Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, Imagination in Place by Wendell Berry, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer, and The Way of Kinship: An Anthology of Native Siberian Literature: All are books on my summer reading list, and interest in all was sparked by the recommendations of colleagues or reviews in newspapers read while piles of snow still flanked the driveway.
I developed a passion for reading as a child with a mother who loved books. With my first public library card, I checked out the maximum number of books allowed – 12 – at the public library branch within walking distance of our house. That first summer, there was no art to the list. I checked out every book available in the “Freddy, The Pig” series: Freddy Goes to Florida, Freddy Goes to the North Pole, Freddy and the Bean Home News and Freddy the Detective among them. I tucked myself into the corner of the couch and read until my mother insisted I go play in the sunshine. The next week, I renewed and reread the same books, as I did repeatedly until the librarian said others might want to read those books and I could not have them again.
My summer reading lists broadened as I ferreted out books beyond those with talking animals and landed in the lives of U.S. presidents, the mythical West and Annie Oakley, and imagined gold mines on the moon and colonies on Mars.
Now, I depend heavily on serendipity to assemble an eclectic list of books to savor during the months of warm afternoons and sunsets deep into the evenings.
The goal: some books by great writers, such as Wendell Berry, Joan Didion, William Kittredge, and E.L. Doctorow; a few that were translated to English, such as The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende and Tocqueville’s Democracy in America; a heavy presence of books relating to journalism, which I teach; and some that just sound interesting.
The process: Read publications that review new books; for me those include the New York Times, High Country News, Seattle Times, The Atlantic magazine, university alumni magazines, and The New York Review of Books. Check Amazon.com recommendations. Browse the shelves of the Gonzaga bookstore to see what my colleagues are requiring our students to read. Ask colleagues about the books they have read and can’t stop talking about.
Several summers ago, for example, GU political science Associate Professor Michael Treleaven set to reading every book that had been awarded the Man Booker Prize, the British equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. He spoke well of Life of Pi by Yann Martel and it went on my reading list, and he inspired a re-reading of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, and a subsequent reading of her collections of political essays.
A reading of When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santigo, found on the shelves of summer textbooks at the GU bookstore, prompted reading of Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Walking through Fire: Haitian Women Write, Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia, and Women Writing Resistance: Essays on Latin America and the Caribbean.
A conversation with Fr. Timothy Clancy, S.J., during the frenzy of interest in symbolism and Vatican history prompted by The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown resulted in my reading that book as well as Brown’s Angels & Demons.
Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics by Cynthia Enlow, and Global Women: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy by Barbara Ehrenreich, came from political science Associate Professor Laura Brunell, books she had ordered for a summer course she taught.
Other books on recent summer reading lists:
- Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin
- Country Driving: A journey through China from farm to factory by Peter Hessler
- Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the making of a great nation by Peter L. Bernstein
- Literature From the Axis of Evil: Writing from Iran, Iraq, North Korea and other enemy nations from Words Without Borders
- Tocqueville’s Discovery of America by Leo Damrosch
- What Really Happened to the 1960s: How mass media failed American democracy by Edward P. Morgan
- The Pine Island Paradox: Making connections in a disconnected world by Kathleen Dean Moore
- Cognitive Surplus: How technology makes consumer collaborators by Clay Shirky
- American Privacy: The 400-year history of our most contested right by Frederick S. Lane
- Beyond the River: The untold story of the heroes of the underground railroad by Ann Hagedorn
- The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan
- Backstory: Inside the business of news by Ken Auletta
- Flapper: A madcap story of sex, style, celebrity and the women who made modern America by J. Zeitz
- Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002 by Salman Rushdie
- A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
- Greenscapes: Olmsted’s Pacific Northwest by Joan Hockaday
This summer’s list? It included Language: The Cultural Tool by Daniel Everett, A People’s History of Sports in the United States by Dave Zirin, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley and Trailerpark by Russell Banks.
Each September, as a ritual end to summer reading, I post the reading list on the Blackboard site for my students to browse, as a reminder that reading is a lifelong practice, a habit of mind and soul.
Associate Professor Susan English is director of the Journalism Program.