What We’re Reading and Watching Over the Break: 2020 Edition

A library shelf filled with booksIt’s not just the holiday season this December: It’s also college selection time for many high school seniors.

That means that the staff of the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid (OAFA) on the Pittsburgh campus have a lot of reading to do this December. The office reports it received more applications than last year in a shorter, more compressed period, which means a large volume of applications for those who serve on the admissions committee to review immediately.

As associate vice provost for enrollment and executive director of admissions in OAFA, Kellie Kane oversees the process and will sign the much-awaited acceptance letters. So, when asked what she’ll be reading over the break, Kane’s answer was simple: “The team in admissions is reading admissions files for thousands of applicants to the Pittsburgh campus. These applications are great reads—students bring so much hope and new ideas.”

Most members of the Pitt community can look forward to some less consequential reading, but even the OAFA staffers are sitting down to their favorite shows and books this winter.

Read on to see recommendations from them and other to get inspired over winter recess.

Office of Admission and Financial Aid

Marc Harding, vice provost for enrollment
“Ready Player Two” by Ernest Cline

Melissa DiGuilio, financial aid counselor
“Murder, She Wrote”

Priscilla Morales, digital marketing manager
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” on repeat!

Julia Renquist, financial aid assistant
A lot of Hallmark movies—always a happy ending.

Justin Newman, customer service manager
“Ready Player Two” by Ernest Cline

Dana Gowder, enrollment services manager
“Jingle Jangle”

Lydia Moss, enrollment operations manager
“The Queen's Gambit” and “The Great British Baking Show—Holiday Edition”

Tim Joy, enrollment services manager
Taylor Swift's “folklore” & “evermore” albums

Casey Hoolahan, communications specialist
We are streaming “The Mandalorian” and “Home Alone”!

Guillermo Aviles, enrollment services manager
“RuPaul’s Drag Race”

Hannah McBean, financial aid counselor
"A Promised Land" by Barack Obama

Lauren Panetti, associate director of international admissions
“Designated Survivor”

Tessa Ludin, assistant director 
“Mank,” “Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,” “I'm Your Woman”—lots of new movies.

Lauren Wright, director of undergraduate recruitment
“A Promised Land” by Barack Obama and Netflix, Hulu and HBOMax ... to start.

Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

Kathleen Blee, Bettye J. and Ralph E. Bailey Dean
“What Really Matters: Living a Moral Life Amidst Uncertainty and Danger” by the medical anthropologist Arthur Kleinman

Todd Reeser, director of Pitt’s Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program and professor of French
As soon as I turn in my grades and finish up some administrative work, I will be reading the novel that just won the Booker Prize—Glasgow native Douglas Stuart’s “Shuggie Bain.”

Dieter Wältermann, part-time faculty, Department of German
“The Spinoza Problem” by Irvin D. Yalom, and “Im Krebsgang (= Crabwalk)” by Günter Grass

Michele Montag, senior assistant dean and executive director for staff personnel
“The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous” by Joseph Henrich, and “America’s Test Kitchen’s Foolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More.” This one will come with much testing!

Adam Leibovich, associate dean for faculty recruitment and research development
I saved the latest season of the “Great British Bake Off” to watch with my daughter when she came home from college, so I’ll be watching that. I will be reading something light, David Sedaris’ “Calypso.”

Jim Griffin, division administrator for humanities
The Constitution, The Federalist Papers, the Bible, and Nat Turner's “Slave Rebellion” (just in case)

Diana Khoi Nguyen, assistant professor, Department of English’s Writing Program
Catching up/rewatching nature pieces with David Attenborough. Most recently: “A Life on Our Planet,” available on Netflix.

Jennifer Theresa Keating, senior lecturer and Writing in the Disciplines specialist at the Institute for Writing Excellence
“Bound in the Bond of Life” and “You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town” are on my list to possibly add to my upcoming Writing Places course for spring 2021. And I hope to read Eavan Boland’s last collection of poetry, “The Historians.”

David Wayne Hewitt, professor, Department of Economics
I’ve been spending a lot of time with interactive fiction games these days, especially “Disco Elysium,” “Cultist Simulator” and “Mission: It’s Complicated.”

Office of Human Resources

David DeJong, vice chancellor for human resources
"These Truths" by Jill LaBar, an absolute tour de force of U.S. history, sweeping in scope and fully unvarnished. You will view the current political climate through a different lens after reading this book. Highly recommended!

