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Looking for a Book to Bring You Joy on Vacation?

Ed School faculty and staff share their suggestions
Man reading by the pool

After a year of balancing remote and in-person learning, conducting research to support the future of education, and ushering in new master’s programs and two graduation ceremonies, Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty members are looking forward to opening a book just for the fun of it. Rather than looking at a reading list and learning as a chore, they say the summer provides an opportunity to read something that makes them happy — to read for the beauty of the language or a good story, and even to re-read an old favorite. Here are some titles our faculty and staff members are planning to read to unwind and find pleasure on the page.

For Finding Joy in the Written Word

Assistant Professor Bianca Baldridge enjoys a good memoir. “I prefer reading non-academic books in the summer,” she says. “They drive my creativity, and it helps my academic writing.” She especially loves books about race, family, and relationships to place and space. For this reason, The Yellow House by Sarah Broom, about family, growing up in New Orleans, and the impact of Hurricane Katrina, is making her list.

For inspiration and a new way to think about engaging with the text, Professor James Kim is putting Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope by Esau McCaulley on his list.

“I love Monica Ali’s writing,” says Gutman Library Director Alex Hodges, explaining why he plans to read her book Love Marriage: A Novel. “As  a writer, she’s gifted in capturing the complexity of family relations, race, and class with amazing plot twists that carry social meaning that have to be unpacked. I’m looking forward to the journey that this book will take me on.”

Assistant Professor Tony Jack has two recommendations that grabbed his attention from the titles alone — The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline and Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality by Tomiko Brown Nagin. “I couldn’t walk past these two books and not pick them up,” he says. “Although very different, one a history and the other an epic tale inspired by tradition, the storytelling in each invite you in to, as my grandmother would say, sit a spell, listen, and learn something.”

For Finding Joy in Community and Connection

Inspired by the recommendation of an advisee, Senior Lecturer Kathy Boudett hopes to read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. “This glorious celebration of our connection to the earth was recommended as a source of readings for my Data Wise class,” says Boudett. “I bought this book because I just had to find out why.”

Senior Lecturer Irvin Scott is also looking to connect his work engaging faith and communities in support of education to his reading this summer and is putting The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song by Henry Louis Gates Jr. on his list.

For Finding Joy in Conversation

Scott is also looking to read books that spark conversations and hopes to read In Search of Common Ground by colleagues Rick Hess and Pedro Noguera. “Given the divides in the country, conversations like this one are so critical to have,” says Scott. “Only by finding common ground will we be able to make lasting change at the scale that is needed for us to continue to thrive as nation and citizens of world.” 

For Finding Joy in Reflection

The rest of the year can get a little chaotic, but the summer can provide a space for reflecting on and reexamining the world we live in. To provide fodder for reflection and growth, Lecturer Houman Harouni recommends The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by anthropologist and anarchist activist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow. “It reads like a fascinating novel, and all along it will help you question your assumptions about the way we organize our lives,” says Harouni.

Hodges, too, is reading to think about the ways we organize and preserve historical artifacts — especially as an increasingly digital Gutman Library undergoes a renovation. “I’ve chosen Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge by Richard Ovendon as a lens to think about what’s happening in the Ukraine and what has happened to cultural and material artifacts across history,” he says. “It’ll help me establish a wider view on the current challenges of print and digital preservation and storage…. We need to remember the worth of our collections, art, and curriculum over time and how to raise the stories and marginalized experiences of the underrepresented people who exist within our discipline, our school, and I hope, in our future.”

For Finding Joy in Poetry

While not a typical beach read, both Harouni and Boudett are adding collections of poetry to their lists. Harouni wants to revisit Carolyn Forche’s Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness. “The best poetry anthology I have ever read,” he says. “I want to go through it again this summer to remind myself of how we can talk about social struggle with complexity and clarity.” 

Boudett’s daughter, a sixth-grade English teacher who serves many students with roots in Latin America, gave her Me Dicen Güero by David Bowles. “She gave me this book of poetry as a window into a childhood very different from my own.”

For Finding Joy in Re-reading

Sometimes, it’s nice to revisit an old favorite and read it in a new way. Baldridge loves the truth telling and boldness of writer Kiese Laymon. “I love how he writes about Mississippi and his love for Black people,” she says. While she’s assigned some of his work in her graduate courses, she’s looking forward to reading the latest reissued and revised version of Laymon’s book Long Division.

Assistant Professor Sebastian Munoz-Najar Galvez is taking An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Education Research by Ellen Condliffe Lagemann “to the beach and everywhere else I go,” he says. “This book is unrivaled in its thoroughness and moral clarity. I'm delighted every time I have a chance to return to it.” This year, he’s reading it with a student who is applying a philosophical lens to the book. “I’m excited about all the new facets that will bring out.” 

For Finding Joy in Rest

While resting on the beach, Kim plans to crack open Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. “As Alex writes, ‘The better you are at resting, the better you will be at working,’” says Kim of his choice.

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