In what has become an annual LNP | LancasterOnline Opinion tradition, we asked local people who love to read for their summer reading recommendations — books they’ve already read, or plan to read this summer, or are reading now.
This year, of course, Lancaster County was under an order to essentially stay home for more than three months because of COVID-19, so some folks suggested books they read during that stretch. Other current events — particularly the Black Lives Matter protests — have shaped people’s reading preferences.
Some contributors provided the titles, and brief descriptions, of the books they’re recommending or reading. Others wrote miniessays, which we understand, because we find it hard to limit our thoughts about the books we love, too.
In either case, we truly appreciate their input.
We hope you enjoy these recommendations — and enjoy reading wherever you find yourself this summer, even if it’s just on your porch or in your yard.
Salina Mayloni Almanzar, visual artist and member of the School District of Lancaster board:
I’m an avid reader and always have at least four or five books in rotation. This year I wanted to read more about Black and brown liberation and future visioning. I have been reading and listening to writers like Angela Y. Davis and Oscar Lopez Rivera because they are still here doing work toward liberation and have so much wisdom. I see them as mentors. Octavia E. Butler is a phenomenal Black sci-fi writer/prophet whose writing embodies what is happening in our current context. She’s one I wish I had taken time to read earlier, but I am glad to have taken the dive into her work now. I see her books as both a warning bell and visionary. This is the future we’re headed toward, but Black and brown people exist and are creating something new from its ashes. I always try to choose a few nonfiction titles to continue learning and at least one or two fiction books to escape a little.
I’m reading the following: “Parable of the Sower,” by Octavia E. Butler; “Freedom is a Constant Struggle,” by Angela Y. Davis; “Between Torture and Resistance,” by Oscar Lopez Rivera; and “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,” by Carol Anderson.
I have read “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison; “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body,” by Roxane Gay; “Living a Feminist Life,” by Sara Ahmed; “The Joy Luck Club,” by Amy Tan; and “With the Fire on High,” by Elizabeth Acevedo.”
State Sen. Ryan Aument, secretary of the Senate Republican Caucus:
During the pandemic shutdown I read “President Carter: The White House Years,” by Stuart E. Eizenstat. I had started this prior to the shutdown, but completed it during it — the writing was a rather lawyerly/academic defense of the Carter presidency. Having said that, I am glad I powered through and finished it.
I also read “The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz,” by Erik Larson — I would rank it among the best books I have ever read. And “Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England,” by Lynne Olson.
I am currently reading “Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.,” by Ron Chernow.”
Michael J. Birkner, professor of history at Gettysburg College:
My pandemic reading commenced in mid-March with Alan Furst’s “The Polish Officer,” one of a remarkable series of books by a master of the history/suspense genre, focused on a Polish spy who did his best to thwart the Nazis under circumstances where any one wrong move would spell disaster.
English novelist Robert Harris has been one of my favorites ever since I first encountered his novel “Fatherland” many years ago. This spring I turned to “Archangel,” a gripping story of an American historian’s quest to find Josef Stalin’s secret son — and why it mattered not just to the historian.
A highlight of my journalism-related reading was Martha Gellhorn’s “Travel With Myself and Another: A Memoir,” recounting, among other vignettes, traveling with husband Ernest Hemingway through war-torn China. What a writer Gellhorn was! What an adventurous life she led! She deserves to be better known.
Speaking of journalists and adventure, you could hardly improve on Nancy F. Cott’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Bold American Journalists Who Brought the World Home Between the Wars,” which focused on four American journalists: John Gunther, Dorothy Thompson, Vincent Sheean and Rayna Raphaelson, who sought to change the world for the better.
I profited from Dan T. Carter’s “The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics” — a reminder that if you want to understand the origins of the Donald Trump phenomenon, you should go back to the 1960s and the themes that Wallace hammered home during an earlier time of turbulence in American life.
Also compelling as history with a contemporary bite was Andrea Bernstein’s new book, “American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power.” In this sprawling, muckraking work, Bernstein walks readers through the origin stories of these two families in America and how over several generations they have played the system to personal advantage in business and politics.
