Three Books

The Three Books program is a special Stanford New Student Orientation tradition with a faculty moderator who selects three books for incoming Stanford students to read over the summer. The program culminates in a panel and roundtable discussion with the authors during NSO, where students will be given the special opportunity to ask the authors questions and hear their perspectives. Following the panel, students will return to their residences for a discussion about the three books facilitated by their residence staff. with faculty, residential staff, and peers. This year, the faculty moderator, Professor Elizabeth Tallent (Creative Writing Program), chose books on the theme of crisis and connection: NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names, Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell, and Justin Torres' We the Animals. The Three Books Program will be held on Thursday, September 22, 2016.

The Three Books program is made possible by the generosity of The Lamsam-Sagan Family Endowed Fund for Undergraduate Education.

The 2016 Faculty Moderator

Elizabeth Tallent is the author of the novel Museum Pieces and four collections of short stories, In Constant Flight, Time with ChildrenHoney, and Mendocino Fire. Her stories have appeared in The New YorkerEsquireHarper's, Grand StreetThe Paris Review, and The Threepenny Review, as well as in The Best American Short StoriesO. Henry Prize Stories, the Pushcart Prize Award, and The Best American Essays. Her teaching has been honored with Stanford's Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award and the Northern California Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa's Excellence in Teaching Award, recognizing "the extraordinary gifts, diligence, and amplitude of spirit that mark the best in teaching." In 2009 she was honored with Stanford's Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching. Mendocino Fire is a finalist for the 2016 PEN/Faulkner Award. Her memoir Perfectionism is forthcoming from Harper.



The 2016 Books

We Need New Names

The unflinching and powerful story of a young girl's journey out of Zimbabwe and to America. Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo's belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.

But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America's famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo's debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

The most startling thing about disasters, according to award-winning author Rebecca Solnit, is not merely that so many people rise to the occasion, but that they do so with joy. That joy reveals an ordinarily unmet yearning for community, purposefulness, and meaningful work that disaster often provides.

A Paradise Built in Hell is an investigation of the moments of altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity that arise amid disaster's grief and disruption and considers their implications for everyday life. It points to a new vision of what society could become-one that is less authoritarian and fearful, more collaborative and local.


We the Animals

Three young brothers, tightly bound and fiercely loyal to one another, do everything together—eat, sleep, play, fight, and get into trouble. They are so close that they refer to themselves in the first person plural, hence the inspiration for the title of this exuberant first novel by Justin Torres. With their Puerto Rican father and white mother, they live in a small town in upstate New York. The parents' hectic shift jobs leave them little time or patience to control a pack of rambunctious boys, making life in their topsy-turvy household intense, chaotic, and loud.

We the Animals is narrated from the point of view of the youngest brother as he trails his older brothers, Manny and Joel, standing on the outskirts as they get into all sorts of childish scrapes—wrecking an elderly neighbor's garden, splattering ketchup and lotion all over the kitchen, and generally wreaking havoc. As the youngest boy grows up, he begins to sense how he is different from his brothers, and his needs lead him on a path away from them.


The 2016 Authors

NoViolet Bulawayo

NoViolet Bulawayo is the author of We Need New Names (May 2013) which has been recognized with the LA Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Pen/Hemingway Award, the Etisalat Prize for Literature, the Barnes and Noble Discover Award (second place), and the National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” Fiction Selection. We Need New Names was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Guardian First Book Award, and selected to the New York Times Notable Books of 2013 list, the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers list, and others. NoViolet’s story “Hitting Budapest” won the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing.

NoViolet earned her MFA at Cornell University where she was a recipient of the Truman Capote Fellowship. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, where she now teaches as a Jones Lecturer in Fiction. NoViolet grew up in Zimbabwe.

Rebecca Solnit

San Francisco writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of seventeen books about geography, community, art, politics, hope, and feminism and the recipient of many awards, including the Lannan Literary Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award (for River of Shadows; two other books of hers also were nominated for the prize in other years).

A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school and frequent contributor to the political site, she is a contributing editor to Harper’s, where she is the first woman to regularly write the Easy Chair column (founded in 1851).

Justin Torres

Justin Torres' first novel We the Animals, a national best seller, has been translated into fifteen languages and is currently being adapted into a feature film.  He has published short fiction in The New Yorker, Harper's, Granta, Tin House, The Washington Post, Glimmer Train, Flaunt, and other publications, as well as non-fiction pieces in publications like The Guardian and The Advocate.  A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, and a Cullman Center Fellow at The New York Public Library.  The National Book Foundation named him one of 2012's 5 Under 35.  He has been the recipient of a grant from the National Endownment for the Arts, a Rolón Fellowship in Literature from United States Artists, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award.

He lives in Los Angeles, where he is Assistant Professor of English at UCLA. In 2016, he will be Picador Guest Professor for Literature at the University of Leipzig.


 Three Books Chats

Coming soon: Three Books Chats on Stanford Canvas in August with Stanford faculty, administrators, and your classmates to share thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. 

  • We Need New Names- Chat TBD 
  • A Paradise Built in Hell - Chat TBD
  • We the Animals - Chat TBD

 Stanford Canvas

Additional Reading

If you enjoyed these books, we encourage you to explore the following recommendations by our Stanford librarians:

  • Recommendations coming soon!