What are you reading this summer?

sunglasses rest on a stack of three books, the beach and sand chairs visible behindWe asked some staff here at the National Library of Medicine what was on their summer reading list, and we were thrilled by the diversity of answers.

Every list is different.

No two readers even had the same author on their lists.

Predictably, many of the titles cover science and medicine. One staffer even recommended a book destined to get children interested in science. But you’ll also find fiction and even a bit of poetry. They tell us in their own words what books are on their summer reading list and why.

But if you’re looking for quicker reads, we’ve included a few posts from a trio of NLM blogs: Circulating Now, Musings from the Mezzanine, and NLM in Focus.

We also give you space at the end of the article to let us know what you’re reading.

As always, we’d be delighted to hear from you.

Read on. . .

casual headshot of Majda Valjavec-GratianMost of my summer reading will be related to my work. I will battle to stay current with fast-paced developments in biomedical research and even within NCBI!  As in the rest of the year, I will be reading the NIH Director’s Blog and Nature’s news postings. And as many scientific articles as possible!

Outside of work, my reading material will also be utilitarian: I will be searching the web for gardening tips and for ideas on chasing various critters out of my backyard. Raccoons are my latest “interest.” But if they continue with their mad gardening in my plots, I will reach for something more spiritual to keep things in perspective. For example, a chapter from Soul Lovers and Soul Makers: The Life of Abundance by Dr. Joe Vethanayagam.

Majda Valjavec-Gratian

headshot of George ThomaAs far as reading is concerned, summer is like any other time in the year—plenty to do in the office, long hikes on the weekends, and, of course, indulging in books. There is no theme to my reading choices, unless it’s to learn something I don’t know already! But the ones I’ve already glanced at and will dig into seriously include the following:

  • The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, by Walter Isaacson—A look at what has motivated the inventors at Microsoft, Apple, and many other organizations to come up with things not seen before.
  • The Gene: An intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee—Wonderfully lucid explanations of the mechanisms behind life itself.
  • This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay—Working as an ob/gyn at the UK’s National Health Service, Kay sees the underbelly of daily practice. Very funny and heartbreaking at the same time.
  • The Incas: Inside an American Empire by Terrence D’Altroy—An Andean group of no more than 100,000 people, how did the Incas rule 12 million people from Chile to Ecuador? And how did fewer than 200 conquistadores defeat their empire?

George Thoma

headshot of Sonya ShooshanI am an avid reader of many types of popular fiction. A couple of lesser known authors I enjoy are Emilie Richards and Marcia Muller. I read many series including Linda Fairstein’s Alexandria Cooper and Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles.

Outside of my normal reading habits, I just finished Faith: A Novel by Jennifer Haigh. The book is a story about a Catholic priest in Boston accused of abuse. It was an enlightening book set in my hometown. Two books on my list for this summer are Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian and Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justice by Michael Bobelian. Orhan’s Inheritance is for a neighborhood book club, and I picked up Children of Armenia at my church bazaar last year. I am a second-generation Armenian-American and enjoy the opportunity to learn about my heritage.

Sonya Shooshan

headshot of Dina Demner-FushmanA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. We all know people like Ove who need to be sure that everything is done properly and in an orderly manner. As with most such people, underneath the grumpy exterior hides a great human being whom the book reveals gradually, mixing up the present and the past, so that we get to know and love Ove from his difficult childhood into adulthood and senior years. Although Ove clings to his neighborhood and resists change, the neighborhood and life change around him. So why should we read this book about the life of a stereotypical curmudgeon? Ove’s interactions with the neighbors keep us turning the pages. Fredrik Backman‘s masterful storytelling is full of wry observations that prevent this bittersweet tale from becoming overly sentimental. It makes us realize that Ove’s life is anything but stereotypical and reminds us that every life story is unique and merits respect and interest. The sadness in Ove’s life story manages to become uplifting.

