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UC Berkeley's 2001 Summer Reading List recommends books that change young people's lives
05 June 2001

By Media Relations

Berkeley - In the late 1950s, high school senior Susan Matisoff, planning a college major in chemistry, became captivated in a ramshackle Manhattan bookstore by an anthology of Japanese literature.

She bought the used book by Donald Keene, and it changed her life.

Matisoff joined a student exchange program in Japan and, as a college sophomore, she switched her major from chemistry to Japanese. As a graduate student, she wound up with Keene as a teacher.

"You never know what a book may do to you," said Matisoff, now a University of California, Berkeley, professor of East Asian languages and cultures.

When compilers of UC Berkeley's annual, unofficial summer reading list solicited suggestions this spring, they asked select members of the campus community what books changed their lives when they were about to begin college. Matisoff submitted Keene's two-volume "The Anthology of Japanese Literature."

The 10 other books on this year's list - designed for incoming fall freshmen to read before arriving at UC Berkeley - are examples of the power of books to influence a young person's future.

Included on the diverse list is a book of haiku, "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, Gertrude Stein's autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, an exposť by Rachel Carson about DDT's effect on the environment and a Charles Dickens tale.

The list will be given to students later this week at a UC Berkeley orientation session for fall freshmen. It's "made up of books that shaped the lives of people when they were your age; some of them actually changed the course of lives, the others opened up new worlds," Steve Tollefson writes to students in a letter introducing the list.

Tollefson, faculty development coordinator for UC Berkeley's Office of Student Life/Educational Development and a lecturer in the College Writing Programs, co-produced the reading list with Gary Handman, acting head of the Teaching Library at Moffitt Library.

Paul Licht, professor of integrative biology and dean of UC Berkeley's College of Letters & Science, recommended "Silent Spring."

"I was 24 when I read this, but I would have read it when I was 18 if it had been published. I was just developing a career as a biologist, and in my personal life I was very concerned about the environment," he said. "Rachel Carson's exposť of what DDT and other chemicals were doing to 'nature' shocked us, scared us and galvanized a generation into a new kind of environmental activism."

Jean Smith, a staff member at UC Berkeley, recommended Dickens' "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby."

"I was alone at college, hopelessly confused by organic chemistry and realizing that I was not going to make it to vet school," she said. "I read this book and...knew I was destined to be an English lit major, and that is what I became."

Richard Lyons, a business professor at UC Berkeley, added James Clavell's "Shogun" to the list. He read it when he was about 18, and he said it provided him with his "first glimpse into the culture, history, passions and fears of a people that I knew very little about at the time....I ultimately decided on an academic career applying social sciences internationally."

For Julianne Monroe, a student affairs officer and an assistant to the chair of the astronomy department, her brush with Gertrude Stein as she read "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" provided food for thought as Moore prepared to leave home.

The fact that Stein "had taken complete charge of what she would be and do was just what I was curious about as I was about to leave home for college," she said.

Tollefson said the book list is designed to remind incoming students that UC Berkeley is a vital, intellectual community that generates fascinating and important ideas. The suggested books - or others that students might find on their own this summer - also might generate such greatness.

"All of us," said Tollefson, "should have a book that changed our lives when we were just beginning college."
The 11 books on this year's list are:

* "Haiku Harvest: Japanese Haiku Series IV," translation by Peter Beilenson and Harry Behn

* "House Made of Dawn" by N. Scott Momaday

* "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" by Charles Dickens

* "The French Lieutenant's Woman" by John Fowles

* "Shogun" by James Clavell

* "Cry, the Beloved Country" by Alan Paton

* "Children of Violence: Martha Quest and a Proper Marriage" by Doris Lessing

* "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson

* "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

* "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" by Gertrude Stein

* "The Anthology of Japanese Literature" by Donald Keene