Books we love
Welcome to our feature, Books We Love, spotlighting some of the titles that Task Force staffers are reading and enjoying!
Colin P. Lovell
Recently, I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It was startling to feel so recognized by a book. Cain’s basic premise is that while Western society overwhelmingly tends to regard extroversion (loosely defined in a more personality style manner as opposed to more strict psychological definition) as the “best” way to be and the source of all that is good in politics, the arts, invention, science, etc. But truly, if we were all pure extroverts, we’d spend significantly far more time arguing and grumbling than actually solving problems or inventing or producing art.
Introverts tend to feel recharged by spending time alone, thinking deeply on a problem and pondering solutions, but are rarely lonely. While this style of interaction can be troublesome in childhood and even as an adult with a new and increased pressure put on group think and work, Cain points out that introverts enjoy deep connections with other people and are responsible for some of the greatest works of our time. The theory of gravity, Google and Charlie Brown are only some of the monumental contributions from the quieter among us.
Cain spends much of her book explaining that while extroversion is equated with normal, introversion is simply another personality style with unique challenges and assets of its own. She also gives thought to how to best support an introverted child as a parent and how to better get along in the workplace as an introvert, with the particular emphasis on all things group oriented. Her ideas on Quiet Leadership can lead to increased productivity and employee satisfaction in any workplace. But mostly, it’s lovely to know that while it may seem that we all prefer to keep yammering away all the time, a little quiet and alone time is an entitlement we all share – some of us just need a little more than others.
Director of Operations for Development
I’m one of those people who can’t get a wall painted because the 3-week old newspaper I'm using for a drop cloth needs to be read first. My partner swears she’s going to bury me with a subscription to the New York Times.
I’m nearly done with Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World by John Szweld. My family had dinner-table discussions about how Leadbelly had actually not been discovered by Lomax. Turns out we were wrong. If you ever sang “Midnight Special” or “Rock Island Line” or know what a gamelon sounds like, you can thank Lomax. You don’t know what you’re missing.
A Time of Gifts is an amazing book by the late Patrick Leigh Fermor about walking from Holland to Constantinople in the early ‘30’s. He walks through landscapes and encounters people and ways that haven’t changed in centuries. Within a very few years, it was nearly all gone, almost as though it had never existed. I’ll read Between the Woods and the Water, the second part of his epic meander, next.
Edward Jones All Aunt Hagar’s Children was amazing and a reminder that I need to read more by him and, for goodness sakes, more fiction. Finally, among the books waiting to be read is Warmth of Other Suns about the African-American migration to northern cities by Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson.
Sue Lee Troutman
Director of Individual Giving
I love books! A good work of fiction offers a nice opportunity to escape, and a good non-fiction book offers a chance to learn something new and interesting. I usually have a couple of each going at any given time, as well as a pile of books-to-read-next in my living room. There are also plenty of books on my bookshelves that I haven’t read - I’ve purchased a number of books over the years that I wanted to read but still haven’t gotten around to reading yet. I figure I’ll eventually get to them – if I ever retire, I’ll have plenty of reading to occupy my leisure time.
For now, I’m working my way through Anna Karenina on my Kindle. I feel like it’s important to throw in a classic every once in a while, and the only other Russian novel I’ve read is Crime and Punishment. Anna Karenina seemed a more manageable Tolstoy read than War and Peace. Since I only read my Kindle while I’m on the subway going to and from work, it’s taking me a little while to get through the book, though I do find the storyline engaging. I have had some difficulties understanding and remembering all the Russian names, but I think that’s a common complaint.
I’m also trying to practice my language skills a bit by reading a contemporary Italian novel, Una Barca Nel Bosco (A Boat in the Woods) by Paola Mastrocola, which is even slower going than Anna Karenina since I need the help of a dictionary to check vocabulary words every few sentences. I can’t really say what the book is about since I’ve only managed to get through the first chapter, but it did win a literary prize, so I’m hopeful that the book will be worth the effort.
Among the non-fiction books in my reading pile are Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions, a collection of essays and articles by various contributors writing from a legal perspective, and also Investing for Dummies. With the former, I’m trying to expand my knowledge about one area of the animal rights movement so that I can be a better activist, and with the latter I’m trying to make my money work harder for me – so that I can retire…and read more books!
