Turn the Page: Book Suggestions from Gustie Professors

Stuck at home? We asked professors to take a break from online course preparation to make reading recommendations.
Posted on March 23rd, 2020 by

As people are staying inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked Gustavus Adolphus College professors to take a break from preparing for the transition to online course delivery to give some reading recommendations.

Looking for a novel, memoir, biography, poetry collection, or guilty pleasure? You’ll find them all here, along with recommendations in our professors’ own words. Do you have a book to recommend? Let us know in the comments.

Stay safe, Gusties!

Recommended by Lynnea Myers, assistant professor of nursing:

by Dani Shapiro

“With the introduction of at-home genetic testing kits, I have been intrigued by stories of individuals discovering new information about themselves and their families based on genetic testing. This book details the journey of one such individual who learns her father is not her biological father. Shapiro tells a captivating story chronicling her emotional journey following the discovery of such unexpected information and I enjoyed her story so much that I went on to read all the other books written by her.”

There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather
by Linda Åkeson McGurk

“I recently returned to Gustavus after living in Sweden for 4.5 years and was eager to read this book about parenting written by a Swedish mom living in the US and raising her children here. The insights the author shares regarding Scandinavian parenting are spot on from my experience living and raising young children in Sweden and provide some interesting food for thought on how parents can incorporate some Scandinavian child-rearing practices in the US.”

Recommended by Phillip Bryant, professor of English and African Studies:

Fools Crow
by James Welch

“A masterpiece of Native American/American literature appearing in the second half of the 20th century, published in 1986. The novel takes place in the late 19th century and revolves around a small band of Blackfoot people, The Lone Eaters, and the impending, all-but-certain end of their way of life on the high plains of Montana. It’s a story of hope, faith, love, and fortitude in the face of cataclysm.”

The Music of Failure
by Bill Holm ’65

“Yet another masterpiece, this time in the form of a long essay (that shares its title with the collection) about rural western Minnesota and the people who came from far-away Iceland to settle and find their own little slice of the American Pie and for the most part came up very empty despite their hardest efforts to succeed. Bill, of course, is a Gustie, Class of 1965, and in my judgement, the most important writer to graduate from the hill, yet nobody hardly ever mentions this fact.”

Carrying Water To The Field: New and Selected Poems
by Joyce Sutphen

“Can’t make this list without putting my most esteemed colleague and poet laureate of Minnesota, Joyce Sutphen, on it. Joyce’s great poetry is a tonic and balm for these very troubled times we are going through presently. Her poetry gives us the strength and heart to carry on because it’s from the heart that her poems are born.”

Recommended by Lisa Heldke, professor of philosophy and director of the Nobel Conference:

Maisie Dobbs series
by Jacqueline Winspear

“I’m a big murder mystery fan, and recently I’ve been giving myself ‘permission’ to spend time reading them again. A favorite character is Maisie Dobbs, a ‘psychologist and investigator’ living in England. The series begins at the end of WWI and the most recent books concern WWII. One learns a lot of the history of that period, and the character of Dobbs is entirely intriguing to nerdy academics. I just finished listening to one that was set at the time when France was invaded; I found it weirdly comforting to hear the descriptions of other people enduring utterly different, more painful hardships than the ones I’m being asked to endure here and now.”

The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins
by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

“If there was ever a book I wish I had written, it is this brilliant book. Ostensibly an anthropology monograph, this is a lucid, engrossing, urgent, fascinating look at the earth and its inhabitants through the ‘eyes’ of a species of mushroom that grows best on horribly disturbed soil.”

Recommended by Jeff Owen, associate professor of economics and management:

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
by Michael Lewis

“Written by the author of Moneyball and The Big Short, this exploration of the partnership of Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky highlights their groundbreaking research that challenged prevailing wisdom about human decision-making and essentially created the field of behavioral economics.”

Recommended by Yurie Hong, associate professor of classical studies and gender, women, and sexuality studies:

Homer’s The Odyssey
translated by Emily Wilson

“Homer’s epic is about the Greek hero Odysseus’ decade-long struggle to get back home after 10 years of fighting the Trojan War. On the way, Odysseus encounters hospitable friends and monstrous foes, goddesses who help and goddesses who harm, high-seas adventures as well as long bouts sequestered on an island. All the while, his wife Penelope and son Telemachus are being held hostage in their own home, unable to leave and engaged in a tense standoff with the rowdy mob of suitors, who demand that Penelope remarry so that one of them can take Odysseus’ place as king of Ithaca. Emily Wilson’s translation has breathed exciting new life into this enduring tale and has received widespread critical and popular acclaim. An audio version of this translation, narrated by Claire Danes, is available on Audible and enables us to access the epic as it was meant to be experienced 2,000 years ago–by a single narrator speaking to us across the generations.”

