The Avid Reader

Many credit an older sibling with teaching them to drive a car or dribble a basketball or with giving them advice on dating. Mississippi State University Professor of Mathematics and Shackouls Honors College Undergraduate Research Director SETH OPPENHEIMER instead credits his eldest brother, Paul, for his early reading choices — Tolkien and science fiction, and as he grew older, books on history and philosophy.

Originally from “all over,” Oppenheimer has called New York, Michigan, Georgia, Illinois and Texas home. After earning his Ph.D. at the University of Texas in Austin, Oppenheimer moved to Starkville in 1988 and begin teaching at MSU.

In addition to teaching, Oppenheimer continues his own spiritual education at Temple B’nai Israel in Columbus, where he is a Rabbinical student. Because he is still in seminary, his current reading list is made up of both books assigned as part of his studies and those recommended by friends or colleagues. He says he also keeps an ear and an eye out for book reviews.

When asked for five book recommendations, Oppenheimer names two series for “fun” reading — one a “soft science fiction” series and one “urban fantasy” — two books by Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi that he says will assist those looking to develop their prayer practices, and one “concise and … painless” book on European history.

Oppenheimer adds, “Ask me again in a year, and I might give you a different list. These are not necessarily my favorites that I frequently reread, but rather books that many people might not have encountered.”

1. The Miles Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold They are ripping yarns with dollops of humor that take ethical concerns seriously.

2. The Harry Dresden Series by Jim ButcherThese work both as mysteries and as fantasy.  I appreciate a character who struggles with moral and ethical dilemmas where there might be no good answers.

3. Davening by Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi — While directed toward Jewish prayer, Davening is an insightful book for anyone seeking to develop a meaningful prayer life.

4. Psalms in Transition for Praying by Rabbi Zalman Shachter-ShalomiThese are modern translations by a scholar who deeply understands the Psalms and brings them forward in a way for the modern believer that can be used as part of a meaningful prayer practice. Its main lack is that it does not contain all of the Psalms.

5. Europe by Norman DaviesA fun general history of Europe, including Russia, which is often left out of European histories. Europe is concise and very readable, a painless way to get an over-arching view of European history that feels like reading for pleasure.