Great writing can change cultures, politics, lives—or just while away a few hours at the beach. From the overflowing library shelves to the sheaf of papers by the printer, the YES! office is littered with reading material. Good thing that, like you, we're readers. Here's a look at what some members of the YES! staff are cracking open this summer...
by Tracy Kidder
What I liked about this book was the endless energy for good that Paul Farmer embodied. I was left with a feeling of hope. Tracy Kidder tells the story of someone who is truly succeeding in changing the world. Farmer goes into Haiti (and then Russia, Peru, and Rwanda), and as a medical anthropologist takes a problem-solving approach that is based in the communities where he works. He doesn’t take “no” for an answer. Underlying his actions is a caring for individuals, and a belief that health is a human right, no matter where you live.
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Years before she was eating and praying and loving on three continents, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book about her friend, Eustace Conway—a man who hiked from Maine to Georgia without supplies, who makes his own buckskin clothes, who rode a horse across the country, who lived in a teepee for 17 years. Eustace finds “modern” life absurd and says he wants nothing more than a simple, happy life in the woods—but for a variety of reasons that Gilbert explores with sensitive insight, he's never quite able to have it. Eustace is brilliant and you've probably never met anyone who thinks like him—he'll make you take a hard look at how you spend your own days—but Gilbert doesn’t idealize him. There’s an underlying sadness to the book, despite the funny, personable style Gilbert’s fans will recognize: It’s a lament for a lost world.
by Mark Hathaway and Leonard Boff
I’m reading The Tao of Liberation by Mark Hathaway, an adult educator and ecumenical eco-justice activist, and Leonardo Boff, Brazil’s best-known theologian. It sometimes meanders and is maybe a hundred pages longer than necessary. I value it highly, however, for its moments of brilliance that take discussion of the nature and potential of the human place in the cosmos the next step beyond the epic work of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. It also offers an exceptional and authoritative review of an impressive swath of the relevant literature from ecology, economics, social justice, spirituality, and cosmology. I find it an inspiring contribution to my understanding of the nature and purpose of Creation.
by David Remnick
I am relishing every word of David Remnick’s meticulously researched and insightfully told story of Barack Obama’s life. As I (regretfully) reach the end of this 591-page volume, here’s my key take-away: The driving force in Obama’s adult life is to help ordinary people get a fair deal. I see little evidence of a taste for glory or for the accoutrements of high position. Rather his very real quest for power seems to be born of his utter frustration as a community organizer trying to get City Hall to pay attention to the most basic needs of the residents of South Chicago. How much more effective to be able to respond from a position of power inside the system rather than to protest from the outside. So the young Obama carefully mapped out a political trajectory that would end in his becoming the mayor of Chicago. Then his 2004 Democratic Convention speech derailed that plan, as an adoring public pressed him to run for president. I, for one, am immensely grateful. Chicago can wait.
Open The 1000 Journals Project to any page, and you’ll want to curl up on a couch or under a tree to savor each vibrant entry. Part social experiment, part collective art project, 1000 Journals is a collection of multimedia entries from the 1,000 blank journals that “Someguy” anonymously released into the world at random, with instructions to fill a page and then pass the journal on. Vividly reproduced, you'll want to physically touch each page. Not just because they’re beautiful, but because 1000 Journals reminds us that as we struggle to make sense of the world, we are not alone. They’ve also made the 1000 Journals Project into a movie: www.1000journalsfilm.com
by Dave Eggers
In this memoir, Valentino Achak Deng vividly recounts his life among the “Lost Boys”—refugees who spent their childhood escaping war-ridden Sudan by foot. His journey unfolds as a heartbreaking epic, guiding him through relentless challenges and losses; however, Valentino does not seek pity. The hope of someday sharing his story, he says, was pivotal to his survival. With the help of author Dave Eggers, Valentino has finally done so—and the novel’s proceeds directly aid Sudanese refugees around the world. The Valentino Achak Deng Foundation, formed after the book’s publication, recently funded a high school in Valentino’s hometown of Marial Bai, Southern Sudan.
by Charles Bowden
Book titles don’t get more inviting than this. Bowden, a journalist who has watched the U.S./Mexican border boil over with violence since NAFTA’s passage, has written a tough and gritty book placing the mass migration of humans across borders in context of a planet staggering toward an uncertain future. Vivid moments—cardinals nest in the Sonoran desert, Ciudad Juarez menaces, a Greenpeace whaler charges angrily ahead—are strung into a picture of a torn world, still streaked with beauty. Bowden's writing is bewildering; there are passages that alter the feel of afternoons, strings of sentences that remind us of the strange future that’s already here.
by Richard Preston
What began as a New Yorker article turned into this full nonfiction adventure book about an elite circle of acrobat-scientists obsessively drawn to the Northern California's coast redwoods, among the largest and oldest living things on Earth. Their various professional and personal lives are connected by the hunt for the world's biggest tree. Personal stories unfold in parallel with the development of equipment to be able to climb these giants. Preston jumps into the narrative and participates in explorations of the canopies, which reveal untouched ecosystems barely aware of the world 300 feet below. Growing up surrounded by redwood forests, I fell into an easy nostalgia for these trees. The book was so inspiring, I ordered 10 coast redwood saplings to plant here in the Pacific Northwest, once inhabited by coast redwoods—the gift of a redwood forest for generations a thousand years from now.
by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith's On Beauty is an homage to E.M. Foster that treats big themes—class, politics, race, sex, family—with stylistic grace, emotional warmth, and compelling narrative. Her tale of the midlife crisis of art historian Howard Belsey is nearly social satire, but Smith's wit is matched by her humanity. What do we love, and why? How to live? Smith has some ideas as she describes the struggle to re-connect a life that has become disconnected from meaning. A book to share, On Beauty has something for the sweetest, and the most cynical, members of your social circle.
By Elizabeth Kolbert and Francis Spufford
What's it like to see and experience that ethereal, ghost-like quality of ancient ice we've seen in so many photos of the Antarctic? Or to travel across the Arctic tundra? It's unlikely I'll ever visit the Arctic or Antarctic myself, but with rising concerns about the future of these majestic ecosystems, I've been eager to understand more fully what's at stake. This insightful, transportive collection of essays delivers. Through historic expedition journals and contemporary travel writing, a multi-faceted vision of the Earth's polar regions, and the communities who live there, unfolds. These first hand accounts are riveting with their vivid detail and passionate prose.
And for the kids…
by Michael Ende
Meek-eyed Momo is a legend treasured by German children, thought up by the same author who wrote the better-known kaleidoscopic fable, The Neverending Story. A homeless waif alone in a city, she’s an unlikely leader—but it is precisely her vulnerability, honesty, and detachment from power that give her such compelling strength.
When a group of creepy, otherworldly bankers arrives, convincing everyone to invest their free time in a new central bank, Momo is alone in her resistance. She takes on the system and the sad resignation of her friends, who find themselves joyless, exhausted, and fumbling for purpose in a world where they no longer have time to connect.
It’s a novel that teaches young people the humble rewards of stillness, attention, and the vocation of simple presence as service to others. Yes, it’s a children’s story. But you might find your heart as moved as Momo’s by the transcendental discovery of the opening and closing of every moment’s beauty.