"Reading is an act of civilization; it's one of the greatest acts of civilization because it takes the free raw material of the mind and builds castles of possibilities." -- Ben Okri

Summer is almost here. As you start to prep your vacation plans, try prepping your reading plans, as well.

Spending your time reading helps you reduce stress, improves your memory and focus, and strengthens your analytical thinking skills. Reading is an informative activity that mentally stimulates, and it can be highly enjoyable too.

If you're having trouble deciding which book to crack open first, let American philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates help you.

Here's what you can learn from his Summer 2019 picks.

1. How to handle a national crisis.

In Jared Diamond's Upheaval, Diamond constructs a series of case studies about how different nations manage challenges such as foreign threats, civil war, or general malaise. How does Finland cope with sharing a 1000-mile-long border with the Soviet Union? What can crisis therapists teach us about how we navigate personal and national obstacles? Upheaval can answer these questions, and more.

2. What wars reveal about presidential leadership.

"My interest in all aspects of the war is the main reason I decided to pick up Michael Beschloss's newest book, Presidents of War. I'm glad I did," says Gates. Presidents of War looks at each president and each conflict with a similar lens, and reveals why we were lucky to have FDR during WWII, and how Lincoln struggled under the immense strain of the Civil War.

3. What makes blood fascinating.

Did you know trade in human and animal blood is worth more than $20 billion a year? Blood is the 13th-most-traded commodity in the world, at $67,000 a barrel, and it is the subject of English writer Rose George's Nine Pints: A Journey Through the Money, Medicine, and Mysteries of Blood. Read along as George captures stories from all around the world related to this unusual topic.

4. How to enjoy historical fiction.

When it comes to Amor Towles's A Gentleman in Moscow, "You don't have to be a Russophile to enjoy the book, but if you are, it's essential reading," writes Gates. "A fun, clever, and surprisingly upbeat look at Russian history through the eyes of one man," A Gentleman in Moscow, is a love story, thriller, and a story with "a little bit of everything."

Happy reading.