10 Must-Read Books To Inspire Empathy & Joy This Summer

Our Summer Reading List

With the summer months finally approaching, it’s time to refresh our reading lists! These thought provoking novels and nonfiction reads spark meditations about the meaning of life, the power of human interaction, and the significance of identity. We hope you find encouragement and inspiration from these highly-respected authors and beloved stories.


1. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

What Inspires Us | Exit West follows two remarkable characters as they emerge into an uncertain future as refugees, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past and their identities. Profoundly intimate, it tells a moving story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both “completely of our time and for all time.”

Reviews | “A thoughtful, beautifully crafted work that emphasizes the humanity of people who become refugees… its language and ideas might have a particular resonance today, but they would be worth reading at any time.” - Vox

Price | $14

Order Exit West on Amazon


2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

What Inspires Us | When Breath Becomes Air is Paul Kalanithi’s attempt to answer the question, What makes a life worth living? This powerful memoir is his own story as a neurosurgeon, new father, and cancer patient. Although Kalanithi passed while writing this book, its pages are filled with bits of hope and beauty that “live on as a guide and a gift to us all.” His life-affirming tone and reflections provide encouragement to those seeking to understand identity.

Reviews | “Split my head open with its beauty.” - Cheryl Strayed

Price | $14

Order When Breath Becomes Air on Amazon


3. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

What Inspires Us | Small Great Things takes a  look at both subtle and blatant racism in America today. Its complex characters and moral problem give readers a convicting perspective on privilege, power, and race. The story begins with an African American labor and delivery nurse who is met by white supremacist parents of a newborn. A plot marked by social injustice and crime helps the characters and readers “come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others - and themselves - might be wrong.”

Reviews | “A gripping courtroom drama...Given the current political climate it is quite prescient and worthwhile...This is a writer who understands her characters inside and out.” - Roxane Gay

Price | $17

Order Small Great Things on Amazon


4. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

What Inspires Us | The War of Art is a must-read for anyone seeking to fully embrace creative ambition and endeavors. With a tangible guide for adopting creative discipline, this book assists the reader in defeating whatever holds her back from doing what she deeply craves to do. Pressfield’s writing is applicable for any creative field, and it serves as “nothing less than Sun-Tzu for the soul.”

Reviews | “The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is packed with invaluable pieces of wisdom for anyone making anything. Whether you’re an artist, entrepreneur, writer, or dreamer, Pressfield will immediately sway you with his all-too-true observations about the creative process, thoughtful perspective, and actionable advice for getting to the heart of what you do best.” - Eliot Peper

Price | $10

Order The War Of Art on Amazon


5. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

What Inspires Us | The Underground Railroad is Colson Whitehead’s tribute to the history we all share. He tells the story of a young slave in Georgia so that readers might meditate on the brutality of African importation, unique terrors faced by black people in the pre-Civil War era, and finally question the meaning of true freedom. This Pulitzer Prize-winning book emphasizes history and “unfulfilled promises of the present day.”

Reviews | “With this novel, Colson Whitehead proves that he belongs on any short list of America’s greatest authors - his talent and range are beyond impressive and impossible to ignore. The Underground Railroad is an American masterpiece, as much a searing document of cruel history as a uniquely brilliant work of fiction.” - Michael Schaub

Price | $15

Order The Underground Railroad on Amazon


6. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

What Inspires Us | A Man Called Ove is a heartwarming must-read about a “bitter neighbor from hell” and surprising friendships. This feel-good tale inspires us to look beyond exteriors to see that those who point and scoff have experienced sadness, too. Fredrik Backman’s writing is a meaningful exploration about how the life of an individual can have a lasting impact on numerous other hearts.

Reviews | “There are characters who amuse us, and stories that touch us. But this character and his story do even more: A Man Called Ove makes us think about who we are and how we want to live our lives...Fredrik Backman packs a lifetime’s worth of hilarity and heartbreak into this novel. Even the most crusty curmudgeon will love Ove!” - Lois Leveen

Price | $10

Order A Man Called Ove on Amazon


7. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

What Inspires Us | The Sympathizer is a riveting epic of betrayal, love, friendship, and harsh history. The narrator’s quick pace will swiftly guide you through the story of a communist double agent who comes to America after the Fall of Saigon. With the suspense of a thriller, you’ll be led to explore the meaning of identity, loyalty, home, and community in the midst of tragic change.

Reviews | “Magisterial. A disturbing, fascinating and darkly comic take on the Fall of Saigon and its aftermath, and a powerful examination of guilt and betrayal. The Sympathizer is destined to become a classic and redefine the way we think about the Vietnam War and what it means to win and to lose.” - T.C. Boyle

Price | $9

Order The Sympathizer on Amazon


8. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

What Inspires Us | Commonwealth begins when Bert Cousins shows up at a party uninvited. The book then spans five decades as Ann Patchett shows readers how a single encounter can change the course of lives forever. Read with simultaneous awareness of comedy and heartbreak, you will ponder loss, connection, guilt, loyalty, and the power of stories. Ultimately, Commonwealth is “about far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.”

Reviews | “Patchett brings humanity, humor, and a disarming affection to lovable, struggling characters... Irresistible.” - Library Journal

Price | $12

Order Commonwealth on Amazon


9. The Sellout by Paul Beatty

What Inspires Us | The Sellout is a satire which emphasizes elements of the US Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, father-son dynamics, and racial equality. By telling the story of a young man’s childhood and his later interactions with the Supreme Court, Beatty is able to start conversations about racially-charged psychology and social climates. This book is a relatable, convicting read that will challenge you to think deeply about human interactions.

Reviews | “I am glad that I read this insane book alone, with no one watching, because I fell apart with envy, hysterics, and flat-out awe. Is there a more fiercely brilliant and scathingly hilarious American novelist than Paul Beatty?” - Ben Marcus

Price | $10

Order The Sellout on Amazon


10. Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott

What Inspires Us | Hallelujah Anyway is Anne Lamott’s attempt to show the world how “Mercy is radical kindness.” The book dissects the meaning of life, challenging readers to pursue understanding by first dealing with the mess of self. Lamott guides readers through a journey of recognizing mercy and learning to absolve the unabsolvable with humor and forthrightness.

Reviews | "Read this book, whatever your faith. Read it twice." - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Price | $11

Order Hallelujah Anyway on Amazon