2018 Wyoming Humanities Summer Reading List

During your summer travels, hikes, and hang outs, don’t forget to bring a book!  Here are some recent reads by Wyoming Humanities board and staff to get you started:

Sheila Bricher-Wade, Program Officer:
I’m trying to get a better understanding of what I’m hearing on the news, so am reading The Plot to Hack America by Malcolm Nance and The Death of Expertise by Thomas Nichols.

Mary Guthrie, Board Member:
The Feather Thief:  Beauty, Obsession and the Natural History of the Century, by Kirk Johnson. This nonfiction book reads like a thriller.  I enjoyed it because it combined a lot of information about science and a zany plot about a young flute player who stole some priceless exotic bird feathers to use in fly tying. 
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.  Beautifully written novel about an aristocratic Russian who is sentenced to house arrest in a luxury hotel in Moscow.  The protagonist experiences many adventures and attains a greater understanding of himself during his decades of confinement.
The Book of Joy:  Happiness in a Changing World, by the Dali Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams. These two extraordinary spiritual leaders spend a week together talking about how to be happy in today’s world.  Their friendship, respect and sense of fun is palpable.

Scott Henkel, Board Member:
Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred(which was also just made into a graphic novel) is a beautiful and haunting story of a Black woman who is mysteriously brought back in time by a connection to one of her ancestors–a white man who had enslaved her great grandmother. Few books show as much about the history and legacy of slavery and race relations in the United States as Kindred does.  
There are many books at the moment trying to reach across our current political divide, and among the best of these is Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump. Robin writes from the left, but he treats his subject thoroughly, fairly, and for me, at least, in an eye-opening way.  
Sanora Babb’s novel Whose Names are Unknown, a story about migrant families in Oklahoma and California during the Dust Bowl, was originally scheduled for publication in 1939, but after John Steinbeck published The Grapes of Wrath, Babb’s publisher shelved the manuscript, thinking that one book on the subject was sufficient. The book was finally published in 2006, and in many ways (at least in this reader’s judgment), it exceeds Steinbeck’s classic. Babb puts the experiences of women and communities in the forefront of the novel, and the result is a rich portrait of a dignified struggle in a very difficult situation.  

Erin Pryor Ackerman, Grants Director:
I inhaled Alfred Lansing’s Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.  Lansing’s book kept me on the edge of my seat, even though I knew the fate of the Endurance’s crew before starting the book.  It’s that good. This well-researched and well-written account makes clear that outcomes are equally dependent on canny leadership, incredible skill, and pure, dumb luck.
I’ve just started Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang’s graphic novel series Paper Girls. Besides featuring a protagonist named Erin, the series has first jobs, paper route rivalries, and time travelers—a perfect read when lounging in a hammock.

Carol Seeger, incoming Board President:
The book I just finished is The Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s America by Mark Sundeen.  This book is an important read because we cannot continue to live the way we live.   Resources available to us are limited and the population continues to grow with ever increasing consumerism.  This book gives a glimpse of the lives of folks who are choosing alternative ways of living that are more sustainable and in their simplicity perhaps happier, more meaningful and fulfilling lives.     

Milward Simpson, Board Member:
The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy by Raj Patel . I recommend it because he gives a cogent, accessible description of the market economy and how to reshape it to accurately take into account factors (“externalities”) that should but aren’t reflected in the true cost of the goods we produce.  
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr .  I recommend it because he’s one of the few authors who has the courage to confront and question the primacy of the internet and social media and dig deeply into what these things are doing to our culture and to our brains. It’s been described as “Silent Spring for the literary mind.”  
X by Chuck Klosterman. I recommend it because a summer list has to have some purely entertaining brain candy. Chuck is an insightful and hilarious cultural critic who gets into the nerdy minutiae of, particularly, the rock and pop music scenes.  
Purity by Jonathan Franzen. I recommend this because, if you’re like me, you are woefully behind in your Franzen and desperately need to be able to hold your own on Franzen references at cocktail parties.  

Shannon D. Smith, Executive Director:
I have been slow-reading Grant by Ron Chernow and am truly savoring it. Chernow brilliantly weaves the many disparate stages of Grant’s storied life into a narrative arc that reveals a fascinating new perspective on one of the most important presidents in our nation’s history. It’s a great read and much more entertaining that you might expect. On another note, I am listening to For Whom the Bell Tollsbecause of our plans to celebrate Hemingway in Wyoming over the coming two years and it’s taking me a while to get through the 16+ hour audiobook. I am not as appalled by it as some of the very hilarious online reviews you can find in Goodreads that make fun of Hemingway’s narrative style in the book, but I agree that there are times when he belabors points through repetitive syncopation and it is definitely noticeable when you are being read to. It’s also quite funny in spots and his decision to use the word “obscenity” instead of actual obscenities, in ways that make the intended word perfectly clear, is at first jarring but eventually appealing—and frequently makes me laugh out loud. “I obscenity in the milk of your mother” is one of the best. Overall, the story is spellbinding and makes you eager to learn more about the Spanish Civil War. 

Kristi Wallin, Board Member:
I read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre for the first time this summer and was mesmerized.  I was stunned by the wisdom of young Jane.  Her resilience and generosity were remarkable.  And, I left the book with a great appreciation of living in the current day rather than the early 19th Century.  Wonder what Jane would think of 2018?