Marketing & Events Manager
I have been an avid reader ever since I was a kid. My Mother tells me I even taught myself to read from watching Wheel of Fortune every night. I typically enjoy reading a good suspense or comedy. The Stieg Larsson novels The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was an excellent series about a troubled girl, missing people and how the media spins misinformation they receive into news. It’s compelling and a tough read but very enjoyable. I recommend the American version of the movie over the Swedish version!
I recently just completed a book called My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares. I came across it one day when I was book shopping and from the moment I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. It’s a book that discusses how our souls survive us when we’re gone and flow into the next generation of people being born. Most people forget their previous lives and have no recollection of who they were before now. It follows the story of one man who has the “memory” and remembers his previous lives. He’s on a quest to find the girl who he has loved in the past but each time they found love, it was painfully torn apart whether by death or sickness. Each time she dies, she comes back as someone else and doesn’t remember so he has to find her and carefully let her know who she was without scaring her, otherwise he could ruin it all. The book skips between centuries from when the main character was first born in 552 AD and talks about his various experiences living on different continents and ages to present day.
I just finished reading Pico Iyer’s The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto. I picked it up at the suggestion of a friend because I like travel literature but am often irked by how colonial much of the genre seems at core, with white folks from the US going abroad to "exotic" locales and writing about their experiences. Late last year, for example, I read all three of J. Maarten Troost's books which were very much like that, leaving me feeling conflicted because I loved reading about Kiribati, Vanuatu, Fiji, and China, but felt ambivalent at best about the framework. Iyer is of Tamil descent by way of the UK and the US, but I very much enjoyed expanding my travel lit reading to authors of color. It was interesting to see the foci of the book still, though. At times, it did feel like he was so much more in contact with foreigners than actual Japanese people, but, then, he was definitely aware of that. And, not to give anything away, but his semi-romantic dynamic with a woman named Sachiko which becomes the heart of the book does a lot to ameliorate that complaint for me as the chapters flip by.
Being an auditory learner, I listened to this book on my phone, but unfortunately, it’s the only one of his available in that format. I’d very much like to read what he wrote right after this one, Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World.
Senior Marketing Manager
I’ve been reading since I was five years old. Even then I wanted to write stories, and my brother told me that if I wanted to write my own stories, I had to learn how to read first. I didn’t see the reason for this, as I just planned to dictate my stories to him so that he could then write them down and read them back to me. He wasn’t a fan of that plan, and taught me how to read and write instead. (My first story was titled Queen of the Whole World Starting With My Own House. Although my parents liked the story, they did not give me the crown or far-reaching authority that I was anticipating...)
As a writer, of course I love fiction. Everything from what are conventionally considered “classics” (e.g., F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Homer, Mary Shelley) to what I consider classics, and that runs the gamut from Valley of the Dolls to Watership Down to Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. Not long ago I read John Steinbeck’s version (The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights) of Malory’s Le Mort D’arthur, which was very good. (And much easier than trying to read Malory himself, which will make you want to kill yourself.)
But I also love to read nonfiction, particularly anything about history. This year my favorite book from that genre was The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope by Jonathan Alter. I’m a huge fan of FDR. One of my favorite things about him is that he had a social conscience, but he was also a realist. He completely revolutionized the American presidency, from creating the first social welfare programs to transforming mass communications in relation to politics/politicians. (In my opinion there's been no one like him since then.)
I think the hard part to writing about history is making it interesting for "the masses." For me, that translates to going into just enough detail — but not too much — and writing in a non-academic way. Alter made FDR come alive, and for the first time I was able to really understand what shape the country was in when he became president and how close we were to an actual revolution; he essentially saved democracy.
Even if you’re not as much of a fan as FDR as I am, I highly recommend this book.
Special Events Coordinator
Like many people, Lisa reads a wide variety of books, from bestsellers to nonfiction. She's a big animal lover, so new dog or cat-themed books generally end up on her reading list at some point.
Lisa isn't sure if she has a "favorite" book, but she does have a book she reads every day: Until Today! Daily Devotions for Spiritual Growth and Peace of Mind, by New Thought teacher Iyanla Vanzant.
Lisa says, "It reminds me to be grateful for what I have instead of focusing on what I don't have. Every month there's a different topic; life, love, awareness, understanding, trust, forgiveness, acceptance etc. Then each day is a different devotion. I've been through the book before, but it doesn't matter because each time you get back to the beginning of the year or pick it up again, you're in a different place in your life and that same passage can have a whole other meaning for you. It's been a great help in reminding me who I am, to trust my instincts and get rid of the obstacles that I place in the way."
