What Champaign-Urbana Is Reading: Book Picks from Your Neighbors
We’ve been asking CU neighbors to recommend a favorite book. Click on each title to find it in the library catalog.
Books often transport us to new, unimagined places and take us on fantastic adventures. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Hadden, takes the reader on an adventure, but it does so with a lens that most of us never have the opportunity to gaze through. The Curious Incident is narrated from the perspective of a young man with Autism confronted with a grave crime. As he tries to solve the mystery of who murdered his neighbor’s dog, Christopher also grows to better understand himself and his family. The book is well written and enjoyable to read, while giving great insight into what it means to see the world from a truly different perspective. I would recommend this book to almost anyone as they try to better understand people whose minds work in different ways.
President, Bump Nonprofit Design Studio
Each day I get the opportunity to meet extraordinary people, listen to their stories, and then make something creative together. And I’m blessed to get to do what I do in an incredible community of thinkers, dreamers, and doers. But while I love my career, the last thing I typically want to think about once I’m done each day is anything to do with my career. I’d rather lose myself in a dream. In my opinion, no one provides a dream world like author Neil Gaiman. His latest, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, so effortlessly folds fantasy with reality that you’ll find yourself wondering where the truth ends and the fantasy begins. He transports you to that age of 11 or 12 which each one of us carries around inside, even if we don’t quite remember that we do. Gaiman writes:
“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a quick read. And unless you’re so “grown-up” that your world doesn’t have time to dream every now and then, I encourage you to lose yourself in it. Even if it’s just for a night or two.
Owner & Creative Director, SURFACE 51
No book I have read has left a more lasting impression on me than Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. The book is set in the United States in a time not so far in the future when environmental collapse has created widespread scarcity. Human competition for food now occurs face-to-face, hand-to-hand. The protagonist, a teenaged empath named Lauren Oya Olamina, is driven by the destruction of her village and the murder of her family to develop an original understanding of what the nature of God – if God exists – must be. With this understanding as her guide, she endeavors to survive without altogether sacrificing the principles of interdependence and trust that make human survival worth the struggle. Leading with the example of her new system of beliefs and ethics, she forms a community around herself whose members hope to survive together by their practices, to convert ever-increasing numbers to their successful example, and thereby to effect an eventual reversal of humanity’s suicidal trajectory.
The conceit of any effective futurist novel is, as a projection of current circumstances, plausible. But this one seems inevitable. Since reading the book, I have assumed that I may well find myself living in its scenario. Butler has compelled me to think – not hypothetically – about what I will and will not be willing to do under such pressures. On the one hand, the book has permanently terrified me, and I sometimes resent it for this. On the other, my imagination and optimism are stimulated by Butler’s suggestions about the nature of God; they are the only ones I’ve encountered that satisfactorily resolve the Problem of Evil or the contradiction between free will and a powerful, magical Divinity in continuous operation. This is much for one novelist to achieve.
Gary Paulsen writes of training for and then running the Iditarod dog-sled race, an 1180-mile ordeal through the heart of Alaska. It is a beautifully written book, expressed with humor and feeling, and is almost poetic in places. He starts running dogs as a novice and gradually develops a spiritual relationship with his team, with the race, and with Alaska. I mean spiritual, not in a religious sense, but in the sense of becoming one with the dogs and understanding them at a deep emotional level, becoming related in thought, action, and spirit. While most writers might tell such a story as a simple series of events, Paulsen weaves in explanations and observations so it is almost as if you were there with him, understanding and experiencing situations as he experienced them.
My first copy of Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, was a gift over 20 years ago from my nephews who, at the time, were about 10 and 12. I was captivated by the story and read through it quickly. When I finished I was so disappointed that it was over that I turned it over and started reading it again from the beginning (the only time I have ever done this). The second time through I limited myself to one chapter per day to extend the pleasure of reading it. Now I reread the book every couple of years — it is that good.
Paulsen is often categorized as a writer of children’s books but I think children and adults alike will enjoy this book. Over the years I have given away many copies of Winterdance to adults. It has been almost universally enjoyed in spite of initial doubts by the recipients. I found the book so inspiring that I took a five-day dog-sled trip in Alaska, “driving” a sled with a team of five dogs; it was the best trip I have ever taken. And Winterdance is the best, most enjoyable book I have ever read.
Retired Professor of Marketing
College of Business, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Co-Author, 101 Things I Learned in Business School
This account of the 1914 expedition to Antarctica – and the astonishing story of the crew shipwrecked without hope of rescue – is inspiring, gripping, and very well written. The language is vivid, and author Alfred Lansing successfully weaves in the stories of individual crew members (artfully pulled from diaries, photographs, and recorded accounts). I have read this book several times, each time gaining new appreciation for and inspiration from the lives of these men who simply endured in a situation where all hope was lost. If you are unfamiliar with this slice of history from the age of the great explorers, you are in for a treat. But be warned – once you start this book you may not be able to put it down!
