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Looking for a book to curl up with this winter? Try these recommendations.

Winter is settling in. As the mercury drops and the snow begins to fall, you may be wrapping yourself up in a cozy blanket, pouring yourself a hot drink, and curling up with a good book. 

But what should you read? 

We asked members of the Northeastern community to recommend their favorite books for the cold weather—or a book that might make a good gift for a loved one this holiday season. The suggestions came from students, faculty, and staff across the university network.

Tap a book to see why, in their own words, the bookworm who recommended it considers it a worthy read.

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

Walter Isaacson

This is a compelling book on CRISPR/Cas9 based gene editing technology that Professor Jennifer Doudna at UC Berkeley and collegues invented, and for which she won the Nobel Prize. I personally recommend this book because the story is told elegantly by Walter Isaacson, author, journalist, and professor. It is a remarkable story of a woman scientist who overcame obstacles and went on to discover this amazing technology that can transform the human race. In addition to scientific breakthroughs, CRISPR gene editing also leads to several ethical questions that we have to address. I would recommend the book to all kinds of readers—from casual to those who can finish the book in one sitting. It is truly a page turner!

Mansoor Amiji, University Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Chemical Engineering

Such a Fun Age

Kiley Reid

Set in Philadelphia, this story grapples with issues of relationships, privilege, and consent against the backdrop of a racial incident experienced by one of the main characters and the seemingly good-intentioned efforts of her community to be supportive. I appreciate this book for the courageous conversations between characters and the ones they have with themselves about a culturally taboo topic such as race. This book is definitely for an adult reader and those interested in observing the ways art imitates life.

Wendi S. Williams, Dean of the School of Education, Mills College

red book cover

This is What Democracy Looked Like: A Visual History of the Printed Ballot

Alicia Yin Cheng

This beautiful book takes readers through a graphical journey of ballot design from the earliest days of the United States through the present. It made me more aware that ballot box shenanigans are nothing new, and that ballots themselves have been designed in ways to help engineer desired voting outcomes. Full of photos of historical ballots, this book would be of interest to fans of politics, history, and/or design.

Jen Ferguson, Head of Research Data Services, Northeastern University Library

The Perfect Run

Maxime J. Durand

This book is heavily reminiscent of Deadpool with one extra twist: The main character can set “save points” and go back in time. In this mix between Groundhog Day and superhero novels the main character strives to make the city of New Rome a better place, one restart at a time, in order to achieve his “perfect run.” I love this book because it involves sci-fi concepts, superheroes, and is a hysterical lighthearted book. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves science fiction, time travel, or superheroes.

Nick Rizzo, Undergraduate: Computer Engineering, 2022

Genius Makers: The Mavericks Who Brought AI to Google, Facebook, and the World

Cade Metz

Cade Metz is a technology reporter for the New York Times who has written a kind of “first draft” of the history of the current artificial intelligence boom and the industry-academia cross-pollination that has spurred the revolution. The characters are well-drawn, and the central technical advances and key debates are well-framed. It’s a good, accessible book for those wanting to learn more about developments in AI and their potential consequences for society—and who like their dose of technical wonkiness spiced with interesting characters and stories.

John Wihbey, Associate Professor of Journalism

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams

When Earth is destroyed to make a highway, Arthur Dent is taken prisoner, travels the cosmos, and learns the answer to life, the universe, and everything, all while figuring out why the spaceship that rescued him can’t make the right tea for him. I love this book for its sense of humor—it showed me that literature doesn’t have to take itself too seriously to be amazing, and it kept me laughing every page. This book is perfect for anyone who loves a good laugh and any Monty Python fans (the author appeared in some skits, and helped write Monty Python and the Holy Grail)!

Dan Carr, Undergraduate: Mathematics, 2022

Americanah

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is a compelling love story about a young couple navigating cultural realities of Nigeria, the U.S., and the U.K. This book dissects attitudes about race, explores cultural differences and the universality of issues of identity, loss and loneliness. This book is both a great story and it changes the way you see the world. I felt so connected with the main character, I did not want the book to end!

Jennie Stephens, Director & Professor, School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs, Director for Strategic Research Collaborations, Global Resilience Institute

The Spy and the Traitor

Ben Macintyre

It’s a true story about a Russian KGB officer who spied for Britain and Aldrich Ames, the CIA officer who went over to the Russians and betrayed him. Set in the 1980s, it’s a fun read and a page-turner if you like spy stories.

