UC Berkeley 2019 Summer Reading List: Between Worlds
Between Worlds

Welcome, incoming students!

In the fall, each of you will be arriving from one world (or, really, from multiple worlds) and entering another: UC Berkeley. With that in mind, we’ve asked Cal faculty, staff, and your fellow students to offer their very best reading recommendations for you that fit with the theme of this year’s UC Berkeley Summer Reading List for New Students: Between Worlds.

On the list below you’ll find compelling fiction and nonfiction about people navigating boundaries in culture, identity, history, space, and time. Our community here at UC Berkeley offers these to you as books to read at your leisure--whether you track one down this summer, or find one in one of Cal’s many libraries once you arrive on campus, or during future breaks in your schoolwork. This list, and all the lists dating back over thirty years on our online Archive, are really here for you to access at any time, so you can bridge yet another set of worlds that are always open to the fortunate reader: between the world of our everyday lives and the infinitely rich worlds offered to us by books.

Michael Larkin
College Writing Programs

Tim Dilworth
First Year coordinator
UC Berkeley Library


Cover art for There There

There There

Tommy Orange

The title of Tommy Orange’s novel, There There, references Gertrude Stein’s famous dismissal of Oakland: “there is no there there.” In so doing, Orange recasts Oakland as a destination; it’s not a place of departure but one of belonging and complicated affiliation for his sprawling cast of Native American characters. Indeed, Oakland draws with centripetal force an extended family to its core for a much-anticipated pow-wow, revealing a gritty, beautiful, and disturbing urban Indian landscape. The compelling characters and vivid descriptions reveal a profoundly different there there that will change the way readers see and think about Oakland, its people, its history, and its possible futures.

Note: There There is this year’s “On the Same Page” pick for incoming freshmen and transfers. Tommy Orange will be appearing on campus on August 26 to discuss the book.

Ethnic Studies

Cover art for The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin

N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, the first installment of her Broken Earth trilogy, introduces us to a world much like our own but one in which society is constructed around surviving regular tectonic cataclysms, following a woman who has been forced to hide her identity across a broken land. As the earth cracks and shifts, humanity is forced to deal with both the physical catastrophe of a volcanic-induced climate disaster and the pressure to fall back on tribalism as survival becomes a struggle. Within this foreign yet familiar setting, Jemisin explores how people are trapped by and break down racial, sexual, geographical, and psychological barriers. There are parallels with our own world--humanity facing planetary climate disasters, discrimination based on otherness, increasing tribalism. However, the unique system of magic central to the story (which also teaches geology in the vivid way only fiction can) transports the reader to a new, fantastic place and helps the audience make sense of the people and forces at work in Jemisin’s world.

Summer English Language Studies

Cover art for Daughter of Fortune

Daughter of Fortune

Isabelle Allende

In this novel the main character goes through a major transformation in who she is as she travels during the Gold Rush from Chile to California, which were essentially two different worlds. This is an amazing book that I have read many times and it covers an interesting time in California history from a woman’s perspective.

Privileges Desk Operations
Manager Doe Library

Cover art for Educated


Tara Westover

This memoir is about the life of a woman growing up very secluded and closed off from society, and it covers her experience of going to college and learning about the world and how her thirst for knowledge led to her complete transformation as she moved away from her family and into the world.

Privileges Desk Operations
Manager Doe Library

Cover art for Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders

The book that immediately came to mind for me when I heard this year’s theme—"Between Worlds”—was the Man Booker Prize-winning novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. The story is centered around the death of Willie Lincoln (the son of President Lincoln) and his journey through the Bardo, which is an intermediate world of sorts between death and the afterlife. I really liked this novel because it has a unique and effective format of multiple voices telling the story as well as a gripping plot that makes it very hard to put down.

I don’t usually do too much analysis when I read, but at the end of this one I found myself reflecting on how the book made me feel. It was definitely a page turner, and besides winning the aforementioned award, it has also received the Josh Chen seal of approval, a very high honor.

