Some years ago, the novelist Anna Quindlen wrote a meditation on the central role that reading plays in her life. How Reading Changed My Life (1998) is insightful, touching, and often funny, and many of us will find we share Quindlen’s sense that “reading is my home, my sustenance, my great invincible companion.” Quindlen shares her experience of many different kinds of books, from classics to Nancy Drew to contemporary literary fiction. In recounting her youthful discovery of John Galsworthy’s The Forsythe Saga, she notes, “Every reader, I suspect, has a book like this somewhere in his or her past, a book that seemed to hold within it, at that moment, all the secrets of life and love, all the mysteries of the universe … a book that was, for some reason, the book …”
Every book that was nominated is the book, in Quindlen’s sense, for a reader in our UConn community. But how to choose a book that can be the book for many of us? One that can work for students and alumni, faculty and staff, stimulate great programming, and be a catalyst for transformative classroom experiences?
After a wide-ranging and productive discussion, these are the books the Steering Committee has chosen for the Short List:
Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007). Book reviewer for The New York Times Michiko Kakutani noted that this book gains its power from the glimpses of daily life in Afghanistan threaded throughout the story of two women’s lives.
- Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). A groundbreaking book of feminist science fiction. In the introduction to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (Modern Critical Interpretations) (1987), the literary critic Harold Bloom noted, “Le Guin, more than Tolkien, has raised fantasy into high literature, for our time.”
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (1970). Morrison’s first novel, and a landmark achievement in American literature. The story of a nine-year-old girl, who, painfully, measures beauty by whiteness, the book contains autobiographical elements and was inspired by Morrison’s deep commitment to exposing the corrosive effects of racism.
- George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). A dystopian novel set in a future version of Britain where there’s constant war, ubiquitous government surveillance, and insidious propaganda, all under the control of a privileged elite. Perhaps not surprisingly, sales of this classic have recently surged.
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006). Journalist Michael Pollan wrestles with the fundamental relationship between food and society, which, he argues, has become disrupted and confused by technology. He traces each of the production methods that sustains our food supply – industrial, organic, and personal – and offers a powerful critique of the American way of eating.
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854). An American classic, Thoreau’s account of a year of living simply and in tune with nature is a foundational text of the environmental movement. We have deep ties with this book through the Honors curriculum and the work of Robert Thorson, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, who recently published Walden’s Shore: Henry David Thoreau and Nineteenth-century Science (2013).
The Steering Committee plans to announce its selection the week of Sept. 15.