What's on your winter break reading list?

LAS students share the books they're excited to read over winter break

Stack of books on a tableMany members of the LAS community find inspiration and pleasure in reading a good book.

As our students enjoy winter break, we asked a few of them to share the books that they’re excited to dig into over the next month. To see what our faculty and staff are reading, go here.


Brendan McGovern (English and Political Science)

Winter break provides the perfect time to decompress after a busy fall semester. In between spending time with the family this winter break, I am going to relax by cracking into three books on my reading list.

Quarantine has made me realize how much we take for granted simple day-to-day interactions. Because of this, I will start my reading with Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell. In offering a number of interesting case studies, many of which I have listened to in his podcast Revisionist History, Gladwell explains miscommunication, interactions, and assumptions people make when encountering strangers. I’m most excited to begin reading this book because I have always been a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell and the topics he chooses to examine.

The second book I am excited to read is Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. I watched the film with my family this past spring, and we were amazed both by the work Stevenson has done for the wrongfully convicted as well as the historical background the movie explores.

Finally, the last book on my list is Teaching to Transgress by Bell Hooks. Next fall I will be teaching middle school English, and this book offers an all-encompassing approach for teaching in ways that will help students achieve even after they leave the classroom. 


Ashlee Walters (English)

Since I am an English major, I am often reading several pieces of work, typically at least three at a time, and don’t really have enough time to read for leisure. Because of this, I make a list of what books I want to read over breaks and vacations, and eventually make the order in which I will read them. For this winter break, I plan on reading a few books. 

The first two are recent releases from my favorite authors. The first on my list is the Neil Gaiman Reader: Selected Fiction. As a fan of his work, there is nothing better than so many pieces of work encompassed in a single book, all chosen by his readers themselves, making a hefty book of over seven hundred pages. The second book I plan on reading is V. E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, a novel that the author had been working on for many years, and has so far still managed to stay on the bestseller’s list for eight consecutive weeks. I’ve enjoyed her novels since the release of Vicious in 2013. After a long semester in the middle of a pandemic, there is nothing quite like reading for fun, even for someone who already enjoys reading most works. 


Chiara Awatramani (English)

During the school year, finding time to read can prove much more difficult than expected. To be honest, my battle tends to occur in the act of wanting to read; after reading endless poems, short stories and novels as an English major, sometimes I prefer to do anything but read. With the end of the semester approaching, winter break has certainly been on my mind and there seems to me there would be nothing better to do than curl up with a cup of steaming chai and a spectacular book. Finally, I can steal my precious time back! But there's another battle to be fought, one between books: the seemingly simple question of "which books should I read?" 

The first book I have my sights on to read this winter break is Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. This book follows the life of a Vietnamese boy and his family and their shriveled, grey past rooted in the Vietnam War. I have heard countless good reviews of this book and have been waiting for six months to get my hands on it. And finally, it has arrived!

Another book I want to read is The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. This book unveils the lives of "Hijras," or intersex people in India, through the eyes of a Muslim woman, Anjum. Arundhati is one of my favorite authors, the best of her works being The God of Small Things, which I would highly recommend!


Daja Wilson (English and Communication)

Winter Break is the perfect time for me to read some fantasy books I have been looking forward to for a long time. The first book I want to read is The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. Based on modern Chinese history, it follows a girl who tests into this prestigious military school. I've heard it is so much more than what it sounds like, though, so I'm so ready to jump into the series fandom. 

Another book I'm excited to read over break is Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter. This book sounds like a revenge fantasy with dragons, and I'm so here for it! I already know that I'm going to be so invested in what this character is going to do and I've only heard great things about the book. 

These are the main two that I plan to read, but I have around 10 other books checked out from the library if I happen to devour these books like I think I will. 


Katrina Rbeiz (Psychology and Global Studies)

I will be taking winter break to get through a few books that I've been waiting to read for a few months now. I typically read books as an escape from reality. The first book I can't wait to read is The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. I watched the movie that was based off of this book and have been eager to get into the original copy of the story ever since. If you like psychological thrillers, then this is definitely the book for you. 

