Summer Reading Suggestions 2012

We hope that this summer you will enjoy the opportunity to read more widely than you are free to do during the school year. Every one of us at College Goals is hankering for some slow summer days and a pile of good books at our elbow, or on our Kindle . . .

We would like to share with you the names of some fascinating, mind-bending books that we urge you to consider adding to your pile of current and topical summer books.

Joyce Reed is very excited about a book called Abundance – the Future is Better Than You Think, by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler . . . in fact, she sent it to her seniors as a graduation gift. Peter Diamandis holds multiple degrees from MIT and Harvard in engineering and medicine. He is the Chairman and CEO of the X Prize Foundation, and he has also founded more than a dozen space and high-tech companies. It is wonderful to read a detailed and well-documented book that lays out all the exciting opportunities ahead for young people in the future! Read this book, cheer up, roll up your sleeves, and get to work creating an amazing future! Highly recommended for parents, too.

And in line with the thought that anything, almost, is possible . . . if you are interested in the brain, the mind and the will, you may be fascinated by Norman Doidge MD’s writing called The Brain That Changes Itself – it would certainly motivate you to realize that the first step in the learning process is to gain mastery of your learning process.

Do you know who Kevin Kelly is? . . . another ‘futurist’ (like Peter Diamandis). Kelly edited and published the Whole Earth Review, a journal of technical reviews, after he had founded and published to original Whole Earth Catalog. He is now ‘Senior Maverick’ at Wired magazine, which he co-founded in 1993. I strongly urge every one of you to subscribe to Wired . . . even if you are classicists, you’ll love it! An annual subscription is very reasonable. I suggest the print version, so your parents can read it too, but you’ll want the digital also. Get it! Oh, and the book by Kelly that I recommend is called Out Of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social systems, and the Economic World. WOW!

From another perspective, my current (last 40 years) favorite book of poems, The Gift, Poems by Hafiz, The Great Sufi Master, translations by Daniel Ladinsky . . .

Andrea van Niekerk suggests . . . .

Christopher Hitchens died earlier this year, and it was a great loss to public discourse. Hitchens had strong opinions – very strong ones with which I often disagreed, as it happens! – on most anything, from Mother Theresa and atheism, the war in Iraq and the case for humanitarian intervention, to the phenomenon of Harry Potter and why men may be funnier than women. Shortly before he died he published Arguably, a book of essays that served to show his scholarship, wit and downright irascibility. It is wonderful and I strongly recommend you look at it. It is a VERY big book, but it consists of short essays published elsewhere and you can simply dip into it as you have time or inclination. The New York Times reviewer said that Hitchens, “is to modern American discourse what Lenny Bruce was to comedy. He changed the game, and in doing so forced us to examine our core beliefs.”

Quite a few students express an interest in psychology, and rightly so – beginning to understand how the human mind works is after all an important step in understanding yourself! And there are some lovely books out there to explore. I particularly enjoy the works of Oliver Sacks, a neurologist at Columbia (especially The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat); his books are fun to read and written for non-experts.

It is not only humans who have interesting minds though, and dog people like myself spend a lot of time wondering what our dogs are thinking about too. Now we know, after reading a lovely book by Alexandra Horowitz (who teaches psychology at Barnard) called Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know. Horowitz examines the perception and cognitive abilities of dogs in ways that make you wonder which species did the domestication!

In a recent interview Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard and an American historian, said that she would like all freshmen to read Kathryn Schulz’s book on Being Wrong. Many of you may have seen her Ted Talk on why we like being right all the time, and Professor Gilpin Faust points out that the book “advocates doubt as a skill and praises error as the foundation of wisdom,” and thus encourages college students to embrace risk and even failure.

Gail Lewis suggests . . .

The Power of Habit by Thomas Duhigg. I heard an interview with the author on NPR and was hooked – and delighted to read the book afterwards. It’s a penetrating look at how much habit dictates our behavior and how marketers and commercial interests (like toothpaste companies, casinos and Target) take advantage of our weaknesses or of their detailed knowledge of our purchasing patterns and emotional responses. Luckily, the book also informs the reader of how quickly the formation of one good new habit – for example, starting a regular exercise routine – can lead naturally and easily into other good habits with little effort – like eating healthier, getting more sleep, being better organized with morning routines.

How to Be a High School Superstar by Cal Newport is a great resource for students and families interested in getting a new perspective on what it really takes to get the notice of colleges, and how students can set about deliberately building personal schedules that allow time to develop passions and interests while students are in high school, without burning out. This book contains some great advice on effective ways to begin projects and plan for success in achieving one’s personal goal, by researching the experiences of others who have attempted similar achievements, and even contacting them at the start. In this way, it’s good reading for parents, too.

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave, is a thought-provoking novel that both my college-age daughter and I liked a lot. It’s humorous but poignant – somewhat hard to believe in parts but the more appealing for that – as the author has attempted a new approach to the novel. It does create empathy for individuals stranded on the outside of our societies – like immigrants in legal limbo, and the harsh things that happen to those who don’t have a logical place in the contexts in which they find themselves. Intriguing – keeps you thinking about the characters.

