Every year I look forward to reading some great books over summer. This year I read books that were fun, challenging, and energizing for the new school year. Here are my thoughts on some of them.
-Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture edited by Roxanne Gay. A+. I picked up this book thinking it would be interesting to add to Sociology and was absolutely shook by it. This should be required reading for every man in America. An absolutely incredible collection of stories that brought home a lot of things I have allowed myself to think about academically for the past few years. Loved Aubrey Hirsch, shook by Vanessa Martir, informed by Bodies against Borders. The variety of voices, experiences, and messages made this a fantastic read, and a few were excellent choices that came out of left field, like a graphic novel chapter, “what we didn’t say,” and “why I stopped talking.” I genuinely believe the country would be better if everyone read, internalized, and acted on this book.
-For White Folks Who Teach in The Hood (and the rest of y’all, too)by Chris Emdin. B. A very nice book about reality pedagogy and connecting with students. I enjoyed reminiscing about when I WAS the white guy teaching in inner-city Houston and how vital family connections were to my success. Looking forward to seeing students soon.
-Subtle art of not giving a F. C+. Read at a friend’s insistence it becomes more than a self-consciously “out there” treatise, this is a nice intro to practical philosophy and stoicism for those who didn’t take PHIL101. Good content but I couldn’t get over the delivery and gratuitous use of the titular vulgarity.
-Mans Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. A. Wow, this book blew me away. This is the memoir of a psychologist who survived Nazi camps. He essentially argues no matter what external conditions the world presents, we have the choice of how we will respond to the world. Embracing that power, Frankl argues, is ultimately key to living a meaningful life. I might add this to the end of my sociology course – loved it.
-Boy in the Striped Pajamas. B+. Book recommendations from students are so great. It often takes me a while to get to reading them (I had Mr. Kehn’s copy of this on my shelf for a year) but this was much better than I expected. I liked the unreliable narrator, and the final twist was much stronger than I expected. A good companion read to “Search for Meaning”
-So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan. B. NYT critics take on Gatsby. Fun to read and helpful to move beyond the HS analysis we’re all familiar with. I placed out of all required intro English classes with AP credit, and regret that. It would have been interesting to read more “classics” in that context.
-Hard Work “by” Roy Williams. B. Roy’s writer did a good job and the role that UNC played in his life, as a lifeline and “way out” really moved me. An enjoyable read for UNC fans.
-Storm before the Storm by Mike Duncan. B+. Fascinating book about the period before the fall of the Roman Republic. The first half is incredible and Duncan does a great job of hinting at modern parallels without breaking the narrative to make them explicit. This was a fun read with lots of “oh crap, that sounds familiar” moments. Lost steam in the second half.
-The Path to Power by Robert Caro. A-. This is the second summer I’ve read one of Caro’s megatomes and it is so inspiring to read brilliant analysis in beautiful writing. The beginning of his biography of Lyndon Johnson, who I feel like I now know tons more about and understand way less. His father’s idealistic politics! Pappy O’Daniel’s Trumpism! How power actually works. Much as “The Power Broker” changed the way I look at streets, this definitely changed the way I look at public works.
-The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States by Jeffrey Lewis. B+. This book is very interesting. The conceit is similar to world war z, one of my favorite sci-fi books, in that it takes a formalized system of reporting and using that to methodically examine a big idea to comment on existing issues. World War Z took Turkel’s oral history and added zombies. 2020 commission takes congressional reports and adds Trump. The cascading events all seem extremely plausible, especially because each plot event has an explainer of how this is exactly what happened in the past. Those explainers, however, really drag down the book and might have been better as footnotes, but then there wouldn’t be much of a book left. The most incredible part of the book was the section of “witness” testimony that is breathtakingly painful to read. He drew those excerpts from Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and 9/11. A really interesting book, one you can read in a day.
-“To Pimp a Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar and “My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West. I had listened to both of these albums before, but this summer I found a podcast called “Dissect” that spends ~15 hours analyzing each. I loved the depth and enjoy these albums on a whole new level now. Listened to these while running in Prague. Highly recommend.
Taking time to read can open us up to new worlds. These books helped me understand the politics and people of today better. Something I want to be better about in the future is being more purposeful in getting more diverse perspectives: only 2/10 of these books are by women and 2/10 are by POC (excluding albums). I hope you enjoyed reading this summer!