Lighter fare, definitely, in two books I read with a French twist: Elaine Sciolinio’s “The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue de Martyrs,” which provides a firsthand account of everyday family living in one of Paris’ most interesting neighborhoods.
In “Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking” — his new book about five years with his family in the provincial city of Lyon, France — Bill Buford immerses the reader in French cuisine (and baguette making) and, not coincidentally, what community in its best sense consists of. I loved this book.
I’m currently reading a terrific mystery by Australian novelist Jane Harper, “The Dry,” set in a down-on-its-heels small town about six hours north of Melbourne.
On deck: Jane Leavy’s “The Big Fella,” a full-bodied biography of Babe Ruth that I can’t wait to start, pandemic or no.
Susan Baldrige, executive director of Partnership for Public Health:
I read more nonfiction so I can keep learning, but love to get into a good book of fiction once in a while.
During the pandemic, I read “The Splendid and the Vile,” about Winston Churchill’s handling of the bombing of London, and Malcolm Gladwell’s “Talking to Strangers,” about how often we overlook important clues to a person’s intent during our conversations.
I’m currently reading “The Spider and the Fly: A Writer, a Murderer, and a Story of Obsession,” by Claudia Rowe, a true story of how childhood trauma led to a journalist’s obsession and relationship with a serial killer.
I’m about to start “Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen,” by Dan Heath.
I plan to read “The Guest Book,” by Sarah Blake, a novel about generational burdens.
I’m excited to read the book by historian Danielle McGuire, “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance — A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power.” It sounds super-interesting. I’m also pretty sure I’m going to read the autobiography of Malcolm X again — I haven’t read it since high school.
Tom Baldrige, president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber:
I have three books I plan to tackle: “Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt,” by David McCullough — the story of my favorite president.
Also: “Lost on the Appalachian Trail,” by Kyle Rohrig. I am a committed sectional hiker of the trail with a goal to complete the entire trail within the next eight years (currently at 300 miles and counting).
And “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” by Robin DiAngelo — because we all need help to further the conversation!
Suzanne Cassidy, Opinion editor of LNP | LancasterOnline:
I just finished reading “The Vanishing Half,” by Brit Bennett. It’s a compelling novel about two light-skinned African American twin sisters in Louisiana whose lives diverge after they flee from their “color-struck” small town. The novel explores themes of race, identity and familial love, and I couldn’t put it down, but I was so sorry when I was finished reading it — the characters will stay with me for a long time. After I closed the book, I immediately ordered Bennett’s first novel, “The Mothers.”
One of the loveliest books I read during the lockdown is one I borrowed from my daughters’ bookshelves: “The Sun Is Also a Star,” by Nicola Yoon, a novel about a Jamaica-born Black teen in New York City and the Korean American boy she meets as she desperately battles to save her family from deportation. It requires some suspension of belief, while conveying some essential truths.
Books on my shelf to be read this summer include “Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened,” a graphic memoir by Allie Brosh; “Doc: The Life of Roy Halladay,” by Todd Zolecki; “The Underground Railroad,” by Colson Whitehead; and the newly published “Pennhurst and the Struggle for Disability Rights,” co-edited by Dennis B. Downey (whose own book recommendations are below).
Pennsylvania Republican House Speaker Bryan Cutler:
Here are a couple of suggestions of great books I have or am currently reading that give some historical perspectives on the founding and expansion of our country: “Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster, the Second Generation of American Giants,” by H.W. Brands; “The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West,” by David McCullough; and “Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan,” by Del Quentin Wilber.
Dennis B. Downey, emeritus professor of history at Millersville University:
I have reread several books that were important to my sense of being in the world. Most notable are: “A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories,” by Flannery O’Connor. These stories focus on the dark side of human nature and the possibilities of redemption. And “The Thanatos Syndrome,” Walker Percy’s last novel, which contains the brilliant meditation on the human condition titled “Fr. Smith’s Confession.”
