39 Book Recommendations from NYU Faculty, Students, and Staff
The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,
Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom
The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.
—Wallace Stevens, "The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm"
At last, summer is here! The days are longer, the pace is slower, and the air seems to crackle with possibility: There are picnics to have, vacations to take, friends to meet, and—for some of us, anyway—piles of books we've been saving for just the right lazy afternoon. Is there anything better than a non-required reading list? Here are some recommendations from NYU faculty, staff, and students, in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and even picture books to read with kids.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book follows two main characters: Ifemelu and Obinze—are childhood sweethearts in Nigeria who are separated when Ifemelu comes to America for college. The story follows their adventures apart and together and in the meantime tells a rich, at times sad, at times funny, always poignant story about love, race, immigration, politics, friendship, and culture. Adichie paints very real people with complex and interesting psychologies—it’s difficult to not fall in love with everyone in this book. It's a fun read while also having a lot to say. I highly recommend!
—Yael L. Shy, senior director, Global Spiritual Life at NYU, director, Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
This book explores life from the point of view of an extraordinary dog named Enzo. It is a surprising, funny, and ultimately uplifting story about love and family. I loved how the book surprised me throughout and how the fictionalized perspective of a dog could be so engaging and novel. I went back and read the ending multiple times because it was so moving and well written. For me, this is a perfect summertime read. Enjoy!
—Wendy Suzuki, professor of neural science and psychology, Center for Neural Science
Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney
I just finished Darryl Pinckney's Black Deutschland. It's the story of Jed, a disaffected guy from Chicago who leaves home in his 20s to find himself in Berlin. Set in the heady years before the fall of the Wall in the late 1980s—but also incorporating flashbacks to the narrator's childhood—the book's dreamy, elliptical style is both frustrating and engaging. It creates an experience for the reader not unlike that of reminiscing over fuzzy memories of days gone by. The protagonist is both gay (which I am) and black (which I'm not), and so I found his rite of passage to be both familiar and eye-opening. This is not a feel-good book, as it's hard to say that Jed absorbs the hard lessons life seems to be dealing him one after another. Rather, it's a textured, thought-provoking Bildungsroman that reflects life as it's actually lived—and remembered.
—Patrick J. Egan, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies, NYU Department of Politics
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
This novel is the story of several immigrant families from various parts of Latin America. For very different reasons they find themselves in Wilmington, Delaware, in most cases without knowing English and surviving on a very small amount of money. Their reasons for immigrating to the United States are all different: a tragic accident, political unrest, various personal losses. They all work hard and strive for a better life, mostly for their children. These families find each other and there are fascinating plot twists that connect their children to each other. This book really spoke to me, because essentially in the U.S., we are all children of immigrants who came here in search of something better. Especially in this interesting and sometimes upsetting political election year, the story of basically unknown Americans who toil every day to make this country better is moving and profound.
—Trudy Steinfeld, AVP & executive director, Wasserman Center for Career Development
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
This novel follows the unfolding of the life of Oscar de Leon. He is an overweight, dark-skinned American Dominican obsessed with comics and the opposite sex. His mother's past and his current fate are closely entwined, and the novel is a testament to the fact that when you are from somewhere else, you are always from somewhere else. It delves into the struggles of the Dominican diaspora, the effects of tyranny (Trujillo in D.R.) on everyday people, colorism and racism, as well as the unabashed usage of the n word, making it clear that this a novel for Junot's people—Afro Latino Americans. It is a refreshing read. Some readers may call its language crass, but for a person who grew up in Spanish Harlem, this book was home. I did not have to learn unfamiliar words, I knew exactly what culture Junot was referring to, and I bonded with Oscar over his "nerdiness" in a place that did not celebrate it. This is a must read for anyone who needs a break from the Western canon.
