There’s nothing wrong with a good beach read. Sometimes, entertainment is all we need from a book. But for lifelong learners — those who are always seeking to enlarge their perspectives — a typical summer reading list might not satisfy their endless quest for more knowledge. MB asked Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the University of South Alabama’s journalist-in-residence, for a summer reading list for those of us who will never graduate from wanting to know more.
Meet Cynthia Tucker
Born in Monroeville, Alabama, just five years before the publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Cynthia Tucker learned the power of words at an early age.
“I became a journalist because I wanted to change the world,” she says.
After an award-winning career as a columnist and editorial page editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tucker began her second career as a professor at the University of Georgia before moving to Mobile in 2014 to be closer to her mother, who, at 95 years old, still lives in Monroeville. Tucker’s 13-year-old daughter Carly spends time there in the summers, learning her grandmother’s recipes and gardening techniques.
“I didn’t inherit those talents, so we are grateful Carly gets to spend time with her grandmother,” Tucker says.
Tucker’s life has been full of achievement, but at 67, she still has a desire to do more. So far in 2022, she’s received the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer of the Year and released a book of political essays, “The Southernization of America: A Story of Democracy in the Balance,” with local author Frye Gaillard.
“Writing a book was on my bucket list,” she says. “Now I think I want to write more books. It scratched an itch.”
As both a writer and an educator, reading has been a fundamental element of Tucker’s life, both personally and professionally.
“I’m always talking to my students about reading,” she says. “Read a newspaper, read good books. Growing up in a small town, I was only exposed to the wider world through books. A lot of my students are from the Gulf Coast area and haven’t traveled much, but I know I can introduce them to a wider world. It is rewarding for me to be able to do that for them.”
Cynthia Tucker’s Books for Summer 2022
“Surprised by Joy”by C. S. Lewis. The late, great Harper Lee lent me a copy of C. S. Lewis’ “Surprised by Joy,” and I never managed to return it. The insights and inspiration it offers have made it worth several readings.
“The Promise of the Pelican” by Roy Hoffman, an area resident, hits the sweet spot for me because it’s a murder mystery, but it’s also quite well written.
“Driving the King” by Ravi Howard is a beautifully imagined story of a black World War II veteran who moves to Los Angeles to work for Nat King Cole, hoping to find a new life away from the oppression of the Jim Crow South.
“The House at Sugar Beach” by Helene Cooper tells the story of her childhood in her native Liberia, where the callousness of upper-class black Liberians toward their poor and less Westernized neighbors tears the country apart.
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury is a tale of an apocalyptic age in which firefighters’ job is to burn books. One firefighter, though, starts stashing them away and reading them…
“The 1619 Project” has had quite a bit of press, much of it negative. But I’d say that this well-written series of essays is worth reading, even if you end up disagreeing with some of the conclusions.
“The Last Slave Ship” by Ben Raines, also an area resident, is a masterfully reported and well-written account of not only the discovery of the Clotilda, but also the lives of the captives and the community, now called Africatown, they were able to build.
“The Violin Conspiracy” by Brendan Slocumb. I haven’t started “The Violin Conspiracy” by Brendan Slocumb, but it has been well-reviewed as another mystery by a writer who, like Hoffman, not only understands plot but also has a gift for language.
“The Sum of Us” by Heather McGhee is a brilliant polemic that argues that racism is at the foundation of Americans’ failure to provide themselves and their neighbors a decent safety net.
“The End of October” by Lawrence Wright. With COVID ebbing, it’s safe to read Lawrence Wright’s well-researched apocalyptic thriller, “The End of October.” It’s about a deadly virus that creates a worldwide pandemic.
“The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood. I’m a huge fan of Margaret Atwood’s work, and her novel, “The Testaments,” is a brilliant sequel to her mega-hit, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Cynthia Tucker is coauthor of “The Southernization of America: A Story of Democracy in the Balance,” written with Frye Gaillard.