It is time again for our annual summer reading issue! This year, we have invited friends from around the state to recommend books that have recently captured their attention. This year's contributors include Humanities Texas board members, Outstanding Teaching Award winners, teacher institute faculty, Holiday Book Fair authors, and public program partners. The result is a wide-ranging list, encompassing fiction and nonfiction both new and old. Whether you're looking for an engrossing novel, a fascinating historical read, or something else entirely, we hope you'll discover a few new books to while away the summer days.

The New Novel by Winslow Homer, 1877.

Ricardo Ainslie, M. K. Hage Centennial Professor in Education at The University of Texas at Austin, author, psychoanalyst, and director of several Humanities Texas-supported projects including the documentary film The Mark of War

With generous support from Humanities Texas, over the last seven months we have been screening The Mark of War (a documentary about seven men who fought in the Vietnam War), all over Texas for veterans, their families, and the general public. Because of this effort, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the lives of war Veterans, regardless of the particular war in which they have served. I’ve also been thinking about their families, knowing that they, too, are deeply affected by the experiences that their loved ones bring home with them.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

In the spirit of this work, I've been reading several novels that address the experiences of war. One of these is The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a novel by the Australian writer Richard Flanagan. Flanagan won the Booker Prize in 2014 for this account of an Australian officer who survived the construction of the Burma Railway, a boondoggle, desperation project by the Japanese two years before the end of the Second World War for which they used captured soldiers as slave labor. This is a wonderful if at times raw rendering of those experiences. The novel is beautifully crafted with rich description and nuanced writing. Flanagan intercuts the wartime narrative with post-war glimpses into the main protagonist's life—his relationships, his inner dialogues, his sense of estrangement, and his defenses against it. It's a powerful rendering of the kinds of struggles that many war veterans face upon returning home, regardless of the war in which they've fought.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

For similar reasons, I recently decided to reread Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls. I'd all but forgotten the sparseness of Hemingway's prose, and Hemingway's voice—as he tries to capture the experiences of an American volunteer fighting alongside Spanish guerrillas during the Spanish Civil War—is haunting and strangely detached. That voice reminds me of the accounts I've heard from veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder. In this way, Hemingway brings his reader into the world of a protagonist confronting the strangeness of war, with its peculiar mix of the ordinary and the harrowing. There's a reason this novel has stood the test of time. (It was first published in 1940.)

I highly recommend both of these books to readers interested in the experience of war and how it shapes the inner world of veterans long after they've returned home. But the two novels are great reads even if you're just looking for an engaging, well-written work of fiction.

Ricardo Ainslie.

Chris Barton, Holiday Book Fair participant and author of numerous titles including What Do You Do With a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan

Undocumented: Immigration and the Militarization of the United States-Mexico Border by John Moore

Photographer John Moore, a special correspondent for Getty Images, got his start in journalism here in Texas at his high school and college newspapers. This striking, essential book collects his work over the course of a decade as he and his camera documented the stories of migrants, border agents, gang members, activists, and more. We would do well to follow Moore's lead and not lose focus on the individual people at the heart of our ongoing debate over immigration at the southern border.

Chris Barton.

Sarah Bird, Holiday Book Fair participant and author of numerous titles including Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book by Susan Orlean is a multihued wonder. At heart, it is a celebration of one of the few shrines we still build to the concept of a common good. The Library Book is also a page-turner of a mystery and a riveting examination of the history and inner workings of one of the country's essential public libraries.

Sarah Bird.

Shirlene Bridgewater, former Humanities Texas board member, 2008 Outstanding Teaching Award winner, and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

It has been quite a while since I've literally cried over a book, but, with Roxane Gay's Hunger, the tears flowed . . . for her search for inner peace, for her longing to truly belong to her own body, for her struggles as she traverses the arduous road to self-recovery following the vilest of most vile childhood tragedies. Blunt, raw, and beautifully honest, this memoir of Gay's 6'3", size 42, morbidly obese body takes the reader through a dark tunnel of Gay's past and near present—both despicable and poignant—as she uses food as armor against further hurt. She takes a sharp knife and digs into her psychological and emotional underbelly (no pun intended). She questions her self-worth and her ability to be happy. With society's views that equate thinness with worth, Gay sinks into a cavern of shame and self-loathing following her twelve-year-old body's heartbreaking physical and emotional assault. How, she questions, will she begin to merge the love/hate relationship she has with her flesh? It is in this moving account that she addresses the paradoxes (visible/invisible; healthy eating/binging on junk food; isolation/hunger for meaningful human relationships; and the list goes on). She is "desperate to be fed" in "the mind and the body and the heart and the soul." From whence will it come? How does she hold on to the self-care that is already there?

Perhaps the most significant part of this read was my internal urging to question myself about how I have both consciously and unconsciously bought into the myth of thin equals beauty, acceptance, and worth. My heart breaks, while, at the same time, judgment seeps through my veil of compassion. When truth meets reality, it is hard to ignore Gay's question: "Does anyone feel comfortable in their body?"

Thank you, Roxane, for helping me to empathetically understand at a deeper level how "other bodies, of differing abilities, move through the world." It is in the understanding that revelations occur; it is in the deepening of empathy that compassion fully emerges. And isn't that the power of a great book? To move one beyond oneself to the universal "we/us."

Ordinary Light: A Memoir by Tracy K. Smith

Ordinary Light: A Memoir is a slow, meditative read with an elegiac quality only familiar to those who have witnessed first-hand the passing of a loved one and "the miracle of death." But more than that, Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Poet Laureate of the United States for two consecutive terms (2017–19), records her middle-class upbringing; her education and love of poetry, reading, and writing; her strong but complicated bond with her mother; and her father's sacrifices to nurture his children and support his wife—all centered in love, faith, and racism. In her family, Smith learns that she is "worthy of everything that mattered." However, America tested that belief.

