Here’s a round-up of reading recommendations featuring titles by WSU alumni, faculty, and staff—including one to watch for later this spring.
Anything and everything by Buddy Levy. The celebrated author of seven books, Levy specializes in historical narrative, particularly epic adventures and survival stories—perfect for the pandemic, which makes us all armchair travelers. Levy’s taught writing at WSU for more than 30 years, and his own writing—meticulously researched, masterfully organized—simply sings. His riveting narratives make readers feel like they are right there with protagonists, experiencing everything they’re going through.
“Buddy Levy: Historical investigator” from the Summer 2011 issue
Labyrinth of Ice (St. Martin’s Press, 2019). This gripping narrative details the doomed 1881 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition in the Arctic, bringing history to life in a hard-to-put-down, thoroughly researched volume of adventure in the name of science.
No Barriers: A Blind Man’s Journey to Kayak the Grand Canyon (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017). With Erik Weihenmayer. Weihenmayer is the first and only blind person to summit Mount Everest. With the peak behind him, his expedition leader told him something that would affect the course of his life: “Don’t make Everest the greatest thing you ever do.” This volume documents expeditions, including the most terrifying of his life: solo kayaking the whitewater of the Grand Canyon.
Geronimo: Leadership Strategies of an American Warrior (Gallery Books, 2014) With Mike Leach. The legendary former WSU head football coach and best-selling author team up to examine the strategies, decisions, personal qualities, and other tactics that would lead the U.S. military to study and copy the Apache warrior for generations.
“Lessons from Geronimo” from the Winter 2014 issue
Excerpt from Geronimo
River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana’s Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon (Bantam, 2011). This riveting story of survival documents the journey of the first Europeans to navigate the Amazon river.
Conquistador: Hernan Cortes, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs (Bantam, 2008). This thriller documents the last days of the Aztec empire, an epic clash of cultures, and the two men at the center of the 500-year-old, history-changing conflict.
American Legend: The Real-Life Adventures of David Crockett (Berkley Trade, 2005). This myth-busting story of the king of the wild frontier dispels tall tales of the larger-than-life American hero and pop-culture character in a coonskin cap through compelling narrative and in-depth research.
Echoes on Rimrock: In Pursuit of the Chukar Partridge (West Margin Press, 1998). This reflective volume—part memoir, part hunting guide—includes advice on where to find the birds, how to maneuver terrain, and choosing the right hunting dog as well as recommendations on gear, tactics, even recipes.
A Blissful Feast: Culinary Adventures in Italy’s Piedmont, Maremma, and Le Marche by Teresa Lust ’86 Biol. (Pegasus Books, 2020). Part memoir, part travel guide, part cookbook, this lovely volume transports readers to three parts of Italy through mouth-watering recipes, heartwarming anecdotes, and a distinctive sense of place. Consider her first book, Pass the Polenta: And Other Writings from the Kitchen (Steerforth Press, 1998), as a companion read.
Sins of the Bees by Annie Lampman (Pegasus Crime, 2020). Set between 1999 and 2001, this lyrical debut novel—winner of the 2020 American Fiction Award for Crime novels—comes from a clinical associate professor of creative writing at Washington State University Honors College and blends suspense with the splendor of the natural world in a story of two women’s searches for meaning and amends. The contemporary, purely Pacific Northwest narrative takes readers from a fictional island in Puget Sound to Hells Canyon through a tale of end-of-the-world prophecies, sorrow that stretches across generations, and much more.
Stripland by Joan Burbick (Redbat Books, 2019). After a Nez Perce man is shot and killed on the reservation in remote, rural Idaho by a state trooper, an internet troll steals the dash-cam video and puts it on YouTube, setting off a racist firestorm. This is the first novel for longtime, now-retired American studies professor who spent years researching the myths of the West, trauma, and gun culture. Her other titles include Rodeo Queens and the American Dream (PublicAffairs, 2002), Gun Show Nation (The New Press, 2007), Healing the Republic (Cambridge University Press, 1994), and Thoreau’s Alternative History (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987).
The Complete Far Side by Gary Larson ’72 (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014). This New York Times best-selling set compiles more than 4,000 comics from Larson’s super-popular quirky comic strip. During its run, The Far Side was syndicated to nearly 2,000 daily newspapers worldwide and spawned more than best-selling 20 books.
Into the Forest by Jean Hegland ’79 (Calyx, 1996). More than 30 miles from the nearest town and several miles from their closest neighbor, two teenage sisters struggle to survive in this apocalyptic novel, set in the near future in Northern California. In 2015, the book was made into film starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood.
