46 Books to Put on Your Summer 2023 Reading List, According to Our Staff

By Kim Lawson

July 8, 2023

We asked staffers at Courier Newsroom, Iowa Starting Line’s parent company, to share recommendations for books to read this summer. Here’s what we came up with.

Okay, confession: I started gathering information for this story in part because I was looking for book recommendations before I took off on vacation. As you read this, chances are I’m probably hanging out with my family on a beach in Puerto Rico.

While I’m currently listening to the audio version of “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” by Suzanne Collins—mostly because I wanted to get the Hunger Games prequel behind me to watch the movie that comes out later this year—it’s been a while since I found myself completely engrossed in a book. (That, if you’re interested, was the “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series by Sarah J. Maas—I read that one several times.)

That’s why I asked the staff at Courier Newsroom—from the reporters and editors here at Iowa Starting Line to people at the HQ level like myself—to share their reading recommendations for the summer. Not only did we learn a little more about each other’s reading tastes—team-building, anyone?—but we ended up with a long list that turned out to be as diverse as our staff.

Happy reading!

The Last Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish

This book is written exactly as if it would be performed on stage by the hilarious Tiffany Haddish, and if you are like me and your mind reads it in her voice, you will never stop laughing. Haddish has gone through so much in her life, particularly when she was young, that it would otherwise be heartbreaking to hear someone else tell it—but with her masterful knowledge of comedy, she’s able to find the humor in some of her darkest moments.

Amie Rivers, Community Editor, Iowa Starting Line

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie 

I bought it because of all the book-banning controversies to see for myself and I finished in one airport reading. Really entertaining book and it has a whole lot of heart that comes through in a couple of chapters that are absolutely gut-wrenching.

Ty Rushing, Chief Political Correspondent, Iowa Starting Line

Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Nikoel Hytek, Multimedia Reporter, Iowa Starting Line

Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America” by Abraham Josephine Riesman

I both enjoyed and cringed at revisiting the world of pro wrestling that dominated the lexicon of those growing up in the ’90s and ’00s (like I did). This biography chronicles the real-life and the put-on, in-ring sagas (which were not necessarily always distinct) of the billionaire behind it all: Vince McMahon.

Devin Moroney, Podcast Producer

The “Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes Series” Series by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

When I recently picked up “Mycroft Holmes,” the first in a Sherlock series by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, the basketball star), I figured I was in for a campy read. And of course, it’s a light, fun mystery, but I was surprised by Abdul-Jabbar’s legitimately strong writing. If you’re a mystery or thriller reader and you’re looking for a fun beach read, grab all three books in the series and settle into the sand.

Lisa Hayes, Editorial Director

Bastard Out of Carolina” by Dorothy Allison

My standard book rec for anyone in the world, but it’s about as un-beach as it gets.

Michael Foley, Associate Product Manager

The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig

I was late to pick up this book (it came out in 2020), but it’s one of the rare novels that lives up to its hype. After a young woman dies, she ends up in a library—where she can “check out” books that transport her to alternate realities from her own life.

Christina Lorey, Community Editor at UpNorthNews

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War” by Max Brooks

Don’t be fooled if you only recognize the title from the 2013 movie (that does not do this book enough justice). If you love horror, this is a great book to add into your rotation. The novel—structured more like a collection of short stories—takes place while the world is rebuilding following a global zombie outbreak that wiped out much of humanity. It’s often serious, strangely funny at times, and downright horrifying at others. It’s incredibly hard to put down. I’ve read this book a few times now, but I always come back to it when I want a quick summer read. FYI: The audiobook is also voiced by a stellar cast of well-known actors.

— Karel Vega, Community Editor at ‘Gander Newsroom

Fresh Water for Flowers” by Valérie Perrin

A story about a woman who loses and then finds herself time and again through her persistent empathy for other people’s stories of loss and love. I couldn’t put this novel down.

Tara McGowan, Founder and CEO

Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm,” Dan Charnas

This biography traces the roots and career of the late producer J Dilla with forensic detail, showing his impact on the hip-hop genre and the art of beat making.

Pat Berkery, Senior Community Editor at The Keystone

Tell Me I’m Worthless” by Alison Rumfitt

It’s a haunted house novel written by a trans woman with trans characters. It’s a great read but be warned—I read it for my horror book club, and it is extremely dark.

