As I was putting together my list of suggested reading for the summer, I realized that the topics they cover sound pretty heavy for vacation reading.
For the past decade, I’ve recommended great books to read each summer. This year, I decided to mix it up and try something different. I’m recommending just two books—one novel and one nonfiction—plus a mix of other things I’ve enjoyed lately, including a TV series set in Denmark and a few dozen songs that are on regular rotation for me. Whatever your summer plans are, I hope you find something here to help you make the most of them.
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin. This terrific novel tells the story of two friends who grow up bonding over Super Mario Bros. and then, in college, start making their own games together. I really related to the story—in fact, it reminded me a lot of my relationship with Paul Allen and our work together at Microsoft. Tomorrow was one of the biggest books of last year, and it’s easy to see why. Zevin is a great writer who makes you care deeply about her characters.
Born in Blackness, by Howard French. I’m a student of Africa, but I still learned a lot from this thoughtful, well-researched book. French, a journalist of African descent, challenges the standard Western accounts of the continent’s history. It was far from stateless and primitive when Europeans arrived. In reality, he explains, various African kingdoms had established city-states that rivaled Europe’s in terms of political organization, military power, commerce, art, and exploration. I mean it as a compliment when I say that Born in Blackness left me wanting to know more.
Borgen (available on Netflix in the U.S.). I’ve binged all four seasons of this Danish political drama. Named for the palace in Copenhagen where the Danish government is based, it follows the country’s (fictional) first female prime minister as she navigates a complex political landscape. I’m fascinated by how political coalitions come together and stay together, and I loved watching the PM, Birgitte Nyborg, figure it all out. She’s a principled and talented leader who’s also fallible and sometimes misguided. Borgen is entertaining above all else, but I’ve learned a ton from watching it too.
Here’s a Spotify playlist with many of my favorite tracks—songs newer and older that have stuck with me over the years. You’ll find everything from Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and the Beatles to Vampire Weekend, Adele, and U2.