Ten Summer Reads for 2024

Ten reads to get you through the summer

Barn Raiser June 27, 2024

Whether you want to learn some history or just sit down with a good story, Barn Raiser has you covered with 10 great reads for this summer.

Barons: Money, Power, and the Corruption of America’s Food Industry

by Austin Frerick 

Island

In his new book, Austin Frerick identifies contemporary “Barons” in seven different corporations—such as Cargill, Inc., the Driscoll’s and the conglomerate JAB Holding Company—who have taken over food systems and re-shaped communities. Frerick writes in the introduction, “I refer to these people as ‘barons’ to hearken back to Gilded Age robber barons such as John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan because I believe that we are living in a parallel moment when a few titans have the power to shape industries.”

You can read Nina Elkadi’s interview with Frerick for Barn Raiser here

Feeding a Divided America: Reflections of a Western Rancher in the Era of Climate Change

by Gilles Stockton

University of New Mexico Press

In a series of essays, the third-generation Montana rancher examines the causes and consequences of the “rural-urban divide” and how it has shaped the political landscape in small towns across the country. Combining historical analysis with his experience developing agriculture policy and personal anecdotes from his decades-long career, Stockton provides insight into the past and future of the American food system and the communities that depend on it. 

Read an excerpt from Feeding a Divided America here. You can also read Stockton’s interview with Barn Raiser here

—Paco Alvarez, Assistant Editor

Landscapes of Care: Immigration and Health in Rural America

by Thurka Sangaramoorthy

University of North Carolina Press

Sangaramoorthy examines the impact of global migration on underinvested rural healthcare systems in the U.S., and how the “exclusionary logics” of immigration policy have combined with corporatized models of care to worsen disparities in health outcomes and care delivery. By exploring the shared conditions of suffering among those who navigate these healthcare “landscapes,” Sangaramoorthy reveals the ways that immigrants and rural residents have developed alternate forms of solidarity and inclusion, and how healthcare policy might be reshaped in response. 

You can read an excerpt from Landscapes of Care here. You can also read Sangaramoorthy’s interview with Barn Raiser here

—Paco Alvarez, Assistant Editor

Hannibal’s Invisibles

by G. Faye Dant

Belt

I interviewed Faye Dant in January 2023, for “Mississippi River Dispatch,” an account of a 160-mile road trip I took along the Mississippi.

Dant left her hometown of Hannibal in 1971 when she went off to college. She told me that upon her return 40 years later she noticed “the community hadn’t had a lot of growth in terms of recognizing social justice issues and responding.”

To spur that growth, in 2013, Dant founded Jim’s Journey: The Huck Finn Freedom Center, a local black history museum that pays tribute to the escaped slave hero of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Jim was based on Daniel Quarles, a slave on Twain’s uncle’s farm in Florida, Missouri, who moved to Hannibal after emancipation.

This summer, Dant is out with her first book, Hannibal’s Invisibles (Belt Publishing). In the forward of this 204-page, photo-illustrated history of the town’s Black community, she writes:

“Our parents and grandparents were either enslaved or lived under Jim Crow and struggled with survival for decades, both before and during the civil rights movement. Though Hannibal had no signs indicating “Colored” and “White Only” establishments and services, segregation was very real in employment, education, the restaurants, and even the hospitals. I contend that segregation without signs—where generations were quietly taught to “know our place”—was even worse and even more insidious. …

Hannibal’s Invisibles is here to introduce and formalize the lost Black narrative of this rural Missouri community on the Mississippi River.”

—Joel Bleifuss, Editor & Publisher

One Man’s Meat

by E.B. White

Rowman & Littlefield

First published in 1944, One Man’s Meat continues to endure. E.B. White’s witty and succinct observations on daily life at a Maine saltwater farm offer something as playful and salty as the sea itself. It’s best in short bursts, making it a perfect companion for long summer days.

