Brendan Largay, Head of School

BrendanLargay, Head of School

My Summer Reading List: 13 Titles for 13 Weeks

I offer one of my favorite annual traditions: my summer reading list. What follows here is shared with you in the hopes that this year–for the first time–I might be successful in reading a book a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Thirteen weeks. Thirteen books. (My record remains 11.5.)

As poet Jenny Xie once wrote: “Reading is migratory, an act of transport, from one life to another, one mind to another. Just like geographic travel, reading involves estrangement that comes with the process of dislocating from a familiar context. I gather energy from this kind of movement, this estranging and unsettling, and I welcome it precisely because it’s conducive to examination, interrogation, reordering. Travel, imaginative or physical, can sharpen perception and force a measuring of distance and difference.” So, consider this list as an alternate path of travel for me this summer, and happy travels to any of you who pick up a book (one of these or your own)!

Perhaps due to the annual tradition that my summer reading list has become, a handful of the titles below are direct recommendations from members of the community. Books, as the recommenders say, that I “simply must read.” My thanks to those of you who have provided those recommendations. Fingers crossed I can get to them all …

The War for Kindness by Dr. Jamil Zaki

This spring, I had the opportunity to attend the National Association of Independent School Head’s Retreat in Baltimore, Maryland. There, hundreds of heads of schools from across the country had the good fortune and opportunity to hear Dr. Jamil Zaki, author of The War for Kindness* speak about his research and the timeliness of his newly released novel which is an in-depth study on the importance and power of empathy. Our world has never needed more of it, and Dr. Zaki may be the best voice to which we might listen.

*We have asked every member of the faculty and board of trustees to read Zaki’s text this summer for discussion when we return in the fall.  

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

My love of Emily St. John Mandel’s writing began with her now-prescient novel Station Eleven which spoke of a post-pandemic world. It continued with The Glass Hotel, an imagined narrative of what it might have felt like to those closest to a pyramid schemer (à la Bernie Madoff) but unaware of his financial scheme until it is too late. This summer, I am hoping to continue my appreciation of Mandel’s works with Sea of Tranquility. Like Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, which I recently completed, Mandel’s novel takes you into a future and offers what I hope will be a bit of a beautifully written escape in the form of a fictional and metaphysical journey.

Consolations by David Whyte

I am always grateful when poets expound upon their thinking in prose. David Whyte, a beloved Irish poet, does just that in his book Consolations. With a shout out to the Gottesman family for the recommendation, Consolations is an opportunity to reflect by way of reading–a rare opportunity afforded to readers by the greatest of writers (consider, for example, Khalil GIbran’s The Prophet or Paolo Cuehlo’s The Alchemist)–and it appears that Whyte has done precisely that with Consolations.

The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber & David Wengrow

Always nice to read a text with such a limited scope … just kidding. This title reminds me of texts like Sapiens from Yuval Noah Harari, which take on topics of such enormity that I revel equally in their ability to research and make sense of it all as much as I do in their execution of storytelling. The Dawn of Everything comes with the Anne Armstrong stamp of approval, so that alone should be enough to send it to the top of my (and everyone else’s) reading list this summer.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Imagine a seat in a cafe that, if you chose to sit in it, could take you back in time. Who would you want to connect with? What might you want to say? Well, this cafe would give you the chance. Having read Tales from the Cafe already (during the second grade Read for Seeds read-a-thon, no less!) which is Kawaguchi’s other novel about this magical place, I am excited to return to the cafe and would invite anyone else to consider joining me. The only trick: our visit to the past must be done before the coffee gets cold.

The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee

For those of you who haven’t yet had the chance to get to know Jen James, assistant to the head and registrar, she is among the most avid readers I know (joining the likes of Blair Fross, Nicole Buck, Heather Woodcock, and others!). On a weekly basis, it seems, Jen arrives with another book she has completed and another recommendation for me. The Sum of Us may have been her very first recommendation–a close look at the cost of racism in America and how we might emerge a stronger nation in our efforts to counter it. McGhee’s voice is a powerful and exquisite one. I cannot wait.

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Namagatsu

Speaking of powerful and exquisite voices, How High We Go in the Dark, is a profoundly beautiful look at life and death. Brace yourself for this one if you are still grappling with the cost of the pandemic and the sadness it has wrought. How High We Go in the Dark, is a glimpse into the not-so-distant future and the impact that climate change has on the world, and how various storylines thread together around how folks contend and cope with death even as they celebrate all of the joy in life. The closest comparison of this novel is to the aforementioned Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven above. Fingers crossed I enjoy this as much as I did that!

Impact Players by Liz Wiseman

I’m always good, each summer, to add a book aimed at inviting me to think differently about leadership, my team, and how to optimize the work we do together on behalf of the faculty and students. This summer’s choice? Impact Players. Wiseman takes a look at those team members who seem to have that special or unique capacity to understand the moment and elevate at the key moments to seize the opportunity and get the job done. I have the good fortune of working with a collection of impact players here at BDS, and I am eager to learn more about how to nourish and support them all.

Box 88 by Charles Cumming

So, let’s be honest: this is the beach read I am most looking forward to this summer–an engaging, compelling and taut thriller set in England. So often for me, the escape of the suspenseful mystery–like Le Tellier’s The Anomaly that I read this spring–is a great way to disappear into a novel. And, if it is as well written as Box 88 professes to be, it should be quite the disappearing act.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

A grown-up novel that “reads like YA” according to our beloved librarian, Amy Sprung, The House in the Cerulean Sea is something of a modern fairy tale. Joyful, charming, magical, and unique, this is the story–of all those listed here in the Scoop– that I suspect will feel like the most seamless departure from the here and now, and the easiest book in which I may find myself lost.

The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, Regain It by Sandra Sucher and Shalene Gupta

At a school where honesty is proudly touted as one of our six core values, trust is key. Sucher and Gupta’s book studies the science behind trust, how to build it, lose it, and rediscover it from the inside out. As we welcome several new members of our school community next year, starting with the strong foundation of a trusting and caring community will be pivotal and this text will hopefully help to provide new perspectives on this fundamental trait of successful and healthy organizations.

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith

A beautiful and powerful exploration of what being a young person with a stutter can sometimes feel like, I Talk Like a River is an exquisitely told true story picture book. For those of you with young children who may, for any number of reasons, find themselves feeling misunderstood, help them discover the ways in which they might ‘talk like a river,’ and enjoy the beauty of the art and storytelling of this illustrated children’s book.

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

What’s summer without a road trip? Amor Towles (of The Gentlemen from Moscow fame) invites us all to take one this summer with a handful of students who hit the road in the hopes of fulfilling some dreams, finding a better future, and taking a few delightful detours along the way. I’m celebrating my twenty-fifth college reunion this summer. Towles’ novel feels like it could be a bit of an anthem for me.

Honorable Mentions: Looking for more? These are books that I completed (and loved!) this spring that you may want to grab this summer: The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier; Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr; Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan; Everything Sad Is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri.

BrendanLargay, Head of School

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