Holley Law Fellow
As a kid, I used to carry around a canvas book tote bag with the Pillsbury Dough Boy on the front. My mother got it free with a cookbook purchase, but I made it my own. One of my most-prized Christmas presents was something called the Itty Bitty Book Light, which allowed me to read (undetected) long past bedtime.
My favorite place to read was in the back of my parents' car as we left the safety of the suburbs for dinner in the dangerous metropolis of La Grange, Kentucky (look it up). I especially loved series, because it was neat to see how characters developed through many different life experiences. An elementary school favorite was Animorphs. What kid wouldn't want to turn into a bird and fly around town?
In high school, we were required to read terrible books that served no real purpose in our development (I'm looking at you, Albert Camus). Everyone knows that high-school seniors in suburban Kentucky are deeply interested in French nihilist thinking! I survived that experience, but my passion for reading was nearly snuffed out. Today, I'm fighting my literary malaise with a Kindle and the excellent recommendations of thousands of readers on Amazon.
I just completed Tina Fey's hilarious Bossypants on the bus back from New York City Pride, much to the chagrin of passengers within earshot of my incessant giggling.
I also enjoy the dry wit of David Sedaris wherever it's found (but the uninitiated should start with Naked). Thanks to Meryl Streep, I read The Devil Wears Prada last year and found that Anne Hathaway's character isn't as nice or as charming as she is in the film.
If you're feeling like the only sane person in a crazy world, try One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, because Nurse Ratchett is just as terrifying in print. Political nerds should pick up All the King's Men, because there isn't a better book on politickin' anywhere. Two of my great loves, comedy and food, were united in the genius Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. He has a very strong voice that is unmistakable. I'm eager to pick up a few more of his books.
I prefer popular books to obscure reads, because I like to talk about them with others without organizing a book club. I'm only a few pages into The Hunger Games, but I expect to be fully invested soon. I always recommend reading books unrelated to work so that reading breaks don't feel like work.
With that, you should pick up the Harry Potter series, unless of course you're a witch or a warlock. If that's the case, read Albert Camus' The Stranger, because there isn't anything less magical than that. Happy reading!
I have three streams of books that I work through separately: audio books for my commute, scholarly books and reports and print novels. In the first category, I am finishing up Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight, the first book in her series, The Dragon Riders of Pern. Even though it's sort of a fantasy/science fiction classic and one of the most notable narratives in the whole people-psychically-bonded-to-mythic-beasts sub-genre, I didn't really get into it as much as I expected to. I think this can largely be blamed on the narrator, though, which is just how it goes sometimes with audio books.
The academic book I'm reading right now is Empires of Hygiene, a special issue of the journal, Positions: East Asia Cultural Critique. The collection of essays questions trans-cultural and trans-temporal assumptions about medical truth and exposes the way that hygiene, medicine and more general healing practices have been integrated into colonialism and empire-building at various stages in history. I was drawn to this collection because of its postcolonial inflection and how that might inform a project.
The final book I'm working on is a graphic novel. Comics frequently fill my print slots because obviously they aren't available in audio. Howard Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby is about a white gay man in the south of the 1960s and his relationship with the Black Civil Rights Movement. He's been highly lauded for the detail in his drawings but his style generally doesn't work for me. The story, however, is excellent and as a biracial queer who grew up in the south several decades later, I was very excited to see these narrative threads brought together in one volume. My edition also includes a short introductory essay by Allison Bechdel of Dykes to Watch Out For and Fun Home: The Family Tragicomic fame, which was delightful all on its own.
Patrick Paschall, Esq.
Policy Advocate, New Beginning Initiative
I guess I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to reading; most of my reading involves nonfiction. I read a lot of American politics and biographies, I constantly have a queue at least 10 books long, and I am often reading multiple books at once. I realize that I spend way too much time reading "heavy" books, so I am also trying to expand my reading lists to include some fiction.
Right now, I am reading A Magnificent Catastrophe by Edward Larson about the first real presidential campaign in 1800 between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, which tells the story of how two friends and founders of the country were fiercely divided over how the new country should be run.
I am getting in the habit of reading cheap fiction novels to pass the time in an interesting but not-so-heavy way. I often read David Baldacci and James Patterson novels, mostly because those are what others in my family read. So, I am reading a James Patterson book right now, but I have no idea what the title is. I know it is the red one that I keep on my nightstand. When I am done with it, I think I will read the blue one by Baldacci.
