An open book and cup of coffee on a table

As we all seek to find balance during this pandemic, many turn to books as a way to feel connected, engaged, informed, and inspired. New College’s Advancement Department asked Academic Program Directors, College leaders and staff, and members of our alumni community to share with us what they are reading this summer and why.  Below is a list of some of the compelling and thought-provoking books that members of our New College community are reading.

Niya Bajaj

New College Alumni Ambassador
New ’08

A Blade So Black coverWhat: L.L. McKinney’s Nighmare-verse series

Why: For so many reasons including that they are light enough for beach reading, but engaging enough to ensure you want to finish the whole series, they are accessible to YA readers and have enough well developed secondary characters to make them compelling for adults, they weave familiar things (Alice in Wonderland, life as a teenager, race and class divides, loss and mourning, the value of friendship and teamwork) together in ways I haven’t seen before, and because in the face of so much uncertainty it helps to have a little bit of urban magic to keep spirits up

As a pick-me up for anyone who is reading more about anti-racism and is exhausted by the realities of the situation to read the work of a successful Black female author, writing a powerful Black female protagonist in a diverse universe that is both familiar and surreal, so they can experience and empathize with the full complex range of emotion and better embrace the humanity that they are learning so much about. That and to help remind people that Black writers do more than write about racism and are successful contributors to every field of work. The fact that these are light enough to be YA beach reads that bring a little magic and wonder back into our lives is a bonus.

Favourite reading spot: The chaise lounge on my balcony, surrounded by my fledgling balcony garden and strings of fairy lights for that little extra bit of wonder. 

Justice (Retired) Lloyd Budzinski, BSc., LLB., QC

New ’66

What: I tend to read text book sort of stuff however, I do like science fiction.  Currently reading Scatterbrain by Henning Beck — it’s about how the brain works and is appropriate Today when we speak about Implicit Bias. 

Maja Dettbarn

New ’75

All The Light We Cannot See cover

What: I loved reading this non fiction book earlier this year:  Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

A favourite fiction read was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. 

Chioma Ekpo

New College Alumni Ambassador
New ’95


  1. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (Evaristo is one of two black female authors to win the top prizes at the British Book awards, landing the book of the year and author of the year gongs respectively. Evaristo was also the joint winner of last year’s Booker prize.)
  2. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams (Carty-Williams and Evaristo are the first two black female authors to win the top prizes at the British Book awards, landing the book of the year and author of the year gongs respectively).  
  3. The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success by Joyce M. Roché (Roché is an African American woman, and in this personal and professional memoir she discusses imposter syndrome and how to address it.
  4. Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction by Chris Bailey
  5. Pushback: How Smart Women Ask–and Stand Up–for What They Want by Selena Rezvani

Tara Goldstein

Vice Principal, New College

We Have Always Been Here coverWhat: This summer I’ve read We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib, which was short-listed for the CBC’s 2020 Canada Reads competition and won a 2020 Lamba Literary Award.

Why: I was first introduced to Samra Habib through her work as a photographer.  My Equity Studies students and I discussed her project Just Me and Allah: a Queer Muslim Photo Project in our Equity, Activism and Education class so I was excited to hear she had recently published a memoir about living a queer Muslim life.

 The memoir is an exploration of faith, art, love and queer sexuality and I read it quickly over two days while I was transitioning into my new position as Vice Principal at New College.

Kerri Huffman

New College Registrar

What: Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough

Why: The winner of this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize this year, Kellough’s book travels the globe, settling into the suburbs of Calgary in the 1980s and Montreal winters. A sound performer and a musician, I absolutely love how Kellough plays with language, structure and form in this collection.

What: The Dyzgraph*st by Canisa Lubrin

Why: A meditation on the self with the narrator, Jejune taking on multiple “I’s” throughout the collection, Lubrin’s poetry collection plays with voice in a series of acts and monologues.

Lubrin is also an instructor at the School of Continuing Studies here at UofT

Favourite Place to Read: Right now, my favourite place to read is in my hammock – I’ve put it under my tree in the backyard and in the evenings I go out there to read – with the crazy bird songs happening right now, it’s like being transported to another world.

Chan Leung

New College Alumni Ambassador
New ’01

The Undercover Economist coverWhat: Undercover Economist by Tim Harford

Why: I’ve always found books that shed light and different perspectives on how society interacts with economics interesting and educational.  

Having different perspectives on issues, topics and events that affect our lives can help us understand it better.  It also empowers us to view things in a different manner that we would otherwise have not done.