Barbara McFadden Allen
Executive Director, Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC)
"Antarctic Explorer's Failure Becomes His Greatest Success" WBUR 90.9 Here & Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson, January 2, 2014; includes links to recently discovered pictures of the expedition
I have found a little nugget of wisdom, truth, or beauty in many books I've read, however the book that sent me down a career path in education was Good-Bye Mr. Chips by James Hilton. The dedication, respect, and compassion Mr. Chipping showed his students and the reciprocal emotions offered by those young men for their beloved schoolmaster got me hooked. I read that book in 7th grade.
It was my good fortune to enjoy a similar relationship with hundreds of students during my 27 years in the classroom. While teaching I turned to so many books that inspired and challenged my 7th and 8th graders to big ideas beyond themselves. Even a picture book like Barbara Cooney's Miss Rumphius captured their attention as those 12 and 13 year olds were implored to do three things with their lives: go to faraway places, live by the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful. I hope they do.
I am reading Cooked by Michael Pollan. I am totally fascinated by Pollan's exploration of, what I would call, the anthropology of cooking and eating. From the simple act of putting meat to the fire, to baking bread, and then fermentation and all its complexities; Pollan helps me to see and understand food in a new way. I think he has the perfect blend of science and art in his writing.
President, Bodywork Associates
Author, The Mystery of Pain
Monique E. Rivera recommends:
Queen of Your Own Life: The Grown-Up Woman's Guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve
Queen of Your Own Life, by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, honors and celebrates the mid-life point of a woman's journey. A quick and funny read, the book enlightens us to savor each turn in the road and relish our female friendships. I am proud to say that I turned *40* this year, and do my best to enjoy the adventure! Isn't that what it's all about?
Monique E. Rivera
Academic Engagement Liaison, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
Photosynthesis is not only the source of all of our food and most of our fuel, it has completely altered our planet and continues to do so. While about photosynthesis, this book by Oliver Morton will give you an insight and understanding of the frustrations and excitement of scientific investigation of complex processes in the Life Sciences. Scientists such as me, close to the subject, struggle to explain the excitement that studying photosynthesis holds for ourselves. Some of the best explanations come from non-experts, who have taken the time to study the subject and the discoveries that have explained how this amazing process, on which all life depends, works. Oliver Morton, previously an editor for Nature and now with the Economist is such an author. He has also written for the New Yorker and National Geographic, among others. After a fascinating book about astronomy, Mapping Mars, Oliver Morton turned his hand to the study photosynthesis, visited research laboratories and attended scientific meetings where contemporary researches discussed and argued about how the process worked. The book not only explains photosynthesis, the unraveling of its mechanism and its importance to the functioning of the Earth, it provides understanding of how scientific discoveries take place. That is, the gradual emergence of understanding with new discoveries, aided by new technologies, wrong turns and setbacks, disputes, frustrations and the joy of discovering something that no one else on Earth knew. The first part of the book is perhaps hard work, introducing many technical terms, don't give up, your reward will be in enjoying and gaining the most from the remaining two thirds.
Robert Emerson Professor, Crop Sciences and Plant Biology
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
I recommend "How to Escape from a Leper Colony," a novella and short stories by Tiphanie Yanique, a young writer from the US Virgin Islands. As a Virgin Islander myself, I was moved by her lush stories about everyday Virgin Island folk, as well as individuals from the broader Caribbean. Yanique adds a vital and devastating beauty to the genre of Caribbean fiction with characters who inhabit worlds that are classic magical realism yet upend customary expectations. Her stories are engrossing in their level of detail about Caribbean life, telling of a complex people without reduction to caricature. Yanique's stories reveal the impact of history, colonialism, gender relations, and very particular cultural practices as they mix and remix, and her words jump off the page in colorful, surprising ways. Each of her moments and characters left me wanting more. I can't wait for her next book.
M. Cynthia Oliver
Professor, Choreographer and Performing Artist
James Langer recommends:
The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business
The book provides a clear and compelling argument regarding why certain types of technical innovations are more commercially successful than others. Based on a series of case studies, the author details the ideal profile of a company primed to succeed in introducing new technical innovations to the marketplace. The key conclusion: large, established companies excel in bringing incremental or gradual innovations to market, while smaller, newer companies such as startups have a significant edge when it comes to introducing “game-changing” or so-called disruptive innovations. I recently started a new technology business in the University of Illinois Research Park, so the message was not only eye-opening but also very relevant to the plans I have for building the business.
Founder and President, Serionix Inc.
