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The Gavel's Last-Minute Summer Reads

Alas, summer is coming to a close. Though some may feel that there is not enough time to accomplish anything substantive in the waning days of summer, now is a great time to pick up a book and relax before heading into the school year. Just for this purpose, The Gavel has compiled a list of last-minute summer reads.

1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Though admittedly not a light topic, The Underground Railroad is an essential read. Whitehead steers clear of direct confrontation with modern racism and civil rights issues; simultaneously, he demonstrates how important historical memory can be by describing the dueling sides of the actual Underground Railroad. The book paints a humanizing portrait of the road out of the Deep South in the late 19th century, showing how the memory of a lone woman can transform the lot of her descendants for years to come.

2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Rebecca Skloot wrote a master work of creative nonfiction with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. She deftly weaves different, often conflicting narratives into a comprehensive story of the dangers of medical consent and controversial issues of race and economic class in scientific research. The story is a lesson for us all on how to end societal complicity and begin speaking out and correcting past wrongs. The author’s emotional connection with the Lacks family strengthens the narrative, as readers can tell just how invested Skloot is into the outcome of the investigation.

3. The Billion Dollar Spy by David Hoffman

What a better start than a BC alumnus appearing in the opening pages of a real-life spy thriller? The Billion Dollar Spy, which opens with Bill Plunkert, MCAS ’68, courting a Soviet asset on the streets of Moscow, is a non-stop action account of the activities of the CIA’s Moscow Station during the Cold War. More specifically, this story depicts how case officers turned a bitter Soviet military engineer into a priceless asset for United States intelligence and national security. The true story is a fast-paced narrative filled with both a history of the CIA and a comprehensive analysis of the Moscow Station’s operations during the Cold War. The Billion Dollar Spy is guaranteed to enthrall all readers—even those generally averse to nonfiction.

4. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s debut novel, Homegoing, is a stunning depiction of the pervasive legacies of slavery generations after it has ended. It depicts the fate-twisted journey of two half-sisters in Africa, one ending up a slave and the other a wife of the British governor in Ghana. Through the creative deployment of a comprehensive family tree, Gyasi traces the inescapable and omnipresent ills of slavery by meticulously studying the descendants of each half-sister. A breathtaking read, Homegoing has been described as a “novel in short stories” and is perfect to tackle before heading back to school.