BOOKS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE
Keene's Nominations for Summer Reading
There is Nothing Extraordinarily Heavy Here - You Can Take Any One
of These to the Beach
The Long Haul by Myles Horton. The autobiography of the founder
of the Highlander Center for Research and Education, the earliest
and foremost center for Civil Rights work in the USA and the training
ground for some of the movements most distinguished leaders including
M.L. King, Septima Clark, Ralph Abernathy and Rosa Parks. Horton
is a stunning example of a person who lived his life passionately
according to his values. This book was the 2002 book award for UMASS
Citizen Scholars Program.
Jefferson's Pillow: Black Patriotism and the Founding Fathers -
Roger Wilkins. Historian and attorney Wilkins deftly explores the
question, how could the founding fathers, who wrote so eloquently
about freedom and justice, defend so vehemently their own right
to hold slaves? And what are the implications of this paradox for
the society that we have become and the nation that we will be.
Long Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela. A captivating autobiography
from the first president of independent South Africa. UMass Prof.
Stephen Clingman, writing in the Boston Globe, commented - "this
book should be read by every person alive!" It's BIG, but once
you start you can't put it down.
Regeneration, by Pat Barker. Winner of the Booker Prize and the
first book in her World War I Trilogy. The fictionalized account
of real soldier poet Sigfried Sassoon and his psychiatrist (and
anthropologist) William Rivers who treats him for "shell shock".
Is Sassoon's ailment a mark of mental defect or pure sanity? Should
he be returned to battle or held from it? The book evokes hard questions
about war and reason, class and gender. Barker is a fine storyteller
and the reader is seduced (and ultimately rewarded) into reading
the entire trilogy.
Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingslover. A gripping tale of growing
up in the Congo during it's tumultuous struggle for independence.
Kingsolver is a captivating storyteller (this novel is based on
her own experience growing up in the Congo) who forces us to consider
issues of justice, imperialism, ethnocentrism and humanity.
High Tide in Tucson - Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver weaves together
the themes of ecology, biology, community and parenthood -drawing
from her extraordinarily broad background as a musician, biologist,
amateur anthropologist and world traveler - in a set of entertaining
and compelling essays that invite us to think deeply about the state
of the world and the role that each of us plays within it.
Ordinary Resurrections, Jonathan Kozol. Kozol's most, recent, most
personal and most spiritual account of the lives of children in
America's poorest neighborhoods, in this case the Mott Haven Neighborhood
of the Bronx. Kozol evokes outrage at the appalling obstacles faced
by poor children and at the same time wonder and hope because of
their remarkable spirit.
The People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. This is
the stuff they didn't teach you in high school U.S. history. A book
chock full of the stories of the Americans left out of US history
books; workers, women, people of color, immigrants, dissidents.
Great stories that give voice to the folk that mainstream history
You Can't be Neutral on a Moving Train, by Howard Zinn. Zinn is
a wonderful storyteller and this memoir is his own story. Zinn tells
how he became an historian and an activist tracing his roots back
to his days as a bombadier in WWII and as a longshoreman. Zinn shows
how his own background has shaped his own approach to writing history
and he makes clear why this enterprise is never neutral. Writing
near the end of his career, Zinn exemplifies a life well lived,
a life pursued with vigor and with integrity.
The Common Good - Noan Chomsky. Chomsky has been called America's
greatest living intellectual. He has written more than 80 books,
most of them massive, fact filled (and frequently dry - but always
important) tomes. This little pamphlet is a set of interviews with
Chomsky in which he holds forth with some inspiring views on democracy,
justice and the ability of each of us to change the world for the
The Good The Bad and the Difference - Randy Cohen. This book is
a "best of" collection of Cohen's ethics columns from
the NYT with some very good prefatory chapters on ethics and the
search for the answer to the question - how should we live? Cohen
finds that Americans are torn between the desire to do the right
thing (and we usually know what that is) and the pull of our own
gratification. Cohen offers the ethical dilemmas that we encounter
daily - should we tell on a friend who is cheating - should we embellish
a reference so a friend will get a job, do we have a moral obligation
to wear a seatbelt or motorcycle helmet, must we tell the person
buying our car that it burns oil? Cohen suggests that consumerism
has become a substitute for civic life in America and that in order
to restore civic life, we need to the develop the skills of living
together and connecting with each other. Ethics, according to Cohen
are the root skills. Check out his scenarios and see what YOU would
do. And if you've read William Bennet - you will find the implications
for how we ought to live very different from the Bennet vision.
