Summer Reading: Poetry, Philosophy, Science and Fiction


Several Georgetowner staffers offer their picks for summer reading in a delightfully diverse list of books, some of which are quite unexpected. Send us your picks, too, if you wish.

Recommended by Susan Bodiker, writer and marketer:

But first a little context . . . For the past year, I’ve had a terrible time concentrating. If I can get through the newspapers and my work, I’m happy. Fiction, where I used to find my escape, is a lost cause. And non-fiction, forget about it. So for reasons I don’t completely understand, I found poetry. Three contemporary poets writing on three very different topics reached me in ways denser prose could not. Plus, they totally took me out of myself.

“I Could Pee on This And Other Poems by Cats” — written (transcribed?) by Francesco Marciuliano (creator of the Sally Forth comic strip). Each poem is a gem, an epigrammatic observation of life from a cat’s point of view. My cats thoroughly approved and said, “Finally! Maybe she’ll get it now!”

“What Kind of Woman” by Kate Baer, who brings a special sharpness and sensitivity to the “female gaze,” as she writes about things all women think about and feel — from motherhood to their thighs. I’m generally not a fan of of so-called “women’s literature,” but I felt many of her poems spoke directly to me.

“Counting Descent” by Clint Smith, who is a TED talker and winner of the National Poetry Slam. He writes about what it means to be a Black man in all its joys and sorrows. I first heard him speak on Terry Gross’s “Fresh Air” and was transfixed by every word, starting with “what the cicada said to the black boy.” It will take your breath away.

Recommended by Christopher Jones, reporter and editor:

“The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind” by Michio Kaku. Few science writers are as engaging as this theoretical physicist. Drawing from science radio broadcast interviews with many of the world’s greatest thinkers, Kaku delves into today’s most cutting-edge brain studies and their potential impacts on the human future. From rats’ brains implanted with “memories” to how humans might transport their brains as data-energy to the farthest reaches of space, the implications of Kaku’s quest are mind-numbing — but in a good way.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz” by Erik Larson, who is a master of the non-fiction historical narrative. It’s another brilliant deep dive from Larson. This work brings to life Winston Churchill’s supreme leadership in his first year as British Prime Minister during the London Blitz of 1940. The remarkable resilience of Londoners serves as a timely balm.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams” by Matthew Walker. The abundant health benefits of a good night’s sleep and the frightening ill-effects suffered by the chronically sleep-deprived (i.e., most of us) are explored in fascinating detail by neuroscientist Walker in this wake-up call for more slumber.

The World: A Brief Introduction” by Richard Haass. This concise overview of world affairs from the distinguished American diplomat is designed as a primer on the fundamentals of the emerging global order — a great gift for students!

Recommended by Peggy Sands, senior correspondent:

Here are two fun reads by Swedish authors about rebellious Swedish seniors not acting their age. Will they inspire American elders to act up?

“The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson. It is a first of two in a series — a kind of senior Forrest Gump story.

“The Little Old Lady Behaving Badly” by Catharina Ingelman Sundberg, a second in a series about a gang of four elderly not so inept but lucky thieves who steal millions to give back to senior homes in Sweden.

Here are two “aha moment books” on how we got to where we are today

“Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, a thoroughly reported 500-plus page of witnessed detailed accounting of the 2020 election by two of D.C.’s best political reporters, who wrote the definitive book about the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign, “Shattered.”

“The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity” by Douglas Murray.

Recommended by Kate Oczypok, writer and photographer:

That Summer” by  Jennifer Weiner, whom I’ve loved ever since “Good in Bed & In Her Shoes.” “That Summer” is the perfect beach read and once again gets you swept up into the story. I couldn’t help but appreciate my friends more when I read it.

The Last Summer at the Golden Hotel” by Elyssa Friedland. As a huge fan of “Dirty Dancing” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” I fell in love with this book about a Catskills resort. For fans of nostalgia and for anyone who’s ever gone on a family vacation!

Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. True crime and history fans will adore this book. I loved learning about the history of the 1893 World’s Fair and America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, lurking amidst the revelry.

Recommended by Robert Devaney, editor-in-chief:

“I Came As A Shadow” by John Thompson with Jesse Washington. This autobiography by the revered and larger-than-life basketball coach of Georgetown University informs and astounds the reader on many levels. Thompson left us a fascinating life and fascinating lessons — helping us to better understand today’s America.

“Stoic Wisdom” by Nancy Sherman, a Georgetown University professor. Sherman’s unique path to understanding and then teaching this philosophical school is almost as important as the gems of wisdom from Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, Seneca and others. Her aim is not merely academic, but practical and life-changing.

“The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World” by Sarah Stewart Johnson, who is an assistant professor of planetary science at Georgetown University. Johnson’s book tells of her developing love of space exploration and boundless curiosity as Mars beckoned her. With a scientist’s mind and a poet’s heart, this professor has penned an inspiring tale for all of us who have looked up and wondered.

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