America’s Summer Reading Guide
I am a lover of books who never knows what to read. I am constantly perusing local bookstores for the latest releases or wandering the stacks of the New York Public Library, but I can’t decide what to actually bring home. Some people might say my paradox is a problem, but I choose to see it as an opportunity to grow my “To Be Read” list on GoodReads.
I do, however, face a dilemma as summer-reading season approaches: Which book(s) should I take with me on vacation? How can I narrow my list and make sure my luggage isn’t grossly overweight? If this sounds like a familiar predicament, have I got a solution you’ll love: America’s summer reading guide.
I surveyed America editors and staff to get a list of titles they would recommend for a quick summer read—or perhaps lengthy reading project. (Unsurprisingly, a few books on this list will soon be reviewed in our pages, so stay tuned.)
Hopefully, with this eclectic list you’ll find a book or two that tickle your fancy (and maybe save you from those extra baggage fees!). Happy reading!
Available this August, Jia Tolentino’s debut essay collection is a feat. Tolentino is a millennial’s millennial (or anyone’s millennial, really). A chronicler of 21st-century capitalism, culture, feminism and more, she is one of my favorite writers working today. Her essays—on subjects like reality TV, the internet and the life trajectories of literary heroines—crackle with stunning imagery and insights. Whenever I finish one of her pieces, I have to take a break before returning for another, just because there are so many witticisms and observations and declarations to appreciate. My favorite is her essay on growing up in a Houston megachurch. If you are trying to make sense of the millennial generation (or even the newly emerging Generation Z), start here.
Brandon Sanchez, O’Hare Fellow
No Ashes in the Fire is a vivid description of what it is like growing up African-American and gay in the inner city. Darnell Moore’s straightforward story of his complicated family life, his struggles (ultimately successful) to gain a good education and his long journey toward accepting his own sexuality, moved me deeply. Essentially, it is a story about vocation: who he is meant to be and what he is meant to do. You can consult many scholarly studies about the painful realities of living on the margins (racially, economically and sexually), but Mr. Moore’s powerful story is worth a hundred charts and graphs.
James Martin, S.J., editor at large
Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World, Edited by Zahra Hankir
This collection of essays by Arab women journalists overturns the narrative of the brave, rogue white male reporter who journeys into the Arab world like Lawrence of Arabia and reminds readers of the groundbreaking reporting done by Arab women. Some of these journalists report on conflict in their own home communities or those of their parents. Others traverse the Arab world, learning its regional differences and political idiosyncrasies as they enter tense situations. The journalists share a special perspective on regions often misunderstood in the West. A beautiful book of gripping and illuminating essays, with a foreword by Christiane Amanpour.
Eloise Blondiau, producer
Everybody loves a good celebrity memoir. What’s even better, though, is a celebrity comedian memoir. Comedian Pete Holmes tells us all about his upbringing, from his childhood to his days at a Christian college to his marriage and divorce from his first wife, all while struggling to balance the idea of faith with his lived reality. It’s brilliant. Richard Rohr blurbs the book, saying: “Seldom do I read such creative and humorous writing—and have it be so profound and true at the same time.... Pete Holmes might just be the new Thomas Merton!” Same, Richard Rohr. Same.
Vivian Cabrera, editorial assistant
Sister Helen Prejean is best known for her anti-death penalty work, but this honest, humorous memoir leaves off where her bestseller Dead Man Walking begins. The memoir follows Prejean’s formation as a Sister of St. Joseph before and during the watershed changes that the Second Vatican Council brought to women’s religious orders—and to Prejean’s own worldview.
Colleen Dulle, assistant producer of audio and video
I know a book about politics does not sound like the ideal beach read, but the first presidential primary debates are coming (June 26 and 27), and we have to be ready. This new book from the hosts of the “Pantsuit Politics” podcast is a faith-filled, how-to guide for talking politics, disagreeing and not killing anyone in the process. Beth and Sarah’s catchphrase is: “No shouting, no insults, plenty of nuance.” As the political climate heats up, I am trying to learn from Beth and Sarah how to disagree kindly and confidently—and maybe, despite the weather, to be less of a hothead.
Emma Winters, O’Hare Fellow
Great Risks Had to Be Taken explores how Jesuits responded to the Second Vatican Council. It gives historical background with documentation, personal testimony and analysis. But it is not hard to get through. It is accessible. It shows that all the infighting in the church today has precedent. It is nothing new. It is not the end.
Edward W. Schmidt, S.J., senior editor
This is a somewhat recent biography of Daniel Berrigan, S.J., a Jesuit peace activist who was once on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted list for his protests of the Vietnam War. It is a good summer read for those looking for support and inspiration from someone who also lived in the midst of tremendous upheaval in the church and society. Father Berrigan’s prophetic life was one of both struggle and joy that came from an intense commitment to the demands of the Gospel. It is good to be challenged, even in the summer.
Billy Critchley-Menor, S.J., editorial intern
This is a great summer read for two reasons. First, this summer marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the Moon and of Neil Armstrong’s immortal words: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” Second, it is the story of how J.F.K. came to see the lunar voyage as a great national endeavor, worthy of our effort and ambition. It showed how man can elevate himself by “reaching for the stars” and, at the same time, by realizing how vast the creation of God is. Most important, it recreates something we have sadly lost: a sense of adventure and the ability to imagine what can be.
