I confess that I have a book problem. Even though many have taken to audiobooks and e-readers, I still like the feeling of a book in my hands. As a result, my husband is starting to have difficulty moving around our apartment. That said, here’s a list of my summer reading recommendations. Surprise, surprise, they lean toward global human rights concerns.
We Share the Same Sky: A Memoir of Memory & Migration by Rachael Cerrotti is a family memoir about Jewish identity and the kindness of strangers. Cerrotti follows her grandmother’s journey from Czechoslovakia across Europe and to the U.S., interviewing the actual people who helped her flee the Nazis. A powerful refugee story, it also illustrates how the smallest acts of kindness can change — and save — lives. I was deeply moved by the author’s poignant letter to her grandmother, who passed away while she was researching and writing the book. In it, she notes with sadness that the anti-Semitic rhetoric of today is reminiscent of the hatred her grandmother experienced during World War II. In documenting her grandmother’s story, Cerrotti not only compels us to hold on to our own Jewish history, but also gifts us with a story of resilience and hope.
Bewilderment is Richard Powers’ followup to his brilliant, Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Overstory. It is an unflinching look at the environmental consequences of our actions told through the nature explorations of a father and his neurodivergent son. Astrophysicist Theo Byrnes and his son Robin live in a dystopian, not-too-distant future that feels eerily familiar: Democracy is flailing, and the natural world is in danger. Theo seeks solace in nature to help deal with his wife’s death and his son’s behavioral issues. As he did in The Overstory , Powers expertly argues for the urgent need to halt humanity’s devastating toll on the planet. In one compelling scene, Theo is testifying before Congress for funding he needs for his research. He closes his presentation with a famous quote by astronomer Carl Sagan: “We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers.” By the end of this remarkable book, I couldn’t help but reflect on the efforts of modern-day activists, like our grantees, and the questions we are tackling together.
Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree is a delightful read about an 80-year-old woman who emerges from a deep depression (caused by the death of her husband) ready to take on the world. At every turn, she seeks to defy convention: She strikes up a friendship with a trans woman, confronts old traumas and seeks out her first love. Shree tackles sexism, caste and social norms with engaging witticisms. Most notably, this ode to feminism won the International Booker Prize in May, becoming the first novel translated from an Indian language (in this case, Hindi) to do so. It is worth adding to your summer reading list.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan is a gem of a novella about the resolve it takes for one human being to help another. Set around Christmastime in a coastal town in Ireland, it tells the story of coal merchant Bill Furlong, a happily married father of five who nonetheless cannot shake a creeping sense of malaise. One day, while making his rounds delivering coal, he meets a young woman “trapped” in a local convent whose practices are shrouded in secrecy and rumors of questionable practices. Though set in a small town, Keegan masterfully spins a universal tale about an ordinary man facing a deeply personal and ethical decision: Do something or look the other way. I highly recommend this subtly powerful book.
Monkey Boy by Francisco Goldman is an autofiction about 49-year-old investigative journalist Francisco, the son of a Guatemalan Catholic mother and a Ukrainian Jewish father. He flees Mexico after facing threats due to his reporting and resettles in New York City, only to be summoned to his childhood home in the Boston suburbs to visit his ailing mother. As he makes his way home, we get glimpses into his childhood delivered with a biting and sarcastic wit. Francisco reflects on his ethnic and religious identity, what it means to grow up as “other” in a predominantly white suburb and his quest for love and belonging. It is both a reminder that our own histories are rich and complex as well as a gentle nudge to embrace all of who we are.
The Swimmers is a moving novel by Julie Otsuka, the award-winning author of The Buddha in the Attic. The first half of the novel centers on a group of die-hard regulars at a community pool. Infused with equal parts melancholy and humor, Otsuka writes about their cult-like devotion to the pool, where they seek an escape from the vicissitudes of their daily lives. When a mysterious crack appears at bottom of the pool, however, their refuge is forced to shutter. In the second half of the novel, one of the swimmers, Alice, and her estranged, unnamed adult daughter, become the focal point. Alice’s dementia is exacerbated by the pool’s closure and soon childhood memories reemerge, including vivid details of her time in a Japanese internment camp. While it is a story of loss, it is also a story about the everyday routines and experiences that we often overlook but that greatly shape our lives.
These titles are just some of the books that have overtaken my apartment. I still marvel at the ability of books to transport me to new places and experiences — all from the comfort of my living room couch (or wherever I happen to be reading). I hope that this list inspires, delights and feeds your imagination.