One Day All Children- .Wendy Kopp. This memoir, by the founder of
Teach for America tells the story of how Kopp designed and founded
- AS HER SENIOR HONORS THESIS AT PRINCETON the organization that
now trains and places thousands of new college graduates annually
to work as teachers in the most distressed schools in America. Kopp
was continually told by mentors and friends to give up on her ambitious
vision. Luckily she didn't listen. While not especially well written,
this is a compelling and easy to read reminder of what young people
can do if they take themselves seriously.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. By Anne Fadiman. Hatfield
resident Fadiman chronicles the struggles of a Hmong family and
their western doctors as they try to find appropriate treatment
for their seriously ill child. Explores the conflicts between western
and traditional medicine as well as the complexities of life in
a multi-cultural society. A wonderful excursion into the intersection
of science and society. This was the Smith College Freshman Book
What Are People For? - Wendell Berry. Wendell Berry has written
dozens of important books about the importance of protecting the
planet, living in balance with nature and with each other, and building
community. It is hard to recommend one over the other. I like this
collection of essays because Berry takes on the destructive nature
of consumerism while treating the themes that run through all of
his writing. Berry gently, thoughtfully and compellingly reminds
us how we ought to live.
Crossing to Safety - Wallace Stegner. A poignant story of lifelong
friendship, this novel follows the lives of two academic couples
at the University of Wisconsin beginning in the 1930's. Not just
for geezers - this work touches on the complexity o f friendship
and its centrality in all of our lives.
Wherever you go, that's where you are. - Jon Kabat Zinn. An accessible
introduction to mindfulness and meditation from the director of
the stress reduction clinic at UMass medical school.
Privilege, power and Difference. By Alan Johnson. A clear, concise
and readable exploration of how all of us are hurt by the exercise
of privilege - particularly white, male privilege. Johnson has spent
years as an advocate for women's rights and a consultant to legislatures
on women's issues.
18. Instructions for the Cook by Bernard Glassman - a brief introduction
to Zen practice blended with an interesting story of how Glassman's
own order has blended Zen practice with effective social activism
addressing the e needs of the poor, the homeless and the drug addicted.
Radical Equations by Robert Moses. This memoir skips back and forth
between Moses' accounts of his civil rights work in Mississippi
in the 60's (he was one of the founders of SNCC) and his subsequent
work as founder of the Algebra Project - an innovative approach
to the teaching of math that now reaches over 10,000 poor children
annually. Moses believes that numeracy today is as critical to liberation
as literacy was during the voting rights movement.
Savage Inequalities - Jonathan Kozol. Kozol's most widely read treatment
of the plight of children in America's poorest neighborhoods. With
plain, descriptive prose, Kozol vividly captures the unimaginably
appalling conditions that exist in America's worst public schools.
Gandhi - Louis Fisher (unabridged). This book is now out of print
but can be found in libraries and used bookstores. While there are
many treatments of Gandhi's life, including an autobiography this
authorized edition from the mid 50's clearly tells the story of
this extraordinary man and the prodigious impact he had on the world.
The Dispossessed- Ursala K. Leguin. One of Keene's all time favorite
novels and (along with Frank Herbert's Dune) the best piece of speculative
fiction ever written (IMHO). Leguin asks, what would happen if you
tried to run an entire planet like a kibbutz (i.e. on anarcho-syndicalist
principles)? Leguin envisions a world in which there is no government,
no private property and in which a strong ideology of equality prevails.
But this is not utopia (nor distopia). She has a canny imagination
for all of the difficulties that might go along with such a set
up and her characterizations are quite convincing. A brilliant exercise
in challenging us to re-imagine what is socially possible.
Where we stand: class matters - bell hooks. Why is class not a part
of our common discourse in America? Feminist, educator, cultural
critic and social theorist, hooks offers us here a brief but powerful
reflection on how the dilemmas of class and race are intertwined
and how we can find ways to think beyond them.
Anything We Love Can Be Saved: A Writer's Activism - Alice Walker.
In this collection of short essays Walker holds forth on topics
spanning religion, race, feminism and politics, Walker asserts her
belief that in spite of the formidable challenges that we all face
that the world can indeed be saved, if we will only act.
Soul of Citizen - Paul Rogat Loeb - Inspirational short vignettes
about citizen action . Stories about common folk who when faced
with problems in their own communities, decided to act and made
a difference. Not much depth but good cheerleading.