OLLI Illinois members respond to the question: 

"What's on your summer reading list?"


Steve Bauer

I am currently reading Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours that Made History by Andrew Cohen. On June 10 and June 11, 1963, JFK gave speeches aimed at nuclear arms agreement with Russia and civil rights in America. The Urbana Free Library has this book.


Cheryl Binch

If you liked Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, try The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I also really liked The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown, about the Washington State Olympic Rowers.


Sam Bostaph

This summer I plan to reread Evan S. Connell's Son of the Morning Star. In my opinion, this is one of the most well-written historical narratives ever published in English. The book covers all major aspects of the preceding events and the battle that took place between Custer's Seventh Calvary and the Sioux at Little Bighorn in southern Montana June 25-26, 1876. My hope is that I will finally be able to visit the battlefield memorial this summer, so I want the details to be fresh in my mind.


Judy Brown

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver.


Chris Catanzarite

Reading! Summer! Two of my favorite things! My tower of unread books has continued to grow over the past few months, and at the top of the heap is one that I can't wait to read: Wednesday is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia, by neuroscientists Richard E. Cytowic and David M. Eagleman. As a child, I realized that I conflated letters, numbers, colors, and sometimes textures - and I grew up thinking that this multisensory understanding of the world was just a peculiar wiring in my brain. Research has now given this phenomenon a name (synesthesia, literally "union of the senses") and determined that as many as one in every twenty people may experience some form of it. The authors of this book have discovered that there are neuroscientific and genetic components to synesthesia - and they write about brain anatomy, the types of synesthetic experience, and the particular stories of individuals who see days as colors and numbers as textures, including Vladimir Nabokov and David Hockney.


Frank Chadwick

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. Actually it's a novel, not a history, and it's in English, not Ukrainian, which gives you the idea this may be somewhat tongue in cheek. It's gotten rave reviews for its humor and its humanity from a wide range of British sources (Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Spectator, Economist, Times Literary Supplement, etc.). Here is the opening paragraph (printed on the back cover--I haven't read this yet but am about to put aside the book I'm currently reading just to get to this one quicker): "Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous Ukrainian divorcee. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink hand grenade, churning up the murky waters, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside." I also plan to read The Triumph of the Dark: European International History 1933-1939 by Zara Steiner. Part of the Oxford History of Modern Europe, this is one of those great doorstops of a book (over a thousand pages) you have to be in the right mood for. It's been on loan in my library from Tim Smith for a while, and I've read sections of it earlier, when researching a project on the run-up to World War II, but I haven't tackled it cover-to-cover. It's ultimately a pretty depressing subject, and I think a lot of summer sunshine will make a better backdrop to its reading than bleak winter skies.


Linda Coleman

We love to read books aloud during long road trips. For our recent trek to New Orleans we picked Trace, a new novel by a pal and accomplished local author, Letitia L. Moffitt. OLLI member Frank Chadwick reviewed it for the cover blurb and called it "a terrifically entertaining read." And it was! A page turner, the novel is a hybrid of many genres, including mystery and the paranormal. I'd recommend it as an engaging summer read! (It's on Amazon in print and Kindle.)


Craig Cutbirth

I've been enjoying (at Tim Smith's recommendation) Michael Wolraich's Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels who Created Progressive Politics. This is a grand tour of early 20th-century politics featuring Roosevelt, Joe Cannon, "Fighting Bob" LaFollete and a host of other famous names from history. I like that Wolraich elevates these characters beyond simply being historical "names" by making them real people, and interesting people at that. I've also recently finished something relatively new for me, a steampunk novel. It's called Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. The title character is a feisty (to say the least) prostitute in what passes for San Francisco in the steampunk world. It's a bit predictable but I was quite taken by the US Marshall who appears and was delighted to learn that he was based on a historical character who, in turn, was the basis for the Lone Ranger. It's just fun to read as long as you remember that steampunk is an alternative universe, not history.


Sandy Cuza

Probably this will be recommended by dozens of others, but I really liked All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.


Donna Davis-Pearson

I have enjoyed reading David Niven's books. The Moon's a Balloon and Bring on the Empty Horses are my favorites. They are about his life and career in Hollywood and the British military. I have also loved Lauren Bacall's books, Lauren Bacall By Myself and  By Myself and Then Some.