I like to read whatever legal books John Grisham publishes, but I don‚Äôt like Grisham‚Äôs non-legal stuff, and I am starting to like Stephen King. I am always happy to re-read 1984 by George Orwell or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. And, of course, everything by Shakespeare is always a favorite.
I am also training for an Ironman right now, so much of my time is spent reading triathlon training books. I am constantly reading and re-reading portions of Going Long: Training for Triathlon's Ultimate Challenge by Friel and Byrn; Total Immersion: The Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, and Easier by Laughlin; Chi Running: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury Free Running by Dreyer and Dreyer; and You Are Your Own Gym by Lauren.
A short selection of books in the queue right now: Truman by David McCullough; The Confession by John Grisham; Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election That Changed Everything For American Women by Rebecca Traister; First Family: Abigail and John by Joseph J. Ellis; Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion by Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel; and The Brethren by Bob Woodward. This list literally grows every day. What can I say? I'm a bit of a reader.
Executive Assistant to the Executive Director
In college I majored in Sociology and my concentration was in juvenile delinquency. I have always been interested in the inner workings of our very broken penal system. I stumbled across a book recently that highlighted a topic you don't often hear about: life after prison.
Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett, by Jennifer Gonnerman, tells the story of a woman who was tokenized by New York City's "tough on crime" laws. Elaine Bartlett was a first time offender of drug trafficking as a means of helping to support her low income family. The book focuses much less on her sixteen year sentence in prison, but more on her life after incarceration. The book chronicles her experiences with trying to reunite with her family and children, gain employment and adhere to her conditions of probation. Meanwhile detailing how broken, unrealistic and unreasonable our parole and probation system to our ex-offenders and how this is systemic to the unusually high rate of chronic recidivism. Elaine is a persistent and strong woman who triumphs this broken system and now publicly speaks and advocates to change our post incarceration practices.
Federal Legislative Director
As a policy wonk and while she’s working to advance pro-LGBT legislation, Stacey likes to read a good political novel. Some of her favorite authors are Toni Morrison and Ann Patchett. Want to know what she is reading now?
"One of my favorite novels is Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. It’s quite a page-turner and appeals to my romantic nature. The story takes place in an unlikely setting with high-society guests and dignitaries attending an elaborate gala. As the story evolves, they all become political hostages. I love the novel because it’s beautifully written but also complex. The location is ambiguous as Patchet only reveals that it is a South American country. Tension-filled, political backdrop keeps the reader’s pulse racing almost as much as the unfolding of intense relationships between the 'terrorists' and the 'hostages.' It was a tantalizing read which deftly blurred the lines between 'right' and 'wrong'!"
Other favorites are Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, Sula, by Toni Morrison and What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, by Pearl Cleage.
Major Gifts Officer
I loved reading ever since I was a little girl. (My parents used to tell me that when I didn't have anything to read I would read the encyclopedia.) Today, when I don’t have anything to read (which is rare), I look through the Internet to find things to read.
For me reading is a way into one’s soul. It’s a form of discovering the outside world as well as our inner world. I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for all the books I’ve read. They’ve taught me about the process of thought and energy — and how what one thinks may determine how the day turns out to be.
The first book I ever read was Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. It's about a seagull who learns about flight, the meaning of life, and honoring who you are. When I got to the end of the book, I had what I call my first “aha” moment. I realized life was a journey about discovering who I am. That journey has never stopped and I welcome it at every turn.
Now I’m on a new kick. My latest book is Gay Power by David Eisenbach. Gay Power is about the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement and how New York became the center of “gay power” during the 1960s and the 1970s. I realized that even though I've been involved in the LGBT rights movement, both as an employee and a volunteer, I still don’t know enough about how we got here — and why we’re still here. So far, Gay Power has been very insightful, even though I’m still only on the second chapter. I look forward to finishing the book in the next few weeks and then moving on to the next one!
Some of my favorite books are: The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity, by Catherine Ponder; The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield; and my childhood favorite, The Three Investigators, by Alfred Hitchcock.
Sue Lee Troutman
Director of Individual Giving
I would describe myself as an avid reader, which I probably got from my father who always has two to three books in his reading stack at any given time. I remember as a child going to the public library at least once a week with him, and the sight of all those books — all that knowledge waiting to be absorbed — would make my heart beat a little faster... every time. I still get a little adrenaline rush whenever I walk into a bookstore.
