What are you reading this summer? Here’s a list of what I’m digging into over the next few weeks and why:
We Speak for Ourselves: A Word from Forgotten Black America by D. Watkins. Watkins grew up on the hardscrabble streets of Baltimore and was featured in our VOICES series a few years back. He is an editor at large for Salon, a professor at the University of Baltimore, and the founder of the Baltimore Writers Project. His bestselling memoir The Cook Up is heartbreaking and inspiring at once, an intimate look at how two brothers make their very different ways in the world. This more recent work features the voices of the most vulnerable residents of East Baltimore whose honesty uncovers systems of injustice and charts a course toward change.
Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Tangier Island by Earl Swift. Tiny Tangier Island is home to a small fleet of crab and oyster boats and 470 hardy people who live an isolated and challenging existence, and lays claim to the title of soft-shell crab capital of the world. Twelve miles from the mainland, the life and industry of Tangier is slowly being erased by the Bay—day by day, wave by wave. Experts believe it will likely succumb first among U.S. towns to the effects of climate change, as the deeply religious and conservative Tangiermen ponder the end times.
Stoner by John Williams. I discovered this novel in a recent trip to the Ivy Bookstore, where it is a staff pick for summer. It tells the story of William Stoner, a poor Missouri farm boy born at the end of the nineteenth century who embraces a scholar’s life at university, makes a mess of his marriage and family life, threatens scandal in the discovery of a new love, and finally embraces a saving, essential solitude. The New York Times calls Stoner “a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, that it takes your breath away.”
Eleanor by David Michaelis. Eleanor Roosevelt’s life is a remarkable story of transformation. Born into a prominent Gilded Age family, her childhood was marked by sadness and secrecy. The orphaned niece of the President, she married her distant cousin Franklin, who betrayed her for his younger, prettier secretary. As her husband struggled to recover from polio, Eleanor became a voice for a nation which longed for healing and later was an architect of international human rights. My BUILD friend Joanne Stanton told me she is reading this book because “Eleanor never gives up, and that’s the kind of people we need to look to in these times.”
I hope you will give yourself time and space this summer to wonder: what have you discovered over the last 15 months, how have you changed, who or what have you lost? What do you want to carry with you and never lose sight of again? Sinking deep into a novel or piece of non-fiction may give you exactly the perspective you need to make sense of the pandemic, the racial reckoning, and the political turmoil that we have navigated. Books on tape or podcasts are amazing if holding a book isn’t in the cards for you right now. Ask a friend to read something with you, and you’ll double your pleasure and insight. I can’t wait to hear what you learn.