Smith's passionate, lyrical writing and philosophical but down-to-earth musings continue to reveal her quest to truly know herself. "Here I am!" is her refrain—blaringly, internally whispered—throughout the memoir. Smith's discovery: "We are, all of us, made up of near infinite facets." If one is ready for examination of the deeper self, Ordinary Light can be the impetus to learn the "language of the soul" and how not to shrink from life but rather to embrace it with all of its layers.

A Ladder to the Sky: A Novel by John Boyne

After reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Heart's Invisible Furies, and now A Ladder to the Sky, I know that I am a true John Boyne fan. With the latter novel, Boyne has crafted a deceptively easy read with all the nuances of a quiet thriller. Protagonist Maurice Swift is a writer whose psychopathic compulsion overpowers him, driving him to unbelievable destinations within his heart—if, indeed, he has one—and to deplorable behavior. Between audible gasps, head shakes, and an occasional "oh, my goodness," I was dropped into the recesses of the human psyche and the remorseless nature of Swift's desire for success as a writer.

Turning each page of this masterpiece reveals a major plot development, sometimes just casually dropped into the narration or dialogue. And, speaking of dialogue, Boyne can skillfully turn a phrase or question between characters into foreshadowing and inferences about human motivation, love, loss, and family dynamics. The final, perplexing, philosophical question this novel holds up to the light: to what extent will someone manipulate people and events to satisfy a soulless, amoral longing? Boyne answers that question successfully.

Shirlene Bridgewater.

Norma E. Cantú, former Humanities Texas board member, Norine R. and T. Frank Murchison Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Trinity University, author, Holiday Book Fair participant, and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

Native Country of the Heart: A Memoir by Cherríe Moraga

Because I know Cherríe Moraga the poet, I'm not surprised by this elegant and deeply moving narrative that deftly weaves her mother's story and her own. Nor am I surprised to find the personal revelations Gloria Anzaldúa would call autohistoria. I am currently translating Moraga's Loving in the War Years into Spanish, so I kept reading with a translator's eye/ear.

The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

I don't usually read YA books, but I agreed to present this book at a conference in Paris—I was there to deliver a keynote on Gloria Anzaldúa—and was blown away when I read it on the flight there. I recommend it for several reasons: strong use of traditional culture; strong well-developed characters, including a young trans person; excellent portrayal of a young girl's first menses; and its adherence to traditional and invented folk rituals. Not since Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret have I read a book that so poignantly portrays its subject.

Norma E. Cantú.

Juan Carmona, 2018 Outstanding Teaching Award winner

The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas by Monica Muñoz Martinez

Monica Muñoz Martinez's The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas highlights a painful and hidden chapter in the story of Texas. The Matanza (the killing), as it was referred to by locals, was a time period in the South Texas border region during which there was a large number of lynchings of Mexicans Americans. (Estimates range from 500 to 3,000.) This rise in extra-judicial killings began in the early 1900s and peaked in the year 1915. The most controversial aspect of this tragic time period was the fact that many of these killings were perpetrated by the Texas Rangers, who simply referred to those who disappeared in their custody as "evaporated." Muñoz uses historical research and, more importantly, the family records, photographs, and oral histories of those who had lost loved ones to deftly tell the story of this sad affair. The book itself challenges the old narrative of a famed Texas institution and gives voice to those whose stories had remained in the shadows as family lore. Their stories are integral to the story of how Texas developed into the state it is today.

Juan Carmona.

Larry D. Carver, former Humanities Texas board member

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita has been on my shelf for thirty years, UT Austin professor of Slavic languages Tom Garza often encouraging me to read it. I cannot think of a book that has given me such joy outside of Don Quixote, which I read every year and which Bulgakov drew upon in writing his masterpiece. (He adapted Don Quixote for the stage in 1939, the adaptation not being performed.) Bulgakov wrote the book under Stalinist repression between the years of 1928 and 1940, the year he died. It was first published in a censored version in 1966 and then in its complete form in 1973. It’s like nothing you have ever read, realistically capturing Moscow during the years of repression while taking you on extraordinary flights of imagination to among other times and places, "the fourteenth of the spring month of Nisan," and introducing you to among others the "Procurator of Judaea, Pontius Pilate;" a "vagrant philosopher Yeshua, surnamed Ha-Notsri," suspected of "inciting the people to destroy the temple of Jerusalem;" and, of course, the Devil, with his destructive, riotous, hilarious crew that includes my favorite character, Behemoth the cat, that will turn Moscow upside down. I am still not sure about much in the book, including the ending, but, along with the enjoyment of the storytelling, there is much wisdom.

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee

More down to earth, literally, read John McPhee's Annals of the Former World. You will want to become a geologist. This masterful writer—who is still going strong having published in the last two years, Draft No. 4 and The Patch—writes: "If by some fiat, I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone."

Larry D. Carver.

Patrick Crawford, 2018 Outstanding Teaching Award winner

Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian

The field of Big History has its supporters, critics, and plenty of people who have never heard of it. Whichever camp you fall into, Origin Story is a brief, yet complete, overview of Big History, whose premise is to examine the history of mankind, the earth, and the universe all at once. It uses an interdisciplinary approach that mixes astrophysics, geology, anthropology, history, and whatever means necessary to describe where we came from but does so in a manner that non-scientific people can understand and connect to the world and beyond. This book provides a humbling perspective of humans' place within the expansive scale of the universe.

Patrick Crawford.

Nan Cuba, writer-in-residence at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, author, Holiday Book Fair participant, and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

Improvement by Joan Silber

Joan Silber's novel-in-stories, Improvement, illustrates the popular idea that there are only six degrees of separation between us and everybody else. Each chapter depicts the life experience of a character who is somehow connected to a previous one, their stories as interwoven as weft threads in the Kurdish rugs that frequently appear. These are people who make bad choices usually driven by desire but who eventually adapt to a world defined by loss. The overarching theme is love as each character gradually improves: a woman who feels responsible for a man’s death secretly sends money to his bereft sister, an aging truck driver decides to stop having convenient sex with his first wife whenever he passes through her town, a German smuggler of Turkish antiquities lives an honest life, a passive hospice nurse begins to protect herself, a woman gives money and forgiveness to her ill mother; and another woman wonders if she should've left her husband in Turkey while she watches over her single-mother niece. The Washington Post calls Silber "our country’s own Alice Munro," meaning she's Nobel Prize-worthy. Improvement won the PEN/Faulkner Award and National Book Critics Circle Award.