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Important Dates 

June 8: Study Groups End
June 9: Annual Meeting and Dinner
June 16:  Fall course registration begins

OLLI Illinois e-News and The Bookshelf are sent automatically to members. Non-members can also receive mailings by  signing up here.


View Archive of Past Issues 

The OLLI Bookshelf is a spin-off from the OLLI e-News that began in December of 2012. Each issue features OLLI Illinois member responses to a different question about books.

e-News Committee: 
Cheri Sullivan (Chair), Frank Chadwick, Connie Hosier, Bonnie Hudson,  Eileen Kohen, Barbara Meyer (Technical Coordinator). 
Summer Reading Ideas

Brooklyn Public Library Summer Reading 2015 Books for Adults

San Francisco Public LIbrary Summer Reading

Huffington Post Must Read Beach Books

Goodreads Popular Vacation Books
Mystery Books that Take Place on Cruise Ships - Mystery Books at Sea

Want to read the book before seeing the movie? Here's a list of books becoming movies in 2015:




The unexpected health and cognitive benefits of being an avid reader.



"Every great book resonates in its pursuit of some kind of truth. Here are the 100 books from the past half-decade that do that best". 
The Oyster Editors

Notable Books:


Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction longlist 2015


Man Booker Longlist 2014


National Book Critics Circle finalists 2014


National Book Award 2014



Joyce Francisco

I have just read for my book club The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It is a romance between a brilliant but socially inept man and a fiercely independent and unconventional woman. It evokes a range of emotions from the reader. I enjoyed it so much that I also read the sequel, The Rosie Effect, and enjoyed it equally. 


Robin Goettel

I really love this book -- Happy Yoga: 7 Reasons Why There's Nothing to Worry About by Steve Ross. In Happy Yoga, Ross reveals that everyone is inherently happy, but that our true self is shadowed and concealed by the layers of worry that, through habit, become our daily thoughts. In each chapter, he examines one of our seven greatest human fears -- depression, ill health, loss of love, career failure, war, death, and emotional stasis -- and uses yoga wisdom to explain how to strip away these worries to reach your core of calm radiant joy. By sharing his system of yoga postures, diet, meditation, music, supplements, and philosophy, Ross has effected profound physical and mental changes in both his life and the lives of his students.


Dick Helfrich

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is the story of a bookseller on Martha's Vineyard who experiences a few life changing episodes! Much in the vein of another favorite of mine, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. Both are real human interest and character studies. I also recommend a biography, Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang. This is the life of a remarkable woman who started as a concubine but through remarkable circumstances became by force of will the de facto Empress of China during the defining era of political change in China. The Quing dynasty ended after her death.


Kathleen Holden

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. Set in 1922 London, it is a story of post WWI and the economic and social shifts experienced in British society, with illicit love and a murder mystery to keep us turning the pages. This my first Waters novel, and after reading this one, her earlier works are on my must-read list. As NPR's Julia Keller puts it, "The past is brought before our eyes with exquisite clarity. The very air quivers with lust and expectancy." Read on! I also recommend Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Those who have read Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts will find this to be another of Larson's gripping non-fiction narratives. In writing about the sinking of the Lusitania, Larson again gives us rich descriptions, this time of the two vessels, one hunted, the other hunting, and the captains who are in charge of each. It is non-fiction, but with Larson, I find that I am as absorbed and unable to put it down as I would be with a suspenseful fiction novel. 


Connie Hosier

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand is a truly unbelievable World War II story of survival, resilience, and redemption. Skip the movie, as usual, no film can come close to approximating the power of this gripping saga. I guarantee it's a binge read and unforgettable. I also recommend Hollywood Love Stories: True Love Stories from the Golden Days of the Silver Screen by Gill Paul. It's not academic film scholarship but gossip column and newspaper headline fun. Affairs, rocky marriages, scandals and plenty of photos fill this book about love and loss in the Hollywood industry.


