What to Read: A Faculty Bookshelf

June 11, 2020
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A good book can offer insight, comfort or a welcome escape—never more so than in times of crisis. Whether you long to lose yourself in fantasy or finally tackle that classic, these Columbian College faculty book recommendations have your reading needs covered.

Inspiration Seekers

I was their American dream cover

I Was Their American Dream

Kavita Daiya
Director of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program
Associate Professor of English

“I suggest I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib. This is a beautiful graphic memoir of growing up and finding yourself by an incredibly talented Filipino-Egyptian-American artist and NPR editor. Gharib tells her story about her immigrant parents, growing up in California, moving to the East Coast for college and work and finding love, with tenderness, wit and passion. Everyone in America should read this book!”


Boundaries cover, by Maya Lin


Stephanie Travis
Associate Professor and Director of the Interior Architecture Program

“I recommend Maya Lin's Boundaries, written by renowned architect Maya Lin about her life and work, including her design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama and the Women’s Table at Yale. Her intensive research process and sensitive approach to design is outlined through text, drawings and photographs. Visually stunning and full of creative content, this is a must-read for those looking to be inspired.”

Brushing Up on the Classics

Persuasion by Jane Austen cover


Tara Wallace
Professor of English

“I teach a Dean’s Seminar called The Austen Phenomenon. So, as you might anticipate, I think any Jane Austen book serves as a tonic in this situation. But perhaps Persuasion hits the right note at this point. Austen is a sea of rationality in chaotic times, which makes her particularly good to read now. Persuasion is perhaps her quietest and most emotionally satisfying novel, and when its elegiac tone turns celebratory, we all rejoice!”

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse cover


Laura Papish
Associate Professor of Philosophy

“I would pick Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. It’s short, making it a good fit for the curbed attention spans many of us have right now, and it's so beautifully written that the process of reading it is therapeutic. I love this book because it’s about questions that really resonate, especially during times of upheaval: What kind of life should a person strive to live?  How should we relate to the world? What is the self, and how do we develop self-awareness without lapsing into self-obsession?”

The Plague by Albert Camus cover

The Plague

Abdourahman Waberi
Assistant Professor of French

“My contribution is perhaps an obvious one. Great books from the past can be a kind of solace for the present as well as a serum for the future. The Plague (in French: La Peste) a novel by Albert Camus, published in 1947, belongs to that category. It depicts the story of a plague sweeping the French Algerian city of Oran. Born in 1913 in Oran, Camus won the Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 44 in 1957.”

Histories, Mysteries and More

Circe by Madeline Miller cover


Katrin Schultheiss
Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History

“I recommend Circe by Madeline Miller. Circe is a wonderfully creative re-imagining of the Odyssey told from the perspective of the witch Circe, who famously turned Odysseus’ crewmen into swine. It is beautifully written, compelling and, ultimately, very moving. Recommended for fans of Greek mythology, strong female characters and great contemporary fiction.”

Louise Penny Still Life cover

Still Life

Cynthia Dowd
Associate Professor of Chemistry 

“My favorite detective series is by Louise Penny. If you have not read her, now is a perfect time to start! She writes murder mysteries following Detective Armand Gamache. Set in Canada, Penny has been compared to a modern day Agatha Christie. The stories follow Gamache and his team as he solves crimes, but the books are really about human relationships and the characters in a small town near Quebec. Penny spoke at GW last year and is a delightful person herself. Start with the first book in the series: Still Life.” 

The last Run cover

The Last Run: A True Story of Rescue and Redemption on the Alaska Seas

Loring Ingraham
Professor of Clinical Psychology 
Director, Professional Psychology Program 

“For a good quarantine read, how about one of my favorites: The Last Run: A True Story of Rescue and Redemption on the Alaska Seas by Todd Lewan? It’s a gripping story with the power to immerse the reader in another world. I recommend it as a celebration of endurance against great odds, balanced with caution about the consequences of disregarding nature. Unforgettable!”

On the Lighter Side

Fun Home book cover

Fun Home

Gayle Wald
Chair of American Studies
Professor of English and American Studies

“If you haven’t ever read a graphic novel, or if a wickedly funny memoir would speak to your needs at this moment, I would recommend Alison Bechdel’s queer coming-of-age graphic memoir Fun Home, which was the basis for the popular Broadway musical of the same name. I recently picked it up and was blown away by Bechdel's combination of braininess, humor and honesty about her complicated childhood and fraught love for her gay father.”

Here for It book cover

Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America

Lisa Bowleg
Professor of Applied Social Psychology

“I need light and funny during this time, for obvious reasons. So I’m going with a hilarious book that I’m reading now: Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas. It’s a memoir written by one of the most intellectually and comically-nimble, insightful, talented and fall-on-the-ground funny writers I’ve read in ages. He has such a trenchant wit and knack for comedic detail. As an intersectionality scholar, I find his use of Black and gay vernacular to be just delicious! I’m almost at the end of it and am slow-rolling my read just to sustain the joy a bit longer.” 

The Witches Are Coming , Lindy West cover

The Witches Are Coming

Katrina Pairera
Assistant Professor of Communication

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West. She is one of the smartest and funniest writers on the planet. This collection of essays has it all: sweet relief from our current reality (like a compelling appraisal of the best Doritos flavors) and powerful essays on our cultural and political point in time. No matter what you think of the book, you’ll want to talk about it during your next Zoom happy hour.” 

Reading About Race

So You Want To Talk About Race By Ijeoma Oluo cover

So You Want To Talk About Race

Recommended by Shelley Brundage, Chair, Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences

Between The World And Me By Ta-Nehisi Coates cover

Between the World and Me

Recommended by Bruce Dickson, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs

White Fragility By Robin DiAngelo cover

White Fragility

Recommended by Orti Guillermo, Louis Weintraub Professor of Biology

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How to Be an Antiracist

Recommended by Loring J. Ingraham, Professor of Clinical Psychology

Chocolate City: A History Of Race And Democracy In The Nation's Capital By Chris Myers Asch cover

Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation's Capital

Recommended by Eric Lawrence, Associate Professor of Political Science

Martin & Malcolm & America By James H. Cone cover

Martin & Malcolm & America

Recommended by Derek Malone-France, Associate Professor of Religion, Philosophy and Writing


Lose Your Mother By Saidiya Hartman cover

Lose Your Mother

Recommended by Rachel Riedner, Professor of Writing and of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

The Nickel Boys By Colson Whitehead cover

The Nickel Boys

Recommended by Susan Sterner, Associate Professor of Art and Design

The End Of Policing By Alex S. Vitale cover

The End of Policing

Recommended by Gayle Wald, Professor of English and American Studies