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Making a list, checking it twice: Books we read, like, want to read and want to like

Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio

It seems like everyonehasa 'best books' listaround this time of year. So we decided to get in on the action. We picked some old books, some new books, some books for kids, some for adults, all of them somehow tied into our State of Opportunity theme.

Without further ado, I present to you [drumroll, please]...

A Not-at-all Comprehensive Reading Guide to Poverty/Race/State of Opportunity Issues

  • The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Lives, by Sasha Abramsky. This book is on my Christmas wish list. It first caught my eye in this New York Times article, and it made the paper's list of 100 Notable Books this year. Here's how the folks at the Times describe it: "This ambitious study, based on Abramsky’s travels around the country meeting the poor, both describes and prescribes." -- Jennifer
  • There are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, by Alex Kotlowitz. This book totally shook me up. It follows the real-life story of two young boys growing up in the Chicago projects. As a journalist, I aspire to create something this real and powerful. It took all my will power to not put the book down at various points and Google the name of the two boys featured in the book, to see if they made it out. -- Jennifer
  • Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, by Paul Tough. We talk a lot about the Harlem Children's Zone on our blog. You can check out how it all began by reading this book. I love how Tough weaves personal narratives from the Harlem Children's Zone with the historical literature on racism and education. Accessible and engaging. -- Jennifer
  • How to Be Black, by Baratunde Thurston. Hat tip to Dustin Dwyer who recommended this one to me when I was working on my RACE doc earlier this year. It takes the often fraught topic of race and distils it with humor, wit, and smart observation. Really good stuff here. -- Jennifer
  • Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel About the American Obsession, by Studs Turkel. This book was first published in 1992, and 20+ years later, it's still relevant. Turkel is such a master interviewer/listener, he's able to elicit some of the frankest conversations about race I've ever read. -- Jennifer
  • Junkyard Wonders, by Patricia Pollaco. In Junkyard Wonders, Pollaco explores what it was like to be a kid who teachers tracked and dismissed as unable to achieve. It's an intense but ultimately incredibly hopeful book, and it helps keep in perspective why kids deserve not just opportunity but some faith they're worth believing in. Bonus: Pollaco is from Michigan! -- Sarah
  • Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life, by Annette Lareau. Lareau's research showed that there were different parenting styles between families from a middle class background and a working class background. There's no objective reason why one parenting style would be better than the other. But our schools and our labor market are both biased to reward the middle class upbringing more than the working class upbringing. -- Dustin
  • "Can Technology End Poverty?" An essay by Kentaro Toyama. I keep referring back to the work of Toyama in thinking about tech and opportunity. This piece in the Boston Review sparked a lot of debate. His key insight that I wrestle with has to do with this quote: "technology - no matter how well designed - is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute. ... In circumstances with...people who have been denied a basic education, no amount of technology will turn things around." Food for thought, indeed. -- Kimberly

If you've got books to recommend, we'd love to hear them. Drop us a line or post in the comments section.
Happy reading!

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.
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