Museums of Thought

The overstuffed bookshelves in my home and office attest that bookstores are among my favorite destinations. A great bookstore is a museum of thought, exhibiting a world of knowledge, enjoyment, and inspiration. Proprietors of America's iconic bookstores often possess the professional passion of a fine arts curator and the breadth of learning of a dozen scholars. Many of these bookstores also fulfill an additional cultural role, hosting public lectures and readings by prominent authors.

Two of my all-time favorites are Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, and Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC. Richard and Lisa Howorth launched Square Books almost thirty-five years ago in an upstairs office in the charming university community. Today, the store, which was named  "Bookstore of the Year" in 2013 by Publisher’s Weekly, occupies three entire buildings on Oxford's town square.

Politics and Prose, with its nightly talks by current authors, has been an institution in the nation's capital for thirty years. Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade, the original owners, operated the Connecticut Avenue store near Chevy Chase Circle until Carla’s death in 2010. Local residents feared that store would then close, but Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine purchased it in 2011 and are continuing its rich tradition. You can watch Cohen and Meade’s 25th anniversary conversation with E. J. Dionne on the Politics and Prose website.

As a special feature of this year's summer reading newsletter, Richard Howorth and other respected booksellers are sharing their recommendations with our readers. As in previous years, we have also invited friends of Humanities Texas to submit their summer reading suggestions. The result is a wide-ranging menu, including fiction and nonfiction both new and old, for you to explore by browsing the list below.

M. L. G.

Couch on the Porch, Cos Cob by Frederick Childe Hassam, 1914.
Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi.

Richard Howorth, owner of Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

James Magnuson, Famous Writers I Have Known: A Novel

The unlikely protagonist of this superb novel is a petty New York con man who accidentally finds himself in a position to pick up an easy, fat check from a prestigious writing program where the faculty and students have mistaken him for a famous, reclusive writer who is supposed to be their guest teacher for a semester. He only has to play it cool, which turns out not to be so easy, as "All I knew about universities I’d learned from watching Fred MacMurray in Son of Flubber." He further realizes that the program’s emeritus writer is the old archrival to his doppelgänger and, as things begin to unravel, that "Really, this whole writing thing was worse than heroin." This novel is hilarious, suspenseful, and has a lot of heart. Required summer reading.

Lewis Nordan, Music of the Swamp

Recently Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill reissued the late Lewis Nordan's breakout classic, the novel-in-stories Music of the Swamp. In its first few pages you are introduced to singing mice, a bare-breasted mermaid (perhaps), and the voice of Elvis Presley that boyhood-hero Sugar Mecklin is hearing for the first time on the family's Philco radio, observing that, "Today was a Sunday, this was a whole summer, in fact, in which magic might prove once and for all to be true." Randall Kenan astutely compared Nordan, from Itta Bena, Mississippi, to Zora Neale Hurston, Calderon, Shakespeare, and Eudora Welty. Whenever I am asked for the best books by Mississippi writers, this dear book, the remarkable Music of the Swamp, is among the first few I clutch. 

Lily King, Euphoria 

This brilliant historical novel is inspired by the life of Margaret Mead and centered upon the nascent field of anthropology prior to World War II in New Guinea, when Westerners made groundbreaking studies of unknown native people. The title comes from a description of the feeling an anthropologist has when, after studying a peculiar, exotic society for a few months, there is a sudden sense of understanding—which later may prove false—that unusual customs and behavior indeed fit logically within the context of general human nature. Lily King succeeds in taking us to this fascinating period while also exploring the anthropologists' personal lives—their professional zeal and jealousies, their relationships with those they study, and their (sometimes polygamous and bisexual) passions for one another.

William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow

A short, lovely modern classic Michael Ondaatje said "contains our deepest sorrows and truths and love," about memory and loss and self knowledge. A couple of years ago two writers who came through town—Richard Ford and Suzanne Marrs—in separate instances referred to this book as "one of the greatest novels of our time." This summer is a good time to join those of us who agree.

Square Books

Richard Howorth.

Ann Patchett, co-founder of Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee, and award-winning novelist of Bel Canto, Run, and The Patron Saint of Liars

Elizabeth McCracken, Thunderstruck and Other Stories

In order for me to be friends with another writer, if it's going to be a deep, true friendship, I have to love both the writer and her work. When you love the person and not the writing, the friendship never really goes anywhere, and if you love the writing and not the person, well, who wants to be friends with someone you don't like?

So when I say Elizabeth McCracken is one of my dearest friends and favorite writers, I can assure you those two things are inseparable. We've been reading each other's work page by page, draft by draft, for more than twenty years. I feel like Elizabeth and I grew up together as writers, and all these years later her work still thrills me.

