Check out what YW Boston is reading this summer!

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YW Boston 2017 Summer Reading List

With summer in full force, we have created a reading list for folks who might be looking for books that inspire, and touch upon issues of gender equity and racial justice. To create this list we asked the experts – YW staff – whose work and passions are focused on these areas, to share some of their favorite books.

In any fast paced environment, reading allows us a moment to pause, consider, and reflect. We hope this list will inspire you to remain connected to the mission of YW Boston. Share the list with a friend, bring the book along on vacation, read as you commute. Wherever your summer takes you we hope one (or more!) of these books goes along with you.

*Books recommended by our President and CEO, Sylvia Ferrell-Jones

Fiction and Memoirs

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah, 2016

A compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed —from one of the comedy world’s brightest new voices and The Daily Show host, Trevor Noah.

 

Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi, 2016

Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.  Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed.

Shrill by Lindy West, 2016

With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss, and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.

Dietland by Sarai Walker, 2015

Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. With her job answering fan mail for a teen magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. But when a mysterious woman in colorful tights and combat boots begins following her, Plum falls down a rabbit hole into the world of Calliope House — an underground community of women who reject society’s rules — and is forced to confront the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a guerilla group begins terrorizing a world that mistreats women, and Plum becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, 2014

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice.

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, 2014

With unflinching honesty and moving prose, Janet Mock relays her experiences of growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America, offering readers accessible language while imparting vital insight about the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of a marginalized and misunderstood population. Though undoubtedly an account of one woman’s quest for self at all costs, Redefining Realness is a powerful vision of possibility and self-realization, pushing us all toward greater acceptance of one another—and of ourselves—showing as never before how to be unapologetic and real.

Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving, 2014

Waking Up White is the book Irving wishes someone had handed her decades ago. By sharing her sometimes cringe-worthy struggle to understand racism and racial tensions, she offers a fresh perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners, and tolerance. She reveals how each of these well-intentioned mindsets actually perpetuated her ill-conceived ideas about race. She also explains why and how she’s changed the way she talks about racism, works in racially mixed groups, and understands the antiracism movement as a whole.

*The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, 2013

Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical.

The Pact: Three Young Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream by The Three Doctors: Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt, 2002

Three African American young men grew up in the streets of Newark, facing city life’s temptations, pitfalls, even jail. But one day these three young men made a pact. They promised each other they would all become doctors, and stick it out together through the long, difficult journey to attaining that dream. This is a story about joining forces and beating the odds. A story about changing your life, and the lives of those you love most together.

Black White and Jewish by Rebecca Walker, 2000

The Civil Rights movement brought author Alice Walker and lawyer Mel Leventhal together, and in 1969 their daughter, Rebecca, was born. Some saw this unusual copper-colored girl as an outrage or an oddity; others viewed her as a symbol of harmony, a triumph of love over hate. But after her parents divorced, leaving her a lonely only child ferrying between two worlds that only seemed to grow further apart, Rebecca was no longer sure what she represented. In this book, Rebecca Leventhal Walker attempts to define herself as a soul instead of a symbol—and offers a new look at the challenge of personal identity, in a story at once strikingly unique and truly universal.

Non-fiction

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, 2017

In this groundbreaking history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein, a leading authority on housing policy, explodes the myth that America’s cities came to be racially divided through de facto segregation—that is, through individual prejudices, income differences, or the actions of private institutions like banks and real estate agencies. Rather, The Color of Law incontrovertibly makes clear that it was the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state, and federal governments that actually promoted the discriminatory patterns that continue to this day.

The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class — and What We Can Do About It by Richard Florida, 2017

In recent years, the young, educated, and affluent have surged back into cities, reversing decades of suburban flight and urban decline. And yet all is not well, Richard Florida argues in The New Urban Crisis and demonstrates how the same forces that power the growth of the world’s superstar cities also generate their vexing challenges: gentrification, unaffordability, segregation, and inequality. Our winner-take-all cities are just one manifestation of a profound crisis in today’s urbanized knowledge economy.