Bonnie Hudson

Two very different non-fiction books would be good ones if one is interested in digging a little deeper into personalities and history this summer. Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham is a wonderful read in history, biography, and leadership. This is truly the story of two men's personal and professional journeys, relationships, and personalities as they sit in leadership chairs that could have taken the world in a vastly different direction had they not had such close communication and friendship throughout this period. The second recommendation is a book first published in 1983, Pontiff by Gordon Thomas & Max Morgan-Witts. The story of three popes (Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II) includes the deaths of the first two and the conclaves (and electioneering) of the second and third. As the frontispiece states, this is "a portrait and day to day account of the lives, personalities and relationships" of these three popes, written when the third was still very active. The writers specialized in investigative reporting and 'secret intelligence' stories; the research is excellent, the storytelling completely engaging. One of the more interesting aspects of this book is the timeliness, 40 years later, of the authors' discussion of terrorism in the 1970s.


Carl Jockusch

I have read and enjoyed the following three books recently: The Lonely War: One Woman's Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran by Nazila Fathi; The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte; and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.


Eileen Kohen

Call the Midwife trilogy: Call the Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse, and Farewell to the East End by Jennifer Worth. I've been a fan of the PBS Call the Midwife television series from the very first episode. This TV series is based on Jennifer Worth's trilogy of her midwife experiences in East London in the 1950s. Bringing to life the experiences of the midwives in Nonnatus House, her memoir of post-war London is compassionate and humorous. It's fun to recognize some of the midwives and experiences from the TV series. 


Curtis Krock

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson and The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. 


Carol Kubitz

I have never done this before but decided to go back to a favorite author and reread the books by Dick Francis, who was jockey for the queen before his years as a successful author. I knew I would be introduced to interesting characters, well written text, and great plots that hold my interest even though I read them years ago. Will I reread them in my 90s?? -- probably not. But this time around was a good idea. 


Judith Liebman

I highly recommend four books by Ann Cleeves in the Shetland Islands series. The author has the same skill as Donna Leon in drawing the reader into the personal lives of the main characters. The descriptions of the northern Scottish islands are riveting. The titles are Raven Black, White Nights, Blue Lightning, and Dead Water. There are two more books in the series that I plan to read, Red Bones and Thin Air.


Barbara Meyer

My suggestion is Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley, recommended for both the OLLI class and study group "Molecules and Me" by instructors Jeff Moore and Bill Reed. Ridley presents the human genome as a book with 23 chapters, called chromosomes. Each chapter contains stories, called genes, and he picks a gene or feature on each chromosome to delve deeply into 23 far ranging topics in genomics, such as intelligence, aging, personality, disease, stress, and eugenics. He avoids jargon as he discusses not only the scientific but also the philosophical and moral issues raised as we begin to parse out our genetic code. "I genuinely believe that we are living through the greatest intellectual moment in history. Bar none. Some may protest that the human being is more than his genes. I do not deny it. There is much, much more to each of us than a genetic code. But until now human genes were an almost complete mystery. We will be the first generation to penetrate that mystery. We stand on the brink of great new answers but, even more, of great new questions. This is what I have tried to convey in this book. "


Armine Mortimer

While traveling in England, I have been enjoying P. G. Wodehouse's series of books about Psmith, such as Psmith, Journalist and Psmith in the City. Laugh out loud hilarious. Another Wodehouse which takes the prize for the most intricate, knotted plot is Piccadilly Jim. Lots of fun.



Traci Nally

I recommend State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration by James Risen. Risen is a journalist for the New York Times. This book, written in 2006, discusses how parties in the George W. Bush administration pushed the CIA into recommending the invasion of Iraq. With Jeb Bush vying for the presidential vacancy coming in 2016, and with his naming several of the same players as his foreign policy experts, I think it is instructive to see their roles in the George W. administration from Risen's perspective.


Carol Ordal

I highly recommend Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, which I have recently finished. It is an all-county read in Door County, Wisconsin, this year.


Jo Pride

A book I am thoroughly enjoying is A New Song by Jan Karon. I picked this book up in the OLLI library. I'll return it soon so others can enjoy.


Robin Schingel

I like to take a book of short stories with me on vacation. I will be traveling next month and plan to pack Honeydew by Edith Pearlman in my suitcase.


