Five Books to Read This Summer
If you're like me, summer can't officially start until I’ve cracked open the first book on my summer reading list— and your “must-read” list is never short. I’m drawn to any non-fiction book that expands my capacity for empathy and opens a window into the larger world around me. My fiction selection, on the other hand, is a lot like my playlist: it follows my mood. Lighthearted, nostalgic, or nail-biting — I love it all. There have been numerous great reads over the years, and it’s difficult to select only a few to post on this list; ultimately, I selected these five titles because the themes highlighted in them — injustice, female empowerment, government corruption, and the tenuous balance between superiority and the next great disaster of our times — are increasingly relevant. With that in mind, here are five great summer reads perfect for the beach or the book club.
NON-FICTION: “The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of
Monte Cristo” by Tom Reiss
The Black Count is the Pulitzer Prize winning, untold, incredible true story of General Alex Dumas, the man who inspired his son to write “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “The Three Musketeers.” Through General Dumas, Reiss exposes us to yet another figure who was robbed of his place in history's memory because of prejudice. The book is absorbing, frustrating, and a must-read for anyone interested in historic, systematic racism and the people who actively challenged it. I couldn't put it down.
NON-FICTION: “Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster” by Adam Higginbotham
Midnight in Chernobyl is a detailed, extensively researched, account of the birth of the nuclear arms race, the devastation caused when reactor Number 4 of the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station exploded, and the decades-long campaign to cover up not only what really happened in Chernobyl but also at several other atomic energy sites throughout Cold War-era Russia and its territories. Higginbotham takes a complex and scientifically technical account and breathes life into it. His account is engrossing, heartbreaking, and terrifyingly relatable. From the very first page, I was hooked. This book is a stark examination of the trust we put in so-called authorities and the calamity that can lurk around the corner if that trust has been misplaced.
FICTION: “1984” by George Orwell
In 1984, Orwell explores the themes of government overreach and tyrannical regimes through the lens of a fictional landscape in which most of the world has fallen victim to an omnipresent government and propaganda. From the moment the book’s main character, Winston Smith, crams himself into a small corner of his apartment for a moment of privacy, you feel the claustrophobia of oppression. The journey Orwell takes the reader on is so masterful that several of the book’s concepts and terminologies have made their way into today’s common vernacular. This novel, published in 1948, has never felt more relevant.
FICTION: “Year of Wonders” by Geraldine Brooks
Year of Wonders is a tragic tale inspired by a true story and told from the perspective of a housemaid, Anna Frith. In 1666, the bubonic plague overran the Derbyshire village of Eyam. However, during the quarantine, we learn that the real threat may not be the vile disease, but rather, the people. This book examines themes of prejudice, women’s empowerment, mental illness, and trust. Brooks creates a world that is as painfully akin to our own and reveals the injustices we inflict on each other when we allow our hearts to be ruled by prejudice, sexism, and entitlement. It stays with you and is worthy of being compared to Albert Camus’s The Plague.
FICTION: “Disappearing Earth” by Julia Phillips Phillips uses each of the book’s twelve chapters to immerse the reader in a single month over a year-long period following the abduction of two sisters, ages 8 and 11. Disappearing Earth starts with a horrifying act that all parents fear and ends with a revelation that knocks the wind out of you. This work isn’t a hardboiled detective story;it’s a poetic masterpiece that slowly builds season by season as the far-reaching trauma of a lost child reshapes a community and exposes its darkest underbelly. Phillips dissects themes of loss, survival, and the often-secret battles that women experience in our so-called enlightened age. Cancel your plans; you won’t be able to step away from this page-turner.