Summer reading: Reading Lolita in Tehran

Book cover for Reading Lolita in TehranReading Lolita in Tehran
Azar Nafisi

In her popular book, Azar Nafisi narrates how she established intimate bonds with a group of female students who gathered at her home in Tehran to read works that were forbidden, clandestinely photocopying Nabokov’s Lolita and other prohibited works to avoid arrest. Nafisi does not understate the unimaginable repressiveness of a society where a government official inspects the hair and hands of female students for anything that could be considered the slightest cosmetic aberration before allowing them entry into the university where they are enrolled.

What’s remarkable about this book is not only how she maintains enduring relationships with this group, but how, through them, she is able to convey the massive cultural and political changes within Iran. For instance, the eight-year Iran-Iraq war is brought into awareness when a missile destroys a house about a mile from the living room where they’re discussing an American novel. They feel the reverberations of the strike.

Amazingly, Nafisi is able to connect her students’ lives to the lives described in detail in the novels of Jane Austen and Henry James — works that, on the surface, may seem to be completely “foreign,” and therefore “not relevant,” to people living in a Middle Eastern country that is on the verge of an Islamic revolution. One of the most spirited classroom discussions occurs when F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is put “on trial.” Some students denounce it as a glaring example of Western literature that advocates decadence; others argue that it is a sardonic critique of upper-class American society during the Gilded Age.

Reading Lolita in Tehran is not only about how human connections can endure through time, but how literature can transcend time by connecting to readers despite their cultural differences.

MIKE PALMER
Curriculum Planner
College Writing Programs

This book is part of the 2020 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: If Women Rose Rooted

Book cover for If Women Rose RootedIf Women Rose Rooted
Sharon Blackie

In this eco-feminist work, Sharon Blackie writes about the dreadful severance that has occurred between the Earth and people, especially women, and how we have become lost and estranged from the natural world. Since our Western culture is founded on philosophies of dominion over nature, that animals have no reason, and that matter is inert, she writes, “it follows that the natural world is no more than a backdrop for human activities, to be exploited. Wild places have become ‘resources.’” It’s obvious that if you don’t know a place, then you don’t feel responsible for it. This book is an electrifying call to reconnect with the Earth and remember that we belong here. She reminds us that we must guard it and make a path to an “eco-heroine’s journey,” through Earth’s forests and fields, moors (she especially writes about Ireland and Scotland) and caves, waters, islands, and mountains.

JEAN DICKINSON
Slavic & Eastern European Catalog Librarian
UCB Library

This book is part of the 2020 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: Papillon

Book cover for papillonPapillion
Henri Charrière

The true prison story of wrongly convicted Henri Charrière’s Papillon (the nickname given to him because of the butterfly tattoo on his chest) takes many turns up and down the penal colony of Cayenne in French Guiana and across South America.

Upon arrival, he befriends a convicted banker/counterfeiter, Louis Dega, and initially uses him to finance his escape. What starts out as a self-serving tactic of prison survival eventually turns into a deep friendship as they are repeatedly caught, and Henri refuses to name names to the prison authorities. This costs him many years of solitary confinement under the most inhumane conditions.

He is eventually taken to Devil’s Island, off the coast of French Guiana, where his old friend Louis also lives. The island’s fame for inescapability doesn’t frighten Henri as he plans his final escape.

One of the best reads concerning friendship, struggle, and man’s desire for freedom.

ALVARO LÓPEZ-PIEDRA
Library Assistant III/Receiving Specialist
(Spanish/Italian/French/Portuguese/Catalan Collections)
Ordering & Monographs Receiving Unit

This book is part of the 2020 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: The Travelers

Book cover for The TravelersThe Travelers
Regina Porter

This debut novel by an award-winning African American playwright is a multigenerational, multifamily, multiracial saga told in language that is lean and prickly, full of characters who keep doing and saying things you won’t see coming, as they connect and disconnect against the backdrop of America in the 20th and 21st centuries.

MICHELE RABKIN
Associate Director
Berkeley Connect

This book is part of the 2020 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: How to Be Both

Book cover for how to be bothHow To Be Both
Ali Smith

The book has two halves — one about Francesco del Cossa, an Italian Renaissance artist, and one about George, a contemporary British teenager who is coping with the recent death of her mother — and they are related in surprising and intriguing ways. George and Francesco both think about uses for new technologies, the ways that images shape our ideas of the world, and what it means to be entertained. George is one of the great young adult characters of the past few years and worth reading on her own. But the deeper story is her imaginative relationship with Francesco del Cossa, who makes us wonder whether some very contemporary questions aren’t, in fact, very old. Another fun fact: The novel was published in two versions, with Francesco’s story appearing first in some and George’s in others.