Nan Cuba.

Sean P. Cunningham, associate professor and chair of the Department of History at Texas Tech University and Humanities Texas board member and teacher workshop faculty

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Arlie Russell Hochschild left the San Francisco Bay area to immerse herself into the Louisiana Delta for five years to live with a community of "Tea Party conservatives" in an effort to understand what motivated their political convictions and responses. It's a powerful, insightful, humble, and respectful examination of how anger, fear, and a real sense of "loss" can shape worldviews that seem very foreign to those on the opposite end of the political spectrum. It doesn't apologize or excuse behavior, nor does it condemn or glorify anyone or anything. Instead, it simply seeks to promote empathy, understanding, and dialogue, three things that are sadly in short supply these days so far as our political culture is concerned. It's similar to the better-known Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance.

Sean P. Cunningham.

Steven L. Davis, curator of the Southwestern Writers Collection at the Wittliff Collections, author, Holiday Book Fair participant, and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

Like most people I know, there are usually three or four (or sometimes ten to fifteen) books on the bedside table at a time. I’m continually reading for my work at the Wittliff Collections, where we hold the archives of nearly one hundred writers from Texas and the Southwest. At the Wittliff, a recent exhibition on historical fiction led me to a renewed appreciation for classics in that genre such as Américo Paredes’ George Washington Gómez and Robert Flynn’s North to Yesterday (which Larry McMurtry, ahem, borrowed from quite heavily in fashioning his Lonesome Dove.) But the real excitement came from reading the many excellent new books in this genre: Elizabeth Crook’s The Which Way Tree, Sarah Bird’s Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, Ann Weisgarber’s The Glovemaker, and Paulette Jiles’ News of the World. In addition to reading for exhibitions, there is always a parade of can’t-miss new books published by the authors the Wittliff collects, including Joe Nick Patoski’s fine cultural history, From Austin to ATX: The Hippies, Pickers, Slackers, and Geeks Who Transformed the Capital of Texas.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Beyond Texas/Southwestern writing, I enjoy reading anything else that sounds interesting. In this realm, there's one newer book that is a clear stand-out: The Overstory by Richard Powers. This book is hardly "obscure," having just won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. But I've talked to several people who weren't sure if it was really worth reading, so let me say: this is one of the most affecting books I've encountered in many years. Full of rich characters who are drawn to trees, The Overstory helps explain how we arrived at the ecological crisis we currently face. In its deep probing of human and natural qualities, it guides us to a wisdom that can lead towards healing and possible reconciliation.

Steven L. Davis.

Chitra Divakaruni, Betty and Gene McDavid Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Houston, author, and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Some time back, Richard Powers was coming to Houston to read for the prestigious Inprint Author Series, and the organization asked if I would interview him onstage. I said yes—Inprint is a great arts organization that does a world of good for literary Houston, and I was delighted to do something for them. But when I read the description of the book—an activist novel where the real protagonists are the trees—I wasn't sure if I could relate. Once I started the book, though, I was riveted. Powers is a wonderful writer, and in this intricately structured book he is at his best. He pulls together the most unlikely heroes—an engineer, a Vietnam veteran who is saved from death by a giant banyan tree, a hard-partying undergraduate who has a near-death experience, and a deaf scientist, among others—from all corners of the earth for a great adventure, a battle to save the last virgin forests of our continent. The eloquence with which he describes these forests—and their endangerment—touched me deeply. I will not be exaggerating if I say it changed how I see the world and my place in it. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Most deserved.

Chitra Divakaruni. Photo by
Krishna Giri.

Edwin Dorn, Humanities Texas board member, professor in The University of Texas at Austin LBJ School of Public Affairs, and Veterans' Voices task force member

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Most intellectual history is pompous and ponderous, but this book about America's original sin is accessible and easy to follow. Kendi explains how this country's putrid pool of prejudice was dug and why we find it so hard to climb out.

The Train to Crystal City by Jan Jarboe Russell

Most of us have heard about the internment of 120,000 Japanese (most of them U.S. citizens) during World War II. Russell's book is about a long-secret aspect of that policy: thousands of Japanese families and several hundred German and Italian families—some kidnapped in Latin America—that were interned at a camp west of San Antonio. Using official records, letters, and interviews with survivors, Russell paints intimate portraits of the innocent men, women, and children who were used as pawns in prisoner exchanges with Germany and Japan.

Edwin Dorn.

Betty Sue Flowers, former Humanities Texas board member, writer, editor, international business consultant, and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn

I recently ran across the fiftieth anniversary edition of Bernard Bailyn's Pulitzer Prize-winning classic The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. I'm not surprised that this book has been republished all these years later because it is a masterly weaving together of illuminating quotations from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century pamphlets to make a compelling narrative of the evolution of ideas that resulted in the U.S. Constitution. I've never read anything with so many footnotes that was written so clearly and with such passion.

Evidence by Mary Oliver

The beloved poet Mary Oliver died this year, and, in remembering her, I marveled, as always, at the way she combined fine craftsmanship with an utterly open heart that welcomed in everybody. You don't have to love poetry to love the poems of Mary Oliver and read them aloud to yourself and friends. Any of her books are wonderful, but I especially recommend Evidence for its simple poems about grieving and loss. One of Oliver's poems, "If You Say It Right, It Helps the Heart to Bear It," begins "The comforts of language are true and deep"—and so are the comforts of her poems.

Betty Sue Flowers.