Thunderstruck is the collection of short stories that her fans (like me) have long been waiting for. If you loved her last collection of short stories, Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry, or her novels, The Giant's House and Niagara Falls All Over Again, or her nonfiction, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, this book lives up to all expectations. If you haven't read Elizabeth before, Thunderstruck is a perfect introduction to one of our most inventive and original authors, who, coincidentally, happens to be one of my best friends.

Parnassus Books

Ann Patchett.

Vivienne Evans, manager of Books & Books in Miami Beach, Florida

John Williams, Stoner

Tells the tale of William Stoner, a midwestern farm boy seduced by English literature who becomes a second-rate college lecturer. In his marriage to an exquisite malcontent who makes his life a living hell, his career too is destroyed by office politics. Subtle, luminous, tender, and deeply moving, this book deserves the title of an American classic.

M. L. Stedman, The Light Between Oceans

On a remote island off the west coast of Australia, a boat washes ashore with a man's body and an infant. When the lighthouse keeper and his wife decide to raise the child as their own, the consequences are devastating and heartbreaking. A beautifully constructed novel, and well worth reading.

Tom Rob Smith, Child 44

Leave it to a Cambridge don to tackle the grisly subject of a serial killer on the rampage in Stalinist Russia in the fifties. Beautifully conceived and flawlessly executed, offering appealing characters, a very convincing plot, and remarkably authentic period detail.

C. E. Morgan, All the Living

As one interviewer declares, "Those who read for character and landscape will feast on C. E. Morgan's uncommon debut . . ." I certainly did, devouring the radiant work in one night, spellbound by the author's rendering of the quiet and forlorn world her characters inhabit.

Don Carpenter, Hard Rain Falling

Out-of-print for many years, (kudos to the New York Review of Books for courageously printing many lost and forgotten titles) this Beat-era novel is a character-driven unsentimental look at lives of crime and redemption. Our mistakes of our past, though, are never far behind.  Don Carpenter has been called "a writer's writer."

Books & Books

Vivienne Evans.

Kris Kleindienst, co-owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, Missouri

Harper Barnes, Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement

This is an immensely readable, if sobering account of racial violence in East St. Louis that predates what we think of as the Civil Rights Movement by some thirty years at least. In fact, these riots, unknown to most, largely forgotten in the St. Louis area, nevertheless form a bitter memory in the families of East St. Louisans, including the late musician Miles Davis, whose childhood years were informed by the stories he was told. Some of the deadliest race riots in our nation’s history, the East St. Louis race riots played a direct role in the later Civil Rights Movement. Anyone interested in twentieth-century American history will want to read this important book.

Left Bank Books

Kris Kleindienst.

Mary Jo and Jill, staff at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon

David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks

Reading a David Mitchell novel is like going to an amusement park and riding the really big rollercoaster. You don't know what exactly will happen, but you know it will be an incredible experience. The Bone Clocks is classic David Mitchell: full of well-drawn characters who pass through each other's lives in unexpected ways, while a larger plot unrolls seamlessly, shot through with bits of fabulism. It is an absorbing, deeply moving read.
Recommended by Mary Jo at Powell’s Books.

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams: Essays

Leslie Jamison is a marvel. The essays that make up this collection are wise, uncomfortable, beautiful, humane, and utterly absorbing. They demand an investigation of the reader's own heart. I can't think of another book I've recommended to so many people so fiercely. I'm already happy to declare it the best nonfiction book of 2014.
Recommended by Jill at Powell’s Books.

Powell's Books

Powell's Books.

Tom Trescott, bibliopole at Abraham Lincoln Book Shop in Chicago, Illinois

Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction

I would like to recommend Destruction and Reconstruction by Richard Taylor. Despite being a son of a President of the United States and an excellent general, Taylor's life and Civil War career are not well known, probably because most of his service was far from Virginia, in the Trans-Mississippi. Which is a shame, because he could turn a flank or a phrase with equal skill; Douglas Southall Freeman called him "the one Confederate General who possessed literary art that approached first rank."

Abraham Lincoln Book Shop

Tom Trescott.

Barbara Radnofsky, co-owner of Brazos Bookstore in Houston

David McCullough, 1776

Major Dick Winters with Colonel Cole C. Kingseed, Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters

Robin Olds with Christine Olds and Ed Rasimus, Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds

I read these fine memoirs while rereading David McCullough's 1776, the spellbinding account of what we owe to George Washington, Henry Knox, and the citizen soldiers who fought for independence, engineered the Siege of Boston, survived crushing defeats, accomplished masterful withdrawals and crossed the Delaware in the midst of impossible winter blizzard conditions for an attack on Trenton. The bravery and suffering of the Continental Army in the winter of 1776 seemed not far removed from their brothers led by Dick Winters moving forward from D-Day to Bastogne through the Battle of the Bulge and into Germany. Winters's story and background is paralleled by the equally legendary Robin Olds in his outstanding memoir, in his detailed and moving accounts of WWII experiences and then moving on to his Vietnam War exploits and leadership, lessons learned at the Pentagon and in foreign policy, raising questions relevant today.