Truckload of Art: The Life and Work of Terry Allen

by Brendan Greaves 

Hachette

I first listened to Terry Allen after a friend of mine sent me a Youtube link to a low quality version of Juarez, Allen’s funny and profound first album. It’s a record whose sordid and sacred songs are as influenced by Western movies as they are by mythologies, history, autobiography and the landscapes of Texas, Colorado, California and Mexico. It wasn’t until I read Brendan Greaves’s new biography of Allen that I learned the album was just one part of Allen’s Juarez cycle, a vast multimedia project consisting of music, sculptures, radio plays and more. Greaves touches on nearly every aspect of Allen’s life, sometimes in exhausting detail, from Allen’s childhood days wandering around Lubbock, Texas, to the beginnings of his career as a musician and his success as a public artist with sculptures and pieces across the country. Drawing from notebooks Allen kept, historical documents concerning his family history and interviews with a whole cast of misfit artists and musicians, including Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne, Greaves paints a fascinating portrait of an artist whose life and work are almost too wild to be believed. 

—Paco Alvarez, Assistant Editor

Perennial Ceremony: Lessons and Gifts From a Dakota Garden

by Teresa Peterson

University of Minnesota Press

Teresa Peterson is a poet, a Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota, a registered member of the Upper Sioux Community in Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota, a cook and a gardener. These are among the many identities she weaves together in Perennial Ceremony: Lessons and Gifts from a Dakota Garden (Minnesota). The book is a story of her journey through the seasons, Wetu (Spring), Bdoketu (Sumer) Ptanyetu (Fall) and Waniyetu (Winter), and that of her 120 by 50 foot garden. “The Garden has always been a space for me to work through my own everyday problems or to reflect on issues too big for me to solve.”

Perennial Ceremony is illustrated with photos, replete with recipes based on her garden’s harvest, and meditations on the importance of ceremony. She writes:

“Through this collection of writing, I have come to understand that ceremony is nestled within the daily and seasonal activities, and I began reflecting upon all the aspects that this way of life intersects with the tenets of sacred rites, rituals and observations. … [C]limate change and its impact on Mother Earth calls us to examine our relationships; all our relationships—with our neighbors, the animals and plants, the water, and land. It can simply begin with observation, slowing down, and asking ourselves, What is our relationship to the land?”

—Joel Bleifuss, Editor & Publisher

The Road to the Country

by Chigozie Obioma 

Hogarth

Chigozie Obioma’s latest novel captures the bewildering and foreboding atmosphere of fear, determination and chaos waiting to explode in a country divided. It is the 1960s and Nigeria is on the brink of civil war against the secessionist Republic of Biafra. Kunle, Obioma’s studious and shy young protagonist, is on a quest of redemption to atone for the guilt he feels after his brother Tunde suffers a debilitating accident. What follows is an ingeniously gripping story of how the fate of “brother against brother” ensnares family and society to question every notion of prophecy, fate and circumstance. Obioma has two previous novels, each was a finalist for the Booker Prize. Look for The Road to the Country to maybe even win this time.

—Justin Perkins, Deputy Editor & Publisher

Wallace Stegner’s Unsettled Country: Ruin, Realism, and Possibility in the American West

by Mark Fiege, Michael Lansing and Leisl Carr Childers

University of Nebraska Press

“Great writers present us with gifts as well as dilemmas. In this unflinching set of essays by scholars and practitioners of inclusive western history, Wallace Stegner is presented as bearing both. From various angles and social positions the contributors in this enlightening collection examine Stegner’s ideas, texts, political commitments, blind spots, and legacies, revealing not only Stegner’s mixed impact on American literature and culture but also how his critical vision can spark hope in these troubled times.”

—Tiya Miles, author of All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake, winner of the National Book Award

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

by Alice Munro

Vintage International

“I want my stories to be something about life that causes people to say, not, oh, isn’t that the truth, but to feel some kind of reward from the writing, and that doesn’t mean that it has to be a happy ending or anything, but just that everything the story tells moves the reader in such a way that you feel you are a different person when you finish.”

This is how Alice Munro described the aspiration behind her writing to the Swiss Academy when she won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2013. To me, it is quintessentially Munro; that the kernel in each of her stories is not captured in some ideal or essential truth, but rather expresses the inestimable movement of life itself. Or, at least that’s the sense of her work I get in the title of Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, one of my favorites of Munro’s collections. But this is just one of many entries into Munro’s work. Her death in May marked the end of an incredible life. But we can be thankful her spirit remains alive across her body of work; there’s not a second to lose if you want to be acquainted with it.

—Justin Perkins, Deputy Editor & Publisher

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