Barb Selby

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler is an excellent story about an 89-year-old white woman, Isabelle, who is called home to attend a funeral. She asks her black hairdresser, Dorrie, age 30, to drive her from Arlington, Texas to Cincinnati for the service. Tomorrow! The story of each woman is revealed in their own voices in alternating chapters during the long drive. Uncle Janice by Matt Burgess has you meet Uncle Janice Itwaru, a member of the Queens NYPD Narcotics Division. A single woman living alone with her mother, who has dementia, Uncle Janice has stress at work and at home. As an "uncle" - an undercover Narcotics officer - Janice has one month left in the department and a quota of drug busts to make before she will earn her detective shield. As the only woman uncle, she has to contend with her male counterparts, work the streets to make drug busts, and stay alive at the same time. A great read.  Alex by Pierre Lemaitre is an exceptional thriller for fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. One of the most inventive novels I have read. Highly recommend.


Michael Stancampiano

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich. This is a novel centering on a lady who impersonates a Catholic priest (!) for much of her life on a Chippewa reservation in Minnesota (in 1930s-40 as I recall). Well done and a good read. Erdrich is both a tribal member (Chippewa or Annishanabe) and German. I also recommend Champlain's Dream by David Hackett Fischer, a history of the French founding of Quebec in early 1700s. Fat and full. Comparable to Caro's biography of LBJ in its depth of research. The book was also used by Louise Penny in her modern murder mystery Bury Your Dead, a search for the body of Samuel Champlain centering in Quebec City.

Cheri Sullivan

For a lovely, engaging read, try The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (translated by Stephen Snyder). It tells the story of a young mother who takes a housekeeping job for a mathematics professor who, after a head injury, can hold on to new memories for just 80 minutes. Although they must constantly re-introduce themselves to each other, they develop a beautiful relationship that relies only on the present moment. For a gripping, exciting read, grab Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. A devastating plague has wiped out most of mankind, and the survivors must re-invent their lives - and civilization. The book runs deftly between the pre- and post-plague world to show how loss, chance, memory, and a desire for meaning affect us all, no matter the circumstances.


Rosalind Weinberg

For a good historically based mystery, even though it involves a famous case, I highly recommend An Officer and A Spy by Robert Harris. It involves Picquard, who was involved in the Dreyfus Affair, as it was known in France, at the end of the 19th century. Very well written.


Sharon WIlliams

Books That Defined a Generation

Books that Defined a GenerationOprah Winfrey recently posted a list of 34 "books that defined a generation."  The posting says, "Here they are: the books we passed on to our closest friends, fought over at book club, lugged with us on every move and think about still." I have decided to put a number of them, which I have not read, on my summer reading list. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III: "Combining unadorned realism with profound empathy, House of Sand and Fog is a devastating exploration of the American Dream gone awry." The Interestings by Meg 

Wolitzer: "A hilarious, smart, can't-put-it-down-til-it's-done novel, The Interestings helps every woman examine the wacko disconnect between our dreams of who we wanted to become as teenagers-and who we want to become now that we're grown up and can actually do something about it." The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: "Adulthood opens on a sketchy world where stolen masterpieces are collateral for drug cartels, and Theo becomes adept at friendships and affairs as fake as the antiques he traffics in. His obsession with keeping The Goldfinch hidden causes dark clouds of paranoia to gather over his head."


About Us 
OLLI at Illinois is a member-focused community of adult learners that is supported by the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Illinois Office of the Provost, and the generous donations of OLLI members and community partners. It is part of a network of 119 OLLI programs across the United States, and there are more than 130,000 members nationwide.   

OLLI at Illinois was launched in the fall of 2007 with 11 courses and 297 members. News of this exciting program dedicated to the pursuit of lifelong learning spread quickly, and we now have more than 1,200 members and offer approximately 40 courses per semester.

In addition to classes in the fall and spring semesters, OLLI offers a dynamic schedule of programs and activities that includes lectures, study groups, travel opportunities, and collaborations with the Illinois campus and the communities in and around Champaign-Urbana.

OLLI Staff 
Christine Catanzarite, Director 
Janet Summers, Outreach Coordinator 
Kate Freeman, Office Manager

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