Summer Reading Recommendations

The summer reading season is here! Check out these book recommendations from your fellow North Parkers. If you have a recommendation to add to this list, send the title and a one-paragraph description to

The Blazing World: A Novel
Siri Hustvedt

Harriet Burden thinks of herself as an artist, but for decades her work is overshadowed by her husband's stature in the art world. After his death she begins what she intends to be her magnum opus--a trilogy of multimedia installations, each of which is credited to a different young male artist. Predictably, the New York art scene fawns over these young men and their work, while Harriet remains an outsider. Based on the plot alone, the story might sound like a heavy handed morality tale about gender bias in the arts. But it's really the tangled cast of not entirely likable characters driving the story. The novel sings (or "blazes," as Harriet would have it) through Harriet's journals and letters, alongside interviews, articles, and other commentary from her family, friends, and enemies. We meet a woman who is brilliant, generous, and loving, but also jealous, manipulative, and petty, whose life has been burdened by sexism, yes, but also by her own ego. In Harriet and the rest of the cast Hustvedt gives us characters who are complex and all too human, and a fictional world exploring the many frustrating contradictions of the real one. ‑Sarah Thorngate, Brandel Library

The Vegetarian: A Novel
Han Kang

South Korean writer Han Kang’s The Vegetarian won the Booker Prize in 2016 for a reason. Anyone fascinated with the idea of reading as an entranceway into new worlds that become hauntingly familiar the more pages they turn should check out this novel, as translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith. Those who do eat meat and have ever shared a dream with their sister will be especially terrified. ‑Melissa Pavlik, English as a Second Language

All the President's Men
Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

All the President's Men is a much older book, but it's also the full account of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their breaking the stories regarding the Watergate robbery and the subsequent investigations. In fact, the opening of the book is Bob Woodward being woken up by a phone call asking him to come in because five people were caught breaking into the Democratic headquarters. Aside from being an incredibly well-written story that's compelling enough to rival some of the masters in legal and political thrillers, it's based on actual events. It also gives key insights on how the journalistic odd couple of Woodward and Bernstein came together, collaborated, and ultimately broke the stories that would topple a US president. It's a book that I periodically return to. If you haven't already the book or are interested in journalism or non-fiction writing, this is something you'll want to read at least once. ‑Jonathan Gronli, Brandel Library

Behind Closed Doors: A Novel
B.A. Paris

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth; she has charm and elegance. He’s a dedicated attorney who has never lost a case; she is a flawless homemaker, a masterful gardener and cook, and dotes on her disabled younger sister. Though they are still newlyweds, they seem to have it all. You might not want to like them, but you do. You’re hopelessly charmed by the ease and comfort of their home, by the graciousness of the dinner parties they throw. You’d like to get to know Grace better. But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are inseparable. Some might call this true love. Others might wonder why Grace never answers the phone. Or why she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. Or why she never seems to take anything with her when she leaves the house, not even a pen. Or why there are such high-security metal shutters on all the downstairs windows. Some might wonder what’s really going on once the dinner party is over, and the front door has closed. From bestselling author B. A. Paris comes the gripping thriller and international phenomenon Behind Closed Doors. ‑Jaylene Moyer '18

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets
Svetlana Alexievich

Winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, Alexievich' oral history of late-Soviet and post-Soviet Russia weaves a stunning web of stories, told over countless kitchen tables of ordinary/remarkable Russians. Their stories break past the thin narrative that sometimes suffices for our Western understanding of "Russia" and replaces it with multi-voiced, intimate accounts of the lived experiences of individual Russians. Alexievich says, "In writing, I'm piecing together the history of 'domestic,' 'interior' socialism. As it existed in a person's soul. I'm always drawn to this miniature expanse: one person, the individual. It's where everything really happens." ‑Nancy Arnesen, Department of English

Another Brooklyn
Jacqueline Woodson

Best known for her National Book Award and Newberry Award winning children's book Brown Girl Dreaming, Woodson brings her poetic style to this coming-of-age novel. Another Brooklyn is a lyrical account of a motherless African-American girl growing up in 1970's Brooklyn. The novel explores the narrator's emerging identity, her friendships with a group of girls, and especially her coming to terms with the death of her mother. Above all, though, it is the poetic reverberance of Woodson's extraordinary prose that makes this a novel a treasure. ‑Nancy Arnesen, Department of English

The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead

The central trope of Colson Whitehead's extraordinary novel is that the underground railroad is not a metaphor. The novel's protagonist, desparately trying to escape the brutality of institutional slavery in 19th century America, boards a literal subway, forged by abolitionists and free men and women who have been held in slavery. The book demands that we pay attention; it is impossible to say "we've heard that all before," or to ignore the commanding authority of Whitehead's narrative, which, dare I say it, captures the reader from the first page of the book. Winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, The Underground Railroad is an important and extraordinary novel. ‑Nancy Arnesen, Department of English

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Industry Hooked Us
Michael Moss

I would re-categorize this book as not investigative reporting, but a perfect example of research reporting. Moss leaves nothing to chance and explores every facet of the processed food industry. It goes into a fascinating detailed look at science and technology to marketing and sales. This is a book that would appeal to a wide variety of people with very different interests. ‑Patricia H. Hurley, Brandel Library

Norse Mythology
Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology, written by award-winning author Neil Gaiman, is exactly what it sounds like. It's the old Norse mythology, just written in the style and humor of Neil Gaiman. Included in the book are a variety of revised myths ranging from creation to Ragnarok as well as an insightful introduction from the author about how he came to the title mythology. The introduction also covers the revisable nature of mythology. The introduction on its own is worth reading, but the individual tales are handled respectfully and Gaiman's personal writing style lends itself well to the style of mythology. ‑Jonathan Gronli, Brandel Library

American Gods: 10th Anniversary ed.
Neil Gaiman

American Gods, written by award-winning author Neil Gaiman, was originally published June 19, 2001 and won both a Hugo and Nebula award. This edition, as Gaiman says in one of the forewords, is the author's preferred text. It contains a lot of the material that was cut from the original edition. It's an interesting examination of how the gods and mythological creatures of various cultures came to what became the United States as well as how they fare as people put more of their faith in various forms of man-made wealth and technology-based "gods" than in the mythological figures that defined their cultures. This book is being included since the Starz TV adaptation premiered on April 30, 2017. More importantly, due to its nature as an immigrant story, the book has gained a darker and more immediate cultural relevance. ‑Jonathan Gronli, Brandel Library