James Shapiro, ed., Shakespeare in America: An Anthology from the Revolution to Now

This is a beautiful book, physically and in content. Shapiro's introduction interestingly begins with the 1846 Corpus Christi staging of Othello, as half the U.S. Army gathered to provoke war with Mexico after the U.S. annexation of Texas as a slave state. Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant was replaced in his role as Desdemona after replacing James Longstreet. The extraordinarily diverse, chronological selections include colonial times, slavery, and innumerable literary greats experiencing Shakespeare. The varied, vast influence of the Bard expands through Cole Porter, West Side Story, the significance of King Lear for American Jewry to Woody Allen and beyond, as contemporary poets reimagine Shakespeare in moving ways post-9/11.

Brazos Bookstore

Barbara Radnofsky.

Corey Mesler, owner of Burke's Book Store in Memphis, Tennessee

Robert Gordon, Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion

Holly George-Warren, A Man Called Destruction:
The Life and Music of Alex Chilton from Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man

The two best new books I've read recently were Lorrie Moore's Bark: Stories and Adam Begley’s biography, Updike. Since these have no connection whatsoever to the South (I think Updike once visited Alabama, but I can’t verify this) allow me to recommend two books related to Memphis music. The first is Robert Gordon's Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion. The title just about says it all except that there is real joy between these pages. Stax Records continues to inspire. The second is Holly George-Warren's A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton from Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man. Again, a self-explanatory title. After the blues, after Elvis, after Stax, you'd think Memphis was through with world-changing music, and then in the seventies along came Big Star.

Burke's Book Store

Corey Mesler.

G. Hughes Abell, founder and general partner of Llano Partners, Ltd. and Humanities Texas board member

Wilfred Thesiger, The Life of My Choice

I read this book by chance years ago, with little prior knowledge of Thesiger. My interest had been sparked from reading a 1939 National Geographic article passed down from my grandmother describing conditions in Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) after Mussolini’s takeover in 1935.

The Life of My Choice reads more like a biography of Thesiger, especially his early years, as opposed to the travel and adventure nature of his later books, and deals more with an earlier and more exotic time before the onset of modern changes.

What really set it apart for me were Thesiger’s superb writing and photographs, his lyrical depiction of the life and culture of the region, and his sense of exploration and adventure of the land, its people, and himself.

A. Scott Berg, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius

A. Scott Berg is a diligent researcher and an entertaining writer. In 1978, he penned a biography of Maxwell Perkins, the editor to Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Marjorie Kinan Rawlings, and others. The project sprang from his senior thesis at Princeton, under the tutelage of Carlos Baker, himself a noted biographer of Hemingway.

As an avid reader of history and biography, and less so of fiction, I often read biographies of the novelists to enlighten me on so much I figure that I might have missed in the works of fiction. Max Perkins: Editor of Genius spoke eloquently and seamlessly about not only the lives of and influences on the authors, but also, tellingly, about their fascinating and complex interaction with the influential and all-important partner, the editor.

G. Hughes Abell.

Ricardo Ainslie, professor of educational psychology at The University of Texas at Austin

Elizabeth Crook, Monday, Monday

A beautifully crafted, fictional narrative of one of Texas's darkest days: the 1966 UT Tower shootings that took sixteen lives. The focus of this novel is not the murderer and his motives, but rather those whose lives were forever shattered by what took place that August day in Austin, Texas.

Ricardo Ainslie.

Sharon Allison, Waco civic leader and Humanities Texas board member

Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin 

Let the Great World Spin is an amazing novel by Colum McCann. I read it about four years ago, and it still haunts me. McCann takes a real event, the mysterious tightrope walk between the twin towers in New York, and manages to weave a tapestry of a handful of seemingly disparate lives around the city. A review in the San Francisco Chronicle said, "McCann's gift is finding grace in grief and magic in the mundane and immersing the reader in these thoroughly." One reviewer said, "Beautiful. . . . As worn down as McCann's characters are, they each struggle heroically against life's downward pull and that's what makes the novel so powerfully uplifting." This novel is beautifully written and difficult to put down. It is definitely worthy of the National Book Award that it received. McCann studied creative writing at The University of Texas and he now teaches in the Hunter College MFA creative writing program.

