Archive for June 2010

2010 One Book, One Firm Reading List

Each year, we select a book relating to diversity that we encourage everyone in the firm to read and discuss.  This year’s selection is The Female Vision: Women’s Real Power at Work by Sally Helgesen and Julie Johnson.  Helgesen and Johnson explore the differences in perspective between men and women and why those differences matter in business organizations today.  The authors argue that “what women see – what they notice and value and how they perceive the world in operation – is a great underexploited resource in organizations.”  The authors outline steps that women can take  to act upon their vision and that organizations should take to have the full advantage of the female perspective. 

In addition to our One Book, One Firm selection, each year we offer a list of recommended books that address various facets of diversity and inclusion.  This year, we have selected four works of fiction and four works of nonfiction. All of these books are available in the firm’s library.  The 2010 recommended reading includes the following books:

Fiction 

“Unaccustomed Earth,” by Jhumpa Lahiri.  Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer prize winning Interpreter of Maladies was on our inaugural One Book, One Firm reading list in 2008  She returns to our list this year with another collection of short stories about Indian immigrants who have settled in the United States.  This time the focus is more on the divide between the immigrant parents and their children born in America.  Lahiri herself was born in London to Bengali Indian immigrant parents. Her family moved to Rhode Island when she was three.  Lahiri draws the title of her collection from a Hawthorne’s short story, The Custom House:  “Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same wornout soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.” 

“Netherland,” by Joseph O’Neill.  Joseph O’Neill’s latest book, Netherlands, was a 2009 New York Times Best Book.  Netherland is a story of Hans, a Dutch banker in New York City who, living alone in New York after his wife and children return to London, is introduced to the West Indian subculture by a Trinidadian immigrant who befriends him.  Writes the publisher, “Netherland gives us both a flawlessly drawn picture of a little-known New York and a story of much larger, and brilliantly achieved ambition: the grand strangeness and fading promise of 21st-century America from an outsider’s vantage point, and the complicated relationship between the American dream and the particular dreamers.”  O’Neill is half-Irish and half Turkish author who was raised in the Netherlands. He practiced business law in London for 10 years. Today he lives in New York City. 

“Short Girls,” by Bich Minh Nguyen.  Short Girls is the latest book and the first novel published by Bich Minh Nguyen, a native of Vietnam who was raised in Grand Rapids.  Her book Stealing Buddha’s Dinner was our first One Book, One Firm selection.  Short Girls tells the story of two estranged sisters who return to Grand Rapids, where they were raised, to attend their father’s American citizenship ceremony. Publisher’s Weekly summarized the plot as follows: “Van, a lifelong goodie-goodie, finds herself abandoned by her husband, while Linny, Van’s polar opposite, leaves her married lover once she discovers how he feels about her. Their father, a reluctant tile worker but enthusiastic inventor of devices to improve the lives of short people, provides a perfect diversion for his daughters — he needs them to come with him to Detroit to audition for a TV show. When the audition doesn’t go as planned and family secrets start to come out, Linny, Van and Mr. Luong all get a chance to set aside their past failures and find a way to remake themselves.” 

“Sag Harbor,” by Colson Whitehead.  “No one writes with more acrobatic imagination and good humor about the complexities of race in America than Colson Whitehead,” writes Ron Charles in his review of Whitehead’s “Sag Harbor” in the Washington Post. Sag Harbor recounts the stories of a group of African American teenage boys who summer with their family in the Hamptons.  Telling the story of middle class African Americans who share in the American dream has the affect, says the review in Esquire, of “upending our (white) notions of what it means to be African-American. Like Whitehead, these kids are cool and post-racial. They harbor a certain sense of detachment, a wariness of conflict, and a rational embrace of ambiguity.”  You can see a video clip of the author talking about the book by clicking here.

 Nonfiction

“The Faith Club:  A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew – Three Women Search for Understanding,”  by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner.  Following 9/11, Ranya Idliby, an American Muslim of Palestinian descent, faced constant questions from her children about Islam, God, and death.  She began meeting with two mothers – one a Christian, the other a Jew –  to try to understand and answer questions about their faith. The women spent hours discussing those questions.  The Faith Club is a memoir of reflections by the three women.  In it, the authors “wrestle with the issues of anti-Semitism, prejudice against Muslims, and preconceptions of Christians at a time when fundamentalists dominate the public face of Christianity. They write beautifully and affectingly of their families, their losses and grief, their fears and hopes for themselves and their loved ones. And as the authors reveal their deepest beliefs, readers watch the blossoming of a profound interfaith friendship and the birth of a new way of relating to others.” 

“The History of White People,” by Nell Irvin Painter.  Nell Irvin Painter is a retired professor of history of Princeton University.  In The History of White People, Painter has written a book that is accessible to scholars and lay people alike.  In introducing an interview with She traces the history of the concept of white people back to antiquity.  Publishers Weekly described the scope of the book as follows: “Who are white people and where did they come from? Elementary questions with elusive, contradictory, and complicated answers set historian Painter’s inquiry into motion. From notions of whiteness in Greek literature to the changing nature of white identity in direct response to Malcolm X and his black power successors, Painter’s wide-ranging response is a who’s who of racial thinkers and a synoptic guide to their work. . . . Conceptions of beauty (ideals of white beauty [became] firmly embedded in the science of race), social science research, and persistent North/South stereotypes prove relevant to defining whiteness. What we can see, the author observes, depends heavily on what our culture has trained us to look for.” 

“Strength in What Remains,” by Tracy Kidder.  Pulizer prize winner author Tracy Kidder writes the true story of Deo, a refugee from the violence in his native country of Burundi who finds his way to the United States, where her lived in Central Park and made what he could delivering groceries.  Deo amazingly rises above that and begins his studies at Dartmouth Medical School.  Writes Kidder, “When I first heard Deo’s story, I had one simple thought: I would not have survived. I hoped in part to reproduce that feeling in recounting what seems to me a rich tale: an adventure story, a survival story, an immigrant’s story, a story of despair and determination, of evil and kindness. I also hoped to humanize what, to most westerners anyway, is a mysterious, little-known part of the world.  But above all, I wanted to address the question of how one survives the torment of memories like Deo’s, memories with a distinctly ungovernable quality.”

“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum.  Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, first published in 1997 but still read widely today, is an excellent book on how American’s of all races develop their concept of racial identity.  As summarized by the publisher, Beverly Daniel Tatum, who is a clinical psychologist and serves as President of Spelman College, “asserts that we do not know how to talk about our racial differences: Whites are afraid of using the wrong words and being perceived as ‘racist’ while parents of color are afraid of exposing their children to painful racial realities too soon. Using real-life examples and the latest research, Tatum presents strong evidence that straight talk about our racial identities-whatever they may be-is essential if we are serious about facilitating communication across racial and ethnic divides.”