Recommended by Hayley Russell, assistant professor of health and exercise science:

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami

“Every morning when I left my house to run this week, I have felt grateful for running. After being stuck indoors, the repetitiveness, mindlessness, and peaceful time outside have made me think about this book. In this beautiful memoir translation, Haruki Murakami reflects on his relationship with running and writing. Unlike many books of this genre, Murakami is not an elite runner, he is a writer. He is, however, a passionate, committed, and reflective runner who sees running as instrumental in his career as a writer. Murakami says, ‘Most of what I know about writing I’ve learned through running everyday.'”

The Dutch House
by Ann Patchett

“My favorite book of the last several years, The Dutch House is an engrossing novel set over the course of five decades as siblings Danny and Maeve try to piece together the truth of their childhood in the house they grew up in–and are later exiled from. A coming-of-age story that plays on common fairy-tale themes, the book makes adult readers confront the nature of family relationships. There are so many questions throughout this book that at points you don’t even know what you want to know. What I liked best about this book was the strong bond between siblings, which is less commonly seen in adult literary fiction. Danny and Maeve’s relationship is beautiful and all-consuming in ways that are both heartwarming and painfully sad. The audio book, available on Audible, is narrated by Tom Hanks.”

Recommended by Gregory Kaster, professor of history:

Battle Cry of Freedom
by James M. McPherson ’58

“This Pulitzer Prize-winning synthesis transformed how historians and the general public (at least much of that public) understand the Civil War. See also literally anything else Jim has written. He is always smart, lucid, provocative, and persuasive. A real treat is to sit down with the short Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution (1992), open to the chapter on “How Lincoln Won the War with Metaphors,” and be enlightened and enthralled. He and his late spouse Patricia recently and generously endowed the McPherson Professorship in American History at Gustavus, of which I am the exceedingly humbled first holder.”

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
by David Blight

“Blight, a terrific historian and teacher at Yale (and a high school teacher long before that) offers a masterpiece of biography focused on one of the most important African American leaders ever, the former slave turned abolitionist (and much more) Frederick Douglass. While you are at it, read Blight’s edition (or any edition) of Douglass’s famous Narrative (his autobiography, the first version published in 1845). Though some seem to think Douglass yet lives, he does not. His words, however, do, and they are as timely as ever. Get through the biographical details early on; this is a superb read. I hope to bring him to Gustavus this fall, virus (and Blight) willing.”

Mourning Lincoln
by Martha Hodes

“The winner of the prestigious 2016 Lincoln Prize by the distinguished historian at New York University, this account of the days and weeks following the president’s assassination is moving, eye-opening, and, in the words of one historian, ‘a page-turner.'”

Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court
and Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson
by Paul Finkelman

“Two bracing books by the leading historian of the Constitution (and American law) and slavery. He wowed us with his on-campus class visits and evening lecture a year ago this spring.”

Recommended by Margaret Bloch Qazi, associate professor of biology:

by Sinclair Lewis

“How do we develop a career that is a good fit for our skills and interests? Martin Arrowsmith is determined to unlock the secrets of bacteriophages (these were in the 1920s what CRISPR is today). His drive takes him through medical school, county health offices, famed research institutes, and to the frontline of a viral epidemic. Martin is imperfect, but his commitment to truth is admirable.”

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
by Mary Oliver

“In clearly observed and passionately articulated poetry, Oliver reminds me of the beauty and integrity of nature.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin



  1. Margo watt says:

    Great idea, Gustavus!

  2. David Mitchell says:

    Great list! Thank you for compiling and sharing with us!

  3. Ann Greenawalt says:

    Love the Maisie Dobbs series!

  4. Pat Kindstrom LeVesque says:

    Thank you for doing this, nice idea. So glad Phillip Bryant recommended Bill Holm, ANY of his books are wonderful. He is indeed a national treasure who does not get enough recognition. His last book, poetry, Chain Letter of the Soul, is one that I never even put back on the shelf.

  5. Davina Fanciullo says:

    Thank you for your recommendations!

  6. Leandra Peak says:

    Thank you!

  7. Alex Theship-Rosales says:

    These all sound great, thanks Profs!