I recommend The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli. This book is an insightful and balanced chronicle of the economic lifespan of an actual t-shirt purchased out of a Florida bargain bin by a Georgetown economics professor. The t-shirt’s journey takes the reader from its birth in a Texas cotton field to its manufacturing in a Chinese factory, back to the U.S. marketplace and then on to the second-hand African clothing market. The story is rich with fact, intriguing characters, and fascinating textile history. This book provided me with just as much insight into the workings of globalization, as an entire semester course in college I took called “Globalization”. Read an excerpt at http://www.fastcompany.com/bookclub/excerpts/0471648493.html.
A Problem form Hell by Samantha Power. This book is written by Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent for the New Yorker Magazine, Samantha Power. Here, Power systematically traces the history of genocide in the 20th Century and the American response to these events. Power shows the daring and ironic escape of the coiner of the term “genocide” from Nazi Germany. She also shows how the United States dragged its feet while cultures were wiped out in South East Asia, The Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa. This is a must read for people concerned about the current state of affairs in Darfur.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I plan to reread this novel this summer. It tells the heartbreaking story of the Joad Family, a migrant family forced off the land by a bank during the Great Depression. This amazing book speaks to me right now as we see xenophobia in our political discourse surrounding migrant workers, a new generation of people without homes, and an economy teetering on the brink of collapse. It is especially special to me as my family had left their dust bowl farms for California during the Great Depression, just like the Joads.
Three Cups of Tea-is the inspirational (and true) story of the international relationships formed between American mountain climber, Greg Mortenson, and the people of Korphe – a village in Pakistan. The book’s title is based upon a regional aphorism that, “The first time you share tea, you are a stranger. The second time, you are an honored guest. The third time you become family.” These relationships lead to the creation of Korphe’s first school, and ultimately to the creation of more than 50 schools in Central Asia.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn. This a great book for those interested in a comprehensive history of the United States that isn’t sugar coated. The detail and depth of this book is amazing and Zinn accurately portrays the struggles of all people in the United States.
Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks. Whether you are new to feminism or were on the front lines of the reproductive choice movement this book is a great read. bell hooks breaks down what feminism is and the variety of issues it addresses in an easy to understand way that leaves you feeling empowered and proud to be a feminist.
My Year of Meats, by Ruth L. Ozeki. Ozeki’s story follows Jane Takagi-Little, a Japanese-American documentary maker, who is hired by a beef company to film American women preparing their favorite beef dishes for broadcast in Japan. Jane’s experiences touch on race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and the environment in ways which are both hysterical and sobering.
My second recommendation is The Year of Living Biblically, by A.J. Jacobs. Jacobs chronicles a year of trying to follow the Bible as literally as possible, and along the way he meets Isreali Samaritans, Appalachian snake handlers, biblical creationists in Kentucky, and the Pennsylvanian Amish. What Jacobs and the reader learn is that there are many, many ways to “literally” interpret the Bible. In addition to making me laugh out loud, I learned so much from Jacobs’ book that I proceeded to talk about it at work every day for the next three months.
I love My Year of Meats and The Year of Living Biblically because they fuse social concerns with art, romance, spirituality, and humor. But if you need a dose of straight up facts, you can always print out the following reports and build your activist knowledge with some powerful data about sexism and racism:
* Report of the APA Taskforce on the Sexualization of Girls.
* Foreclosed: State of the Dream 2008.
* Cracks in the System: Twenty Years of the Unjust Federal Crack Cocaine Law.
Happy All The Time by Laurie Colwin. Since I’m in seminary, the reading I do for pleasure tends to be on the lighter side. This is a fun, easy read about the relationships (friendly and romantic) of four compelling characters.