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A Holiday Reading List From the Humanities Center

Looking for reading recommendations for over the winter break? Here's a list of 12 books to add to your shopping list.

Normal People: A Novel

By Sally Rooney

“I enjoyed reading Sally Rooney’s Normal People: A Novel. I admired the young Irish author’s voice and loose plot (she was born in 1991). Happy holidays to all!”

—Eleni Bastéa
Marta Sutton Weeks Faculty Fellow

School of Architecture & Planning, University of New Mexico

How to Do Nothing

By Jenny Odell

“Doing nothing is actually doing something! Stanford artist Jenny Odell, who recently presented at one of the Humanities Center’s workshops, brings together art and philosophy to rethink 24/7 productivity and personal connection in the 21st century.”

—Andrea Davies
Associate Director, Stanford Humanities Center

The Southern Reach Trilogy

By Jeff VanderMeer

"Terrifying. Magical. Psychadelic. Epic. These are just some of the words I would use to describe Jeff Vandermeer's The Southern Reach Trilogy, a brilliant science fiction about environmental catastrophe and the transformations we will have to endure to survive it."

—Ramzi Fawaz
Faculty Fellow
Department of English, University of Wisconsin, Madison

On Tarrying

By Joseph Vogl

“This deft little book explores the history and philosophy of ‘tarrying’ (in the original German, zaudern) as a state of mind between action and contemplation as well as a form of subversion. The perfect gift for every procrastinator in your life.”

—Roland Greene
Director, Stanford Humanities Center

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

By Peter Frankopan

"The book offers a reassessment of the world history, from the creation of the Silk Road to the international affairs of the 21st century. A great read for any history buff."

—Rima Greenhill
Faculty Fellow
Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Stanford University

Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago

By Mike Royko

"Mike Royko's Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago​​ is a terrific book about American politics, urban corruption​, and pious megalomania. Lest that sound too heavy, I should add that the prose is really engaging and tightly crafted; it's a damn good read."

—Heather Hendershot
Marta Sutton Weeks Faculty Fellow
Department of Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Station 11

By Emily St. John Mandel

“A quietly devastating account of how a handful of survivors patch together a social world, twenty years after a flu pandemic has killed most of humanity. I’m not normally one for post-apocalyptic fiction but Mandel's writing is perfectly keyed and her story is spellbinding.”

—Kelda Jamison
Fellowship Program Manager, Stanford Humanities Center

Feel Free

By Zadie Smith

"Zadie Smith is one of the most brilliant and polymathic novelists writing today; wherever she shines her laser-like intelligence, the illumination is intense. In this book she writes equally brilliantly about politics, novels, paintings, photographs, films, and songs, from Joni Mitchell and Ursula le Guin to Orson Welles, Dana Schutz, Mark Bradford, and Brexit."

—Joshua Landy
Donald Andrews Whittier Faculty Fellow
Department of French and Italian, Stanford University

Exhalation: Stories

By Ted Chiang

"The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" is a novella collected in Exhalation: Stories. It is part science fiction about technologically assisted memory, and part historical fiction about literacy and the colonial encounter. A beautifully written and deeply philosophical story that also has plenty of drama."

—Haiyan Lee
Ellen Andrews Wright Faculty Fellow
Departments of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature, Stanford University

Red at the Bone

By Jacqueline Woodson

"A beautifully written novel that explores race, pregnancy, education, and family ties with a deft touch."

—Peggy Phelan
Ellen Andrews Wright Faculty Fellow
Departments of Theater & Performance Studies and English, Stanford University

Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir

By John Banville

"One of the most remarkable novelists of our time offers a rich and evocative memoir of his hometown. Fused with a lyricism that conjoins past and present, this book is as much the story of the formation of a literary consciousness as it is the atmospheric portrait of a city."

—John Tennant
Mellon Fellowship of Scholars in the Humanities
Department of Classics, Stanford University

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

By Patrick Radden Keefe

“This deeply researched and powerful work on the Troubles by a New Yorker staff writer contains meditations on history, memory, and human lives caught amidst conflict.”

—Rebecca Wall
Dissertation Prize Fellow
African History, Stanford University