How to Do Nothing  

Jenny Odell  

There is often nothing better than doing absolutely nothing. We know this intrinsically, but few know it that better than multidisciplinary artist, writer and former Stanford educator Jenny Odell. Her 2019 non-fiction novel How to Do Nothing explores exactly that, as promised by the title: how, why and what it means, practically and conceptually, to ‘do nothing’.  

Specifically, Odell is interested in what we lose–as individuals and as a larger, connected set of communities–when we don’t do nothing often enough.  

Her book covers a surprising number of subjects, from the interplay between art and the senses to the inception of the modern clock, while staying grounded and engaging (and occasionally personal).  

Odell is excellent at writing about dense concepts in a breezy, interesting way that rewards the reader’s curiosity without overwhelming them with trivia. This book will both blow your mind with fascinating insight, and make you want to peacefully bike through an arboreal mountain pass instead of clock in. 

Jessi Wood, TCE Creative Director 

The Sirens of Titan  

Kurt Vonnegut  

So much happens in The Sirens of Titan that it’s difficult to describe what the book is actually about. Written in 1959, it is the second novel by author Kurt Vonnegut, years earlier than the more straightforward, Slaughterhouse 5, for which he is most famous for now. While Slaughterhouse could simply be described as a harrowing exploration of Vonnegut’s experiences during the Dresden firebombing, The Sirens of Titan is an epic sci-fi extravaganza that encompasses much more than the author’s feelings regarding a single historical event. The novel spans multiple years, tracking both the life and journeys of its main characters across time, space and new planes of consciousness in a way that must be experienced to be understood. The story transports the audience through the nuances of gentle alien invasion, Biblical stock market magic, creatures that eat sound, and various kinds of “good luck charms”. It’s a lot, but “so it goes”. 

Jessi Wood,TCE Creative Director 

Where the Crawdads Sing 

Delia Owens 

The book is about a young girl named Catherine Clark who lives with her family in the marshlands of North Carolina. As she grew older, her family members left, leaving her alone in their old run-down home.  

She struggled through personal emotions and turmoil felt about her life, and as a result, she cut herself off from the rest of civilization.  

Despite receiving no education, Catherine developed a passion for nature and biology and later became a writer who submitted essays and short stories to local publishers.  

The story shows the imperfections of human beings and how all of us struggle in life in our separate ways. Despite being born with different circumstances, privileges, and flaws, Ms. Clark’s story teaches us that no matter who you are in life, we will always undergo many ups and downs at unexpected times.  

Reading a story about someone else’s life and learning about what they have to go through helps us appreciate what we have in life and create empathy for those around us who are struggling. 

Sangjun Han, WLUSP summer reporter 

Under the Whispering Door  

T.J. Klune  

I read this book during a summer day two years ago when I first started testosterone. Because there were so many changes happening in my life at the time it felt nice doing a familiar activity like reading a book outside.  

It was the perfect read because it was refreshing, captivating, and a fun adventure.  

We follow Wallace Price during the most important day of his life, his funeral. His reaper, Mei, has come to his funeral to escort him to Hugo Freeman, the Ferryman who will help Wallace cross over through the door to the afterlife. It was a bittersweet story about life and death, and what “making the most out of every day” really means. I have always been a fan of the slice-of-life genre with a touch of magic. It makes me happy to see a flawed main character be given a second chance to look at his actions, make positive change and meet new people who become his new family.  

Adrian Quijano, TCE editorial assistant 

You Deserve Each Other 

Sarah Hogle 

This book is a non-traditional fun rom-com beach read, following the messy life of fiancées Naomi and Nicholas as they find themselves involved in a competition of who will break off their engagement first. At 368 pages, You Deserve Each Other does not outstay its welcome and each chapter will have you engrossed in the story, rooting for the couple.  

Brontë Behling, The Cord editor-in-chief 

White Noise 

Don Delillo 

This book is a 1985 Contemporary American novel following the lives of Jack Gladney and his family as they navigate modern living and the looming “airborne toxic events” that looks to uproot their life. 

Brontë Behling, The Cord editor-in-chief 

A Certain Hunger  

Chelsea G. Summers  

As a horror fan, I feel like I’m constantly wading through a monotony of tired tropes, predictable plot lines and senseless shock value. It takes a lot of hits and misses to find a truly good horror novel. So, imagine my delight when I ordered A Certain Hunger on a whim.  

Originally drawn to the cover art, Chelsea G. Summers managed to pull me in from the first page until the last. It’s so refreshing to read a story from this genre that’s equally disturbing as it is smart and intentional. Summers is a master at crafting the most vivid, visceral scenes that beautifully evoke each of the five senses.  

I truly felt like I was accompanying the narrator alongside her gruesome crimes, right by her side as she navigated the perils of being a passionate food critic in a male-dominated field and her (spoiler alert) unravelling cannibalism. I highly recommend this read if you’re looking for a story that would make diehard admirers of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman furious.  

Emily Waitson, WLUSP contributor 

By Grand Central Station, I sat down and wept  

Elizabeth Smart 

This book is infuriating—both in its writing style and because it is almost an appeal by the author for the reader to understand her. The prose was poetic and the metaphors created an emotional experience that was different for every reader.   

The narrator is completely unreliable, to the point that the facts of the story are unclear. Does one of the characters die? Does no one die? Does everyone?   

However, it was an exercise in empathy to the most extreme degree. I do not like the main character, she is insufferable and selfish, but she is still worthy of pity and understanding. My copy made the rounds around my friend group and we had many in-depth conversations on love, empathy, relationships, responsibilities, God and what we owe each other. I walked into A Second Look Books and asked Charles, the owner of the store and the person that recommended the book to me, “Okay, what was that book?” He has yet to give me a complete answer, but it was a good conversation, nonetheless.   

Overall, I enjoyed both reading the book and criticizing it. I appreciate any art that inspires conversation and connection, which both the book and the author’s life did.  

Harleen Kaur Dhillon, TCE editor-in-chief