In addition to revisiting the poetry of Langston Hughes and William Butler Yeats for online presentations, I am currently reading investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell’s “Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era.” It was a Father’s Day gift. Each episode speaks to current discussions of race and justice.
My wife, Traci Downey, who is more discerning than I am, recommends “The Glass Hotel,” a novel by Emily St. John Mandel.
Janine Everett, director of the Public Health Program at Franklin & Marshall College:
Because I want to learn, to better understand, and to do my part to make the world around me a better, more just, place: “Diversify: How to Challenge Inequality and Why We Should,” by June Sarpong; “Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty,” by Dorothy Roberts; “Are Prisons Obsolete?” by Angela Y. Davis; “Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor,” by Virginia Eubanks; and “Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do,” by Jennifer Eberhardt.
If you’ve never read anything about public health, the history of medicine, or about how people make health-related decisions, you should give it a try. I recommend: “Behavioral Economics & Public Health,” by Christina Roberto and Ichiro Kawachi; “The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine,” by Lindsay Fitzharris; “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World,” by Steven Johnson; and “The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World,” by Jamil Zaki.
Much of my fiction list falls into a sci-fi/fantasy category, but I’d implore readers to not let that dissuade them. The short story collections are wonderful, while Becky Chambers and John Scalzi manage to weave in so much about the human condition that you just might forget you’re reading about beings not from Earth. Elizabeth Acevedo and William Melvin Kelly are brilliant, and I’m grateful to my daughter for introducing me to Danez Smith’s compelling poetry. So here goes:
“Clap When You Land,” by Elizabeth Acevedo; “A Different Drummer,” by William Melvin Kelley; the three-book “Wayfarers” series by Becky Chambers; “The Last Emperox,” by John Scalzi; “Exhalation: Stories,” by Ted Chiang; “Orange World and Other Stories,” by Karen Russell; and “Don’t Call Us Dead,” by Danez Smith.
Richard Fellinger, author of the novel “Made To Break Your Heart” and writing fellow at Elizabethtown College’s Writing Wing:
“1968: The Year That Rocked the World,” by Mark Kurlansky — a history of the turbulent year worldwide with a focus on student activism and American culture.
“Love and Ruin,” by Paula McLain — a novel, based on letters and other records, about Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn.
“1944: FDR and the Year That Changed History,” by Jay Winik — a history of Franklin Roosevelt’s efforts to win World War II while the Holocaust raged in Europe.
“Park Avenue Summer,” by Renee Rosen — a novel about a young Midwestern woman who lands a job working for the first female editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown.
J. Eric Fisher, activist and member of Put People First-PA!:
Between the pandemic, uprisings, full-time pandemic parenting and housekeeping, I don’t find much time to read lately. I’m slowly working my way through “The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America,” by Eric Cervini. While centered on historical figure Frank Kameny, Cervini works to amplify and connect the narratives of the Black Freedom Movement, lesbian activism and trans resistance.
But mostly my husband and I take turns reading the “Notebook of Doom” series to our 5-year-old son — it’s highly recommended, escapist, rollicking fun.
Jeff Forster, a former reporter for LNP | LancasterOnline and occasional columnist:
Reading is fundamental and fun. A good book lifts the lid off your mind and welcomes in new thoughts, feelings and perspectives. A good book touches the soul and illuminates previously unexplored corners of the human universe. The best thing my wife, Cynthia, and I did for our two daughters was to read to them, early and often. Forty years later, they are avid readers and thus interested and interesting citizens of the world.
One of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves, during a global pandemic or any other time, is read, read and read some more — especially at my age, when most of my contemporaries are making bucket lists rather than reading lists. No reason why the two can’t be compatible. I fully intend to tilt at “Don Quixote” before I’m outta here.
Here’s my list: “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was a Father’s Day/birthday present from my daughter Hilary, and a 2015 National Book Award winner.
“Song of Solomon,” by Toni Morrison. Is it possible for a Nobel Prize winner to be underappreciated in her own country? Her collective work is a must-read.
“The Great Gatsby” — I am rereading it to savor the elegance of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing.
