Village Childhood
Muhammad Radjab
translated as Telling Lives, Telling History by Susan Rodgers Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995, ©1950

This short autobiography was published in 1950, immediately after the Indonesian Revolution against the Dutch re-colonization effort. The author recalls his life in the 1910s and '20s in the highlands of Western Sumatra. The book is "just for fun" insofar as it's a boy's adventure of pranks, school, flirtation, even an earthquake. But the book also describes an important Muslim culture that experienced a Wahabi reformist jihad in the early 19C and yet has maintained matrilineal residence and inheritance practices, meaning that women corporately control the house, land, and in some ways the family. Radjab describes this Islamic world of strong mothers, saddle-roofed longhouses, and intensive Quranic study, all while making a subtle and interesting commentary on postcoloniality.

Jeffrey Hadler
Professor, South and Southeast Asian Studies
Mellon Fellow for Undergraduate Research, 2003-4

Snow Crash
Neal Stephenson
New York, Bantam Books, 1992

This is the definitive cyberpunk novel. It's an incredibly fun romp through the near future in which virtually everything has been privatized. The story includes Samurai and Sumerians, hacking into computers and brains, and biological and computer viruses.

Philip B. Stark
Professor, Statistics
Presidential Chair Fellow, 2003-4

My Idea of Fun: A Cautionary Tale
Will Self
New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1994

An outrageous satire, with the "fun" of the title perverse but "funny." A good, edgy intro to the South Side of the Campus.

John Welsh
Lecturer, College of Engineering
Mellon Fellow for Undergraduate Research, 2003-4

Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row
Jarvis Jay Masters
Junction City, Padma Publishing, 1997

This book was written by a 35 year old African American man living on death row. Jarvis' childhood was marked by neglect, abuse, foster care and abandonment. Like many young men in similar circumstances, he joined a gang and committed crimes that brought him to San Quentin. In 1985, he was convicted of sharpening the knife that was used to kill a San Quentin guard; though he was nowhere near the actual crime scene, he was the only person who received the death sentence. During this trial, Jarvis began to wonder who he was, and this book describes his process of transformation from a very angry, uneducated person to a serious writer who has taken Buddhist vows to devote himself to always help others. The series of short essays and true stories describe how Jarvis relates to one of the most violent places on the planet from an intentionally peaceful and aware perspective. This well-written book is alternately funny, sad, inspiring and thought provoking. I think that incoming Cal freshmen will agree that Jarvis is an amazing teacher.

Barbara Abrams
Professor, School of Public Health
Mellon Fellow for Undergraduate Research, 2003-4

The Greengage Summer
Rumer Godden
New York, Viking Press, 1958

Set in northern France, on the banks of the Marne, just after the Second World War, this novel tells the story of how Cecil and her four brothers and sisters spend the summer without their parents. More than a coming of age story, this is a likeable mystery with a villain who captures the hearts of every child in the family, understanding each one and providing for them in ways their parents could not. The background is occupied by the rolling river, golden sunlight, French food and the bloodstains and battlegrounds of the German defeats.

Anna Livia Brawn
Lecturer, French
Mellon Fellow for Undergraduate Research, 2003-4

A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole
Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1980

If you come from a family of readers, you will know just how joyous the feeling to be in possession of the funniest book in the house on a long, hot summer! I can still recall the jealous, even pained, glances of my parents and sister as I laughed my way through this book in the summer of 1984 while they somberly continued on with whatever normal books they were then reading. Normal being the operative word. Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning "tragicomedy" is anything but normal. Absurd? Throughout. Self-indulgent? Perhaps. Hysterically, pain-in-your side, laugh-out-loud, giggle-months-later-as-you-recall-one-of-Ignatius-antics-funny? Absolutely. In Ignatius J. Reilly, his own one-man army crusading against a world of fools, Toole has created one of fiction's most memorable and enjoyable characters. True, Ignatius is a sarcastic, obnoxious, self-centered hypochondriac. But how many such individuals do we get the luxury of meeting in our "normal" lives? Ignatius reminds me to celebrate the absurd, to take on the unthinkable (like organizing factory worker revolts!) and to laugh-three things I need to do more of!

Ingrid Seyer-Ochi
Assistant Professor, School of Education
Mellon Fellow for Undergraduate Research, 2003-4

The Third Policeman

Flann O'Brien
Normal, Dalkey Archive Press, 1999, ©1967

James Joyce meets Alice in Wonderland with a touch of Sartre thrown in. Comical Irish surrealism with an entirely serious subtext, this circular murder thriller is set in a small village with a uniquely strange police force. The body of the story is at once troubling and hilarious, and brilliantly written, while the ending is unexpectedly terrifying. You will never feel quite the same way about your bicycle after reading the Sergeant's theory of molecular transmission. "Hark to his cold inexorable logic!"

The Diary of Samuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys
New York, Modern Library, 2001, ©1893

I read this the summer after I graduated from high school and really remember being so sad when it was over. (I still need to get the unabridged edition, which is almost never over!). Takes you right into the petty, silly, daily life of an 18th-century Londoner, or is he late 17th-century? Anyway, utterly charming.

Elizabeth Honig
Associate Professor, History of Art
Mellon Fellow for Undergraduate Research, 2003-4

I Don't Know How She Does It: The Life of Kate Reddy, Working Mother
Allison Pearson
New York, Knopf, 2002

I Don't Know How She Does It is a story about a high powered female banker managing her career, kids, husband, home, love affairs and girl friends. It's funny and poignant at the same time. Many episodes ring so true (waking up in the middle of the night to bake/fake cup cakes for kids' school) while making you laugh at the same time. I didn't like the ending too much, but that's what it is all about for so many of us -- choosing your own endings when you live the kind of life that requires managing multiple personas and still having the time to go shoe shopping. You feel sad for her, happy for her, impressed by her, but most of all she is a person you can reach out to, talk to, be like, or not be like. For instance, there is an entire thread about the advice she is giving to a young female Sri Lankan intern that many young women will rebel against. That's the point. You get to hear different points of view and make up your own mind. Whatever, she is a person you can laugh at and laugh with, for she is constantly laughing at herself. And reading about her is a hoot!

Priya Raghubir
Associate Professor, Haas School of Business
Presidential Chair Fellow, 2003-4

A House in the Country

Jose Donoso
New York, Knopf, 1984

A wealthy South American family takes off for their summer retreat with a legion of servants and a host of troubles. This novel chronicles the amusing, endearing, and shocking events that unfold at the house. Though not exactly a pleasant tale, this imaginative work is unforgettable.

Dan Fletcher
Assistant Professor, Bioengineering
Presidential Chair Fellow, 2003-4


Copyright © 2010 by the Library, University of California, Berkeley.
All rights reserved.
Document maintained on server:
Last updated 5/25/10.
Server manager: Contact