UC Berkeley 2019 Summer Reading List: Between Worlds

Image credit: Eadweard Muybridge, from the collections of The Bancroft Library*

Dear New Cal Students,

We are very pleased to welcome you to Cal with this year’s edition of the UC Berkeley Summer Reading List for New Students, an annual compilation of reading recommendations from Cal students, faculty, and staff that we pass along with our greetings to new first-year and transfer students joining the Golden Bear community.

This summer’s theme is “Lift Our Gazes.” The past year has been trying in so many ways, including the awfulness of the global pandemic that we’re still enduring. To acknowledge this difficult period in our history while also looking to the future with hope, purpose, and resilience, we take inspiration for this year’s theme from 22-year-old Amanda Gorman’s poem read at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration and “lift our gazes to...what stands before us.”

On the list below you’ll find nonfiction, fiction, plays, and poetry that tell stories and histories of people looking clear-eyed at the past and/or inspiringly towards the future as the writers actively participate in seeing and re-seeing the world, and sometimes themselves. We hope one of these books might help you to lift your own gaze as you come to campus in the fall to embark on the next stage of your life’s journey.

Speaking of coming to campus, we look forward to seeing you--and all the rest of us--on the UC Berkeley grounds come fall, when you will be able to look up these books not only online but also in person at one of Cal’s many libraries. You’ll be able to lift your gazes to the millions of books in Berkeley’s collections; to the tolling of the Campanile; to the calling of our resident peregrine falcons, Annie and Grinnell; and to the many other sights, sounds, and experiences you’ll discover at your new academic home.

In the meantime, we wish you happy reading!

Michael Larkin (he/him)
College Writing Programs

Tim Dilworth (he/him)
First-Year Coordinator
UC Berkeley Library

Alison Wannamaker
Graphic Designer
UC Berkeley Library


Book cover for The Undocumented Americans

The Undocumented Americans

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

In this remarkable book—part memoir, part journalism, part creative non-fiction—Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, herself undocumented, opens our eyes to what is right in front of us, but which we have been unable to see clearly up until now. She brings us into the lives of her family and other undocumented people in the United States, focusing not on a model-minority, soft-focus Dreamer narrative, but on the complex, real lives of undocumented people, who entrusted her with their stories, perhaps in part because of her own honesty and vulnerability. The student reviewers for the On the Same Page program were blown away by this book, and you will be, too.

Director of Academic Planning
College of Letters & Science

Book cover for Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming is a YA novel that tells the story of a young woman who is searching for her place in the world. In Woodson’s lyrical account, told as a series of poems, she writes of what it was like growing up during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Moving from Ohio to South Carolina and then New York, Jacqueline confronts injustice and the realities of living in the post-Jim Crow era South. Always staying true to herself, she pursues her dreams and personal goals of becoming a writer despite the initial reservations of those around her and ultimately finds her voice through the stories and personal histories she tells.

College Writing Programs

Book cover for The Ties that Bind

Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom

Tiya Miles

Lift your eyes to the interwoven story of a Cherokee warrior and African American slave as their lives are carefully detailed in this vivid historical account. Themes of colonialism, slavery, and marginalization weave the “ties” that make up not just a part of American history (one that is not taught in our schools), but the very essence of the American fabric--a fabric which is frayed, knotted, and stained.

Lecturer, History of Art
Fellow, Townsend Center for the Humanities

Book cover for Gutted


Justin Chin

In a time when it’s difficult to grasp the passing of time, grief, and joy, I return to the legacy of a local queer poet, Justin Chin. In Gutted, his own loose variation of the Japanese zuihitsu, he assembles “diary entries, lists, quotations, observations, commentaries, fragments,” which chronicle the days after the death of his father, Chin’s own illness, and the absurdity, horror, and pleasure of everyday acts. How do we confront our past and view ourselves as raw, uncensored, honest?

Undergraduate Research & Learning Librarian
UC Berkeley Library

Book cover for Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape

Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape

Lauret Savoy

In this collection of essays, Savoy, professor of environmental studies and geology at Mt. Holyoke College, explores the complex terrains of memory and landscape, and the ways in which the fragmented stories of our national past, and her personal past, are inscribed, lost, or found in the present. Through a wide-ranging examination of the geographies and topographies of our continent over time, she explores the paths of her ancestors, which include free and enslaved Africans, European colonizers, and Indigenous peoples, and uncovers stories of place and human presence which had been displaced or silenced. As one epigraph in the book notes, “Every landscape is an accumulation...Life must be lived amidst that which was made before.”