Class of 2019
Chemical Engineering Major

Cover art for Cantora


Silvia López-Medina

Cantora is a first novel by Sylvia López-Medina about four generations of Mexican (and later, Mexican-American) women as they make their way through life on both sides of the border. It was inspired by her own family history and shows their struggle between keeping traditions and adapting to their new home in California. Each generation overcomes a different set of problems. I loved it so much that I immediately read her second book, Seguiria, and was saddened to learn that her third remains unfinished because she died in a car accident.

Academic Coordinator (retired)
Graduate School of Education

Cover art for So You Want to Talk About Race

So You Want to Talk About Race

Ijeoma Oluo

It’s a fantastic read because (1) she is skilled at breaking down both the overt and covert systems that have influenced difficult race conversations in this country, and because (2) it’s quite readable where other books sometimes can be too academic-feeling for some readers.

In terms of matching the theme of Between Worlds: it’s kind of on the nose. The world of white people in the USA, and the discussions of race that white people have been taught to have over the past centuries, are often extraordinarily separate from those of people of color in this country. This book is a wonderful tool for bridging those worlds.

College Adviser
College of Letters and Science

Cover art for The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer is a fast-paced, action-packed novel that follows the path of “The Captain,” an undercover agent for the Viet Cong, who has spent years as a General’s assistant in the South Vietnamese army. His journey takes him from a life fighting on both sides of the Vietnamese conflict to a life as refugee in the United States, then back to Vietnam once again. Nguyen explores the difficult subject of the Vietnam War with masterful storytelling that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Nguyen strikes a delicate balance of telling the story of “The American War,” as the Vietnamese refer to it, from both sides of the conflict.

College Writing Programs

Cover art for Passing


Nella Larsen

Passing is a short and insightful novel centering around two black women, one who passes for white in wealthy white society while the other does not by virtue of her more visibly black family. Larsen herself was a mixed-race woman who lived during the first half of the 20th century and struggled for most of her life with the fact that she couldn’t easily belong in white or black society. Passing is thoughtful and strange and, I felt, powerfully emotional in a way that leaves you thinking about the book after you've finished reading.

Class of 2020
Double major in English and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures

Cover art for Disgrace


J.M. Coetzee

Disgrace is a novel set in post-apartheid South Africa and narrated by an unfavorable man who is unseated from his job as a professor due to an affair he has been having with (his assault of) a vulnerable student in his class. He then moves to live on the farm of his daughter Lucy, where the tensions of a society that has been unbalanced play out around him. Disgrace carefully explores how shifting power dynamics in the strict racial hierarchy of a racist society can intimately affect and alter individuals’ lives. From a writer’s perspective, Disgrace is absolutely fascinating in the way it depicts the blurring of lines between what is right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust, and also in its portrayal of characters who are difficult to like but equally difficult to condemn.

Class of 2020
Double major in English and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures

Cover art for My Year of Rest and Relaxation

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

Ottessa Moshfegh

The narrator of this novel, after some difficulties in her personal and professional life, decides that she is tired, and needs more sleep. What makes her unique, however, is she decides to spend a whole year doing nothing but sleeping. What follows is a whirlwind of theory, thought, and adventure, all while the narrator is barely conscious.

This is a fantastic story that made me think, and has stuck with me for some time. I especially like the concept of going through a cleansing period to a state of rebirth. A must read!

Class of ‘21
Industrial Engineering and Operations Research major

Cover art for The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts

Maxine Hong Kingston

For our first LEP Global Book Club read in Fall 2018, we selected Maxine Hong Kingston’s debut novel. Kingston illustrates her struggle of existing between worlds as the American-born daughter of Chinese immigrants. She expertly weaves together scenes from her own life growing up in America with her mother’s stories from China, providing insight into how culture, language, and family bonds shape our own identities.