“A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle. At the wrinkled age of 72, it’s high time I started in on young adult fiction.
“When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi, and “A River Runs Through It,” by Norman Maclean — both are brief, beautiful and heartbreaking. You’ll read them more than once.
“The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote,” by Elaine Weiss, chronicles the epic battle for women’s suffrage — good timing in this 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
If you care about climate change — and trees — turn to “The Overstory,” a 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner by Richard Powers.
Then there’s “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” by David Grann, which tells the true and chilling story about murders of Osage Indians in Oklahoma in the early 1920s.
Read something that will make you laugh, make you cry or both. Read something that will rock you out of your comfort zone. Keep reading and keep learning, and you’ll be young at any age.
Lisa Graybeal, dairy farmer and member of the board of the Lancaster County Agriculture Council:
A few weeks ago I finished “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” by John M. Barry. Though I found a few chapters to be a bit tedious, the story of the 1918 flu pandemic — especially in light of what the world is experiencing now with COVID-19 — is fascinating. The world was at war, city population numbers were exploding and America was relying on home remedies and bleeding to combat illnesses while Europe — especially Germany — was way ahead in medical research and cures.
Now I’m giving my brain a break and reading Patricia Cornwell’s “Book of the Dead.” It’s part of a series of novels featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta, a coroner whose life and work are headquartered in the Boston/Cambridge area. This book takes readers to a murder in Rome. It’s solving crimes using the latest in forensic pathology and a lot of suspense — a good summer read.
After that, my dad is going to hand over a book he’s nearly finished reading: “Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe,” by Brian Greene, a world-renowned physicist. I’m a little intimidated by the subject matter, but I’m going to dive in and see how I get along with it.
Nazli Hardy, associate professor of computer science at Millersville University:
“Time of Departure,” by Douglas Schofield, is a mystery that I finished last month, but I am still thinking about it. It is set in Florida, and it will leave you breathless.
“A Rising Man,” by Abir Mukherjee, is set in Calcutta in 1919 when the Indian subcontinent was simmering with resentment against colonial rule. The Bengali culture is prominent in Calcutta, so I felt I was reading about a time my great-grandparents must have lived through.
“A Very Pukka Murder,” by Arjun Raj Gaind, is set in British-ruled India in 1909, and the “investigator” is a maharajah called Sikander Singh. I was looking for strong South Asian characters, especially during British colonial rule, and this one did not disappoint.
“Rest You Merry,” by Charlotte MacLeod, is a fun Christmas caper in a college town filled with eccentric professors. Just my cup of tea!
“The Frangipani Tree Mystery,” by Ovidia Yu, is set in 1936 Singapore during British rule — yes, there is a theme to these book choices — and the main character is an intelligent young local Chinese woman. It was a light and interesting read that portrays the culture and times of the place and people.
“The Seagull,” by Ann Cleeves: I read at least one Vera Stanhope mystery every year and it is always a top-notch affair — deep, seemingly complex, yet surprisingly simple. Our sleuth Vera Stanhope is a no-nonsense, brilliant woman we would all want on our side.
“The House of Unexpected Sisters,” by Alexander McCall Smith, is one of a series of light but heartfelt mysteries set in Botswana. The author, who was born and raised in southern Africa, captures Africa with authentic warmth. I always feel like I am back “home” because the culture and tradition of Zimbabwe, where I spent my childhood, are very similar to that of Botswana.
“The Expats,” by Chris Pavone, will have you Europe-trotting at the speed of heartbeats. The novel features a married couple who don’t know everything about each other — just the mystery for a pandemic
“Becoming,” by Michelle Obama — I am rereading this book about a smart, strong woman who became an international superstar by being herself.
“The Woman on the Orient Express,” by Lindsay Jayne Ashford, took me on a journey with Agatha Christie on the Orient Express in 1928, to Mesopotamia. Naturally, there is a mystery on board.
