Take a Break with Our Annual Summer Reading List

Summer reading can be so recharging—a time when we savor the most special and most diverting books. Here, we recommend books that are moving, challenging, engrossing and motivating, ranging from science fiction to takes on Coco Chanel, racism and the church, taking charge of your life and even some inspiration for higher ed professionals. These may not seem like stereotypical “beach reads,” but all of them will move you out of your daily reality and into new ways of thinking.

Rick Bailey’s picks:

The Agile College by Nathan Grawe is a follow-up to his first reality check for higher education that most of us have devoured and wrung hands about. In Agile College, Grawe takes a deeper look at the variables (size, type, geography, offerings) that will shape the challenges and opportunities for institutions going forward. I found this book a bit more optimistic in that Grawe shows pathways forward with clarity.

How to Market a University by Teresa Flannery provides a solid insider’s look at the breadth of responsibility facing today’s university marketers. I found Flannery’s perspectives honest and transparent in ways that readers will appreciate as empathetic and supportive. Though she fails to cite RHB as a leading provider, Terry does us all favor by writing from her deep experiences.

What Unites Us by Dan Rather struck a chord with me at a time when it seems divisiveness is apparent all too frequently. Rather’s nostalgic look at his life and career to reflect on unifying themes and characteristics of our nation sometimes closely neared sentimentality. Yet, for the most part, his calls for fortitude charged each chapter with hope.

The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby exposes the church’s role in advancing racism in America. Don’t read this if you’re unwilling to live with difficult realities. You’ll find yourself angered and outraged. You’ll find yourself humbled and guilty of perspectives you wish you didn’t have. Tisby sheds bright light on why injustice prevails despite our condemning it.

Sam Waterson’s pick:

High on the Hog by Jessica B. Harris

First published in 2012 and now brought to a wider audience through eponymous Netflix series ( 2021 ), High on the Hog it a masterwork of African-American cuisine and heritage. Anyone interested in the transcendent power of food and survival will devour this book and be filled.

Ken Anselment’s picks:

The Experience Economy by Joe Pine and James Gilmore

This seminal work is informing both my work with RHB colleagues (and our clients) as well as our work at Lawrence University as we develop a student journey map that covers every segment from pre-applicant through alumnihood. If time is the currency of experience, this book helps you think about how to ensure that your constituents are getting the best ROI from their experiences with you, from the simple transaction to the more transformative moments.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Turned on by this interview with Ezra Klein in the New York Times (where I learned that Chiang wrote the short story that drove the screenplay for the movie Arrival, which I loved) I read Chiang’s short story, “Tower of Babylon,” (which messed with my head in a good way) and, as a result, have put this “soulful science fiction” writer on my summer read list.

Rob Zinkan’s pick:

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

As in-person meetings and events begin to return to our personal and professional lives, we have a unique opportunity to reimagine how we gather. Last weekend, we hosted an outdoor open house for my daughter’s high school graduation—the first time seeing some family friends in more than a year. As we planned the event, I recalled some of Parker’s insights on creating meaningful, memorable experiences. At the core is giving your gathering a purpose. “Gathering well begins with a specific, unique and disputable purpose. When should we gather? And why? We often confuse the category of a gathering (birthday, baby shower, wedding, dinner party, etc.) with the reason we are coming together. When we don’t examine the deeper assumptions behind why we gather, we end up replicating the same old party formats.”

Aimee Hosemann’s pick:

Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney

In this biography of a fashion icon, we learn about how she envisioned a new expression of woman-designed femininity using new fabrics, shapes, scents and a play between the natural and the artificial. We also see the conflicted and complicated person behind the legend in a way that provokes both empathy and more complicated feelings. Some of her choices ask us to consider what we expect of iconic figures and to consider the relationship between things sometimes considered frivolous (like fashion) and the larger political and cultural milieu within which creative expression occurs.

Annie Mack’s pick:

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Untamed is the story of how each of us can begin to trust ourselves enough to set boundaries, make peace with our bodies, honor our anger and heartbreak, and unleash our truest, wildest instincts. Added bonus: the cover art is a gorgeous addition to any bookshelf!

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Rob Zinkan

Rob is the Vice President for Marketing Leadership at RHB.