Emily Ratay, communications specialist
“Hunters” on Amazon Prime: Nazi hunters in 1977 NYC team up to hunt Nazis until it's not that simple; “The Boys” on Amazon Prime: In a world where some superheroes are good and others are not so good, a group of vigilantes are determined to take the corrupt ones down; “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki tells two stories concurrently—one of a 16-year-old Japanese-American girl living in Tokyo and one of a Japanese-American woman living on an island off British Colombia. The woman finds the girl’s diary washed up on the shore of the island after a tsunami; and “Sleeping Beauties” by Stephen King and Owen King asks, “What would happen to the world if women disappeared?” "Sleeping Beauties" plays out this theory, except women haven’t just disappeared—they all become wrapped up in strange cocoons after a mysterious “sickness” spreads across the world.

Lindsey Bandison, benefits representative
“The Queen's Gambit” on Netflix is an excellent binge-worthy miniseries to watch over the winter recess. Set in the 1950s, an orphaned child chess prodigy Beth Harmon goes on to become the world's greatest chess player overcoming challenges surrounding navigating the world, emotional traumas, drug and alcohol dependency, and becoming a rising star in an area dominated by men. Enticing to see her succeed and push the boundaries with hard work and dedication. Great cinematography, acting and story line! Highly recommend!

Nichole Dwyer, director of communications
I'm currently enjoying "Halt and Catch Fire" which fictionalizes a few individuals' rise to success in the 1980's computer and network craze. It's reminding me a lot of my upbringing where my father and I were excited to learn about the newest, biggest thing in personal computing. It sounds a bit dorky, but now it's what everyone knows. So interesting to see the story evolve around "nerds" and their idiosyncrasies. I'm also currently on a really long wait list for "Caste: The Origins of our Discontents", by Isabel Wilkerson. A friend read it and wants to discuss, but it's so popular, the wait has been months long! The book examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.

Laura Ainsley, learning and development specialist
“99% Invisible”: Miss being out in the world? Explore this podcast's extensive backlog to take a deep dive into the largely unseen details of the built environment around us. Great for people who love learning about architecture, cities, objects and infrastructure.

Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Ron Idoko, diversity and multi-cultural program manager
Most of my break will be consumed with catching up on a bunch of overdue projects but, in the moments when I need brain candy, I’m hoping to watch/read “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey," “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom," “Da 5 Bloods," “The Black Godfather," “Small Axe” and “Caste."


Coach Samantha Snider (gymnastics)
Streaming: “Selena: The Series” on Netflix

Coach Dan Fisher (volleyball)
Streaming: “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix; reading: “The Motive” by Patrick Lencioni and “Endure” by Alex Hutchinson; listening to: all episodes of the NPR podcast Hidden Brain

Randy Waldrum (women’s soccer)
Reading: “My Turn” by Johan Cruyff, streaming: “Queen of the South and Shooter”

University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg

Lisa Hope, assistant director of operations and analytics for admissions
David McCullough’s biography of John Adams

Susan Isola, director of media relations
Isola is taking a break from the unpredictability of 2020 by watching Hallmark Christmas movies—which are pretty predictable—and is making her way through “White Fragility” by Robin Diangelo and “Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria” by Beverly Daniel Tatum. Isola also is reading “The Book of Candlelight” by Ellery Adams, part of the Secret, Book, and Scone Society series, and “Christmas on 4th Street” by Susan Mallery.

Renee Kiner, public services librarian
Listening to: “You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters” by Kate Murphy, reading “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson

Bryan McCarthy, visiting instructor of philosophy
“A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” by William B. Irvine

Sherra Moors, the director of conferencing services
Reading—for the millionth time—the Modern Witch Series by Debora Geary and watching/streaming kids’ movies and “the Mandalorian.”

Kenneth Nicholson, adjunct instructor of art
“God Emperor of Dune” by Frank Herbert

Silvina Orsatti, instructor of Spanish
Watching three series on Netflix: “The Crown,” “Madam President” and “Man With a Plan”

Sharon Smith, who retired as president of Pitt-Greensburg in 2019
Reading “Razzle Dazzle” by Michael Riedel, a book about Broadway in the 1970s and 1980s

Beth Tiedemann, director of advising and registrar
I’m looking forward to finishing “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War” by Karen Abbott.

Al Thiel, director of the Student Center and Student Involvement
Making my way through several podcasts: “Marvel,” “The Dollop” and “The Higher Learning Podcast.” Also reading “Devolution” by Max Brooks.

Lisa Reffner, data and registrar specialist
Reading “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens (an annual Christmas Eve tradition) and “Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey. She also will be sitting in on Her Majesty the Queen's annual Christmas speech, a tradition that Reffner adopted since living in England.