Inspirational books captivated new staff members

By Michael R. Malone

Inspirational books captivated new staff members

By Michael R. Malone
In celebration of National Read a Book Day, a few employees new to the University of Miami share the book—or two—that altered how they see themselves or the world around them.

Some books make you laugh. Some leave you teary-eyed, reflective. A good book will take you on a journey, pique your interest, or challenge your beliefs. And some books bear the dangerous power of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythological Master Ring of Middle-earth—for they can “bring you in and bind you.” Literally and literarily, these exceptional reads (or listens) reveal a new world of understanding and awareness. 

In recognition of National Read a Book Day, celebrated each Sept. 6, we invited a few faculty and staff members new to the University of Miami to share that one book—or two—that shook the ground under their feet and altered their life’s direction, either personally or professionally.

Reading yields many benefits—improved concentration and memory, lower stress, and wonderful conversation stimulators. So today, if not every day and all days, we encourage you: Read a good book. Who knows, maybe you’ll feel a trembling under your feet and look up to glimpse a new and distant horizon.

Please see fuller descriptions and details about the books following the listings.

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  • Philip Harling, history professor, College of Arts and Sciences

    I’m a great fan of travel literature, and “A Time of Gifts” is the travel book that first turned me on to the genre and which I find myself rereading every few years. It's a book that taught me, and still teaches me, the soul-nourishing importance of doing new things and diving into fresh adventures—such as moving to Miami and to the University after a 30-year faculty career someplace else, as I just did. Fermor would have heartily approved!

    Fermor was once described as “a mix of Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Graham Greene” and his many exploits included fighting with the Greek resistance during World War II and playing a key role in the kidnapping of a German general.

    He wrote “A Time of Gifts” in the 1970s, in advancing middle age. Yet it describes his earliest great adventure, when he decided at the age of 18 to hitch a ride on a fishing boat across the English Channel to the Hook of Holland and from there walk all the way to Istanbul. And that’s what he did, spelled only by a few short rides on horseback or as a hitchhiking passenger in someone else’s car. 

    Guaranteed to put you in a great mood and add a kick to your step, this book captures the indelible exuberance of youthful adventure. Fermor gets himself into scrape after scrape, but his cockeyed optimism always sees him through. With him we visit German beer halls, Austrian castles, and Hungarian plains and meet a host of unforgettable characters. It’s a book of zest, zing, and great good humor. And another delight is that Fermor only gets to the midpoint of his epic journey in “A Time of Gifts.” You’ll waste little time in turning to its sequel, “Between the Woods and the Water,” which takes him from a bridge over the Danube to Istanbul. 

  • Yani Rubio, assistant professor of professional practice, music therapy program, Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music

    “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t” provides insight into how and why some companies, organizations, and individuals make great strides and advances, while others do not and get stuck in never-changing patterns. It goes into depth, providing examples of concepts of how to understand your drives, passions, and what you can be the best at and what you cannot. It demonstrates how to relinquish the fear of being left behind and instead create new paths to grow within a team and on your own.

    This book allows one to challenge their way of thinking and provides charts and concepts for one to continually assess themselves, their goals, and their final outcomes. These concepts can be applied not only to the corporate world, but in teaching and presenting information to others.

  • Kevin Hong, business technology professor, Patti and Allan Miami Herbert Business School

    “Who Gets What—and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design” reveals the matching markets (markets that not purely price-driven but that also deal with allocation and preferences) hidden around us and outlines how to seek successful matches in both the traditional matching markets (e.g., commodity, transplants, college admission) and the digital matching markets (e.g., Uber, Airbnb, Tinder). Roth explores mechanisms such as market thickness, transaction speed, congestion, trust, and safety and illustrates examples with actionable insights for emerging digital business models.

