Summer 2020 Book Recommendations
It is nearly the end of June, so let’s make a June/July recommendation list where I’m going to share some books I have read in the last few months that I think we could all use a little more of with a pandemic still in full drive and lots of time to sit around and expand our brains. This month I have seven book recommendations that are written by black authors and further elevate black voices, which is more important now more than ever, and two books that are not written by black authors but are important for other reasons. Even if topics of race and racial inequality are not the top headline, it’s important to further look into stories, and history, and educate yourself further as all of us should be constantly learning. This goes for LGBTQ stories, other racial minority stories, mental health and illness stories, etc. as well. There is so much to learn about each other and our own perspectives and experiences. You may have seen some of these on other book lists already, or maybe you haven’t read any of these books or even heard of them, but from my viewpoint, they all carry incredibly important and timely content I think every single one of us could benefit from. No matter who you are, you can never learn too much because knowledge is power and we need to continue learning and growing with it. We learn things every day even if we don’t notice it, so don't think that you need to read 12 books a week to be learning things, but reading is important in whatever context you do it in.
P.S. I’m pretty sure all of these come in audiobooks as well if that is more your style, and some of these have movie adaptations, which I will comment on.
Just Mercy - Bryan Stevenson (Movie Adaptation: Just Mercy)
I began reading Just Mercy when I got back from the Civil Rights Pilgrimage in January and I read it throughout the first half of the semester before quarantine began. I'm usually quite a slow reader so it took me a bit of time, but in March I basically read the entire thing and it is such a powerful book that I think every single person should read. If every single person read this book, the world would be a better place.
Just Mercy is Bryan Stevenson's memoir written about cases he has worked as a lawyer representing poor people convicted of crimes, mainly in the south. Bryan Stevenson grew up poor in Delaware before he attended Eastern University and later Harvard Law school. His great-grandparents had been slaves in Virginia, and his grandfather was murdered in a Philadelphia housing project when Stevenson was a teenager. He co-founded the Equal Justice Initiative which provides legal aid to prisoners on death row and other cases of life imprisonment without parole. Just Mercy focuses mainly on that work and those clients with its narrative backbone being the story of Walter McMillian, who was falsely accused and convicted for the murder of a young white woman in Monroe, Alabama and sentenced to death based off of the testimony of one man who was already on death row and who was coerced to lie to get a lesser sentence. Just Mercy is a powerful piece of literature that highlights inequality, racism, and other issues in our "justice" system and teaches the importance of mercy and forgiveness. (Just Mercy was also recently adapted into a movie, which is also good, but the book is better in my opinion and incorporates a lot more knowledge and information that is of the utmost importance. The Movie is still amazing and I would still highly recommend).
The Sun Does Shine - Anthony Ray Hinton
The Sun Does Shine is another powerful memoir written by Anthony Ray Hinton, who similarly to Walter McMillian was falsely accused and convicted of multiple murders and sentenced to death in Alabama. Ray spent 30 years on death row before the state would even agree to listen to his case since his first trial came down to the fate of a ballistic expert who had only one eye and was highly underqualified. Eventually, Anthony Ray Hinton was represented by Bryan Stevenson.
The Sun Does Shine is such a powerful piece of literature and I, again, think the world would be such a better place if everyone read this book. Ray is a gem of a human being and even after being stripped away of 30 years of his life, he never lost his sense of humor and humanity. The Sun Does Shine also teaches about injustices in our criminal justice system, especially in the southern US surrounding the death penalty.
Becoming - Michelle Obama (Movie Adaptation: Becoming - Documentary on Netflix)
Another memoir by another amazing human being. Becoming is a memoir written by Michelle Obama that also largely incorporates topics regarding race and racial discrimination. Michelle Obama was born and raised on the south side of Chicago by a loving family and experienced the injustices of our education system and white families moving further and further into the suburbs.
Becoming is broken into 3 parts: Becoming Me, Becoming Us, and Becoming More. The first part is about her childhood and life up until right after college when she was working at a high-end law firm in Chicago. The second part is her meeting Barack and their journey together from when they met, up until (spoiler) he was elected president, and the third part is their experience at the white house, Michelle's experience as the first lady and where they're going from here.
I know that Michelle's documentary was released on May 4th and I hope you've seen it, but I also highly, highly recommend reading her book. Again, like the previous books, it is quite powerful and super important.
The New Jim Crow - Michelle Alexander (Movie/Documentary equivalent: 13th - Netflix)
As I'm sure you've seen on many anti-racist book lists, The New Jim Crow is an essential book to read. The New Jim crow addresses racial issues specific to African-American men and mass incarceration in the United States and the Prison Industrial Complex. Alexander's work is a powerful, research, and history-filled documentation of mass incarceration and modern-day racism and discrimination in many aspects of our society.
The New Jim Crow dives deep into racial divides, tensions, and inequalities in the history of the United States and mirrors how these issues never went away, but rather evolved into different systems of oppression with largely the same backing.
