6:30 a.m.: Wake up.
6:31 a.m.: Hit “snooze.”
6:37 a.m.: Wake up for real.
6:37:30 a.m.: Roll over. Check Twitter, news articles, Twitter again, news comments…WHY?!
6:40 a.m.: Allow the ennui to take over as you shuffle off to brush your teeth.
If this sounds like you for the past few months, we get it, and we’re here for you (but, for goodness’ sake, put the phone down in the morning).
In times of strife, one of our favorite and most effective coping strategies is to march “Onward!” to the bookshelf. Pouring oneself into a read, be it socially relevant or for the purpose of distraction, can have countless positive impacts—escapism, comfort, or a better understanding of complex topics.
Today we’re dipping into the latter: seeking a better understanding of complex, relevant topics—in other words, issues that require way more than 140 characters or a catchy hashtag.
We selected books that are, for better or worse, relevant today to give readers different perspectives and more in-depth knowledge on important topics, such as racial inequality, money in political campaigns, and the bedrocks of American politics. Let’s dive in (and make America read again).
1. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
Author: Matthew Desmond
Why you should read this: To better understand the inner-city housing market in America—a market increasingly controlled by a small number of landlords who monopolize rental properties.
Summary: Matthew Desmond’s Evicted tells the story of eight families caught in the affordable housing crisis. It relates actual events that took place in Milwaukee’s South Side between 2008 and 2009 while Desmond was a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Continue reading Evicted summary. →
2. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Author: J. D. Vance
Why you should read this: To learn more about a large swath of American voters who might be misrepresented or not given enough nuanced attention in the media.
Summary: Hillbilly Elegy is J. D. Vance’s illuminating memoir of life in Appalachia, a region of the Eastern United States stretching from Alabama in the South to New York in the North. Appalachia used to be an industrial haven, home to the coal and steel industries, but the decline in manufacturing has resulted in widespread economic hardship. Continue reading Hillbilly Elegy summary. →
3. The New Jim Crow
Author: Michelle Alexander
Why you should read this: It’s required reading if you’re interested in criminal justice reform or conquering racial inequality. In light of the recent debate surrounding Confederate statues in public spaces, it’s more important than ever to understand our country’s racial history—a past that has great bearing on the racial politics of the present. This book powerfully connects past to present, detailing a civil rights crisis that has long been hidden within our own criminal justice system.
Summary: In The New Jim Crow, civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander makes the case that the system of Jim Crow never died. It just took a new form in the shape of mass incarceration. Today, African American men are labelled “criminals” and stripped of their freedom, their voting rights, and their access to government programs. Continue reading The New Jim Crow summary. →
4. Dark Money
Author: Jane Mayer
Why you should read this: Mayer knows her stuff—she’s been an investigative journalist with the New Yorker for more than two decades. It’s a chilling but important read about billionaire-funded politics and how a few well-financed individuals can dramatically change the course of the American political system.
Summary: In Dark Money, journalist Jane Mayer tells the story of how billionaires like the Koch brothers have financed the rise of the radical right. Mayer focuses primarily on Charles and David Koch, but she also talks about billionaires John M. Olin and Richard Mellon Scaife, who funded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Continue reading Dark Money summary. →
5. A People’s History of the United States
Author: Howard Zinn
Why you should read this: Remove those rose-colored glasses, put on some truth goggles, and dive into the historical stories that don’t normally make it into high school civics and history classes. Beginning with Christopher Columbus and going right up until the present, this book will show you an untold side of American history—one that includes hidden class struggles, racist agendas, and the fight to replace a broken political system.
Summary: Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has been highly influential since its initial publication in 1980. It spawned adaptations for young readers (a two-volume adaptation by Rebecca Stefoff: A Young People’s History of the United States) and The People Speak, a History Channel documentary based on Zinn’s work. Zinn himself remains a heroic figure to many, especially for this book and for his ongoing teaching and social activism, which were directly related. Continue reading A People’s History of the United States summary. →
*Bonus: The Constitution of the United States of America
Why you should read this: Because “duh.” Do yourself a favor and read a primary document of immense relevance and importance. An annotate-able copy of The Constitution is available on Owl Eyes.