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.
Just for Laughs
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: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America
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
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.
Brushing up on the Classics
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!
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?
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.
I Was Their American Dream
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!
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.
Histories, Mysteries and More
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.
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: A True Story of Rescue and Redemption on the Alaska Seas
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!