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The big summer book show: What to read under the sun

What books are on your summer reading list? Florin Gorgan | Creative Commons via Flickr
53min 28sec : The big summer book show: What to read under the sun

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Your reading list is about to get a lot longer. Lisa Lucas, the new executive director of the National Book Foundation, and Carlos Lozada, a book critic at the Washington Post, unleashed their book recommendations this morning with MPR News host Kerri Miller.

There's plenty of entertaining reads, but the list also has a serious side.

"There's this sense that summer reading should be breezy and fun and uplifting," Lozada said. "But it's also a great opportunity to grapple with things you don't grapple with in the regular course of your life."

Lucas recommended diving back into old favorites during the summer for a second, third or even fourth read: "You're going to get more of it from that second reading — you're going to be seeing an old friend that you haven't seen in years, or learning something new from the text."

Listeners also chimed in with their summer reading recommendations, including books that changed the way they see the world.

Summer reading: Break out the books

"Let Me Tell You" by Shirley Jackson

This compilation of some of Jackson's never-before-published works is a must-read for those interested in of the great American writers of the 20th century. (You've probably read her best-known short story, "The Lottery.") With a new biography of Jackson coming out this fall, Lucas is catching up on all things Shirley Jackson.

"The Sellout" by Paul Beatty

Lucas had big praise for Beatty: "I think everything he's ever written, everyone should read." His satirical, cutting view of racial issues is both hilarious and thought-provoking. "He has a prefect sense of humor about these terrifying racial injustices we live through," Lucas said.

"Queen of the Night" by Alexander Chee

"So lush and wonderful. It involves an opera singer and intrigue, but it's also really beautiful. It's one of those enveloping books," Lucas said.

"It Takes a Village" by Hillary Clinton and "The Art of the Deal" by Donald Trump

In the midst of campaign season, Lozada recommends pairing Clinton's first book with Trump's first book: "They're extraordinarily revealing about their motivations — about the way they think, the way they act. ... It's really worth reading the two foundational books from each of our candidates."

"The Sport of Kings" by C.E. Morgan

"[Morgan] is writing about horse racing as a framing for really talking about justice in America," Lucas said. "It's this beautiful book of ideas, but it's also a page turner. The sentences are gorgeous. It changes the way I thought about what a novel could do for me."

"The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture" by Pamela Haag

"[Haag] punctures a lot of the myths about the role of guns in America," Lozada said. "She looks at how gun manufacturers, in particularly the Winchester company, have really created and forged that gun culture. It's a grimly timely kind of book, but made me look at the whole debate over guns in a very different way."

"Stamped from the Beginning" by Ibram X. Kendi

"It's a book on the history of racist ideas in America. It's one of these perspective-shifting books," Lozada said. "It's quite long, but it's worth every page."

"Evicted" by Matthew Desmond

The economy may be on a path to recovery after the 2008 crisis, but eviction rates are still at record highs across the country. Desmond's book is arguably the most comprehensive study of this crisis.

A Harvard professor and a MacArthur Fellow, Desmond embedded himself in low-income neighborhoods in Milwaukee for more than a year to understand the emotional and economic impact that comes with losing your home.

"Embers" by Sandor Marai

Lozada recommended this Hungarian masterpiece, which was written in 1942 but not translated into English until 2002. It follows two friends meeting again after 41 years, and investigates the dark acts that have kept them apart.

"Beautiful Struggle" by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The book world spent all of last year raving about Coates' book "Between the World and Me." Intrigued readers should dive deeper into Coates' work and pick up his earlier memoir, which focuses on his father's efforts to raise seven children.

"Where'd You Go Bernadette" by Maria Semple

This funny, quirky novel from 2012 is worth picking up if you haven't yet. It follows an overwhelmed woman who pulls a disappearing act, and how her daughter sets out to find her. Semple has a new novel coming this fall, which Lucas is excited about: "Today Will Be Different."

Even more reading recommendations, from listeners


"Gilead" and "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson

There's a reason Robinson's novels are on President Obama's reading list — they should be on yours too.

"The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Set in Barcelona in 1945, the novel follows a book dealer's son who find a mysterious book. He soon discovers someone is trying to destroy every copy of it, and he may have the only one left.

"To the Wedding" by John Berger

Berger's novel is narrated by a blind Greek street vendor who tells the story of a wedding, and all of the characters caught up in it.

"Watchmen" by Alan Moore

Moore's classic graphic novel started the trend of superhero stories where the superheroes actually have faults, fears and real personalities.

"Who Fears Death" by Nnedi Okorafor

Okorafor's novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic Africa, where plague has ravaged the continent.

"The Orphan Queen" by Jodi Meadows

A young adult book featuring fantasy, romance and an embattled princess.

"The Book of Night Women" by Marlon James

James won the Man Booker Prize of "A Brief History of Seven Killings." Dive into his back catalog with his story of life on a Jamaican plantation at the end of the 17th century.

"The Sound of Things Falling" by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

Vasquez, a writer to watch from South America, explores the violence that once gripped Colombia in this novel of the drug wars.

"Every Man Dies Alone" by Hans Fallada

Primo Levi called this "the greatest book ever written about the German resistance to the Nazis."

"All American Boys" by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

This young adult novel tackles the difficult racial and political realities of modern boyhood. The book follows two friends, one black and one white, as they get swept up in an incident of police brutality.

"The Weight of All Things" by Sandra Benitez

Benitez's novel follows a family caught in the El Salvador's Civil War in the 1980s.

"Stone Butch Blues" by Leslie Feinberg

Published more than three decades ago, this novel explores the complex reality of being transgendered and trying to find a place to belong.


"Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man's Education" by Mychal Denzel Smith

Smith's account of growing up under the Obama administration explores what it means to be a young black man in modern America. The book is infused with current events and powerful moments of pop culture influence, from Dave Chappelle to LeBron James.

"For the Time Being" by Annie Dillard

Dillard's meditations on life, which she frames with examinations of religious, historical and physical elements, are unmatched.

"The Metaphysical Club" by Louis Menand

Menand's book on the creation of modern American thought won the 2002 Pulitzer for History.

"All the Single Ladies" by Rebecca Traister

Traister explores the history, and the power, of single women in America.

"Citizen" by Claudia Rankine

Rankine's stunning lyrical poem about race in America should be an anchor on modern bookshelves.

"Bluets" by Maggie Nelson

Nelson's lyric essays start with an obsession with a color, but dive into meditations on suffering, love, and how the two are intertwined.

"American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division" by Michael A. Cohen

Cohen looks at the watershed election of 1968 as a moment that sparked many of the divisions still plaguing American culture and politics today, Lozada said.

"Oranges are Not the Only Fruit" by Jeanette Winterson

Memoirist Winterson reconciles her Evangelical childhood with her own sexuality, offering a heavy side of humor and insight.

"The Gospel According to Women" by Karen Armstrong

Armstrong investigates the history of women in Christianity, from their traditional roles to modern efforts to redefine their place.

"A Mother's Reckoning" by Sue Klebold

Klebold's son Dylan became a household name when he and Eric Harris killed 13 people at Columbine High School. In her book, Sue presents an honest portrait of her struggle to understand the brutal act.

"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory" by Caitlin Doughty

Doughty is a young mortician who mixes her own behind-the-scenes accounts of working with the dead with philosophical musings on what death means.

"Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari

How have biology and history defined what is "human"? Harari explores 70,000 years of history to explore this question.