We all know that reading is a good habit, but when your schedule is packed and you’re even trying to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of your commute, sitting down with a book can feel indulgent. But reading (both fiction and nonfiction) isn’t just a good thing to do; it can help fight depression and make you more confident and empathetic and a better decision maker. What’s more, studies show that reading printed material instead of on screens helps you better retain information.
So why not use these slower summer months as an excuse to pick up a book and read simply for the pleasure of it. To get you started, Fast Company staff offers a few of their recommendations.
Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
A thick tome about the Troubles might not seem like a natural pick for a summer beach read, but hear me out: Say Nothing is a work of nonfiction so meticulously researched and emotionally wrought that it reads like a novel. New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe deftly explains the intricacies of the Unionist-Republican conflict (even for those of us who knew embarrassingly little about it prior to picking up this book) by weaving together the stories of several characters whose lives were irrevocably altered.
Full of heartbreaking details and twists, it’s part war chronicle, part murder mystery, and ultimately a tale of memory, kinship, and how people reconcile themselves with a legacy of violence when they themselves were the perpetrators.—Julia Herbst, staff editor, Work Life
Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come by Jessica Pan
For the past three weeks, I’ve had a tab open on my internet browser for a BBC article that looks at the latest science behind why some of us are shy and some of us can do karaoke or talk in the staff meeting without sweating. While there is a genetic component to introversion, much of what we know as shyness is environmental or learned behavior, where anxiety gets in the way of being sociable. In short, The Smiths were right when they sang, “Shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you from doing all the things in life you’d like to.” In Sorry I’m Late I Didn’t Want To Come, Jessica Pan explores what it is like to fight your most basic instincts and see what it’s like on the other side.
After finding herself in a new city with few friends, Pan, a naturally shy person, decided to take the opportunity and have what she calls “an introvert’s year of living dangerously.” That meant spending a year way outside her comfort zone pretending to be an extrovert. In her boldly designed plan to fake it till she makes it, she talked to strangers, hired a “charisma coach,” went on friend dates, gave speeches, and took improv classes in the hope of “extroverting” herself. By the end of the book, Pan has tested her limits and proven to herself that she’s capable of finding out a lot about her own happiness along the way. It’s an engaging read and a good reminder that boundary pushing can change your life or help you realize you’re happy just the way you are.—Melissa Locker, contributing writer
More Than Enough—Claiming Space for Who You Are by Elaine Welteroth
I read a lot of memoirs of successful women, so when I picked up this one, I was expecting a standard pattern. Author talks about childhood and the early signs of their lifelong ‘purpose’ before moving on to their coming-of-age moments and struggles. At the end, author triumphs and gives advice to readers on how they, too, can succeed.
This memoir definitely contains all of those elements, but I wasn’t expecting just how close to home some of Welteroth’s experience would be to mine as a woman of color in the media world. From the confusion of not seeing herself represented in the pages of ‘mainstream’ magazines and grappling with beauty standards that favored features she (and I) didn’t have, to the delicate dance that she constantly had to perform to thrive in spaces that don’t always welcome women of color, she described the emotions in such subtle, yet vivid detail, I couldn’t help but be transported to my own similar experiences as I read about hers.
I think that this book serves two main purposes. For those who’ve questioned their sense of belonging or worth in an environment, this book is a reassurance that they do—and that there are probably many others who feel the same way. For those who haven’t had the experience of being ‘the only one in the room,’ this book is an eye-opening account about what it’s like to live as someone who does. There are definitely serious themes in this book, but overall, it’s still a book you can enjoy at the beach.—Anisa Purbasari Horton, assistant editor, Work Life
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This book topped a lot of best of lists at the end of 2018, and for good reason. Owens has essentially written three books weaved seamlessly together: a beautiful meditation on the ecology of the landscape and wildlife North Carolina swamps; a heartbreaking exploration of love, loss, family, and loneliness; and a thrilling murder mystery. This would be an impressive feat from any author but even more so when you consider that this is Owens’ first work of fiction (she is a zoologist who previously published books primarily on the animals of Africa). While this is a far cry from a typical “beach read,” I think it’s the perfect summer read. It’s a page-turner that fully transports you to a different time and place and lingers with you long after you finish.—Kathleen Davis, deputy editor
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
This book gives you permission to stop trying to do it all in order to focus on the most vital things in your work and personal life. The principal theme is “moving from the trivial many to the vital few.” McKeown’s argument is that if you say yes to every project at work or request in your personal life, you may well end up finishing everything, but because your attention will be so divided, your results will be mediocre at best.
