American author Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "In the highest civilization, the book is still the highest delight. He who has once known its satisfaction is provided with a resource against calamity." Great books speak to their readers over the span of generations. It is in this spirit that I present the University of Oklahoma Libraries’ ninth annual Books That Inspire exhibit. This exhibit, which seeks to promote reading, traditionally coincides with National Library Week.
This year we include books written by American authors in recognition of the 5 millionth volume added to the Libraries' collection, Herman Melville's The Whale. With over 5 million volumes in its collection, University Libraries continues a commanding lead as the state's largest research library and claims one of the top two spots in size among Big 12 libraries.
Herman Melville's The Whale was a gift from John and Mary Nichols and will be a part of the John and Mary Nichols Rare Books and Special Collections, housed in Bizzell Memorial Library. This rare first edition was published in London in October 1851. Four weeks later, the American edition was published in New York under its more commonly known title, Moby-Dick. Although not appreciated by critics or readers at the time of publication, it is now considered one of the greatest novels in American literature.
This year's selections for the exhibit present contemporary publications alongside classic texts. Recent books include: Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible; Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons; Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, and Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees.
There are also several books considered American Literature classics that were likely required readings in many high school English classes. These include: Richard Wright's Native Son; Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man; Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird; Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God; Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451; and, Willa Cather's The Professor’s House.
I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to this year's exhibit sponsors. I am extremely grateful to the University of Oklahoma's Athletics Department for co-sponsoring the exhibit. The Athletics Department, under the leadership of Athletics Director Joe Castiglione, has been a partner and contributor providing unprecedented support to the exhibit since its inception in 2001. I would also like to offer my appreciation to all those who shared books that have inspired them. I hope that all who read these books will find similar inspiration from these selections of American literature.
Sul H. Lee
Dean, University Libraries and
Peggy V. Helmerich Chair