Sharon Allison.

Larry Allums, executive director of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture

Philipp Meyer, The Son

I recommend Philipp Meyer's The Son. I'm not a native Texan but have been with the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture long enough to know just how much Texas there is and how little of it I know. Through that little I do know, I’ve also come to feel that Texas's history affects present-day Texans more than any other state's history affects its current citizens.

A very fine source not only of knowledge but of understanding why Texas is the way it is, The Son is a true epic—sprawling, always in motion toward its destined end, and, at times, incredibly violent—that again proves the imagination's importance in creating our myth, the story within whose rhythms and currents we live, move, and have our being still today. Without a hint of nostalgia or sentiment, and with considerable irony regarding some of the ways we arrived in the twenty-first century, Meyer gives us fictional characters who are entirely memorable and a complex plot that ends all too soon after six hundred pages. When I place it side by side with Sam Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon (recommended in this column last year), I have two texts that take me a good way toward the understanding of Texas I presently lack.

Larry Allums.

Daina Ramey Berry, professor of history and African and African diaspora studies and the George W. Littlefield Fellow in American History at The University of Texas at Austin

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

My recommendation for summer reading is the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns. As an historian, and a scholar of slavery, I could not help but think about the ways her work encourages readers to expand their understanding of migration. Through the stories of Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Dr. Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, Wilkerson personalizes the history of migration from 1915–1970. She also laces it with her own family's experience of migration from Georgia to Washington, DC. 

I see her work as "collective storytelling" based on thorough research. Professor Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,200 African American migrants who chose to leave the South in the search for equal opportunities and freedom in new communities. In her words, this "casting call" involved looking for the right story to tell through three voices—that is impressive. I appreciate that she let the interviews and oral testimonies drive her narrative. I also admire her prose, which is a beautiful mix of simplicity combined with complexity: "they did what all people do when looking for freedom," she writes, "they left" [p.50]. The act of leaving unifies this history and enables readers to connect across time, place, nationality, and a host of other categories.

Looking at migration on U.S. soil, Wilkerson teaches us that six million people migrated in the Great Migration over the course of six decades. They traveled to the North, Midwest, and the West. The magnitude of travel, of movement, of comings and goings has been underrated. Her scholarship allows us to talk about a runaway slave couple in the nineteenth century, an African American doctor from Louisiana in the twentieth century, or European immigrants who came through Ellis Island all in the context of their migration stories. In the end, Wilkerson does not let the reader forget about the individual and his or her own unique story.

Daina Berry (right) with Isabel Wilkerson.

Kate Betz, head of education at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin

Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell, The Silence of Our Friends

I’ve been trying to find a great graphic novel for our museum's monthly book group since it began three years ago, and I think I’ve finally found the right one. I’m really looking forward to reading The Silence of Our Friends, which looks at race relations in Houston in the 1960s from the perspective of two families—one white and one black. As Long says in his author’s note, he is striving to find a balance between factual accuracy and emotional authenticity. I think any storyteller is looking for that balance, and I look forward to seeing how this trio handles that interplay.

Mary Roach, Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

Mary Roach is my favorite science writer by far, and I thought this book was an especially good one. A treasure trove of interesting stories and fun facts to help place Texas into the history of the Space Race in our country.

Kate Betz.

Bobby and Lee Byrd, owners and publishers of Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso

Tim Tingle, House of Purple Cedar

Tim Tingle is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. He lives in Canyon Lake, outside of San Antonio. He is a door opener, that Tim, graciously giving non-Indians access into Choctaw ways and thinking. House of Purple Cedar is Tim's first novel for adults, although he has been writing children's books, short stories, and books for young adults for many years.

Joseph Bruchac, author of Our Stories Remember, is a big fan of Tim Tingle's work. Of House of Purple Cedar, he says, "I love this book. There is nothing else quite like it in its loving, clear-eyed description of a people, a time, and a place that are little known to most. Humor, honesty, lyrical, poetic prose, it has it all—including the voice of a true storyteller bringing it to vivid life. I think of it as a potential classic."

In House of Purple Cedar, Rose, a young Choctaw woman of the late 1800s, looks back on a dark episode from her childhood when the racism and fear that paralyzed a town are faced down by the steadfast confidence her grandfather has in the goodness of people to overcome hate. The message of forgiveness and love covers the story, underscored by themes of patience and resilience. Shelf Awareness called House of Purple Cedar, "timeless."

Bobby, Lee, and Johnny Byrd.

