TWENTY-FIVE BOOKS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE

Professor Keene's Nominations for Summer Reading
There is Nothing Extraordinarily Heavy Here - You Can Take Any One of These to the Beach

1. The Long Haul by Myles Horton. The autobiography of the founder of the Highlander Center for Research and Education, the earliest and foremost center for Civil Rights work in the USA and the training ground for some of the movements most distinguished leaders including M.L. King, Septima Clark, Ralph Abernathy and Rosa Parks. Horton is a stunning example of a person who lived his life passionately according to his values. This book was the 2002 book award for UMASS Citizen Scholars Program.

2. Jefferson's Pillow: Black Patriotism and the Founding Fathers - Roger Wilkins. Historian and attorney Wilkins deftly explores the question, how could the founding fathers, who wrote so eloquently about freedom and justice, defend so vehemently their own right to hold slaves? And what are the implications of this paradox for the society that we have become and the nation that we will be.

3. Long Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela. A captivating autobiography from the first president of independent South Africa. UMass Prof. Stephen Clingman, writing in the Boston Globe, commented - "this book should be read by every person alive!" It's BIG, but once you start you can't put it down.

4. Regeneration, by Pat Barker. Winner of the Booker Prize and the first book in her World War I Trilogy. The fictionalized account of real soldier poet Sigfried Sassoon and his psychiatrist (and anthropologist) William Rivers who treats him for "shell shock". Is Sassoon's ailment a mark of mental defect or pure sanity? Should he be returned to battle or held from it? The book evokes hard questions about war and reason, class and gender. Barker is a fine storyteller and the reader is seduced (and ultimately rewarded) into reading the entire trilogy.

5. Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingslover. A gripping tale of growing up in the Congo during it's tumultuous struggle for independence. Kingsolver is a captivating storyteller (this novel is based on her own experience growing up in the Congo) who forces us to consider issues of justice, imperialism, ethnocentrism and humanity.

6. High Tide in Tucson - Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver weaves together the themes of ecology, biology, community and parenthood -drawing from her extraordinarily broad background as a musician, biologist, amateur anthropologist and world traveler - in a set of entertaining and compelling essays that invite us to think deeply about the state of the world and the role that each of us plays within it.

7. Ordinary Resurrections, Jonathan Kozol. Kozol's most, recent, most personal and most spiritual account of the lives of children in America's poorest neighborhoods, in this case the Mott Haven Neighborhood of the Bronx. Kozol evokes outrage at the appalling obstacles faced by poor children and at the same time wonder and hope because of their remarkable spirit.

8. The People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. This is the stuff they didn't teach you in high school U.S. history. A book chock full of the stories of the Americans left out of US history books; workers, women, people of color, immigrants, dissidents. Great stories that give voice to the folk that mainstream history has silenced.

9. You Can't be Neutral on a Moving Train, by Howard Zinn. Zinn is a wonderful storyteller and this memoir is his own story. Zinn tells how he became an historian and an activist tracing his roots back to his days as a bombadier in WWII and as a longshoreman. Zinn shows how his own background has shaped his own approach to writing history and he makes clear why this enterprise is never neutral. Writing near the end of his career, Zinn exemplifies a life well lived, a life pursued with vigor and with integrity.

10. The Common Good - Noan Chomsky. Chomsky has been called America's greatest living intellectual. He has written more than 80 books, most of them massive, fact filled (and frequently dry - but always important) tomes. This little pamphlet is a set of interviews with Chomsky in which he holds forth with some inspiring views on democracy, justice and the ability of each of us to change the world for the better.

11. The Good The Bad and the Difference - Randy Cohen. This book is a "best of" collection of Cohen's ethics columns from the NYT with some very good prefatory chapters on ethics and the search for the answer to the question - how should we live? Cohen finds that Americans are torn between the desire to do the right thing (and we usually know what that is) and the pull of our own gratification. Cohen offers the ethical dilemmas that we encounter daily - should we tell on a friend who is cheating - should we embellish a reference so a friend will get a job, do we have a moral obligation to wear a seatbelt or motorcycle helmet, must we tell the person buying our car that it burns oil? Cohen suggests that consumerism has become a substitute for civic life in America and that in order to restore civic life, we need to the develop the skills of living together and connecting with each other. Ethics, according to Cohen are the root skills. Check out his scenarios and see what YOU would do. And if you've read William Bennet - you will find the implications for how we ought to live very different from the Bennet vision.

