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our summer reading list

about the list

Relaxation is key in maintaining good physical and mental health. One great way to unwind is to become immersed in an engaging book. And what better way to spend the most relaxing time of year than by enjoying recommendations from some notable Texans? The Okay to Say Summer Reading List offers selections that give you a break from day-to-day stressors by offering a fun getaway or a retreat to another world. As you plan your summer escape, make sure to check out these great recommendations.

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Empire of the Summer Moon

S.C. Gwynne

S. C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon chronicles two astonishing stories. The first traces the rise and fall of the Comanches, the most powerful Indian tribe in American history. The second entails one of the most remarkable narratives ever to come out of the Old West: the epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest chief of the Comanches. S. C. Gwynne’s account of these events is meticulously researched, intellectually provocative, and, above all, thrillingly told.

Selected by

Rep. Four Price

Chairman, House Committee on Public Health, Texas House of Representatives

"It's non-fiction, but a very interesting read about the Comanches' battles on the High Plains and in Texas. If you are a Texan from the Panhandle area, you'll find the story particularly interesting, especially the accounts involving Quanah Parker. This book puts you in the heart of the historical action and is hard to put down."

The Clifton Chronicles

Jeffery Archer

The Clifton Chronicles is Jeffrey Archer’s No. 1 bestselling series, which brings to life the key historical and political events of the 20th century over the course of one family’s story of triumphs and tragedies. In this thrilling episodic saga of love, loss, betrayal and ambition, you will be taken on an exhilarating journey from the back alleys of Bristol to the teeming streets of New York City and the Gulags of Stalinist Russia. Its memorable cast of characters has captured the imaginations of readers across the globe. Meet the Clifton family today and start your journey with Only Time Will Tell. The story continues in the subsequent novels The Sins of the Father, Best Kept Secret, Be Careful What You Wish For, Mightier than the Sword, Cometh the Hour, and concludes in the compelling final volume, This Was A Man.

Selected by

Sharon Butterworth

Board Member, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute

"The Clifton Chronicles is a great escape. They are quick reads. You can binge-read all seven books at once or string them out over a longer period of time. Each ends with a cliffhanger making you anxious to read the next. Archer is a master storyteller who mixes power, politics and profit into fiction. You will feel like you are a member of this English family as they go through the twists and turns of good and bad together."

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Greg McKeown

In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, McKeown, a writer, speaker and Harvard Business Review blogger, offers both a manifesto and a manual on how to deliberately focus on the vital priorities that really count, and how to dispense with the rest. This is the age of the Nonessentialist, McKeown writes: over-busy and over-committed, we continue to say yes to even more commitments and deadlines without asking ourselves, “Is this truly essential? Is this very important to me? Is this really how I want to choose to spend my time?” These are the questions, McKeown argues, that Essentialists ask and answer before accepting any task, commitment or responsibility.

Selected by

Jennifer Sampson

President & CEO, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

"I love this book. It's about learning how to say 'no' and embracing the essentials in life. We get way too distracted by the furor of the frenzied world and the demands put on us. Time is the currency of life. We must be careful how we spend that currency. Essentialism argues how you should only pursue things that are important, and eliminate everything else."


Tina Fey

Bossypants is a heartwarming memoir about growth and acceptance by comedian Tina Fey. The memoir recounts Fey’s childhood with clever insight and her trademark humor. Fey shows readers how she first started out in the industry and what lessons she has learned along the way. From her youthful days as a nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live, Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy.

Selected by

Karen Ranus

Executive Director, NAMI Austin

"You don't have to be a 30 Rock or Saturday Night Live fan to enjoy this wonderful poolside, ‘sipping on lemonade with my toes in the water’ book. It's a fast, easy and hilarious read (which means you can brag at the office that you read a whole book over the holiday!) In addition to giving you a sneak peek at backstage antics, Fey's book is also a lovely glimpse of her personal journey where humor is a constant companion as she navigates life's challenges. It's a refreshingly funny and inspiring book, so be prepared to find yourself smiling and laughing the whole way through."

The Boys in the Boat

Daniel James Brown

It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest.

Selected by

Jim Moroney

Publisher, The Dallas Morning News

"There's lots of wonderful fictional literature about a person who strives or group of people who strive to achieve dreams against great odds. Boys in the Boat is a story of such a group of young men. But in this case, it's a true story that takes you from the western shores of the United States to Nazi Germany. And it's not a war story. Read and enjoy."

The Last Days of Night

Graham Moore

New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country? The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?

