UC San Diego Library Winter Reading Staff Picks 2013

Looking for a good book? Our UC San Diego Library staff provide their top picks for winter reading, and the recommendations are as diverse as you might expect!


  • Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash
    • An incredibly interesting and extensively researched true story about a shipwreck and mutiny off of Australia.  It’s long, but worth the read every page!
  • The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin
    • History that reads like a novel. Get this book for the quality of the writing. The history you learn related to politics and the golden age of journalism is an added bonus.
  • The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris  by Jonathan Kirsch
    • Best-selling author Kirsch recreates the historical details surrounding a Jewish-German-Polish refugee who assassinates a Nazi diplomat in 1938 at the German Embassy in Paris. Kirsch examines conspiracy theories that suggest Grynszpan was an agent of the Gestapo as an early partisan fighter, and counter perspectives suggesting Grynszpan, in fact, challenged perception at the time of the European Jew as docile and unwilling to resort to violence.
  • Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities by Chris Kluwe
    • Humorous and thoughtful essays/rants on everything from football to marriage equality.
  • The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin
    • Fascinating story about a tragic blizzard event on the American prairie in 1888, and a great primer on weather.
  • The Life of Raymond Chandler by Frank MacShane
    • A biography which might be of particular interest to San Diego locals because of Chandler’s history living in La Jolla. The book includes the exact addresses of many of Chandler’s homes in Britain and the U.S.  Use Google Street View to see how those places look today.
  • Before they Pass Away by Jimmy Nelson
    • One book that I am looking at right now is “Before they Pass Away” I say looking at, because most of the book contains pictures of various tribes and indigenous peoples, that may not be with us forever, with just a little text about the group.  The photographs are stunningly beautiful in this portrait book.
  • The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston
    • You’ll never look at a California redwood the same way.
  • Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
  •  A recommendation from our Popular Science Collection, Packing for Mars explores how NASA and its astronauts prepare for and handle space in an informative, intensely interesting, and hysterical exploration.
  • Dreaming in Code by Scott Rosenberg
    • A great book in our Popular Science Collection to help understand why creating software is an art and hard to predict.  It contains a well told story about a year’s long development project and a lot of explanations of the practice that are accessible by a tech and non-techie reader.
  • Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
    • This is a fun book – even better as an audiobook – by best-selling author David Sedaris. Humorous, thoughtful, random short stories from the perspective of a curious traveler across continents.
  • Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin
    • “Shubin, a leading paleontologist and professor of anatomy, tells the story of evolution by tracing the organs of the human body back millions of years, long before the first creatures walked the earth based on fossils and DNA evidence.”  So very interesting to explore the way embryos form, evolve and begin life in the form of humans, having final parts that are similar to ancient organisms.
  • Autobiography of Mark Twain edited by Harriet Smith
    • This is the first must-read of three autobiographical volumes; a chance to get inside of the life and thoughts of this great American author.
  • Long for this World: The Strange Science of Immortality by Jonathan Weiner
    • Weiner, a Pulitzer Prize science writer, explores the history and latest research surrounding aging as a “curable disease”. In this scientific exploration of immortality, leading intellectuals in the field are interviewed and the latest anti-aging research is presented. Prepare to be fascinated.


  • Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
    • Fiction based on reincarnation set in Great Britain during the 20th century. Any of Atkinson’s books are sure to take you away into her fictional worlds that seem all too real.
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
    • A totally engrossing adventure story for gamers of any variety or 80s pop culture nerds.
  • The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis by Lydia Davis
    • A great American writer of short stories, Davis brings tremendous wit to her unique style of story-telling. Davis has been recognized in Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine as one of the “best writers in America”.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    • Mystery fiction about the disappearance of a wife, computer and mobile phone searches, and police interrogations. What really did happen??
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
    • An engrossing story of love, adventure, and discovery. A completely different setting and century than Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, but some similarities emerge in the themes.
  • Hild by Nicola Griffith
    • Historical fiction tale about a young woman who would become one of the most influential figures in British history: Saint Hilda of Whitby. For more inspiring Medieval imagery check out the British Library’s images @ http://bit.ly/1jW2idk
  • Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen
    • Set in Key West, Florida, this murder-police-suspense story keeps you turning the pages.
  • NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
    • NOS4A2 is a fantasy horror novel by Joe Hill, who is probably best known for writing the comic book Locke and Key (as well as being Stephen King’s son). It’s about a vampire-like creature that abducts children and takes them away to Christmasland.  The protagonist is a teenager (and later a single mother) who can find lost things by riding her bike through a mysterious covered bridge which only she can access. One of the characters is a public librarian who has a bag of Scrabble tiles that form scrambled words that provide her with important information, including how the vampire can be stopped. I had to read the last 300 pages all in one sitting!
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
    • Historical fiction set in Afghanistan in 1952 inspired by human love, family and community.
  • The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
    • Set in North Korea this book explores the life of a professional kidnapper.
  • Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler
    • A journey through the lense of a thirty year old African American single-mother, and her unexpected adventure and friendship with an 89 year old. An excellent book that also explores 1930s prejudices in Kentucky and present day race issues for the lead characters through themes of conflict and self-discovery.
  • Desert by J.M.G Le Clezio ; translated from the French by C. Dickson
    • Here’s my pick, a total bias because I love California and I love its deserts, yet, wanted to read about lands in another world.  The author is eloquently poetic and removes the nomads of Africa from the greater context of the colonial French rule romanticizing their journey and the landscape.
  • Corduroy Mansions series by Alexander McCall Smith
    • What’s to say?  A little dog and his human in London, and the episodic writing style of Charles Dickens.
  • Police by Jo Nesbo
    • A riveting mystery murder investigation set in Oslo, Norway. Recommend any of Nesbo’s book.
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  •             Published in 2013 by Nigerian author, Ngozi Adichie, Americanah is a story about a young Nigerian woman who  emigrates to the US, obtains a fellowship with Yale University, and experiences complexities surrounding love, race and identity.
  •    The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
    • From the author of The English Patient, so different of a story line, yet written with the same gift of prose that draws you in deeper page after page.
  • State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
    • Journey into the jungle of the Amazon as a pharmaceutical company scientist goes searching for a field team gone radio silent for two years.
  • How the Light Gets In: Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny
    • For the fans of mystery novels, this is Penny’s newest novel. Set in Quebec during Christmas, the writing is beautiful and I couldn’t put it down. And, if you haven’t read this author yet, there are nine books in the series. Can’t wait for the next one in August 2014.
  • The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read
    • This is a perennial holiday favorite of mine, and I’ll be rereading it within the next few days, as I do every year.  The Christmas Mouse is a novella, but it can also be found as part of the Christmas at Fairacre omnibus.
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
    • 2312 is a science fiction novel written by a distinguished UCSD alum that imagines what the Solar System will be like in 300 years. Most of the system is colonized by genetically engineered people who have been modified to adapt to the different conditions of Mercury, Mars, asteroids, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Venus is still being terraformed to create an atmosphere. The plot concerns the granddaughter of a beloved activist from Mercury, what she’s left behind for the granddaughter to discover, and how that might maintain the current peace enjoyed between the different planets and moons. Robinson’s imagination is startling—I’ve never read so realistic a description of what Earth would feel like to someone not born and raised there.
  • The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift
    • A wonderful book for lovers of gardens, England or English history.
  • Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse
    • One of the funniest novels I’ve read in a while; originally published in 1910.


  • Hawkeye by Fraction/Aja, Marvel Comics
    • A great comic for those who don’t regularly read superhero comics.
  • Saga by Vaughan/Staples , Image Comics
    • A knockout and gorgeous space opera.


  • Reverberations by Pauline Oliveros
    • A 12-CD collection of her early electronic music, much of it previously unreleased.
  • Cold Blue Two
    • Compilation of recent works by living composers, many of them Southern Californians.
  • An Hour for Piano by Tom Johnson
  • Piano Music by Jurg Frey
  • November by Dennis Johnson
    • This has caused a stir in the music world—a previously little-known 4-hour long piano work which influenced several important minimalist composers in the early 1960s.
  • William Steinberg
    • 20 CD box set recording with the Pittsburgh Symphony for Capitol Records.






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