Karen Merguerian, Head, Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities, Northeastern University Library

A Gentleman in Moscow

Amor Towles

For one thing, any book set in Moscow reminds me of winter. But this book isn’t chilly; it is instead filled with warmth and humanism. It tells a good old-fashioned story while portraying how people can be decent and kind in difficult times. A great book to escape the winter chill, along with a cup of cocoa, or I suppose, schnapps.

Wendy Parmet, Matthews University Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy and Urban Affairs

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel García Márquez

The book follows a Latin American family through seven generations and explores their relationships with each other and the surrounding community. I love this book because it can be read and re-read at so many levels and even decades after reading the book for the first time I am still wondering: What is this book actually about? I recommend One Hundred Years of Solitude to the intellectually curious reader and readers who want to better understand Latin American culture.

Stine Grodal, Distinguished Professor, D’Amore-McKim School of Business

Grendon Tales: Stories from a Therapeutic Community

Ursula Smartt

I spent two years conducting one-to-one interviews with long-term, life sentence prisoners, and this book includes profiles of the most interesting and frankly harrowing personal stories, such as a stalker, a sex offender with an Oedipus complex; a bank robber and hostage taker and one ‘outsider’, a prisoner’s wife. Of the many books I have written about prisons and media law, it is the book I am most proud of; it was psychologically difficult to write the book, since I had to engage with psychiatrists running the prison, yet the publishers (Waterside Press) wanted a “user-friendly,” not theoretical, text. The book assumes a reader is interested in criminology but not a professional.

Ursula Smartt, Associate Professor in Law and Legal Careers Counsellor, Faculty of Law, New College of the Humanities

Far-flung and Footloose

E.J. Kahn

A wonderful collection of E.J. Kahn’s pieces from the New Yorker (1930s-1970s), diverse, entertaining mixture of serious, funny, and poignant stories. This is a great book to read to the family, making your own collection of themes from the many, many chapters. My great favorite is of the blizzard of 1948, how a suburban family lived through it, versus the epic New York snowstorms of the past. Funny and heartwarming. We read that every Christmas to the family.

Ray Pettit, General Manager Institute for Experiential AI at the Roux Institute

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

Steven Johnson

Have you ever felt like your good ideas just needed a bit of time to grow into something great? This book is a roadmap to take all your wild ideas and turn them into the great ideas they’re meant to become. Everyone working in innovation and building new programs at Northeastern should seriously read this book.

Kristin Kostka, Director of the OHDSI Center, The Roux Institute

Know My Name

Chanel Miller

This book is about overcoming adversity, reclaiming your narrative and owning your story. I’ve personally never read a book so quickly and been so moved by one woman’s strength. Recommended for anyone who finds winter to be too dark and difficult—this book radiates hope even in darkness. (Trigger warning: sexual assault, rape, violence—this book contains adult content but is an important piece of allowing survivors space to own their narrative.)

Kristin Kostka, Director of the OHDSI Center, The Roux Institute

Greenlights

Matthew McConaughey

Alright, alright, alriiiiiiight… TGhis is a guilty pleasure kind of “read.” (Listen to the audiobook. Don’t bother doing this one in any other format.) On a cold day, Matthew’s soft and smooth voice will warm you up. Memoirs aren’t for everyone but this audiobook would make a great track when you’re on the “dreadmill” or working out indoors in the winter.

Kristin Kostka, Director of the OHDSI Center, The Roux Institute

The Greenlanders

Jane Smiley

This book is not an easy undertaking, but it is one of the most rewarding reads I’ve ever embarked upon and is undoubtedly a winter book. The novel takes place in the 14th century, as the Little Ice Age hardens life in the settlement of Greenland, and follows a family through four generations of harsh winters, brief summers, and saucers of sour milk. Written in the style of a Norse saga, there aren’t too many other books like it.

Miklos Mattyasovszky, Associate Director of Business Development, Institute for Experiential AI

My Brilliant Friend series

Elena Ferrante

This is a story of two female friends growing up in poverty in Naples, Italy, in the 1950s. This four-book series stays with you because you cannot forget these characters and their connectedness amid this very particular setting. The stories make you think about the significant hold your upbringing and heritage have on your real life—even when we seek to improve and evolve. This series is for readers who like to think and like complex characters.

