School is almost over, summer vacations are booked, and it’s time to break out the bathing suits.
It’s also time to start looking for those summer beach reads.
Before you think it’s time to take a break from the world and all of its hardships, hear me out. Disengaging from the world can make the world worse. Huddling in our separate bunkers keeps us separate, and living in bunkers, as “Educated” author Tara Westhover knows well, isn’t a good way to live.
Read to learn, to expand, to understand, to empathize.
To that end, it’s also a good time to read more women (half the population), more people of color (a majority of the world’s population), more people from a social class not your own, living in bodies that don’t look like yours.
Your pile can include best sellers, new works (see our gallery of Goodreads’ picks for your summer), books that have been popular for years or books that need your attention to get noticed. However you choose — through this story, talking to a bookstore or your local librarian — books will open up a world beyond your street.
Walk in the shoes of another
America doesn’t want to talk about class, but Stephanie Land insists our society does place higher moral value on higher social class, denigrating those who can’t escape the cycle of poverty.
“We were expected to live off minimum wage, to work several jobs at varying hours, to afford basic needs while fighting for safe places to leave our children,” she writes in “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive.” “Somehow nobody saw the work; they saw only the results of living a life that constantly crushed you with its impossibility.”
For Land, cleaning homes was her way to survive when she got pregnant, had to leave college and split from the abusive man who was her child’s father. Along the way, she saw how people treated someone who needed government benefits or someone they paid (not very much) to clean up after them.
She barely made enough to feed her daughter and keep a roof over their heads, but she collected stories of the often cruel but sometimes kind American middle class that hires people to clean up its messes. Those stories became the basis of “Maid.”
See how others learn (or don’t)
Surprised some people don’t believe the Holocaust happened? Imagine growing up in a household where you weren’t allowed to attend school and never heard of the Holocaust until you made your own way to college.
That was the experience of Tara Westover, who grew up in a survivalist family in the Idaho mountains, where she mostly home-schooled herself while being fed conspiracy theories by her father, being beaten by her brother and never getting standard medical care.
Westover quietly studied enough at home to pass the ACT to get to Brigham Young University but struggled to catch up to her peers without asking for help. That is, until a college roommate, who understood ‘my missteps came from ignorance, not intention,’ and she corrected me gently but frankly.”
Walk in the skin of another
While it’s impossible to truly know the life of an African American person in America without an in-your-bones understanding of the nation’s fraught history with race, white people can certainly do better than say “I don’t see color.” (White people who have non-white children certainly have come to realize the lie in color-blind language.)
“Yes, racism and racial oppression in America is horrible and terrifying,” writes Ijeoma Oluo, author of “So You Want to Talk about Race.” “The feelings it brings up in us are justified. But is also everywhere, in every corner of our lives.”
“We have to let go of some of that fear,” she writes. “We have to be able to look racism in the eye wherever we encounter it. If we continue to treat racism like it is a giant monster that is chasing us, we will be forever running.”
For white parents wanting to raise anti-racist white children, Drake University professor Jennifer Harvey uses a math analogy.
Harvey, author of “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America,” says black children have been taught about racism since birth. It’s key to their survival.
When they head to college, they know about race at a calculus level, she says, while many white kids don’t even know how to discuss race at a simple “addition and subtraction” level.
With concrete examples, Harvey offers ways for white parents to get started talking about race with their children and teaching them to work toward a more just world.
“We have the capacity to transform this racial crisis,” she writes. “To transform we must have both the will and a different set of tools and frameworks than those that got us to this point.”
Her words and her tools offer hope: “Know this: we have a long way to go, but we can go.”
See how other kids play
I’m lucky to have a kid who is a ferocious reader.
My tween reads almost everything she can get her hands on, mostly influenced by her beloved school librarian, her best friend, our lovely local children’s bookstore, Little Shop of Stories, and whatever I leave laying around secretly hoping she’ll pick up.
She’s devoured Shannon Messenger’s “Keeper of the Lost Cities” series, adores Lisa McMann’s “The Unwanteds,” ploughed through Sayantani Dasgupta’s “Game of Stars,” and of course keeps re-reading Harry Potter books.
She finds other people and other worlds in so many of the books she reads.
But I’ve rarely found books that reflect her life. Growing up in United States, I could never find books that reminded me of my family, my Cuban roots and our journey of exile.
Thankfully, that has changed, with a recommendation by her school librarian: the 2019 Newbery Medal-winning “Merci Suárez Changes Gears”by Meg Medina. It’s not exactly our life but it’s got the right foods, accents and abuelos (grandparents).
We also love Ruth Behar’s “Lucky Broken Girl,” a story based on Behar’s childhood as a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl growing up in New York City. Now I’ve placed “With the Fire on High” by Elizabeth Acevedo on the coffee table. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
I almost wish she was still in preschool, so I could read her “Hair Love” by Matthew A. Cherry, a former NFL wide receiver turned filmmaker who based his picture book on his short film of the same name. In this joyful book, Cherry writes about the love between an African American father and his young daughter, celebrating her hair and filling her with confidence.
Taste the food of another
One way to connect with other people, regardless of where we all come from, is through food. Samin Nosrat found that connection working in the kitchen at Chez Panisse, where many a cook has started and absorbed the Alice Waters’ lessons of taking well-grown food from farm to table.
Star of a Netflix show based on her cookbook, Nosrat is also the master of breaking cooking down to its core elements in “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the elements of Good Cooking,” her book with illustrator Wendy MacNaughton.
I’ve just gotten my hands on it, reveling in the wonder of salt. Nosrat’s writing is so good, I say it’s worth taking to your beach vacation. If you’ve got access to a kitchen, maybe you’ll try one of her 13 ways of looking at (and cooking) a chicken.
“Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious,” she writes.