Language Exchange Program
Student Learning Center

Cover art for The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives

The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives

Edited by Viet Thanh Nguyen

In Spring 2019, the LEP Global Book Club read The Displaced, an anthology of personal stories by refugee writers, collected and edited by author Viet Thanh Nguyen. Reading their stories allows us greater insight into the often painful realities of millions of people in our current moment, enhancing our empathy towards others, while also challenging us to reflect on questions of our own identities, belonging, and our understandings of home.

Language Exchange Program
Student Learning Center

Cover art for Austerlitz


W.G. Sebald

This is a fantastic read for the theme of “between worlds” as it is an unconventionally formatted novel (the novel itself lies between the worlds of fiction and non-fiction) and it recounts a man's search for his lost early childhood--where he was an orphan sent to Great Britain from Prague via the Kindertransport movement. It’s an extremely well-written and evocative novel that recreates, via history, not just the character’s past, but the past of Europe and the repercussions of the Holocaust.

Director, Visual Resources Center
College of Environmental Designr

Cover art for Killers of the Flower Moon

Killers of the Flower Moon

David Grann

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is a must read for all. David Grann traces a disturbing history of murders in 1920s Oklahoma revealing an institutionalized form of decimation of Native peoples. Simply stated, Killers of the Flower Moon presents a chilling chapter of US history and the Native struggle to survive in American society.

History of Art
Ancient History & Native American Archaeology

Cover art for Johnny Got His Gun

Johnny Got His Gun

Dalton Trumbo

It’s an anti-war novel about a man who returns from World War I after having lost his vision, hearing, his ability to speak, and all of his arms and legs. In this state, he claims that he is “the nearest thing to a dead man on earth” and in his unique position, caught between the worlds of the living and dead, he begins to re-examine the reasons he felt compelled to go to war.

This book just moved me. There’s a wealth of interesting points of discussion (political, historical, literary), but above all it is just a persuasive call for humanity.

Class of 2019
English major

Cover art for A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic

V.E. Schwab

This novel is the first of a three-part series, “Shades of Magic,” that deals with different worlds that only those with a certain level of magic can access. This magic marks those characters as physically different and leads to many superstitions about them across the worlds that they travel. While the setting of the series is fantastical (a world where the Thames shines red with magic!) the theme is universal: feeling like an outsider, like a different world must be better than the one you are in, and finally learning to fight for yourself and the beauty in your own world.

Permission and Access Officer
The Bancroft Library

Cover art for The Overstory

The Overstory

Richard Powers

I loved this novel even though reading it was bittersweet. It tells a narrative about several different people and families through the nearby trees that are important to them. There is a nice comparison of people-years vs. tree-years, people’s needs vs. nature’s needs. The book spans many years in these narratives though much of it takes place in the present day. The messages in the book will really resonate, I think, for those of us that feel a special kinship with the natural world.

Department of Chemistry

Cover art for Everything Here is Beautiful

Everything Here is Beautiful

Mira T. Lee

This story is Ecuador and New York and Switzerland and Israel and China.

This story is sisters and lovers and friends and mothers and doctors and shop owners.

This story is today and a long time ago and maybe hopefully even the future.

This story is people entirely whole and entirely broken.

This story is all of us.

Undergraduate Major Advisor
Psychology Student Services

Cover art for The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Mohsin Hamid

Moshid’s fascinating and insightful 2007 novel narrates the complex reaction of a Princeton-educated Pakistani to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Adjunct Professor of Economics and Statistics
Co-Director, Consortium for Data Analytics in Risk

Cover art for Dhalgren


Samuel R. Delany

A young man, “the Kid,” walks into the perpetually burning city of Bellona somewhere in middle America in the not so distant future--or is it the past, or an alternative present? An epic, oneiric tale that explores race, sexuality, gender, and class, written by the one of science fiction’s most famous authors.

Library Assistant IV
Bancroft Public Services

Cover art for Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle

Daniel Everett

His original goal was to learn the Piraha language to translate the Bible in order to convert them; however, by the end of his long sojourn in the Amazon, Daniel Everett found himself not only with a new understanding of language but also with a different view of life and spirituality which, ultimately, brought him to abandon his faith.

