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.
This book by Patricia McConnell truly is a “must read” for anyone who loves or lives with dogs. McConnell enlightens, educates, and entertains her readers like no other expert in the field of dog behavior and training. But don’t let her credentials scare you off; this is not a “how to” dog training book. It’s a great read that will enhance your relationship with your four-legged best friend, and make you laugh too.
Mary "Tief" Tiefenbrunn
Executive Director, Champaign County Humane Society
At its heart, this book by Patti Smith is a memoir, chronicling the life and times of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and punk rock legend Patti Smith. But it's so much more than that. It resurrects an extraordinary moment in our country's culture, the late 1960s and 1970s, when political, personal, and aesthetic possibilities seemed so much greater than today. Really, though, it is about love—that most fundamental of human experiences—and the many ways in which it comes and goes.
Professor of Anthropology & Director, Program in Jewish Culture and Society, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Artistic Director, Chicago Humanities Festival
Photo by Brian L. Stauffer/U of I
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
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