Signe Fourmy, master teacher and 2009 Outstanding Teaching Award winner

They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers

For readers interested in the history of gender and slavery, They Were Her Property reveals that Southern slaveholding women's role in the perpetuation of slavery was much more than that of passive observer or unintentional accomplice. Examining how Southern slave-owning women engaged in and benefited from the slave market, Jones-Rogers upends persistent notions that Southern slave-owning women were somehow removed from the brutal business of enslavement. This compelling narrative forces us to rethink not only what we thought we knew about women as economic actors but about them as individuals who pushed against the limits of gender norms and statutory law to protect and advance their own financial interests and social status.

Signe Fourmy.

Jim Furgeson, master teacher and 2009 Outstanding Teaching Award winner

These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore

In his annual message to Congress in 1862, Abraham Lincoln begins his final paragraph with the following sentence: "Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history." Jill Lepore echoes Lincoln’s insight in her book, These Truths: A History of the United States. Lepore writes what she considers both political history and a civics text. In her work, she explores not just history but the method of history. She acknowledges a deep divide that currently exists in the United States. According to Lepore, this divide rests upon differing understandings of the "truths" that define American society. Stretching to nearly eight-hundred pages, the book is not a light summer read, but the greatest joy and challenge that comes from reading this book is found in Lepore's provocative interpretations of the meaning of these truths.

Jim Furgeson.

Michael L. Gillette, executive director of Humanities Texas

The Garden of Leaders by Paul Woodruff

Paul Woodruff writes compact books teeming with expansive insight. His latest volume, The Garden of Leaders, is a provocative call for a reinvention of higher education to cultivate true leaders. Woodruff, the Darrell Royal Professor of Ethics at UT Austin, explains how student-centered, humanities-based curriculum can prepare both talented leaders and discerning followers. Gone are those tyrant faculty whose research takes precedent over teaching and whose lectures do little to shape students’ character, critical-thinking, ethics, and leadership skills. The expensive athletic coaches, too, are gone. Their replacements—if any—are chosen by the student members of club teams. As Woodruff explains, cultivating leaders is a very different art than training managers, and followership is not synonymous with obedience. His book could not be more timely.

Michael L. Gillette

Xelena González, Holiday Book Fair participant, author of All Around Us, Texas Storytime featured storyteller

Sabrina & Corina by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Summer seems ideal for intermittent reading, so if you're a short story lover, add this title to your list. Kali Fajardo-Anstine is an important new voice in Latinx lit who acknowledges her indigenous roots and (like many of us) does not consider these designations to be mutually exclusive. Perhaps because of this, her writing is deeply rooted in the American Southwest, and the stories spring forth with a natural elegance that will carry any reader through windows of hurt, healing, revelation, and intrigue. I'm currently sharing this read with my mother and teen daughter in preparation for our summer trip to Colorado. Kali writes place so well that this book becomes a compelling travel companion.

A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick

Also in the vein of bite-sized reading is this fascinating collection of love letters. They are addressed to you, Dear Reader, of any age. And the lauded topic is reading itself. Those who penned the letters are, of course, writers but also "scientists, philosophers, artists, and inspiring humans." The collection contains personal anecdotes, facts, poetry, and words of inspiration, with unique illustrations accompanying each piece. Pick this up to fall in love with reading all over again and to remember your own entry into the magical affair.

Xelena González.

Aram Goudsouzian, professor of history at The University of Memphis and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Ibram X. Kendi's Stamped from the Beginning, a history of racist policies in the United States, won the National Book Award for Nonfiction and charged a wide-ranging discussion about racial inequality. In this follow-up, Kendi promises to craft a way forward, employing a variety of intellectual approaches and weaving in his personal story. As evidenced by his engaging writing in The Atlantic and elsewhere, Kendi's work speaks to our current moment in provocative and fascinating ways.

The Cost of These Dreams by Wright Thompson

The landscape of American sportswriting is stuffed with snarky bloggers, lazy writers who substitute statistics for insight, and grumpy old dudes. Thompson is something else. In his beautifully-wrought profiles of athletes, he reminds us that sports reflect the human condition in all its complexities. The Cost of These Dreams collects his best pieces. Collectively, they paint a portrait of American sports in the twenty-first century—what they mean and why we care.

The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher

Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members is one of the most enjoyable novels that I have ever read. While chronicling the woes and ridiculousness of an English professor entirely through his letters of recommendation, it not only skewers the world of higher education but also possesses a genuine human warmth. I can't wait to spend some time this summer with the follow-up, The Shakespeare Requirement, in which the protagonist becomes the department chair. As someone finishing up his six-year term as department chair, I can personally attest that, if you wish to both laugh at absurdities and plumb the depths of the human soul, low-level academic administration is the way to go.

Aram Goudsouzian.

Michael Gross, 2018 Outstanding Teaching Award winner

Lincoln’s Sense of Humor by Richard Carwardine

My recommendation is Richard Carwardine's Lincoln's Sense of Humor. One of the leading scholars in the field of Lincoln studies writes about this important but often neglected aspect of Lincoln's life. After reading this book, I came away understanding how important humor was to Lincoln personally and how he used it to accomplish his goals. Besides that, it was a fun book to read!

Michael Gross.

John Guess Jr., CEO of the Houston Museum of African American Culture and panel discussant at The Harvest film preview in Houston

Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America by Martha Jones

Johns Hopkins professor Martha Jones explores how free black people fought for legal rights during the turbulent years before the Civil War. To be free and black then was to live a life of extreme uncertainty. The laws at that time were hostile, and the Supreme Court barred former slaves the right to U.S. citizenship, all while free black communities were growing. It was, according to Jones, a "middle ground between slavery and freedom." A fascinating look at a period that is particularly worth looking at given the current times of racial tensions emanating from the White House.

John Guess Jr.

