Summer Reading Recommendations from your ECC Library!

Summer reading goals are different for everyone. Some like to have a good fantasy book, or a beach read. Others like true crime. Sometimes you even want to read something challenging. Our summer reading suggestions run the gamut and you can likely find something to interest and enrich you.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness**, appeared on the display table on the second floor of the ECC library during National Library Week.  It took a minute to realize why – but the book begins when historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library.  What separates this novel from a romantic pot-boiler is the author’s background as a professor of history for the University of Southern California, who prior to falling into fiction, published such works as John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature, and The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution.  This makes her markedly able to spin a yarn about a historian interested in alchemy who has turned her back on her family legacy of witches.  The other reason the title might seem familiar is the television series of the same name showing on BBC America and AMC this spring.  The book is better and makes more sense than the series – although the television vampire geneticist does give an idea of the appearance of Diana’s romantic interest.  The ECC copy is large type, so it appears longer than it really is, but its length does qualify as a good beach read.–Mary Spevacek, Reference/Instruction Librarian

There There (ours is in processing)*  by Tommy Orange. Orange is an excellent descriptive writer. Just lots of beautiful, jaw-dropping passages in this book that I would re-read several times. Without giving too much away: the story weaves indigenous trauma with more general trauma that plagues our society. My only criticisms echo others’ [on Good Reads]: it is hard to keep who is who straight, and how people are connected. It would be tough to keep the characters straight in a single setting let alone 99.9% of us who use bookmarks. Secondly, the ending was abrupt as in it fell off of a cliff and THE END. Those criticisms aside, this is a beautiful work of literature about Native Americans by a Native American.”–Jennifer Schlau, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Ann Rule’s A Stranger Beside Me was an intense look at serial crime from the view of both an investigator and as a friend of the perpetrator, who also happened to be serial killer Ted Bundy. Rule has written many books on true crime and was a creative writing major, so the stories come alive with detail and yet sensitivity to the victims. The ECC Library has these items* available, and many are also available at your local public libraries. For old timey true crime, the Poisoner’s Handbook* by Deborah Blum is a fascinating look at the beginnings of forensic science. See our book review from last year here. –Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian

The physick book of Deliverance Dane is available at ECC as a book on CD, and it bears a similar appeal as A Discovery of Witches.  Another historical scholar, who has just finished her dissertation, is drawn to her grandmother’s house near Salem, where she finds clues to a “Physick Book”: a manual of medicine used by knowledgeable women in the colonial era, but also a book of spells.  The novel’s author, Katherine Howe, can claim credibility to write this tale, as two of her ancestors were accused of witchcraft.  The parallel narratives between contemporary perspectives and those of the Salem Witch Trials add to the suspense of the novel.  The physic book debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list in 2009 and was named one of USA Today’s top ten books of the year.  Another great spooky, summer read.–Mary Spevecek, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Educated by Tara Westover
Westover is the product of a family of fringe Mormon survivalists who have a mistrust of any kind of interaction with government agencies, including schools and doctors. The result of this was that Westover grew up without any formal schooling. The family’s business of running a junkyard put them in danger every day, and serious injuries were sustained by many family members and treated at home without seeing a doctor. Reading about Westover’s childhood will be shocking and upsetting, but for her, this was her normal. Following her journey as she broadened her world by studying on her own to pass the ACT, then studying at Cambridge and Harvard is truly remarkable. This is a book you won’t soon forget. -Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

The following three books are very different from each other and each is by a woman writer of color. By Maria Bagshaw, Reference/Instruction Librarian.

They Were Her Property:White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie Jones-Rogers provides “court cases and newspaper advertisements to show that Southern American women were not just victims of the patriarchy but that they were integral in making the slavery system work. The author uses strong evidence to convince readers to revisit what they think they know about white women and black slavery.” White women had more economic control than has been previously noted, adding to a part of feminist history that is maybe not something white women can be proud of, but that is true. Reviewed here** in the March 2019 edition of Library Journal.

Algorithms of Oppression* by Safiya Umoja Noble looks at how the power of algorithms is oppressive to communities of color, even as algorithms are considered by many as “objective”. A main theme is how algorithms portray results in search engines, and in library catalogs, and that these results can cause damaging, discriminatory consequences for the computer searcher. Noble was able to bring these issues to the forefront and get some changes in algorithms made at Google, but the persistence of whiteness in the development of these algorithmic systems means that we have to be vigilant and aware that it is happening in the first place to fix the problem. 

