Make your picks for the 2021 Summer of Democracy Reading List

Reading is an act of engaged democratic citizenship. It builds empathy and character, expands knowledge, and encourages critical thought. Reading keeps us free.


If you’re a follower of Civic Nebraska, you’re probably aware that we’ve written and released a new book in the past week. Reclaiming We: Twenty Everyday Acts to Strengthen the Common Good and Defend Democracy dropped on April 27, and we’re excited to see the enthusiasm for it so far. In addition to national online booksellers and independent Nebraska bookstores, Reclaiming We is also available in our online shop.

Also, you’d probably not be surprised to learn that one of those 20 democratic acts that we discuss in Reclaiming We is, simply, to read. In fact, our essay on reading in defense of democracy begins with this:

Reading is an act of engaged democratic citizenship. It builds empathy and character, expands knowledge, and encourages critical thought. Reading keeps us free.

It’s in that spirit that we open the nomination process for our yearly reading project: The Summer of Democracy Reading List. Each spring, we ask Nebraskans to nominate book titles for all ages that are fun and funny as well as serious and fundamental to our democracy. It’s time to hear your suggestions about what should be included in 2021.

Here’s how you can contribute to the Summer of Democracy Reading List:

Nominate a book that you think should be included.

Then, in an email, write down a few sentences about it, explaining how the book highlights civic values, promotes how to strengthen communities, or advocates for fundamental American rights. As a reminder, here are the titles we’ve selected in 2020, 2019, and 2018.

Nominate big, serious nonfiction books for adults.

Since last year, there have been several new titles taking deeper, more sober looks at our nation, our history, our civic life, and our future prospects – for example, The Upswing: How America Came Together a Century Ago and How We Can Do It Again by Robert Putnam and Shaylyn Romney Garrett. The Upswing offers counterintuitive insights to demonstrate how we have gone from an individualistic “I” society to a more communitarian “We” society and then back again, and how we can learn from that experience to become a stronger, more unified nation. Who knows? The Upswing might just make it onto our 2021 list.

Nominate books for different ages – fiction and nonfiction alike. ​

Consider that there are civic lessons in books for different age groups. In both the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series, lessons about everything from propaganda to how ordinary people can create and lead change in the face of entrenched power are upfront. Or Dear Martin, which is an excellent, contemporary YA work, which uncloaks the harsh realities of being Black in America. Sharing a range of titles and genres for readers of all ages will help build engaged Nebraskans from ages 6 to 106. Variety is good!

Already know your picks? Let’s hear ’em!

Email your nomination(s) to Steve Smith, Civic Nebraska’s director of communications, by 5 p.m. Friday, May 21. Please include your name and your town or city of residence. If you live outside Nebraska, you’re welcome to participate – do please let us know if or how you’re connected to the Cornhusker State. Then, look for the complete Civic Nebraska Summer of Democracy Reading List the week before Memorial Day – just in time to kick off your summer reading. We’ll include links for each title in both print and ebook, whichever you might prefer. Then, it’s time to get cracking.

We can’t wait to see your picks!

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