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What Are You Reading (or Listening To) This Summer?

This summer, California Humanities staff have been traveling to different times and places through literary media. We want to share some favorite current reads (and listens) from staff that include not only books but podcasts too.

Julie Fry – President & CEO
Julie is taking a deep dive into the novels of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, on the recommendation of her daughter; this has led to some engaging book group discussions while sheltering-in-place far apart from each other. Focused on stories of Nigerians, both in Africa and in the United States, Adichie’s writing is beautiful, honest, evocative of time and place, and seemingly effortless. Purple Hibiscus is told from the point of view of a young girl and her brother, and the complicated ties that bind families together. Americanah touches on issues of race, immigration, identity, and what home really means. Half of a Yellow Sun swirls around the Nigerian-Biafran conflict in the late 1960s, detailing an important history through the experiences of five very different but connected characters. Adichie’s books remind us that while we all come from different backgrounds, histories, and places, our humanity shines through. Julie has also been listening in to a California Humanities-supported podcast, The Stoop (a California Documentary Project grantee),which features stories from across the Black Diaspora that explore issues of identity and race.

Anoop Kaur – Program Officer
Anoop has been with us temporarily the past few months to oversee our CA CARES grant-making. She highly recommends these podcasts:


Felicia Kelley – Project & Evaluation Director

Here’s Felicia’s “official” summer book pick – Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. Connecting recent scientific findings with the knowledge of ancient traditions, this timely book invites us to think about something we generally take for granted and make changes that will better our health and well-being.  Perhaps an approach to learning and action we might apply to other aspects of our lives? As for podcasts, Felicia’s all time favorite is, of course, Terry Gross’s Fresh Air, but she also likes Human Nature: Real Stories Where Humans and Our Habitat Meet —fascinating stories about our connections with and to the natural world of which we are a part. Felicia also enjoys listening to the Duolingo Spanish podcasts, stereotype-busting bilingual stories from the Spanish-speaking world (a great vocabulary booster, too!).

Sheri Kuehl – Director of Development
This summer Sheri is reading What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer. As the November election fast approaches, Sheri is finally jumping into this classic behind-the-scenes deep dive into the 1988 presidential campaign.

Steven Loscutoff – Administrative Assistant
Steven recommends California Exposures: Envisioning Myth and History by Richard White and Jesse Amble White. Together, the author and photographer – a father and son duo – through words and images, excavate the history of California: “a place where legend has so thoroughly become fact that it is visible in everyday landscapes.” Steven is also reading Here by Richard McGuire. This graphic novel focuses on a single space in one room over the course of time, playing with storytelling conventions by interweaving people, animals, and objects from across the ages into a single panel—allowing us to see the impermeable relation we have to time, both in its intimacy and its alienation.

John Nguyen Yap – Outreach & Advocacy Manager
John likes reading Jack & Agyu by Justine Villanueva to his 3-year-old son who is conscious of color, as all kids show early that they recognize color among other diversity in appearances. John’s son is proud of being brown like the children in the story. John is also reading It’s Bigger than Hip Hop by MK Assante.

Renée Perry – Operations Coordinator
Renée has been doing a lot of re-reading while sheltering-in-place.. Currently she’s reading Guards, Guardsin Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. The series is fantasy, but one that’s rooted in our world. Pratchett was a smart, funny, political, and compassionate writer and is greatly missed.

Lucena Lau Valle – Program Officer
Lucena finds Samantha Irby’s newest book of essays, Wow, No Thank You, hilarious and highly relatable; it reminds her of the kind of bluntly honest conversations that you can only have with your best friends. She’s also reading Alexandra Chang’s Days of Distraction: A Novel, a genre-crossing novel that weaves memoir and fiction with the archive of Asian American history.

Kirsten Vega – Program Assistant
Did you know Elizabeth Hardwick helped found The New York Review of Books? Kirsten highly recommends Sleepless Nights by Hardwick and notes that fans of early jazz will be enthralled by her rapt accounts of Billie Holiday on and off-stage in 1950’s New York. Kirsten recommends You Must Remember This podcast. Cinephiles will love this podcast about Hollywood’s first decades by Karina Longworth, former film critic at the LA Weekly. Also highly recommended by Kirsten is Articles of Interest, a mini-series by 99% Invisible. Learn how punks came to favor plaid, why blue jeans became a global phenomenon, and why womenswear lacks pockets. Californians will enjoy cameos by curators at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, fashion historians at the Levi Strauss Museum, and elsewhere.

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