For a very different experience, read The Rook and Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley. This supernatural cloak-and-dagger fantasy takes place in London. The first book in the series, The Rook, starts with a young woman with amnesia who rediscovers her supernatural powers, the previous life of her body, and her role in Checquy, a secret ancient organization established to protect Great Britain. The archenemy of Checquy are the Grafters—a secret organization of Belgian scientists who achieved unbelievable advances in surgery and genetic engineering. In the second book, the two organizations that were trying to destroy each other since the Middle Ages attempt to merge. The parties that were brought up to believe that their foes are monsters, due to either their unnatural superpowers or scientific skills, have to work together to overcome the resistance coming from within their organizations. They also have to combat new unnatural forces. These books take the child in us back to the happy summer days filled with adventure, sci-fi, and fantasy books. I hope Daniel O’Malley is working on a third book in this series.

Dina Demner-Fushman

casual shot of Jason Agyeman laughingFailing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success by John C. Maxwell—We’re all human, and we all fail at times, but the key difference between achieving people and others is their perception of and response to failure. I pride myself on developing and evolving, and this book will allow me to continue to push the limits of my productivity and help bring my team along with me. Maxwell is a genius at developing leaders and helping those leaders develop other leaders. His writing and talks have resonated with me because he inspires you to not only care about your work but also (and especially) the people you work with by finding ways to help them.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck—Part of my self-development is being able to obtain a growth mindset that will allow me to carry forth not judgments and bitterness, but new understanding and skills. To believe that my capabilities derive not from DNA and destiny but rather practice and perseverance. To have an ability to identify when I’m in a fixed mindset, so I’m able to overcome challenges and obstacles in an effective way. Dweck focuses on research about why people succeed and how to foster that success. She has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

With NLM striving to be a learning organization, I trust NLM staff members will benefit from these books, and the organization will only get better.

Jason Agyeman

casual headshot of Walter Cybulski looking downwardThis summer I look forward to spending some time with Michael Joyce’s A Hagiography of Heaven and Vicinity. Joyce has produced some of the finest works of fiction and poetry I have read, and his latest book of poems looks to be among his best.

Two books of poetry will require some patient study: Thomas Bernhard’s In Hora Mortis/ Under the Iron of the Moon, translated from German, and Ryszard Krynicki’s Magnetic Point, translated from Polish. Hristo Karastoyanov’s novel, The Same Night Awaits Us All, is a translation of a Bulgarian work of fiction set in the 1920s, with contemporary commentary on the period. The two main characters are poets, and I look forward to eavesdropping on their literary and political conversations.

Summer also requires at least one dose of suspense. John Enright’s “Jungle Beat Mystery” series, beginning with Pago Pago Tango, has Detective Sergeant Apelu Soifua following what is described as “a tangled trail between cultures, dead bodies, hidden codes, and a string of lies.” (Amazon review) What’s not to like?

Walter Cybulski

headshot of Colleen BollinI’m reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. However, for encouraging children to be interested in science, I highly recommend Shark Lady: True Adventures of Eugenie Clark by Ann McGovern. I remember being entranced by this book, particularly the idea that swimming with sharks and studying their behavior was something a person could do as a career, and that there were useful, practical things to be learned from this kind of research (shark repellent, for example). This was also the first example I’d ever seen of a woman scientist. I still dream of maybe someday running away to become a marine biologist.

Colleen Bollin

casual headshot of Fred WoodThe Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth by Michio Kaku, PhD, world renowned and widely published professor of theoretical physics at City University of New York. This book reminds us to keep thinking big and dreaming up the future as science, technology, and systems thinking may offer biomedical and health horizons beyond even those of “Star Trek.”

The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good by Jeff Vanderweelen and John Izzo, business consultants who work with major corporations and others. While this book is focused on purposeful and socially responsible change in private corporations, many of the ideas and applications apply to government health agencies as well.

How Healing Works: Get Well and Stay Well Using Your Hidden Power to Heal by Wayne Jonas, MD, former director of the original NIH Office of Alternative Health. Dr. Jonas sums up his life philosophy that we all have the power to heal, and we can optimize that potential by staying open to healing modalities from diverse sources such as allopathic, homeopathic, naturopathic; Western and Eastern; Native and indigenous; physical, emotional, and spiritual.

