May 2013. Spring finals almost knocked the breath out of me. Quickly, I felt myself losing steam, not having much more energy to finish out the year with a bang. With many, many late nights spent in the library, or in my room, buried in casebooks, figuring out the intricacies of property law and international criminal justice, I was at once fascinated and yet, simply exhausted. It had been a long year, plain and simple.
And so it was no surprise that the moment exams finished, I spent a few victorious post-1L days in lovely lethargy. But soon after that, my brain – starved for stimulation beyond judicial opinions and case briefs – dove right into summer reading mode. And soon, I was plunged into a small town in Sierra Leone which lacked electricity, running water, and internet. What else was there to do, on nights when I was kept awake by the pounding rain, but read? And so, I read, by candlelight (in reality, the light of my headlamp, but that simply sounds less romantic, no?). I read a lot and rediscovered parts of myself I feared had been lost in the past year. I rediscovered creativity and a thirst for learning. And I was transported elsewhere on nights when I felt lonely, or far away from the creature comforts I am lucky to have. So here we go:
* note, idea stolen from the wonderful Roxanne: check out her excellent summer reading list here.
Day of Honey – Annia Ciezadlo: One of the most beautiful reads of the summer, and perhaps the past few years. Ciezadlo mixes recipes and stories of cooking food with tales of living through conflict and war in Baghdad and Beirut. Through her eyes as a foreigner, we see someone – refreshingly – not trying to change the world in some profound way – but simply trying to understand the countries in which she lives, understand life in conflict, enjoy and cherish life, get along with her husband, fit in with his family, and simply live. What I love is that she is not trying to be a heroine of some sort, as so many writers who pen international memoirs are. Ciezadlo’s writing is beautiful and strikes the perfect balance between practical and romantic. Her voice is authentic. We get to better understand the countries, cities, cultures, traditions and histories, people, conflicts, and food in the places she lives. See this lovely review.
The Blue Sweater – Jacqueline Novogratz: I finally finished this book, after getting a copy almost a year ago. Novogratz, well known as the founder of Acumen Fund, chronicles her journeys abroad, her career choices, her early attempts to create microfinance and small business projects in Kenya and Rwanda, and the founding of Acumen Fund. While her life story was inspirational, I felt frustrated with some parts: some descriptions of her ‘expat’ life abroad & her ideas of distributing bednets for a fee instead of free, for instance.
Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War – Leymah Gbowee: Inspirational story of one woman’s rise from a single mother, who had been a refugee, a survivor of long-time poverty and domestic violence in war-torn Liberia, to a strong, resilient, beautiful woman who changed the fate of her country through mass movement building and peacebuilding. If I had faced one hundredth of what Leymah faced as a young woman, I doubt I would have accomplished anything close to what she did. Incredibly energizing.
Zen Under Fire: How I Found Peace in the Midst of War – Marianne Elliott: I have followed Marianne’s blog for a long time, and was truly excited to read her book. I was not disappointed. She explores a topic close to my heart: conflict, women’s rights, and rule of law rebuilding in Afghanistan. She discusses human rights lawyering and trainings of lawyers there– the kind of work I dream of doing. Her story follows her personal relationships and how she dealt with severe anxiety, working in war zones.
A Princess Found – Sarah Culberson: I picked up this book initially because it was about an adopted child who traced her roots back, and found out her father was the son of a paramount chief in Bumpeh, Sierra Leone — my initial destination for this past summer! I didn’t end up going to Bumpeh, but I enjoyed traversing the country through her eyes, and learning the story of how her father survived the brutal war. A bit simplistic/naive for my taste, but a feel good story in the end.
