Twice a week leading up to the Conference, SVWC Associate Director Anne Taylor Fleming, who has a lifelong addiction to the written word, will share her enthusiasm and thoughts about books written by our SVWC 2021 presenters.

July 15, 2021

Funny in Farsi:  A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America

by Firoozeh Dumas

“This is one of those exuberant immigrant memoirs you can read again and again. Dumas and her family moved from Iran to Southern California when she was seven, arriving with no first-hand knowledge of their new country. In hilarious and heartfelt scenes, she shows the various members of her family trying to navigate the language, cuisine, and culture. Underneath their attempts to adapt there is a resilience and optimism (and yes, some wistfulness for what has been left behind) that will leave you smiling.”


July 13, 2021

Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came To Rule The World

by William D. Cohan

“With his customary blend of research and interviews, one of our best financial writers takes on wildly successful Goldman Sachs, illuminating the company’s huge successes and its internal power struggles. In Cohan’s deft and compelling read, you get a look at the most profitable investment bank of the modern era and how it operates. Cautionary and illuminating, the book is great for those who are conversant with the financial world but also for those who want to get up to speed on the greed and good times on Wall Street.”

July 8, 2021

Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown:  Verses for a Despotic Age

by John Lithgow

“Who knew that one of our most loved and respected actors would become the perfect bard for our times.  Such is the case of John Lithgow whose witty and pointed satirical verses have captured the dark and disturbing antics of the former president and those around him. Read them to laugh. Read them to remember. Read them to marvel at Lithgow’s amazing gift for rhymes. The poems are addictive and inventive with cautionary notes buried beneath the humor.”

July 6, 2021

Red White Blue

by Lea Carpenter

“The best spy novels combine a human story with the tense architecture of the thriller. Lea Carpenter uses her skills as a novelist and screenwriter to do precisely that in her gripping narrative about a young woman who must reckon with her dead father’s secret past. Intricate and intimate, the book takes us into the inner workings of the CIA and indeed, into the inner workings of a daughter’s heart as she tries to come to terms with the dark deeds of the parent she loved and thought she knew.”

July 1, 2021

Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran 

by Laura Secor

“Here is an essential book for right now. The dance we have done with Iran has never been more intricate and more fraught. Journalist Laura Secor has spent years reporting on, researching, and writing about Iran, a country that has fascinated and troubled the world since 1979 when it became the first revolutionary theocracy in modern times. Secor’s book is the best kind of political reporting, one that offers both a wide lens and a more intimate one, giving us the history of the country through profiles of the various citizens from activists to artists to journalists who call it home. If you had to read one volume about the complex soul of Iran, this would be it.”

June 29, 2021

A Matter of Trust: India-US Relations from Truman to Trump

by Meenakshi Ahamed

“With India so much in the news of late—due to the country’s anti-democratic tilt and its struggles with the pandemic—there is no better time to read this richly researched history of India-US relations. A journalist who was born in Calcutta and divides her time between the two countries, Ahamed offers a compelling and detailed account of that history, but also captivating portraits of the leaders and diplomats who managed the relationship.  Far from dry, this is a spirited and informative read full of intimate details, like the fact that President Harry Truman owned 96 pairs of shoes, including 21 pairs of slippers.”

June 24, 2021

This Boy’s Life

by Tobias Wolff

“A fine memoir is no less a work of art than a great novel. Tobias Wolff’s story of his tumultuous adolescence is in that category. Separated from his father and brother when his parents divorced, the young Toby and his mother are constantly on the move. Amid all the dislocation, he struggles to grow up – a task made harder by the hostility of his stepfather. The writing is luminous, the boy unforgettable. The book is an example of memoir-writing at its best. Wolff is also one of our finest short-story writers, so pick up one of his four collections, including the most recent: Our Story Begins: New and Selected Stories.”