Fred Wood

casual headshot of Dan WendlingI read a lot of books, big and small. First on my list is—

Introduction to Machine Learning with Python: A Guide for Data Scientists by Andreas C. Müller and  Sarah Guido. I bought three books describing how to use the Python programming language for machine learning. Upon closer inspection, however, only this one devotes a chapter to classifying text, my primary interest in machine learning. Müller and Guido posted sample project code for processing and visualization. Now that I have worked through the text chapter, I am starting to focus on other chapters, which have useful information as well.

Three other books that are queued up are—

  • Human + Machine: Reimagining Work in the Age of AI by Paul Daugherty and H. James Wilson
  • Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman
  • The Martian by Andy Weir

Dan Wendling

casual headshot of Constance YoungI am a true bibliophile. You should see my house full of books everywhere. My reading list this summer includes:

Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes. I listened to an interview with Ms. Garbes on NPR’s show “Fresh Air” and found it fascinating. I like to know the in’s and out’s of everything, sort of like an NIH investigator, so I included this read on my list.

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and the American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan. This was a gift from my significant other, as we love going on architectural tours during our vacations.

Jewelry by Suzanne Belperron: My Style is My Signature by Patricia Corbett and Ward Landrigan. I chose this book as I love design, architecture, art, and historical biographies. This book hit all the marks and is very inspirational to me as a writer and artist. As I look forward to retirement at some point, I will start my own design company and design costume jewelry with taste and style among other objets d’art.

Constance Young

casual headshot of Colette HochsteinSometimes it’s worthwhile to take up books outside your own experience, viewpoint, and perspective. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power is a pensive group of introspective memoirs and well-researched essays centering on politics, history, and race, covering topics from Civil War education to neighborhood dynamics on the South Side of Chicago to economic reparations.

Coates has a sharp sense of the relevance of history to the issues he writes about. Although the title does not refer to the recent past eight years, his recollection of that later period effectively demonstrates how much the world can change in a short time and how important it is to maintain a far-reaching view when considering such matters.

Positing that we can’t “privilege the appearance of knowing over the work of finding out,” Coates strives to start a conversation by asking questions that may help create “a world more humane.” In doing so, he displays the drive to learn of someone much younger: “I and all my wonder, my long-lost friend, have not yet run out of time.”

Throughout the book, the personal is blended with the political; the poignant introspections are the real inside story. Coates consistently coalesces his points with accounts of his own growth and self-reflection. At the same time, however, he analyzes new voices, ideas, and movements for social justice.

We Were Eight Years in Power makes it clear that how the American story evolves hinges heavily on the choices its citizens make. It is a stirring endeavor to teach and to unite in order to make that process easier.

Colette Hochstein

Don’t have time for a book? Then check out these quick reads from various NLM blogs:

Circulating Now

Musings from the Mezzanine

NLM in Focus


So, what’s on your summer reading list?

Please let us know below.

6 thoughts on “What are you reading this summer?

  1. This is an impressive list of books. I’m afraid my reading is more for fun. Since I spend my days reading the medical literature I like to relax with a different kind of mystery than figuring out the cause or treatment of diseases. For example I have been reading my way through all of Donna Leon’s novels about Commissario Brunetti, a police detective in Venice. They bring images of Venice back to me from my trip there 21 years ago and it’s always fun trying to figure out “who done it.” I did read “I Contain Multitudes” for the NIH Big Read- much of which was not new to me.

  2. I listened to A Man Called Ove over the winter and absolutely adored it. It reminded me of myself (I’m an Ove) and my neighbor (Definitely a Parvaneh). I then listened to Britt-Marie was Here, and now I am listening to Beartown. They are all fantastic . His characters are complex and real. I read Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child, and while it was difficult in places and I almost gave up, I’m glad I stuck it out. Fantastic.

    • This curmudgeon is also a huge fan of A Man Called Ove and Beartown. Backman has a beautiful way with words, and he must also have a terrific translator. I enjoyed his novella: And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. Had to listen twice! Yes, I am an audiobook-while-I-commute “reader”

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