These days, however, I seem to read a lot more magazines than books, unfortunately, though I'm trying to change that in 2011. To help me with that goal, my sister and her fiancé got me a Kindle for Christmas last month — along with two e-books by Malcolm Gladwell, Tipping Point and Blink. I really enjoyed Outliers last year and am hoping that his other books will prove to be as thought-provoking. I've started with Tipping Point, and — so far, so good! Gladwell seeks to explain how "Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do." Right now I'm reading the section on the "law of the few," about how a small number of people make all the critical difference in getting to the tipping point.
My morning subway commute has gotten a lot more pleasant — Kindle in hand, while listening to Vivaldi's Four Seasons on my Ipod!
Leadership Programs Director
We just moved to D.C. from North Carolina in November. In 2003, while I was the Director of Diversity and Equity at Duke University, I had the privilege to meet and share space with John Hope Franklin, an amazing historian and activist. I remember he was addressing a group of us one afternoon and during the Q&A, I asked him what role whites have to play in racial justice work. He relayed an incredible story about his white professor (in 1938!) at Fisk loaning him $500 so he could matriculate at Harvard. His affirmation that we all have roles to play on the long road to justice has been an important reminder to me.
Recently, I needed a book for the Metro commute… I am a fiction lover — I had purchased John Hope Franklin’s autobiography but never got around to actually reading it! But I did not want to walk out the door without a book. In 2005, at the age of 90, Franklin published his new autobiography, Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin. It’s a beautiful and poignant story of hard work, rebellion and resistance. “We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” Franklin was born in Oklahoma in the early 1900’s and his journey is really inspiring and a deep reminder of how our lives are full of paradox — the struggle for justice, celebrations of love and justice — our human story is amazing and John Hope Franklin’s story begs the question: how hard are you willing to work to build a world of integrity, justice and kindness?
My favorite books are those that delve into the human condition and describe ways in which we overcome our self-constructed limitations or those assigned to us by society.
Currently I am reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. But I have to admit I haven’t read many pages since landing in NYC; there is so much to do and see that I feel guilty being in the apartment. My recent attempt to read has been on the train which seems like an appropriate place to read this novel, as the characters in this book spend a lot of their time on a train, but I assure you that their circumstances are much more harrowing than mine.
Just prior to moving to the city, I finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The Help is a novel set in south during the 1960s. The choices and risks the women take in this novel are inspiring. Prior to The Help, I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, which again is another story about a woman taking serious risks and the growth that comes from stepping into the unknown. And just prior to that I read Whip Smart by Melissa Febos, a memoir about a woman who became a dominatrix and the risks she took to survive and move ahead in NYC.
I am learning from others as I go and realizing that risk is where life meets art.
Matthew is “a flip-flopper when it comes to reading.” He combines English literature with crime books.
“I can be extremely picky and indecisive. Because I have so much required reading in my English Literature classes, I feel I need to choose the perfect book for my “fun” reading. It might Harry Potter or a true crime book, such as Zodiac Unmasked, by Robert Graysmith. Depending on my mood, and my short-attention span, I'll read two or three different books and switch between the lot at different days; if I truly lose interest in one, or two, I will chuck them back on the shelf.
“Top 3 favorite books of all-time: War of the Worlds, Bleak House (Dickens), and House of Mirth.
At the moment, I'm reading a lot of material for my classes at Hunter College, including The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by R.L. Stevenson, Hard Times, by Charles Dickens, and The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. During my free time, I recently read Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson, and I’m continuously reading the never-ending 101 Horror Movie You Must See Before You Die because I'm a horror/sci-fi film aficionado.”
Vanessa loves to read. She believes that “reading makes you a more understanding person and helps you explore yourself.” Find out what she reads as her “favorite escape.”
In high school, I remember the only time I got detention was for reading a novel during Spanish class. I was an English major in college, but I certainly haven’t read all the canonical works. I’ve never enjoyed Shakespeare nearly as much as Gertrude Stein; I prefer Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Chaucer.
My favorite genre is magic realism. Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits was my introduction, and since then I must have read it a dozen times. Recently, I read a fabulous book from this genre called Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese about an Indian-American family's history at a missionary hospital in Ethiopia. It’s narrated by the twin son of a Catholic nun who died in childbirth and spans from her childhood through the current day in a beautiful, mystical tone that does not shy from the grotesque details of life in a hospital.
