HDS’s 2021 Summer Reading List

August 11, 2021
Michelle Goldhaber holding up a stack of books
Michelle Goldhaber, MDiv ’05, HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council chairperson. Photo courtesy Michelle Goldhaber

The final weeks of summer are upon us.

Students and faculty will soon return to campus after more than a year away. Orientation starts in two weeks. The fall semester begins on September 1. Nevertheless, there are still more than a few days left to enjoy the beach, lake, shady tree, or porch swing all while crossing another book or two off those summer reading lists.

Below, members of the HDS community shared what they’re reading this summer—for work and for pleasure.

Azani Creeks, MTS ’22, HDS Student Association social justice chair

I am currently reading Arrow of God, the second novel in Chinua Achebe’s The African Trilogy. Achebe writes these novels around the time of Nigerian independence in 1960, and the novels explore the theme of religion in the colonial process. Achebe is considered the father of modern African literature, and this trilogy shows why! As a Nigerian-American (who is Igbo like Achebe), I find that reading the trilogy is a great way for me to learn about my history and culture.

Odeviz Soto, MDiv ‘11, HDS director of admissions

I am happy to finally read a couple of books I have been eyeing for a while; two fiction and one nonfiction. The first is Cecilia Valdés, a nineteenth-century novel by Cuban writer Cirilio Villaverde, which explores the racial and social dynamics of Cuban society at the time. As a Cuban, I am eager to discover what many consider to be one of the finest pieces of Cuban literature, as well as see how that societal framework may still be influencing modern-day Cuban society.

The second fiction book is The Name of the Rose, by twentieth-century Italian philosopher, Umberto Eco. I have been recommended this book by countless friends and loved ones throughout the years after I travelled to the Melk Abbey over a decade ago. I do not usually read many murder mysteries or historical fiction, so this will be a new territory for me.

The one nonfiction book I am really looking forward to is The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? by our very own Professor Michael Sandel. I had the good fortune of taking his famous “Justice” class during the fall semester of my first year at Harvard College, and it really did change the way I thought about myself, the world, and the principle of justice.

Given that I that work in admissions, I constantly think about what is considered “meritorious,” “deserved,” or “earned,” in light of all the operating systems and assumptions that seem to help some succeed more than others. This book also feels like a natural conversation partner to an impactful book I read two years ago, The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite, by Yale Professor Daniel Markovits.

Michelle Goldhaber, MDiv ’05, HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council chairperson

I absolutely love summer reading! As a full-time rabbinical student, I barely have time to read all of my assigned texts during the school year, so summer is when I READ FOR PLEASURE! This summer, I am delighted to return to an old favorite—The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. These books never get old. The characters are charming, the stories and scenery are enticing, and the tone is soothing and refreshing—a perfect balm and balance for the intensity of the past several months. I’m currently on book 14 out of about 21, and can easily read a book every couple of days. In order to draw out my enjoyment of this simple pleasure, I am alternating with other great books.

Top of my list is the autobiographical Swimming to Antarctica by one of my swim heroes, Lynne Cox. Lynne is not just a world renowned record-breaking cold-water swimmer of immense mental fortitude and superhuman physical capability, she is a kind, generous, accessible, and positive person with high ethical standards, dedicating her swims to relationship and peacebuilding worldwide. As an aspiring long-distance swimmer myself, Lynne’s books are the perfect companion to my summer training filled with long ocean swims, and focus on the powerful combination of nature, physical activity, spirituality, and activism.

There are other books on my list, too—many that have been waiting patiently on my shelf for me to finish my semester: The Overstory by Richard Powers, At Home in the World by Thich Nhat Hanh, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones by Olga Tokarczuk, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Fierce by Aly Raisman—a good mix of fiction and non-fiction.

Finally, though it’s not quite as sexy or relaxing, I am reading something for school: A Manual of Babylonian Jewish Aramaic by David Marcus!

Jacob Olupona, HDS Professor of African Religious Traditions, with a joint appointment as Professor of African and African American Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

I am reading a novel titled ÌFẸ́WÙMÍ: (The Travails of Inúlayéwà). Ìfẹ́wùmí is a story written by Diípọ̀ Fágúnwà, a Nigerian author and son of the legendry Yoruba author Daniel Ọlọ́runfẹ́mi Fágúnwà (1903-1963), hereafter called D.O. Fágúnwà. Unlike his father, who was a doyen of Yorùbá literature and probably the most revered writer in Yorùbá literature and language till today who wrote in Yoruba, Diípọ̀ decided to write in English. But this novel is written in the spirit of D.O. Fágúnwà’s writings and was an English follow up to one of D.O. Fagunwa’s best known books, Àdììtú Olódùmarè (Mysteries of God), translated by Olú Ọbáfẹ́mi. Other novels of D.O. Fágúnwà are Ogbόjú Ọdẹ Nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀, Igbó Olódùmarè, Ìrèké Oníbùdó, and Ìrìnkèrindò Nínú Igbó Elégbèje. D.O. Fágúnwà‘s novels are written as narratives given to him by his heroes who came to tell their life stories so that posterity shall not forget them, and the world shall learn worthwhile lessons from their experiences.

Ìfẹ́wùmí is a surreal story written in this tradition. It is about its hero, a man called Inúlayéwà, who invited Diípọ̀ to his home to tell Diípọ̀ his life story filled with sojourns and adventures while looking for his abducted wife. Inúlayéwà was directed by Àdììtú Olódùmarè, the star of the novel, to tell D.O. Fágúnwà’ (Diípọ̀’s father) his life story, but the D.O. Fágúnwà died before he could be told the story. Inúlayéwà waited for 24 years to tell Diípọ̀ his tale and was now delighted that he had someone he could trust to hand over the story of his life.

—by Michael Naughton