ACLS Staff Summer Reading & Listening List
With the summer in full swing, members of ACLS staff share their latest book and podcast recommendations. There’s something for everyone: timeless essays and memoirs, a new Nigerian murder mystery novel, a documentary podcast on issues of race and class in New York City public schools, an auditory deep dive on 1980s erotic thrillers, and more.
Edited by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I recommend this book, because I really, really love short stories. They’re a great palate cleanser for me between novels, and when I can’t quite figure out what to pick up next. This is thus far my favorite compilation of short stories, likely because Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is the editor for this new edition. Each story provides something new and unique for me to enjoy from a variety of different voices and backgrounds. It’s put me onto many writers, whose works I have now added to my running reading list. There is nothing more satisfying for me than reading a wonderfully written short story!
-Morgan Day, Program Associate, International Programs
By Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka’s novel is a murder mystery novel without an actual murder. It presents a biting irony about the complex life of his characters and their determination to show the world that their country is the happiest in the world. Soyinka took the novel’s title from a real-life Gallup survey in 2011 that named Nigeria one of the world’s happiest countries.
– Oladipupo Oyeleye, Program Officer for Higher Education Initiatives, US Programs
By Michelle Zauner
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner is a wonderful, “all-senses” memoir about how food and tradition connect us to our loved ones. As she grieves her mother’s death, the author describes the challenging relationship they shared and the foods and flavors that brought them together in life and after death.
-Emily Carroll, Grants Officer
By Deirdre Cooper Owens
A book I’ve returned to this summer, anticipating the premiere of Tonya Lewis Lee and Paula Eiselt’s documentary Aftershock, is medical historian Deirdre Cooper Owens’ Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology (2017). Tracing the intertwined histories of slavery, colonialism, and American medicine, and the resulting and ongoing effects on Black and Indigenous birthers and families, this book (along with seminal works by Dorothy Roberts and Harriet Washington) provides a critical framework for understanding the relationship between full-spectrum reproductive justice and movements for Black and indigenous lives.
-Desiree Barron-Callaci, Senior Program Officer, US Programs
By James Baldwin
All of Baldwin’s essays, particularly those in this book, helped me in my understanding of race and its role and history in America. His insights are as accurate and relevant today as they were when he wrote them in the 1950s.
-Nicole Glotzer, Philanthropy Associate
By Zakiya Dalila Harris
Personally, I love a good thriller novel that makes it hard for me to put down. The Other Black Girl was that book for me as it was able to combine the thriller genre with real-life scenarios that Black women contend with in spaces not created for or by them. This book not only gave me a good read, but provided the support to fully understand my worth.
-Jeanell Allen, Executive Assistant to the Vice President/COO
Produced by Brooklyn Deep
I’m not usually a podcast fan, but I recommend School Colors, a brilliant production by the Brooklyn Deep (now on NPR) about race, class, and power in New York City public schools. The first season starts with the experiment in community control of schools in early 1970s Bedford Stuyvesant and ends with the district’s current struggles over charters and declining enrollments; the second tackles a complex, conflicted school district in Queens that includes Forest Hills and Jamaica. It’s beautifully done, timely and gripping, and the smart hosts have a terrific rapport.
-Joy Connolly, President
Hosted and Produced by Hrishikesh Hirway
Each episode of Song Exploder features a musician deconstructing one of their songs, often including unreleased demos or even iPhone voice memos. The artists and tracks span genres, from composer Ludwig Göransson discussing the “Killmonger” theme from Black Panther to popstar Dua Lipa taking apart her hit “Levitating,” and episodes from Rick Astley, Phoebe Bridgers, Sheryl Crow, Meek Mill, and Slipknot, to name a few. I suggest starting with Glass Animals’ episode on “Heat Waves,” a song you’re likely to hear this summer with an emotional backstory that might surprise you.
-Anna Polovick Waggy, Communications Manager
Hosted and Produced by Karina Longworth
Not as spicy as the name suggests. Twelve episodes that provide a really smart deconstruction and critique of the “erotic thriller” genre in popular films of the 1980s, from origins in the sexual revolution to writing and production decisions made against the backdrop of conservatism of the Reagan era, to the lasting influence on women in Hollywood, on screen and behind the scenes. Not gossipy, instead very well-researched social critique.
-Heather Mangrum, Director of Communications