In terms of non-fiction, I usually only read queer theory essays. This month, I began reading another book of non-fiction, The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, & the Problem of Domination by Jessica Benjamin. She explores the idea that submission is not a position of weakness and that there is an intersubjectivity in a power dynamic relationship. I have to say, there’s a lot that I disagree with (mostly Freudian sexism), but it is an interesting read exploring Dominance from a feminist perspective.
Those are a few of the books that I happen to be reading this month, but the ones that constantly cycle in and out of my list are:
God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Quest for a Maid by Frances Mary Hendry
The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
Kurt Vonnegut, especially Breakfast of Champions
Reading came late to me, despite my mother being a teacher and reading several books a month while I was growing up. I remember in my 7th grade literature class choosing to read Gone With The Wind and being proud because I picked what I thought was the longest book ever written (after reading a few pages I also thought it was the most boring book ever written) and being devastated when my teacher glibly told me I could have read it in 4th grade. Thus ended my brief foray into period fiction and altogether reading for a decade. Somewhere between my setback in 7th grade and college, however, I developed a thing for classic poems and plays. The result of that interest, to the consternation of my partner, is two dogs named after Shakespearian characters. I lost future naming rights.
My current reading list is less interesting to most people, I imagine. While my professional interests are in civil rights and government structure, my academic background is in business and the law. Since I don’t practice in the field, I stay interested through reading.
I started re-reading The Failure of Corporate Law by Kent Greenfield. The premise of the book is that the U.S. corporate law scheme, which is being exported around the world, is significantly flawed because of its reliance on, and deference to, only a few key stakeholders (namely shareholders) and regulators (namely Delaware corporate law). I don’t agree with all of Greenfield’s arguments, but it is a good primer for progressives interested in understanding how major corporations influence our lives and what “free-market” really means.
I picked up Greenfield because the book I had been reading is hiding in a moving box. I was reading The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy by the jurist and lecturer Richard Posner. Unfortunately I was not far enough into the book to give a broad overview before it was packed into a box. This title is a follow-up to Posner’s 2008 A Failure of Capitalism: The Crisis of ’08 and the Descent into Depression. Posner, often considered to b e a conservative, argues through both books that we are in the midst of a depression and conducts a fairly in-depth analysis of what led us to this point.
Prior to Posner I finished The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It by Scott Patterson. The book examines the rise of using quantitative analysis and hedge funds in trading on public exchanges, and the role these new methods played in the 2008 Wall Street meltdown. In a nutshell, the Quants used math and history to find inefficiencies in the stock market and made lots of money off of it. As more and more firms got into the game, profit margins were squeezed and firms had to borrow large sums of money to keep profits high. When the housing market started to unfold and stocks tanked, many hedge funds didn’t have the money to cover massive losses on borrowed money.
For a while I thought I wanted to work in private industry for a law firm or a brokerage firm. The reality was that each time I started to apply for a job in those areas, my internal BS meter went off and I couldn’t even believe what I was writing in cover letters. Realizing that if I couldn’t self myself on the idea I wouldn’t sell a potential employer, I returned to my passion by re-joining the LGBT civil rights movement.
IWR & Faith Work Associate
Until I was asked to share what I have been reading, I hadn’t realized how much of a smorgasbord of literature I have been pursuing over the past few months.
I started out with a re-read of a book I found to be one of the most important elements in the shaping of my faith life, The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis. Then I realized I had acquired but never read his fictionalized interpretation of the life of St. Francis of Assisi so that was my next book. Katzanzakis sees St. Francis as the embodiment of the faithful, committed person that we strive to be but fall short.
Then I returned to my Scottish roots and read Seasons on Harris: A Year in Scotland's Outer Hebrides by David Yedon. That got me interested again in the dreadful times of the Highland Clearances, which uncovered for me the anguished existence, lived in virtual slavery, by most of the Highland Scots. This was not the romantic Scotland of Mel Gibson and Braveheart; this was starvation and driving poverty and being dragged from your homes and sent to other parts of the world so that land owners, clan chiefs, could raise more money with sheep and not have to be responsible for their clan members. Those reads included, The Highland Clearances by John Prebble and Iain Crichton Smith’s classic novel, Consider the Lillies, a poignant look at the period through the eyes of an old woman.