Selected by

Bob Bowlsby

Commissioner, Big 12 Conference

"The book is a page-turner of a novel that follows the development of direct current and alternating current in the United States. Westinghouse, Edison and Tesla compete in a race to refine and establish the electric light and the power source that makes it all work. Graham expertly develops the characters and brings the reader into the ultra-competitive environment in which some of the world’s greatest inventors and entrepreneurs operated."

The Leopard

Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa

As the top-selling novel in Italian history, The Leopard chronicles the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Risorgimento. The plot focuses upon the aristocratic Salina family, which is headed by the stoic Prince Fabrizio, a consummate womanizer who foresees the upcoming downfall of his family and the nobility in Italy as a whole but finds himself unable to change the course of history. As the novel opens in May 1860, Garibaldi's Redshirts have landed on the Sicilian coast and are pressing inland to overthrow the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The Leopard is considered one of the most important novels in modern Italian literature.

Selected by

Steven Weinberg

Nobel Prize (Physics), 1979 Jack S. Josey-Welch Foundation Chair in Science and Regental Professor; Director, Theory Research Group, University of Texas at Austin

"This is the finest book I have read recently. It tells how a Sicilian nobleman in 1860 copes with change: the merger of Sicily with the Kingdom of Italy, and the merger of his family with the bourgeoisie. It’s not light fiction, but it’s sad and ironic tone makes it memorable and moving."

Love in the Time of Cholera

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs--yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.

Selected by

Bill W. Meadows

Chairman Emeritus, Hub International Insurance Services

"There is no finer example of the genre "magical realism" and the power of the passion contained in these pages is awesome. The depth and richness of the characters are complex and compelling, and the unbridled power and pain of love is beautifully explored. I’d read the book again tomorrow and may do just that!"

Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

Fr. Greg Boyle

For twenty years, Gregory Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. In Tattoos on the Heart, he distills his experience working in the ghetto into a breathtaking series of parables inspired by faith. Arranged by theme and filled with sparkling humor and glowing generosity, these essays offer a stirring look at how full our lives could be if we could find the joy in loving others and in being loved unconditionally. From giant, tattooed Cesar, shopping at JCPenney fresh out of prison, we learn how to feel worthy of God's love. From ten-year-old Lula we learn the importance of being known and acknowledged. From Pedro we understand the kind of patience necessary to rescue someone from the darkness. In each chapter we benefit from Boyle’s gentle, hard-earned wisdom.

Selected by

Regina Rogers

Attorney and Community Activist, Beaumont, Texas

"Fr. Greg Boyle is a Jesuit priest who is the founder of Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program in a neighborhood of LA, the gang capital of the world. Fr. Boyle relates his experiences with hundreds of youth through a series of essays that convey the power of unconditional love and the importance of fighting suffering and despair to save all lives, for no life is less valuable than another. I have had the privilege of meeting and ‎visiting with the inspirational Fr. Boyle on two notable occasions while he was still recovering from cancer."

The Secret Life of Bees

Sue Monk Kidd

Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna. This is a remarkable novel about divine female power, a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come.

Selected by

Carrie Barron

Director of Creativity for Resilience Program, Dell Medical School, University of Texas at Austin

"This is a wonderful and imaginative novel about loss and resilience with lovable characters."


George Eliot

George Eliot’s novel, Middlemarch, explores a fictional nineteenth-century Midlands town in the midst of modern changes. The proposed Reform Bill promises political change; the building of railroads alters both the physical and cultural landscape; new scientific approaches to medicine incite public division; and scandal lurks behind respectability. The quiet drama of ordinary lives and flawed choices are played out in the complexly portrayed central characters of the novel—the idealistic Dorothea Brooke; the ambitious Dr. Lydgate; the spendthrift Fred Vincy; and the steadfast Mary Garth. The appearance of two outsiders further disrupts the town’s equilibrium—Will Ladislaw, the spirited nephew of Dorothea’s husband, the Rev. Edward Casaubon, and the sinister John Raffles, who threatens to expose the hidden past of one of the town’s elite.

Selected by

Randy Diehl

Dean, College of Liberal Arts, The University of Texas at Austin

"It’s George Eliot’s greatest novel and it explores fundamental issues of the human condition: love and marriage, loyalty, intellectual curiosity, human conflict, and a lot of other things as well. Beautifully written!"

Corelli's Mandolin

Louis de Bernieres

Extravagant, inventive, emotionally sweeping, Corelli's Mandolin is the story of a timeless place that one day wakes up to find itself in the jaws of history. The place is the Greek island of Cephallonia, where gods once dabbled in the affairs of men and the local saint periodically rises from his sarcophagus to cure the mad. Then the tide of World War II rolls onto the island's shores in the form of the conquering Italian army. Caught in the occupation are Pelagia, a willful, beautiful young woman, and the two suitors vying for her love: Mandras, a gentle fisherman turned ruthless guerilla, and the charming, mandolin-playing Captain Corelli, a reluctant officer of the Italian garrison on the island. Rich with loyalties and betrayals, and set against a landscape where the factual blends seamlessly with the fantastic, Corelli's Mandolin is a passionate novel as rich in ideas as it is genuinely moving.

