#booknerd

My first paid job after I graduated from college was almost working at Barnes and Noble. I had been “interning” (a fancy word for volunteering) for several months for both the Superintendent of Alameda Unified School District and for Senator Feinstein, and I needed a paycheck. The holiday season was approaching and Barnes and Noble hired me as a temporary worker for the busy time ahead. I loved the idea of getting paid to hang around books all day. It didn’t happen: the day before my training began, I accepted a full time job working on Senator Feinstein’s reelection campaign. But, the idea stuck.

Some of you know about my dream of opening a bookstore-bar as my next big adventure. Lately, this dream has become vivid in my head, taking and changing shape, and inspiring much creativity and fun. I love books and reading, and amateur bartending is one of my favorite hobbies. 

The more I think about it, the more unusual this bookstore-bar becomes. (Let’s call it The Reading Room for now… ) Maybe The Reading Room will be a series of pop-up events, rather than a brick and mortar establishment. Maybe it will involve huge comfy chairs and evenings devoted to quietly reading and flights of mini cocktails. Most definitely it will be a home for Everyday Leadership. And it will promote learning, leading, giving, and laughing. And, of course, the arts. 

In the meantime, about six months ago, I started the Pandemic Book Club, a periodic online forum to share memories and thoughts about books. Anyone can join, though there are some “regulars,” who tend to contribute each time I offer a new topic. I love that the Pandemic Book Club – similar to a great book – gives us a chance to escape our own shelter-in-place realities and ignite our imaginations. I also love that the Pandemic Book Club reinforces the importance of stories as a way to connect with and learn about ourselves, others, and the world around us. And, wow – I have gotten some great book recommendations from the Club.

From time to time, I’ll share book recommendations from the Pandemic Book Club here.


  • Classics I read in college that changed my understanding about so much, including what a classic is: Beloved, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Invisible Man.
  • Let the Dead Bury Their Dead by the amazing (and gone too young) Randall Kenan.
  • American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin, by the luminous genius Terrence Hayes
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison. Still astonishing.
  • Trophic Cascade, Camille Dungy
  • Chimananda Ngozi’s works: Half of a Yellow Sun, Americanah, We Should All Be Feminists 
  • Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Kindred and Parable of the Talents. So good, eerie and intense.
  • bell hooks Teaching to Transgress was important for me to read when I started teaching. 
  • The Bluest Eye was a book that stuck and I could understand before I understood Beloved (as much as any white woman can understand either).
  • Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
  • I cannot recommend enough A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K. Barnett for a real look at what the drug war did to people of color in our communities.
  • Get a Life, Chloe Brown, The Wedding Date, and Children of Blood & Bone.
  • The plays of August Wilson, which I guess are now known as the “Pittsburgh Cycle.” I know reading is associated with increased empathy and I think this is doubly true of plays – when you are literally speaking the words of another person in your mind.
  • I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
  • Becoming by the ever-inspiring Michelle Obama
  • Girl Woman Other
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.
  • Will You Die With Me by Flores Forbes, who happens to be an excellent person – about his time in the panthers in the 60s-70s
  • Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own
  • Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow

What books would you add?

2 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your list. I just started reading Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. I’m normally bent towards reading fiction but Isabel Wilkerson’s writing is so fluid that it reads as easily as a well told story.

  2. When I was watching the PBS look at Prince Philip’s life and style, I found his approach to people similar to what yours is, and what I do sometimes. It seems he would try to catch people off guard by saying things that were not part of the expected script. He would try to get a responce where none would have been prepared. His was the penultimate position yet he tried to bring everyone he crossed paths with closer. A fun guy, for a Brit, but then he was not really British.

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