At the end of the semester, we did a project on Felon Disenfranchisement and how it disproportionately affects black men. We used the New Jim Crow as a source for the project, and nearly everything is connected. Michelle Alexander's work is incredibly important to read and she appears in many interviews which are supplemental to the book and can be useful to help digest and fully understand the level at which this is all happening. (Good Interview to watch: Democracy, Now!)
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas (Movie Adaptation: The Hate U Give)
If you haven't read The Hate U Give, you need to. While THUG is a fictional story, it is largely based on the present and real reality of Police brutality and violence towards people of color. Thomas incorporates history into the story that isn't spoken about as much as it should be and further reminds everyone that this isn't a new problem, but it is really time for a change.
In the novel, Starr watches one of her best friends get pulled over and killed by a police officer and is left separated into two worlds: one where she is advocating for her murdered friend and another at her predominately-white school where her friend is just seen as another "drug dealing thug". Starr is left to find her voice and navigate the aftermath of her best friend's death.
A movie adaptation of THUG was released in 2018, and while I have yet to see it, the book is a must-read.
Ghost Boys - Jewell Parker Rhodes
Ghost Boys is actually not one of the books I have read in the last few months, but I read it last year when I took Children's and Young Adult Literature at Normandale. This young adult novel tells a heartbreaking story that is based on Tamir Rice and his murder.
"Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that's been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing." (jewellparkerrhodes.com). Jerome meets the ghost of Emmit Till and goes on a journey to befriend the daughter of the police officer who killed him to teach her the magnitude of her father's actions and why she needed to be a voice for justice.
While it is a YA book, it is 100% worth the read.
Dreams From My Father - Barack Obama
While I know people have varying opinions on Obama, I have been wanting to read this book for a long time. Dreams From My Father was published in 1995, and while things may seem a bit outdated since this was long before Obama was elected as president of the United States, I still find it incredibly important, not only to read his background but to focus on this story of race and inheritance. Dreams From My Father covers the first part of his life, up until his entry to law school in 1988.
I have two more books I want to recommend this month that are not written by a black author, or about racial inequality in the United States, but they are largely important for other reasons, and still incorporate a lot of social commentaries.
Simon Vs. The Homosapien Agenda - Becky Albertalli (Movie Adaptation: Love, Simon. Show Adaptation/Spin-Off: Love, Victor - Hulu)
Another book that I read earlier this school year in October, and another book that has been made into a movie (although I can 100% say the book is better in my opinion) and a spin-off Hulu series (Love, Victor, which I loved), but important nonetheless. If you haven't read it yet, I would recommend 100%, and if you have read it, read it again.
I think the best way to do this one, is to copy and paste the summary via goodreads.com :
"Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met."
And last, but not least:
Brave Enough - Jessie Diggins
Okay, anyone that knows my love for cross-country skiing, also knows my complete admiration for Jessie Diggins. Jessie is one of my absolute role models and has been for years. She is partially the reason I fell in love with the sport again, partially the reason I trained so hard for my goals and partially the reason (and rather the push) that I went back to eating disorder treatment to get my life back. I. ADORE. HER.
Anyways, she wrote a memoir that is her life up until now, and even if you know nothing about cross-country skiing and couldn't care less, read her book. She is an inspiration and a gem of a human being. OH WAIT! did I mention that she and Kikkan Randall worked together at the 2018 Winter Olympics to win the first gold medal for the United States in Cross-Country Skiing EVER and the first medal in 40 years?!
She is incredible and if you don't fall in love with her, I don't think you can fall in love with anyone. Even if you hate skiing, her memoir brings the kind of awareness to eating disorders in sport and in general that I have been fighting so hard to do and will continue to fight for. There isn't a lot of representation and discussion of eating disorders in the media and how they truly affect people, and there are even less accurate representations. Reading her story, I see so many parallels to mine and if you're not reading her story to learn about some strong, boss, bad-ass women who are perfect role models to so many, read it to learn more about how eating disorders truly affect people and help to end the stigma around them so we can start supporting people in recovery properly.
So if you're looking for some summer reading, some summer distractions, some summer education, etc. I would HIGHLY recommend all of these books, plus many more. This summer and year aren't looking like any of us were expecting, or like any of us want, but there are ways we can continue to learn and grow and help each other through these times. One way in which we can assist others is by educating ourselves and sharing that information with others.
With that being said, these are nine of my June/July Favorites so far and I will add more recommendations as time goes on. I challenge you to read up on and educate yourself on at least one social issue you don't know a lot about already this summer, and then to share that knowledge through conversation with those around you.
For more information and resources regarding how you can help the BLM movement, click here:
Look for petitions.
Continue to have difficult conversations with those around you.
Consider contributing monthly to an organization near you, or nationwide.
Continue to check in with one another.
Try to learn at least one new thing a day and talk about it with someone in your life.
Continue to do everything you can and remember that social activism can look different for different people.