Andrea Holman, Humanities Texas board member, professor of psychology at Huston-Tillotson University, and panel discussant at The Harvest film preview in Austin

Becoming by Michelle Obama

In her debut book, former first lady Michelle Obama gives an honest and revealing look into her entire life before and after her time in the White House. She writes about her formative childhood years and seminal life events (including meeting Barack Obama, forging a career in law, and the death of her father) in such a way that it is easy to imagine that you are having a casual and intimate conversation over coffee with Mrs. Obama herself rather than reading a memoir. This book is about her life particularly but speaks of larger, broader topics such as motherhood, racial injustice, resiliency, and the belief in the humanity to change and grow. A great read!

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

As a college professor, I can say with certainty this book changed the way I see and engage with students in my classroom, particularly those who are first-generation. Westover's memoir is an interesting and engaging read about her life growing up in Idaho with very little exposure to mainstream American society. When she begins college, it is the first time she experiences any standardized education. Her struggles to learn, ability to overcome insecurity, and her exploration of her personal beliefs versus those of her family are written about in excellent ways. This is a wonderful book for those in education who wish to learn more about the diverse experiences individuals bring into the classroom. It is also a helpful read for any one who has had the privilege of consistently benefiting from standard education and would like to challenge the blind spots that this may create. This book will also challenge one's definition of what it means to truly be educated.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby

This book is highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the ways in which culture, politics, and religion intersect. Moreover, this is a must read for anyone who desires to learn more about the ways Americans have historically used Christianity to justify and enable racism and racial injustice. Tisby's book is a fountain of knowledge and wisdom about American history and the ways in which religion has been involved in the oppression and marginalization of African Americans. Though the book is oftentimes difficult to emotionally process because of the unsettling facts presented, Tisby does well to separate what he believes is a true understanding of Christ's gospel from a damaging cultural interpretation of just that. Anyone who wants to be challenged to pursue racial advocacy and justice as it relates to Christianity should read this book.

Andrea Holman.

Emily E. Hyatt, archivist at The History Center in Diboll and Angelina County History Harvest local partner

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

In this engaging work, Orlean takes a deep dive into the Los Angeles Public Library's history and its place in its city and, at the same time, tells the broader story of libraries and librarians in America. Using the 1986 fire as her entry point into the library's story, she takes her readers through a whodunit mystery, a history of libraries, an examination of the role and profession of librarians, and a sociological reflection of the evolution of the public library (particularly the urban public library). Readers who love books, libraries, and librarians will enjoy this work.

The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs is the complex and compelling heroine of Jacqueline Winspear's fun series of mystery novels. At the beginning of the series, she is a smart household servant navigating life before the outbreak of World War I and, in this fifteenth installment of the series, she is a mature woman surviving the London Blitz and taking care of her family, all while serving her country and clients of her investigation firm. Winspear has created a strong character and interesting mysteries, her historical research is spot on, and her writing is very good. Maisie is a great companion for summer reading when you need a good story with a mystery worth solving.

Emily E. Hyatt

Maryse Jayasuriya, associate dean of liberal arts and associate professor of English at The University of Texas at El Paso and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

This novel by Pakistani-British author Kamila Shamsie is an excellent adaptation of Sophocles's play Antigone in contemporary times and deals with how three siblings—Isma, Aneeka, and Pavaiz—cope with the legacy of a father who was declared an enemy of the state even as they attempt to make lives for themselves as second-generation immigrants in London. Moving from Britain to the United States and Pakistan and focusing on the way in which the personal becomes the political, this novel is a riveting and thought-provoking read.

Maryse Jayasuriya.

Jacqueline Jones, chair of the Department of History at The University of Texas at Austin, Ellen C. Temple Chair in Women's History and Mastin Gentry White Professor of Southern History, Holiday Book Fair participant, and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America provides a compelling account of all the different ways that public entities—from city councils to county commissions to the federal government—either promoted policies that increased and hardened racial segregation or enhanced the efforts of private companies (banks, lending agencies) bent on the same goal. If you want to know why residential patterns matter so much in a society that purports to be free and equal—why America today is a collection of distinctive zip codes—read this book and learn a critical piece of American history.

Jacqueline Jones.

Joseph F. Kobylka, associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices by Noah Feldman

Not a new book but an excellent and accessible book about divisiveness on the Court. It lays out the impact of personalities and perspectives on contentious times. In some ways the 1940s–1950s are behind us; in other ways, likely not.

First: Sandra Day O'Connor by Evan Thomas

New biography using exclusive access to Sandra Day O'Connor's papers to tell her story and, in a very real sense, the story of the Supreme Court over the last forty years.

The Chief: The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts by Joan Biskupic

New biography of the current captain of the ship. With recent appointments by President Trump, he—and the leadership role he seeks to adopt—will have a profound impact on the next generation of constitutional interpretation and development.

Joseph F. Kobylka.

John M. Meyer, playwright-performer, cofounder of Texas Veterans' Voices, and Veterans' Voices trainer and task force member

Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics by Stephen Greenblatt

In many American towns and cities, summer means Shakespeare. The Bard remains the most-produced playwright in our country. His characters and storytelling suffuse our culture. One of our blind spots might be Shakespeare's history plays. If we bother to look at his history plays at all, we often lose sight of Shakespeare's ideas under a pile-up of flowery costumes or weird conceits. In Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics, noted scholar Stephen Greenblatt offers the reader an incisive look at how Shakespeare explores corruption and violence through the lens of medieval England. Shakespeare set his history plays in a time and place far from our own technologically-chained, continent-wide democracy. Yet the psychological portraits that Shakespeare sketched of England's warring nobles and fractious mobs offer a keen insight into the lust for power, the breakdown of the rule of law, and the temptations of cruelty and violence. Before we arrive at the Fourth of July, why don't we allow Greenblatt and Shakespeare to sharpen our sense of patriotism and remind us of the challenges we face in protecting our nation's integrity.

John M. Meyer.

Jay Moore, Humanities Texas board member and 2013 Outstanding Teaching Award winner

Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts

I'm reading Andrew Roberts's Churchill: Walking With Destiny. (I might add that I'm still reading it as it is nearly 1,000 pages long!) This Greatest Briton felt destined from a young age for his pivotal role. He is a role model for any person in a leadership position and led a life well worth examining. 