“The Tightrope Walker,” by Dorothy Gilman — I found this charming book in a used book sale at Penn Manor High School. Both haunting and lovely, it is about a young woman who finds a note in an antique barrel organ that reads, “They’re going to kill me soon.” This shy, young sleuth decides to find the owner, and in the process finds herself, too.
“The Invention of Wings,” by Sue Monk Kidd, is set in the U.S. in the 1800s. It’s a beautifully written book about Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an enslaved girl “given” to Sarah Grimke, the daughter of a wealthy family. This book is inspiring, heart-breaking and thought-provoking.
I love authentic stories about people who rise to the occasion during difficult circumstances, and find out who they really are. They empower the reader to do the same.
April Hershey, superintendent of Warwick School District:
At any given time, I am reading both for school/work and for pleasure. Our staff has been learning and growing in the area of bias for the last several years and we continue to look for resources as part of our professional development. The most recent book I read for this purpose was “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” by Bryan Stevenson, a New York University law professor and director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. This book highlights the injustice in our justice system for people of color and chronicles Stevenson’s advocacy work for wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced inmates. It’s a difficult read, but an important one.
I am a huge fan of historical fiction from all periods. The books that have recently resonated with me include “The World That We Knew,” by Alice Hoffman. I love this author. This novel is a story about sacrifice and love surrounding three women in the escape from the Nazis. It is a bit fantastic, but is a beautiful story. “The Water Dancer,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, is another amazing book. It’s about a child of slavery sold away from his family, who grows up and becomes a part of the Underground Railroad. Both of these books have a bit of magic in them, and are amazing reads.
Right now, I am working through several books shared by my friend Jennifer Shettel, an education professor at Millersville University. The one I am reading now is a young adult biography titled “The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh,” by Candace Fleming — a story that shows both the amazing accomplishments of this unlikely hero as well as his dark side.
Finally, a just-for-fun book, with a bit of historical fiction embedded in it, is “The Grace Kelly Dress,” by Brenda Janowitz. It follows the story of three generations of brides who all wore the same wedding gown made by the family matriarch. It is filled with lots of family drama.
Joshua Hunter, founder of Project Impact Lancaster and director of the Boys & Girls Club Southeast Lancaster Clubhouse:
Reading is dreaming with open eyes, as the saying goes. During this pandemic, I have been afforded a few more hours a day to practice self-care, and reading has always been a way to escape to places when I have to stay where I am. I quote Dr. Seuss often when it comes to reading: “The more you read, the more things you will learn. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
The first book I picked up was “Let Love Have the Last Word,” a memoir by the musician, actor and activist Common. With so much hate regarding race and politics, this book allows for a deeper understanding of love and the power that love has to begin healing. This book touches on love for God, partners, children, family, community and self.
My next read was “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” by Bryan Stevenson — while reading this I became infuriated at the unfairness in the justice system. With all that is happening today, I found this book very fitting; it provided further education about the deep strain of racial injustices.
My last read was “Relationship Goals: How to Win at Dating, Marriage, and Sex,” by Michael Todd. This book is about winning at every relationship you have in your life — with God, friends, family, your significant other. Since reading it, I’ve been more intentional in my relationships, and I have seen a shift for the better. This book was raw; the conversation is real, with powerful teachings. When you’re aiming for the right targets, you’ll begin to see the difference and satisfaction from life. When we put God first, he’ll bless the rest.
Jenelle Janci, LNP | LancasterOnline Life and Culture team leader:
“Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love,” by Jonathan Van Ness. The Netflix series “Queer Eye” never fails to put a smile on my face — especially the effervescent Van Ness, the show’s beauty guru, who sprinkles every episode with a healthy dose of hair flips and exclamations of “Gorgeous!” But Van Ness has more depth than his bubbly personality conveys. The TV personality is a nonbinary HIV-positive survivor of sexual abuse and addiction who has his finger on the pulse of politics and current events. While his prose isn’t always eloquent, the rawness of Van Ness’ memoir and his impressive self-psychoanalysis make it a compelling read nonetheless.
Next on my list are “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,” by Jenny Odell, and “Queenie,” by Candace Carty-Williams. The latter is by a Black author, and while books about racism are important and necessary, reading about other aspects of the Black experience are important and necessary, too.
