-century politics. The author also describes the many larger-than-life figures that George Kennan encountered: Franklin Roosevelt, Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Mikhail Gorbachev, among others.

Jeremi Suri.

Carmen Tafolla, inaugural poet laureate of the City of San Antonio

Uwem Akpan, Say You’re One of Them

If you're looking for something unforgettable to read this summer, I'd pick up Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan. I found this novel-size collection of five stories a breathless read, impressively fresh, innocent as an abused child, and cruelly honest. All five stories were told from a child's voice, but this is no light romp through children's literature. Akpan, an African Jesuit priest, has captured in his eloquent prose a child's-eye view on the world, but tragically, it is a senseless world—thick with religious wars, ethnic tensions, and killings between neighbors. All told from young people's eyes (from seven to eighteen years of age,) these stories leave us in love with the children on these pages, and aghast at the horrors of their daily lives. For those raised in the comfort of the middle- or upper-class U.S., this book is a wake-up call to our planet's violence against children. But the most tragic realization of all settles quickly on the reader: this is not fiction. It's the reality of the world today.

Carmen Tafolla.

Ellen C. Temple, Lufkin civic leader and former Humanities Texas board member

Jane Clements Monday and Frances Brannen Vick, Letters to Alice: Birth of the Kleberg-King Ranch Dynasty

This is a beautiful love story told in Robert Kleberg’s letters to his beloved Alice, daughter of Captain and Henrietta King. It’s rare to find a personal history of South Texas that reads like a novel. And it provides an intimate, fascinating glimpse of the lives of two of the most influential people in Texas history. Fran Vick and Jane Monday have produced a gem of a book. 

Ellen C. Temple.

William Tsutsui, dean of the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at Southern Methodist University

Leigh Keno and Leslie Keno, Hidden Treasures: Searching for Masterpieces of American Furniture 

As something of an obsessive personality myself, I always enjoy books by and about people with abiding, consuming passions. I've read quite a few accounts over the past year of wonderfully eccentric birdwatchers, but nothing quite intrigues me like collectors, especially those enamored of art and antiques. The Keno twins, made famous by their appearances on PBS's Antiques Roadshow, are just my type: fascinated by fine American furniture from the time they were schoolkids, one ended up at Christie's and the other at Sotheby's. Their memoir of discovering and bringing to market exceptional Newport highboys and Philadelphia armchairs is part detective story, part American history lesson, and part tutorial on connoisseurship. Above all, it is an engaging glimpse into the lives of two individuals absolutely obsessed with rare, beautiful things.

William Tsutsui.

Fran Vick, retired publisher and founder of E-Heart Press and the University of North Texas Press and former Humanities Texas board member

Ron Rozelle, My Boys and Girls Are in There: The 1937 New London School Explosion

I was entranced with Ron Rozelle's narrative about the New London school explosion—My Boys and Girls Are in There: The 1937 New London School Explosion. It is a beautifully written and compelling story of the largest school disaster in American history. Ron's father was a school superintendent in Leon County, so he grew up knowing about this tragedy and decided to write about it on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the explosion. It seems to be one of those forgotten events that deserve to be remembered. As the jacket says, it is an "intensely human portrait of this horrific event." I, for one, will be sure to visit the monument erected in memory of those lost.

Fran Vick.

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

Jack Finney, Time and Again

I think it's the historian in me. I don't like science fiction or fantasy, but I do love time-travel stories. My all-time favorite is Time and Again by Jack Finney. This is about a commercial illustrator who goes back to 1882 using the Dakota in New York City as a portal. The book, which combines the elements of a thriller with those of a romance, isn't interesting just for its prose. Finney, who is perhaps best known for Invasion of the Body Snatchers, integrates nineteenth-century photographs and illustrations into the story in a fascinating way, adding a dimension to the tale that I don't recall seeing in any other novels. The result is a compelling visit for both the hero and the reader back to the Big Apple as it was before skyscrapers and even before the Statue of Liberty was finished.

Jennifer L. Weber.