Valerie Hotchkiss recommends:
The Folded Leaf
and, for young adults: So Long, See You Tomorrow
William Maxwell served as fiction editor (from 1936 to 1975) for the The New Yorker, where he nurtured and inspired the most prominent authors of his day. He is also himself one of the greatest American authors of the twentieth century and Illinois is lucky enough to “claim” him as one of our own. (He was born in Lincoln, Illinois, in 1908.) The Folded Leaf is a lyrical account of a young man’s experiences at the University of Illinois in the 1920s—based on Maxwell's own life—full of references to places in Urbana. So Long, See You Tomorrow recounts a friendship between two lonely boys and the harrowing small town event that changed their lives forever. In both books, one comes away with a deeper understanding of the foibles of human nature and the importance of small kindnesses and human feeling.
Maxwell’s literary manuscripts are housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. If you read one of these beautiful and memorable books I have recommended, please visit the Rare Book & Manuscript Library and I will show you the original manuscript afterwards.
Andrew S. G. Turyn Endowed Professor
Director, The Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Professor of Medieval Studies, Religion, and Library Science
Director, Midwest Book & Manuscript Studies Program
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The book, LEAD…for God’s Sake! A Parable for Finding the Heart of Leadership, by Todd G. Gongwer, shows what true leadership qualities are and how life can be changed by viewing things through different perspectives.
Head Football Coach, University of Illinois
Since beginning my venture into the new industry of mobile app development I have read several popular business, technology, and strategy books. One that I would recommend to anyone with seriously considering developing a product or starting business today is Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, the latest book by WIRED editor Chris Anderson.
Anderson has authored several popular books on the new e-conomy, including Free and The Long Tail and while all of his books have technology at their heart, Makers focuses just as much on the creative spirit and the importance of hand-craft and personalization.
Anderson's thesis is that we are now in a new industrial revolution where the "inventor" can also be the "producer" with the advent of new technologies such as 3D printing, and CNC (computer numeric controlled) routing machines, make it economical to produce small quantities, as well as access to worldwide manufacturing services that cater to small batch orders. Anderson's writing style is fast and entertaining. He cites historical facts of previous industrial revolutions, and more recent success stories of "ambitious hobbyists." Utilizing technology either for design (software), or manufacturing (3D printing), or marketing and distribution (Web, app stores, Etsy) this new revolution is "the ultimate combination of atoms and bits."
And while the book focuses more on manufacturing, Anderson is able to tie in these concepts to "hand-made"-based businesses as well—the premise being that an individual with a good idea can produce, market, and distribute their product or service to a worldwide market that values uniqueness, personalization, and quality—even at a higher price.
For those seriously thinking of turning their hobby into a business, or turning an idea into a product, Anderson provides information on new ways of funding your product, such as crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and Quirky, resources for development such as local "maker spaces," and manufacturing services that can take your design files and produce a prototype in days.
Makers will inform and inspire tinkerers, inventors, and artisans that their ideas can be brought to market in less time and with less cost than ever before.
President and Co-founder
mpressInteractive, LLC, and The Living Letter Press
After deciding I would give up reading fiction, I stumbled upon a review of Jennifer Haigh's latest novel, News from Heaven, which like her first, Baker Towers, is set in Bakerton, Pennsylvania, a coal mining town settled by European immigrants. Having grown up in Westville, a former coal mining town settled by European immigrants, among them my grandparents, I read Baker Towers first. It's the novel I wish I would have written. Haigh creates vividly drawn characters and strong story lines and writes with keen psychological insight. After he read Baker Towers, my brother called me to tell me how much he enjoyed it. We agreed Bakerton, Pennsylvania, could have been Westville, Illinois. It was the last conversation my brother and I had before he died unexpectedly on May 25. For that and other reasons, Baker Towers holds a special place in my heart.
Arts Reporter, The News-Gazette
Cracked Truck owners—Daniel Krause, Sean Baird, and Jeremy Mandell—share their book selections:
This was the very first book I read when I came to college. It was recommended on day one by my professor as she told the class, “This book will let you know if you can handle this industry.” It helped guide me through college as well as opening up a food truck on campus. I immediately connected with the author as he fought through the fast-paced and cutthroat restaurant industry at a young age. Kitchen Confidential goes beyond cooking; it goes past the kitchen and tells the story from within the restaurant industry that has been sugarcoated for so many years. It starts off with a young aspiring cook, Anthony Bourdain, who has no real culinary background. He got a job in a restaurant and found himself being passed around the kitchen like a piece of meat.
Whether the consideration of entering this field is on your mind or not, this is a worthwhile book to pick up. It does a fantastic job of describing what really happens behind the scenes. With its witty humor and brutal honesty, no foodie, restaurateur, chef, or hospitality student should be spared from reading this book. It gives great insight into the industry and will undoubtedly prepare a young food enthusiast for the scary world ahead.
