Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Our Favorite Books: Part Two

We are back with what is turning out to be my favorite blog series ever, a round-up of “Oxford Favorites.” Check out part one to see what other books Oxford employees are reading.

Casper Grathwohl– Reference Publisher


It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’m going to say Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton. I reread it every few years, probably because it’s so short (the length of a cross-country flight with time to spare for napping and magazines.) It leaves me a little shattered every time. Unrequited love exploding in little gestures; the pettiness and beauty of the human spirit; the exhilaration of fully letting yourself go. Wharton manages to capture these truths in a pitch-perfect tone that resonates deeply in a way rarely felt outside of adolescent obsessions. Set against the background of a stark New England winter, it’s an ideal February read. I highly recommend it.

Purdy– Publicity Director

My friends and I are always trying to think up and coin new words that could go into common usage and one day make it into the OED. It has been a dream of ours to get a word in the OED since college. Weird and Wonderful Words reminds me how playful language can be and inspires me to keep trying to get a word into the OED. A boy has gotta have goals in life and getting a word into the dictionary is one of mine.

When I was 17 I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. My cousin and mentor in life was living there at the time. It was the first time I had ever traveled beyond Vermont by myself. I felt a little like a kid freed from Plato’s cave because I was seeing the true richness and diversity of life for the first time. I was hustled in Penn Station for $4 by a old lady, saw a woman I had been playing cards with on the Crescent City Express thrown off the train in Georgia, almost got arrested on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, went to a BBQ across the street from Fats Domino’s house with my cousin’s neighbor, Larry, a street car driver, went crabbing on the levies of lake Ponchatrain, and ran into a whole host of unforgettable characters wherever I went. The descriptions of the city and the many personalities/characters in Confederacy of Dunces remind me of my grand experience there.

Woody Gilmartin– Managing Copywriter, Creative Services

War and Peace. It’s an obvious choice. But in my experience, including four years in an Ivy League graduate school and twenty plus years at OUP, working side by side with some of the most literate, well-read people you could hope to meet, almost no one has read the novel that almost everyone says is the best ever written. In fact, I’ve heard it said that not only is War and Peace the greatest novel ever written, but the Maude translation of War and Peace is the greatest novel ever written in English. (That may red line it a bit.) Of course, this is a huge book. It’s famously huge and certainly daunting. But you will fly through the pages. The first time I read it, I was all the way to the burning of Moscow before I checked to see what page I was on (it’s around page 900). I can think of no more high praise than that.

Daniel Ozzi– Publicity Assistant

My favorite book is one that has left me both intrigued and perplexed since I was a boy. The book is Martin Handford’s Where’s Waldo?: The Fantastic Journey, by far the best Waldo work ever created. The title says it all; it truly is a fantastic journey. The book has provided me with hours, nay, days of entertainment over the course of my lifetime. One chapter in particular, “The Carpet Flyers,” really touched me. The time I spent arduously searching for Waldo on these pages taught me much about not only myself, but life in general. Of course, at first, it made me ask, “Where’s Waldo?” but it then lead me to ponder the greater questions in life. Of course, now I know he was behind the camel. It’s a sad event that the Waldo books have lost their momentum over the last few years. But with the invention of Google Earth, people can now just type in “Waldo” in the search field and find him in an instant. But for those who like to be challenged, for great thinkers like myself and President George W. Bush, Where’s Waldo?: The Fantastic Journey will always remain a classic.

Niko Pfund– Academic and Trade Publisher

Two of my favorite OUP books are A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction by Christopher Alexander et al., a book that identifies in a marvelously comprehensive and highly original way the 250+ patterns that make up the physical parameters of human society. What constitutes the best layout for a single-family house? What’s the sure-fire way to gauge a successful park (answer: people feel comfortable falling asleep in it)? Why should every town have a beer garden? How should activity nodes and density rings factor into urban planning? And so on and so on. What makes it so interesting is its eclecticism and the utter conviction that informs every observation. First published in 1977, it is one of our perennial bestsellers, and on at least three occasions I’ve mentioned to architect or designer acquaintances that we are the publisher of A Pattern Language, and been struck by the veritable reverence with which they speak of the book.

Another wonderful book on our backlist is Doug McAdam‘s Freedom Summer, about the life experiences of many of the people who went down to Mississippi in the summer of 1964 to register black voters. The book was published in the late 1980s, at a time when the media was awash in stories of Sixties radicals who had embraced a self-serving, consumerist lifestyle. Eldridge Cleaver had swung hard right. Jerry Rubin was hosting networking parties in New York City nightclubs. What McAdam set out to do in his book was try to ascertain how many people had remained true to the ideals that had drawn them into the violent heart of Southern racism in their quest for social justice. And what he found was that the vast majority of Freedom Summer veterans had been so strongly influenced and shaped by their experiences that they almost to a person had pursued careers and lives that were imbued with the same values–of selflessness, of justice, of service–that caused them to board the buses for Mississippi in the first place. It’s one of the most inspiring books we’ve published and there are several passages that move me every time I read them. If nothing else, read the last few pages to see what I’m talking about.

Recent Comments

  1. Kati

    War and Peace is my favorite novel of all time, too, Woody. I even read all the epilogues, just so it wouldn’t be over. Don Quixote is a close second, but I confess to having skipped pages 720-940 in order to finish it before exams and having never gone back… so I suppose I can’t have that now. Through the Looking Glass and Catch-22 are tied at third.

Comments are closed.