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Why You Should Start a Summer Reading List

Want to immerse yourself in a good book this summer? Check out these three.

Key points

  • Reading, especially physical books, has been associated with reduced stress and increased empathy.
  • Spending your leisure time this summer reading could help strengthen your attentional capacity.
  • These three books with psychological themes could be good choices for a summer reading list.

As the summer is upon us, I wanted to share some recommendations for those readers who may have more leisure time to dive into a reading list. As an added incentive, this year, the APA reported that reading is “fundamental” for social and emotional learning for young children—and there are continued benefits to engaging in reading for pleasure as we mature throughout the lifespan.

For instance, reading fiction has been found to enhance one’s empathy. The expanding perspective that fiction reading cultivates in readers has been well-documented for quite some time (e.g., Wise, 2024).

In our increasingly sound-byte-driven media, where information is consumed via social media feeds, the sustained attention required when immersing oneself in a book also has advantages from a concentration perspective. If readers are specifically able to read print books, versus reading on a digital device, this has added benefits from the perspective of how the brain processes the text.

In fact, at the end of this semester, several students asked me how they could improve both their focus and memory. Part of my response? Get off your digital devices and read more books.

Lastly, reading for leisure is also associated with reducing stress. The stimulation incited by our digital devices does not give our brains sufficient downtime to process everything we are exposed to during the day. In this way, reading as a leisure activity is more restorative for the brain than some of the other habits many of us have acquired, such as scrolling through our phones or binge-watching shows on different streaming platforms.

The following is a short list of books I would recommend to accompany your summer travels:

1. Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder by Salman Rushdie (2024)

As an avid reader—yes, I am in a book club—I admit that perhaps it reflects an omission of my literary history that I have yet to read a novel by Rushdie. However, this year, I found myself drawn to his memoir, which documents the attempted murder on his life, and his subsequent recovery and healing process.

Stabbed multiple times in 2022 by a perpetrator he had never met who had apparently become radicalized against him by watching videos online, Rushdie doesn’t flinch as he meticulously walks readers through the time before, after, and during this violent assault that he was miraculously able to survive. For those of you who watch "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, Rushdie was recently interviewed by him and spoke eloquently about the memoir. A haunting and quick read, I was able to complete his memoir in less than a week.

This is a riveting story about trauma and how the author processed and healed from it. While it starts with a violent act of hate, he weaves throughout his memoir the role that love played in enabling him to heal and move forward.

Perhaps most gracefully, while Rushdie tries to understand why he was targeted by the perpetrator, he doesn't dwell on the act of violence itself. Rather, his form of "revenge" is moving forward in his life and releasing his anger and concerns towards the perpetrator. By the end of his memoir, the reader gets the sense that putting his experience into words and releasing it into the culture is a significant liberation from the trauma Rushdie experienced.

2. What Happened To You? by Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey (2021)

In elaborating on this theme of trauma, this book is an excellent resource for anyone interested in understanding both the physiological and psychological underpinnings of trauma. Formatted as conversations between Dr. Perry, a child psychiatrist and neuroscientist, and Oprah Winfrey, this book weaves resonant scientific research with compelling anecdotes and relatable examples of how trauma informs the day-to-day lives of its victims. Anyone interested in better understanding how their behavioral patterns have been shaped by life experiences and in how to best relate to others will gain valuable insights from this book.

Winfrey shares very compelling childhood experiences of her own, as well as the continued reverberations of her past into the present moment. I found her description of how she dealt with her relationship with her mother as an adult as she was dying to be particularly compelling. Anyone who has gone through grief or the trickiness of navigating complicated and messy familial relationships will find something to take away from this powerful book.

3. The Anxious Generation, by Jonathan Haidt (2024)

Readers, this one I admit I have not yet read—although I was sent an early copy by the publishers. Haidt, a fellow researcher at NYU, is a social psychologist who explores the role that social media and our increasingly digitally-dependent culture are playing in impacting rates of anxiety and other mental illnesses among youth. In fact, I had many NYU graduate students reference this book this semester in our "Psychology of Social Media" course.

This book has hit the number one spot on the bestsellers list since its publication, and in fact, Haidt has also been featured on Stewart’s show. Parents and concerned educators like myself may be particularly interested in exploring how the youth we are regularly working with—or parenting—may be wired differently because of their pervasive exposure to their digital devices. (This book will be accompanying me during my summer travels, so stay tuned for my take on the details in a future article.)

Source: Pixabay/LubosHouska

If at all possible, I suggest integrating a reading list into your summer plans. While what you read doesn't necessarily have to be from the discipline of psychology, there are inevitably psychological benefits that can be gained as we cultivate a sustained reading practice. If you have the space to carry a physical book or throw one in your bag as you travel, all the better.

Copyright Dr. Azadeh Aalai 2024


Wise, A. (2024, May 3). 8 Benefits of Reading Print Books, According to Science. Real Simple. Retrieved on May 20, 2024 from:

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