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Education Week Staff: ‘The Best Book I Read This Summer’

By Kate Stoltzfus — September 01, 2016 8 min read
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This summer produced another crop of reading lists, perhaps encouraged by a recent study that found people who read books live longer lives. Education Week’s readers (in response to a poll on Twitter) and opinion bloggers told us the best books on their summer lists. President Obama and Bill Gates both released their recommendations within the past few months. And for the U.S. Department of Education’s #ReadWhereYouAre campaign, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. recommended the YA novel Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

As the school year begins, we asked EdWeek staff to tell us the best book they read in the last few months for the final installment of BookMarks’ summer reading series. The recommendations, both for work and for pleasure, came from reporters, editors, and staff spanning EdWeek’s many departments—for reading that will carry well into the fall.

Evie Blad, Staff Writer and Rules for Engagement Blogger

My summer read was the nonfiction Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by psychologist Angela Duckworth (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Duckworth argues that grit, her word for a combination of passion and perseverance, can be just as essential to a person’s life successes as intellect. Her ideas have been criticized by some, who argue that schools emphasizing grit are asking students to ignore systemic issues and pull themselves up by their own boot straps. But I think it’s worth reading Duckworth’s own words on this much-discussed topic, if only to better inform the debate.

Daarel Burnette II, Staff Writer and State EdWatch Blogger

Who’s in Charge Here?, edited by Noel Epstein (Brookings Institution Press, 2004), is a great series of essays that plagues the education system. There’s really no hierarchy of authority in America’s public school system. Who’s to blame when reforms go wrong? There’s no direct answer, as this book exhibits, making policymaking and implementation all the more complicated.

Mike Castellano, Web Analyst

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs (Scribner, 2014) is a pretty heartbreaking tale of a young man who is smart enough to graduate Yale with honors, but still can’t do enough to shake some of the baggage that comes with growing up in a poverty-stricken ghetto. The memoir does an awesome job of making the reader feel the weight (or burden) of the protagonist’s physical surroundings and how that weight sometimes has more of an outcome on someone’s life than factors more commonly associated with success.

Deanna Del Ciello, Multimedia Producer

Best book I’ve read this summer is The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2013). This YA science fiction novel one of the most believable apocalypse stories I’ve ever read, and the writing is so great. Extremely easy to get drawn right into it.

Catherine Gewertz, Associate Editor and High School & Beyond Blogger

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, 2016) and Unaccustomed Earth, a collection of stories by Jhumpa Lahiri (Vintage, 2008).

Liana Heitin, Assistant Editor and Curriculum Matters Blogger

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday, 2015) is a beautifully written novel about male friendship and how childhood trauma informs our lives as adults. It’s heartbreaking and vividly told—I lost many nights’ sleep tearing through this long, ambitious book.

Mary Hendrie, Assistant Commentary Editor

I was recently impressed by Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Penguin Books, 2016). The author shadows a handful of Milwaukeean families facing eviction and does an excellent job of humanizing the tenants and landlords involved, while also panning out to ways in which the housing market intersects with--and often exacerbates--the cycle of poverty more broadly. And on the fictional (and lighter) side, I loved Sarah Caudwell’s Thus Was Adonis Murdered (Scribner, 1981), an unbelievably fun British murder mystery that feels like taking a ridiculous vacation somewhere far away.

Ben Herold, Staff Writer and Digital Education Blogger

I read Dale Russakoff’s The Prize: Who’s In Charge of America’s Schools? (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) as background for a package of stories on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s shifting philanthropic priorities. I was a little late to the party, but found the book to be amazing—deeply reported, extremely well told, and able to transport me directly back to my days as a Philadelphia beat reporter, when the district there was undergoing very similar dynamics.

Marva Hinton, Contributing Writer and Time and Learning Blogger

Insurrections (University Press of Kentucky, 2016) by Rion Amilcar Scott is a gripping short story collection set in the fictitious Cross River, Md., a town founded by slaves, that deals with the daily challenges and triumphs of the modern-day people who live there. It was so refreshing to read stories that feature African-American men and boys as fully formed characters with hopes, dreams, and fears without relying on tired stereotypes and caricatures.

Alex Lenkei, Commentary Intern and BookMarks Blogger

I read Nikhil Goyal’s Schools on Trial: How Freedom and Creativity Can Fix Our Educational Malpractice (Doubleday, 2016), which presents a scathing critique of the American public school system’s rigid and restrictive practices. Throughout his nonfiction book, Goyal champions student choice and democracy, presenting models of alternative schools to illustrate his ideas. At 21, Goyal is one of the youngest education writers out there, but he had me rethinking my entire public school experience.

