Our 5 Favorite Books for Labor Day Reading

You’ve seen hundreds of lists of summer beach reads…  But how about recommendations for Labor Day reads?

book reading

What does Labor Day mean to you? For so many, it’s the unofficial end of summer. For some anxious and ardent fans, it’s the official beginning of Fall sports season (yes, we mean American football). For many of the younger folks, it’s back to school time. For a few of us, that can mean – finally, some time to read!

So sit back, pour yourself a glass of lemonade and put your feet up. Labor Day is the perfect day to start a book and get immersed in a world, topic, or place that you might or might not be familiar with. The tireless staff at Julianna Rae happens to be an incorrigible group of reading jockeys so they put together their favorites for Fall reading.  It’s slightly heavier than Summer beach reading but oh so worth the weight!

Bill C. – Warehouse Operations

African Nights: True Stories from the Author of I Dreamed of Africa 

by Kuki Gallmann

African NightsI’ve been reading this book for years; first as a reluctant partner in my night time sleep ritual, later as a periodic reminder of the true wonders and joy of living in  Africa, where I lived for several years. Over time, it became more of a friend and companion, one of the measures of peace I found in coming back home at the end of the week.

Kuki Gallmann’s stories will not take you to a Kenya that is ripe with corruption, brutality and shocking urban poverty. Kuki Gallmann doesn’t have to inhabit that part of life so real to millions of Kenyans.  In “African Nights,” the closest brush she has with present day Kenya is the singular, brutal, life-changing death of her husband in the jaws of the mechanical killer “matatu.” The impact is vividly portrayed.Then,poof! it’s gone. Back to elephants, sunsets, majestic camels, mysticism and the serenely beautiful Kenyan coastal islands. In an ironic twist, her idyllic ranch at Lailiputa serves as an education center to introduce young Kenyans to the Kenya she inhabits and writes about.

If you have lived or worked in Africa, you have to reach a pact – or an understanding – with Ms. Gallmann. You have to accept that she knows that the Kenya, she lives in is complex and troubled but that she chooses to write about the Kenya that is still also true, that of majesty and wonder, of many simple, touching moments that connect us with this beautiful planet and the natural world of which we are such a small part. She writes about people who, perhaps primitively but no less fully are still intimately connected to the rhythms of this natural world, and the metaphysical world they envision around it.

Once you’ve done this; once you open the book and lay aside the nagging, troubling question of why someone with her advantages didn’t engage herself more in improving the lot of Kenya and the Kenyans and less in appreciating the life and luxuries of a 20th century colonial, then you can enjoy her observations, her sensitivity, her writing. For there really is a Kenya and Kenyans that Ms. Gallmann describes, and she does a wonderful job of slowing you down andbreaking down your defenses so you can appreciate the world that she inhabits and the things that she sees. And what a show!If you’ve been there, particularly if you’ve lived there, you will be transported back and your heart will be full, your eyes occasionally moist because you’ve known her sense of wonder, you’ve drawn hope for the world from a desert sunrise and a long string of camels silhouetted against the distant horizon. If you haven’t, you’ll research airfares.

As one commentator noted, Kuki Gallmann may not win the parenting award of the year, (she is really pretty whacky if you take the time to think about the situations she puts her and her family in), but she is clearly grateful for emigration to Kenya and full with a zest for exploration that made this reader, at least, happy to be along for the ride.

Leah S. – Brand Management

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer 

By Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Emperor of all MaladiesThis massive comprehensive biography begins with a story that takes place in present day: A young woman has been diagnosed with leukemia, and she is scared. From there, “The Emperor of All Maladies” sets off to document our understanding of cancer, a disease that kills over eight million people around the world each year.

Cancer has baffled humans for thousands of years. The first mention of this disease – “a bulging mass in the breast” – was written in papyrus dating back to 2500 BC. Here, the ancient surgeon writes  the prescription for treatment: there is none.

Mukherjee, an oncologist and researcher, vividly recounts the numerous physicians, scientists, philanthropists and other individuals who have worked to conquer this complex disease. He describes the scientific successes and set-backs. He examines the often grisly surgical treatment given to patients over the years, as doctors were figuring out how best to rid individuals of their tumors.

The majority of the book begins with the story of Sidney Farber, considered the father of modern chemotherapy. That was in the 1940s and 50s when Farber’s success with treating childhood cancer led to an optimism that curing this disease was around the corner. Before Farber’s chemotherapy, nine of every ten of these children would have died relatively quickly. In the early 1970s, with Farber’s prodding and the help of a philanthropist, the War on Cancer began.

Cancer has proven to be not one disease, but many. And Mukherjee explains the cellular underpinnings of these diseases clearly and in detail. He often writes in metaphors, making the science relatable and beautiful. With historical accounts and detail, Mukherjee conveys the excitement when researchers first saw cancer cell’s growth, the workings of a cancer cell and how a persons’ immune system responds.

