AS FALL QUICKLY APPROACHES, we start to think about the things we had planned to do this summer — the things we plan to do every summer. Reading more books is almost always on the to-do list, and it’s not too late. While some of us have an ever-growing TBR (to be read) pile, others need a nudge in the direction of a promising read. Here are five books for your end-of-summer reading list, broken up by genre.
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn
You may never be able to experience a beautiful vacation in a foreign country without thinking about the implications on the lives of the people who live there. Dennis-Benn peels back a layer of the Montego Bay we know — or imagine — to reveal the truth of struggle beneath the facade of paradise. This third-person narrative follows three women as changes in their village shape their futures and their secrets are slowly revealed. This is not a beach read or a feel-good novel. It is about tough decisions and sacrifice, and the effects of colonialism and cyclical poverty. Read this for a new look at a seemingly familiar place.
“They fall into the hum of the silence. Maxi begins to whistle as he concentrates on the dark road ahead of them. Only the white lines are visible, and Margot tries to count them to calm herself. Of course she has dreams. She has always had dreams. Her dream is to get away as far as possible from here.”
Science Fiction and Fantasy
Wild Seed by Octavia E. Butler
One of the most popular African-American writers of science fiction, Butler tells the story of two immortals — an entity and a shapeshifter. Chronologically first in the Patternmaster series, Wild Seed was the fourth novel in said series to be written, and can stand on its own. Doro is a user; Anyanwu is a healer. The relationship between Doro and Anyanwu starts in 1390 and spans centuries, moving from West Africa to the USA. Through this fantasy world, Butler addresses issues like slavery and freedom, class, gender, race, and sexuality — a testament to her skill in balancing the complexity of themes and plot. If you want to get to know new characters with an intimacy that connects their feelings to yours, this book is for you
“Doro looked at people, healthy or ill, and wondered what kind of young they could produce. Anyanwu looked at the sick — especially those with problems she had not seen before — and wondered whether she could defeat their disease.”
Often miscategorized as a memoir, this book is a piece of investigative journalism. Born in South Korea, Kim went undercover as a Christian missionary in order to teach English at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology — an all-male institution — in North Korea during Kim Jong-il’s rule. While there, she made and hid her notes from everyone, determined to tell the story of a mysterious country, and “humanize North Koreans.” For anyone with the slightest curiosity about North Korea and what it would look like to an outsider, this is the book to read.
“Time there seemed to pass differently… There, in that relentless vacuum, nothing moved. No news came in or out. No phone calls to or from anyone. No emails, no letters, no ideas not prescribed by the regime..”
This book, quite simply, is about identity, but there is nothing simple about it. Though assigned male at birth, Mock was confident in her true gender, and started her transition in high school. As a young adult, she kept her past secret. She soon became an advocate for one of the most vulnerable communities, working to change the way society thinks about womanhood. In the telling of her truth, Mock is both strong and vulnerable. Her story brings people closer to trans* issues and, more broadly, an understanding of gender and gender-based issues in society.
“Frankly, I’m not responsible for other people’s perceptions and what they consider real or fake. We must abolish the entitlement that deludes us into believing that we have the right to make assumptions about people’s identities and project those assumptions onto their genders and bodies.”
Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
A poet and thought-leader, Lorde wrote the essays of this collection between 1976 and 1984, and they have only grown in power since. To read this book — both comfort and weapon — is stand in solidarity with the people who have read or heard the words and been moved by them without knowing their names or faces. Lorde was unapologetically black, woman, lesbian, and feminist, and her words of conviction continue to be catalysts for change-making action. Everyone who reads this collection takes away at least one essay, carrying it with them forever. If you are looking for a radical companion that has non-human life, you can find it here.
“You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other…”