    These digital markets and platforms (e.g., Airbnb, Tinder, YouTube) are pervasive and provide digital user experiences that didn’t exist 20 years ago. I benefitted immensely from the insights of this Nobel Laureate professor and gained a fundamental understanding of how technology and systems should be deployed to the designing of digital markets that are scalable, efficient, and safe. 

    The book has inspired me to conduct research and write research articles on designing matching markets and digital experiences, in areas such as online labor markets, online dating, and the influencer economy. It’s a must read for anyone who aspires to be an entrepreneur in the new digital age or anyone who is interested in understanding how economics work in the platforms and services they use on a daily basis.

  • Matthew Rembold, digital marketing specialist, University Communications

    “Watchmen,” a graphic novel, takes place in an alternate 1984 America where superheroes are commonplace in society and have been outlawed by the United States government since 1977. When a former crimefighter known as The Comedian is brutally murdered, his former teammates (a group of disenfranchised and psychologically disturbed superheroes known as the Watchmen) begin investigating his death. Their investigation leads to the uncovering of a conspiracy that would radically alter the entire world at the cost of millions of innocent lives.

    Since I was little, I have loved superheroes like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man. I watched all the superhero movies, played all the video games, and read as many of the comics as I could get my hands on. I loved reading the comics and found them to be highly entertaining. However, I never openly admitted to considering them as art because, at that time, it felt like comics were considered too nerdy and outlandish. If I brought a comic to read at school, I always felt like I was being judged for it.

    “Watchmen” changed my entire mindset by the time I finished reading it. Until then, I had no idea that a comic book could be so complex or so rattling. I was engrossed in this gritty world that Moore and Gibbons had created, featuring complex heroes with deep-rooted flaws, a spiraling story with multiple twists, and gorgeous artwork to set the overall tone.

    What struck me though was that “Watchmen” was an argument against itself, that is, an argument against the idea of superheroes being dark, grim, and hyper realistic. Moore and Gibbons were telling a story with a main point that essentially boiled down to the idea that if superheroes were real, they would be awful because they would have the same flaws as everybody else. In the real world, superheroes would not be as good as an idealized icon like Superman. They would have baggage, trauma, and flaws which would only be compounded by the fact that they had superpowers and dressed up in flashy outfits to fight villains who were equally as disturbed as they were. To try and take these colorful characters and imagine them in more grounded and realistic stories was a silly idea to Moore and Gibbons. 

    This notion was a revelation for me as a fan of comics and a big reason why I return frequently to this book. I glean something new from it every time I read it and try to revisit it at least once a year to see what else I can discover. It was one of the first comics that made me comfortable to think of comic books as their own art form with their own merits, and in turn, it made me happier to read them.

    “1984” by George Orwell 

    This novel is set in a dystopian London where individuality and independent thinking are outlawed. A young man named Winston Smith harbors resentment for the Party which rules over him, and he secretly dreams of rebelling against this authority. While working for the Ministry of Truth, his life is upended when a co-worker named Julia slips him a note which reads "I Love You" on it. This note, coupled with the idea that Winston's supervisor at work is a member of an underground resistance group, awakens something within him that leads him down a dangerous path, right into the crosshairs of Big Brother and the Thought Police.

    This book is special to me for a variety of reasons. For starters, it is one of the few I was assigned to read in school that I genuinely enjoyed. I always loved to read, but I enjoyed reading much more when I read for fun instead of being assigned a book to read for school. Orwell’s “1984” was different. I immediately became engrossed by this dystopian society with Big Brother, Thought Police, and The Ministry of Truth. I was fascinated by all these elements as a freshman in high school, which was when I first began trying to expand my horizons in the worlds of film, literature, and entertainment. In reading “1984” it felt like the first time I had perused a novel that was so complex and mature (though I know I had read books featuring similar themes and ideas before this one). I think what struck me was how Orwell describes this dystopian society, the iconic terminology he created for the book like doublethink and thoughtcrime, as well how he ends the story with such a devastating finale. It rocked my world back in high school and is a book that I continue to think about years later.