What you should read over winter break

Faculty/staff list includes multigenerational family struggles, mushrooms and capitalism, and Winston Churchill

The end of the year and beginning of the new represent a moment to take a breath and consider the past, present and future. We asked University of Chicago scholars and staff what they’ve read this year that they’d recommend to the campus community: Their list includes subjects ranging from the multigenerational family struggles of Korean immigrants living in Japan, to a treatise on mushrooms and capitalism, to a meditation on what therapy can bring to our lives.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee 

Recommended by: Sunyoung (Sunny) Park, Assistant Professor of Geophysical Sciences

“The novel describes multiple generations of a Korean family living in Japan during the 20th century: one of the most challenging periods in Korean history with Japanese colonization, World War II, and independence followed by the division of Korea and the Korean War. I was mesmerized by the family’s story, which is wonderfully depicted. The story made me talk to my grandmother to hear more about her experiences of the Korean War and later times. I believe that the characters’ lives as immigrants, struggling with racism and working diligently to support the family, resonate with many current-day families from different parts of the world and different histories.”

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

Recommended by: Aziz Huq, the Frank and Bernice J. Greenberg Professor of Law

“This book is an anthropological study of the production and the consumption of the Matsutake mushroom, one of the most valuable fungi in the world—and a weed that grows in human-disturbed forests in the Pacific Northwest. Tsing, not content with a mere anthropology, uses the Matsutake to explore global chains of capitalist relations, ecological catastrophe and its aftermath, and the experience of diaspora. The end result is both brilliant and unclassifiable.”

(Read the full list of UChicago Law School professor recommendations here.)

everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too: a book by jonny sun 

Recommended by: Lyonette Louis-Jacques, Foreign and International Law Librarian & Lecturer in Law

“This book is about an alien named “jomny,” who’s dropped off and left alone on Earth by alien “colleagues” to find out about its creatures, humans. Along the way, the alien learns about and makes friends with a tree who’s learned the perils of giving, an otter who considers itself an “auteur,” a hedgehog who is struggling with its art, an egg that’s anxious about what it will become, a dog who speaks in heart emojis, and many other animals and forest beings whom the alien thinks are humans. The book is about friendship, love, loneliness, happiness, sacrifice, sadness, anxiety, art, life and death. I love the book because it’s philosophical, funny, sad, thought-provoking, endearing, uplifting and comforting. The “aliebn” is charming and adorable, and so are the illustrations. Jonathan Sun (aka @jonnysun on Twitter) wrote and illustrated the book and created a unique language for it which adds to its wonderfulness. It’s a quick read, for all ages, and doubles as a coloring book!”

Metamorphosis, by Kafka

Recommended by: Srikanth “Chicu” Reddy, Professor of English Language and Literature

“Since the world began to wobble on its axis last spring, works like Camus’s The Plague, Boccaccio's Decameron, and Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year have begun to pop up on all sorts of reading lists. This winter, I’d add Kafka’s Metamorphosis to our syllabus of pandemic reading. It’s a phantasmagoric lockdown narrative that many who have undergone the psychological pressures of quarantine will find to be eerily familiar on many levels and a great bit of ghastly holiday reading to boot.”

The Turnaway Study, by Diana Foster Green

Recommended by: Jenny Trinitapoli, Associate Professor of Sociology

The Turnaway Study is a book I recommended to a lot of different people this year. The subtitle sums it up perfectly: ‘Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having—or Being Denied—an Abortion.’ Dr. Foster led a large research team that has produced dozens of academic papers examining everything from credit scores to depression in the months and years that followed an unplanned pregnancy. This book makes all their scientific findings legible to a popular audience. It’s science-y; it’s a page-turner, and it reveals a lot about this country.”

The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson

Recommended by: Amy Reifert, women’s soccer coach, UChicago Athletics

“This is a detailed insider look at Churchill and his administration during World War II based on many primary sources. The account includes intimate detail, allowing the reader to better understand the myriad of decisions made throughout the war resulting in England's victory. It was fascinating to read and compare war-ravaged London, where death threatened nightly, to our own pandemic times, the reaction of citizens, the human spirit that does not waver, and the role of leadership and morale in ultimate victory.”

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and our Lives Revealed, by Lori Gottlieb

Recommended by: Sarah Sebo, Assistant Professor of Computer Science

“Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist, invites readers into her life in a refreshing, humorous and personal way. She details both the journeys of several of her patients and also chronicles her own personal crisis which leads to her to seek help from a quirky therapist named Wendall. This book is enjoyable to read, hard to put down, and also speaks to our deepest human struggles and desires (love, redemption, hope, courage). I am happy to see the success of books like this one that shed a positive light on the benefits of seeking help through therapy. Especially during this trying time, it is encouraging to spread the message that therapy can help those struggling with life's difficulties and to see a first-hand account of the hope and healing that can result from it.”

Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry, by John Murillo

Recommended by: Mitchell S. Jackson, Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature

“Murillo is one of my favorite contemporary poets. If you could imagine Kendrick Lamar as a rigorous poet, with the musicality and inventiveness of a great jazz musician and also a mastery of many poetic forms, you'd have Murillo. This book came out this March and was a casualty of COVID-19. I’d also suggest buying, reading and sharing the following books: Lot, a remarkable collection of short stories by Bryan Washington; There is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden, a novel by Leon Forrest, a UChicago alum; and Memorial Drive, Natasha Trethewey’s heartbreaking story of the death of her mother, rendered in exactly the kind of beautiful prose you would expect from a former U.S. poet laureate.”

Hungry for more recommendations? Try the summer 2020 reading list or the summer 2019 list. You can also visit the Library website for information about services over interim and continued access to online materials.