MARISSA FRIEDMAN (she/her/hers)
Digital Project Archivist
The Bancroft Library

Book cover for The Namesake

The Namesake

Jhumpa Lahiri

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, The Namesake, speaks to how one’s character, seemingly burdened by the past, can be redefined across time, space, and culture. In this story, Gogol Ganguli, a child of Indian immigrants much like Lahiri herself, struggles to adopt an identity that satisfies both the expectations of his Bengali relatives in Calcutta and his peers in the United States. As Gogol uncovers the history behind his name, we watch him tangle with family tradition, tumble through telling love affairs, and develop a fond interest in architecture — fitting as he tries to assemble his own persona. With simple yet elegant prose rendered in page-turning fashion, Lahiri illustrates how Gogol sees and re-sees the world upon gaining clarity about his past.

Class of 2021
Molecular and Cell Biology major

Book cover for The Flick

The Flick

Annie Baker

Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, this play examines the lives of three young people who work in one of the last independently owned movie theaters in New England. Each character struggles with finding their place in a world that is changing rapidly. By the end, each of them finds hope as they move on. The New York Times calls it “hilarious and touching.”

College Writing Programs

Book cover for Disgraced


Ayad Akhtar

Art, race, and politics come together in this 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner. Two couples push through the niceties over dinner, and before the evening is over, they come to grips with “truths” that are usually left unspoken. As difficult as it is to face deeply ingrained biases, this play challenges audiences to lift their gaze to see society as it really is.

College Writing Programs

Book cover for The Color of Law:
A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Richard Rothstein

How did structural racism take form to support inequities among the U.S. population? This book explains the U.S. government’s policies that ensured some would be able to establish financial equity and have access to educational opportunities while others would not.

School of Public Health

Book cover for Big Fish: a Novel of Mythic Proportions

Big Fish: a Novel of Mythic Proportions

Daniel Wallace

Big Fish is the story of a man’s relationship with his father, Edward Bloom, an avid storyteller and adventure seeker who is about to die. Edward Bloom was always seen as an invincible hero in the elaborate stories he tells about his life and other adventures. Edward’s love for adventure and stories led him to make some questionable choices, such as barely spending time with his family, but ultimately his son learns more about his father, better understanding his life, his fears, and most of all, his passion for living life fully and growing into a better person.

Class of 2024
Bioengineering + Business

Book cover for The Alchemist

The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho

In his book The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho tells the story of Santiago, a young boy from Andalusia who goes on a magical adventure to find treasure. On his journey, he meets new people and goes on exciting adventures that help him broaden his horizons and gain wisdom about his life. In the end, he learns to have more trust in fate and in himself.

Class of 2024
Bioengineering + Business

Book cover for Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Barack Obama

Barack Obama’s first memoir is a beautifully written, absorbing account of a young man coming to terms with the absence of his father, his mixed racial heritage, and his experience growing up Black in Hawaii and Indonesia. Published when he was just 34, before he ever held or ran for public office, it may be the most candid, introspective book ever written by a U.S. President. His journey of self-discovery is both inspiring and relatable, whether the reader is an aspiring leader or simply someone trying to find their path in the world.

Associate Director
Berkeley Connect

Book cover for The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin

In this first book of the Broken Earth trilogy, the world—which may be ours, or may be a different one—is in a constant state of tectonic upheaval. Cataclysmic earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are so regular that humanity has come to expect regular apocalypses, and plans accordingly. Stability, such as it is, is maintained by orogenes—people with the ability to manipulate the earth, who are reviled, feared, and enslaved for their powers. How everything got this way, and what it will cost to change it, is the subject of this incredible trilogy.

N.K. Jemisin shows us what is possible when the culture of speculative fiction breaks its self-defeating habit of focusing on stories written by, about, and for heterosexual white men. Suddenly, the genre is free to do what it is best at: questioning the assumptions with which we build our daily lives, and showing us what we can do to change them.

Web Designer
University Library

Book cover for Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind

Fossil Men: The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind

Kermit Pattison

Fossil Men is largely a book about U.C. Berkeley, beginning in the “Neo-Babylonian complex of the Valley Life Science Building.” Once Covid restrictions lift, you can see the display there of “Lucy” and “Ardi”–the fossils that have waited three or four million years for your visit. In addition to being science writing of a high order on these discoveries in Africa, Pattison’s book has the R-rated episodes that sometimes accompany academic arguments. If you think science proceeds with the decorum of Scrabble, you will see that discoveries can more closely resemble a thirty-year war. The controversies seem to have benefited Berkeley undergraduates who took some engaging courses. Rough as paleoanthropology can be, Berkeley led the field in escaping a colonial mindset. Professor Tim D. White recruited internationally and leveraged Berkeley funds to bring Ethiopians here and to see that they controlled their discoveries.