He tells the story of an exhausted Silicon Valley executive who was trying to do it all in his job. As he came to realize that he was burning out, a mentor suggested the idea of doing only what gave him joy at work. Around this time, his company also offered him a buyout, but he was in his early 50s and wasn’t ready to retire. Instead of taking the buyout, he took his mentor’s advice and started turning down projects that he felt weren’t essential—and his results improved dramatically. As a result, his colleagues and superiors were much happier with his work, and he had more time to spend with his family.
Essentialism can help you refocus your efforts in your work and personal life in order to reduce the daily grind. There’s rarely a book that can actually change your life, but this one may just achieve that for you.—David Penick, senior copy editor
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
The immigration crisis at the border of U.S. and Mexico, and the horrific separation of children and their parents that’s happening amid it, will be the subject of works of art, journalism, criticism, and fiction for years to come. It must be.
It’s almost impossible to comprehend the magnitude of the tragedy wrought by what’s happening in the country right now, but many of us possess an innate human desire to understand it, to get closer to the truth in order to share it. The main narrator of Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive is one of those people. A radio documentarian living in Brooklyn, she embarks on a road trip across the country with her family to try to document the crisis. On the way, she grapples with the dissolution of her marriage and a fear of losing her own children and family.
But ultimately, Lost Children Archive is about how difficult it is to document something that’s so hidden—by an unforgiving landscape, by federal policies designed to obscure it, by fear of what you’ll find. Luiselli’s work is fiction, but it’s a powerful testament to the magnitude of this crisis and the immense challenges—logistically, physically, and emotionally—in understanding it.—Eillie Anzilotti, assistant editor, Impact
The Coitus Chronicles by Olive Persimmon
I’m always looking for a light, fast read that’s well-written and also makes me think—especially during the summer. I found exactly that in Olive Persimmon’s hilarious second book, in which she writes about how she broke a five-year dry spell of no sex.
In The Coitus Chronicles, Persimmon unpacks universal fears and anxieties about love, sex, and self-worth as she explores the New York City sex-positive community in an effort to get her mojo back. Throughout it all, she is refreshingly honest, laugh-out-loud funny, and completely relatable.
I might be biased—I’m friends with Persimmon and helped her edit a few chapters of the book. But Persimmon’s adventurousness is inspiring and teaches an invaluable lesson: putting yourself outside of your comfort zone can reap real rewards. While in this case Persimmon is focused on her sexuality, it also applies to every part of life, from finally asking for that raise you think you deserve to traveling to an unfamiliar place. Whatever the situation, Persimmon shows that taking that leap can help you get to know yourself better along the way.—Katharine Schwab, associate editor, CoDesign
Less by Andrew Sean Greer
It’s rare for a work of literary humor to win an esteemed award, but Less, a comic novel about an aging gay writer seemingly at a crossroads in his life, did just that when it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2018—and deservedly so. The story follows 49-year-old Arthur Less, a once successful novelist who can’t get his latest book published, who embarks on a series of public engagements across the globe in order to avoid the heartbreak of attending his ex-lover’s wedding.
The plot isn’t too dissimilar from your typical generic summer beach read, but the themes it handles so beautifully (hitting a career roadblock, aging in a youth-obsessed culture, and running away to avoid your problems) we can all relate to but are not often expressed from the perspective of an LGBTQ character. It’s a story about fear and self-realization, all told through the funny adventures and humiliating escapades along his journey that make for an entertaining page-turner that also left me thinking about what happiness and success means as we get older.—Chris Allen, director of video strategy