Ally Kim, Manheim Township 2018 graduate and student at New York University:
I’m reading the classic novel “Zorba the Greek,” by Nikos Kazantzakis. I’m also reading “The Name of the Rose,” by Umberto Eco, a mystery novel that takes place in the 1300s and focuses on Brother William of Baskerville, who investigates the bizarre deaths taking place in an Italian abbey. And “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens, which tells the story of Kya Clark, an outcast living in a small town in North Carolina who is accused of murder.
Robert M. Krasne, publisher of LNP Media Group and chairman of Steinman Communications:
I’m now reading “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” by Anand Giridharadas, which is about the intersection of philanthropy and capitalism, and how philanthropy ultimately impacts society’s inequities. And “A Gentleman in Moscow,” by Amor Towles, a work of historical fiction set in early 20th-century Moscow that my cousin told me is the best-written work she has read in quite some time.
On my desk: “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power,” by Shoshana Zuboff. It’s a book about how data collection in the pervasive digital ecosystem that includes Facebook and Google has created predictive products sold to buyers who want to anticipate our intentions.
Stephen K. Medvic, professor of government at Franklin & Marshall College:
I just finished Tara Westover’s “Educated: A Memoir,” a paean to the power of education to liberate us from ignorance, fear and paranoia, but also a lament for what is lost in the process.
I’m currently reading Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist.” If we truly believe in racial equality, it’s not enough to claim not to be a racist — we have to live deliberately as antiracists, and Kendi’s book is a manual for how to do so.
I’m looking forward to reading Hilary Mantel’s “The Mirror & The Light,” the last book in Mantel’s magnificent “Wolf Hall” trilogy about Henry VIII’s fixer, Thomas Cromwell. The trilogy paints a psychological portrait of a masterful politician who, like all extraordinary figures, is ultimately an ordinary flawed human being.
Matt Mylin, lead pastor at The Worship Center:
One of the books I read during the pandemic shutdown was “The Character and Greatness of Winston Churchill: Hero in a Time of Crisis,” by Stephen Mansfield. We know Churchill thrived in crisis but this book gave me a window into the principles he lived by that ultimately influenced his leadership.
Churchill said, “What is the use of living if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place to live in after we are gone?”
Currently, I am reading “Lead like a Shepherd: The Secret to Leading Well,” by Larry Osborne. This book is about following the example of leadership found in Psalm 23 regarding the true nature of a shepherd.
Kim O’Donnel, LNP | LancasterOnline food writer, trained chef and cookbook author:
I have been a lifelong voracious reader, but the pandemic has suppressed my literary appetite. Typically, I work through a few books at a time, with a pile by my side of the bed. But since March, that pile is doing little but collect dust.
Rather than forcing my way through new-to-me titles, I went back to a few old favorites, like “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life,” the 2007 memoir by Barbara Kingsolver of her family’s adventures of growing food on their Virginia farm and eating locally. The main narrative is sprinkled with essays by Kingsolver’s husband and oldest daughter. Their collective experiences as first-time homesteaders, with a passion for eating well, are a soothing diversion from the nonstop headlines.
Despite my limited attention span, sheltering in place presented some palpable silver linings. For starters, I deepened my meditation practice. Thanks to a Zoom class led by Jillian Pransky, a New Jersey-based yoga teacher, I have been sitting every Monday at 10 a.m. for the past 11 weeks. Pransky, with whom I studied in 2008, infuses her classes with the teachings of Pema Chodron, a renowned Buddhist monk and author of several books. With my deeper practice intact, I am eager to crack open Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.”
Another silver lining has been the expansion of my backyard garden. Working from home gave me more time to study how the sun moves across the backyard and inspired a plan for extra raised beds and a section of the yard that I have dubbed “the nightshade jungle.” With the guidance of “The Tao of Vegetable Gardening: Cultivating Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy, and Serenity,” by Carol Deppe, I learned basics, like the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes, as well as the invitation to throw caution to the gardening wind and just try things. In addition to tomatillos, five types of tomatoes and four varieties of peppers, I have embarked on some new-to-me plants from seed, including okra and green beans. Because of Deppe’s book, I am happily winging it and learning as I go.
