Here you go: another acknowledgment that times are strange. This summer feels like many things, but “relaxed” has yet to be one of them. When considering a new summer reading list “in these unprecedented times” it seemed safe to include beach reads on the casualty list of the pandemic, with classrooms and cafés.
In some ways, that’s true: academic reading has certainly taken a hit. However, the general trend appears to be that readers are simply…reading more. The ways in which that reading is happening might look different than they did six months ago, but a roundup of recent reading lists shows a celebration of what books are best at: connecting readers with experiences and viewpoints outside their own. Let’s take a look at several recommended lists to get you started on your summer reading.
Diversify and Deconstruct Your Reading Habits
- Worldwide protests against anti-Black racism have focused conversation on just how much learning—and unlearning—remains to be done at both personal and systemic levels. At The New York Times, author Ibram X. Kendi offers “An Antiracist Reading List”; his own books How to be an Antiracist and Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America both appear on numerous other publications’ contributions to this genre. For a literary approach, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye have powerful narratives and beautiful writing.
- Starting with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (a must-read), these “15 Books About Race Everyone Should Read” cover a range of interests and perspectives, offering something engaging for any reader—Matthew Desmond’s Evicted, for instance, reveals much of the corruption and inequalities in poverty housing.
- White readers, Charis Books has curated a list specifically for you around the theme of understanding and dismantling racism. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, in particular, has made waves since its publication. It’s easy and satisfying to join a book club; the books offered here will help you identify and tackle the daily work after you’ve done your reading.
- And have you heard of “decolonizing your bookshelf”? The term isn’t perfect, but the issue it points to is pervasive and insidious. Start with Electric Literature’s “24 New and Forthcoming Books That Celebrate Black Lives” and keep going from there.
Explore Themes and Interests
Speaking of Electric Literature, their Reading Lists Archive is massive. There are so many great ones in there, but you could check out a few that caught my eye:
- “9 Books about the World-Changing Power of Protest”
- “8 Musicals that You Might Not Know Were Based on Books”
- “7 Books About Cyberspace by Women Writers”
If you have an interest, they’ll have the books for you. Book Riot, too, is notable for its extensive Must-Read Archives. Check out their “20 Must-Read Free Classics You Can Find on Project Gutenberg,” which kicks off with a nod to the Brontë sister you’ve probably never thought to look up.
Then again, you might want to lean in to the strangeness of the times. Numerous publications have quizzed authors and staffers about what they’re reading these days; their responses encompass everything from Octavia Butler to Marcel Proust to the Animorphs series. Take that range as inspiration to get weird with your book choices. (Here at eNotes, I’m not about to recommend you pick up Ling Ma’s excellent and terrifying Severance—at least not without some serious consideration of how depressed you want the confines of your living room to make you—but if there’s anything I’ve read that speaks to the present day-to-day experience of life in shutdown, it’s that.)
Jump Start Your Reading Habit
So now that it’s clear that books, reading lists, and you are all still here and still functioning (more or less) as intended, what next? Hopefully your social media feeds have lost the “isn’t it great to have all this extra time” tone they had back in March. Now that the pressure—and its attendant guilt/fear/neuroses—is gone, this could be the ideal time to pick up a reading project:
- Is there a massive, dusty tome that’s been looming over you for years? Knock it the heck out! You’ll be in good company: According to one of their e-commerce managers, Barnes & Noble’s list of “40 Books You Always Meant to Read” is getting some serious traffic.
- It might feel a little late to get started, but Book Riot’s 2020 Read Harder Challenge is a great place from which to diversify your bookish intake. If you get stuck on a category, they offer tons of suggestions for meeting challenge criteria.
- Here in Seattle, Seattle Arts & Lectures partners with the Seattle Public Library for its annual Summer Book Bingo and accompanying events. Your local library or literary organization probably has a summer reading program, which comes with the added benefit of knowing that you’re engaging directly with your community despite being trapped inside. (Amp up that community engagement by buying directly from your local independent bookstore, from one of ours, or from a list or storefront on Bookshop.org.)
- Once you’ve worked through all these challenges—because of course you will—you can always make your own!
But if you plan on reading only one book this summer, your best bet will be The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. Over at Lithub, Emily Temple read 38 reading lists in order to compile “The Ultimate Summer 2020 Reading List,” ranking titles by the number of other lists on which they appear. The Vanishing Half appears on 63% of the lists Temple surveyed, as well as a few others we stumbled across. It’s the perfect pick to keep you part of the world.