What are you doing with your summer vacation? Illinois State alumni are likely finding some extra free time during these warm months to catch up on some good reads.

But it can be hard to choose with so many books out there. So STATEside asked six professors from diverse backgrounds to make some recommendations that are sure to peak your intellect and imagination. Not only do these books provide solid entertainment, but they’re guaranteed to teach you something about the struggles and successes of our lives, past and present.


Amy Hurd

Amy Hurd

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (2013), by Sheryl Sandberg

Recommended by Amy Hurd, professor and graduate director, School of Kinesiology and Recreation

“Sheryl Sandberg is currently the chief operating officer of Facebook and is on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. Lean In examines the role of women in high-level jobs, their leadership abilities and approaches, why more women are not in high-level leadership positions, and what companies can do to change that. Sandberg questions why women earn over half the college degrees in this country yet hold far fewer upper administrative jobs. She discusses several topics including how women need to take risks, advocate for themselves, and trust in their abilities; finding an equal partner who supports your career and shares in all aspects of family and home; sitting at the table rather than watching from the sidelines; negotiating during job offers; how career progression is a jungle gym rather than a ladder; mentoring; and not being afraid to discuss these issues in pursuit of equality. While it is easy to think that this book is just for women, men can gain a better understanding of their own actions that might better empower women, and policies in the workplace that inhibit growth of one gender over the other.”

Joe Amato

Joe Amato

Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line (1992), by Ben Hamper

Recommended by Joe Amato, instructional assistant professor, Department of English

“Hamper’s book is by turns gritty, funny, profane, moving, and above all, true. Readers get a firsthand account of what it was like to be in the General Motors trenches in the late 70s and early 80s, at just about the time that things started to go south for U.S. manufacturing. We witness the antics of Hamper and his UAW brothers as they respond to the daily pressures of the job and the farcical ploys the corporation concocts to keep up morale, such as Howie Makem, GM’s Quality Cat. But underneath the comic surfaces is a good dose of social tragedy, and it’s to Hamper’s credit that he refuses to tread gently on his own shortcomings. Ultimately this is the story of a working-class guy from a working-class family who loses it on the assembly line, and yet manages somehow to find it within himself to begin a career as a writer. I love this book for what it says about our human ability to persevere, and for its narrator’s recognition, in the end, of just how lucky he’s been.”


Aslihan D. Spaulding

Aslihan D. Spaulding

Sarah’s Key (2006), by Tatiana de Rosnay

Recommended by Aslihan D. Spaulding, associate professor, Department of Agriculture

“I have so many favorite authors, like Meg Cabot, Thrity Umrigar, Ayse Kulin, and Jennifer Weiner. But when it comes to my favorite book, it is Sarah’s Key. This book is very emotional. It is a story about a girl in France during World War II, what happened to her and her family, how she survived, and how her story impacted Julia Jarmond, the fictional main character of the book in 2002. I did not know anything about what happened at the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup in Paris in 1942. While it is a fictional book, it shed light on this dark past in French history and led me to read and learn more about the roundup. There is a movie version too, but I highly recommend reading the book, since so much of the story was not incorporated into the movie. This book is a New York Times bestseller and has been published in 40 countries.”

Kathleen Hopper

K. Megan Hopper

Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media (1994), by Susan J. Douglas

Recommended by K. Megan Hopper, assistant professor, School of Communication

“The author describes the relationship females have with popular culture supplied so readily and extensively by the mass media. This book chronicles the portrayal of mass media images of women from the 1950s-90s, incorporating witty wisecracks that entertain, while also serving to educate and inform. This chronicle, Douglas argues, may help to explain why American women are a bundle of contradictions as much of the media imagery they have grown up with is itself filled with mixed messages about what women should and should not do, what women could and could not be.”



James Pancrazio holds a book

James Pancrazio

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), by Hunter S. Thompson

Recommended by James Pancrazio, associate professor, Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is white-knuckled joy ride across the desert of American culture. Written at the height of the country’s cultural and political crises of the early 1970s, the book chronicles a journey that pushes the limits and breaks the rules of convention when the idealism and optimism of the 1960s was crumbling under the weight of empty rhetoric and the reactionary politics of the 1970s. In this background Thompson and his friend Chicano lawyer, Oscar Zeta Acosta, immortalized as his attorney Dr. Gonzo, the 300-pound Samoan, set out in search for whatever was left of the American Dream.

“Once in Vegas, Thompson discovers that the American Dream has been replaced by an endless pursuit of wealth. It is precisely the excess of Vegas that Thompson parodies in his debauchery in an attempt to unmask the hypocrisy behind America’s claim of freedom for all and its segregation, racism, and foreign interventionism. His narrative is vitriolic and speaks from beyond the edge of reason. But, for Thompson, the only one that could speak honestly about the edge was the one that had already gone over it. It is time to unplug the iPod because this book begs to be read aloud in front of campfires, in cars as we drive across the country, or as we sit around the table. Thompson’s writing is pungent, sharp, and staccato, like that of Hemingway: always to the point, full of life and fearless. It is a great read.”

Leslie Sloan-Orr

Leslie Sloan-Orr

Color Struck (1926), by Zora Neale Hurston

Recommended by Leslie Sloan-Orr, associate professor, School of Theatre and Dance

“When Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) arrived in New York City in 1925, the Harlem Renaissance (a new intellectual, literary, artistic and cultural movement) was at its peak, and she became one of the major writers. In fact, many if not most have read her best-known novel Their Eyes were Watching God (1937). However, being the School of Theatre and Dance’s primary playwriting and African-American theatre professor, I would like to recommend Hurston’s first published play, Color Struck, a short one-act play in four scenes that was written in 1926. The play’s title is all about ‘colorism,’ which is, according to author Alice Walker (1982), the belief that black people were judged based on pigmentation or the amount of melon in their skin. In Color Struck, the central character, Emma, is terrified that her significant other, John, will leave her for a lighter-skinned woman. She says, ‘I loves you so hard, John, and jealous love is the only kind I got.’

“Being a proud, dark-complexioned, black woman, I enjoyed this play on many levels. Once I started, I could not put it down. I needed to see if the ‘color issue’ would remain a factor in this family’s life. I must say that this topic of ‘color’ still exists today for many black and brown people. However, this play has the potential of allowing the reader to look deeper than skin melon and in the words of W.E.B. Du Bois (sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist and author) see, ‘The souls of black folk’ (1903). Color Struck made the 20 Must Read Books for Young Readers List in the May/June 2011 and the Top 100 Books of 2010 List in Conversations magazine.”

The full text of this play can be found online and in Zora Neale Hurston: Collected Plays.

Brooke Burns can be reached at baburns@IllinoisState.edu.