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I Have to Ask: Three Book Recommendations

Posted on October 28, 2019


Jamie Eustace

In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three questions from ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. This week, Jamie Eustace, Baytown, Texas, Librarian, provides three must-reads for this year.


I read in fits and starts.  Since my job, and more importantly, my professional reputation depend upon me being well read, my habit of inconsistency can be a real weakness.  Don’t tell anyone, but I can go months without picking up a single book from the best seller list. I fill my time, instead, with podcasts, bad TV, and thinking about what I should be reading.

This month, however, I hit a rare reading jackpot.  I picked up three titles in a row that had me proclaiming widely and loudly, “You have got to read this!”

The titles that sowed their magical seeds in my head include a memoir, a poignant work of narrative nonfiction about violence in American cities, and a piece by the always brilliant Malcolm Gladwell.  I share my must-read list with you, not because I’m a librarian and contractually obligated to tell you what to read, but because I believe that those of us in local government have real opportunities to shape conversations about the American experience.

Innovation requires that we bust through and find new ways of thinking and doing.  It is not impossible to think that the inspiration to get outside of the box can come from a library book. When you think differently, you do differently!

Reading is not a substitute for real life experience, but reading about the lives and experiences of others can at least crack a window where different perspectives might creep in.  The right books can humanize the very people who are most affected by the policies we craft. Books tell the stories that mainstream America rarely gets the chance to hear.

When you feel as if the world will be righted if you can convince enough people to read something, you begin to appreciate just how powerful a good reading list can be.  Here are my must-reads to round out the year.

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

This memoir reminds us how very expensive it is to be poor.  Land, a single mother who struggles to make ends meet by working as a maid, gives readers an idea of what it is like to live on the edge of homelessness and hunger.  Fortunately, most of us will never have to choose between buying medicine for our children and putting gas in our tanks in order to make the drive to work. For Land, however, difficult choices like these define her very existence.  She gives readers the gift of a behind the scenes look at the lives so many in our communities live.

An American Summer:  Love and Death in an American City by Alex Kotlowitz

From the author of There are No Children Here, this piece of journalistic nonfiction takes us back to the streets of Chicago where over 14,000 men, women, and children have lost their lives to gun violence in the past two decades.  Kotlowitz invites readers to bear witness to the daily realities of the City’s most troubled neighborhoods for a single summer. We meet the real people who face public violence every day and begin to understand how this type of stress wreaks havoc on the lives of the young.

How to Talk to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

In his latest work, Gladwell argues that we employ the wrong tools and strategies to understanding strangers, which inevitably leads to miscommunication and misunderstanding.  In true Gladwell style, he moves from Sandra Bland to Montezuma, to Fidel Castro without missing a beat. In the end, Gladwell makes readers question their ability to size-up others.  He challenges all of us to keep an active check on our biases and assumptions and to be willing to admit that we might not know as much as we think we do!

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