Also consider picking up The Life of Pi, a novel by Yann Martell – not a recent novel, but I still think about the style of this novel and the quirkiness of it, on a regular basis. I think it’s a great read, very gripping, and it’s an exceptionally good example of how one’s reflective judgment about what one reads must come into play. How much of this story are you, the reader, willing to ‘buy’? It may surprise you to find Martell’s talented writing leads you to buy it very well – then the issue becomes, “where do you draw the line?”

A rather dark but I think a necessary read (and an antithesis to the optimism of Peter Diamandis’ Abundance) is The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston, who also wrote The Hot Zone. Both books make compelling reading! Not for the super squeamish – they deal with devastating illnesses and the horror of global pandemics!

And if you haven’t yet come across books by neuroscientist David Eagleman – you are in for a treat! First try Sum – a collection of short vignettes, views on the possible ‘afterlives’ that his curious mind has imagined for us. Very stimulating, easy to read in small doses! The other Eagleman book I recommend is Incognito, a very readable text on the mind and human identity. An Amazon.com reviewer provides this handy summary of Eagleman’s main points in the book:
1) Your conscious mind is the “tip of the iceberg” and the rest of the iceberg (your brain) is what is really running the show
2) The vast majority of your brain’s processing which leads to what you do and what you think is not accessible to your conscious mind
3) Your brain contains many modules that overlap and compete as rivals
4) “You” are your biology, but you can’t be understood by simple reductionism
5) You have little if any “free will” and what that means
6) Your neurobiology is a result of a constant interplay of genes and environment

Carolyn Stewart highly recommends . . .

Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by David Pollock and Ruth El Van Reken describes the experience of kids who grow up or spend a significant part of the childhood living abroad. Rich with real-life anecdotes, it examines the nature of the third-culture kid experience and its effect on developing a sense of identity, and then adjusting to one’s passport country upon return.

Madeleine Albright’s memoir Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War uses her experiences and those of her family to examine the tumultuous years of 1937-1948. It explores the theme of what makes a person a resister rather than a collaborator. “Why do some people become stronger in the face of adversity, while others quickly lose heart? What separates the bully from the protector? Is it education, spiritual belief, our parents, our friends, the circumstances of our birth, traumatic events, or more likely some combination that spells the difference?”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot tells the true story of the woman from whom cancer cells were taken without her knowledge. These cells, known as the HeLa cells, have been vital for developing the polio vaccine, and helped lead to important advances like in-vitro fertilization, cloning and gene mapping, and made the fortunes of many scientists. The book addresses the interplay of race, poverty and science, and the medical ethics of tissue culture.

Former senator and basketball hall-of-famer Bill Bradley sees an America in the midst of a “slow-motion crisis.” The problems, he argues, are driven by the expansive role of money in politics, ineffective approaches to job creation and underwhelming efforts to stimulate the economy. In his book We Can All Do Better, Bradley sets out a series of arguments about how to get the nation back on track.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman chronicles the struggles of a Hmong refugee family and its interactions with the health care system in Merced, California, and the cultural conflicts that obstruct the treatment of their epileptic daughter. Through miscommunications about medical dosages and parental refusal to give certain medicines due to mistrust and misunderstandings, and the inability of the doctors to develop more empathy with the traditional Hmong lifestyle or try to learn more about the Hmong culture, Lia’s condition worsens. The dichotomy between the Hmong’s perceived spiritual factors and the Americans’ perceived scientific factors comprises the overall theme of the book. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction in 1997.

We also continue to recommend any of Malcolm Gladwell’s books.

And finally, if you just can’t bring yourself to sit down for multiple sessions with a book but you really do want to know what some of the most interesting, forward-thinking minds on the planet are thinking about, make sure you FREQUENTLY tune in to the TED talkswww.TED.com — Ideas Worth Spreading. These are AMAZING, OUTSTANDING . . . they will shatter pre-conceptions, stimulate thought and discussion, and keep you fascinated. (You’ll find talks by people who are the thinkers of our future . . . yours, as well as mine.) A few minutes spent on a TED talk is guaranteed to expand your mind, and keep you hopeful.

Reading these books and listening to these talks will certainly direct your thinking ‘out of the box’, and I am sure you will find them motivational, as well as intriguing.

And while you’re traveling on a car trip, or enjoying baking cookies and treats in the kitchen this summer – tune in and listen to NPR. You will hear some very interesting stories that you miss out on during the school year – the news programs morning and afternoon (“Morning Edition”, “All Things Considered”) are great, but also try to catch “Fresh Air” and “Science Friday”. Many college students are hooked on Ira Glass’s fascinating stories on “This American Life”. No radio in the kitchen? Stream NPR live on your computer at npr.org.

And please go ahead and send us your recommendations for an exciting summer read!

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