Years ago, I was profoundly touched by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, a classic tale of road trip self discovery. I found the sequel to that book for me in Scotland is Not For the Squeamish by Bill Watkins. Now residing in Minneapolis, Watkins journey of self-discovery uncovers so much of the inner life and culture of the Scots. Not a bad day’s work coming from an Irishman, born in Birmingham, England. Fun, improbable, but a true read.
But Scotland was not my only call to history — or to a wonderful re-read of an old classic. Years ago, my brother turned me on to a great trilogy of novels surrounding the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s by Jose Maria Gironella. The first book, The Cypresses Believe in God is my favorite as it sets the scene for the religious/secular confrontation that ends in an ill-fated revolution and leads into World War II.
Finally, I have to remind myself that I am 75 — so I am old (an appropriate word) and should probably pay some attention to that fact so I found Joan Chittister’s book, The Gift of Years, a guide to Growing Older Gracefully. While I have never tried to age gracefully, I would like to do it filled with grace. You can let me know how you think I am doing with that.
Interim Director, Public Policy and Government Affairs
Reading is a constant in my life and I go through books all the time. My colleagues bought me a Kindle as a gift six months ago, and it feeds my reading habit. It is a little scary to have a one-click purchase option!
I read mysteries and novels, having sworn off nonfiction. However, I made an exception for Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. The book should be required reading for any social justice activist. My current read is The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. I am a big fan of the “Millennium” trilogy. Among my favorite authors are Val McDermid, Stephen White, Michael Connelly, Minette Walters and Harlan Coben. I choose not to reveal my guilty pleasures here.
Assistant Director of Major Gifts
When Cynde looked at others people’s reading lists, she was impressed with the quality of what Task Force staff is reading and a little chagrined about her own list! As she tells us, she was an English teacher and a lawyer, so for many years she read mostly literary masterpieces and legal treatises. Now, she reads mainly for fun and escape! Cynde makes no apologies for “the trash” she reads. She’s convinced she did her “time with great works of fiction, nonfiction and the law!”
Cynde has read all the John Grisham novels and almost all James Patterson’s novel. She has also read Sandra Brown and Jackie Collins (now those are some trashy novels!). Cynde likes finding new authors who have written a series of books around the same character and starting with the first one and reading the whole list — like a saga. She recently started reading Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Cynde has read almost all of them and will be ready for the new release in June. She also loves Harlan Coben, particularly his Myron Bolitar series.
One of her favorite authors is Dixie Cash, who is really two sisters. Set in West Texas with titles like Curing the Blues With a New Pair of Shoes and My Heart May Be Broken but My Hair Still Looks Great — how can one not love these books!
She also recently read a great story written by a friend of hers in Dallas, an African-American gay ophthalmologist who based his first novel on his childhood in east Texas: Light Bread by Cordell Adams. Cynde reads some biographies, most recently Barbara Walters’ Audition! She also has a signed copy of President Clinton’s My Life, which she’s “still trying to get through.” And she has also read The Thorny Rose of Texas (about the wonderful Ann Richards) and Barbara Jordan, American Hero.
Rev. Rebecca Voelkel
IWR & Faith Work Director
Perhaps it’s not surprising that meaning, faith and the implications of religious teaching are all subjects that compel Rebecca. All three meld in the exquisitely written People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. In particular, Brooks explores how religion can bring out the very best in people — perseverance, deep intimacy, hope and radical love; and yet it also has a legacy of the worst kind of racism, genocide and raw violence.
A work of historical fiction that traces (backward in time) the life of the Sarajevo Haggadah (an actual book of ritual used in Jewish homes), People of the Book also takes its readers to places in history where Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in relative cooperation (the Convivencia in Spain pre-1492, for example) and to those times that illustrate the worst in humanity — such the Inquisition and the Holocaust. The book’s tracing of those who sought to act as agents of love and justice in the world inspires me in the work of queer religious justice.
Director of Institutional Giving
David recently read The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer, and immediately added it to his pile of keepers. It's a beautifully written book about an African couple from varying backgrounds (one from a wealthy South African family, the other from a religious Muslim family from an unnamed Saharan country). What he really enjoyed about this book, aside from the skill of the author’s language, was the theme of the fundamental similarities among cultures. Being set in Africa, Gordimer uses the Sahara as a gorgeous metaphor for that kind of vast mystery shared by all cultures, and how at their base all cultures, in being human culture, really do share a common bond. The great writing and themes in this work make you think and question some of your own perceptions — and it’s why it is a book he loves.