One other book that I've been waiting to read is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. This book has been lauded as a masterpiece that deals with the complex investigation of racial feelings. It centers around a young African American woman who grows up during the years following the Great Depression. 

Finally, I will be reading the incredible graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis. This memoir tells the story of Satrapi's childhood growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. As someone who grew up in the Middle Eastern region, I know that I will be able to relate to a few of the aspects present in the story. The story is also written in French, so this will give me the chance to brush up on my language skills!


Alison Green (Political Science)

This semester has come to an end, and I finally have time to relax and read a book for once! I love to read because it serves as an outlet during our stressful and tense times.

The first book that I would like to read over the winter break is Across that Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America by the late civil Rights leader, John Lewis. John Lewis is someone who has deeply inspired me time and time again – whether it was his activism during the Civil Rights Movement or his time serving as a House of Representative in Congress. I am excited to read about his thoughts and wisdom about how America can execute justice for all. As an aspiring civil rights lawyer, I always look forward to reading anything about social justice.  

The second book I would like to read is called Felix Ever After. Felix Ever After is a fiction novel, but there are very real aspects in the book. Felix is Black, transgender, and queer, looking for love in the middle of their "coming of age" stage of life. I am excited to read the book, as it seems like an amazing book about love and self-identity.  

The last book that I would like to read is called Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. Mindy Kaling is an actress, comedian, writer, producer, and director. She is probably most famous for her role as Kelly on The Office. The book is about Kaling’s journey throughout her life, and of course it will be funny. Kaling never fails to make me laugh, and she is inspiring because she is a woman of color that has broken so many barriers in the acting industry.  


Alexa Flores (English)

Winter break is a time I always look forward to because it is the time that I have the most time to myself. Something which I enjoy doing is read. This winter break I have joined a book club! I am so pumped for this. The two books which I want to read by the end of this break are related to my future career. As an aspiring teacher, I want to not only be an educator but also an advocate for all students no matter their race, economic status, etc...Therefore, the books I wish to read are both related to education.

The first book is We Want to do More Than Survive by Bettina Love. This book was introduced to me in my education courses at UIUC but we only read some chapters. I hope to finish the book entirely and take notes on the thoughts that Love shares about how we as educators must dismantle the injustices in the educational system. I hope to enjoy the book as well as take notes which I will utilize in my future career. 

The second book is Start with Why by Simon Sinek. This book is about how to lead by looking at the why of an issue and why it matters. In this book he discusses leaders like MLK and others who began with the "why" and became very influential. This book seems interesting and would help me as I become a future educator. I hope to work to dismantle injustices in the educational world and I hope to get my colleagues on the same page as me. I will do so by taking notes from this book and starting with the why. 


Tom Ballard (Political Science)

During the school year, while we’re wading through the academic marshlands of research papers and textbooks, it feels hard if not impossible to trade in Netflix for a good ole’ book. For me, winter break is a great way to catch up. It is the perfect time to step away from the mechanical, boring, and routine, and become immersed in fantasy and philosophy. It’s the time to let intellectual curiosity run wild. This year, I will be reading at least two books:

A Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules VerneI have always been a fan of fantasy exploration—whether it comes in the form of video games, books, or movies, there is something awesome about "what ifs" and alternate forms of the world as we know it. In this novel, a German scientist, his nephew, and an Icelandic guide do just what the title suggests—they travel to the center of the Earth through an inactive volcano. There, they find a subterranean ocean, prehistoric creatures, active volcanoes, and subpolar tornadoes amongst other things. Noteworthy is the fact that this mid 1850’s book was relatively consistent with the body of science at the time. I look forward to getting to the bottom of this one.

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli – As a political science student, I am both obligated and interested to know what it really takes to be a prince. Must one follow a strict moral regime? Or must he follow his own intuitions? Is he a guardian of the people or their ruler? While I do not know any princes or have plans on becoming one, modern and somewhat infamous political theorist Machiavelli did. Perhaps this book will unlock all of the solutions to our current political problems? Or at least a little insight. I look forward to finding out.

Blog Source

Paul Elliott