Story Faculty

Six Must-Read Recommendations from CSU English Professors

Jeanne Ricci

Looking for a great read to add to your Amazon wish list? Check out these titles, all with a five-star rating from CSU faculty.

​Who better to offer reading recommendations than an English professor? Photos courtesy of publishers


It's hard to imagine anyone reading more than an English professor. But in the summer, when faculty are free to to read something other than student essays and exams, what's on their nightstand? When we asked English faculty around the CSU, we discovered an array of fiction, poetry, science fiction and memoir that offer forays into music and culture as a lens through which to view our world; stories that delve into identity and dislocation; and poetry that celebrates the complexities of nature. Here are their choices:

wolf.jpg"They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us" by Hanif Abdurraqib

"Abdurraqib's nonfiction book is ostensibly a collection of essays on music but also on race, class, family, and culture. It's about growing up black and poor in Ohio and falling in love with music and finding your voice through writing about it. It's a book that demonstrates how the stuff of everyday life can be filled with meaning and mystery." —  Steven Church, Professor of English and Coordinator of MFA Program in Creative Writing at Fresno State, author of the nonfiction book "I'm Just Getting To the Disturbing Part: On Work, Fear and Fatherhood"

opencity2.jpg"Open City" by Teju Cole

"Narrated by a Nigerian immigrant enrolled in medical school at Columbia University and training to become a psychiatrist, the novel alternates between Julius' life in New York City and memories of his disturbing childhood in Nigeria. During long intervals in his residency at Columbia, Julius spends much of his time walking throughout Manhattan rather than taking the bus or subway, encountering friends, acquaintances, and strangers along the way. His wanderings become, of course, a metaphor for the experience of migration and uprootedness. In its handling of such a phenomenon, and in its image of New York as one model of a city open to all who emigrate there, Cole's novel seems to me to resonate very powerfully at a time when millions of refugees displaced by war or oppression, and fleeing certain death in their homelands, are being greeted with such inhumane brutality in so many countries in the Global North." — Frederick Wegener, Ph.D., Professor of English, California State University, Long Beach 

phoenix.jpg"The Book of Phoenix" by Nnedi Okorafor

"This imaginative first book in an Afro-futuristic science fiction series takes up questions of colonialism, technology, race and gender politics. Oh, and migration — so, entirely relevant to our world while also offering (very) alternate vision of social change work. The central female character is wonderfully powerful. I'm excited to find new women's science fiction voices, and especially women of color." — Alison Mandaville, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English at Fresno State, editor and translator of "Azerbaijani Women Create: Creative Conversations on Gender Equity" 

relaxation.jpg"My Year of Rest and Relaxation" by Ottessa Moshfegh

"A privileged twenty-something New Yorker in the year 2000 decides to sleep as much as possible by abusing a dangerous array of pharmaceuticals. Somehow this bizarre setup becomes completely engaging, and this arrestingly written novel turns into a heartbreaking dissection of how we both succeed and fail to care for other people — and ourselves. It's thoroughly entertaining and also funny: full of snark, pop culture jokes, and satirical send-ups of city life. A classic."  —  Brantley L. Bryant, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English, Sonoma State University 

red.jpg"R E D" by Chase Berggrun

"Each of the poems in Berggrun's collection is constructed by erasing text from a chapter of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" —  hence, even its title (erased from the phrase bRam stokEr's Dracula). Like other works of art based in appropriation and transformation, the texts created through this process salvage and repurpose found materials o as both to respond to and to offer critical commentary on their source. In this case, Berggrun gives voice to queer desires and transgender identities historically "erased" from narrative and history." — Lisa M. C. Weston, Ph.D., Professor of English at Fresno State

sweetgrass.jpg"Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants" by Robin Wall Kimmerer

 "One of the books I'm reading this summer is "Braiding Sweetgrass," a beautiful compilation of stories and research. The book's lyricism is helping me reconnect to the places and landscapes that were alive for me as a child, while also teaching me to cultivate many ways of knowing and feeling into the complexity of ecosystems. Great for a poet like myself, who is ever interested in ecopoetry and the political-spiritual worlds that inform one's art."  — Brynn Saito, Assistant Professor of English at Fresno State, author of the poetry collection "Power Made Us Swoon"