A Book is a Gift You Can Open Again and Again…

By Sarah Sweeney, The Harvardgazette, The one, indispensable book

Quote: Garrison Keillor

Harvard University recently  celebrated its 2011 Commencement, and as a parting gift, several of Harvard’s  faculty who were featured in Harvard Bound, shared what they felt were the essential books for the new Harvard graduates. The following are excerpts from some of  their responses.

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes


Noah Feldman, Bemis Professor of International Law and author of “Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices”:

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. This book has everything in it: religion, philosophy, a theory of human nature, government, even international affairs. It helped set the stage for the modern world.”

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare


Marjorie Garber, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of English and of Visual and Environmental Studies and author of The Use and Abuse of Literature:

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare by William Shakespeare.
I … still hope that voyaging in the company of Shakespeare, and encountering the pleasures of some of his least known — as well as his most-celebrated — works gave these students the exhilaration it has always given me.

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison


James Kloppenberg, Charles Warren Professor of American History, chair of the History Department, and author of Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition :

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. From my perspective, the novel’s enduring significance derives as much from its complex politics as from its mastery of the techniques of literary modernism or its value for illuminating aspects of African-American history.



The Prime Of Miss Jean Brody by Muriel Sparks

Sarah Braunstein, fiction instructor at Harvard Extension School and author of  “The Sweet Relief of Missing Children”

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie  by Muriel Spark. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, published in 1961, is a slim, hilarious, devastating novel,”

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics and author of “Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

“The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. Smith’s magnum opus created the field of economics, and it remains the best introduction to the economist’s mindset.”

The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi

Howard Gardner, John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education and author of “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed

The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi.
The autobiography is neither artfully worded nor elegantly composed,  but it describes in remarkably informative detail the ways in which Gandhi developed his own persona, learned from his mistakes, and inspired others.”

Ideas and Lesson Plans for additional novels from ESL Voices:

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingslover

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingslover

Extract from an ESL Voices Lesson Plan for Reading:

The Bean Trees by Barbra Kingslover

Pre-Reading Discussion Questions

In the novel The Bean Trees by Barbra Kingslover, there are several themes discussed. You might want to have discussions with students to check if  they understand the these topics.

For example, immigration, and the consequences of illegal immigration. Mattie, is one of the characters in the story,  who transports and protects illegal aliens. The immigrants Estevan and Esperanza are depicted sympathetically, and Taylor’s horror at their past life changes the way she sees the world. Kingsolver depicts those who denigrate immigrants not as evil, but as ignorant or misguided.

Another theme that comes up in the novel is that of family. Traditionally  the word “family” meant a father, mother,  and children (usually just 2 with the father being the provider, and the mother the caregiver.  Kingslover presents several untraditional models of family. The first mother introduced in the novel, Alice Greer, sets the stage for all the models of motherhood to come. Alice is a loving, responsible single mother, who raises her daughter without a father.  Taylor (the main character) becomes an adoptive mother overnight, acquiring a child of a different racial makeup and background than her own, and Lou Ann gives birth to a child on her own.

The bean trees have a symbiotic relationship with bugs called rhizobia, which move up and down the wisteria vine’s roots and provide a network that transfers nutrients. This mutual aid symbolizes the help and love human beings give one another. The bean trees, like people, only thrive with a network of support.

Words and  Terms:


legal immigrants

illegal aliens


family/ motherhood/fatherhood

Cherokee Indians

symbiotic relationship

For the complete Lesson Plan and the plans for additional novels visit Reading Lessons.

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