Selected by

Adelaide Leavens

Director, The Meta Alice Keith Bratten Foundation

"This is the author’s most recognized title due to a 2001 movie based on the book. Although not well-received, I do like to have the visual of Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz in my mind as the main characters. de Bernieres has the enviable ability to teach you history while immersed in a page-turner fictional story. Corelli’s Mandolin is a love story set on a Greek island in the time just before and during World War II. The idyllic island becomes a staging ground for the war with the arrival of the Italian army. The pages of my paperback copy are warped and water-stained, the binding filled with sand from the beaches of Puerto Vallarta. Add to that more than a few instances of tear-stains from sobbing behind the shield of big, round sunglasses. The sunburn you’ll get is well worth it as every single emotional button is pushed."

The Fire Next Time

James Baldwin

A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation and gave a passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement. At once a powerful evocation of James Baldwin's early life in Harlem and a disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document. It consists of two "letters," written on the occasion of the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, that exhorts Americans, both black and white, to attack the terrible legacy of racism.

Selected by

Dr. Jacqualene Stephens

Senior Director of Systems Transformation, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute

"Baldwin was an author and social activist who spoke of the pain and struggle of racism and discrimination in the U.S. during the 50's and the 60's when the country was going through a radical and profound change. His thoughts and observations appear relevant for today as we grapple still with diversity and accepting differences without disdain and exclusion. If you are old enough to remember the times in which he wrote or young enough to need context to how we got where we are, Baldwin's eloquent and powerful social critique can be a bit uncomfortable, but always thought provoking."

The Monuments Men

Robert Morse Edsel

At the same time Adolf Hitler was attempting to take over the western world, his armies were methodically seeking and hoarding the finest art treasures in Europe. The Fuehrer had begun cataloging the art he planned to collect as well as the art he would destroy: "degenerate" works he despised. In a race against time, behind enemy lines, often unarmed, a special force of American and British museum directors, curators, art historians, and others, called the Monuments Men, risked their lives scouring Europe to prevent the destruction of thousands of years of culture. Focusing on the eleven-month period between D-Day and V-E Day, this fascinating account follows six Monuments Men and their impossible mission to save the world's great art from the Nazis.

Selected by

Jennifer Ransom Rice

Former Executive Director, Texas Cultural Trust

"A historical non-fiction and amazing tale of how a group of artists, museum curators and everyday men were commissioned during WWII to rescue the great works of art that had been pillaged and stolen by Nazi forces. These heroes stepped outside their daily lives to preserve our history and our heritage by capturing great masterpieces and returning them for generations to enjoy beyond. I’m sure many have seen the movie based on this story, but I encourage folks to read the full tale and immerse themselves in WWII Europe to truly appreciate the profound mission these men embarked upon."

Traveling Mercies

Anne Lamott

Brutally honest, sometimes funny vignettes about affirming faith and community in the midst of drug-induced angst. Novelist Lamott’s third autobiographical book (Operating Instructions, 1993; Bird by Bird, 1994) follows her usual pattern of cutting wit and wretched frankness. This memoir, though, is more spiritual than religious: Like many in her boomer generation, Lamott doesn’t hold much truck with churches but has found a meaningful congregation all the same. It is a small, interracial community which lovingly incorporates pariah elements. Lamott circuitously chronicles finding the church (for months, she stayed only for the music, leaving before the sermon) just as she approached a crossroads in her life, finally admitting her alcoholism and other addictions, and starting out on the long road to sobriety.

Selected by

Gail Utter

Investment Advisor and Community Mental Health Advocate, Sherman, Texas

"Although the ups and downs of a faith journey don't generally bubble to the top when one thinks about light summer reading, Anne Lamott makes it easy to keep this book in our hands with her often wacky and deeply personal confessional. She effortlessly streams between humor, exuberance, irreverence and life-affirming wisdom as she drives us through her bouts with alcoholism and drug abuse, eating disorders, love encounters, raising her son Sam, down-to-the-bone grief and humbling grace. Traveling Mercies fulfills this generation's yearning for authenticity and experiential learning as the reader vividly lives through Lamott's riveting ride, delivering us far from daily stress."

