The Contributor's Summer Reading List

May 05 2019
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The Contributor's Summer Reading List

We’re All in The Dumps With Jack and Guy
Maurice Sendak 

Classic children’s book authors choose their subjects, words and imagery with deep care, and Maurice Sendak is one of the masters of the genre. Sendak's choice to take on childhood homelessness with We’re All in The Dumps With Jack and Guy (1993) was no exception. It masterfully blends two Mother Goose nursery rhymes, “In the Dumps” and “Jack and Gye” and creates a depression era world of poverty with hope that is both practical and magical. TOM WILLS


Same Sun Here 
Silas House and Neela Vaswani

A boy and a girl become pen pals. She’s an Indian immigrant living in NYC's Chinatown, as her family struggles for citizenship and the hope of a better life. He’s an Appalachian coal miner's son, facing the shrinking opportunities for work and the environmental/economic destruction that comes with coal top removal. Written in letters, two children on the verge of adulthood recognize what makes us more alike than different, as both fathers work well beyond reasonable expectations (far from home) to take care of their family. HOLLY GLEASON


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot

Cells are taken from a poor woman without her knowledge or permission that transformed the science of medicine forever. Those HELA cells created an industry worth millions to the hospital and doctor who treated her before her death. Rebecca Skloot's true story has all the elements of a riveting detective novel as she sets out to discover who Henrietta Lacks was and to reunite what lives on of her with her family. JENNIFER ALEXANDER 



Silas House

An evangelical preacher grapples with "church prejudice" when two gay men need help and his wife makes him turn them away, then they come to his church and his congregation turns on them. What Would Jesus Do? in a realm of small-minded pettiness becomes a literal grapple for the preacher, who turned on his own brother after he came out -- and now sets him on his own path of spiritual reclamation. It includes small town divorce, kidnapping his own child, hiding out in Key West and coming to terms with what faith means, as well as the consequences that come with living by one's convictions. HOLLY GLEASON



The Round House
Louise Erdrich

The Round House by Louise Erdrich takes place on an Ojibwe reservation in the late ’80s and follows the coming of age story of a 13-year-old boy the summer after his mother is assaulted by a white man. It reads as half legal thriller-half bildungsroman and is very consumable, but deals with intricate and difficult ideas about justice and revenge. LAURA BIRDSALL


Between the World and Me 
Ta-Nehisi Coates

Written as a letter to his adolescent son, Ta-Nehisi Coates describes what it is like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live in it. Through a personal narrative of his experience, he examines historic topics of slavery and segregation and the present threat of brutality and prison. At a short 147 pages, just read it. You won’t regret it. CATHY JENNINGS


A Tale of Two Cities
Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was a master of fictions depicting conflicts that exist between different social sets and I highly recommend all of his titles. But his A Tale of Two Cities, a vivid chronicle of events from the French Revolution, stands out in 2019. It is a cautionary tale of the destruction that can occur when hate and thoughtlessness between divided social classes are allowed to spiral out of control. Unfortunately, it is as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1859. JENNIFER ALEXANDER 


The Wealth of the Poor  
Larry James

Larry James is the founder of City Square in Dallas, where their mission focuses on hunger, health, housing and hope. James uses personal stories to share his journey of how he went from talking about the phrase, “love your neighbor as yourself” to his work now, where he truly believes that only when we value every neighbor can we restore hope in our cities. While the book is philosophical, it is also very practical with concrete examples of how to get involved. CATHY JENNINGS 


John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

March is a trilogy of graphic novels outlining Civil Rights activist and U.S. Congressman John Lewis’ life. The illustrations are striking and beautiful — they depict Lewis and his colleagues as they cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they show Lewis’ arrest in Selma as well as some of the more quiet moments in his life. AMANDA HAGGARD


Better Together: Restoring the American Community  
Robert D. Putnam and Lewis Feldstein

I was drawn to this book because I believe that we rise as a community or we fail as a community — communities that splinter eventually cave. Putnam gives real examples of  communities that have formed between unlikely alliances, connecting very diverse populations and turning it into “social capital,” which has extraordinary power to enable people to improve their quality of lives and those around them. CATHY JENNINGS


