By Nora Welch, Senior Leadership Development Associate at Joining Vision and Action
As the unofficial beginning of summer approaches (i.e., Memorial Day weekend), I’ve found myself looking out the window in anticipation of having some time to sit down with a good book and some sunshine (Colorado weather permitting, of course).
Maybe you have been doing the same! And maybe you’re looking for some recommendations on what to get started with, or in all honesty, add to the list. Either way, I asked my esteemed and well-read colleagues to share what’s been on their nightstand lately.
Here’s what our team is reading and what type of vibe it might be good for.
If you’re looking for something that’s beautifully written …
Read anything by Barbara Kingsolver, particularly Animal Dreams or Prodigal Summer. As our business development manager, Katherine (Kat) Jarvis, shares “Her use of place in her storytelling is always really fascinating, and she does an amazing job capturing the landscape almost as if it were another character in her books. She also always has really strong female characters who are beautifully and sensitively written.”
Kat also recommends There There by Tommy Orange, an account of modern life for urban Native Americans, sharing that “the characters are all gritty and complex and empathetic” in this super intense but beautifully written read. I had to laugh when she noted again “Did I mention his writing is beautiful?”
If you’re looking for something that is character-focused…
Then The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai is our grantwriter extraordinaire Lisa Cirincione’s pick for you. The book alternates chapters to tell the story of a group of friends beginning in the ’80s at the height of the AIDS crisis and modern day. Lisa shares, “The characters are just outstandingly described, so you feel that they are people you know.” Add this with setting changes between Chicago and Paris, and you’ll likely feel as though you’re on the journey, too. So for all of you city travel voyeurs, this might just be your ideal novel to pick up.
If you’re looking to focus on your own growth and development…
Check out The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday. One of our experts in evaluation, Silvia Solis, has started reading this one and noted how it definitely merited mention on our recommendation list this round. Silvia shares, “It is a text on stoicism that can be summarized in two words: extreme ownership. I can think of nothing more impactful to one’s outlook on life, as well as adversity and success, than personal responsibility and accountability.” Agreed!
If you’re looking to learn about political and societal figures…
Here is a collection of options for you! Our co-managing director and director of resource development, Sarah Hidey, just finished The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris. Sarah shared that she has been impressed by Harris and “this book really gave me insight into her values and goals! Highly recommend regardless of political persuasion.”
With tickets to the Broadway show this summer, Sarah is also reading Alexander Hamilton, which presents “a tough but fascinating read!” Once she’s done with this historical account, she’ll move on to two other titles on her list: Becoming by Michelle Obama and The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates. Even better, both of these are available via audiobook read by the authors themselves.
If you’re looking for an incredible storytelling experience…
Check out Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, a story starting in the era of slave trading. While this isn’t a light read (and may cause tears), another excellent JVA grantwriter, Katalin (Kat) Wishart, shared that this one made the list for two reasons.
First, the format of this book is interesting—each chapter is about a different person, a descendent of a person from a previous chapter. Kat shares that as she finished chapter two and realized “we were never going back, my heart broke. And it continued to break with every chapter I completed.” The author, she praised, “is an incredible storyteller. Every chapter, every character is so well developed that I was completely sucked into the individual worlds of each chapter. But having the context of previous chapters and experiences gave the stories even more depth and (gave) me a greater connection to the characters.”
Second, her mom gave her a physical copy of this book. As an avid reader, Kat’s mother often makes recommendations … but when you receive one in hand, you know it’s going to be good!
If you’re looking for wacky characters or social satire …
Dive into one of these two novels. Yet another fabulous member of our grantwriting team, Erin Shaver, recommended these in-production-and-soon-to-be-movie books. (As per usual, read before watching!)
A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, doesn’t start out as an easy read; the Swedish author’s humor is a little different and the subject matter is heavy. However, Erin advises, “Don’t give up. The more you get to know the protagonist (and curmudgeon), Ove, and the motley crew around him, the deeper you go into subjects of grief and judgmentalism … and the more you think about the person you just passed by on the street, the person in the checkout line, the old neighbor you don’t really know. It’s funny, dark and enlightening, all at once, and the latter half of the book is spectacular. I read this a year ago and still think about this book often.”
If you are looking for a hilarious and satirical read whose author actually wrote for the TV series “Arrested Development,” pick up Where’d you go, Bernadette? By Maria Semple. Erin shares, “Even with the multifaceted points of view (and the fact that some chapters are entirely written as email correspondences or FBI documents), the books stays engrossing and the characters draw you in deep.” If you’ve ever spent time in the Pacific Northwest, you’ll likely also appreciate some of the sentiments in this one. Dubbing it a perfect poolside read, Erin recommends reading this one and then checking out the book-based film by Richard Linklater (“Boyhood,” “Dazed and Confused”) that comes out in August.
With all these great options, I imagine you might soon have “stack-itis” like I do! (That’s the pesky condition where one amasses books in the “to read” pile.) There may not be a cure, but I sure don’t mind the prescription to keep reading!