Michele Molnar, Associate Editor of EdWeek Market Brief, Staff Writer, and Marketplace K-12 Blogger

One Summer: America, 1927 (Anchor, 2014) by Bill Bryson is a history book like none other. Nearly 90 years ago, so much changed in our country in one summer. Bryson describes it all with his characteristic sense of humor and wonder, as he shares details that make this nonfiction book read like a novel. The characters of that era become three-dimensional in Bryson’s rendering, whether they’re Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, or President Coolidge. Entertainment gets his attention—from “talkies” to the technology that would become TV—but he doesn’t shy away from social injustices and crime stories of the time. Hats off to Bryson for making history come alive and showing us parallels to our time.

Amanda Morales, Communications Director

The best book I read this summer was Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone by Mary Morris (Macmillan, 1988). An artfully told true story of Morris’s solo travels through Mexico and Central America, Nothing to Declare weaves a personal artistic journey into the raw, surprising, stunning, and precarious landscapes and people she encounters.

Holly Peele, Librarian

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press, 2015) is a page-turner that also makes you stop and think.

Emma Prillaman, Production Coordinator

I have several recommendations. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (Penguin Books, 2015) is a funny book, to be sure, but it’s also incredibly interesting and thought-provoking. I reread Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (Doubleday, 1957) every summer. It’s the coming-of-age story of a young boy in the summer of 1928, and I always am struck by it in new ways as I get older. The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 1999) has incredibly beautiful poems about nature, farming, community, and more.

Maya Riser-Kositsky, Assistant Librarian

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter (Hogarth, 2015) is a haunting book about how finding answers in the distant past can help us accept that we can’t always find answers in our own, more-recent pasts.

Stephen Sawchuk, Associate Editor and Teacher Beat Blogger

Before I became a teacher-policy geek, I was a 19th-century-literature geek. Periodically, I revisit some of my favorites from the period. George Gissing’s The Odd Women (Lawrence and Bullen, 1893) is an overlooked novel exploring the fates of three unmarried sisters of limited means. It’s an unsentimental yet sympathetic work that also explores the contradictions of mid-Victorian feminism.

Vanessa Solis, Associate Art Director

A children’s book I’ve read to my son is What Do You Do With a Problem? by Kobi Yamada (Compendium Inc., 2016). The illustrations by Mae Besom are beautiful, and the story is sweet and simple. It’s too advanced for his little 7-month-old mind, but he still pays attention. As far as graphic novels go, I’m super hooked on Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics). It’s not like any comic series you’ve ever read. If nothing else, the book is illustrated by a woman, and it’s refreshing to see women depicted as human beings and not anatomical impossibilities generated for the male gaze.

Gina Tomko, Art Director

I’ve read some depressing novels this summer, both touching on the theme of humanity. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (Penguin Books, 2001) deals with the irrationality of racism and moving beyond stereotypes and the classic Lord of the Flies by William Golding (Faber and Faber, 1954) deals with the conflict of the two competing impulses within each person.

Madeline Will, Assistant Editor, Education Week Teacher, and Teaching Now blogger

The Battle for Room 314 by Ed Boland (Grand Central Publishing, 2016) is a very compelling and unique teaching memoir. His stories alternatively made me sad, made me laugh, and, overall, made me think a lot about some of the problems in our public schools. I would recommend it for people wanting a break from the “hero teacher” Hollywood stereotype. In terms of non-education-related reading, the best book I read this summer was The Girls by Emma Cline (Random House, 2016). Highly recommend, I couldn’t put it down.

Holly Yettick, Director, Education Week Research Center

As I watched the 2016 summer games, the memoir Course Correction: A Story of Rowing and Resilience in the Wake of Title IX by Olympic rower Ginny Gilder (Beacon Press, 2015) was a timely reminder of the very recent and ongoing struggles faced by women and girls who participate in competitive sports.

And what did I read? In the memoir realm, the late neurologist Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air (Thorndike Press, 2016) is a gorgeously written account of Kalanithi’s struggle with lung cancer. Based on his 2014 New York Times op-ed “How Long Have I Got Left?” and published posthumously, Kalanithi offers a poignant reflection of life in the face of death—leaving readers to wonder about the other brilliant stories he had left to tell.

Photo credit: Getty

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A version of this news article first appeared in the BookMarks blog.