Jay Moore.

Mike Morris, Veterans' Voices discussion leader in College Station

The Upset: Life (Sports), Death . . . And the Legacy We Leave in the Middle by Tyler Trent with John Driver

Tyler Trent won America's heart on October 20, 2018, when ESPN's College GameDay segment featured his moving story. Tyler, a college student fighting bone cancer for the third time, predicted that the Purdue Boilermakers would defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes that day. His unlikely prediction came true. Between that moment and his death on January 1, 2019, Tyler lived out his strong Christian faith in a way that inspired all who learned of his life-threatening struggle. In the last few months of his life, he received numerous awards for his personal courage and encouraging message of hope, raised impressive sums for cancer research, and exhibited a spiritual maturity that few people attain. Tyler's poignant story underscores the power of faith and family amidst great personal suffering and tragedy.

Mike Morris.

Naomi Shihab Nye, author, Poetry Foundation's Young People's Poetry Laureate for 2019–2021, Holiday Book Fair participant, and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

The Essential W. S. Merwin, edited by Michael Wiegers

William Merwin died on the island of Maui on March 15th of this spring, but his voice lives so strongly in his poems, he will always be present. Merwin loved Texas and visited our state many times. Here, gathered neatly and clearly in one beautiful volume, are selections from his astonishing seven decades of writing—including short prose works and translations from other authors. This is writing to steady our spirits; to deepen our awareness of earth, environment, and experience; to tenderize us all. A shining gem of a collection.

Naomi Shihab Nye.

Kirsten Ostherr, Gladys Louise Fox Professor of English at Rice University and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

Captivating Technology: Race, Carceral Technoscience, and Liberatory Imagination in Everyday Life, edited by Ruha Benjamin

Ruha Benjamin is a professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University who writes about race, science, medicine, and technology. She mostly writes scholarly books and articles, but she also uses speculative fiction to bring sociological analysis into dialogue with alternative visions of what the future could be. This combination lends her work a compelling tone of critical optimism that feels very well suited to our contemporary era. I look forward to reading this collection of essays that she edited, which looks at the ways that surveillance technologies are exerting power and perpetuating inequality among racialized communities, bringing a new perspective to current debates about algorithmic bias.

How Long 'til Black Future Month? by N. K. Jemisin

I first encountered N. K. Jemisin through the Broken Earth trilogy, a dystopian science fiction series that imagines the lived reality of climate change through human stories of hope and perseverance despite all odds. Jemisen's characters have supernatural powers, but they struggle to find meaning in life on an earth that is understood to be at war with humanity. I look forward to seeing how this new collection brings out Jemisen's distinctive blend of alternative histories and futures, all the while staying grounded in details that make these fictions feel very rooted to the concerns of the present day. Read this book (and Jemisen's other works of fiction), if you want to imagine a world where the master narratives of the past are upended by magical beings intent on delivering alternate realities of racial and social justice. 

Kirsten Ostherr.

Merline Pitre, former Humanities Texas board member, professor of history and former dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Science at Texas Southern University, and panel discussant at The Harvest film preview in Houston

Strategic Sisterhood: The National Council of Negro Women in the Black Freedom Struggle by Rebecca Tuuri

In recent studies of the post-war freedom struggle, the black women who got the most publicity were the outspoken, radical activists who took to the street during the civil rights and Black Power movements. Yet, women of the National Council of Negro Women, though committed to public moderation, supported and helped fund grassroots and radical activists. The story of the full civil rights and Black Power movements can only be told by including the activities of the women in this book.

Merline Pitre.

Ricardo Romo, Humanities Texas board member and former president of The University of Texas at San Antonio

Spirit: The Life and Art of Jesse Treviño by Anthony Head

Jesse Treviño, one of America's premier Latino artists, has been painting for nearly fifty years. Now, with the new publication of Spirit: The Life and Times of Jesse Treviño by Anthony Head, his full biography is finally available. Head's book, with a forward by Henry Cisneros, will engage you. Treviño was a star art student at Fox Tech High School in San Antonio in the 1960s and won a prestigious scholarship to study art in New York. He was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly after his first year of classes, and within months he was in one of Vietnam's worst combat zones. Treviño's life took a dramatic turn when he stepped on a landmine. The explosion blew away much of his right arm—his painting arm. Determined to live as an artist, Treviño learned to paint lefthanded. This book is a story of Treviño's sheer determination to reverse a tragic situation. Treviño returned to San Antonio and began painting about what he knew and appreciated most: his Latino community, his culture, and his faith. It was also faith in himself that kept him going. Ten years after leaving Vietnam in an air ambulance, the Smithsonian selected one of Trevino's paintings for a major exhibition on Latino art. This book pulls together the events of Treviño's life for the first time. It will appeal to all who believe that the near impossible is possible. The book will also make you wonder why it took so long for someone to capture such a beautiful and inspiring story. Spirit is a great book—one that deserves wide readership.

Ricardo Romo.

Jeremi Suri, Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin, Holiday Book Fair participant, and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

A searing portrait of the absurdity of war and strategic bombing. This year is the fiftieth anniversary of this enduring classic.

Jeremi Suri.

Don Tate, Holiday Book Fair participant and author and illustrator of numerous books including No Small Potatoes: Junius G. Groves and His Kingdom in Kansas

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry

Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry and illustrated by Vashti Harrison is an endearing story that highlights the relationship of a black child and her father and his attempt to style her hair—that has a mind all its own—just right. I was a single father for a while, so I spent many hours styling my daughter's hair. Loved seeing myself and my daughter through little Zuri and her father.

Don Tate.