—Tanzila Rahman, Tandon ’18
Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados (The Cemetery of the Forgotten Books) trilogy by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
La sombra del viento (The Shadow of the Wind), El juego del Ángel (The Angel's Game), and El prisionero del cielo (The Prisoner of Heaven) make up the trilogy Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados (The Cemetery of the Forgotten Books) that narrates the life experiences of Daniel Sempere, the son of a bookstore owner.
The novels highlight the importance of books, and Zafón expertly blends darkness, mystery, and suspense with love, friendship, and historical events. The novels are set in Barcelona and that adds to the magic. Books should be read in order. I have not read the English translations, but I assume they are as mesmerizing as the Spanish versions. I saw Zafón give a talk and he narrated the experience that inspired his trilogy: a tram ticket and a love letter that fell from a book he grabbed from a shelf in a warehouse of old unwanted books. Enjoy!
—Gigliana Melzi, associate professor, director of undergraduate sudies in Applied Psychology
The Circle by Dave Eggers
Is our transparency on social media sites setting the stage for a dystopian society? Set in the not too distant future, The Circle addresses our social media habits (and increasing dependencies), forcing readers to grapple with this question. Readers who are digitally savvy identify with the protagonist, Mae, as her personal and professional lives become one as a result of the ever-increasing interconnectivity and the pervasiveness of social media sites. This novel sheds light on the potentially ominous side of social media—a topic typically overshadowed by all of the enticements that keep us coming back to these platforms. The Circle is both entertaining and suspenseful—and it encourages critical thinking.
—Celina Zagami, Steinhardt ’18
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands by Jorge Amado
I just reread Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (by Jorge Amado) in Gregory Rabassa's excellent translation. In this tropical novel, a woman can't get over the death of her beloved philandering husband, even after she remarries a nice guy, so when her dead husband miraculously reappears, she carries on an affair with both. Great summer read.
—Paula Azevedo Perez, program administrator, Center for Applied Liberal Arts, SPS
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
Written like a self-help book, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia follows a young boy in an unnamed country as he transforms from a poor rural child stricken with hepatitis E to a bottled water tycoon. The book follows a serendipitous love affair that lasts for decades, highlights the often ruthless and violent tactics used to create a wildly successful business, and explores the drawbacks and benefits of rapid economic development. It’s a candid and nuanced work that looks at the beauty and ugliness of the modern world and it’s a book that’s impossible to put down.
—Aida Gureghian, assistant dean for students, Graduate School of Arts and Science
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
I had never heard of Lucia Berlin before reading her collection of short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women, late last year. Everything about this collection, including the writer and her themes (addiction, poverty, loneliness, class, sickness, power, and abuse), could have been deeply depressing. Instead, it is gritty, moving, sometimes beautiful, often odd, and very funny. She has practical advice for cleaning women and here she watches and describes the ladies on their way home: “I smoked while they compared booty. Things they took … nail polish, perfume, toilet paper. Things they were given … one-earrings, twenty hangers, torn bras. (Advice to cleaning women: Take everything that your lady gives you and say Thank you. You can leave it on the bus, in the crack.)”
—Anne Maguire, administrative aide, Center for Applied Liberal Arts, SPS
This book follows the friendship of Elena and Lila from childhood onward, and I've never read a book that better captures how obsessive, supportive, and at times toxic best friendships can be. There is outside drama for sure—they live in an impoverished neighborhood in post-WWII Naples, they grow up, life happens, but what I found most compelling was the completely honest depiction of Elena—you see her pettiness, jealousy, generosity, selfishness, stupidity, brilliance, all of it. The best part is that My Brilliant Friend is the first of a four-part series, so if you like it as much as I did, you're set for the rest of the summer.
—Cat Richardson, writer, Advertising & Publications
The Passage by Justin Cronin
In this trilogy, Cronin takes you on a multi-generational journey that explores the different ways civilization copes after a fatal viral outbreak. This book features a strong ensemble of central characters who are fighting to survive as they go off in search of the truth behind the outbreak and how to beat it. What I loved most about it is how relatable the main characters are and how easy it is to become emotionally invested in their journey, which can be both triumphant and heartbreaking. The last installment of the trilogy just came out this May, and anyone who loves it as much as me will be excited to learn that an adaptation for TV is also in the works.
