There are several books that I highly recommend because of the insight and learning that they offer. Explore further down the page to read about why I found each of them compelling.
by Octavia Butler
by Audre Lorde
Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance
by Atul Gawande
by Kahlil Gibran
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
by Isabel Wilkerson
Wildseed by Octavia Butler
Until I’d read Octavia Butler, I did not know people of color wrote science fiction. For me the world of sci-fi was populated by geeky young white men. And their characters were all weird space aliens. With Octavia Butler, I was introduced to an alternative view of our world, a different potential, that prominently featured people of color. The main character, Anyanwu, is an immortal African woman who faces new insights and heartbreaking losses when Doro, an antagonist who is also African and immortal, enters her life. What stood out for me was watching the relationship between Anyanwu and Doro—the struggle, the masculine and feminine energy, the heartbreak and moments of love, and, in the end, the compromise. This book is part of a series Butler wrote, the Patternists chronology; while it is not the first in the series, it is where I recommend starting.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
As I was just coming into my own as a scholar interested in the intersection of race and gender, I learned of Audre Lorde’s collection of essays and speeches…and I said thank you. Lorde’s book is one that I often share with others because I appreciate the questions that she asks, the ways that she unapologetically says, why is “X” so and why should we not question norms and old rules that are beneficial for some and not others? When reading her book, I am struck by the raw candor–the way that she shares her pain and learning, her expectations and her hopes. I am grateful that she demands that we inquire, that we push on the traditional borders, that we hold ourselves and others accountable, that we connect with allies to change the dynamics facing women across race, gender, age, class, ethnicity and other dimensions of diversity. Indeed, one of the gifts that Lorde provides in this book is text that speaks to the importance of intersectionality.
Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
Atul Gawande’s book is an exploration of the challenges facing those in the health care profession—that being “good enough” is not really enough. He asks how can we be better. So one might think that only doctors, nurses and other health care professionals should be reading this book. But the questions that Gawande asks, the paradoxical realities that he points out can be found in other professions and fields. I appreciate the adaptability and relevance of Gawande’s concepts so much that I offer this book to leaders across occupational lines as a resource to hone and sharpen their strengths and competencies as stewards of their organizations. I ask them to read this book because Gawande offers these compelling examples of why we have to do more than be good enough…why we have to do and be better.
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
I was a heartbroken college student…a boy had dumped me and I was devastated. I made my way to my Aunt Arnetta’s home in Delaware, to be consoled as I worked my way through the pain. My aunt did just that–she hugged me, told me I was going to be fine, gave me the greatest hot toddies and dried my tears. As I was leaving, she gave me this book The Prophet. Here is her inscription to me: To My Dear Niece, Inside these covers is food for thought on many aspects of life. The author has insights which I am confident you will appreciate. Also, always keep before you the understanding that the difficult moments and crises in life are essential for growth. How you meet them will determine your well being. Much love, Auntie A. She wrote these words to me on May 2, 1986. I share them with you because they mean as much to me now as they did 30 years ago. Thanks so much Auntie A.
Susan Cain’s Quiet highlights a reality which we do not often acknowledge but that is there and has significant impact. Her basic premise is that the Western world, and America in particular, is dominated by and geared towards extroverts. Extroverts are seen as the model…the model leader, the person who should be in charge of our institutions. But there are costs to this favoring of extraversion – in an interview, Cain noted that the bias against introversion “leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy and happiness.” I appreciate that Cain calls out this dimension of diversity, acknowledging that aspects of our personality are as important as our gender and race are. I also appreciate that Cain explores the introversion-extraversion continuum, clarifying what is meant by both terms and sharing a third dimension (ambiversion). Mostly, I appreciate Cain’s invitation for readers to contemplate how an understanding and welcoming of introverts may have positive implications for individuals, groups and organizations.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
Wilkerson’s book is an epic tale—the story of millions of Black Americans migrating from South to North. While it is the story of one group’s “movement” across the country, this is a book I highly recommend to…everyone. This book is compelling for so many reasons. Wilkerson does something that surprised me – through her book she shares a vast and expansive amount of data and history that she gathered through her interviews and research. Yet, she makes the stories and insights accessible by grounding the book in the journeys of three migrants. As I read the book, I was reminded of my grandfather and grandmother, who had been part of that migration as they moved to New Jersey from Georgia and Florida. I was reminded of the strength and resilience that anyone trying to get to better places, to more fruitful ground must have in order to survive. In Wilkerson’s book, which I could not put down, through the realities of migration and segregation, we see human kind at its most cruel/inhumane and at its most beneficent/compassionate. Finally, Wilkerson’s tale reminds us that we should not forget—I appreciate her honoring of the challenges, travails and triumphs of Black Americans.