Ellen C. Temple, former Humanities Texas board member and Lufkin civic leader

Minnie Fisher Cunningham: A Suffragist's Life in Politics by Judith N. McArthur and Harold L. Smith

Minnie Fisher Cunningham: A Suffragist's Life in Politics won the the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association Liz Carpenter Award in 2005! Beautifully written, this book recounts Minnie Fish as a brilliant suffragist who used her political organizating skills to win Texas's ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, making Texas the first Southern state to do so, and also her subsequent life in Democratic progressive politics in Texas and Washington, DC. This is a Texas woman who you need to know!

Ellen C. Temple.

Melody Townsel, 2018 Outstanding Teaching Award winner

As this school year draws to a close—and I prepare for both the AP U.S. history exam reading in Louisville, Kentucky, and another AP summer institute here in Dallas—I find myself grateful for the newfound freedom of my first-ever handicapped van, and all the possibilities it represents. (For years now, I've been making do with manual and, then, electric lifts on the back of my car—all of which served their time but were no longer getting the job done as I moved into an actual wheelchair.)

From day one, I've taught students from crutches, a scooter with crutches, a bigger scooter, and now, a wheelchair, and all of these assistive devices have elicited questions from students, teachers, administrators, and parents. For whatever reason, though, I've never considered using my mobility issues as a topic for teaching in my AP U.S. history or AP language classroom, even as my students and I have collectively covered texts related to a panoply of issues related to exclusion and injustice. In 2019–20, as I hit the button once again on my new-to-me kneel-down van with in-floor ramp, though, I've decided to include books, cartoons, news texts, and essays related to the issue of disability as part of my emerging “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” content arc for a new prep I'm taking on, a combined AP language/AP seminar offering.

As I pull together the things I'll be assigning my students next year, then, I thought I'd share what's on my own reading list for the summer in the hopes that you'll join me on this exploration of what it means to be disabled—from mobility issues like mine, which are clearly visible to the eye, to the experience of our veterans suffering from PTSD. While the first book on this list may seem like an old chestnut, by pairing it with news taken from today's headlines—routinely peppered with litigation and legislation related to extending rights of the disabled or reducing the costs to small business for ADA compliance—I believe you'll find plenty of food for thought for essays, classroom discussion, and general edification.

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

First published in 1905, Helen Keller's autobiography remains the gold standard of disability stories. More than just a story of her extreme disabilities and the way she overcame them with the help of teacher Anne Sullivan, her book is inspiring in ways that push many us who struggle with questions like “Why, oh, why, do they put the soap dispensers so high in disabled bathrooms” to “Why is that five-inch threshold really necessary?” past our pain to see the bigger picture: “The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even touched.” Enough said.

A Disability History of the United States (REVisioning American History) by Kim E. Nielsen

In this groundbreaking text, Kim E. Nielsen draws extensively upon primary sources to retell stories familiar to so many of us who teach history—but flips the table to focus on the disability issues that drive so many things covered in a pro forma fashion in the textbooks, from the decision-making process at Ellis Island to involuntary sterilization to the killing of blind and otherwise disabled slaves to disabled miner strikes. Compelling reading, meticulously researched.

No Pity: People With Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement by Joseph P. Shapiro

A great text to pair with Nielsen's long look at disability in America, Joseph P. Shapiro's text covers the events that lead to the promulgation of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and examines, in detail, the lives of disabled Americans before and after passage of the ADA. More important perhaps, Shapiro argues that we live in a disabling society, and the treatment of disabled people is something of a canary in a coal mine for all of us.

Make Them Go Away: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Reeves and the Case Against Disability Rights by Mary Johnson

I'm a big believer in presenting students with a balanced view, and Mary Johnson clearly spells out the beliefs and legal principles that animate both proponents and opponents of the ADA. She does, however, make a strong case that, by taking steps to integrate disabled people into all aspects of education, government, and architecture, we all benefit from inclusion.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Yes, Tim O'Brien's book is a novel — but, to the daughter of a Vietnam vet, his fictional treatment of the PTSD experienced by so many of our veterans provokes a real understanding of what causes the trauma and why we collectively need to help all those who served in combat receive the disability services they need and so richly deserve.

These texts, the disability cartoons of recently deceased disabled cartoonist John Callahan, excerpts from TV shows like Breaking Bad, which features a character with cerebral palsy—all can work together to better inform our students about the life of disabled people in America. And, perhaps, help them gain some empathy as they read and discuss.

Melody Townsel.

Alan Tully, Humanities Texas board member and Eugene C. Barker Centennial Professor of American History at The University of Texas at Austin

Frontier Rebels: The Fight for Independence in the the American West by Patrick Spero

Discussions of the origins of the American Revolution have long—and rightly—focused on colonial populations occupying the Atlantic coastal plain and London's political cockpits. In Frontier Rebels, however, Patrick Spero develops a lively and interesting argument that events in the thick woodlands of western Pennsylvania had an under-appreciated dynamic relationship to the tensions that culminated in independence and the Revolutionary War.

Alan Tully.

Ron Tyler, retired director of both the Amon Carter Museum and the Texas State Historical Association and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare's First Folio by Andrea Mays

I have long been interested in the history of great cultural institutions and the people who created them, and Andrea Mays has done an excellent job of describing Henry Clay Folger's passion for the writings of William Shakespeare that eventually led to his building one of the largest collections of the Bard's writings and the establishment of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC. Folger is another of the Gilded Age collectors who established great institutions, though perhaps not as famous as J. Pierpont Morgan (The Morgan Library) or Henry Clay Frick (The Frick Collection).

Folger spent his career with John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company, and Mays describes how his rapid rise through the executive ranks fueled his and his wife Emily's growing passion for rare books, especially Shakespeare's First Folio. She leads the reader through the maze of auction houses and elite rare book dealers as Folger pursued his prey, hoping to keep the hunt as secret as possible so as not to drive up the prices. Folger ultimately acquired eighty-two of the estimated 235 copies of the First Folio that still exist, far more than any other collector.