Favourite reading spot: We just purchased a cottage and am enjoying reading by the water.  

Bonnie McElhinny

Principal, New College

Braiding Sweetgrass coverWhat: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Why: “Sweetgrass is best planted not by seed but by putting roots directly into the ground…..It thrives along disturbed edges.”

“In braiding sweetgrass—so that it is smooth, glossy, and worthy of the gift—a certain amount of tension is needed. …Of course you can do it yourself—by tying one end to a chair, or by holding it in your teeth and braiding backward away from yourself—but the sweetest way is to have someone else hold the end so that you pull gently against each other, all the while leaning in, head to head, chatting and laughing, watching each other’s hands, one holding steady while the other shifts the slim bundles over one another, each in its turn.  Linked by sweetgrass there is reciprocity between you, linked by sweetgrass, the holder as vital as the braider. …Will you hold the bundle while I braid?”

Dr. Shahrzad Mojab

Director, Equity Studies, New College

What: I am reading these books to read our time which is moving slowly, heavily, but it is triggering our mind to think through different possibilities. Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands, a posthumous memoir of Stuart Hall, a renowned Jamaican cultural theorist;  A Strangeness in My Mind, a powerful story told by Orhan Pamuk, an internationally acclaimed Turkish novelist. The notion of ‘stranger’ and ‘strangeness’ in these books speaks to the experience of colonialism and the rise of authoritarianism. Set the Night on Fire: L.A. in the Sixties by Mike Davis and Jon Wieners is a brilliant account of solidarity, resistance, and revolutionary justice organized by artists, students, educators, and workers against police violence, racism, and poverty.

Ceta Ramkhalawansingh

New ’77

The Tin Flute coverWhat: The Tin Flute, by Gabrielle Roy (1945).  This was originally published in French under the title of Bonheur d’occasion.

Why:  During the pandemic I am sorting and purging files, books and clothes and re-reading old classics in my collection.  The Tin Flute was the first Canadian work of fiction that I read when our family moved to Canada in 1967. 

When I first read The Tin Flute, its context of geography and timeframe left a deep impression on me.  It resonated again. I decided to read other work by Gabrielle Roy in my collection and have started with Street of Riches, which is so compelling and semi-autobiographical.  Her presentation of character, history, family and ambition is vivid.  She’s one of the best storytellers.

Favourite Reading Spot: Living room couch.  I also like to read in bed before going to sleep.

Lesley Riedstra

New ’95

What: Mostly I have been more playing music and making a wonder woman costume so unless youtube videos of how to construct that count I only otherwise read things like I am reading Children of Men right now.

Néstor E. Rodríguez

Director, Caribbean Studies Program, New College
Associate Professor, Department of Spanish & Portuguese

Wicked Weeds CoverWhat: These days I am rereading Wicked Weeds (2016) by Pedro Cabiya. The protagonist is a wealthy zombie scientist in the Dominican Republic obsessed with the idea of inhabiting the world as a living being. The figure of the zombie has long been a powerful tool of political criticism for Caribbean writers. Cabiya’s novel shows the impact that neoliberal economic policies have had on Dominican society, which has made the country little more than a neocolony at the mercy of US interests. Reading about Cabiya’s zombie at this point in time makes me see the predicament of this character as a ludicrous metaphor of everyday life under the new normalcy of a pandemic. 

Sheila Stewart

Instructor, New College Writing Centre

What: I am re-reading heft by Doyali Islam (McClelland & Stewart, 2019)

Why: Doyali is an important Toronto poet and an Equity Studies Program graduate!

Her book grabbed me from the opening dedication, “for you whose body has slipped through a crack.” So often dedications are to family members. This dedication holds the question: what does it mean for a body to fall through a crack? Her first poem “poem for your pocket” begins with the line “what my pockets have kept over seasons” and starts an ordinary list, “coffee change, house keys” but the poem becomes a love story — as is the book as a whole. heft is personal and political, tender and humourous, playful and profound. As a poet, I’m re-reading it to think about her innovative form. I suggest you read it and feel what you heft lift!

Favourite Reading Spot:  I love to sit on a log and read in High Park, in a quiet wooded area. The park has been a haven since the pandemic began. I seek out the quiet trails to regain balance. I bring a notebook and whatever I’m reading. Even to read or write a few lines is a pleasure. Before the pandemic, I enjoyed reading on the streetcar and on trains. I think the movement helped me focus.