—Katie Santo, web training & content support specialist, Digital Communications Group
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
I cracked up all the way through Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, even though the stories he tells involve black characters dealing with failure, anger, and loneliness. The novel opens with the narrator smoking pot in front of the Supreme Court. He’s a black man on trial for owning a slave and resegregating his hometown. The novel’s been called a satire—I’m not sure if it’s satire just because its commentaries are scathing and hilarious all at once. But it doesn’t matter. At a moment when the Republican presidential nominee has been slow to distance himself from the KKK, it’s worth reading a book about race in America that leaves you shaking your head and saying, “This is ridiculous.”
—Kenneth Logan, PhD student, Steinhardt
Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss
Art, love, lust, and loss... This book is Sex and the City with grit. The lives of a painter, a synesthetic art critic, and a young, Midwestern woman become inextricably intertwined—all below 14th street in 1980. I was swept up in the author's unique ability to personify settings to give readers a full, vibrant picture of the downtown art scene of the ’80s. This new release is great for summer reading, either on the beach or on the subway. This book is perfect for art buffs, recent city transplants, or lifelong Manhattanites.
—Debbi Litt, digital communications specialist, Digital Communications Group
The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories by Joy Williams
My summer pick is The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories by Joy Williams. I discovered Joy Williams’s first collection of short stories, Taking Care (1982), in a New York bookstore in the summer of 1986. Mesmerized by her creative brilliance, I became a huge fan, telling strangers on the street to read her books.
—Ken French, program administrator, Center for Applied Liberal Arts, SPS
Watchlist edited by Bryan Hurt
I'm currently reading a collection of short stories called Watchlist, edited by Bryan Hurt, published by OR books in 2015. Having recently co-authored a volume of short stories, I've become more attentive to the form, and the quality of writing in this collection is uniformly high (authors include T.C. Boyle, Bonnie Nadzam etc.). The stories all in some way center on surveillance (from baby monitors to small town living) and this is such an exciting and contemporary theme that I hungrily turn to each new story to see what cool perspective it will bring to this new way of life to which we are all becoming accustomed, for better or worse.
—Dale Jamieson, professor of environmental studies and philosophy, affiliated professor of law, affiliated professor of medical ethics, chair of the Department of Environmental Studies
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell
In this stunning lyric novel, Greenwell moves between Sofia, Bulgaria, and Louisville, Kentucky, tracing the life of his unnamed narrator through a transactional—and often wrenching—relationship with a young Bulgarian hustler, Mitko. An American teaching at a respected school in Sofia, the narrator first meets Mitko at a cruising spot located in bathrooms of the National Palace of Culture and becomes entangled with him, forging a connection that launches him into a new understandings of himself and his origins—and the nature of desire. A book that should be read as much for its ability to expand one's humanity as for its gorgeous prose.
—KC Trommer, writer, Gallatin
Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the Twentieth Century by Christopher P. Loss
As part of my research for a book on the recent campus protests, I re-read Christopher P. Loss's Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the Twentieth Century. It spoke to me anew in our current moment. Loss emphasizes how psychological ways of thinking and knowing have structured colleges and universities since the 1920s. A whole army of counselors, advisors, and administrators have attended to the psychological well-being of students and have tried to "adjust" the students—and their institutions—to each other. But psychology provides a poor language for politics, as last year's campus demonstrations reminded us. At college after college, students complained about the many ways that their psyches had been injured by their institutions. And the institutions had no real reply, other than to apologize and promise to do better—by hiring yet more counselors, advisors, and administrators. A real discussion of these issues will require us to transcend the rhetoric of psychological trauma, which simply doesn't lend itself to constructive political exchange or reform.
—Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of education and history, Steinhardt
Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives by Karen Wieland
I was fascinated by Karen Wieland’s new book Dietrich & Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives. Born within spitting distance of each other in Berlin in the first two years of the twentieth century, Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl were both inexorably drawn towards careers as performers—one in front of and the other eventually behind the camera. In this stunning historical narrative, Weiland meticulously traces both women's exceptionally brilliant careers, one as a superstar in Hollywood, the other as a filmmaker and propagandist for Hitler.
—Jenny McPhee, director, Center for Applied Liberal Arts, SPS
The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
Ever pitied yourself for enduring a so-called “boss from hell”? Prepare to count your blessings after listening to the audio version of this award-winning 2013 book. It chronicles the relationship between a rudderless young actor (Sestero, also our reader) and an older thespian of indeterminate origin and means, Tommy Wiseau. Their already improbable and weird alliance becomes downright psychotic when Wiseau decides to self-fund, write, produce, and star in a feature-length film, The Room—now a cult classic deemed "the greatest bad movie ever made"—with Sestero serving as his co-star and line producer. What ensues is so much stranger than fiction that Seth Rogen and James Franco bought the film rights and are currently shooting a movie version titled The Masterpiece.
—Robin Sayers, editor, NYU Alumni Magazine
Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs by Sally Mann
Hold Still is one of the most engaging books I've read in a long time and one that eloquently conveys an artist's struggle to find her voice. Mann's account of her unconventional childhood in Lexington, VA, her friendship with Southern painter Cy Twombly, and her experiences raising her own children—including the fallout from her controversial images of them unclothed—makes for compelling reading. The illustrations demonstrate that Mann’s not only an extremely accomplished photographer but a damned good writer as well.
—Lynn Gumpert, director, Grey Art Gallery
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
This book is a memoir by the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. It is an amazing true story of a young girl whose country (Pakistan) was taken control of by the Taliban—and how she almost died fighting for her right to be educated. Malala is a survivor and as a survivor myself I am inspired by her determination to stare adversity in the face and stand up for her beliefs! This is a must read!
—Amy Knowles, assistant dean for student affairs and admissions, Rory Meyers College of Nursing
Let’s Talk about Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson
I mostly read fiction unless work requires otherwise, but here’s a nonfiction book I teach from and appreciate as a good read. Like those amazing peaches you only get for a week in late July, this book is easy to devour but it’s healthy too. Wilson, a well-established and kind of highbrow Canadian rock critic, charts his personal journey from despising Celine Dion to—almost if not quite entirely—loving her. After exploring Dion’s working-class, Québécois childhood, interviewing a lot of really, really nice Celine-worshippers from around the world, and plumbing the tangled depths of Western aesthetics (in a non-jargony, common-sense way), Wilson is left in the end with nowhere else to go. He faces his own prejudices and confesses that his own “alternative”-but-highbrow inclinations are rooted, as everyone’s individual tastes are rooted, in personal longing and disappointment. People like many different kinds of music, but the deepest reasons for loving any music are universal and pretty simple. Let those lovers of saccharine, Top 40 power ballads be, Wilson concludes. Or, as Celine herself notoriously said about looters in post-Katrina New Orleans, “Let them touch those things.”
—Karen Hornick, clinical associate professor, faculty director of Gallatin MA Program
No Good Men Among the Living by Anand Gopal
“Why do they hate us?” was the rhetorical question George W. Bush (remember him?) asked after 9/11. Gopal's insightful reporting gives us the answer Bush never could. At great personal risk, he takes us deep into the lives of Afghans amid the chaos of the U.S. occupation. We get to know a canny regional warlord, a Taliban fighter who would rather be repairing cellphones, and many others. The portrait that sticks is of Heela, an educated woman forced by circumstance to an antediluvian mountain village, trapped in a home she cannot leave without facing death—until she does, and ends up in the Afghan Senate. Read it and understand.
