Looking for a good book to crawl up with over the holidays?

Here are some suggestions from Southwestern University professors who teach First-Year Seminars. All these books have been recommended to first-year students as part of an initiative to keep them excited about learning between semesters.

As part of a new program called Living-Learning Community Reading Groups, first-year students who are interested may select one or more of these books to read during Southwestern’s month-long holiday break. After the break, they will meet with the professor who selected the book to discuss it.

Thirty-five first-year students signed up to participate in the program this year. Southwestern buys the books for all those who participate.

In addition to providing some holiday reading, the program offers students an opportunity to meet students outside their assigned Living-Learning Communities. It also gives faculty members a chance to explore some new books.

David Gaines, associate professor of English:

WATCHMEN by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

This story is set in 1985, in an alternate history of the United States where costumed adventurers are real and the country is edging closer to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. This (graphic) novel is a cornucopia of techniques, styles and ideas. Watchmen is scheduled to be released as a movie in March 2009. Time magazine named it one of the 100 best novels.

Hal Haskell, professor of classics:


In this lively 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Oshinsky recounts the amazing success story of the scientific search for a polio vaccine. Even more fascinating is the consequent revolution in American attitudes toward philanthropy, U.S. public policy issues, and the seamy side of competition among high-powered academic researchers Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. Oshinsky ties in the role polio victim Franklin Delano Roosevelt played in making the effort a national priority, the precursory scientific developments that aided Salk and Sabin’s work, and the ethical dilemmas surrounding human testing.

Phil Hopkins, associate professor of religion:

SEEING by Jose Saramago

In this novel, which both is and is not a sequel to Blindness, Saramago (a recent Nobel Prize winner in literature) again takes up the theme of epidemic, rebellion and social collapse. This time, however, these elements are conceived as the result of an election in which no one shows up to vote. The government reacts in panic and seeks to use mass media to manipulate the public, but the media has its own agenda. In this timely and penetrating novel, Saramago weaves his usual allegorical magic by means of a world so concretely and vividly imagined that we both recognize it intimately and recoil at its strangeness.

Jim Hunt, provost:

BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell

According to the author, Blink is a “book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Blink is a book about those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition?  When are snap judgments good and when are they not?  What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better?” 

Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton, associate professor of English:

OLD SCHOOL by Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff’s Old School is a quiet, funny and surprisingly moving novel about the way literature and reading shape our lives as adolescents. Set in a New England prep school in the early 1960s, the novel recreates the (supposedly) halcyon days before the changes brought about by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the Kennedy and King assassinations, and the suicide of Ernest Hemingway. The story revolves around a scholarship student’s ambition to win the school’s prestigious writing contest. Old School, like much of Wolff’s work, is sad, sweet, funny and inspiring all at the same time.

Eric Selbin, professor of political science:

WINTER’S TALE by Mark Helprin Winter’s Tale is a sprawling, gorgeous, mysterious, (seriously) flawed and (deeply) mad magical-realist exercise by a right-wing political hack (and truly talented writer) replete with forking paths, mystical spirits and things not what they seem. Set in New York at the beginning and the end of the 20th century, the story is driven - for wont of a better term - by a timeless love and timeless political intrigue, and marked by the co-occurrence of realism with the fantastic, the mythic and the magical all made commonplace and (surrealistically) authentic.


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