Minerva’s holiday reading list

Happy Holidays, everyone. At Minerva Strategies, we feel the need to kick-back, relax, and stockpile the resolve we will need to go on doing good in a difficult political environment.

 

We’re doing this the best way we know how – mining great stories for wisdom and inspiration. Here are three suggestions for good reads in front of the fire, on a plane, or as you’re avoiding a conversation with your ultra-conservative uncle. If you have any suggestions for things you think we’d like, please tweet them to @SVeltkamp, or @JoyPortella. We love recommendations!

 

Chasing the Scream: The First and the Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari

This book will challenge how you think and feel about addiction and the people it hurts. It is a real-world epic that covers the war on drugs through the death and misery of people who suffer from addiction; families torn apart by drug cartels in Juarez, Mexico; and the many people suffering in US prisons for drug-related crime. The book explores possibilities for the resolution of this war from surprising sources in Vancouver, BC; Portugal; and small-town England.

 

The following passage resonates with feelings we struggle with daily in Seattle. Hari is walking in Vancouver, BC’s Downtown Eastside, an area known for the high incidence of addiction and homelessness. As he looks around at people selling whatever they can find – VHS tapes, shoes, their bodies – for their ability to numb the pain, he writes:

“I picture the look of judgment on the faces of people who stumble into this neighborhood by mistake. I can see them now. The people from stable families, who glance at addicts and shake their heads and say, ‘I would never do that to myself.’ I feel an urge to stop them […] and say – Don’t you see? You wouldn’t do this to yourself because you don’t have to. You never had to learn to cope with more pain than you could bear. You might as well look at somebody who had their legs amputated in a car crash and declare: ‘Well, I never would have my legs cut off.’ No. You haven’t been in a car crash. These addicts – they have been in car crashes of the soul.

And then, just as I am rehearsing this self-righteous lecture in my mind, I notice that I, too, am hurrying past the street addicts, with a look on my face that seems a like – what? Fear? Disgust? Superiority? Recognition?”

 

While this book is not a literary masterpiece, the stories and history will make you feel the full spectrum of human emotion: self-righteous anger, guilt, compassion, and sorrow. It has steeled our resolve to double-down on efforts to change the conversation around addiction, the war on drugs, and the people who are most hurt by it.

 

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces that will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly

Kelly has been called “the man who invented the internet,” a title that he is the first to revoke. But what he did do is reliably predicted how people would use the internet as it developed. In The Inevitable, he carries on this tradition by looking at the technological forces at play today and predicting how these forces will change the way we work, play, and interact with other humans and our technology. The best part of this book is that no tech expertise is needed to understand his ideas – though by the end of the book you will likely want to educate yourself more on the sector.

 

From things we can already see developing – a universal and highly networked library of all written words and new ways to curate our daily news – to the things we believe to be impossible, Kelly makes the trends approachable for anyone who wants to take the time to envision and embrace what’s next.

 

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen is a riveting historical fiction novel about a Viet Cong double agent who infiltrates both the South Vietnamese power elite and American society in the 1970s.

 

The Sympathizer has many great elements: sweeping history, great pacing, and hints of humor amidst waves of tragedy. But the best thing about the book is its anti-hero central character. The son of a Vietnamese woman and French priest, he inhabits many worlds easily but belongs to none. That enables him to simultaneously have a passion for the Communist revolution alongside a deep love for his South Vietnamese warrior best friend and an almost girl-crush affection for American culture. Like everyone, he’s complicated but his complexities run deeper than most at a pivotal time in American history. That makes for a fascinating read. For Nguyen’s thoughts on storytelling in the Trump era check out his opinion piece in the most recent New York Times Sunday Review.

 

Next up? We’re planning to get more familiar with the class divide in America. Sara picked up Deer Hunting with Jesus by Joe Bageant because the title could describe a typical fall day in her hometown in Michigan. Joy’s choice is The Unwinding by The New Yorker’s George Parker.

 

Happy holidays, happy reading, and we’ll see you all in the new year!