Need a new book to read over Winter Break? Paw Print reporter Emma Chiu surveyed 20 Woodside teachers and staff about their recommendations. Here are their top picks.
Diane Burbank, principal
Recommendation: “Becoming” by Michelle Obama
Description: In “Becoming,” former first lady Michelle Obama details her upbringing and the events that brought her to the White House. “I admire her… she’s a good storyteller, so it’s not just like, ‘this is what I did in first grade,’” said Burbank, who read the book for the Big Read. Burbank also notes that the chapters can be read in any order, as each reads as a separate story.
Anne Ken, librarian
Recommendation: “Between the Lines” by Nikki Grimes
Description: Told from the viewpoints of nine different characters—students from an inner-city school in New York—Grimes’ “Between the Lines” explores the unifying power of poetry. “[The characters] do a poetry slam,” Ken described. “It’s about teen issues and problems they’re going through.”
Zorina Matavulj, College and Career Counselor
Recommendation: “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt
Description: Kids at an elite college reflect on an unexpected series of murders and the revelation of a number of dark secrets. “[The kids] spin everything to a way that’s not exactly healthy, and it goes too far,” Matavulj explained. “It’s not a fairytale.” She recommends the book to people who can appreciate something that is not “sunshine and roses.”
Ernest Lo, science teacher
Recommendation: “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy
Genre: Historical fiction
Description: “Blood Meridian,” set in the mid-1800s, is about a teenager who joins a gang of scalp hunters and massacres Native Americans for a bounty. “It’s super intense, [but] it’s a very subtle form of storytelling,” Lo explained. “It’s written in a way where violence is implied. You have to read it very carefully. It’s not explicit.”
Pravin Kaipa, English teacher
Recommendation: “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
Description: Magic and adventure both play a role in this book, which follows a shepherd searching for treasure. “It’s an interesting storytelling way of helping people find their passion,” Kaipa described. “I’ve taught the book a couple times to freshman and seniors… it helps them find a different way to funnel their passions or find what drives them.”
Ramie Macioce, history and social sciences teacher
Recommendation: “Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice” by Bill Browder
Description: “Red Notice” covers torture, corruption, and investment in Russia. “It’s about the collapse of the USSR and [how] the government put a red notice on [Browder],” Macioce commented. “It’s scandalous.”
Stephanie Finander, math and science teacher
Recommendation: “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah
Genre: Autobiography, comedy
Description: “Born a Crime” is comedian Trevor Noah’s story of his childhood in South Africa. “I learned so much about apartheid, but it was also so funny,” Finander stated. “[Noah] spends the whole book building up this story that’s hysterically funny… [Noah is] on TV, [but] he’s so much funnier in the book.” Finander also recommended the audiobook version, narrated by Noah, since he pronounces phrases from a variety of African languages.
Mark Reibstein, English teacher
Recommendation: “Julian” by Gore Vidal
Genre: Historical fiction
Description: “Julian” gives readers a glimpse into the age of the Romans through its detailed portrayal of Flavius Claudius Julianus, who famously attempted to stop the spread of Christianity. “It’s a historical novel that really brings to life one of the great Roman emperors,” Reibstein said.
Kayla Dice, history teacher
Recommendation: “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
Description: Leo Tolstoy’s first novel, “Anna Karenina,” follows the life of a Russian socialite who has an affair with a wealthy count. “I like how it’s so dramatic,” Dice remarked. “It’s like a soap opera set in the Victorian era.” Although Dice also notes that the book is long and may feel overwhelming, she adds that it is full of not only drama but also action and romance.
Alton Lee, science teacher
Recommendation: “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson
Description: Jobs’ biography gives readers a greater insight into his personal life, touching on aspects that his professional life often overshadowed. “It gives a little more dimensionality to the person he [was],” Lee explained. “It really shows off [his] complexities.” Lee notes that those with an interest in technology will likely enjoy the book, but he also believes it would be a good read for those fascinated with psychology.