Stories and Fiction
Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo: Incredibly researched, such that her characters come to life and jump off the page. For the longest time, I could not believe this book was non-fiction and based on real people and real lives. Despite having lived in India and Bangladesh, and having a theoretical understanding of corruption and the plagues of poverty, I was still shocked and horrified. I was repeatedly saddened by the travails of the slum-dwellers Boo writes about, and constantly angry that this was happening to people, people just like you or I. And what I love most is that she does not cover up the flaws of the poor, does not paint them as one-sided stories: poor victims, innocent women and children. She writes stories of greed, anger, vengeance, pettiness, hatred, low self-esteem, and of course — courage, honesty, kindness, and love. The biggest lesson, if you didn’t know it already, is that the “poor” are not a monolithic entity. They are like you and I: with varied personality characteristics, rich, full of character and foibles, and never perfect. One of my favorites this summer, highly recommended.
Second Person Singular – Sayed Kashua: Recommended by Roxanne. Incredible piece of fiction, well told, with strong characters and beautiful, sometimes haunting stories of the lives of two very different Arab men in Jerusalem.
And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini: Wonderfully told and narrated, with poetic expertise. This book is moving — it is about love in different forms, but most importantly, love among siblings – siblings separated, far away; about cousins; about reuniting just before it is too late. There are many touching moments in this book, and of course — it is set amidst the incredible backdrop of Afghanistan.
Development, Social Justice, Women’s Rights
Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape – Jaclyn Friedman, Jessica Valenti: Incredible, incredible, incredible read. The short stories/essays in this book blew my mind for their accurate, feminist, intersectional analysis of rape and healthy sex/relationships. What all these essays articulate so poetically is a radical redefining of consent - should we really be teaching young people that ‘no means no’? Or instead, should we pursue a more healthy relationship with our bodies, such that we clearly give consent. Such that ‘yes means yes.’ And by redefining consent and reclaiming power, could we make headway to eradicating rape? Bottom line, please read this.
The Ringtone and the Drum: Travels in the World’s Poorest Countries – Mark Weston: Wonderfully narrated, not just a travel book, but a book providing keen insight into the economies and daily lives of people in West Africa – Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Sierra Leone. This book does not romanticize poverty, and does not focus on a westerner trying to save the poor. It simply tries to depict life as it is for West Africans, and captures much to love about the region – as well as what makes life so difficult there.
Poor Economics – Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo: A great primer on development economics and randomized control trials, with many key insights into how to do development right, and better.
Personal / Professional Development
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead – Sheryl Sandberg: Ah, yes. The book of the year, perhaps — and I have mixed feelings! Sandberg makes some great arguments, but in the end it’s largely an expansion of her TED talk. Still, she provides women like me, who are lucky enough to have options , with some great advice on how to make the most of their careers. I agree with Sandberg that we have a leadership crisis: women are less likely to be leaders, and yet, we need them. At the same time, I do worry that her advice (though she is upfront about this fact) applies largely to more privileged women in this country who have these choices. Further, I worry that it simply puts more pressure on women to do it all – be smart, talented, accomplished, make money, and have a great life at home (not everyone is lucky enough to find a husband who will share 50/50 or sacrifice his career). Those concerns remain, but I still found much useful and inspirational advice in her book on a personal level that I plan (hope!) to apply.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain: I enjoyed reading Cain’s insights into introversion, and how it can really be a strength – not a weakness. I love her insights into harnessing those qualities in the workplace, and how businesses/companies can also better make use of the skills of introverts. I’m probably on the fence – perhaps an ambivert – but I found much to appreciate about her advice.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – David Sedaris: How I love David Sedaris, with his quirky and lovable humor. I’ve read almost all his books, but I must say this one fell a little flat. Somehow, it just wasn’t as funny, as entertaining, and a little stranger than his past pieces. There are still some gems, but other short stories which simply seemed to try too hard, but sadly do not succeed.
Bossypants – Tina Fey: Fun, and funny memoir, and I couldn’t help but love her voice, her stories, and her insights into women in the workplace. Her approach to women’s issues is simply fresh, humorous, and personal.
White Teeth – Zadie Smith * Decisive – Chip Heath * Anatomy of an Epidemic – Robert Whitaker * Sister Outsider – Audre Lorde