—Dan Fagin, professor of journalism and director of the Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and the Science Communication Workshops
Paula by Isabelle Allende
In this memoir, written as an open letter to her daughter Paula, Isabelle Allende weaves her family history into a tapestry so riveting, so magical, so bright, you almost forget the dark underbelly that prompts the author to begin: her daughter's grave illness, which threatens to change the family landscape irrevocably. I've always loved Allende's prose, but the urgency, tenderness, and passion with which she addresses her ill daughter in Paula took my breath away. Rather than leave me with a sense of loss, which surely is a central theme, Allende left me smiling through my tears, counting my blessings, and reaching for the phone to say as much to my very own mom.
—Alyson Lounsbury, graduate program administrator, Department of History
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
In The Power of Habit, Duhigg presents and elaborates upon countless research and remarkable scientific discoveries that justify why habits exist and how they can be altered and changed. The book was recommended to me by a faculty member and really resonated with me. Growing up, my parents looked at some of my actions and categorized them as “bad” or “good” habits. That made me interested in discovering what characterizes a habit and how are they created. In my view, the most interesting part of the book describes how organizations like Proctor and Gamble, Starbucks, and the NFL use habits in marketing strategies (and to improve team performance, in the case of the NFL). It shows the profound impact that habits have over our lives and day to day activities.
—Roshaun Morris, Tandon ’18
Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique W. Morris
This heartbreaking and sobering portrait of the hidden and too often ignored experiences of black girls in schools and beyond chronicles black girls across the country who exist irreverently in states of crises, governed by a carceral gaze that relegates them lowly in the sights of institutions charged with helping them flourish. Morris powerfully documents how, in spite of systems of despair, and even in the foggy midst of abuse, black girls achieve for themselves a kind of humanity, though audacious, by engineering a resilience that allows them to cling steadfastly to fading shades of hope that grow dim in the tunnel between classrooms and juvenile facilities. Though they make up roughly 16% of female students, Black girls comprise more than one-third of girls who face school-related arrests. In this way, Pushout adds texture to conversations on school-to-prison logics, combining sharp analysis with humanistic compassion to expose a world of confined potential, one that reaches beyond the psychological and sociological barriers that have so far confined conversations on schooling, juvenile justice, gender, and race.
—David Kirkland, associate professor of English education, Steinhardt
Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer
Much has been written and said about Israel’s economic miracle, but few have really analyzed and unpacked the why, not just the what. Senor and Singer unearth the complex interplay between the inherent character of the Israeli people along with a set of well-timed government, military, and industry initiatives and investments that explain how it has thrived. How else could this tiny country, surrounded by enemies with limited natural resources, produce more start-ups than just about any other nation besides the U.S.? While not a recipe or template that others can simply follow, Start-Up Nation helps explore that complex interplay, and explains why it has been so difficult for other countries and regions to reproduce Israel’s success.
—Frank Rimalovski, executive director, NYU Entrepreneurial Institute
Waking Up White by Debby Irving
Irving, who is white, has created a terrific book that is part history, part memoir and part workbook for other people of European descent who are interested in reflecting on their whiteness and how it has influenced their lives and worldviews. Irving writes candidly about her own mistakes and her own evolution which means the book avoids a judgmental or preachy tone. Instead it is both very revealing and an easy, accessible read.
—Erica Foldy, associate professor of public and nonprofit management, Wagner
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
This "novel in verse" is a re-imagining of a lost poem by the ancient Greek writer Stesichorus: The red monster Geryon is now also a gifted, troubled young man who has his heart broken by Herakles (instead of being killed by him). Geryon survives the devastating affair and is reborn through art—his own, as well as Carson's. Last fall, my students and I explored Antigonick, her illustrated interpretation of Sophocles's play. We saw Ivo van Hove's production of her translation at BAM, and Anne came to class with her partner Robert Currie to discuss their collaborations and artistic process. The experience was a game-changer for us, and I'm determined to read everything she's written. Why should you? She's a noted classical scholar, a brilliant poet, one of NYU's great teachers, and gets my vote as today's most exciting and challenging artist.
