What to read and watch over winter break 2023

UChicago teaching award winners share their selections for the holidays

Do you need a gift idea for the reader in your life? Tired of scrolling for something to watch over the break? Let your search end here. 

UChicago News asked the 2023 winners of the annual Glenn and Claire Swogger Award for Exemplary Classroom Teaching, the Wayne C. Booth Prize for Excellence in Teaching and Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching for the books and movies they’d like to share. 

Nominated by undergraduates in the College, these winners demonstrated the ability to push students to think beyond the classroom, and to share their disciplines in exciting ways.

Here are their recommendations.

What to read

The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro and Indian Nocturne by Antonio Tabucchi

Recommended by: Beatrice Fazio, Romance Languages & Literature and Booth Prize winner

“‘The Missing Head of Damasceno Monteiro’ is a thriller set in Portugal that begins with the discovery of a headless body in a camp just outside Porto. ‘Indian Nocturne’ is a travelog in which the protagonist journeys to India in search of his friend.” 

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

Recommended by: Michael Gladders, ​​Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Quantrell Award winner

“The Left Hand of Darkness is by one of my favorite writers, and it is fantastic on a number of levels. It can be devoured by someone with no interest in science fiction. If you haven’t read it yet, go out and do it.”

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

Recommended by: Aidan Kaplan, Assistant Instructional Professor, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and Swogger Award winner

“‘The Book of Delights’ is a collection of essayettes that capture everyday delights over the course of a year: in the café, the airport, the garden, the city street. Ross Gay’s writing meditates on and radiates delight (without ignoring sorrow), and most of all he encourages us to observe our world and notice the beauty around us. Discovering this book in the spring of 2020 was a bright spot of that difficult year, and I keep returning to it and recommending it to anyone who’ll listen!”

H2O: A Biography of Water by Philip Ball 

Recommended by Samuel Knight, Chemistry Ph.D. student and Booth Prize winner

“If you casually asked your grandma to name a chemical compound, the first thing out of her mouth would probably be H2O. Despite our familiarity, water remains, amazingly, poorly understood by scientists. Philip Ball in his biography of water, leads us through an intelligent investigation of what we do and do not know about the substance that pervades our lives. 

 However, as the title suggests, the story doesn’t stick solely to the science. Ball paints the full panoramic life of water, including sections on its role in our history, religions and sociology. This book culminates in a deep understanding of the science and a recognition of all the fantastic roles water plays. I came away with that passion for learning that seemingly only our best teachers instill within us.”

Y/N by Esther Yi

Recommended by Jason de Stefano, Collegiate Assistant Professor, Humanities Collegiate Division and Swogger Award winner

“I just finished reading Esther Yi’s remarkable debut novel, Y/N, about a Korean American woman living in Berlin who becomes obsessed with a member of a famous K-pop boy band, and can’t stop recommending it. It’s a dizzying mix of so many things but ultimately unlike anything else: an intimate portrait of obsession and an expansive meditation on our dystopian present, metafictional satire and zeitgeisty picaresque, a Bildungsroman that is also a cautionary tale of self-assertion and self-destruction, and a strange kind of love story.”


What to watch

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) written and directed by Taika Waititi

Recommended by: Aidan Kaplan, Assistant Instructional Professor, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations

“I love the characters, the soundtrack, the slang, and the gorgeous New Zealand scenery. And for me, a heartwarming, funny coming-of-age adventure is perfect viewing for winter break.”

First Cow (2019) written and directed by Kelly Reichardt

Recommended by: Jason de Stefano, Collegiate Assistant Professor, Humanities Collegiate Division

“‘First Cow’ is a great one to see over winter break with family because it’s broadly appealing and eminently watchable, but also incisive and quietly devastating. It tells a uniquely American story of hope and desperation, capitalism and greed, colonial expansion and the depredations of modernity all through the trials of two friends embarked on a risky business venture that hinges on the eponymous 'first cow' in 1820s Oregon Territory.”

Want more recs? See recommendations from previous years.