The 2022 Summer of Democracy Reading List

We asked, and you delivered. Here's Civic Nebraska's 2022 Summer of Democracy Reading List, as nominated by Nebraskans and selected by our staff.

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Since 2018, Civic Nebraska has kicked off the summer with some suggested reading, nominated by our staff and by you, our loyal supporters. Thank you to everyone who nominated a title this year for our fifth annual Summer of Democracy Reading List! We encourage Nebraskans to dive into these books about civics, history, politics, and human nature this summer. 
Happy reading!

Nonfiction

Politics is For Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change

Eitan Hersh, 2020
Who’s to blame for our broken politics? The uncomfortable answer starts with ordinary citizens with good intentions. We vote and occasionally sign a petition or attend a rally. But we mainly “engage” by consuming politics like a sport or a hobby. We soak in daily political gossip and eat up statistics about who’s up and who’s down. We tweet, post, share, and crave outrage. The hours we spend on politics are used mainly as pastime. Hersh shows us a way toward more effective political participation. Aided by political theory, history, social science, and stories of ordinary Americans who got off the couch and took political power seriously, this book shows us how to channel our energy away from political hobbyism and toward empowering our values.

New Power: How Anyone Can Persuade, Mobilize, and Succeed in Our Chaotic, Connected Age

Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms, 2019
This indispensable guide to navigating the 21st century reveals how “new power” is reshaping politics, business, and life to be more open, participatory, and peer-driven. Heimans and Timms reveal a new lens on our age’s biggest stories, from the out-of-nowhere victory of Donald Trump to the rise of mega-platforms like Facebook. They show the strength of new power — movements like #MeToo; platforms like Airbnb and Lyft; organizations like TED and Lego — as well as its dark side. They contrast it to “old power,” the foundations of which are under assault in an age of ubiquitous participation. The battle between old and new power is determining who governs us, how we work, and even how we think and feel. This book provides a new way to understand the world and the tools we all need to thrive in it.
Get it:
The Bookworm

Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It

David L. Hansen, 2018
A “revolt” against elitism is taking place. No more will big government, big media, big banks, and big institutions dictate our lives and fortunes. Financial markets, political punditry, and cultural leaders are scrambling to react to the rise of the disenfranchised. The key to American prosperity in this new populist era is for moral people to make responsibility matter again by forming lasting, mediating institutions that trump the elitist bogeymen and scapegoats for generations to come. If we fail as individual Americans to address this core crisis of responsibility, we have only ourselves to blame for what happens next.
 

The Complete Maus

Art Spiegelman, 1996
A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats. Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father into an astonishing retelling of one of history’s most unspeakable tragedies. It is an unforgettable story of survival and a disarming look at the legacy of trauma.
 

The Undocumented Americans

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, 2020
Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she’d tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell.  So she traveled across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants — and to find the hidden key to her own.  She finds the singular, effervescent characters across the nation often reduced in the media to political pawns or nameless laborers. Through it all we see the author grappling with the biggest questions of love, duty, family, and survival. Cornejo Villavicencio combines sensitive reporting and powerful personal narratives to bring to light remarkable stories of resilience, madness, and death. Through these stories we come to understand what it truly means to be a stray. An expendable. A hero. An American.
 
Get it:
The Bookworm

A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan

Michael Kazin, 2007
Politician, evangelist, and reformer William Jennings Bryan was the most popular public speaker of his time. In the first major reconsideration of Bryan’s life in 40 years, Kazin illuminates his astonishing career and the diverse, volatile landscape of religion and politics in which he rose to fame. Kazin re-creates Bryan’s tremendous appeal, showing how he won a passionate following among both rural and urban Americans, who saw in him not only the practical vision of a reform politician but also the righteousness of a pastor. Bryan did more than anyone to transform the Democratic Party from a bulwark of laissez-faire to the citadel of liberalism we identify with FDR. In 1896, 1900, and 1908, Bryan was nominated for president, and though he fell short each time, his legacy – a subject of great debate after his death – remains monumental.
 

Fiction

Let's Not Do That Again: A Novel

Grant Ginder, 2022
Nancy Harrison is running for Senate, and she’s going to win, goddammit. Not that that’s her slogan, although it could be. She’s said all the right things. Passed all the right legislation. Chapped her lips kissing babies. There’s just one problem: her grown children. Nick is floundering to write a musical about Joan Didion. Greta – smart, pretty, and completely unmotivated – allows her life to pass her by like the shoppers at her Apple store. One morning the world wakes up not to Nancy making headlines, but Greta is in Paris with extremist protestors, throwing a bottle of champagne through a beloved bistro’s front window. To save her campaign, not to mention her daughter, Nancy and Nick must find Greta before it’s too late. Let’s Not Do That Again shows that family, like politics, can hurt like a mother.  

