16 books ‘Fast Company’ staffers can’t put down this summer

These books will hold your attention even though we’re finally getting out there and doing things again.

16 books ‘Fast Company’ staffers can’t put down this summer
[Photo: Sarah-Baird/iStock]

Now that life is opening up a little bit and people are venturing out, staying put with a book might hold less appeal than it normally would. Which is why we’ve compiled a list of ultra-compelling reads to get you through the this hot vaxxed summer. Our favorites are as diverse as the interests of our staffers, and include historical fiction, near-future sci fi, mysteries, creative how-tos, nonfiction, and foreign authors—a little something for every type of reader, from our newsroom of voracious readers to you.


Fall; Or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson
Recommended by Eric Perry, product designer
I’m a big fan of science fiction and technology. This near-future story explores a world where a bipartisan America is even worse and self-driving cars are common. The focus of the story is the idea of “brain uploads” after death—and the ethical dilemmas that come out of it. It’s scary how believable Stephenson’s future is.

Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr
Recommended by Jeff Beer, senior staff editor
Three books in one, this is Kerr’s detective Bernie Gunther series. It’s like Raymond Chandler-meets-1930s Berlin. It’s a fun, engrossing mystery, but how it navigates the day-to-day of pre-war Nazi Germany adds a darker, compelling edge.

Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo
Recommended by Kate Davis, deputy editor
I’ve read a lot of books on gender, so I went into this book with the expectation that it would tell me a lot of what I already know, but I was pleasantly surprised. Each chapter tackles a different realm of how America has allowed and encouraged mediocre white men to rise to the highest levels of power. Oluo skillfully weaves each argument with history none of us ever learned in school, making a strong case for how we got here and how we can get out.


Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Recommended by Kate Davis
This book is the definition of haunting. There are no shortage of books that imagine what will cause the end of the world, but this book leaves it up to you to imagine. It takes a place at a Long Island summer rental where a family that could totally be yours finds the mundane days of a so-so vacation interrupted by increasingly strange happenings (loud noises, a flock of flamingos). As the end closes in on them, they also wrestle uncomfortably with questions of race and money when the Black owners of the home show up unexpectedly.

All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks
Recommended by Chris Allen, director of video
This is definitely not an easy read by any means but, it was not only completely eye-opening and inspiring, but so incredibly compelling and moving too. The book is the author’s personal account of the AIDS crisis in 1980s Hot Springs, Arkansas, and how she took it upon herself to support and love men that had been cast aside by society and left to die. Given that we’re now at the 40th anniversary since AIDS was first reported on in America, this book is both a snapshot of a dark spot in America’s history and a reminder that the stigma from that time still persists to this day.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler
Recommended by Blake Odom, podcast production assistant
Not necessarily light summer reading, but Kindred is one of my favorite books, and I recommend it to anybody (if you haven’t read it already).  If you are interested in how Japanese comic books are intertwined with the history of Japan, then Manga! Manga! is for you—it is a little academic in its format, but a good read all the same.


Making Comics by Scott McCloud
Recommended by Blake Odom
I read Making Comics during a 75-day challenge last winter. I couldn’t read fiction for the challenge, so I did the next best thing…reading a how-to! If you’re interested in how comic books are made, and want to read it in a fun comic book presentation, then Making Comics is great.

Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics by Frederik L. Schodt
Recommended by Blake Odom
If you are interested in how Japanese comic books are intertwined with the history of Japan, then Manga! Manga! is for you—it is a little academic in its format, but a good read all the same.

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
Recommended by Yasmin Gagne, associate editor
I picked up this book after reading that it was a sensation in Japan and I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know because Kawakami’s writing is so unique. It tells the stories of three women struggling against social expectations.


What We Owe Each Other: A New Social Contract for a Better Society by Minouche Shafik
Recommended by Josh Christensen, senior audio producer
Author Shafik is the director of the London School of Economics. She lays out a framework for a new social contract and her theory of an economic architecture for every stage of life. It’s progressive, pragmatic, and deeply empathetic.


Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Recommended by Jay Woodruff, senior editor
A beautiful novel that conjures Stratford, England, in 1596, the ravages of the plague, and the inspiration of what many consider the greatest stage tragedy in English.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
Recommended by Christopher Zara, senior staff editor, news
This Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, about the author’s obsession with surfing, is filled with vivid descriptions of the world’s most beautiful beaches, weaved together with an emotionally rich coming-of-age story. As someone who never goes to the beach, avoids direct sun at all costs, and doesn’t care at all about surfing, I’m enjoying this vicarious summer thrill ride much more than I thought I would.

Leaving Isn’t The Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough
Recommended by Julia Herbst, senior staff editor
Hough covers an enormous amount of ground in this breathtaking collection of personal essays—about her childhood in the Children of God cult, about what it’s like to be poor, about being gay in the Air Force during the era of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. But what makes this book so good isn’t just her honesty, or her ability to craft a beautiful, heartbreaking sentence in just a few words. She’s also really fucking funny. I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.


No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
Recommended by Joe Berkowitz, opinion columnist
It’s hard to imagine a book more accurately translating the experience of being online all the time and the overstimulated-but-empty way it feels, let alone one that does so with such wit and elegance.

Minor Feelings: An Asian-American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
Recommended by Joe Berkowitz
Hong may be both a poet and a professor, but her illumination of what it means to be an Asian-American definitely feels more like taking in art than doing homework.

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry
Recommended by Amy Farley, senior editor
This is a book worth savoring—reading slowly, and over and over again—just to pick up on the magical cadences and lyricism of Kevin Barry’s protagonists: a pair of washed-up Irish gangsters hanging out in a Spanish port. The novel contains both a love story and mystery. But most of all, it’s a celebration of language.


About the author

Erin Schulte is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in Fast Company, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Harper's Bazaar, and Entrepreneur, among other publications. You can find her on Twitter @erin719nyc.


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