As a kid, I could never stop reading. I would binge read Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Nicholas Sparks novels, or basically any young adult fiction novel I could find. Any trip to the bookstore was the sweetest treat. For the past few years, reading for fun didn’t seem feasible. However, this past summer I spent my free time in a bubbly independent book store near Soho in New York City called McNally Jackson. They hosted poetry readings and book signings, with the greatest assortment of books from international best-sellers to niche topics such as dissecting screenplays. Walking through the teetering bookshelves there reminded me that there is never a limit on learning something new or embarking on an adventure, even now from your couch in quarantine.
For many of us, our world has been operating at a slower pace. While for some, this period is a blissful reprieve, I often find myself itching for something to do to stay productive. Although it is easy for me to dwell on the many activities and friends that I’m missing, I have been looking at this time as a unique opportunity for self-improvement, and reading is my medium of choice.
With summer here, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve been reading (or the books on my list), and ideas to keep learning for all those that are interested!
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean: This book may seem as boring as a library, but similarly, there are bountiful riches beneath the surface. Orlean, a journalist and author, investigates the tragic 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire, thought to be the work of an arsonist. As she investigates, Orlean weaves in the history of the institutions of libraries, book burning, and what it means to be a librarian. Especially during this time, it’s been interesting to read about how the institution of a library has adapted to meet community needs during crises: from the gold rush and the Great Depression to world wars. This book is warm and personal, never forcefully shoving information at you, and a book I’ve been recommending to all my friends, especially those that were book-loving children.
- The Deep State: Trump, the FBI, and the Rule of Law by James B. Stewart: If you’re confused about the political events that occurred during and following the 2016 election, I highly recommend this book. Stewart gives a fairly objective look at the Clinton email investigation and subsequent Russia investigation, incorporating the accounts of former FBI Director James Comey, former deputy director Andrew McCabe, and other central figures during this time. At the center of Stewart’s reporting is the question of if the Deep State exists, and whether it is plotting the take down of outsider president Donald Trump. With many competing political forces at work, this book gives insight into the complex power dynamics, negotiations, and values at work in the nation’s capital.
- Garden City by John Mark Comer: This book was highly recommended by many of my friends, and I’ve just started it. Comer, a pastor at Bridgetown Church in Portland, explores the biblical basis for work. As someone that struggles to balance work and rest, I’m excited to read this book and reflect on the greater purpose God created for work, especially entering the job market in the near future.
- Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino: This book is a collection of nine essays from Tolentino, a current staff writer at The New Yorker. An excerpt from the book’s description reads, “In each essay, Tolentino writes about a cultural prism: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the advent of scamming as the definitive millennial ethos; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the punitive dream of optimization, which insists that everything, including our bodies should become more efficient and beautiful until we die.” I am excited to read Tolentino’s essays, and take a hard look at the ways I, and my generation, have interacted with and subscribed to many of these narratives.
- White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue… and Other Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation by Lauren Michele Jackson: This book is on my list because it addresses many of the issues that should be talked about in fashion and other creative industries, and more importantly, an area I am not familiar with. According to the book’s description, “American culture loves blackness. From music and fashion to activism and language, black culture constantly achieves worldwide influence. Yet, when it comes to who is allowed to thrive from black hipness, the pioneers are usually left behind as black aesthetics are converted into mainstream success—and white profit.” I’m excited to read this book and be challenged while doing it.
- FORM Magazine: FORM is the magazine I am a part of at Duke University, and it is our undergraduate arts and lifestyle publication, with a mission to be a space for ideas, culture, and aesthetics. Our latest volume, XXIV, was released online and features interviews with Howardena Pindell, the first black woman to curate at the MoMA; textile artist Sofia Salazar; and Victor Vines, the founder of Raleigh architecture firm, Vines Architecture.
- Cereal Magazine: Support independent magazines! This independent magazine is based in Bath, England and has some of the most visually beautiful images and thoughtful pieces of writing. For those interested in the arts, design, and photography, I highly recommend checking out their online work, and if possible, their print magazine.