Kelli Murphy, Director of Experiential Learning, The Roux Institute

Braiding Sweetgrass

Robin Wall Kimmerer

The author is a botanist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and this book is a collection of her reflections on the human relationship with the living world. This book allowed me to see the world around me through a different lens—I am a better person and steward because of it. This book is for anyone who is interested in nature, connecting to the world around them, or is an environmentalist.

Cait Enz, Manager of Partner Programs, The Roux Institute

The Guest List

Lucy Foley

If you love a good whodunit, this is it! It takes place on a remote island off the coast of Ireland with poor cell service and a storm rolling in. The story revolves around a wedding weekend, and someone turns up dead. I loved the building tension and the small clues I found myself searching for throughout the book. Couldn’t put it down.

Craig DeForest, Director of Partnerships, The Roux Institute

The MadAddam series

Margaret Atwood

This trilogy is a fast-paced and interesting reflection on a dystopian society. It may be a bit close to home for some, given recent world events, but is an exciting read nonetheless. Recommended for enthusiasts of humanist sci-fi and anyone who enjoys a thought experiment.

Melanie Tory, Director of Data Visualization Research, The Roux Institute

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive

Stephanie Land

Maid is such a captivating read. It is the true story of a single mom who leaves an unhealthy relationship and tries make ends meet while bouncing between seven forms of government assistance and multiple jobs to keep a safe roof over her daughter’s head. This memoir paints a picture of those who do ask for help and the hoops they must go through to scrape by. It may be a tough read for those who have a similar experience, but it’s beautifully written and keeps you turning the pages.

Katrina Whittier, Social Media Coordinator, The Roux Institute

The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemisin

Not only is N.K. Jemisin a woman of color, which is very rare in the sci-fi genre, she is also the first author in history to receive the Hugo Award for science fiction three years in a row for her Broken Earth Trilogy, which starts with this book. The trilogy follows three women who live in an unforgiving world plagued by periodic apocalyptic-level environmental disaster as well as the oppression of people with the magical ability to manipulate the Earth. With an all-Black cast of characters that span the spectrums of gender and sexuality, this book challenges us to think about our biases and the prejudices in our society, while taking us on a wild, heartbreaking, and beautiful journey. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read something unlike anything they’ve read before.

Morgan Gelfand, Social Media Coordinator, The Roux Institute

Winter

Ali Smith

For anyone looking for some seasonal grounding and artfully narrated fraught family dynamics, Winter is a really satisfying read. It’s the second novel in Smith’s seasonal quartet but can be read in isolation. I love this book because it holds the multiple truths of winter, the merry warmth contrasted by bitter cold and darkness, all while packaged in a sort of contemporary Shakespearean narrative.

Molly Brown, Reference and Outreach Archivist, Northeastern University Library

The Book of Form and Emptiness

Ruth Ozeki

A boy who is mourning the loss of his father begins to hear voices of things that are made and things that are unmade, and thus, a tangle of plots ensues. This book is an incredible read for anyone looking for a creative portrayal of our relationship to the items around us, or for your friend who loves Ian Chillag’s podcast of anthropomorphized objects “Everything Is Alive.” While it’s a large novel that is not for the impatient, to me it was a page turner I could not put down.

Molly Brown, Reference and Outreach Archivist, Northeastern University Library

A Memory Called Empire

Arkady Martine

When the sun goes down at 4:30, it’s time to turn on a light and get a blanket, a hot rum and cider, and a book. A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is a long, absorbing, complicated, and elegantly written sci-fi novel about palace intrigue, the affordances and limits of language and custom, conquest and colonialism, and features several very fierce and resourceful women.

Kathleen Kelly, Professor of English

Cape Cod

Henry David Thoreau

Those who find Henry David Thoreau a bit dour or overearnest will find his account of his walking trips to and around the Cape, Cape Cod, surprising, witty, and entertaining—once you get over its dark beginning.

Kathleen Kelly, Professor of English

Escape from Kathmandu

Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson’s books are often pretty heavy and often focus on topics like climate change, politics, and all that fun stuff. Escape From Kathmandu is one of his earlier (much more lighthearted) books about a couple of ex-pats who go on adventures in the Himalayas, rescue a yeti, and maybe kinda discover Shangri-La. The book is a series of four short novellas and has great descriptions of mountaineering, brutally cold conditions and some magical realism, and is a good entrypoint to one of the best environmental and speculative fiction authors in the last few decades.

Ben Liff, Learning Producer, The Roux Institute

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