3 Books@Work Books You’ll Want to Read and Discuss this Summer

3 Books@Work Books You’ll Want to Read and Discuss this Summer

At Books@Work, we enjoy a great deal of exposure to wonderful books – and to the conversations and insights those books inspire.

In the spirit of summer reading, here are a few we and our participants have been enjoying recently. Why not try one and start a conversation yourself?

Tom Rob Smith, The Farm

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

In The Farm, Tom Rob Smith brings us a family at odds with one another. The protagonist, Daniel, is stunned when his father calls to tell him that his mother has had a psychotic breakdown and has been admitted to an asylum. But he doesn’t know what to think when he hears from his mother herself – accusing his father of becoming involved in an illegal conspiracy and using “madness” as a way to discredit her. The Farm is psychological suspense at its best, and a thrilling read. It’s also a reflection on family dynamics—what we owe our family members, and what happens to us when they are in conflict with one another. Participants loved how the novel provoked different perspectives, especially about family relations, including how often we communicate with one another. Discussing one incident – in which Daniel’s mother sends him an email with nothing but his name – participants debated whether or not this was remarkable behavior. As one participant explained, perceptions came down to “your relationships and how you are with your family.”

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in human history. So, it’s particularly appropriate that we are reading World War I classic All Quiet on the Western Front in one of our programs. The 1929 novel – told from the perspective of German soldier Paul Bäumer – is a gruelling but gripping exploration of the soldiers’ hardship, and of their disconnect from the society they are fighting to maintain. The novel tees up discussions around a wide range of issues about humanity and war, including technology, personal choice and moral responsibility. Many have changed surprisingly little in the hundred years since this narrative took place. All Quiet on the Western Front is a bracing look at twentieth-century history and a classic novel with an incredible story of its own – it was banned and publicly burned in Nazi Germany.

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Madness and the Fair that Changed America

World's Fair Postmark, 1893, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

World’s Fair Postmark, 1893, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons

This fascinating work of narrative nonfiction combines two stories about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair: that of Daniel Burnham, the fair’s architect, and that of H. H. Holmes, a serial killer who used the fair to capture his victims. Professor Carol Wickersham, Director of Community-Based Learning for the Liberal Arts in Practice Center at Beloit College, noted that The Devil in the White City inspired “wide-ranging conversations” in a Books@Work seminar she recently taught. Participants were fascinated by the “interplay between the technical and social landscape, which led to interesting discussions about how that is still happening today.” The book also inspired conversations about gender, class and, given its focus on a serial killer, the nature of evil. Above all, The Devil in the White City is an engaging, provocative story.

As always, we enjoy hearing from our readers and participants. Have you read any of these books? Do you have any books you love to talk about? Let us know what you think!

Image: Chicken Run, 2014, [Public Domain] via Pixabay

Further Reading

Conversation Starters: 3 Books@Work You’ll Want to Read and Discuss
Narratives for a Storytelling Animal: How We Choose Our Books

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Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Erin Hill

Cecily Hill is the Project Director, NEH for All at the National Humanities Alliance and former member of the Books@Work team.