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

Rebecca Goldstein, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won't Go Away

Dr. Goldstein, a MacArthur Fellow who has written fiction as well as studies of Kurt Gödel and Baruch Spinoza, imagines Plato coming back to life in the twenty-first century. On a book tour of America, Plato encounters, among others, a windy news commentator (Bill O'Reilly?), a tiger mom (Amy Chua?), a neuroscientist, and the folks running Google's search engine in Mountain View, California. The questions he raised 2,400 years ago about happiness, virtue, success, and religion take on vitality and urgency, Plato having to come to terms about what has changed and been learned in his absence and we having to confront in fresh ways the questions of what makes for a meaningful life.

Larry Carver.

Elizabeth Cullingford, chair of the English department at The University of Texas at Austin

Ford Madox Ford, Parade's End

As the anniversary of the First World War approaches, I have been reading Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End, a sequence of four novels centered on England's "last Tory," Christopher Tietjens, his high-maintenance wife Sylvia, and a dedicated young suffragette, Valentine Wannop.

Parade's End vividly evokes the chaos in the trenches, Christopher's attempts at discipline and organization behind the lines, and the incompetence or duplicity of bureaucrats at home. Although I have always loved Ford's better-known book, The Good Soldier, I had never attempted Parade's End. It is a total immersion experience, best begun when you have time to read slowly.

Elizabeth Cullingford.

Michael R. Grauer, associate director for curatorial affairs and curator of art and western heritage at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon

Thomas Powers, The Killing of Crazy Horse

The best book I have read in the last year has to be Thomas Powers’s The Killing of Crazy Horse (2011). The great Lakota warrior, of whom even a photograph doesn’t exist, is one of my favorite Americans. A small man physically, the power of his presence simply made him someone others would follow. And all he really wanted was to be left alone. At first I thought this might be yet another indictment of egregious U.S. Indian policy—which it was—but Mr. Powers weaves a poignant, sensitive, and ultimately tragic story revealing the subterfuge, intrigue, jealousies, and base nature that is true of all human beings, regardless of culture, that led eventually to Crazy Horse’s killing. I have been reading American Indian sources since I could read, and this may very well be the best I have read since I read Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in high school; an unassigned reading, in terms of full disclosure. I believe every American should read this book.

Michael R. Grauer.

Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, novelist and professor of English and Spanish and Portuguese at The University of Texas at Austin

Duane W. Roller, Cleopatra: A Biography

This work does away with the many mistaken histories of Cleopatra. It shows her many dimensions: skilled orator, medical writer, linguist, naval commander, administrator, and accomplished diplomat. Meticulously researched, compellingly written, and with judicious use of the sources, it’s accessible to the general reader.

Rolando Hinojosa-Smith.

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

Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism

One of America's leading historians and biographers and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Goodwin has written a comprehensive and fascinating study of the complex relationship between Roosevelt and Taft as it evolved from close friendship and mentor/protégé to political rivalry and the contested presidential election of 1912. The book also contains an in-depth portrayal of the leading muckraking journalists of the era and the close relationship many had with Roosevelt. Lastly, readers will come away with a good understanding of the battle within the Republican Party in the first decade of the twentieth century over progressivism and reform versus big business and the Old Guard.

John Kerr.

Arnold Krammer, professor of history at Texas A&M University in College Station

Michael C. C. Adams, The Best War Ever: America and WWII 

This is a startlingly honest view of the war, warts and all, of a nation of farm boys coming out of the Great Depression.

Jay Winik, August 1865: The Month that Changed America

One of the best books about the Civil War I've read—including Lincoln's assassination, Lee and Grant at Appomattox—almost literature.

John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

And finally, and a very funny book for poolside reading. I laughed out loud.

Arnold Krammer.

Joe Krier, member of San Antonio City Council and Humanities Texas board member

Margaret MacMillan, The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914

Any student of history will appreciate and enjoy this insightful study of the personalities and events during the approximately thirty-year period before the outbreak of World War I. The description of the constantly changing personalities, as well as of the shifting policy perspectives of the European, Balkan, and Russian nations, makes the case for a war that could have been avoided, but became inevitable. A sense of tragedy overlays the unfolding narrative as the reader knows the story ends with the collapse and disappearance of an economic, political, and social order that had held together for over a century. And, of course, the war's aftermath led directly to the even greater catastrophe of World War II. A valuable read for any student of The Great War.

Joe Krier.

Regina Lawrence, director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at The University of Texas at Austin

Jill Lepore, The Story of America: Essays on Origins

Though I don't have nearly enough time for reading these days, especially not reading for pleasure, I have enjoyed Jill Lepore's The Story of America: Essays on Origins. Followers of Humanities Texas would appreciate its mix of history, civics, and literature. The book's promotional copy says that throughout our history, "Americans have wrestled with the idea of democracy by telling stories." I think that's true—and endlessly interesting, because the stories never stop.