He exhibited the same secrecy in acquiring the fourteen houses that occupied a block on East Capitol Street in Washington where he wanted to build his library. The task took nine years, and Folger finally announced his intention in 1928. The stock market crash of 1929 probably halved the value of his portfolio, causing further delay, and Folger died in 1930, soon after the cornerstone was laid. He left the bulk of his estate to a trust for the library, which is administered by Amherst College, his alma mater, and Emily provided additional funding. Henry's ashes are now buried under a copy of Shakespeare's funerary monument in the library's Paster Reading Room.

Marfa for the Perplexed by Lonn Taylor

Ever since he retired from the Smithsonian Institution and settled in Fort Davis, Lonn Taylor has written a weekly newspaper column (which he also reads on Marfa's public radio station) about the history and characters of the Texas Big Bend. Marfa is a particularly compelling town. Home to area ranchers for decades, host to the Hollywood crew that produced Giant (with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean) in 1955, and now the home of artist Donald Judd's Chinati Foundation and a growing coterie of contemporary artists and a couple of excellent restaurants, Marfa inspires a lot of questions and some predictions—will Marfa become Santa Fe in miniature? Taylor has a fine eye for detail and essence and provides a much more personal experience with both the place and the people.

Ron Tyler.

Jennifer L. Weber, professor of history at the United States Air Force Academy and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

Becoming by Michelle Obama

The nonfiction book I'm currently raving about is Becoming by Michelle Obama. It's well-written and thoughtful. I love this book not only because Mrs. Obama was a compelling first lady for all kinds of reasons but because she manages to capture historical trends so well. In the first section of the book, for instance, she occasionally comes back to the subject of her neighborhood and her school and who was around. As the years went past, her working-class neighborhood emptied of whites and Latinos. As those families left, poverty and decline became increasingly apparent. The second section does a good job describing Mrs. Obama's struggle to balance work and family life, a prospect that becomes even more difficult once her husband becomes involved in politics.

The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson

For fiction, I recommend The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson. A Pulitzer Prize winner several years ago, this novel follows a North Korean's bizarre life story from the time he's a boy until adulthood. Based on considerable research, it offers a compelling window into what life may be like for those living under the Kim regime. If nothing else, it's timely. I will say that this is one of the most difficult books I've read in terms of content, but it is one of those books that stays with you.

Jennifer L. Weber.

Jonathan Wei, founder and executive director of The Telling Project

Drift: A Novel by Manuel Luis Martinez

First published in 2003, Texas native Martinez's book follows a teenage Latino growing up in the barrio in San Antonio, navigating the many obstacles thrown in his way, and still maintaining his focus on bringing his fractured family back together. In a moment of heightened rhetoric surrounding immigration and Latinx culture's presence in the U.S., Drift is a long gaze past polemics and into the rough-and-tumble realities of growing up as a boy in a culture that demands strength and punishes weakness, a meditation on the difficulty and necessity of keeping your soul alive in spite. Martinez writes with love and lyricism; Drift is a Texas bildungsroman for twenty-first-century America. Martinez recently returned to his home state to take up a position at The University of Texas at Dallas, teaching creative writing. He is a Dobie Fellow, a fellow of the Texas Institute of Letters, and an American Book Award winner (2015), among many other honorifics.

Away, Running by David Wright and Luc Bouchard

Borger, Texas, native David Wright and Canadian writer Luc Bouchard's co-authored YA book Away, Running follows the lives of best friends Matt and Freeman, a white Quebecoise and a black San Antonian, living in France and playing American football in the Paris leagues. Set against the backdrop of the Paris riots, Matt and Freeman forge a friendship based on their mutual love of American football. They find their affection for each other and their understanding across cultural and race lines tested when violence breaks out in the poor, Parisian suburbs where their team resides. The framing of these questions as international, intercultural issues makes Away, Running both unique and nuanced. Freeman's (and Wright's) Texas roots are deeply familiar, even as they find poignant resonances in the distant reaches of Europe's unique racial legacy. Away, Running is a big book, presented for a young adult audience but addressing issues relevant to any age reader, neither simplifying nor condescending. Away, Running is on the 2017 Texas Library Association Reading List and is a 2017 Outstanding International Book selection of the U.S. Board on Books for Young People. Wright currently divides his time between Austin and Champaign, Illinois, where he is a professor of literature at the University of Illinois. Luc Bouchard lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec, and comes to Austin when he gets too cold.

Jonathan Wei.

Brian Yothers, Frances Spatz Leighton Endowed Distinguished Professor of English and chair of the Department of English at The University of Texas at El Paso and Humanities Texas teacher workshop faculty

There There by Tommy Orange

This novel represents an important new direction in Native American fiction, as it explores from the inside the lives of people the author calls "Urban Indians"—indigenous people who have not just moved to large cities as adults but have grown up in them while maintaining a distinctive identity as Native Americans.

Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith

In this book of poetry, the current poet laureate of the United States explores the ways in which the history of the United States continues to shape our present. Her most representative poem in the volume, "I Will Tell You the Truth About This, I Will Tell You All About It," captures the poetry in letters written by ordinary African American men and women during the Civil War.

The Wings of Atalanta: Essays Written Along the Color Line by Mark Richardson

This book engages major cultural questions about race, liberty, and equality in the United States with the eye of a poet as well as an historian. Mark Richardson is interested in showing the centrality of African American literature and culture to a broader understanding of the history and literature of the United States. He explores the works of Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois, Stephen Crane, Charles Chesnutt, Richard Wright, and Jack Kerouac with a careful eye on both prose style and the troubled history of the post-Reconstruction United States.

Walt Whitman Speaks: His Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America: A Library of America Special Publication, edited by Brenda Wineapple

I've always loved Whitman's conversations with his amanuensis Horace Traubel, but it's not always easy to interest others in all nine volumes of Traubel's conversations with an aging Whitman. This collection is exciting for me because the selections show just how alive Whitman is for us today, two centuries after his birth, as he discusses poetry, patriotism, immigration, music, sexuality, war, and his own sense of himself as an individual in light of a career of writing poetry that sought to embody as well as to promote democracy.

Brian Yothers.