What Should I Read Next

What a great idea: ask some 70 colleagues at your university -- in this case the University of Virginia -- to provide a short essay with a list of five books on a subject in their fields. The result here is even better than the premise, since each prof responds in his or her own way, some recommending tried-and-true canonical works, others listing books in their areas that reach out to general readers, and others simply suggesting five ways of sampling a masterpiece. The contributions span the university curriculum and include suggestions on historical and political topics (the Founding Fathers, poverty in modern America, 19th-century Chicago); on science and mathematics (the evolution of visual perception, symmetry and group theory, the history of logic); and on literature and the arts (the poetry of mourning, 100 years of jazz, the 19th-century Spanish novel). Other essays explore religious ideas, child development, and issues in illness and mental health. In short, it's a real educational smorgasbord, much like an annotated course guide. Some authors find their way onto more than one list, but not always for the reason you might expect. Shakespeare shows up in readings for a study of ethical values as well on a more conventional list for the English "word hoard." Among contemporary writers and scholars, Jared Diamond, Michael Klarman, E. O. Wilson, Julia Alvarez, and Michael Pollan all make multiple appearances for their recent work in a wide range of disciplines. The delights here are many, and the intellectually curious will consult this clever collection time and again. Let's hope other universities follow the format -- a first-class education at your fingertips.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).

Watching Them Be

What makes a film actor into a larger-than-life movie star? James Harvey's passionate, freewheeling essays explain why there are some faces (from Greta Garbo's to Samuel L. Jackson's) from which we cannot look away.


What if you called up the spouse on the verge of leaving you -- and instead found yourself magically talking to his younger self, the one you first fell for?  Rainbow Rowell, author of the YA smash Eleanor & Park, delivers a sly, enchanting take on 21st-century love.