Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Summer Reading 2023

Our Columbia-WHO Center for Global Mental Health faculty and senior staff had a celebration lunch this week for one of our senior staff members heading to graduate school in the fall.

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Summer is a great time to catch up on reading, and we had many recommendations for each other. I have put the following five books on my summer reading list. Maybe you want to consider one – or more – as well!

1. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois. Published in 2021, this first novel by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers was an instant NY Times, Washington Post, and USA Today bestseller. Jeffers tells a story of race in America through one family’s experiences over many generations – from the colonial slave trade through the Civil War and up to modern times. Living with what Du Bois called “double consciousness,” Jeffers’ protagonist, Ailey Pearl Garfield, carries Du Bois’s problem of race on her shoulders. An Oprah Book Club 2.0 pick, you will need to carve out some time to read this 800+ page novel, but the accolades suggest it is worth the read.

2. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. Author Erik Larson has captured a monumental milestone in the history of the world with this historical novel that takes place in 1933 in Berlin. It is the story of America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Nazi Germany, William E. Dodd, and his family. His daughter, Martha, is enamored with the high life of the young men of the Third Reich. She has one affair after another filled with “excitement, intrigue, and romance” while Germany sinks into the darkness of terror and violence fueled by the ever-increasing horrors of the early years of the Holocaust. Any history buffs looking for something exciting and meaningful to read this summer, you found your book!

3. The Mountain is You. The subtitle for this book is “Transforming Self-Sabotage Into Self-Mastery.” In it, Briana Wiest explains how self-sabotage depends on coexisting but conflicting needs, which fuel our self-sabotaging behavior and make it difficult to change. She guides the reader on how to analyze damaging habits to gain insight. She explains how to understand our brains and bodies for greater emotional intelligence, release past experiences at a cellular level, and act as our highest potential future selves. From reading reviews on this one, it has quickly moved to the top of my reading list this summer.

4. The Collector. It’s not out yet but devoted Daniel Silva fans are counting the days until July 18th when The Collector, the twenty-third novel starring legendary spy Gabriel Allon, arrives in bookstores. The novel centers on solving the mystery of a stolen Vermeer masterpiece. It is “the lynchpin of a conspiracy that, if successful, could plunge the world into a conflict of apocalyptic proportions.” Allon travels from the romantic canals of Venice to the windswept coast of northern Denmark, on to the CIA headquarters in the USA, with the story’s climax in Russia. It sounds like an enticing adventure for readers seeking suspense, tension, and vicarious world travel.

5. Mad Honey. This past week we had an early honey harvest of my hives that yielded almost 50 pounds of liquid gold! As I strive to earn the credentials of a certified beekeeper, friends and family have cheered me along the way with all things honeybees. A dear friend gave me a copy of the NY Times Bestseller Mad Honey a few weeks ago. I am just getting to know the lead characters, Olivia McAfee and Lily Campanello, as their lives intersect due to circumstances that land them in a sleepy New Hampshire town. Two bestselling authors, Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan have written a brilliantly crafted story that has captured my attention and imagination as these characters struggle with loss and love and search for meaning in their worlds that have been turned upside down. I know from the previews that life is not going to unfold as they hope. Lily is going to be found dead, and Olivia’s son, Asher, will be the prime suspect.

As I said in Five on Friday Summer Reads 2021, when it comes to reading, we each have our favorite genres. Some of us are fast readers; some slow. Some read multiple books in parallel. Some devour one at a time. Sometimes reading the same book at different times in our lives reveals new meaning as a function of where we are on our life journeys. Across this diversity, a common truth is that reading is good for our mental health. Reading has the potential to generate health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm, similar to meditation. Having a practice of reading is associated with better sleep, lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression. When I finish Mad Honey, I am going to work my way through this list. Many thanks to my colleagues for sharing some of their current favorite reads. I hope at least one of these books piques your interest and delivers on the mental health front as well. Happy Reading!

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University.

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