In a weeklong memoir workshop in May 2019, my writing teacher Beth Kephart could not say enough about “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss,” by New York Times opinion columnist Margaret Renkl. Breaking with the traditional definition of memoir, Renkl stitches stories of growing up in Alabama with taking care of her aging parents in recent years, always through the lens of her backyard birds or the sex life of bees. Kephart was right; this book is a keeper. I have given it as a gift to at least three people since reading. I feel a second read may be imminent.
Rabbi Jack P. Paskoff, of Congregation Shaarai Shomayim:
I’m currently reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” by Yuval Noah Harari. I knew that it had been on the bestseller lists for months. I didn’t know that it was one of those books that people either loved or hated. Interesting insights regardless.
“Radiance: Creative Mitzvah Living” is a book by a friend, Danny Siegel. Someone just taking a quick look would think this was exclusively a Jewish book, but it is actually a handbook for doing good in the world, with a Jewish flavor.
Damaris Rau, superintendent of the School District of Lancaster:
I am reading “The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life,” by Shawn Achor.
During this difficult time of COVID-19 and the fight for racial justice, it is easy to become increasingly anxious and depressed. This stress, due to social distancing and the loss of jobs — along with near-daily videos of the unjustified killing of Black men and women — can increase mental health risks. I and other leaders in the School District of Lancaster are reading “The Happiness Advantage” to improve our own happiness and to support our staff in achieving more happiness at home and at work. The author identifies seven practical strategies you can use every day to improve your productivity at work and at home.
I would recommend this book to every leader charged with guiding their staff back to “a new normal.”
Lisa Riggs, president of Economic Development Company of Lancaster County:
My sixth grade teacher encouraged me to read every night, guidance that has become a lifelong practice. Over the past few months, and currently, my nightly reading has varied to include: Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” a book sent to me by a friend. I like it because it’s pragmatic and can be digested in little bits at a time.
I’m also reading my hometown newspaper, The Post Bulletin, from Rochester, Minnesota, home of the Mayo Clinic. I find the local journalists’ coverage of a global health care institution to be a fascinating lens during a pandemic.
Also, the “Hercule Poirot” series by Agatha Christie. These books are my escape as the author’s writing style appeals to me and the detailed accounts hold my interest.
Pick any cooking magazine that offers relatively simple, healthy recipes that can be made in 30 minutes or less. As a working mother with two active teenagers and a strong bent toward athletics and good nutrition, I am constantly on the lookout for dishes that cut across the palate of my family.
Gabriella Rodriguez, graduate of McCaskey High School and student at Millersville University:
The book I recommend is “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” This book is one of my all-time favorites, written by the genius Zora Neale Hurston. The book explores womanhood, the divine feminine and what it means to truly love yourself in a world that doesn’t honor you. It’s the perfect book to read in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, as the story follows Janie, a Black woman and her experiences in the early 20th century.
Dr. John P. Shand, medical director of Inpatient and Consultation Psychiatry at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital:
“Outliers: The Story of Success,” by Malcolm Gladwell — this book by one of my favorite authors is a great synopsis of both the expected and unexpected advantages of the outliers who profoundly changed our societies.
“Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right,” by Atul Gawande, is a true testament to the radical changes that a very simple procedural checklist can make not only in medicine and other major fields, but in everyday life.
“Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Unrational Behavior,” by Ori and Rom Brafman, brings to light the hidden sway of our subconscious and why it can make us appear to make what would otherwise be considered irrational decisions.
Peter Teague, president emeritus of Lancaster Bible College:
“Our Bodies Tell God’s Story,” by Christopher West — a series of 129 biblical reflections by the late Pope John Paul II on the meaning of our creation as male and female and the call of the two to become “one flesh.” In his biblical approach, West wants to give us the overall biblical logic of the Christian sexual ethic.