12. One Day All Children- .Wendy Kopp. This memoir, by the founder of Teach for America tells the story of how Kopp designed and founded - AS HER SENIOR HONORS THESIS AT PRINCETON the organization that now trains and places thousands of new college graduates annually to work as teachers in the most distressed schools in America. Kopp was continually told by mentors and friends to give up on her ambitious vision. Luckily she didn't listen. While not especially well written, this is a compelling and easy to read reminder of what young people can do if they take themselves seriously.

13. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. By Anne Fadiman. Hatfield resident Fadiman chronicles the struggles of a Hmong family and their western doctors as they try to find appropriate treatment for their seriously ill child. Explores the conflicts between western and traditional medicine as well as the complexities of life in a multi-cultural society. A wonderful excursion into the intersection of science and society. This was the Smith College Freshman Book in 2000.

14. What Are People For? - Wendell Berry. Wendell Berry has written dozens of important books about the importance of protecting the planet, living in balance with nature and with each other, and building community. It is hard to recommend one over the other. I like this collection of essays because Berry takes on the destructive nature of consumerism while treating the themes that run through all of his writing. Berry gently, thoughtfully and compellingly reminds us how we ought to live.

15. Crossing to Safety - Wallace Stegner. A poignant story of lifelong friendship, this novel follows the lives of two academic couples at the University of Wisconsin beginning in the 1930's. Not just for geezers - this work touches on the complexity o f friendship and its centrality in all of our lives.

16. Wherever you go, that's where you are. - Jon Kabat Zinn. An accessible introduction to mindfulness and meditation from the director of the stress reduction clinic at UMass medical school.

17. Privilege, power and Difference. By Alan Johnson. A clear, concise and readable exploration of how all of us are hurt by the exercise of privilege - particularly white, male privilege. Johnson has spent years as an advocate for women's rights and a consultant to legislatures on women's issues.

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18. Instructions for the Cook by Bernard Glassman - a brief introduction to Zen practice blended with an interesting story of how Glassman's own order has blended Zen practice with effective social activism addressing the e needs of the poor, the homeless and the drug addicted.

19. Radical Equations by Robert Moses. This memoir skips back and forth between Moses' accounts of his civil rights work in Mississippi in the 60's (he was one of the founders of SNCC) and his subsequent work as founder of the Algebra Project - an innovative approach to the teaching of math that now reaches over 10,000 poor children annually. Moses believes that numeracy today is as critical to liberation as literacy was during the voting rights movement.

20. Savage Inequalities - Jonathan Kozol. Kozol's most widely read treatment of the plight of children in America's poorest neighborhoods. With plain, descriptive prose, Kozol vividly captures the unimaginably appalling conditions that exist in America's worst public schools.

21. Gandhi - Louis Fisher (unabridged). This book is now out of print but can be found in libraries and used bookstores. While there are many treatments of Gandhi's life, including an autobiography this authorized edition from the mid 50's clearly tells the story of this extraordinary man and the prodigious impact he had on the world.

22. The Dispossessed- Ursala K. Leguin. One of Keene's all time favorite novels and (along with Frank Herbert's Dune) the best piece of speculative fiction ever written (IMHO). Leguin asks, what would happen if you tried to run an entire planet like a kibbutz (i.e. on anarcho-syndicalist principles)? Leguin envisions a world in which there is no government, no private property and in which a strong ideology of equality prevails. But this is not utopia (nor distopia). She has a canny imagination for all of the difficulties that might go along with such a set up and her characterizations are quite convincing. A brilliant exercise in challenging us to re-imagine what is socially possible.

23. Where we stand: class matters - bell hooks. Why is class not a part of our common discourse in America? Feminist, educator, cultural critic and social theorist, hooks offers us here a brief but powerful reflection on how the dilemmas of class and race are intertwined and how we can find ways to think beyond them.

24. Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism - Alice Walker. In this collection of short essays Walker holds forth on topics spanning religion, race, feminism and politics, Walker asserts her belief that in spite of the formidable challenges that we all face that the world can indeed be saved, if we will only act.

25. Soul of Citizen - Paul Rogat Loeb - Inspirational short vignettes about citizen action . Stories about common folk who when faced with problems in their own communities, decided to act and made a difference. Not much depth but good cheerleading.