Reading List for the Summer

From our Schreyer Honors College Blog:
Announcing the 2007 Summer Reading List

The following are book descriptions from the 2007 Schreyer Honors College Summer Reading List. The group discussions will be held with first-year Scholars during Orientation on Thursday, August 23 and Friday, August 24.

All first-year Scholars will be invited to register for at least two summer readings. Anyone who is interested in participating in a group discussion and can register online here.

Ian McEwan
Atonement is a very poignant and moving novel set in Great Britain in the summer of 1935 before World War II. During this summer, the narrator, 13 year old Briony witnesses an incident between her older sister and Robbie, the son of their family’s estate caretaker, where Robbie appears to be forcing her older sister to strip before the fountain. She also intercepts a scandalous letter from Robbie to her sister. Later that same day, a family cousin claims to have been assaulted on the grounds. Briony allows her imagination to run away and points to Robbie as the rapist, forever changing her life, Robbie’s life, and the life of her sister. The tension of pre-war Britain is mirrored in the tension within the family. The novel jumps forward a number of years to war-time Britain and shows what has become of the three main characters. Finally, it concludes after the war, when Briony is an old woman, looking back on her life and that summer in 1935, after which, things were never to be the same.

Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel
Jean Kilbourne
Can’t Buy My Love explores the overwhelming power that advertising wields over human interaction and behavior. It is no secret that advertisements influence their audience greatly, and this book provides myriad examples of effective, though often dangerous, ad copy. The author argues that the advertising industry, in its bombardment of its audience, taints consumer opinions and promotes the development of unhealthy behaviors, but admits that, taken out of the social context, advertisements can be quite clever or humorous. The chapters focus on specific themes, such as car advertising, the replacement of relationships with objects, and the promotion of addiction through marketing. The author’s commentary includes statistical data from reputable research and observations from ad critics and trade publications as well as her own experience as an activist, former alcoholic, consumer, and mother. Meant to educate the general purchasing public, the reader need not have any prior knowledge about the advertising industry to understand this eye-opening report.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
Tracy Kidder
This book is a creative biographical work of Dr. Paul Farmer, a specialist in infectious disease. The format is one in which author, Tracey Kidder, reveals more about the focus as he gets to know the doctor. This is an inspiring story, of a man who has founded a healthcare clinic in Haiti. He continued the fight against poor health care funds, and tuberculosis, through Siberia. He fights for affordable health care, he fights for justice in the system, he fights for what he believes and all the while struggles with his own sense of self.

Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History
Penny M. LeCouteur, Jay Burreson
Napoleon’s Buttons is a fascinating mixture of history and chemistry! The title comes from an anecdote about the defeat of Napoleon’s armies: as the Russian winter set in, the tin buttons on the French uniforms allegedly became brittle and crumbled, leaving the soldiers ill-clothed and vulnerable to the elements. What might have happened had they anticipated the effects of this chemical property? Using this unique approach, the book examines seventeen different groups of molecules, and their effect on human history. For instance, “Peppers, Nutmeg, and Cloves” is a chapter devoted to these aromatic molecules, the desire for which led to the spice trade and the Age of Exploration. Subsequent chapters deal with substances as different as nitro compounds, silk and nylon, and salt. For those who might be put off by reading a chemistry book, relax: the technical aspects are explained in a very clear and easy-to-understand fashion, and the emphasis is strongly on the role these molecules have played in the story of mankind. Fun for real-world scientists, non-traditional historians, and anyone else who likes to ask “what if?”

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Azar Nafisi
An inspired blend of memoir and literary criticism, Reading Lolita in Tehran is a moving testament to the power of art and its ability to change and improve people’s lives. In 1995, after resigning from her job as a professor at a university in Tehran due to repressive policies, Azar Nafisi invited seven of her best female students to attend a weekly study of great Western literature in her home. Since the books they read were officially banned by the government, the women were forced to meet in secret, often sharing photocopied pages of the illegal novels. For two years they met to talk, share, and “shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into color.” Though most of the women were shy and intimidated at first, they soon became emboldened by the forum and used the meetings as a springboard for debating the social, cultural, and political realities of living under strict Islamic rule. They discussed their harassment at the hands of “morality guards,” the daily indignities of living under the Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime, the effects of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, love, marriage, and life in general, giving readers a rare inside look at revolutionary Iran.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Mark Haddon
Christopher John Francis Boone is a fifteen-year-old autistic boy whose world starts to come apart at the seams when his neighbor’s dog is found stabbed with a pitchfork, and he is initially blamed for the murder. He decides that, like his hero Sherlock Holmes, he is going to solve the mystery and find out who killed Wellington the poodle. But, as Christopher carries out his investigation, he starts to find out answers to other mysteries, like why his father and his neighbor won’t answer any of his questions, and what exactly happened to his mother? Christopher starts out solving a bizarre crime, but ends up navigating the heartbreaking emotional territory of his family’s history – a particularly difficult challenge for a narrator who has trouble understanding other people’s emotions and dealing with the constant flow of chaotic stimuli that most people can simply accept as life. His genius for mathematics (the chapters are numbered only with prime numbers) and passion for astronomy contrast sharply with his social and emotional challenges which the adults in his life help him work through. In addition to being a compelling read, this book also inspires empathy; you’ll come away from it with a whole new perspective on autism.

The Genius Factory
David Plotz
Plotz combines a series of investigative essays on “The Repository for Germinal Choice” to create this captivating and practically unbelievable history of a sperm bank gone awry. The inventor Robert Graham decides that “smart” and “not-so-smart” people are on the verge of a class war, and it’s up to him to ensure that the “smart” people are numerous enough to stand a chance. His brilliant idea is to collect sperm from Nobel Prize winners and use it to inseminate women who can pass the MENSA IQ test. The challenges of starting the bank, the ethical issues involved in Graham’s philosophy, the awkward process of finding donors, and the fascinating children who enter the world as a result of the project make this an interesting read.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
Malcolm Gladwell
The Tipping Point discusses the nature of trends in our society, from the popularity of Hush Puppy shoes, to the decrease in crime in the nineties. Gladwell goes into detail about his theories of why these trends happen; how they begin, how they grow and the people involved. He theorizes that there are three important people in the growth of trends. Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen are the three types of people that Gladwell believes help start trends. For instance, Connectors are people that know a large number of people, and help to connect the people he knows to others in his network. Connectors distribute information to their large networks, helping restaurants, clothing, shoes and other potential trends to become popular and well-known. Mavens are collectors of information, and Salesmen help “sell trends.” There is also the Stickiness Factor that Gladwell thinks makes ideas stay popular. He discusses why television shows like Sesame Street and Blues Clues are so successful because of their “stickiness.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.