Jessica Swarner, Community Editor at The Copper Courier

My Sister, The Serial Killer” by Oyinkan Braithwaite  

It was an easy and fun read. There was a lot of sarcasm and humor, considering the circumstances. It’s a page-turner for sure.

Cherita Booker, Social Media Manager at UpNorthNews

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

I’m not a reader—but I love being surrounded by books. I was at a book signing event a few weeks ago, and I’d recently mentioned to my husband that if I ever randomly stumbled across Angelou’s book, I’d buy it. While we were waiting in line, he looked over on the shelf beside us: lo and behold, there it was. We scooped it up and I read 10 chapters in one night! It’s heartbreaking, captivating, humorous in parts—everything my mind needs to keep turning the next page.

Amie Knowles, Community Editor at Dogwood

Women Without Kids” by Ruby Warrington 

Whether you have kids, are thinking of having kids, or have made the decision to not have kids, this is such an important book that sheds light on the explicit and subtle societal pressures that are placed on all women to procreate, and how those pressures are—and should be—challenged today.

Tara McGowan, Founder and CEO

Weather” by Jenny Offill

One of the most beautifully written and terrifying books I’ve ever read.

Michael McElroy, Political Correspondent at Cardinal & Pine

Milked: How an American Crisis Brought Together Midwestern Dairy Farmers and Mexican Workers” by Ruth Conniff

An amazing set of very personal stories about immigrant laborers and the Wisconsin farmers who travel to Mexico, meet their families, and discover many similarities in terms of family culture and work ethic.

Pat Kreitlow, Chief Political Correspondent & Founding Editor at UpNorthNews

“Black Cake” by Charmaine Wilkerson 

I highly recommend it. It’s a beautiful multi-generational story of love, loss, and friendship!

Cassie Henry, Chief of Staff 

Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell 

If you mainline audiobooks like I do, give Talking to Strangers a shot—even if you don’t listen to much nonfiction. Gladwell designed this book for audio first, and his narration is woven through with clips from news reports, police body cams, court transcript re-enactments, and fascinating interviews with scientists, criminologists, and psychologists. The premise is that the tools we use to understand each other aren’t working, and our inability to “talk with strangers” creates misunderstandings with global consequences. Gladwell tells stories about Fidel Castro fooling the CIA, Sandra Bland’s arrest in Texas, and others spanning Adolf Hitler to modern-day college campuses. It’s impossibly good.

Lisa Hayes, Editorial Director

Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One” by Raphaelle Giordano

Inspired by the author’s own life, the title says it all. This feel-good story follows her as she tries to create purpose in her routine-less life. Took me about three hours to read!

Christina Lorey, Community Editor at UpNorthNews

Normal People” by Sally Rooney

It’s the story of a friendship that spans several years, and explores intimacy at multiple levels. The two main characters act as whatever the other needs, depending on where they’re at in their respective lives: lover, friend, shoulder to cry on, etc. Highly recommend it!

Isabel Soisson, Political Content Producer

The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” by John Koenig

Analisa Valdez, Intern at The Copper Courier

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin 

This is the best book I have read in ages! It is a story of two friends over 25 years, their connection, play, loss, and love. It’s a 5/5!

Carrie Adams, Senior Director of Revenue and Partnerships 

Seven Days In June” by Tia Williams

This book reads like a movie cover to cover. Eva + Shane taught me lessons of love that I’d been trying to learn in all the wrong books, wrong songs, wrong men, and all the wrong love affairs.

Alexis Lawson, Social Media Manager at Cardinal & Pine

Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America” by Dorothy Butler Gilliam

Gilliam was the first Black female reporter at the Washington Post in 1961 (and she is still alive, and on Twitter!). Gilliam writes in a very no-nonsense style, but it’s clear she went through a lot—not only as a reporter who went into the Deep South during the Civil Rights era, putting her literal life on the line, but also back home, where she had to fight for every inch she gained in her career (and couldn’t even get cabs around the city to cover breaking news). Again, she is STILL LIVING. None of this is ancient history, and we owe it to her to remember it correctly.

Amie Rivers, Community Editor at Iowa Starting Line

The Ex Talk” by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Who said there couldn’t be love in radio journalism? Typical quirky girl/mystery guy who hate each other until they can’t be without each other makes for a hell of a ride when both characters are hilarious.

