Summer Escapes — Finding Magic and Joy in Books

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By Alliance Intern Cate Rosa from Boston University ‘26

On summer afternoons – sticky with salt and sweat, lush with languor – I find myself oozing with pure joy in need of no company other than my own and that of a good book. Through books I find great pleasure in the magic of experiencing the lives of others, exploring their minds and visiting worlds I could only dream of. With a snack nearby and my current read in hand, I can’t help but feel like Francie in Betty Smith’s, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, “at peace with the world and happy as only a girl could be with a fine book and a little bowl of candy.”

Books provide a powerful means to connect with the values that we cherish at the Alliance. They are more than just stories but tools for empathy, education, and inspiration that guide us towards a more sustainable and just world. I’ve always believed that if you don’t like to read, you just haven’t found the right book. From solarpunk – a genre envisioning a sustainable future interconnected with nature and community – to poems about dogs and essays on ageism, this list offers a chance for every type of reader (and not reader) to find magic between pages.

A Psalm for the Wild Built – Becky Chambers

The first book of the “Monk and Robot” duology, this solarpunk novella is the perfect quick read for anyone looking to get out of a reading slump (speaking from personal experience). Its 160 pages transport readers to the utopian world of Panga, where they join Dex, a tea monk (where can I sign up for this career??) on a quest to uncover their life’s purpose and reconnect with nature. Alongside Dex, we encounter Mosscap, a robot whose mission is to discern humanity’s needs. What follows is a series of comforting, thought-provoking conversations between the two, rich with reminders of how amazing it is to simply be alive in this world. 

“Do you not find consciousness alone to be the most exhilarating thing? Here we are, in this incomprehensibly large universe, on this one tiny moon around this one incidental planet, and in all the time this entire scenario has existed, every component has been recycled over and over and over again into infinitely incredible configurations, and sometimes, those configurations are special enough to be able to see the world around them. You and I—we’re just atoms that arranged themselves the right way, and we can understand that about ourselves. Is that not amazing?” 

The Soul of an Octopus – Sy Montgomery

This astonishing book is a warm welcome to the world of cephalopods. It will fill you with joy, wonder and loads of fun facts (did you know it’s octopuses not octopi?) For me, this book spurred an extreme octopus loving phase – I made everyone I know watch every fascinating YouTube video I could find, I bought octopus socks, and even considered making a trip across the country to see the Octopus Blind Date that happens every Valentine’s Day at the Seattle Aquarium. I was astounded not only by their intelligence but also by how personable these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures can be.

Woman on the Edge of Time – Marge Piercy

Hailed as a classic of speculative fiction, Marge Piercy’s transformative novel offers a powerful vision of two contrasting futures and the impact of our choices on shaping them. The story follows Connie Ramos, a Mexican American woman who, after being unjustly committed to a mental institution, is contacted by an envoy from the year 2137. This future showcases a society of sexual and racial equality, environmental purity, and self-actualization. However, Connie also glimpses a dystopian alternative of exploitation and dehumanization. Through Connie’s journey, Piercy explores themes of sustainability, equity, and resilience, making this a compelling read for anyone concerned with the future of our world. 

Look Me in the Eye: Old Women, Aging, and Ageism – Barbara Macdonald and Cynthia Rich

This may seem like a random choice, especially coming from a 19 year old, but this collection of essays is absolutely fabulous and has something to offer to people of all ages. It’s a profound exploration of ageism, feminism, and lesbian relationships, challenging societal norms and perceptions surrounding aging women. Through a combination of personal experiences and feminist theory, the authors shed light on the prejudice and discrimination faced by older women, highlighting how even our language contributes to their marginalization. The book opened my eyes to new areas of thought and inspired me to write my grandma a letter this last Christmas that read more like a women’s studies essay; nevertheless, we both cried.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – Fannie Flagg

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe tells the story of Whistle Stop, Alabama through the intertwined lives of its residents. The novel spans different time periods, focusing on the Threadgoode family, particularly the queer couple Idgie and Ninny, and the African American family of Big George and Onzell. Published in 1987 by lesbian author Fannie Flagg, the book addresses themes of race and queerness through Idgie and Ruth’s partnership and the café’s inclusive service during Jim Crow. Though some language and depictions reflect the era’s norms, the novel’s message of equality and human connection resonates today and the backdrop of the sweltering Southern heat makes it a perfect summer read where you can almost feel the warmth radiating from its pages.

How to Love the Universe – Stefan Klein

In this mesmerizing journey through the wonders of science, Klein transforms everyday objects and events into gateways to the universe’s deepest mysteries. In ten lyrical chapters, Klein explores time, space, dark matter, and more, inviting readers to fall in love with the universe just as scientists do. His energetic prose makes complex topics like cosmic inflation and quantum entanglement accessible and enchanting, ensuring you’ll never look at a rose—or any part of the world—the same way again. I loved this book so much that I searched for other works by Klein and ended up ordering On the Edge of Infinity. It turned out to be the same book, leaving me with much confusion (so keep an eye out) but regardless, I was delighted to have an extra copy that I’ve since lent to many friends. 

Long Life – Mary Oliver

In a luminous collection of seventeen essays and ten poems, Mary Oliver’s poetic prowess shines through in every word, inviting readers to find solace and inspiration in the beauty of the world. As a dog lover, my personal favorite in this collection is “Dog Talk,” a short prose piece about the lessons we learn from dogs, particularly those who roam unleashed. However, despite the enchanting idea of letting dogs run free, I will still be walking my dog on a leash—sorry Goose! Oliver’s ability to infuse her prose with wisdom and joy is unmatched, making Long Life a captivating finale to our reading list, leaving us with a renewed appreciation for the interconnectedness of life and the enduring power of poetry.

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