Joseph McAuley, assistant editor
Although I have never (gasp) read Little Women, I was intrigued by the story of Louisa May Alcott and her father, Bronson Alcott, after visiting Orchard House, the house where the family lived in Concord, Mass.. This dual biography is wonderfully written by John Matteson, with great empathy and elegance. Louisa emerges as a driven and sometimes moody writer who remains restless throughout her life, even when she achieves the success she had always hoped for. Her father, the noted Transcendentalist, is, in Matteson’s wonderful description, a holy fool—he emphasis landing on the first or the second word depending on how well you knew him. Theirs was a difficult life, marked by poverty and sadness, but the bonds of family kept them together.
Tim Reidy, deputy editor in chief
White Shoe: How a New Breed of Wall Street Lawyers Changed Big Business and the American Century is a great history of a class of professionals who helped to make America a leading world power, both economically and politically, at the beginning of the 20th century. The narrative follows the stories of several key players in civic, social and political life who created financial structures that facilitated the most expansive economic growth in world history.
Nick Sawicki, special assistant to the president
In A More Beautiful and Terrible History, Jeanne Theoharis challenges the civil rights movement that you might know from TV or a high school history course. She traces the ways in which icons like Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have been whitewashed and distorted to better fit the (white) status quo. Theoharis paints these activists as more radical than we might remember. They were extremely unpopular in their time and demanded deep social and economic changes. She also works to bust the myth that we live in a post-racist, color-blind nation. The book calls out the way the popular narrative of the civil rights movement has been used to silence Black Lives Matter and how Dr. King’s words have been twisted to serve white supremacy. The book offers a cutting critique of our national fable and offers a more nuanced view that better serves racial justice.
Mike Seay, editorial intern
Want to be hip, cool and on trend? Read Phillippe Besson’s story of young first love, Lie With Me, masterfully translated from the French by Molly Ringwald. Yes, that Molly Ringwald of John Hughes fame—or for my contemporaries, the mom from the hit ABC Family television show “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.” The cover, a black-and-white, close-cropped photograph of a face with minimalist white typeface will remind readers of Hanya Yanigahara’s 2016 novel A Little Life and Ocean Voung’s new hit On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. And it will look just as good on your Instagram feed. You can finish it in one nice long sitting on the beach. But once it is over, you’ll look up from your towel at the person next to you, mouth ajar, exhale and realize that there is not much left to say. It was good and sad and wonderfully beautiful.
Ciaran Freeman, O'Hare Fellow
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
Set against the coastal backdrop of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Where the Crawdads Sing follows the life of Kaya Clarke. Accused of murdering the local star football player, she faces a small town who rejects her. Dive into the world of Kaya as she uncovers the natural beauty of her backyard and faces the ultimate price for a crime she didn’t commit. It is an uplifting story filled with trials and tribulation, love and murder: a great summer read for anyone looking to escape their current landscape.
Alison Hamilton, graphic designer
Despite the grave-sounding title, this book is hilarious. Raleigh Hayes, an upstanding citizen, faithful husband and responsible life insurance salesman, has been able to keep the chaos of the world and his large, loud, reckless family at bay for 45 years. But his well-ordered life begins to unravel when his father, a thrice-married, defrocked Episcopalian priest, escapes from the hospital and refuses to come home until Raleigh has completed an absurd scavenger hunt across the south. Raleigh rages against the father who loves him and the God that refuses to follow the rules. “Hayes was a Christian,” Malone writes, “but if the truth be known, Christ irritated him to death…. In his personal opinion, Christ’s advice sounded like civic sabotage, moral lunacy, social anarchy, and business disaster.” As Raleigh confronts one disaster after another on the road, he turns into a person he can hardly recognize, which, we suspect, is exactly what his dad wants.
Ashley McKinless, associate editor
Sister Carrie is in the public domain, so the e-book is free! But a novel from 1900 about a woman trying to make a life in Chicago and New York without disappearing into a man’s shadow is certainly still relevant. The details of looking for a job and living hand to mouth does not make for summer escapism, but this is a fascinating look at a pre-automobile, pre-safety-net America that is not so far in the past.
Robert David Sullivan, associate editor
I am sure that I’m not the first person around here to sing Frank Herbert’s praises, but there really is something special about Dune. Yes, it is science-fantasy, but all of that is just a backdrop for what might be one of the best books I have ever read about the intersection of politics, philosophy and religion from both a personal and a top-down perspective. Although each character has his or her own beliefs, with Herbert’s clear and concise writing, you can parse through it all cleanly. One would expect a book this complex, this Machiavellian, this operatic would be written in grand fashion, but the prose is elegant in its simplicity. I was taken aback, in a good way. Dune is not perfect, but it is gloriously long and never boring: a perfect summer read.
Kevin Christopher Robles, editorial intern
How could a book that starts with a crowd of people drinking after a funeral not be a good summer read?
Kerry Weber, executive editor