Summer reading recommendations

Photo: Dan Dumitriu/Unsplash

Oxfam staff share their favorite summer reads

If there’s one thing that unites Oxfam staff outside of our work, it’s reading and sharing what books we're reading with each other. In that same spirit, we’ve put together an Oxfamily (yeah, that is what we call ourselves) curated summer reading list for you—whether you’re looking a breezy beach read or a book that's more along the lines of a summer reading challenge.

Here are our picks:

"A Psalm for the Wild Built” by Becky Chambers

What it’s about: Another Oxfammer actually recommended this book—it's a comforting sci-fi story set in an imaginatively hopeful and sustainable world. The main character takes a leap of faith and goes on an adventure of self-discovery—it's also a short read so it's a great way to get back into reading!

Recommended by: Cana Tagawa, she/her

“Fingers Crossed: How Music Saved Me from Success” by Miki Berenyi

What it’s about: An emotional, nuanced, and often hilarious memoir from the singer/guitarist of dreampop legends Lush, telling the story of how she traversed a youth of abuse and racism, survived the "boy's club" eras of Lollapalooza and Brit-Pop, and learned to be comfortable and creative in her own skin well after the artistic periods of her peers have long expired.

Recommended by: Bob Ferguson, he/him

“The Applicant” by Nazli Koca

What it’s about: Having fled Erdoğan's Turkey, a twenty-something writer navigates an existential crisis while working as a cleaner at a hostel in Berlin and fighting to stay true to her art and keep her German visa.

Recommended by: Elena Veatch, she/her

“50 Words for Rain” by Asha Lemmie

What it’s about: A lovely, heartrending story about love and loss, prejudice and pain, and the sometimes dangerous, always durable ties that link a family together. Just started it after finishing Asha Lemmie's newer book “The Wildest Sun,” which was excellent, and a suggested read from Oxfam America's Anti-Racist Reading Group.

Recommended by: Danny Mulé, he/him

“Pineapple Street” by Jenny Jackson

Why this book: In this sharpy funny read, Jackson manages to weave critiques of the uber-wealthy and income inequality into the frothy beach genre.

Recommended by: Divya Amladi, she/her

“Real Americans” by Rachel Khong

What it’s about: If you love a good twist that makes you audibly gasp, this is the book for you. A family saga that spans three generations and explores the question of what shapes a person's future. A perfect blend of familial drama, mad science, and a quest to understand the past, I won't forget this one for a while.

Recommended by: Stephanie Smith, she/her

“The Prophets” by Robert Jones Jr.

What it’s about: A beautiful story about a forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and the betrayal that threatens their existence. It's lyrically written and encapsulated pain, suffering but also hope, beauty, truth and liberation. A truly beautiful read.

Recommended by: Elizabeth Bibi, she/her

“The Situation Room” by George Stephanopoulos

What it’s about: An easy, newsy read about how U.S. presidents over time have handled historic crises from the Situation Room in the basement of the White House, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam war, and the Iranian hostage crisis.

Recommended by: Ash Kosiewicz, he/him

“Covenant of Water” by Abraham Verghese

What it’s about: A stunning epic following the intertwining of several families and characters over many years in the southern Indian region of Kerala. Told from the perspective of many individuals, ranging from Scottish doctors to young girls to family elders, this brings the reader on a journey through love and loss against the backdrop of a rapidly changing India. Long but beautiful, I was so sad when it ended.

Recommended by: Kaitlyn Henderson, she/her

“All about love” by bell hooks

What it’s about: bell hooks beautifully applies the idea of "love" to all aspects of life. she reminds us where love is missing and how to build a world based on love.

Recommended by: Camryn Cobb, she/her

“This Bridge Called my Back” edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria E. Anzaldúa

What it’s about: Essays and poems that revisit the hopes, dreams, and frustrations of women of color.

Recommended by: Sophia Lafontant, she/her

“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson

What it’s about: “The Origins of Our Discontents” is a 2020 nonfiction book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson that explores the United States' hidden caste system and its impact on American society.

Recommended by: Alyssa Grinberg, she/her

“Glaciers” by Alexis M. Smith

What it’s about: A short, absorbing, read-in-one-sitting kind of novel that takes place over the course of a single day in a young woman's life in Portland, Oregon, as she finds meaning in monotonous moments and grapples with all the lives she could be living.

Recommended by: Elena Veatch, she/her

“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel

What it’s about: A post-apocalyptic tale about a troupe of actors who roam the scattered outposts of a post-pandemic world, risking everything for art and humanity. It inspired the HBO series (which is also great!); it pulls you in and makes you think about what parts of humanity are most important.

Recommended by: Elizabeth, she/her

“The Overstory” by Richard Powers

What it’s about: Novel about trees!  And the interconnectedness of forests and the earth.  And activism in the face of environmental destruction and a warming world.

Recommended by: Danny Mulé, he/him

“James” by Percival Everett

What it’s about: An amazing reimagining of Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" told from the perspective of Jim (who goes by James) as he and Huck journey on the Mississippi. A true page-turner and an interesting conversation with our literary history.

Recommended by: Stephanie Smith, she/her

“Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire and Revolution in the Borderlands” by Kelly Lytle Hernadez

What it’s about: “Bad Mexicans” tells the story of the Magonitas, the migrant rebels who sparked the 1910 Mexican Revolution.

Recommended by Sophia Lafontant, she/her

“We are Water Protectors” by Carole Lindstrom

What it’s about`: It’s a kids’ book. Inspired by numerous Indigenous-led movements throughout North America, "We Are Water Protectors" issues a passionate call to safeguard the Earth's water from harm and exploitation.

Recommended by: Alyssa Grinberg, she/her

“In Scientia” by Luke Baines

What it’s about: This YA novel was a gripping read as you get hooked into a mysterious world of magic, family history, and romance. I especially enjoyed reading from Eva's perspective—she is such a strong character that you root for the whole way! And there may be more to come as the ending does set up nicely for a sequel.

Recommended by Cana Tagawa, she/her

How to Live Free in a Dangerous World: a Decolonial Memoir by Shayla Lawson

What’s it’s about: Not gonna lie, the title is absolutely what drew me to this book. The chapters are organized like essays on topics that Lawson sought to unpack about herself—examples are “On Femme” and “On Liberation.” Lawson is raw, funny, and insightful and while this is a deeply personal journey of self-exploration, she also imparts advice on how to approach other people with more compassion.

Recommended by: Divya Amladi, she/her

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