Co-Owner, President, The Cracked Truck
I read Scar Tissue, an autobiography of Anthony Kiedis, lead singer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, when I was a senior in high school, and it is by far one of the most interesting books you can find. Being a musician myself and very interested in the Chili Peppers at the time, this book was inspiring to say the least. The internal battle that Kiedis endured—as well as the strain of being a famous musician—turned him in to something he was not. But through the help of his best friends and band mates, he was able to rise above the negative aspects of his life. I would recommend this book to any high schooler looking for a good music biography.
Co-Owner, VP Operations, The Cracked Truck
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie was written in 1937 to serve as a manual for human interaction. At its time, and still to this day, it has proved to be a timeless bestseller promoted in many of the most influential businesses. Its focus ranges from explaining basic human behavior to describing how one can best conduct oneself to become a good and likeable person. The first chapter deals with understanding where people come from, the most common intrinsic motivation of all individuals, and how changing another individual is not nearly as beneficial an investment as changing yourself. This book offers many practical benefits in life, but can also be transferred to the business world, sales, and communication skills. For those reasons, I would highly recommend this book to anyone pursuing a professional career. Everyone should read How to Win Friends and Influence People to better themselves and create a better society.
Co-Owner, CEO The Cracked Truck
Anthony Cobb recommends:
Leadership and Self-Deception
I recommend the book Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box produced by the Arbinger Institute. I had a deputy chief recommend the book to me. Once I read it, I wanted to immediately implement the simple concepts in my life and the life of my organization. This book truly focuses on what we, as individuals, can do to affect change while encouraging others to do the same.
Police Chief, City of Champaign
Hans Blaschek recommends:
I found this to be a fascinating book and would recommend it to anyone who would like insight into why some people are successful and others are not. According to Malcolm Gladwell's compelling evidence, success turns out to have more to do with hard work, persistence, and social background than intelligence or IQ.
Professor and Director, Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
David Howie recommends:
I heartily recommend Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni. The book's practical reminders that we all live in this world together and that the way we treat one another is really important were valuable to me. Being asked to write a song on the topic made me realize that there are always opportunities to extend kindness and thoughtfulness. I also enjoyed how Forni encourages one to stick up for oneself. It was a very quick read and reminded me that my wife exhibits almost all the qualities this book describes on a day-to-day basis. (Sigh.)
Ty Newell recommends:
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Bill Bryson's book is a monumental work that balances humor with insightful narrative of complex subjects related to the universe and our understanding of it. It is an entertaining book from cover to cover and contains some of the best conceptual explanations I have ever read on relativity, biology, geology, and many other fields.
Vice President, Newell Instruments, Inc.
Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering, University of Illinois
Sheila Dodd recommends:
The Rules of Management
A book that I have really enjoyed professionally is The Rules of Management: A Definitive Code for Managerial Success (expanded edition) by Richard Templar. It gives great common sense advice and is a quick and easy read. The book covers a variety of topics from Managing Your Team to Managing Yourself. I would recommend it for new managers as well as those with years of experience. There is something for all in this easy-to-read book. I learned many management tips—from encouraging people and hiring tips to understanding the roles of others.
Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County & ReStore
Daniel J. Simons recommends:
Stories of Your Life and Others
When I think about books that had the greatest influence on my academic research, the first that comes to mind is Ulric Neisser’s classic 1976 book, Cognition and Reality. It provides a unique and original perspective on how the mind works, emphasizing the interplay between our internal thought processes and our experiences in the world. I like it because it inspires deep thinking about the questions cognitive psychologists like me should try to answer. More than other academic book, his has influenced my own thinking about the mind and my own research program.
I rarely find such inspiration from academic books, but I have found a source of deep thinking about science in an entirely different genre: science fiction. I would like to highlight a book that is well-known to science fiction aficionados, by an author who is largely unknown outside of that community. Ted Chiang is among the most celebrated and decorated science fiction writers active today. He has only written short stories and novellas to date, and relatively few of those, but many of them have received the top prizes in science fiction writing (he has won three Hugo awards and four Nebula awards, among others). His wonderful collection, Stories of Your Life and Others, includes more big scientific ideas than most academic tracts. I read the book years ago, and the stories are unforgettable. Each is unique and adopts the classic science fiction “what if” approach to explore some facet of the mind and human experience. What if we could enhance our perception and memory so much that we eventually became qualitatively different from “normal” humans? To what extent does language determine how we see the world? What would life be like if we couldn’t perceive beauty? Not all of the stories address the nature of the mind, but they all make you think deeply about our humanity.
Daniel J. Simons
Co-Author, The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us
Professor of Psychology, Visual Cognition Laboratory, University of Illinois
Lindsey Gates-Markel recommends:
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
If you (a) aspire to write fiction and (b) are full of feelings, you need Anne Lamott’s guide to “writing and life" close at hand. The book is an essential collection of hard-won craft advice interspersed with Lamott’s singular blend of touching anecdotes, whip-smart humor and warm encouragement.
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