And always, Mukherjee weaves personal and moving stories of cancer patients’ struggles into the journey of examining the disease.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Emperor of All Maladies also explores cancer prevention and the politics of public health. The book recounts how tobacco companies fought the research — and researchers, for example. Shifting into the modern day, Mukherjee highlights today’s genetic contributions in the field and several of the researchers leading this work.

Decades after the War on Cancer began, this “war” has moved more slowly than many had predicted but it is progressing, as this powerful book shows.

Danielle K. – IT

The Summer Book

by Tove Jansson

the_summer_bookTove Jansson’s beautiful little book deserves the attention of lazy summer days. You shouldn’t read through this book but sift through it, like you stare at beach sand running through your fingers or pushing up through your toes. You want to feel warm and unhurried as you move through each of her twenty-two “vignettes” – about a young girl, her grandmother, her always present but somewhat remote father, her always absent but ever present mother and the island life that defines their lives.

Ms. Jansson’s stories are simple yet they deserve your undivided attention. Don’t expect a typical novel – these truly are “vignettes” – like snapshots in a literary photo album. The characters are real, well-defined but perhaps because they were Scandinavian (Finnish to be exact), or perhaps just because they formed a different family, they were somewhat foreign to me. Sophie, the main character, is a child who mingles with adults, comfortable with their dialogue but realistically afraid of what she doesn’t yet know. Her grandmother is her frequent companion. The lack of age-based condescension between her grandmother and her was striking to me. Not unbelievable, just new. The characters use few words and answer each other curtly, despite their differences in age and authority. And they grouse about each other with a distance or lack of an interest to control that was at odds with what I know as typical between adults and children. But, unsettling as it is, the characters are believable and remarkably entertaining and together become a beautiful story of life, love, death, caring, and nature itself.

In the end, though, it is the backdrop of this book that endures. An island and a season, shaping the daily lives, the dreams and the prayers of the characters. It’s a short walk around the island but you’ll want to take time to take all in.

Renee R. – Media Assets

Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction

Maia Szalavitz

d127bf9937412311950f6a706700c5f3On a cab ride to a doctor’s appointment, I listened to an NPR interview with Maia Szalavitz about her recent book Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction. In the piece, Szalavitz — a science writer and former heroin addict – challenges current standards for prevention and treatment. As the cab rolled through rush hour traffic, I struggled to hear the interview; the radio volume was too low. I hesitated to ask the driver to turn it up, feeling my interest in the subject would pique his curiosity. A telling detail, considering the much of the book centers on the stigma and stereotypes surrounding addiction.

In the interview, Szalavitz is humble and informative, and that tone characterizes her book.

In Unbroken Brain, she interweaves her personal story of drug use and her arrest at the age of 23 with an overview of the history of drug laws, the science behind addiction and the philosophy of current treatment programs. Within both the personal and the journalistic accounts, her insights upend our assumptions about psychology, education and people.

Memorable passages explore the topic from unique vantage points. For example, Szalavitz believes that as a child she might have been on the autism spectrum and writes about how this shaped her perceptions. Various chapters discuss the effects of bullying and labels; the racism that shaped early drug laws; epigenetics; the AIDS epidemic; the criminal justice system; and the media coverage of crack in the 80s.

Ultimately, Szalavitz sees addiction as a learning disorder and calls for a thoughtful reform of treatment programs.

Occasionally the book demands patience in wading through complex research results. But with overdoses and debates on legalization continuously in the news, Unbroken Brain arms the average citizen to evaluate and contribute to an important conversation.

Daria M. – Product Development

Notes From the Internet Apocalypse: A Novel

By Wayne Gladstone

17934640Since I spend  lots of time with teen agers whose phones are their lifeline I thought this little novel would be a fun read.  The first book in a trilogy by Wayne Gladstone, a longtime columnist for Cracked.com, takes a satirical look at what happens to humanity when the internet suddenly stops working.

What does it look like?  For the first time people are forced to look at each other rather than their phones, desperate hookups are written on index cards and tacked to real bulletin boards, and people, forced to find tangible entertainment try to get cats to perform tricks.  A quick read at only 224 pages, Gladstone picks up the pace with the down-and-out protagonist (named after himself) and gathers a wiley group of friends to help him search for answers.

But Gladstone fooled me: what I thought would be a satirical novel full of memes and mockery becomes a quest for the protagonist to find his true self.  Not especially likeable (none of the characters really are), Gladstone’s frivolous journey to bring the internet back to society transforms into a quest to reconnect to humanity.

What have you been reading this Summer?  What was the worst or best book you read? Share your recommendations with us!