Explore, Learn, and Travel: 14 Books to Add to Your Summer Reading List
There’s nothing like a warm summer day where you can pull up your favorite Adirondack chair with your cold beverage of choice—or a lovely bowl of ice cream—and a new book to get lost in. While most summer reading is of the “beach” read variety—light and comforting—sometimes it is nice to mix things up with books that broaden our understanding of the places that surround us.
While the National Trust for Historic Preservation is no stranger to reading lists (check them out here), we thought we’d pull another one together to spotlight even more titles related to how we connect with place, not only as preservationists, but also as a part of an ongoing conversation about our collective and individual identities. The books below, both nonfiction and fiction, range from old preservation favorites to some newer books that remind us that we are stewards of where we live.
How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
How the Word is Passed by poet Clint Smith III is a travelogue that considers how different places reckon and share the history of American slavery. It is a powerful, poignant book that emphasizes the importance of the work we do as preservationists and public historians. If you want to learn more, read this interview from September 2021 with Smith that talks about the book and Smith’s experiences in writing it.
Drayton Hall Stories: A Place and Its People by George McDaniel
Written by the former long-time executive director of Drayton Hall, Drayton Hall Stories focuses on the site’s recent history, compiling interviews from descendants to tourism leaders, while also providing a how-to guide for using oral history about a historic place to build community and racial reconciliation.
Monument Man: The Life and Art of Daniel Chester French by Harold Holzer
Written by Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer, this biography of Daniel Chester French is a perfect addition to the list as 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Memorial. If you are interested in biographies about artists, this book covers French’s New England upbringing through to his death at Chesterwood (a National Trust Historic Site).
Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo
This “spiritual companion” to poet Joy Harjo’s first memoir Crazy Brave, which used cardinal directions to frame the text, talks of the impact of the arts on Harjo’s life and identity while also sharing stories about her Muscogee heritage.
Meet Me By the Fountain by Alexandra Lange
For Modernism fans out there, Meet Me By the Fountain promises to be a perfect fit. Billed as “An Inside History of the Mall,” Lange takes a deep dive into the history of these havens to consumerism, tracing their inception in the 1950s and its role as community gathering spaces, to their current decline and potential reinvention.
Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience by Yi-Fu Tuan
Space and Place ended up on this list after a rousing recommendation on Twitter. The oldest book on this list (it was published in 2001), Space and Place is at its core about place attachment—how people feel and think about where they live, in neighborhoods and beyond. While this might be a little more academic than the other listings, it felt like the perfect philosophical and theoretical book to add for when we want to stretch our minds.
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The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom
For many preservationists, The Yellow House won’t be a surprise on this list, and likely many of you have already read it. The winner of the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction, this memoir lies at the intersection of place, class, and race, centered around a shotgun house in New Orleans East and the impact of Hurricane Katrina on Broom’s family and the place where they lived.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
For those of you who read speculative fiction, N.K. Jemisin should be regularly on your to-read list. For preservationists, The City We Became is an excellent way to start. This novel is, in essence, about the life and death of cities, but also a love story to all that they are. In this case, we are taken to New York City whose avatars (physical manifestations of the city’s soul) battle against forces that want to tear them apart. With the second book in the series due out this fall, this summer is the perfect time to catch up.
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles
More preservation-adjacent, The Lincoln Highway follows four boys who decide to travel across the country. A 600-page road-trip story, it begins with an intention of following in the footsteps of two of the boys’ mother who sent a series of postcards as she traveled to California. As with all road trip stories, however, things don’t go as planned, and it is the connections along the way that make it meaningful.
Sabrina & Corina: Stories by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
A short story collection that was a National Book Award finalist in 2019 chronicles the stories of Latina and Indigenous women in primarily Denver, Colorado. The stories (11 in all) are connected to narratives related to the land, gentrification, and displacement and the challenges faced by these communities as they are pushed out of spaces that they once called home.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
A narrative that weaves together multiple storylines in multiple genres, Doerr takes the reader across time and space to emphasize the importance of taking care of each other and our shared earth. He uses the mechanisms of fantasy and myth to build a connection to place that we as preservationists can understand and appreciate.
The Hotel Nantucket by Elin Hilderbrand
The only so-called “beach read” on the list, The Hotel Nantucket promises to appeal to individuals who love a little romance, an old Gilded Age hotel in danger of being lost, and some interesting personalities. What might make it even more appealing to history-lovers reading this list is the secret history of the hotel, including a mysterious death by fire in 1922.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
A story of identity, The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois follows Ailey Pearl Garfield as she goes through generations of her families’ past in order to understand her own present. The book spans 200 years and uses Ailey’s life to take the reader through an 800-page journey to Georgia and beyond.
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