The Prophet

Kahlil Gibran

Kahlil Gibran’s masterpiece, The Prophet, is one of the most beloved classics of our time. Published in 1923, it has been translated into more than twenty languages, and the American editions alone have sold more than nine million copies. The Prophet is a collection of poetic essays that are philosophical, spiritual, and, above all, inspirational. Gibran’s musings are divided into twenty-eight chapters covering such sprawling topics as love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, housing, clothes, buying and selling, crime and punishment, laws, freedom, reason and passion, pain, self-knowledge, teaching, friendship, talking, time, good and evil, prayer, pleasure, beauty, religion, and death.

Selected by

Judy Maggio

Editorial Director, News & Public Affairs, KLRU-TV

"My go-to book to chill out! Though it’s an ancient book, there are so many wise words between those pages. It’s very inspiring!"

Last Hope Island

Lynne Olson

In this epic, character-driven narrative, acclaimed historian Lynne Olson takes us back to those perilous days when the British and their European guests joined forces to combat the mightiest military force in history. Here we meet the courageous King Haakon of Norway, whose distinctive “H7” monogram became a symbol of his country’s resistance to Nazi rule, and his fiery Dutch counterpart, Queen Wilhelmina, whose antifascist radio broadcasts rallied the spirits of her defeated people. Here, too, is the Earl of Suffolk, a swashbuckling British aristocrat whose rescue of two nuclear physicists from France helped make the Manhattan Project possible.

Selected by

Tom Luce

Board Member, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute

"Great writing and a fresh perspective on WWII."

Seven Women

Eric Metaxas

Each of the world-changing figures who stride across these pages—Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Sister Maria of Paris, Corrie ten Boom, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa—is an exemplary model of true womanhood. Teenaged Joan of Arc followed God’s call and liberated her country, dying a heroic martyr’s death. Susanna Wesley had nineteen children and gave the world its most significant evangelist and its greatest hymn writer, her sons John and Charles. Corrie ten Boom, arrested for hiding Dutch Jews from the Nazis, survived the horrors of a concentration camp to astonish the world by forgiving her tormentors. And Rosa Parks' deep sense of justice and unshakable dignity and faith helped launch the twentieth-century’s greatest social movement.

Selected by

Michelle Lemming

President and CEO, Texoma Health Foundation

"Seven Women is a book of short stories highlighting female leaders who have impacted our world. I love that it is easy to pick up and read in the morning with hot tea or in a favorite relaxing spot. It brings moments of surprise, smiles and awe. Enjoy!"

The Three-Body Problem

Cixin Liu

Set against the backdrop of China's Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

Selected by

Dr. Andy Keller

President and CEO, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute

"I always try out the sci-fi recommendations from the owner of my favorite bookstore back in Northern Michigan (Mclean and Eakin Booksellers – check them out at mcleanandeakin.com). Matt never steers me wrong, but he got it very right with this one. This is the first book of the trilogy by China’s foremost sci-fi writer, Cixin Liu. The story is fantastic, but it is just as interesting to see how a hard science fiction author who grew up with no knowledge of the staple sci-fi authors of the West (Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke) weaves together a galactic tale of catastrophic threats to humanity. Mold-breaking, mind-bending, and beautifully lyrical in unexpected ways."

The Photograph

Penelope Lively

Man Booker Prize–winning novelist Penelope Lively’s masterpiece opens with a snapshot: Kath, before her death, at an unknown gathering, holding hands with a man who is not her husband. The photograph is in an envelope marked “DON’T OPEN—DESTROY.” But Kath’s husband does not heed the warning, embarking on a journey of discovery that reveals a tight web of secrets—within marriages, between sisters, and at the heart of an affair. Kath, with her mesmerizing looks and casual ways, moves like a ghost through the memories of everyone who knew her—and a portrait emerges of a woman whose life cannot be understood without plumbing the emotional depths of the people she touched.

Selected by

Francisco Fernandez, M.D.

Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Neurosciences, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine

"This book makes you ponder 'do you really know those you love?' Intrigue at its best – would you have opened an envelope with the 'advertencia' Don’t open – DESTROY?... What follows is an adventure in humanity. A thrilling read."

The World According to Garp

John Irving

This is the life and time of T. S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields--a feminist leader ahead of her times. This is the life and death of a famous mother and her almost-famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes--even of sexual assassinations. It is a novel rich with "lunacy and sorrow," yet the dark, violent events of the story do not undermine a comedy both ribald and robust. In more than thirty languages, in more than forty countries-- with more than ten million copies in print--this novel provides almost cheerful, even hilarious evidence of its famous last line: "In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases."

Selected by

Daphne Willis

Singer-Songwriter, San Antonio native

"This book will give you perspective on childhood issues and bring humor to family dynamics we all face growing up."