Toxic Inequality: How America’s Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future by Thomas M. Shapiro, 2017

Since the Great Recession, most Americans’ standard of living has stagnated or declined. Economic inequality is at historic highs. But inequality’s impact differs by race; African Americans’ net wealth is just a tenth that of white Americans’, and over recent decades, white families have accumulated wealth at three times the rate of black families. In our increasingly diverse nation, sociologist Thomas M. Shapiro argues, wealth disparities must be understood in tandem with racial inequities—a dangerous combination he terms “toxic inequality.”

*Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, 2016

Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, Hidden Figures tells never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now. Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, it chronicles three women’s careers over nearly three decades as they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler, 2016

Andi Zeisler, a founding editor of Bitch Media, draws on more than twenty years’ experience interpreting popular culture in this biting history of how feminism has been co-opted, watered down, and turned into a gyratory media trend. Surveying movies, television, advertising, fashion, and more, Zeisler reveals a media landscape brimming with the language of empowerment, but offering little in the way of transformational change. Witty, fearless, and unflinching, We Were Feminists Once is the story of how we let this happen, and how we can amplify feminism’s real purpose and power.

The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?  by Dale Russakoff, 2015

When Mark Zuckerberg announced his $100 million pledge to transform the Newark schools and create an education model that could be applied to any city in the nation, it looked like a huge win for New Jersey politicians Cory Booker and Chris Christie. But their plan met the opposition of Newark’s key education players, who were fiercely protective of their billion-dollar-a-year system. With deeply drawn portraits of everyone from the philanthropists throwing millions at a haphazard plan, to the teachers fighting to reach students affected by extreme poverty and violence, The Prize is a riveting account of the complexities and challenges that face all of America’s failing schools.

Rac(e)ing to Class Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms by H. Richard Milner IV, 2015

In this incisive and practical book, H. Richard Milner IV provides educators with a crucial understanding of how to teach students of color who live in poverty. Milner looks carefully at the circumstances of these students’ lives and describes how those circumstances profoundly affect their experiences within schools and classrooms. In a series of detailed chapters, Milner proposes effective practices—at district and school levels, and in individual classrooms—for school leaders and teachers who are committed to creating the best educational opportunities for these students.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, 2010

The true story of one family, caught between America’s two biggest policy disasters: the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina. Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun run a house-painting business in New Orleans. In August of 2005, as  Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy evacuates with their four young children, leaving Zeitoun to watch over the business. In the days following the storm he travels the city by canoe, feeding abandoned animals and helping elderly neighbors. Then, on September 6th, police officers armed with M-16s arrest Zeitoun in his home. Told with eloquence, Zeitoun is a riveting account of one family’s unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water.

*The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, 2010

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. A story of the collision between ethics, race, and Medicine, of discovery and faith healing, and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew. 

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, 2010

In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. Yet, as legal star Michelle Alexander reveals, today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against convicted criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal.

*Can We Talk about Race?: And Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum, 2007

A self-described “integration baby“—she was born in 1954—Tatum sees our growing isolation from each other as deeply problematic, and she believes that schools can be key institutions for forging connections across the racial divide. In this ambitious, accessible book, Tatum examines some of the most resonant issues in American education and race relations: the need of African American students to see themselves reflected in curricula and institutions, how unexamined racial attitudes can negatively affect minority-student achievement, and the possibilities—and complications—of intimate crossracial friendships.

*Founding Sisters and the Nineteenth Amendment by Eleanor Clift , 2003

In this riveting account, political analyst Eleanor Clift chronicles the many thrilling twists and turns of the suffrage struggle and shows how the issues and arguments that surrounded the movement still reverberate today. Beginning with the Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention of 1848, Clift introduces the movement’s leaders, recounts the marches and demonstrations, and profiles the opposition–antisuffragists, both men and women, who would do anything to stop women from getting the vote.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman, 1998

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explores the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia’s parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia, but the lack of understanding between them led to tragedy.

Have a wonderful summer from all of us at YW Boston!