The book has three different currents running through it and mixing through the pages. It’s a memoir describing the events in the author’s life--his struggles both practical, due to living in minimalist environment with his family, but also, increasingly as time goes by, emotional and spiritual as he starts to question beliefs he had long held. It’s an anthropological study reporting the habits, beliefs, and culture of a isolated, very small community of natives in the Amazon. And it’s a study on a language that defies the linguistic theories that Everett knew and which put him on a collision course with his MIT colleague Noam Chomsky.

Programmer Analyst
UC Berkeley Library

Cover art for The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth

The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth

Ken Krimstein

A brilliant and deeply moving graphic memoir about the life and thoughts of the philosopher Hannah Arendt—who by fate was forced reinvent her life several times—surviving harrowing escapes from country to country: from Germany and France and to the United States. Krimstein explains Arendt’s ideas with clarity and wit, and those ideas still resonate. That alone is quite a feat! This is a story of a life as relevant now as it was then.

Senior Lecturer
Scandinavian Languages Coordinator
Department of Scandinavian

Cover art for The   57 Bus: A true story of two teenagers and the crime that changed their lives

The 57 Bus: A true story of two teenagers and the crime that changed their lives

Dashka Slater

This gripping read explores the different worlds of race, gender, class, and privilege and how they explosively collide on a bus traveling from Berkeley to Oakland.

Head, Social Sciences Division & Social Welfare Librarian
Social Research Library

Cover art for Angle of Repose

Angle of Repose

Wallace Stegner

Stegner’s novel, one of my all-time favorites, is relevant to the “Between Worlds” theme because, while it is set in the recent modern day, the main character, a history professor at UC Berkeley, is writing a book about his grandparents’ westward migration along the American frontier, where they often must reconcile civilized east and wild west. I read this during my junior year as an undergraduate and did not want it to end.

Senior Data Visualization Analyst
Office of Planning and Analysis

Cover art for Miles: The Autobiography

Miles: The Autobiography

Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe

Music majors might want to read this book, which I consider to be the best book on jazz history despite it being an autobiography.

Miles Davis was one of the towering figures in popular music of the 20th century. From a middle class family in East St. Louis, his father sent him to NYC to study music at Juilliard. He dropped out, bored out of his mind, and decided to chase his hero Charlie Parker around town to learn the latest Bebop craze. That act of defiance gave birth to a legendary career and gave us some of the best jazz recordings in history.

Davis always managed to stay on top of the many shifts in the music industry and rarely rested on his laurels. His legendary temper, his women, and his fleet of Ferraris are only side notes to a grand career that spanned almost fifty years. Kind Of Blue, the album that made him world famous, is the best testimony of a man who knew how to incorporate materials from different worlds and create classic American music.

Library Assistant III/Receiving Specialist (Spanish/Italian/French/Portuguese/Catalan Collections)
Ordering & Monographs Receiving Unit

Cover art for The Towers of Trebizond

The Towers of Trebizond

Rose Macaulay

The main character, Laurie; her plump, adventuresome, intellectual Aunt Dot; her somewhat objectionable Anglican Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg; and a white Ruwallah camel embark from England on a missionary reconnaissance--or an Anglican spying expedition, as Laurie comically refers to it--to the unconverted peoples of the Black Sea region. (Part of Aunt Dot’s purpose in going is that of “...sizing up the situation and the possibilities, and telling women about the Anglican Church...and about what a good time Christian women had, wearing hats and talking to men, not having to carry the loads, and being free to go about and have fun like men, and sometimes ride donkeys instead of walking.”)

As Laurie narrates their travels through Turkey and Syria, intertwined are her observations of the peculiar ways of organized religion and her musings on her own spirituality. Adding to the truly great appeal found in the language and witty voice of the book, Laurie’s and the other characters’ vast classical knowledge of literary and ancient history also shines through all their adventures.

Slavic & E. European Cataloging Librarian