Summer Reading: “46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018”

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“46 Books by Women of Color to Read in 2018”
R.O. Kwon
Electric Literature, Dec. 26, 2017

At the end of last year, the novelist R.O. Kwon put together this excellent list of books by women of color that were slated to be published in 2018. It includes all sorts of writers I regularly try to draw inspiration and perspective from. In her headnote that precedes the list, Kwon urges us: “Let’s read more broadly; let’s try inhabiting one another’s wildly varied, entirely human points of view.”

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: The Idiot

The Idiot book cover

The Idiot
Elif Batuman

This novel follows Selin throughout her freshman year at Harvard University, eventually leading to the summer after that pivotal year, in which she travels to Europe to participate in an English-language teaching program. Selin is a student of language and literature, and while there’s a strong literary bent to the book, it taps into so much more. It’s about crushes and roommates and first love and misunderstandings and emailing and being 18 and weird. It’s about first beers and walking around in the mornings with someone new, and all the small things that sometimes outweigh the big ones.

The book isn’t so much about a single moment of discovery, but rather the series of discoveries that make up everyday life as a young adult. These range from the mundane to the profound, and can be painfully relatable. Selin navigates a world familiar to most university students, in the strange liminal space of becoming who you’re supposed to be. It’s funny and nostalgic and totally engrossing.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: Stealing Buddha’s Dinner

Stealing Buddha's Dinner book cover

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner
Bich Minh Nguyen

One of the first images Nguyen relates in her memoir, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, is of her being mesmerized by the daughter of her host family, Heather Heidenga, reaching into a canister of Pringles and shoving a handful into her mouth.

This “American” memory is the start to the story of her family’s immigration from Vietnam to Michigan in 1975 and her desire to fit into her white suburban community. Instead of her grandmother’s traditional Vietnamese dishes, or her Mexican-American stepmother’s lack of interest in cooking, she longs for Toll House cookies made by Jennifer Vander Wal’s mother, or Mrs. Jansen’s blueberry muffins, made with Jiffy mix. Her imagination carries her into her books she is so fond of reading, eating salt pork (or bacon in her case) just like Laura in Little House on the Prairie, or connecting with Ramona Quimby, who also had to eat boring snacks and resented her blond, pretty neighbor.

Through this coming of age story, we can relate to Nguyen’s struggle with being an outsider. But through her memories, it is her uniqueness that ultimately defines her identity, and her voice is found in this otherness that we all too often try to avoid.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs

My Twentieth Century Evening book cover

My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs
Kazuo Ishiguro

In his 2017 Nobel Lecture in Literature, My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs, Kazuo Ishiguro recounts his childhood when he moved in 1960 with his parents from Japan to England, where they were the only Japanese family in the town where they settled. Looking back, he is amazed that although it was less than 20 years after the end of WWII, the English community accepted them with “openness and instinctive generosity.” His identity is shaped by this openness as he ventures into his writing, where he surprisingly starts to emotionally construct his own idea of Japan.

This emotional construct, he comes to realize, is due to the importance of relationships — relationships that “move us, amuse us, anger us, surprise us” — and due to finding meaning in the “small, scruffy moments” that seemingly allow writers to be vulnerable in experiencing the unknown and the elusive and in finding meaningful exchanges through human encounters.

His hope is for us not to be complacent, but to embrace diversity, to include many voices and be open to new ideas — to listen. What starts out as his appeal to literature and writers is also an appeal to combat “dangerously increasing division,” reminding us of his first encounter in England, of openness and generosity.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading list: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's Tale book cover
The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood

This year’s selection for On the Same Page, our campus-wide book-in-common program, is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. This remarkable novel is at once a classic and all too contemporary in its themes and concerns. It reminds us that humankind’s darkest moments (past, present, or future) inspire the most courageous acts of resistance. Read The Handmaid’s Tale over the summer, attend Atwood’s keynote event on campus on August 23, and prepare to be inspired to create the light you want to see in the world.

Alix Schwartz
Director of Academic Planning
College of Letters & Science


Summer reading: Design, When Everybody Designs

Design, When Everybody Designs

Design, When Everybody Designs: An Introduction to Design for Social Innovation
Ezio Manzini
Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015

A book that challenges people to use design methods and to work together to solve complex social issues. It includes case studies, like a collaborative housing program and community-supported agriculture (CSA).

That’s it for 2017 Summer Reading posts! See you next summer!


Summer Reading: The World We Made

The World We Made

The World We Made: Alex McKay’s Story from 2050
Jonathon Porritt
London: Phaidon Press, 2013

The book works from a visioning perspective to show a future state of the world in an upbeat, dynamic way, and that allows the reader to visualize a more sustainable planet and how we might get there.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: How to Thrive in the Next Economy

How to Thrive in the Next Economy

How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today
John Thackara
London: Thames & Hudson, 2015

In each chapter, this book addresses a wicked problem like water scarcity and provides a case study of how one or more communities have addressed the issue and been successful. The case studies show how large complex problems can be approached and are not so intractable.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy
J.D. Vance
New York: Harper, 2016

Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir of JD Vance growing up in Middletown, Ohio—a town that has been through its share of economic transformations. After World War II, Middletown was a booming factory town with a thriving downtown, attracting residents from Kentucky’s Hill Country seeking a better life from the coal mines of Appalachia. By the time Vance was born, the factory had closed along with many downtown stores, leaving its residents in a state of poverty and social isolation. Hillbilly Elegy is the story of one family’s journey through the boom and bust cycles of Middletown. Along the way, it provides some insights into the way residents of Rust Belt towns (or at least one family) think about politics, work, education, and community and why many of them bought into the promises of Donald Trump in 2016.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!


Summer reading: Dark Matters

Dark Matters

Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness
Simone Browne
Durham: Duke University Press, 2015

Dark Matters is a fascinating book that deals with the way modern surveillance practices–ranging from CCTVs to facial recognition programming to airport security–have been formed through racial biases and the policing of Black life. Rooted in historical methods of surveillance and connecting to modern manifestations, it deals with the consequences of racially-motivated surveillance. It’s a really interesting and interdisciplinary combination of social theory, history, technology, and even pop culture.

I found out about this book as part of a connector course, Data and Ethics, taken along with Data 8, Foundations of Data Science. As data collection and surveillance practices have become intensely enmeshed into our daily lives, this is an important text to consider. Dark Matters is really compelling in how it situates technology in the scope of current, and historical, social and racial issues in modern America.

This book is part of the 2017 Berkeley Summer Reading List. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!