“The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church,” by R. Albert Mohler Jr., addresses the cultural and moral changes facing us today. This is an encouraging read reminding us that today is not a time for despair but rather a time to live out our convictions in a courageous and hope-filled way.
“An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life,” by Jeff Haanen. In this season of my life, I enjoyed reading this book describing our need to find the right balance between rest and purpose in retirement and, in so doing, make sense of all of life.
“He Calls Me Friend: The Healing Power of Friendship in a Lonely World,” by John M. Perkins, with Karen Waddles. I’ve known the author for many years now, and Perkins is a statesman who lives what he preaches and writes. His message of love and walking in faithful friendship with others strikes the right chord in today’s highly charged climate.
“Civilization: The West and the Rest,” by historian Niall Ferguson. Ferguson, identifies six factors contributing to the growth and success of Western civilization. He develops the theme that when we remove the moral glue from a culture we should not be surprised when the culture becomes unglued.
“The Assyrian Prophecy,” by Ron Susek. In engaging fashion, my good friend weaves us through history, current events and future implications of the remarkably resilient Assyrian people and their place in God’s plan. He brings to light an aspect of Isaiah’s prophetic promises rarely considered in our era.
Stuart Wesbury, professor emeritus in Arizona State University’s School of Health Administration and Policy, and occasional LNP | LancasterOnline opinion columnist:
My reading preferences lean toward economics, politics, history, civil war and health care, with an occasional John Grisham novel or something similar thrown in.
My latest good read was “Great Society: A New History,” by Amity Shlaes, who explores, with insight gained from more than 50 years of history and research, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. Also, I would recommend anything written by David McCullough, another historian who knows how to research.
Shane Zimmerman, executive vice president and treasurer of Steinman Communications:
I only read nonfiction, and I have become a huge fan of books written by David McCullough that recount significant people and events in American history.
Last summer, I read his book “The Wright Brothers,” which is probably the most amazing STEM story ever told. Aviation’s roots began as a result of tinkering and problem-solving that started in the Wright brothers’ bicycle shop. The book inspired me to visit Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, last November and walk on the ground where the first flight took place. It gave me goose bumps.
This summer, I’m just getting started on McCullough’s most recent book, “The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West,” which documents the settlement of the Northwest territory that took place after the American Revolution. I’m drawn to this book because McCullough is a fabulous storyteller and I believe a better understanding of our country’s history is critical to understanding who we are as a nation today.
Tom Murse, executive editor of LNP | LancasterOnline:
I have a summer tradition going back at least 15 years. I start, and come ever so close to finishing “Blue Highways,” by William Least Heat-Moon. There’s something about the warm weather that inspires the reader to set out on the backroads in search of adventure and, as Heat-Moon puts it, “those little towns that get on the map — if they get on at all — only because some cartographer has a blank space to fill.”
I spend a lot of time, too, reading about writing. My first pandemic book was “Storycraft” by Jack Hart, a former managing editor of The Oregonian who edited several Pulitzer Prize-winning narratives. It felt like the stories of devastation and survival coming out of the pandemic were of such a massive human scale that they’d require big, sweeping narratives to be told well. Two examples of great writing I put on my nightstand after reading “Storycraft” are “Hiroshima” by John Hersey and “The Gay Talese Reader,” which I’ll confess I bought just for one particular profile, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.”
Also on my nightstand this summer: “Becoming,” by Michelle Obama; “The Intuitionist,” by Colson Whitehead (that’s a reread); a biography of one of my favorite authors, “Updike,” by Adam Begley; “Olive Kitteridge,” by Elizabeth Strout; “Juneteenth,” by Ralph Ellison; “East of Eden,” by John Steinbeck; and, because I’m inspired to one day maybe go on a very long hike, both “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed and “Walking with Spring” by Earl V. Shaffer.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also list two books that I’ve started at last half a dozen times and haven’t finished but keep high on my nightstand: “Underworld,” by Don DeLillo, and “Mason & Dixon,” by Thomas Pynchon. I’ll get back to both of them, I swear.