A Humanist’s Guide to Summer Reading

As the temperatures (and humidity!) start climbing, I start reaching for new and engaging reads to enjoy. In chatting with my colleagues around the office, so many mentioned the great books they’ve been reserving for the summer months, either for vacation reading or just for quick trips to the many great parks and gardens around Washington, D.C. I’m personally looking forward to cracking open No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work, by Liz Fosslien. While it’s not especially tantalizing, it’s exciting to me! I know I’m an emotional person (and tend to wear those feelings on my sleeve) so I’m looking forward to learning more about how to turn that personality trait into a professional strength. Read on to learn what titles American Humanist Association staff are popping into tote bags and carry-ons in the coming months.

Jennifer Bardi, Deputy Director and Humanist magazine Editor In Chief

I’m looking forward to reading Salman Rushdie’s new novel, Quichotte, which is a modern remake of Cervantes’s Don Quixote and billed as “an epic love story set in the Age of Anything Can Happen.” When I interviewed the 2019 Humanist of the Year and asked him to describe the book, Rushdie talked about how one of the things Cervantes is doing in his great book is taking on the junk culture of his time. Rushdie wondered how he might depict today’s junk culture, further describing Quichotte as part obsessional love story, part father-son journey, part science-fiction tale, and a bit of a spy novel. Sounds cool to me! It doesn’t come out until the very end of the summer, but I’m hoping to get an advance review copy before I go on vacation in July.

Peter Bjork, Web Content Manager

Have you ever had an out-of-body experience in which you know you shouldn’t be excited to consume something profoundly trashy but inertia just keeps pulling you in the direction of buying it? Welcome to my continued struggle with Ladies Who Punch: The Explosive Inside Story of “The View”. Published last month, author Ramin Setoodeh takes readers on a behind-the-scenes tour of what it takes to make a talk show like The View through interviews with eleven current and former cohosts. Every fiber of my being tells me I shouldn’t legitimize the fetishization of “catfight culture” by reading this book, and yet here I am admitting to all of you that I plan to do so. There is something so fascinating to me about explorations into the inner-workings of massive, zeitgeist-y television shows, and Ladies Who Punch seems poised to deliver.

Nicole Carr, Director of Development

A book that I’m finding fascinating right now is Preet Bharara’s Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law. Bharara served as the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York for eight years before being fired by Donald Trump in the early days of his administration. Bharara’s book explores the meaning and significance of the rule of law, and exposes some of the many flaws in our system of justice. He writes about people that he met every day as a federal prosecutor—investigators, lawyers, judges, criminals and innocent people caught up in the system. He tells their stories in an attempt to reveal how the justice system really works and how often it tragically doesn’t work at all. The book is gripping as the author shares these real-life tales.

Sharon McGill, Senior Graphic Designer

One book I just read that is perfect for summer is Sex & Taipei City by Yu-Han Chao. It’s a collection of very short stories, mostly centered on the lives of Taiwanese women. The stories are fun and slightly scandalous, featuring daring school girls, betel-nut beauties, and husbands for sale. But there are surprisingly poignant moments, too—small tragedies and a touch of dark humor that balance out the saucier, gossipy bits. I’ve been to Taipei City, and this book felt like an interesting way to revisit—especially with the descriptions of all that delicious food!

Monica Miller, Senior Counsel

I’m looking forward to diving into First: Sandra Day O’Connor, by Evan Thomas. I have immense respect for Justice O’Connor, and not just because she was the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Although appointed by a conservative president, her many opinions (for the most part) evidence an independent justice who embraced the complexity of difficult cases. I like to remind people that Justice O’Connor voted against the Ten Commandments monument in Texas in the Van Orden ruling and the nativity scene in the Allegheny case. While I don’t agree with all of her rulings, she is a fascinating woman who deserves a spotlight – and this biography promises to be a great analysis of her work and her life.

David Niose, Legal Director

One of the more interesting books I’ve read recently is The War on Normal People, by Andrew Yang, who has become one of the early surprises in the 2020 presidential race. Yang argues that automation and artificial intelligence have already begun significantly changing the economy, and the change is only going to become exponentially greater as we move forward. The solution, he says, is human-centered public policy (including universal health care and universal basic income) that improves the quality of life for the general population. Yang has a mastery of numbers and makes convincing arguments. It’s an interesting read no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.

Isabelle Oldfield, Paralegal

I highly recommend I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi. It is a hilarious summer read that feels like talking to that best friend who can bring you to tears laughing. Disclaimer: There are harmless mentions of God, but theist or not, there is something so approachable about this book. It reads like a morning talk show mixed with a comedy roast. Ajayi discusses the faux pas of social media, the ridiculous plastic surgeries we subject ourselves to because of ludicrous beauty standards, our temptations in dating someone who has all the warning flags, and so much more.