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Dear Match Book: We Want to Change the World

January 09,2018 16:26

I belong to the Washington Women's Foundation, a more than 500-member collective-giving organization of women here in Seattle. Each year we read a book together to foster our knowledge in the areas we fund: arts, education, the environment, health and ...

Your foundation’s reading list seems like the perfect opportunity to turn the page to 2018 with a more hopeful literary goal in mind: Read books, do good. All the books below share an urgent quality that I think aligns with your mission.
Prisoners’ Dilemmas
Two books about incarceration would make an eminently discussable pair. In “The New Jim Crow,” the civil rights lawyer and legal scholar Michelle Alexander makes the case, with arresting clarity, that the biases in law enforcement — including, most notably, drug-crime sentencing that has led to the dire incarceration rates for black Americans — have created “a new racial caste system as stunningly comprehensive and repressive as the one that came to be known simply as Jim Crow.”
The galvanizing sweep of Alexander’s book contrasts with the intimacy of “Reading With Patrick,” Michelle Kuo’s absorbing account of her mentorship and friendship with a gifted, troubled student whom she first met as a Teach for America recruit in Helena, Ark. Readers witness the transformative power of their moving lessons in both literature and life, lessons that endure and deepen in jail after Patrick is arrested on a murder charge.
Special Arrangements
Given your foundation’s philanthropic and literary proclivities, I recommend another book about an arts education program. In “Changing Lives,” Tricia Tunstall outlines the soaring successes of El Sistema, the orchestral music program founded in Venezuela in 1975 that aims to steer children’s lives away from “the multiple dangers of poverty.”
Family Medicine
Cultural clashes between the doctors and parents of Lia Lee, an epileptic girl living with her Laotian Hmong refugee family in central California, are at the heart of Anne Fadiman’s enduring book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.” Lee’s story is tragic, but the compassion Fadiman shows for all figures in her book lightens the dark.
Hidden Figures
The grip of poverty guides two evocative chronicles of life on the margins, geographically disparate though their communities may be. Adrian Nicole LeBlanc spent more than a decade reporting her immersive saga, “Random Family,” about the bleak and beautiful experiences of a network of kin in the Bronx. In “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” Katherine Boo focused for nearly three and half years on Annawadi, a “sumpy plug of slum” in Mumbai. The result is an artfully constructed account of the privation that persists alongside the surge of prosperity brought to India by globalization. Both books share a bracing lack of sentimentality, as well as a carefully wrought humanity; both will make you want to change the world.
Yours truly,Match Book
Do you need book recommendations? Write to matchbook@nytimes.com.
Check out Match Book’s earlier recommendations here.

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