7 books to read this summer
MSU Denver faculty and staff members recommend the best books they’ve read all year.
It’s summer. The mountains are calling. Wildflowers are blooming along Colorado’s hiking trails. Reservoirs are awaiting paddleboarders to dive in. We get it. With Covid restrictions all but eliminated, fun summer activities are raging this year. But should you have a free weekend or evening, might we suggest curling up with your trusted friend, the book?
Faculty and staff members at Metropolitan State University of Denver reflected on the books they read this year and picked their favorites, so you can feel confident choosing any of the seven from the list below.
“The Betweens” by Cynthia Arrieu-King
Recommended by Sommer Browning, associate director of technical services at the Auraria Library
“The Betweens” is a lyric exploration of the beauty and difficulty of being a human and inhabiting a prism of cultures and roles. Arrieu-King grew up in Kentucky and is of Chinese and French heritage. An avid young reader, she’s a sister, a poet, a quilter (a between is a sharp needle used in quilting) and currently a professor of English at Stockton University in New Jersey. Her prose in this book meditates on all these roles in a vulnerable and grounded way. It is a window into a selfhood told through everyday occurrences: what Arrieu-King overhears in line at the grocery store, her deep dives into scientific clickbait, the lessons students teach professors, art and literature, microaggressions she’s experienced, and other small American moments that can shatter us. “The Betweens” is generous book about the complicated work of living life in this country.
“The Dictionary of Lost Words” by Pip Williams
Recommended by Rebecca Gorman O’Neill, chair and professor, Department of English
This novel tells the story of Esme, a girl who grows up alongside the Oxford English Dictionary and who as a child played at the feet of the men who painstakingly compiled the words and definitions for the definitive dictionary of the English language. As she grows up, she starts collecting the discarded words — words of the “lower classes” and words specific to the experiences of women — words deemed too unimportant or vulgar for the OED. This is a delicious read, tracing the life of Esme’s extraordinary curiosity.
“Cheap Land Colorado: Off-Gridders at America’s Edge” by Ted Conover
Recommended by Christopher Jennings, chair and professor, Journalism and Media Production
In his forthcoming book, journalist Ted Conover recounts his 2017 social experiment in which he moved to a lot in Colorado’s San Luis Valley to learn more about what it takes to live off-grid. He discovers a diverse and often-contentious community that speaks to the divisions and commonalities of our culture as a whole. Set to publish in November, this book is sure to be a revealing and fascinating portrait of the “prairie people” living on Colorado’s edges.
“I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness” by Claire Vaye Watkins
Recommended by Laura Miller, content manager/managing editor
Like Elena Ferrante’s novel “The Lost Daughter,” recently adapted for film by Maggie Gyllenhaal, “I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness,” complicates what it means to be a mother. This book follows a writer and new mom, also named Claire, as she sets out on a journey to discover the ways in which motherhood has changed her identity. Though it’s sometimes difficult, as a reader, to watch Claire struggle with postpartum depression, the novel underscores the importance and necessity of trusting women to choose their own paths during a time when that freedom is under threat. Drawing from Watkins’ life, the novel weaves in scenes from Claire’s traumatic upbringing with parents who were closely affiliated with cult leader Charles Manson. Tomorrow Studios recently announced plans to adapt the novel for TV.
“Woman of Light” by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Recommended by Cory Phare, senior copywriter/content strategist
Not just a flat circle, time is a three-dimensional space, as shown by the intergenerational narratives woven together in Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s “Woman of Light.” The MSU Denver alumna and National Book Award finalist’s debut novel centers on protagonist Luz, a tea-leaf reader in 1930s Denver, whose powers of insight and perception extend to her patrons and her familial lineage. In this novel, as in her short-story collection “Sabrina & Corina,” Fajardo-Anstine’s sensory details are unmistakable. Characters jump off the page against landscapes that thrum in their vibrancy, the shifting timelines uncovering the connective narrative. The result is a visceral page-turner and timeless work of historical fiction that takes the reader on an entertaining and informative journey.
Recommended by Amanda Schwengel, assistant director of Photography and Video Production
An intimate memoir spiced with Tucci’s favorite recipes, “Taste” is a refreshing summer read. The award-winning actor takes readers back to memories of growing up in New York with his close-knit Italian-American family and to time spent in Italy and living as a young actor in New York City. Through his love of gastronomy, Tucci explores how food connects and brings people together. A delicious book to enjoy al fresco for anyone who loves cooking, culture and family.
“The Holly: Five Bullets, One Gun and the Struggle to Save an American Neighborhood” by Julian Rubinstein
Recommended by Matt Watson, associate director of Executive Communications
Julian Rubinstein’s “The Holly” provides an investigative look into how a Denver neighborhood has been shaped by gang violence, race relations, law enforcement and politics. It’s a riveting ride that tracks the criminal case against Terrance Roberts, a local gang-member-turned-activist who shot a young gang member at a 2013 peace rally, while examining the historical influences that led to that moment. If you’re interested in seeing what Rubinstein describes as “invisible Denver” — which is applicable to so many urban areas in the U.S. — read “The Holly.”
Find these books at the Auraria Library. If the book you’re looking for isn’t part of the library’s collection, it can be ordered through the regional loan program.