Alexis Lawson, Social Media Manager at Cardinal & Pine

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid

One of my favorite beach reads—this is a book I’d take with me on a desert island. It’s entertaining, fast, and a read that kept me on the edge of my seat.

Natalie Hayes, National Organizing Programs Manager 

‘Salem’s Lot” by Stephen King 

My favorite book ever.

Michael McElroy, Political Correspondent at Cardinal & Pine

The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin

Graham Harington, Social Media Manager at The Keystone

Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman  

An ahead-of-its-time book that more or less predicts much of what’s happened to politics, journalism, education, and other key institutions in the television and internet eras, when the demands of entertainment and mass media/pop culture swallow our institutions up whole.

Keya Vakil, Deputy Political Editor 

Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama: A Memoir” by Bob Odenkirk

This book shows how you can develop one of the most memorable characters in SNL history (Chris Farley’s “Matt Foley, Van Down By the River”), create a highly influential sketch comedy show (“Mr. Show”), and still get lost in the Hollywood shuffle…until you’re given a shot to reinvent yourself as a sketchy lawyer representing a science teacher-turned meth dealer.

Pat Berkery, Senior Community Editor at The Keystone

 “The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession” by Michael Finkel

I’m looking forward to this one. It’s the story of the 21st century’s most prolific art thief, Stéphane Breitwieser. He carried out more than 200 heists over nearly eight years—in museums and cathedrals all over Europe—but he didn’t steal for money, just for the love of great art (!), which he kept in his home.

Gisele Balido, Political Correspondent at Floricua

We Fed An Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time” by José Andrés

After Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, chef José Andrés arrived to help in the only way he knew how: feeding people. As he handed out one meal at a time, he developed a network of chefs, cooks, and community members committed to working on bigger changes to help the island, based on what they could do in kitchens and for the people who came to them. The book is, I think, intended to show us that each of us can make a difference—but what it really does is bowl you over with hope and give you a sense of personal power for whatever crisis our communities might face.

Lisa Hayes, Editorial Director

News for the Rich, White and Blue: How Place and Power Distort American Journalism” by Nikki Usher 

A smart, well-researched, and clear-eyed look at the implosion of the local news industry in America, and the impact this has and will continue to have on our democracy if more solutions are not invested in more urgently.

Tara McGowan, Founder and CEO

The Rise of Kyoshi” by F.C. Yee

Bryce Lacy, Partnerships Manager

Fight Like Hell” by Kim Kelly 

A fun history of the labor movement told through some of its most under-the-radar figures, “Fight Like Hell” takes readers along for a brilliant ride and shows why it’s important for workers to, well, fight like hell for their rights.

Keya Vakil, Deputy Political Editor 

Daisy Jones & the Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid 

I imagined it to be the fictionalized Stevie Nicks story. What made this book so interesting was incorporating (fake) song lyrics into the narrative, showing how the process is informed by life, and how great songs tell the most painful parts of us in a way we can all relate to.

Amie Rivers, Community Editor at Iowa Starting Line

The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World” by Vincent Bevins

Bryce Lacy, Partnerships Manager

The Lesbian’s Guide to Catholic School” by Sonora Reyes

Such a beautiful story.

Lizette Ortiz, Data Analytics Engineer

A Good Cry” by Nikki Giovanni

Sometimes a good cry is just what you need when remembering the parts of yourself that changed, the towns that no longer exist, or friends who have come and gone. A cry may just be a sound of celebration.

Alexis Lawson, Social Media Manager at Cardinal & Pine

Senlin Ascends” by Josiah Bancroft

Graham Harrington, Social Media Manager at The Keystone

The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway

Crystal Harlan, Senior Community Editor at Floricua

The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet” by John Green 

I’ve read it a couple times and I revisit certain essays pretty regularly. I’ve pretty much memorized the one on Auld Lang Syne.

Marianne Kuga, Paid Media Director

The Dharma Bum’s Guide to Western Literature: Finding Nirvana in the Classics” by Dean Sluyter

To say it is transformative is selling it short. It helped me look at great works of literature in a whole different way, reading Hemingway like haiku and learning fearlessness from Dr. Seuss, liberation from Frederick Douglass, and see “Dickinson and Whitman as buddhas of poetry, and Huck Finn and Gatsby as seekers of the infinite.” 

Gisele Balido, Political Correspondent at Floricua

  • Kim Lawson

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