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Western professors’ recommended reads

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By Macy Adkinson

For those seeking adventure in a time of uncertainty, recreational reading is calling. Here are book recommendations from six Western professors that transcend the confines of COVID-19.

Professors share their preferred reading spots where they’re taking life a few pages at a time. Whether it's the kitchen counter or outside by the fire, they all agree reading can take you much further. 

“People who don't read only get to live one life,” professor Charles Patterson said. “Readers get to live a legion of lives vicariously. Reading allows us to benefit from the wisdom accumulated over the millennia of human existence. It also helps us to develop empathy as we practice imagining ourselves in the situations of the people and characters we read about. The world needs that now more than ever.”

  1. “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes

Patterson, associate professor of Spanish at Western, recommended a classic, “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes. This was the novel that attracted him to the field of early modern literature. 

“Don Quixote” follows the imaginary adventures of the mad knight Don Quixote, along with pirates, daring escapes and romantic intrigues. 

“Most of all, reading it is a literary and philosophical adventure because Cervantes always leaves us wondering what version of the world we can accept as ‘real,’” Patterson said. 

Patterson recommended reading this novel because it shows the world through the eyes of multiple characters, which makes for better readers and better people. 

2.“El Nombre de la Rosa” by Umberto Eco

Western biology professor Alejandro Acevedo-Gutierrez recommended “El Nombre de la Rosa” (“The Name of the Rose” in English) by Umberto Eco for its compelling mystery. 

This book contains elements of murder mystery, history, mountains and fiction, which are all Acevedo-Gutierrez’s interests. 

He descibes the book as “a murder mystery in an Italian monastery atop a mountain range in the middle ages, and based on historical characters and major worldwide events.” 

Acevedo-Gutierrez appreciates the novel for its well crafted content that entertains, puzzles and illustrates a life in a different place and time. 

3.“The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brenee Brown

Western accounting professor Daniel Purdy recommended “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brenee Brown. He said it helped him get through a tough time dealing with the shame he felt with his own imperfections. 

This novel spreads the message of self worth, with 10 suggestions to help better one's life. It encourages people to embrace living authentically. 

“I think we would all benefit from learning to accept ourselves as we are rather than who we think we’re supposed to be, or buying into who others think we should be,” Purdy said.

 4.“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

Chemistry professor Jennifer Griffith suggested the science fiction novel “The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. It inspired her love of science fiction reading.

This novel follows the chronicles of the last surviving man after Earth has been demolished to make way for an intergalactic superhighway. Elements of comedy and cleverness make this a fun read, Griffith said. 

5.“The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” by Bill James. 

Western professor of music and society Mark Miyake chose to share “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” by Bill James.

“Books like this one that focus on the history, the stories, and statistical analysis of the game are both comforting and thought-provoking for me while primarily addressing issues that are different from the ones I teach and write about every day,” Miyake said. 

Even if one doesn't have a background in baseball, this novel shares profiles of hundreds of individuals stretching back for over a century, Miyake said. 

6.“People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks 

Anthropology instructor Kathleen Kuba reads multiple books for her book club. She selected “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks, as well as “Sisters in Law” by Linda Hirshman. 

“People of the Book” follows an Australian manuscript conservator as she uncovers clues in Europe to restore the Haggadah, a text that lays out the order of a ritual feast that marks the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Passover. The novel traces the movement of the Haggadah across Europe from Sarajevo to Spain over 500 years.  

“Having worked in museums for 20 years, I was thrilled to see the meticulous work of museum professionals become a nonstop adventure,” Kuba said.   

Kuba said that uncovering clues and tracking mysteries keep the reader turning the page.

7.“Sisters in Law” by Linda Hirshman

Kuba’s second pick, “Sisters in Law,” is a dual biography of Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  

Hirshman tells the story of each woman's early years and their journeys to the Supreme Court. The book gives insight to decisions each made and how they supported one another during the 12 years they shared on the bench.  

“In the 1970s and ’80s I was active in the movement to gain equity for women in the U.S.,” Kuba said. “Though this struggle is still ongoing with much equity still to gain, witnessing women contribute to the ‘highest law in the land’ has given me some hope for greater equity in our society.”

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