Joe Hoyle's Best Books list

December 21, 2021

CAMPUS LIFE

Joe Hoyle will be the first to tell you he doesn’t teach accounting.

“I teach students,” he said. “It seems to me that my responsibility is not just to tell them about accounting, but to maybe encourage them in some of those other aspects of their life that they might not naturally be inclined to.”

Hoyle has spent four decades at the University of Richmond, and for 30 of those years, he has begun the semester with one question: What is the best book you’ve ever read?

“Now notice, I didn't say the most entertaining, or their favorite,” he said. “I want them to make a qualitative decision about what they meant by best book. That was up to them.”

The corresponding assignment is simple: Write a paragraph about the book and send it to him. Since then, he’s kept a list, which is now more than 20 pages long. If a book is mentioned more than once, he keeps a tally.

“I've never had a student who didn't do it,” he said. “It has nothing to do with accounting. I believe the reason you have a college education is so that the rest of your life will be more meaningful. That you'll be a more thoughtful, caring member of society, that you'll have a better life somehow.”

 

I want my students to get exposed to great literature. I want them to understand that reading can be a common part of your life.
headshot of Joe Hoyle
Joe Hoyle

Associate Professor of Accounting

Tied for first place on the list: To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye, followed closely by The Great Gatsby, the Bible, and the Harry Potter series. Other choices, he says, run the gamut.

“Sometimes I get Ulysses by James Joyce, and sometimes I get Green Eggs and Ham,” he said.

Hoyle is an avid reader himself, and makes a goal to read 25 books a year. His taste is rather eclectic as well, as a personal fan of both Stephen King and Jane Austen. His best books (because he doesn’t have just one), he says, are Jane Eyre and The Scarlet Letter. And he often reads multiple books at once. He’s currently reading The Stones of Florence by Mary McCarthy, Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen, and The Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

After he’s received every student’s contribution, Hoyle gives them the list from the class, the list from all classes since the early ‘90s, and his personal favorites. The exercise isn’t for a grade or credit, but rather to remind his students that there is more to life than accounting.

“I want my students to get exposed to great literature,” he said. “I want them to understand that reading can be a common part of your life.”

He says the responses to the question are often much longer than one paragraph. He often receives essays about how books have changed students’ lives.

“They'll talk about having a death in the family and how a book helped them get through it,” he said. “Or they'll talk about a period in their life when they were sick and they needed some way to get through that illness. They'll talk about a period of depression and how a book got them out. They're genuinely touching stories. I look forward to them every year.”