Great Books

My wife Lisa and I have been having fun picking through our own students' (sophomore and senior) assigned books for the year ahead. We are impressed with the thought that has gone into selecting them and with the diversity of the selections. At their best, novels elevate us, connect us to the larger human experience that exists beyond the walls of our homes and classrooms, help us see the formation of our own identities, build empathy, teach us about privilege and oppression, and simply expose us to the beauty of language. I firmly believe that people need stories. Stories can challenge us and reassure us, inspire us to become better people, and help us see that we are not alone in either our suffering or our joy. From Hamlet to White Teeth to The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, these novels are, as Anna Quindlen said in How Reading Changed My Life, "the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home." I am excited for the journey all of our students will take this year.

I made up my own summer reading list and am scrambling to finish before school starts. Here is my list broken down by books completed, books I have started, and the book waiting on the shelf!

Books I have completed

Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick (I am a history major and find Philbrick to be the perfect nonfiction summer read. Mayflower is still my favorite of his books, but this story about Benedict Arnold was fascinating.)

Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight (Loved this book and learned so much about the birth of the running movement in this country and about entrepreneurship.)

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (I finally picked up this book about a father writing to his son about race. It is both devastating and essential reading.)

The Oregon Trail, a New American Journey by Rinker Buck (I bought this audiobook to listen to while driving around the West this summer. A classic midlife crisis tale about a man and his brother deciding to drop everything, hitch up some oxen to a covered wagon and ride the Oregon Trail. Buck weaves in history, environmentalism, religious exodus, class conflict, and genocide along the way.)

Old School by Tobias Wolf (A student touring this school recommended this book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had never read Wolf and want to read more.)

Books in Progress

whistling vivaldi, how stereotypes affect us and what we can do by Claude Steele (This is a must read for educators helping students to navigate the complexity of their own identities and of those around them.)

Threshold Concepts in Practice by Ray Land and Jan Meyer (I picked up this book after meeting with Amherst Professor Hari Stephen Kumar, who will be our keynote speaker at our summer professional development meetings. You can read more about Threshold Concept and Hari in our "Latest News" Section.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I cannot even count this as summer reading since I assigned it to our Administrative Team as a group read last year. We are all embarrassed to admit that we are struggling to finish it! We are soldiering through.)

Book on the Shelf

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (When I was teaching American History I found the teaching of the history slavery to be the most profound and interesting aspect of the course. I often feel that fiction gets closer to the truth than nonfiction so I am looking forward to reading Whitehead's well reviewed book.)

What are you reading? What do you recommend? Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Please email me at