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body* by Roxane Gay is a brutal and honest look at body image, how we see bodies (and don’t) in society, sexual assault, and how Gay has dealt with her personal journey through this wrenching memoir. Discussing events that have led to where she is today, her works always display a keen honesty and I always come away with learning something new. Reading her works* makes me a more sensitive citizen and causes me to recognize areas in which I can improve how I see the world and treat others with different experiences than my own

The Library Book by Susan Orleans
This book traces the history of the Los Angeles Public Library, and while doing so, give an overview of the importance of libraries in general and the ever-changing challenges libraries have faced and continue to face today. Those who are not familiar with the inner workings of the library world will be surprised to learn about all the things that libraries do and what it takes to keep the machinery running! -Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Library at the Edge of the World* by Felicity Hayes-McCoy

If you’re looking for a soft, gentle read like a summer breeze, this book may be for you. Librarian Hanna Casey, has sacrificed her career as an art history librarian in London to support her husband’s legal career and raise their daughter. The marriage comes to an abrupt halt when Hanna discovers her husband in bed with her best friend.  Hanna gathers her daughter along with a few belongings and heads back home to small town Lissbeg, on the western coast of Ireland, and to her overbearing mother, a life she thought she had left behind. Too proud to take alimony, Hanna ends up living with her mother and working as the town librarian. She becomes a person of interest on the town gossip scene which in turn causes Hanna to become more withdrawn and testy.  With her daughter, Jazz, grown and off working as a “trolley dolly” or airline hostess, Hanna is desperate to get out from under her mother’s influence and roof.  She embarks on the restoration of an old stone cottage that her Aunt Maggie left to her which necessitates reconnecting into the community. To complicate matters, Hanna discovers that a plan to bring tourism to a larger town on the Peninsula endangers the library, her job and the very existence of the town of Lissbeg. She becomes the unwitting leader of a web campaign, Edge of the World, to bring more recognition to the town, its amenities and its inhabitants.

The inhabitants of Lissbeg lend a lot of charm and interest to the story as does the history of the area, much of which is drawn from factual information, although the name of the town and peninsula have been changed. As the people of Lissbeg come together to support the campaign, a new sense of community develops and along with that an energy and entrepreneurial spirit that could help to sustain the town. Hayes-McCoy builds a story that is based in present day issues and conflicts yet has an almost magical element much like Mauve Binchy’s writing. Pure enjoyment!–Barb Evans, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Black Boy* is Richard Wright’s (Native Son*) short memoir of growing up in the South in the Jim Crow era.  Wright’s style is clean, matter-of-fact, piercing.  His memories convey what it felt like to be distrusted without cause, to be thought of less-than for the superficial fact of dark skin, to be humiliated when white people messed with him for cheap thrills as though he weren’t a person at all, but inhuman, a thing to provide entertainment. Being killed or beaten for not addressing a white person the way they thought was appropriate was a constant and arbitrary threat. Every white person needs to read black literature; it is our duty to understand how our privilege has irredeemably hurt others and continues to hurt others today.  Reading Wright can give context to our history of racism; the ways in which it has seemingly improved and the sad fact that it pervades and thrives in 2019.  –-Beth Hultman, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Becoming* by Michelle Obama
This book is fun to read. You learn a lot about what it is like to be part of the first family in Washington, but the book is about far more than that. Michelle Obama grew up in Chicago, and the first half of the book is about her upbringing, high school, college days, and her life as a young professional, and then young working mother trying to juggle kids, work, and a very ambitious politician as a husband. The Chicago connection makes the book even more interesting to read. -Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

An American Summer by Alex Kotlowitz
An unflinching look into the gun violence crisis in Chicago. Each chapter is another story of a victim, family member, or perpetrator of violence. The book as a whole leaves an indelible impression of a very complex, hard to solve problem in Chicago. -Julie Keating, Reference/Instruction Librarian

Where else can you explore recommendations? Try these ECC resources!

To look at our summer reading posts from previous years, you can click here.

*Items starred are available in the ECC collection. All images courtesy of

Thank you to Julie Keating, Mary Spevecek, Barb Evans, Jennifer Schlau, Beth Hultman, and Maria Bagshaw for contributing!


**“Deborah Harkness.” Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2015. Biography In Context, Accessed 14 May 2019.

Bagshaw, M. (2019). They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South. Library Journal, 144(2), 133. Retrieved from

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