Wyatt’s World: Alternative Reading for College Core Courses

Millions of college kids soon will head off to school, taking with them extralong twin sheets, shiny new computers, and ramen noodles. They have likely already bought their course books, but for added context, and to support blooming interests, here are some subject-specific books librarians can offer to engage students in the wider applications of their studies.

Science: The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code by Sam Kean (Little, Brown). Kean is great company for science majors and those just checking off the boxes of required basics. Here, he turns his funny and accessible style to the wonders of the genetic code. Also of interest is his first book on the periodic table and the elements, The Disappearing Spoon.

Literature: The Graphic Canon. Vol. 1: From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons, edited by Russ Kick (Seven Stories). As a companion to whatever part of the Norton’s Anthology your reader had to buy, suggest Kick’s collection of graphic and visual representations of some of the most iconic works of literature. It is a visual extravaganza and a reminder of what is at the heart of all assigned readings—their potential to inspire. Vol. 2 is due in October.

History: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (Doubleday). History is not a collection of dry facts, as Millard wonderfully makes plain in her wrenching account of the way ego killed a President. Millard’s work is rich in story and context and places readers into James Garfield’s world and makes them mourn for this long disregarded man. Her debut book, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, is also wonderful and makes great reading for history and adventure fans alike.

Math: The Joy of X: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz (Eamon Dolan). A professor at Cornell who wrote a math column for the New York Times a few years ago, Strogatz has a very quirky way of making math relevant—such as framing a central mathematic principle around the pressing question of how many people you should date before you marry. His fun and convincing work is just the thing to hand to readers who say, “I’m never going to use this in real life.”

Psychology: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (Crown). Psych 101 usually sells itself to students, but librarians wanting to show how relevant the study of mental states, process, and behavior can be could do no better than suggest this fascinating exploration of personality types and their effect on historical and contemporary society.



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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net