The Atlantic’s editors and writers share their recommendations for summer reading—new titles, old favorites, and others in between.
By Yaa Gyasi
In her first novel, Yaa Gyasi cleverly weaves the intergenerational tale of a family through a series of short, but interrelated stories set in what’s now Ghana during the mid-18th century. The two women at the center of the novel, Effia and Esi, are half-sisters who wind up on vastly different paths. One is captured during a battle between tribes, sold, and winds up on a slave ship bound for the U.S. The other—separated from her village and married off to a British slaver—ends up living on top of the dungeons that hold her own kin and hundreds of others who would also become slaves. The novel traces the lineage of these women through the tales of their children, and their children’s children, and so on—up until the present day.
Perhaps the most powerful aspect of Homegoing is how it takes racial history that’s often sanitized or glossed over and deftly pushes the the reader to contemplate the horrors inflicted upon black bodies at a granular and personal level. “Ness would fall asleep to the images of men being thrown into the Atlantic Ocean like anchors attached to nothing: no land, no people, no worth,” she writes. “In the Big Boat Esi said, they were stacked ten high, and when a man died on top of you, his weight would press the pile down like cooks pressing garlic.”
In her beautiful and painstaking retelling of this tragically divided family, Gyasi does more than provide a compelling fictional narrative—she lays out how the atrocities committed against a group of people have lived on, morphing across place and time. From slavery to Jim Crow to drug epidemics. From the Cape Coast to Pratt City to Harlem.
I read Homegoing during yet another week of heightened racial tension, anger, and disillusionment. But instead of increasing my despair, Gyasi’s placement of Africans and black Americans as the central characters in the story of race—capable of both tremendous sin and tremendous resilience, with the ability to overcome, change, and push forward—made the story hopeful and empowering. I hadn’t felt that way in a very long time.
Book I’m hoping to read: Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith
—Gillian White, senior associate editor
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
BY Haruki Murakami
Writing, like running, is something that’s glorious in theory, uncomfortable and humiliating in practice, and much easier to appreciate once it’s done. I love both; I frequently hate both, too. In summer—particularly in Washington where a five-minute walk to the drugstore leaves you languid and limp—it’s all too easy to put off either. But Haruki Murakami’s slight 2008 book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is the perfect antidote to procrastination.
Part-memoir, part-fitness journal, part-travelogue, the book narrates a period in the author’s life (from 2005 to 2006) as he trains for the New York Marathon. Along the way, he recounts how he became a runner and how he became a writer, how similar the impulse was in both cases, and how the rhythm of long-distance running mimics the rhythm of writing. Both, Murakami argues, require discipline, talent, and commitment. But he also points out how running in some sense is a natural complement to the life of a writer: It forces you outside, and counteracts the “unhealthy type of work” that writing can be.
“Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest,” he writes. “If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life—and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree.” It’s hard not to. In writing about running with such precision and clarity, Murakami offers a compelling endorsement of both.
Book I’m hoping to read: Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
—sophie gilbert, senior editor