Regina Lawrence.

Janie McGarr, Dallas civic leader and former Humanities Texas board member

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being

My summer reading recommendation is A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It is beautifully written in two wonderful voices.

[From the publisher: In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. . . . Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.]

Janie McGarr.

Becky McKinley, Amarillo civic leader and Humanities Texas board member

Dr. Bo Brock, Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere

I have just read the most fun book called Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere.  It is written by Bo Brock, a veterinarian humorist. This book of short stories is dedicated to my father and has many stories about him. My Dad was a veterinarian and was this young man's mentor. It is funny read.

Becky McKinley.

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

Mario T. Garcia, Mexican Americans: Leadership, Ideology, and Identity, 1930–1960

Mexican Americans: Leadership, Ideology, and Identity, 1930–1960 is a history of some outstanding Mexican American leaders in Texas during the 1930s and 1940s. It is a compelling series of biographical sketches of these leaders, the times, and their challenges and contributions.

Manuel F. Medrano

Johnny Meyer, playwright and Junior Fellow of British Studies at The University of Texas at Austin

A. J. P. Taylor, The First World War: An Illustrated History

For the summer of 2014, I recommend light reading on a dark subject: The First World War: An Illustrated History by A. J. P. Taylor. The First World War remains perhaps the best popular history of the causes, battles, and consequences of that conflict. The war was a slog, but Taylor unpacks the war's political and social tangles with an easy style, and a dash of wit and grace. Taylor also captions the book's many illustrations with a dry irony that provokes uneasy laughter at the foibles of humanity. Our present moment marks the hundred-year anniversary of the opening salvos of the First World War, a conflict that lasted four years, cost more than ten million lives, and reshaped the political landscape of Europe and the Middle East. In countries like Israel, Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine, we are still feeling the aftershocks of "the war to end all wars;" A. J. P. Taylor's slim volume offers one of the best ways to understand how the way men behaved then continues to shape who we are now.

Johnny Meyer.

Laura Moore, executive director of the Grace Museum in Abilene

Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

If you like historical fiction, Santa Fe, and a beautiful tale of how one life can affect others, read Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Her 1927 classic is based on the real-life mission of Bishop Lamy (Jean Marie Latour in the book) to establish a Catholic diocese in the New Mexico territory in the late 1800s. After reading this book, you will view St. Francis Cathedral in the heart of Santa Fe through a different lens.

Laura Moore.

Kathy L. Murphy, founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Club in Jefferson

Ann Weisgarber, The Promise

I would like to recommend The Promise by Ann Weisgarber, a historical novel set during the great flood of Galveston Island. Well-written and a book about choices that reminds me of young Scarlett in Gone With the Wind. Not your typical story, the main character Catherine Wainwright, a promising young pianist, flees society in Dayton, Ohio, after a social scandal and reconnects with a childhood admirer who is recently widowed. She agrees to marry him and travels to Galveston Island and is ill-prepared for what primitive circumstances await her. This part of Texas history is not known to today's youth and most people. A real page-turner. A well-researched book and a story that will stay with you long after the read.

Kathy L. Murphy.

Donna Pauley, teacher at Alvin High School and recipient of a 2013 Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching Award

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is one of my all-time favorite novels. It is the story of the tragic undoing of the Price family, who travel to the Congo in 1959 as missionaries. The four daughters of Nathan and Orleanna Price, Rachel and Leah and Adah and Ruth May, tell the story in their own unique voices. Their stories are bookended by the narrative of Orleanna, "Southern Baptist by marriage, mother of children living and dead." She says in the opening chapter, "Away down below now, single file on the path, comes a woman with four girls in tow, all of them in shirtwaist dresses. Seen from above this way they are pale, doomed blossoms, bound to appeal to your sympathies. Be careful. Later on you’ll have to decide what sympathy they deserve."

The novel is set during the Congo's fight for independence from the Belgians and the murder of its first elected prime minister. Against this historical backdrop, these girls, who arrive in the Congo with the racial preconceptions of the American South in the 1950s, make their own separate paths through the world. I found myself laughing and crying and deeply thinking while reading this novel. That, to me, is the testament of a truly good read.

Jill Alexander Essbaum, Heaven

Heaven, a poetry collection by Austin, Texas, poet Jill Alexander Essbaum, is a must read. Naomi Shihab Nye says her poems are written with "rare lyrical exactitude, fusing religious iconography with her own human journey so all the elements—spiritual, physical, intellectual—are reinvented, recharged." Simply put, Essbaum's poetry makes me smile. When I read a book of poetry for the first time, I always dog-ear the poems I love so I can go back and read them again. I dog-eared almost the entire book.