Emeritus professor, Graduate School of Journalism
Former University Librarian

Book cover for What the Eyes Don’t See:
A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City

What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City

Mona Hanna-Attisha

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a pediatrician in Flint, Michigan who saw that the children of Flint were being poisoned by lead in the city’s water. Hanna-Attisha’s book explores the many factors that led to this crisis—including racism, city mismanagement, corruption, and greed. She also explores the factors in her own background as an Iraqi American whose family history of activism in the face of extreme government repression taught her the importance of resistance. What the Eyes Don't See is an engaging story which highlights the importance of data-informed activism, social justice, and public health

Head, Social Sciences Division
Social Welfare Librarian & Interim African Studies Librarian

Book cover for The Women in the Castle

The Women in the Castle

Jessica Shattuck

One reason I love reading historical fiction is that the challenges of the setting and time period come alive when they are the experiences of characters I relate to, and this book is a great example! In it, Marianne von Lingenfels gathers up the fellow widows of German resistance members, and sets up a family of sorts in a ruined Bavarian castle. She imagines they are of like minds and will move forward united, but the opposite proves to be true—these three strong German women, each of whom has had different connections with the events of World War II, have to come to terms with their own pasts, the aftermath of the war, and the unexpected new world and lives that await them. I highly recommend this beautifully imagined and evocative novel (which will soon become a movie starring Daisy Ridley).

Sociology, Demography, & Quantitative Research Librarian
Doe Library

Book cover for Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems

Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems

Yusef Komunyakaa

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, Yusef Komunyakaa interweaves history and memory. With inventive language and raw emotion, Komunyakaa tackles varying subjects from the Vietnam War, to the Jonestown massacre, to jazz greats, to his childhood in Bogalusa, Louisiana. As readers, we embed with soldiers in Vietnam (“we held our breath,/ready to spring the L-shaped/ambush, as a world revolved/under each man’s eyelid”); we mourn the passing of Thelonious Monk (“Tonight’s a lazy rhapsody of shadows/swaying to blue vertigo/& metaphysical funk”); and we witness, from a son’s point of view, his complicated relationship with his father: a man who uses “wire/& sunlight to train/The strongest limbs,” who “hated my books,” but who “steered us through the flowering/Dogwood like a thread of blood.” Komunyakaa challenges us to gaze with unflinching clarity and deep introspection at the past—of singular people and of the nation--and to fashion guides for moving forward from what we observe and learn. “Hard love, it’s hard love,” he writes in Copacetic Mingus, and reminds us, as he closes Corrigenda, “If you must quote me, remember/I said that love heals from inside.”

Curriculum Coordinator
Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence (CE3)

Book cover for Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Isabel Wilkerson

Isabel Wilkerson artfully weaves individual experiences and historical events, as well as data and scholarship, to re-see the artificial social construct of race as the visible manifestation of an invisible caste structure. As she notes, “Caste is the bones, race the skin.” Wilkerson lifts our gaze by offering possible solutions for the undoing of this centuries-old system of dehumanization, which continues to do harm through both passive and active enforcement by those who benefit from the structure. I also highly recommend the audiobook recording, as read by Robin Miles.

Film & Media Services Librarian
Media Resources Center

* Image: Studies of Clouds, undated.
Creator: Eadweard Muybridge.
Collection: Lone Mountain College Collection of Stereographs and Other Photographs
by Eadweard Muybridge, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Call number: BANC PIC 1971.055:534--ALB (I0021666A.jpg)
Collection guide: Finding Aid to the Lone Mountain College Collection of Stereographs and Other Photographs by Eadweard Muybridge, 1867-1880.
Collection information: The Muybridge Lone Mountain Collection consists of 1700 stereographs, 6 albums, and 39 individual photographs by Eadweard Muybridge, chiefly taken during the years 1867 to 1875. For additional listings regarding the extensive Muybridge collections at Bancroft, please see The Bancroft Library’s Guide to Pictorial Collections, which is available for viewing on the Bancroft Reference shelves in The Bancroft Library Reading Room. Viewing prints are available under the call number BANC PIC 1971.055--PIC. Individual prints, original stereographs, and albums are restricted and may be viewed only with the permission of the pictorial curator at The Bancroft Library.
Digital collections record: https://digicoll.lib.berkeley.edu/record/38720