Jacie Krampert, English teacher
Recommendation: “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
Description: “Where the Crawdads Sing” will transport you to the humid marshes of North Carolina. “It’s about a girl who… has a dysfunctional family,” Krampert described. “She ends up having to fend for herself a lot. It turns into a sort of love story, then a murder mystery.” This cross-genre book is especially good for a break; Krampert describes it as “not arduous” yet still intriguing.
Abdulhadi Kaddoura, math teacher
Recommendation: “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell
Description: Teenagers finding their place in the world will likely benefit from Gladwell’s book, which explains the path to skill and success. “It talks about how people born at a certain age take advantage of their surroundings and become unique and successful… just because they work really hard,” Kaddoura explained.
Alan Eaton, Latin teacher
Recommendation: “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” by Olga Tokarczuk
Description: Nobel Prize winning author Olga Tokarczuk caused an uproar among traditional Polish communities by publishing this novel, which explores themes such as feminism, insanity, and fate. “This book is a murder mystery set in the forests of Poland,” Eaton said. “It involves a middle-aged woman, William Blake, dogs, and Subaru… It doesn’t try to do weird things with writing. It’s just a story, and it’s a marvelous story.”
Jesse Manzo, history and social sciences teacher
Recommendation: “The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students” by Anthony Abraham Jack
Description: In the midst of the current debates over colleges’ affirmative action policies, Anthony Abraham Jack offers a new perspective on academic success. “[He] talks about how the high-performing colleges are opening up their doors for low-income college-bound student,” Manzo explained. “But, a lot of times, these students drop out because they don’t feel welcomed.”
Lisa Camera, English teacher
Recommendation: “Educated” by Tara Westover
Description: In her autobiography, author Tara Westover recounts her upbringing in a fundamentalist Mormon family. As a result of her parents’ religion, Westover missed out on a number of typical childhood experiences, including attending school and visiting the doctor. “I think it would be interesting for any student, especially for those finding themselves facing hardships,” Camera stated. “It’s an inspiration to students who say, ‘why is this so hard?’ It can be done.”
Matthew Sahagun, science teacher
Recommendation: “Contact” by Carl Sagan
Genre: Science fiction
Description: Science fiction combines with physics, math, and religion in Carl Sagan’s “Contact.” “As a child who identified strongly with all of these, the novel forced me to consider how all of my various belief systems commingle and contradict each other,” Sahagun reflected. “In addition, from the first page until the last, Sagan’s work included many twists and turns that kept me guessing.”
Joshua Gelb, math teacher
Recommendation: “Ultimate Nintendo Guide to the NES Library” by Pat Contri
Description: Contri’s guide serves as an overview of every North American Nintendo game ever developed. Each game review includes information about the number of players, the genre, the release date, the developer, the rating, and more. “If you’re looking for neat old games to play, it’s good to have them all in one place,” Gelb remarked. “I’m going to read it to my kids eventually.”
Callie Shypertt, history and social sciences teacher
Recommendation: “Inward” by Yung Pueblo
Description: For those needing an extra dose of positivity, “Inward” is a collection of uplifting quotes and poems that emphasize healing, self-awareness, and transformation. “They’re daily affirmations that you can refer back to,” Shypertt explained. “If you’re having a bad day, they might make you feel better.”
Cary Kelly, English teacher
Recommendation: “Inés of My Soul” by Isabel Allende
Genre: Historical fiction
Description: Although Allende’s novel was originally published in Spanish, an English translation is also available. “It’s the story of the wife of one of the original conquistadors of Chile,” Kelly stated. “It talks about some of the atrocities in colonization, [and] it also shows what it was like to be a woman in developing society.”
Brooke Darmanin, science teacher
Recommendation: “People Like Us” by Dana Mele
Description: This book is a perfect companion to Matavulj’s recommendation, “The Secret History.” When a group of preparatory school girls stumble across a corpse abandoned in a lake, they embark on a journey to hunt down the killer and avoid being accused themselves. “It involves a revenge plot that fans of ‘Pretty Little Liars’ would love!” Darmanin added.