Lists of Books


At the end of the summer, my friend Jenni Buchanan does an excellent job compiling the syllabus for her book group, Rediscovering the Classics. One of my favorite meetings each year is the one where Jenni reveals the list for the year, which is based on a theme. This year’s theme is “Literary Life Lessons,” and it includes some interesting reads, activities and field trips paired with books. After the syllabus announcement meeting back in August, Jenni and I were going for a hike, and I was telling her how I envy the task of creating the reading list each year. I love lists, and I love books, so lists of books make me happy. Jenni’s response to me was, “Well, why don’t you make up some of your own reading lists?” So, that’s what I set out to do here.

These lists are made up of books that I have not read. Consider it a way for me to organize my to-be-read stack around themes. With only a few exceptions, most of these are in my personal library. I had quite a few books to choose from, given that my to-be-read stack is actually a three-shelf bookcase. Also, given that Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is only a few weeks away, I figured this is a good time to start building my reading pile in preparation for that event.

Women & Space
Before I was born, my mom worked as a computer programmer for the space program. She eventually ended up at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is where she met my dad. Women in the space program have been getting a lot of attention recently, and there are some promising books out and an upcoming movie based on Hidden Figures. Here are my books on women and space:

  • Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr
    I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Sally Ride in grad school when I was organizing an event where she was the main speaker. She was kind, intelligent and inspiring, so I am really looking forward to reading more about her amazing life.
  • Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt
    This book looks at the women known as “human computers” who used pencil and paper to do the complicated calculations necessary for space exploration. They were instrumental in building the U.S. space program and JPL.
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
    Shetterly introduces us to the women who were “human computers” in NASA’s early days, but Hidden Figures specifically looks at Black women who did the work of calculating things like flight paths by hand while also being segregated due to the Jim Crow laws of the time. Be sure to watch the trailer for the upcoming movie to get a glimpse of why it is so important that we recognize the outstanding achievements of this group of women.

Stephen King Books I Want to Read
Stephen King has written enough books to warrant his own list. I did not start reading King’s novels until about ten years ago when I picked up On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I had previously dismissed King as simply a horror writer, but as soon as I delved into his work, I realized I was wrong, and I had grossly underestimated his ability as a storyteller. Yes, there is horror, but more than that, he creates highly relatable characters and writes about childhood in a way that is nostalgic without being overly sentimental. King’s books are usually quick reads–even the ones that are well over 600 pages. They make for an excellent choice when you want a good book to get lost in. This list could be really long, but I will keep it short and limit it to unread King books in my personal library and a few others I hope to get my hands on soon:

  • The Shining
  • Insomnia
  • Rose Madder
  • The Dead Zone
  • Different Seasons
  • Misery
  • Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales

Eastern California
Regular readers know that my favorite road buddy Tim Pershing and I love making adventures of our road trips. Tim’s family is in Reno, so we have made quite a few trips north and south on the 395 through Eastern California. On one trip we were stopped at a gas station in Independence, CA, and we saw a sign pointing toward Mary Austin‘s house. We both wondered who she was, so I got my phone out and started reading up on her.  We learned she was a nature writer in the early 20th century and that she was involved in the famous California Water Wars that eventually resulted in water from the Owens Valley being drained to supply the growing city of Los Angeles. You can learn more about this and more history about the region at the Eastern California Museum in Independence. Eastern California is also home to Manzanar, one of the camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. If your travels take you through this part of California, be sure to stop at the Manzanar National Historical Site. Here are a few books I have picked up on my trips through Eastern California:

  • The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin
  • Essential Mary Austin: A Selection of Mary Austin’s Best Writings
  • Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
  • No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849-1869 Edited by Ida Rae Egli

Soccer Stories
I have only been a fan of soccer in the last couple years, and I owe that to the U.S. women’s soccer team and their 2015 World Cup victory. After watching those games, I was hooked and began rooting for the Portland Thorns in the National Women’s Soccer League. We have been lucky this year to have two books hit the shelves by players from the 2015 World Cup team, and I have quickly added them both to my list. I recently attended a book signing for Carli Lloyd’s new book and was happy to see that the line stretched around the block. Anyone who doubts the popularity of women’s soccer should have seen the crowd gathered for her signing. So, here’s my short list of soccer stories to read:

  • When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard-Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World by Carli Lloyd
  • Forward: A Memoir by Abby Wambach

Alexander Hamilton
I am hooked on the soundtrack for Hamilton, and often when I am listening to it, I find myself googling details about the founding fathers and the early decades of our country’s existence. What I am really enjoying about Hamilton‘s popularity is that many others are finding a new interest in this part of our history. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical has brought history alive in a creative way and opens up new ways to see and connect with the founding of the U.S. With that, I would like to tackle these two books:

  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
    This is the book that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda to write Hamilton. I read the first page of the prologue and got chills. The writing is just that good. I get the feeling that this is not some dry, old history book.
  • Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
    Hamilton fans lovingly refer to this as the Hamiltome because of its size and extensive content. There are pictures, lyrics, notes, commentary and just about anything fans of the show could want. It is a good way to keep yourself busy while you wait for Hamilton’s America to premiere on PBS.