My Soul is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered
Howell Raines

As a privileged white woman raised in the North, this book shook me like none other. This book is a compilation of stories told by the ordinary people who became extraordinary in the face of the turmoil and violence of the Civil Rights Movement. Told as times in the matter-of-fact way of the accidental hero, these personal recollections of unfathomable courage and enduring faith brings to life the real story of the movement in a way that no history book ever could. CHRISTINE DOEG 


The Glass Castle 
Jeannette Walls

With her straight-forward autobiography, Walls breaks the stereotypes that surround family, love, poverty and addiction as we gaze with her into a dysfunctional childhood that somehow functions. Wall’s family of origin is essentially homeless as they travel from city to city and live in houses almost uninhabitable. Her father is a alcoholic, yet he encourages her to think and is full of adventure. Her mother suffers from mental illness, yet teaches her children to read and think for themselves at a young age. Her life portrays the difficulty many children face in dysfunctional families: wanting to reconcile their love for their parents while their parents do not act for their benefit; wanting to leave but feeling compelled to stay and help the family. CATHY JENNINGS


Let Us Now Praise Famous Men 
James Agee and Walker Evans

A photographic (and often written or even ranting) essay of impoverished farmers during the Great Depression. It’s an up-close, personal, raw American classic and a must-read. CATHY JENNINGS


The Origins of Totalitarianism
Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt provides an historical perspective for the horrific events that took place during WWII. In her preface she says, "It is as though mankind had divided itself between those who believe in human omnipotence and those for whom powerlessness has become the major experience of their lives." This dense, wordy book reads at times like a bad sunburn with occasional dips in a cool, refreshing pool. JENNIFER ALEXANDER


Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy 
Heather Thompson

Thompson's book offers a detailed autopsy of an American tragedy cloaked by cover-ups, prejudice and misunderstandings. Through her deep documenting of this impenetrable place during those combustible times, Thompson shows us the injustice of the criminal justice system, the hopeless brutality of life behind bars, and the senseless massacre that made the name Attica infamous. JOE NOLAN


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
J. D. Vance

This is the story of the author (a graduate of Yale Law School), his family and their struggles to cope with the social, emotional, and economic challenges of the upwardly mobile as his family tries to escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma characteristic of their Appalachian roots. It opens up in the most personal way, the crises of white middle-class americans for whom dysfunction is woven into their family histories and passed down like a precious family heirloom. CHRISTINE DOEG


Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy 
Edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll

Like many, I had the experience of reading Hillbilly Elegy and relating to the first half-or-so of the book. I’d come from poverty and could recognize my life in J.D. Vance’s. But also, like many, I found his bootstrap conclusions and terminology about white welfare queens lacking in empathy and not representative of the life I’d lived and understood. Appalachian Reckoning takes Vance to task by allowing several writers from Appalachia to tell their own stories. AMANDA HAGGARD


Educated: A Memoir 
Tara Westover

Educated is coming-of-age memoir about a young girl who escapes her survivalist family and earns a pHD from Cambridge University despite never having stepped foot inside a classroom until the age of 17. It is a beautiful testament to the power of education to change lives, but also an eye-opening examination of the education we all receive within our own particular families and upbringings, and how education can divide us from others even as it saves us. CHRISTINE DOEG


Sing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward

This novel is reminiscent of Beloved by Toni Morrison (also a must read), which examines the hopelessness of poverty and the ugly truths of America’s racial past and present through the thoughts of a clairvoyant boy and his sisters on the archetypal road trip. The book is literally haunting and painful in its honesty, it is a strangely beautiful read. CATHY JENNINGS


A Lesson Before Dying 
Ernest J. Gaines.

Set in the 1940’s, a young black man unwittingly a part of a liquor store shootout is convicted and sentenced to death. A white man who has just returned from university to teach at his small hometown is encouraged by his mother to go meet with the young man and teach him. It is powerful in its insight into the power of language and the connections between race and poverty that too often are indistinguishable. CATHY JENNINGS

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