The High House

Jessie Greengrass, 2021
Perched on a sloping hill, set away from a small town by the sea, the High House has a tide pool and a mill, a vegetable garden, and a barn full of supplies. Caro, Pauly, Sally, and Grandy are safe from the rising water that threatens to destroy the town and that has, perhaps, already destroyed everything else. But for how long? Caro and half-brother Pauly arrive after her father and stepmother fall victim to a faraway climate disaster. In their new home, a converted summer house cared for by Grandy and granddaughter Sally, the two pairs learn to live together. Yet there are limits to their safety, to the supplies, to what Grandy can teach them as his health fails. A stunning novel of the extraordinary and the everyday, The High House explores how we get used to change that once seemed unthinkable, how we place the needs of our families against the needs of others – and it asks us who, if we had to, we would save.
 

Wayward

Dana Spiotta, 2021
Samantha’s life is coming apart: her mother is ill, her teen daughter is remote, and at 52 she finds herself staring into “the Mids”that hour of wakefulness between 3 and 4 in the morning in which women of a certain age find themselves contemplating motherhood, mortality, and in this case the state of our unraveling nation. When she falls in love with a beautiful, decrepit house in a hardscrabble neighborhood, she buys it and flees her suburban life and family as she grapples with how to be a wife, mother, and daughter in a country that is coming apart at the seams. Wayward is about aging, the female body, and female complexity in contemporary America. It’s a testament to our weird times, to reforms and resistance and utopian wishes, and to the beauty of ruins.
 

Young Readers

Dread Nation

Justina Ireland, 2018
Teen & Young Adult Fiction
Jane was born two days before the Dead began walking the battlefields of Gettysburg, derailing the Civil War and changing the nation forever. In this America, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Education Act require certain children attend combat schools. But there are also opportunities, and Jane is training in weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do, a chance for a better life for Negro girls like her. Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the east, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against powerful enemies. And the Dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
 

We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know

Traci Sorell and Frane´ Lessac, 2021
7-10 years, Nonfiction
Too often, Native American history is treated as a finished chapter instead of relevant and ongoing. This companion book to the award-winning We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga offers readers everything they never learned in school about Native people’s past, present, and future. Precise, lyrical writing presents topics including: forced assimilation (such as boarding schools), land allotment and Native tribal reorganization, termination (the US government not recognizing tribes as nations), Native urban relocation (from reservations), self-determination (tribal self-empowerment), Native civil rights, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), religious freedom, economic development (including casino development), Native language revival efforts, cultural persistence, and nationhood.

New Kid

Jerry Craft, 2019
9-12 years, Graphic Novel
Seventh-grader Jordan loves to draw cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to art school, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his grade. As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds, and not fitting into either. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself? This middle-grade graphic novel is an excellent choice for tween readers, for its honest depiction of microaggressions kids of color may experience in school.
Get it:
Francie & Finch
The Bookworm
Chapters Books & Gifts

Teen Guide To Volunteering

Stuart Kallen
12-16 years, Reference
Volunteers feel personal satisfaction when they see how their efforts are making the world a better place. This is a powerful tool for reducing stress, combating depression, and providing a sense of purpose. Those who tackle problems or aid strangers meet like-minded people of all ages and backgrounds. It can also help teens widen social circles beyond family while forming bonds that last a lifetime. Volunteering helps teens sharpen their social skills, build self-esteem, gain real-world experience, meet mentors, and obtain letters of recommendation for college applications. Kallen shows the many ways teens are making – and can make – a difference in the world by providing numerous project ideas, plus insight from an array of teen volunteers.

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge

M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin
10-14 years, Fiction
Elfin historian Brangwain Spurge is on a mission: survive being catapulted across the mountains into goblin territory, deliver a priceless peace offering to their mysterious dark lord, and spy on the goblin kingdom — from which no elf has returned alive in more than 100 years. His host, the goblin archivist Werfel, is delighted to show Brangwain around. They should be best friends, but a series of double-crosses, blunders, and cultural misunderstandings throws these two scholars into the middle of an international crisis that may spell death for them and war for their nations. Illustrations show Brangwain’s furtive missives back to the elf kingdom, while Werfel’s unbiased narrative tells an entirely different story. A hilarious and biting social commentary, this tale is rife with thrilling action and visual humor, and a comic disparity that suggests the ultimate victor in a war is perhaps not who won the battles, but who gets to write the history.

A Smart Girl's Guide: Making a Difference

Melissa Seymour, 2020
8-12 years, Reference
Girls have the power to make a difference, whether that’s in their own lives, their community, or even the world! But it can be confusing to know where to start. From protecting our planet to helping animals to saying hello to someone who seems lonely, this book offers young readers lots of ideas – big and small – on how to spark change. The quizzes, tips, and inspiration from other girls will help her identify her talents, skills, and the causes she cares about most. Then she can find ways to take action and become a change-maker! 
Past Summer of Democracy Reading Lists
2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018

 

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