—Karen Karbiener, clinical assistant professor of Liberal Studies
The Black Maria by Aracelis Girmay
Girmay is a stunning lyrical and narrative poet who has the ability to take the reader to the deepest places of sorrow, loss, injustice, journey, and all in the grace of survival and the deepest abiding love for life, for story, for the possible. She is a scholar, a griot, and a gorgeously faithful poet who keeps language and the human story alive.
—Kathy Engel, associate arts professor and chair, Department of Art and Public Policy, Tisch
Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Citizen is about all of us. It is about how we "bump" into each other in a racialized context in these United States of America. It is a symphony of words and images and moments that tell our contemporary collective story. Citizen spoke to me because the words fluttered gently around me but as they fell, felt like embers on my soul, articulating an elegant rage about circumstances that embrace all of us. It left me in a puddle of words that opened up body memory about situations I can only recall because of visible scars. The book, images and all, relieved me of the burden of remembering my own pain. It also reminded me that I have fellow travelers and am not alone in the journey. Others should read it because they will think that they will get to know me or a certain kind of American better, but in fact they will get to know all of us better, themselves included. Others should read it because it is the kind of education you don't get in even the best schools.
—Sheril Antonio, associate dean, Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television, Tisch
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
A brilliant and innovative new book of poems by young Saigon-born poet Ocean Vuong (NYU MFA ’16) about identity, history, violence, desire and loss. Vuong is a major new voice in American poetry.
—Deborah Landau, director, Creative Writing Program
For those days between trips or for people planning staycations, there is a book and an activity to entice almost any curious city kid or parent. Bring history and science to life this summer by reading these nonfiction picture books paired with outings in the NYC Metro area.
Ideas by Kendra Tyson, the Linda May Uris Library Media Specialist, Constantine Georgiou Library and Resource Center for Children and Literature, Steinhardt
Lightship by Brian Floca
Brian Floca received a Sibert Honor for this book inspired by the Ambrose, a working lightship between the years 1908 and 1932. This lyrical, informational narrative will pique the interest of most young children, especially those with an enthusiasm for all things nautical. Follow the reading with a trip to the South Street Seaport Museum, where you can tour the real Ambrose—the inspiration for the book.
Ick! Yuck! Eew!: Our Gross American History by Lois Miner Huey
Nothing grabs the attention of kids like the gross and crude! This book captures children's imaginations by tapping into our basic human interest in the odious, for which there was plenty of fodder in 18th Century America. Pair the reading with a visit to one of the homes in New York City's Historic House Trust. You can also just take a walk in any of NYC's remaining cobblestone street neighborhoods and imagine the sights and smells of early American life.
The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, written by Hildegarde H. Swift and illustrated by Lynd Ward
One of the more charming members of the Historic House Trust is the Little Red Lighthouse, located uptown in Fort Washington Park. Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward brought the story of Manhattan's only lighthouse to life in this 1942 classic. The book remains a favorite among children who root for the lighthouse in the shadow of the colossal George Washington Bridge. The lighthouse became a protected historic site thanks in part to the efforts of children who were fans of the book.
Prehistoric Actual Size by Steve Jenkins
A perennial favorite among almost all children, dinosaurs are the stars of this Steve Jenkins book that explores the relative size of prehistoric animals through fact based text and Jenkins's signature collage artwork. A reading of this book gives you the perfect excuse to visit the American Museum of Natural History's newest dinosaur exhibition—Dinosaurs Among Us—which explores recent fossil record evidence that links dinosaurs to modern day birds.
Bring Me Some Apples and I'll Make You a Pie: A Story About Edna Lewis by Robbin Gourley
Robbin Gourley’s picture book biography focuses on celebrated chef Edna Lewis—the original farm-to-table champion—through narrative text and evocative watercolor illustrations. Visit your local NYC Greenmarket for the ingredients to make one, or more, of the kid-friendly recipes included at the end of the book.