Donna Pauley.

Monica Perales, associate professor of history and co-director of the Gulf Coast Food Project at the University of Houston and Humanities Texas Board Member

Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

Sandberg offers a thought-provoking look at the role of women in the twenty-first century workplace.

[From the publisher: Thirty years after women became fifty percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. . . . In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.]

Monica Perales.

Merline Pitre, professor of history at Texas Southern University

Barbara Ransby, Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson

In a highly contextualized biography, Barbara Ransby rescues Eslanda from obscurity and from the shadow of her husband, Paul Robeson, one of the most famous black personalities of the twentieth century, and places her in her proper perspective as a black, radical, female activist, a scholar, and a critic. Eslanda's commitment to the liberation struggle took her to Colonial Africa, the Spanish Civil War, the Chinese Revolution, Nazi-occupied Berlin, Stalin’s Russia, McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee, and, of course, the civil rights struggle in the United States. The framework in which she operated dictated that she was determined to make it in a man's world. This book is hot off the Yale University Press.

Harvard Sitkoff, King: Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop

Published since 2009, in my opinion this is one of the best books on Martin L. King Jr. It presents King not only as an iconic figure, but also as a human being with all of his flaws and achievements, victories and defeats, his attacks by whites as well as blacks. It is a comprehensive biography of King.

Merline Pitre.

Joe Pratt, Cullen Professor of History and Business at the University of Houston

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

Richard Wright meets Studs Terkel in this beautiful book by Isabel Wilkerson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Through extended interviews with individuals who fled the Jim Crow South in search of greater degrees of freedom, the book blends personal narratives with the broader history of the Great Migration. In essence, the individual choices of millions of black Southerners to head north or west was an early chapter in the Civil Rights Movement, and Wilkerson's moving account gives the reader a sense of the courage—and the outrage—that drove many to take the extreme step of leaving family to seek greater freedom and opportunity.

Joe Pratt.

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

Jonathan Scott Holloway, Jim Crow Wisdom: Memory and Identity in Black America Since 1940

Combining memoir with analysis, Jonathan Holloway reveals a hidden history of race in American society and culture. By recounting memories from his life, Holloway personalizes an overview of African American film, sociology, popular writing, and museums and makes them relevant to current and future generations. The story ranges from Melvin Van Peebles's films, to Jet and Ebony magazines, to the Lorraine Motel and the writings of Richard Wright to connect the cultural and intellectual roots of race in America with its echoes and legacies in the present.

Raúl A. Ramos.

Todd Romero, associate professor of history and co-director of the Gulf Coast Food Project at the University of Houston

Jeffrey M. Pilcher, Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food

Jeffrey M. Pilcher's Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food (Oxford University Press, 2012) examines the history of the humble taco's growing presence around the world. As we follow the taco's trajectory from artisanal to industrial food, Texas and California play a prominent role in Pilcher’s narrative as Mexican food becomes popular in the U.S. (His chapter on San Antonio’s Chili Queens during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is tremendous in this regard.) Once popularized in the U.S., the taco ultimately became a global force through the efforts of homesick American soldiers stationed abroad, corporations bent on transforming Mexican into a global American food, and, interestingly, globetrotting surfers eager to share a taste of home. Ultimately, the taco became one the great platforms for fusion food. At the same time, witnessing the globalization of an Americanized Mexican food has been a sometimes uneasy experience in Mexico. "For Mexicans," Pilcher suggests, "the fast-food taco must seem like a funhouse mirror, distorting their cuisine beyond all recognition." That said, as a taco-fanatic, I like living in world where I can eschew my many other favorites and walk from my office to get yummy bolgogi-stuffed tacos from the Coreanos truck, even if it is a colonial import from Austin. Like tacos al pastor, a marriage of Lebanese and Mexican foodways after all, bolgogi tacos remind us that Mexico and the United States share a common, if sometimes fraught, history as pluralistic and vibrant nations possessing dynamic cultures that never tire of borrowing and transforming other people’s food. Pilcher reminds us that authenticity proves a slippery thing on both sides of the border.

Todd Romero.

John Phillip Santos, University Distinguished Scholar in Mestizo Cultural Studies at The University of Texas at San Antonio

Robert D. Kaplan, The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us about Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate

In this work from 2012, Kaplan, author of Balkan Ghosts, illustrates the importance of geography, culture, and history in shaping the present and future of global politics. In a bravura last chapter, with a Braudelian analysis no immigration policy reform advocate would dare to offer, he argues powerfully for what he sees as an incontrovertible truth: the U.S.-Mexico border cannot endure. Essential for anyone thinking deeply about America's (and Texas's) future.

John Phillip Santos.