EMILY LASKIN
PhD candidate
Comparative Literature

This book is part of the 2020 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: Disappearing Earth

Book cover for Disappearing Earth Disappearing Earth
Julia Phillips

Julia Phillips’ novel opens with a crime that startles the people of Kamchatka. Told in linked short stories, the novel links the women and men of this town in a number of ways, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, showing how everyone is connected. Each character is vividly brought to life, as is this remote part of the world. While it is a thriller, it resists formulaic crime stereotypes. By showing how one act affects so many, Phillips reminds us of how we all affect one another.

KIM FREEMAN
Lecturer
College Writing Programs

This book is part of the 2020 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: The Righteous Mind

Book cover for The Righteous MindThe Righteous Mind
Jonathan Haidt

This book explores the implications of moral philosophy for political polarization. A lot of what we disagree about can be boiled down to six foundations of moral value. Different political perspectives correlate with different moral foundations. If we don’t understand one another’s values, we wind up polarized. But the real reason this is a must-read is that it demonstrates how we base our moral judgements on emotional reaction rather than information and thought. All of us.

DANIEL ACLAND
Associate Professor of Practice
Goldman School of Public Policy

This book is part of the 2020 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: This is How You Lose the Time War

Book cover for this is how you lose the time warThis is How You Lose the Time War
Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

This book weaves a brilliant tale of spies on opposite sides of a multidimensional time war, waged primarily by two agents: “Blue,” whose society focuses on nature and natural elements, and “Red,” whose technofuturist society will have its victory no matter the cost. As they travel through time, Blue and Red thwart one another at every turn on behalf of worlds hellbent on their assimilation and unquestioning compliance. But as they say, love knows no bounds — and their connection defies all constraints, real and imagined. Excitingly paced, and with lush, lyrical prose, this book is a must-read for fans of speculative fiction, romance, and character-driven stories featuring queer characters of color.

JENNIFER BROWN
Undergraduate Learning and Research Librarian
Doe Library

This book is part of the 2020 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer Reading: How to be an Antiracist

Book cover for How to be an Anticracist How to be an Antiracist
Ibram X. Kendi

Ibram X. Kendi narrates his own path of liberation leading to the creation of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center and his unapologetic engagement with its mission. He weaves beautiful lessons, dispels many myths, and challenges prevalent misconceptions through poignant personal stories. This book is both autobiography and magnificent scholarly work. Most importantly, the pages of this book leave one with a personal sense of possibility and responsibility.

GUSTAVO VALBUENA
Head, Problem-Based Learning Curriculum
UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program

This book is part of the 2020 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: Campus Diversity

Book cover for Campus DiversityCampus Diversity: The Hidden Consensus
John M. Carey, Katie Clayton, & Yusaku Horiuchi

This book is authored by two political science luminaries, John Carey and Yusaku Horiuchi of Dartmouth, as well as one of their students who was an undergraduate herself at the time of the writing, Katie Clayton.

I can’t imagine a work of nonfiction that better addresses the theme of this year’s Summer Reading List. Campus Diversity focuses on one of the central social, political, and legal issues confronting universities: whether and how race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status should be considered in college admissions and in faculty recruitment. It takes seriously what students think about an issue on which they have direct, recent experience. It acknowledges head-on the challenges students may face in openly expressing opinions about diversity, and it shows how scholars can measure attitudes even on hot-button issues. It further shows how the academic research process can unfold, identifying a puzzle, applying an innovative method to get traction on it, and presenting results graphically, in an accessible manner that requires no prior familiarity with statistical methods. It provides historical background on demographic diversity at American universities and current context on legal and political challenges to affirmative action.

Nothing could be more timely, and the book is a model of engaging, accessible social science. Perhaps most importantly, given this year’s theme, the book unearths hidden connections among students and opens the way for more open and fruitful dialogue. I think incoming students would enjoy it and profit enormously from reading it.

M. STEVEN FISH
Professor
Political Science Department

This book is part of the 2020 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!