Yesterday, former president Barack Obama revealed the 11 books on his 2019 summer reading list. Yes, I know many of us are already getting ready to wrap up our summer holidays, and that many summer reading lists are released before summer hits. But we are still a couple of weeks away from Labor Day.
Said Obama in yesterday's Instagram post:
It's August, so I wanted to let you know about a few books I've been reading this summer, in case you're looking for some suggestions. To start, you can't go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison. Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, Sula, everything else--they're transcendent, all of them. You'll be glad you read them. And while I'm at it, here are a few more titles you might want to explore.
Here are the 11 books Obama included in his summer reading list, along with brief descriptions from the publishers. It looks like I've got a lot of reading to do to catch up.
The collected works of Toni Morrison
When it came to author Toni Morrison, Barack Obama made an exception. Instead of suggesting just one book, he suggested them all. However, if you're not quite ready to tackle all of Toni Morrison's works, then you might consider picking up a copy of The Source of Self-Regard. This collection is divided into three parts: the first is introduced by a powerful prayer for the dead of 9/11; the second by a searching meditation on Martin Luther King Jr., and the last by a heart-wrenching eulogy for James Baldwin.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is "as good as anyone." Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South of the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides "physical, intellectual, and moral training" so the delinquent boys in their charge can become "honorable and honest men." The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.
Exhalation by Ted Chiang
In these nine stunningly original, provocative, and poignant stories, Ted Chiang tackles some of humanity's oldest questions, along with new quandaries only he could imagine. In "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and second chances. In "Exhalation," an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications that are literally universal. In "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom," the ability to glimpse into alternate universes necessitates a radically new examination of the concepts of choice and free will.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of 20 years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph? In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is "a darkly brilliant reimagining of life under Henry VIII.... Magnificent." (The Boston Globe).
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
Across seven tales, Haruki Murakami brings his powers of observation to bear on the lives of men who, in their own ways, find themselves alone. Here are lovesick doctors, students, ex-boyfriends, actors, bartenders, and even Kafka's Gregor Samsa, brought together to tell stories that speak to us all. In Men Without Women, Murakami has crafted another contemporary classic, marked by the same wry humor and pathos that have defined his entire body of work.
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
It's 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She's brilliant, but she's also a young black woman working in an old boys' club. Her career has stalled out, she's overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she's given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Inspired by true events--Thomas Sankara is known as "Africa's Che Guevara"--American Spy knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance. This is a face of the Cold War you've never seen before, and it introduces a powerful new literary voice.
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
"Is Google making us stupid?" When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the net's bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply? Now, Carr expands his argument into the most compelling exploration of the internet's intellectual and cultural consequences yet published. As he describes how human thought has been shaped through the centuries by "tools of the mind"--from the alphabet to maps, to the printing press, the clock, and the computer--Carr interweaves a fascinating account of recent discoveries in neuroscience by such pioneers as Michael Merzenich and Eric Kandel. Our brains, the historical and scientific evidence reveals, change in response to our experiences. The technologies we use to find, store, and share information can literally reroute our neural pathways.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Geobiologist Hope Jahren has spent her life studying trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Lab Girl is her revelatory treatise on plant life--but it is also a celebration of the lifelong curiosity, humility, and passion that drive every scientist. In these pages, Hope takes us back to her Minnesota childhood, where she spent hours in unfettered play in her father's college laboratory. She tells us how she found a sanctuary in science, learning to perform lab work "with both the heart and the hands." She introduces us to Bill, her brilliant, eccentric lab manager. And she extends the mantle of scientist to each one of her readers, inviting us to join her in observing and protecting our environment. Warm, luminous, compulsively readable, Lab Girl vividly demonstrates the mountains that we can move when love and work come together.
Inland by Téa Obreht
In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives unfold. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life--her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons, who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home. Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht's talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely--and unforgettably--her own.
How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
From the acclaimed author of The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears comes a heartbreaking literary masterwork about love, family, and the power of imagination. Following the death of his father Yosef, Jonas Woldemariam feels compelled to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, he sets out to retrace his mother and father's honeymoon as young Ethiopian immigrants and weave together a family history that will take him from the war-torn country of his parents' youth to a brighter vision of his life in America today. In so doing, he crafts a story--real or invented--that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption.
Maid by Stephanie Land
Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it's like to be in service to them. "I'd become a nameless ghost," Stephanie writes about her relationship with her clients, many of whom do not know her from any other cleaner, but who she learns plenty about. As she begins to discover more about her clients' lives--their sadness and love, too--she begins to find hope in her own path. Her compassionate, unflinching writing as a journalist gives voice to the "servant" worker, and those pursuing the American Dream from below the poverty line. Maid is Stephanie's story, but it's not hers alone. It is an inspiring testament to the strength, determination, and ultimate triumph of the human spirit.