Jeremy Strick, director of the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah has been heaped with praise and awards—but don’t let that deter you from reading it. The book is delightful, revelatory, and profound, a pleasure to read and with insights and sharp observations on almost every page. Set in Nigeria, the U.K., and the U.S., this is a romance that treats race, class, and culture in ways that are original and surprising. It's a book pleasurable enough for the beach bag, but one that will leave you newly alert, informed, and curious.

Jeremy Strick. Photo by Allison V. Smith.

Lonn Taylor, historian in Fort Davis

John Taliaferro, All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay from Lincoln to Roosevelt

My summer reading recommendation is John Taliaferro's All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay from Lincoln to Roosevelt, a beautifully written biography of our most civilized Secretary of State, who started public life in his twenties as Abraham Lincoln's private secretary. Hay's granddaughter, Adele Hay Fath, was the wife of Austin Democratic political figure Creekmore Fath.

Lonn Taylor.

Michael A. Tomor, director of the El Paso Museum of Art

Ariel Sabar, My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Family's Past

The book is beautifully written and full of rich content about the lives of an isolated enclave of Aramaic-speaking Jews. The book is written by the son of Yona Sabar, who grew up in the mountains of northern Iraq and was raised in that region’s remote forgotten village of Zakho. The story relates how after three thousand years of Arab and Jewish cohabitation the rise of both Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in the Middle East would force a cultural shift in this otherwise insulated community.

Michael A. Tomor.

Frances Vick, founder of E-Heart Press and the University of North Texas Press, author, and former Humanities Texas board member

Kathi Appelt, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

I was absolutely fascinated with this book and so delighted with the story and the writing. Kathi Appelt's imagination is marvelous. I have fallen in love with raccoons, particularly the two who are the Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts. And her ecological sense is well in place. I highly recommend this book for adults and young adults alike. I promise you a delightful read. It was the winner of the Texas Institute of Letters Award for Young Adults this past year and well deserved. Appelt has won several prestigious awards including the Newberry.

Frances Vick.

Andrea White, Houston civic leader and novelist

John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is billed as a young adult book, but this sixty-year-old reader laughed and cried along with sixteen-year-old cancer patient Hazel and her parents. This book tackled big issues in a conversational and not self-conscious way. I know why books stick with me. It's usually because of the characters, and John Green created a perfectly believable, perfectly teenage girl facing death with bravery and humor. I recommend this as a satisfying, easy read best enjoyed on a rainy night with a glass of wine and a box of Kleenex.

Andrea White.

Judith Zaffirini, Texas State Senator

Leon Uris, Mila 18

Mila 18 by Leon Uris is an incredibly powerful portrayal of otherwise indescribable human suffering and the incredible atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews in Warsaw, Poland, before and during World War II. Equally impressive, the examples of unspeakable inhumanity that are difficult to read and the conspiracies of silence that are impossible to understand are interlaced with countless stories of astounding courage, undying love, and unflinching selflessness.

Uris brings to life one of the darkest periods of history through memorable fictional characters interacting in unforgettable historical settings. The story is told largely from the perspective of Christopher de Monti, an Italian American journalist, and via the journal of Alexander Brandel, the chief author of a twenty-four-volume collaborative diary that memorializes the Warsaw ghetto uprising against Nazi oppressors. "Mila 18" translates into "18 Pleasant Street," which is, ironically, the address of the underground headquarters of Jewish resistance fighters.

S. C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History

S. C. Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History is absolutely astonishing, even for those who have read other excellent books about American and Texas history. The author captures vividly the cruelty and arrogance that are interwoven with hatred and ignorance—all in the name of offense/defense, empire building/protecting, and culture clashes/dominance.

Quanah is the legendary son of a Comanche chief and the "White Squaw," Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped by the Comanches in 1836 when she was nine. After assimilating thoroughly and gaining stature as one of the chief's wives, she agonized after being "rescued" by the Texas Rangers in 1860.

Incredibly detailed and insightful, the story develops across four decades. It traces the history of Texas and the United States with Spain, France, and Mexico and captures the impact of the destruction of buffalo herds, the taming of horses for varied uses, the rise of cattle barons, the chaos of the Civil War, the authorization of the Texas Rangers and the Cavalry to exterminate the tribes, the establishment of Indian reservations, the invention of firearms, and the development of the railroad. Equally important, it describes the settlers' willingness to risk their safety and even their lives to secure prime land controlled by Native Americans.

Gwynne writes beautifully, using flowing language that captivates readers even through the gruesome passages. With great subtlety he compares the values, behavior, customs, love, loyalty, courage, and perspectives of the pioneers and the people they displaced.

Senator Judith Zaffirini.