Windfalls by Jean Hegland ’79 (Atria Books, 2004). To be a mother or an artist? Or both? Anyone interested in women’s quest stories that explore these central questions will find this novel to be essential reading. And readers who know the Palouse will enjoy her vivid descriptions of Spokane and eastern Washington.
Still Time by Jean Hegland ’79 (Arcade Publishing 2015). This novel explores dementia through the eyes of aging Shakespearean scholar John Wilson. Unsettled by life in a residential care facility and a surprise visit from his estranged daughter, Wilson finds solace and structure in the plays and poetry that so captivated his life.
Do No Harm by James B. Cohoon ’76 Biol. (TouchPoint Press, 2020). This fast-paced, tension-filled novel—winner of the 2020 American Fiction Award for best medical thriller— combines law and medicine with themes of privilege and power, corruption, socioeconomic inequality, entitlement, misogyny, and more. With link to review from November 2020.
Bound by James McKean ’68, ’74 (Truman State University Press, 2017). This memoir reflects on the fortitude, beauty, and dignity of the women who helped shape the author’s life at a time when “ladies” were expected to stay home and not make a scene. These women bucked societal norms and swam competitively, farmed, carried derringers, smoked cigarettes, rode horses, bound books, and held families together in mid-twentieth-century America.
House of Eight Orchids by James Thayer ’71 (Amazon/Thomas & Mercer, 2016). This thriller, full of twists and turns, opens in China in 1912 with the kidnapping of two young American boys. Twenty-five years later, on the brink of World War II, one is an assassin and swindler, and the other is a talented forger who betrays the master criminal who raised them. Note: Thayer has authored 14 books in all. Find the complete list at www.jamesthayer.com.
Whispers of the Greybull by Stephen B. Smart ’75 (Books in Motion, 2011). After his parents die in 1937, Cole Morgan gets work on a massive Wyoming ranch—and gets drawn into a world of secrecy, deceit, and murder. Whispers was a 2012 finalist for a Western Writers of America’s Spur award. Its prequel, Vanishing Raven, was a runner-up in the 2015 Will Rogers Medallion awards. Smart is also the author of The Assassin’s Key.
Here’s one to watch for: The Book of Difficult Fruit: Arguments for the Tart, Tender, and Unruly (with recipes) by Kate Lebo (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2021). Food writer Kate Lebo walks readers through the alphabet of lesser-known or forgotten fruits—from the aronia berry to “shifty”-smelling durian, and citrus- and floral-scented quince, best consumed cooked. Lebo’s 26 lyrical essays are deeply personal, funny, philosophical, poetic, unexpected, insightful, and delightful. She expertly blends culinary, natural, and medical history in this book, years in the making. Lebo is the HEALWA outreach coordinator for Eastern Washington, based out of WSU Health Sciences Spokane. She is the author of Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour, and Butter (Sasquatch Books, 2014) and coeditor with her husband Sam Ligon of Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter and Booze (Sasquatch Books, 2017). She also teaches pie-making workshops.
Take a trip with Timothy
Timothy Leary (’47 MS Psych.), one of the most revered and reviled icons of 1960s counterculture, infamously advised baby boomers to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” He wrote more than 30 books and has about as many TV, film, and video credits as well as other recordings, including the chorus for John Lennon’s 1969 anti-war anthem Give Peace a Chance. He’s also been written about extensively—from biographies to analysis. For a collection of essays, including “appreciations and castigations,” try Timothy Leary: Outside Looking In (Park Street Press, 1999), edited by Robert Forte. The volume contains reflections by Allen Ginsberg, god-daughter Winona Ryder, Ken Kesey, Hunter Thompson, and more.
The Psychedelic Experience by Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Ram Dass (University Books, 1964). All three authors—the founding fathers of psychedelia—engaged in experiments with LSD and other psychedelic drugs at Harvard University. In this foundational text, they interpret The Tibetan Book of the Dead from a psychedelic perspective and describe their discoveries in broadening spiritual consciousness through meditation techniques and psychotropic substances.
High Priest by Leary (New American Library, 1968). This book chronicles 16 “spacewalks” of the mind, or acid trips taken before LSD was outlawed 1968. The setting includes the fame Millbrook mansion where Leary and Co. resided for nearly five years, a time described by Luc Sante of The New York Times as “a period filled with endless parties, epiphanies and breakdowns, emotional dramas of all sizes, and numerous raids and arrests.”
Fun fact: Leary’s master’s thesis at WSU was titled The Clinical Use of the Weschler/Mental Ability Scale: Form B before he renamed it The Dimensions of Intelligence.
Recommended reading from WSU President Kirk Schulz and others
What to listen to: Pandemic playlists from WSU music faculty and alumni
What to watch: Movies and TV shows featuring WSU, alumni, and staff
Staff picks: What Washington State Magazine staff are reading, watching, and listening to