Books I Should Have Already Read
Have you ever been talking to people about books, and they start bringing up certain classics or other well-known works, and you stand there quietly, afraid to admit that you have not read the book being discussed? I think we all have those books–they are the ones that our friends are surprised to hear we have not read. I have slowly been trying to collect some of these when I visit used bookstores, and here are some of the titles currently in my to-be-read stack:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  • A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • Meridian by Alice Walker

Why Diversity in Storytelling Matters


With the recent announcement of the Oscar nominations, quite a bit of attention has been directed toward the type of stories that get told in movies, on TV and in books. We live in a world where there are many different stories, and to me it gets a bit tiring to see most stories on the screen and page representing such a narrow range of experience and identity. There is tremendous value in diversity in stories. Not only does it give us a chance to see ourselves represented, but it is also a way for us to connect with and learn about those different from us.

Inclusion Doesn’t Mean Exclusion

I have heard the argument that often shows up in Internet comments sections that the call to add more diverse stories is racist. The claim is that by focusing on creating more movies, TV shows and books by black people, for example, we are privileging black stories above all others. This is a false connection. Bringing more stories to the table is not a matter of pushing others out. It is really a matter of bringing more voices to the conversation.

The truth is we need more variety in the stories we read and watch. The U.S. is a nation of people from countless backgrounds, races, ethnicities, sexualities, genders and more. If what gets represented on the page and screen represents only a small percentage of that, we are missing out on a lot of interesting stories. Talking about having more roles for people of color to play in movies or stories that reflect the immigrant experience is not a way to exclude others. Being inclusive is also a good way to break down stereotypes, and stories offer us an excellent way to understand others simply by picking up a book or turning on the TV.

Learning About Others Through Stories

If we only read and watched stories about characters that were exactly like us, things might get a little repetitive after awhile. While it is nice to see people like me represented in stories, I also like to gain a deeper understand of what it is like to live outside of my own identity and worldview.

I recently watched Master of None, a new show available on Netflix starring Aziz Ansari. The show was created by Ansari and Alan Yang. While stories of people in their 20s and early 30s struggling with careers, relationships and identity are nothing new, what makes this show different is that its cast is not all (or mostly) white as we often see in such shows. In addition, the characters on the show are not the one-dimensional versions of people of color often portrayed. Instead we get complex, interesting characters that are more than stereotypes.

Ansari’s character Dev is a first-generation American, but that does not mean that the viewer must also be such to enjoy the show. There are parts of the show that revolve around Dev and his parents (delightfully played by Ansari’s real-life parents) and the life experiences specific to immigrant families. Being a country with a strong history of immigration, there have been stories like this for generations in the U.S., yet we do not get much of a chance to see them represented in mainstream entertainment. With the success of Master of None, I hope we can see more stories like this that truly represent the variety of stories in the American experience.

Seeing Myself in Stories

Up until recently, I did not care much for sports. While everyone else was recently gearing up to watch the Super Bowl, I was the one running around telling everyone how excited I was about Puppy Bowl. But something strange has happened over the last couple years. One of my good friends has helped me cultivate an interest in soccer. He is a lifelong fan of the sport. I started watching games with him and started to enjoy the sport, and I finally got excited about it as we watched the 2015 women’s World Cup, which culminated in a victory for the U.S. I started to learn the names of female soccer players and even went to a recent game where the U.S. played Ireland in San Diego.

While watching the match, I came to the realization that I enjoy watching women’s soccer more than men’s soccer, and I questioned why. And I finally realized that there was something about watching players I could identify with that fueled my interest. Perhaps it is this idea that I could be out there playing. Of course, that’s not a reality. I’m too old for professional sports and I’m not athletic, but it is nice to have that fantasy in the same way that going to a rock concert fills one with the fantasy of being up on stage in front of a sea of screaming fans or reading the Harry Potter books makes readers dream of getting their own Hogwarts letter. We connect to those stories and experiences through sensing some kind of similarity or likeness. Such a connection can serve as a gateway into a story or world we might not have otherwise thought of joining.

I like when I see a bit of myself reflected in the stories I watch and read. As I wrote about in my last post, I have a particular affinity for fictional females who love reading. It is an easy way to imagine myself within the story. This is another reason it is important to see a diversity of stories told on TV, in film and in books. All readers and viewers deserve to see representations of themselves in stories. It is just as valuable as having access to see the stories of others represented.

Be sure to check out what 11-year-old Marley Dias has to say on this subject. She launched #1000BlackGirlBooks. She made a goal of collecting 1,000 books that feature black girl protagonists in response to the fact that most of the books she read in school centered around a white boy and his dog. She distributed the books to schools in the U.S. and Jamaica. Dias’s activism is a reminder of why it is important to have diversity in the books available to children. As I have said, everyone needs to see themselves represented in the stories we read and watch.