Director of Operations for Development
More into re-reading than new reads, Janice has just finished Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury for a second (or third) time and has Absalom, Absalom on deck, also a repeat. On the plane recently to Creating Change, Millennium Approaches, the first part of Angels in America was inhaled by the time Nashville was below. Perestroika, the second part of this amazing play by Tony Kushner, will get read before the show revives on Broadway this September with Janice in the audience.
Music rules and so World of Sound, a history of Smithsonian Folkways and Leadbelly; A Life In Pictures have come and gone on the bedside table recently. The second was a gift from her brother; her parents actually met Leadbelly in a long-ago Greenwich Village, so his music is a touchstone for this generation, jealous about missing such glory.
Up next? Legacy: The Preservation of Wilderness in New York City Parks and How to Take Over Teh Wurld: A LOLcat Guide 2 Winning.
Pedro Julio Serrano
Being the first openly gay candidate to run for office in Puerto Rico, it’s no surprise that Pedro Julio loves to read about politics. He is currently reading The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory by David Plouffe, campaign manager for Obama for America. Another of his favorite books is Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Biographies are other favorites for Pedro Julio. He has read Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela and Gandhi An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth. Being a bilingual reader, Pedro Julio also loves Latin-American literature, with Cien años de soledad by Gabriel García Márquez and La casa de los espíritus by Isabel Allende being two of his favorites.
Follow Oprah's Book Club? No need — be an original and start your own like Andrew did! When it comes to reading, Andrew needs more than just nonfiction stories to pique his interest. His list includes a bit of satire, a pinch of emotion and even a dash of inspiration.
This month Andrew will read Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom. The author of Tuesdays with Morrie will tell of his journey where differences in class, race and faith meet over a eulogy. Curl up with a latte and join Andrew as he reads this month’s moving story.
Past titles in Andrew's Book Club:
- The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder and a World Transformed by Judy Shepard
- When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
- Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
- The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Interactive Media Coordinator
If you thought The L Word was the beginning of over-the-top queer girl drama, Sarah will prove you wrong and point to you her collection of 1950s pulp fiction by Ann Bannon. I Am a Woman is the second in Bannon’s “Beebo Brinker Chronicles,” a set of five novels charting the coming out stories, tales of love gone wrong and family drama of small-town lesbians who move to the big city.
Though used bookstores are full of tattered copies of hundreds of different torrid pulp fiction of the 1950s, Sarah enjoys Bannon’s novels for one simple reason: The women who love women are not doomed to lives of despair or even death, as most of the pulp fiction of the time portrayed them. Sure, shy Laura has her share of heartbreak (the crush on her straight-girl roommate and the turmoil of her gorgeous but troubled first girlfriend), but in the end these portrayals ring a little more true to life than her doomed counterparts in other authors’ tales.
If you’re like Sarah and find yourself pulled into all of Shane’s drama on The L Word, check out the original partying butch heartbreaker, Beebo Brinker, in these books:
- Odd Girl Out
- I Am a Woman
- Women in the Shadows
- Journey to a Woman
- Beebo Brinker
Director of Communications
Love NYC? Inga does, and you'll find many a New York-centric title on her nightstand. Current read: The New York Times' Book of New York: Stories of the People, the Streets, and the Life of the City Past and Present, featuring more than 200 articles and writings from the New York Times on an eclectic mix of topics, including life in the city, architecture, politics, business, food, politics and lots more.
A self-described news junkie, Inga has served as a reporter, editor and producer for print and broadcast media outlets. She sold her first newspaper story — a profile of WNBC anchor Sue Simmons — when she was just 16. It was quite a thrill for her, as a teenager, to find herself in Midtown Manhattan (you know, 30 Rock) to conduct an interview with the New York City anchor.
These days, Inga continues to be a news buff, and is quite the NYC enthusiast as well. If you’re either, you’re bound to enjoy this collection.
A few other NYC-related titles you might like:
- Downtown by Pete Hamill
- Here is New York by E.B. White
- Lost and Found: Stories from New York by Thomas Beller
- New York: An Illustrated History by Ric Burns, James Sanders and Lisa Ades
- New York Stories: Landmark Writing from Four Decades of New York Magazine by Editors of New York Magazine
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