Good books: VCU faculty members make suggestions for your summer reading list

Featured photo
VCU professors Daryl Fraser, Tracey Gendron and Stephen Fong with their summer reading picks.
Photos by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing

The first official day of summer is almost here and with it thoughts of vacation — sandy beaches, road trips, staycations and everything in between. For many of us, vacation means relaxing with a good book. To that end, we’ve asked Virginia Commonwealth University faculty members to recommend books they feel would make good additions to anyone’s summer reading list.



Daryl Fraser, assistant professor in teaching, School of Social Work

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Daryl Fraser.
Daryl Fraser.

This book was recommended to me by one of my dearest friends and colleagues, who like me, is a social worker, parent of a young black boy and is impassioned by issues of racial injustice.“Between the World and Me” is a beautifully penned letter to Coates’ 15-year-old son following the Michael Brown verdict in Ferguson, Missouri. In this book, Coates masterfully reflects and interprets his experiences growing up as a black man in America, while articulating his fears to his own son, whom he recognizes is close in age to that of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin.The cadence and rhythm in which this book is written is artistic, honest, and captivating. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in deconstructing issues of race relations in America past, present, and future.


Shelli Fowler, Ph.D., interim dean, University College, and associate professor of English, College of Humanities and Sciences

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century” by Grace Lee Boggs and Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in Challenging Times” by Paul Loeb

Shelli Fowler.
Shelli Fowler.

I am reading two books that complement each other so well that I recommend reading them together for a delightful “simultaneous” summer reading experience! “The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century” by Grace Lee Boggs is an inspiring book that asks us to work together on connecting hearts and minds, bridging historical divides, and creating more inclusive, vibrant and participatory communities that can revitalize our economy, environment and society. Likewise, Paul Loeb’s “Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in Challenging Times” offers up an empowering reminder that reimagining and recreating our communities means embracing an ethics of listening that is essential if we are to discover, or rediscover, what we actually hold in common. This is fabulous summer reading that perpetuates forward-looking, critically engaged optimism for our time.


Suzanne Makarem, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing, School of Business

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman

Suzanne Makarem.
Suzanne Makarem.

I frequently go back and re-read parts of “Thinking, Fast and Slow” to refresh my memory of the many useful concepts relating to human behavior. The premise of the book is that we have two patterns of thinking or two systems: the fast intuitive system and the slow, deliberate but lazy system. Kahneman uses this thesis of two systems to explain and illustrate irrational or suboptimal human judgments and choices. Although this book is well-known in the behavioral economics field and usually recommended to School of Business students, it is a fascinating and valuable read that anyone with an interest in how we make decisions can enjoy.


Stephen Fong, Ph.D., associate professor and vice chair, Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, School of Engineering

“The Delphic Boat: What Genomes Tell Us” by Antoine Danchin

Stephen Fong.
Stephen Fong.

Biological research hit a significant milestone in 2000 with the release of a draft of the human genome, which spurred an increased focus on human genetics. The information contained in human DNA is undoubtedly a key component to human health and quality of life, but the DNA sequence of a human genome is the beginning to finding answers, not the answer itself. Danchin’s book focuses on a simple question posed by the Oracle at Delphi related to a boat and uses this to frame discussion on genomes. The concept illustrated by the Delphic Boat is one that can be extrapolated to numerous phenomena, but specifically helps provide context to the challenges of human genetics.


Tony Garcia, professor of music and director of jazz studies, School of the Arts

“Writing Our Way Out: Memoirs from Jail” by David Coogan (and others)

Tony Garcia.
<br>Photo courtesy Tony Garcia.
Tony Garcia.
Photo courtesy Tony Garcia.

“Writing Our Way Out: Memoirs from Jail” is co-authored by Dr. David Coogan of VCU Rhetorical Theory and Criticism and VCU Service Learning. I’d met David a couple of years ago at a VCU event and always remembered what I’d heard of his work guiding inmates to explore, through writing, what had contributed to the poor decisions they had made — and how they would improve their life choices upon release. I’ve chosen the book as the proposed basis of commissioned music I will compose over the coming months, to be premiered in the spring 2018 semester by the VCU Commonwealth Singers (Dr. Erin Freeman, director) at both the Richmond City Justice Center and at VCU (pending permissions). If as a society we’re going to lessen the numbers of citizens who end up in jail, we have to understand better how they got there; we can’t ignore this city within a city.


Tracey Gendron, Ph.D., associate professor of gerontology, School of Allied Health Professions

“The Blue Zones: Nine Lessons for Living Longer” by Dan Beuttner

Tracey Gendron.
Tracey Gendron.

In “The Blue Zones,” Dan Beuttner travels across the globe to visit the world’s longest-lived people. Reading this book provides a wonderful opportunity to learn from the wisdom and earned knowledge of elders. The shared stories and life experiences from the people who have lived the longest provide lessons for us all on how to achieve happiness throughout our lives and how to embrace the opportunities provided to us as we age. The beauty of growing into our elderhood is a message worth sharing, and I recommend this book as a great addition to your summer reading list.


Patricia Kinser, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community health nursing, School of Nursing

“Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant and “Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden” by Karen Maezen Miller

Patricia Kinser.
Patricia Kinser.

You may be familiar with Sheryl Sandberg for her previous book “Lean In” and her work as an executive at Facebook. In “Option B,” the authors interweave Sandberg’s experience of the sudden death of her husband with anecdotal and research findings about how to find meaning and joy despite tragedy and loss, common human experiences. As a faculty member, my goal is for my students to be resilient, or to thrive in the face of challenge. This book provided insights into ways I can help build resilience in my students, myself, my loved ones and my community.

In “Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden,” Karen Maezen Miller, a Zen Buddhist teacher, provides lessons about joy, mindfulness, contentment, fearlessness and gratitude within a context of tending her family’s Japanese garden. It is a small book that you can easily stick in a bag and read a chapter of whenever you have a few moments of quiet. The book provides many reminders to slow down and appreciate the beauty all around.


Garret Westlake, Ph.D., executive director, da Vinci Center for Innovation

“Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh

Garret Westlake.
Garret Westlake.

I never knew I was an entrepreneur until I read Tony Hsieh’s “Delivering Happiness.” Through a series of personal stories from childhood, adolescence, college and beyond, Tony explores the curiosity and drive that underlie his success as an entrepreneur and investor. What I enjoy most about this book is that it is equal parts failure and success, and it reinforces the idea that entrepreneurship is not easy and requires a little bit of luck. I think this book makes a great summer reading book because it tells the story of Tony’s life while allowing the reader plenty of time to question their own choices, passions and path to happiness. This book is perfect for anyone thinking about their path in life and how to make informed decisions along the way.


Books by faculty

VCU professors have been doing plenty of writing as well as reading. Below is a sampling of books published by VCU faculty in the past year.

“Wirewalker” by Mary Lou Hall. A novel about a 14-year-old boy, pushed into running drugs to help support his family, and the deep bond he forms with a dog living in his neighborhood.

“For the Scribe” by David Wojahn. A collection of poetry that explores the interstices between the public and the private, the historical and the personal.

“Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy” by Tressie McMillan Cottom. A look into the rise of for-profit colleges like ITT Technical Institute and the University of Phoenix, and how the industry’s rapid expansion is linked to America’s growing inequality.

“The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism” by David Golumbia. An examination into how the digital currency is spreading a far-right political and economic philosophy.

“Keep On Keeping On: The NAACP and the Implementation of Brown v. Board of Education in Virginia” by Brian Daugherity. A comprehensive look at African-Americans’ efforts to obtain racial equality in Virginia in the later 20th century.