June 22, 2021

The Daughters of Yalta

by Catherine Grace Katz

“Sometimes an enterprising writer finds a revelatory new slice of history. So it is with historian Catherine Grace Katz’s compelling first book about the three spirited and glamorous young women who accompanied their famous fathers to the Yalta Conference in February 1945. Kathleen Harriman, daughter of Averell Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Winston Churchill’s daughter Sarah, and F.D.R.’s daughter Anna witnessed a pivotal moment in world history as World War II finally came to a close. Reads like a riveting novel.”

June 17, 2021

Stranger Care:  A Memoir of Loving What Isn’t Ours

by Sarah Sentilles

“When they decided not to have a biological child, writer Sarah Sentilles and her husband Eric, turned to the foster care system to find a child, even as they knew they would most likely have to give the baby back. After years of navigating the system, they were finally given a three-day-old baby girl named Coco and the parental love was deep and immediate. Forewarned is not necessarily forearmed when it comes to the heart. This is an intimate, powerful story about the flaws in the foster care system, about learning to love a ‘stranger’ with everything in you and learning to let go.”

June 15, 2021

Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal

by George Packer

“What has happened to our country? A pandemic with an inept governmental response, protests and counter-protests, and a fiercely divisive election have left so many of us in despair. How did we get here, and how do we find our way back? These are the key questions National Book Award-winning writer George Packer answers in his essential new book, reminding us that our binding national narrative has been—and must continue to be—our shared passion for equality. This is a deeply researched cry from the heart.”

June 10, 2021

Disappearing Earth

by Julia Phillips

“Sometimes a book lands like a stunning gift from another world. So it is with Julia Phillips’ unexpected debut novel. One August afternoon on the shoreline of the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeastern Russia, two young sisters go missing. Their disappearance hangs over the book and the lives of the women we meet in the ensuing chapters. The portraits of these women are so varied and so vivid as is the evocation of their complicated and often thwarted lives—and their resilience—in an unstable post-Soviet Russia. I have not been able to get this story out of my mind.”

June 8, 2021

The Plague Year: America in the Time of Covid

by Lawrence Wright

“How did this happen? How did COVID-19 get loose to rampage through the country? In his new book, Lawrence Wright, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower, does a brilliant job of excavation—medical, moral, political, social—to answer these questions. From the halls of the White House to a hospital COVID-19 ward to the labs where the vaccines are made, he lays out the tragic, and sometimes uplifting, history of what we have all been living through and what the emotional and economic costs have been. This is non-fiction storytelling at its scrupulous and moving best.”

June 2, 2021

The Three Lives of James Madison: Genius, Partisan, President 

by Noah Feldman

“If you want to understand the country we live in today with its enduring democratic ideals and its fierce partisan divides, an essential book to read is Noah Feldman’s book on James Madison. We might be more familiar with the other Founding Fathers, but Feldman, the author of nine books and one of America’s most renowned constitutional scholars, offers a revelatory portrait of the man he sees as the pivotal architect of our republic. The President that emerges in this biography is brilliant, complex, and canny—and utterly compelling.”

May 31, 2021

The Library Book

by Susan Orlean

“If you grew up in a library, as I did, roaming the stacks and dreaming of adventures, literal and literary, you will be captivated by Susan Orleans’ book. With her characteristic blend of terrific reporting, wit and warmth, the consummate storyteller and longtime New Yorker staff writer unravels the story of the massive 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Public Library. While giving us a gripping read full of fascinating, often eccentric characters, she reminds us of the key role libraries play in the life of a city—and indeed, in all of our lives, even in this digital age.”

May 27, 2021

Five Days at Memorial

by Sheri Fink

“My admiration for Sheri Fink and the reporting work she does continues to surge, the very word that is the title of the new book she is working on about the pandemic. Her pieces from hospitals around the country and outside of it have been a high point of The New York Times’ coverage. She has put a human face on the numbers and the losses and highlighted the punishing inequalities in health care. This is exactly what she did in her remarkable book, Five Days at Memorial, about a hospital in post-Katrina New Orleans and the wrenching life-and-death decisions made there as the waters rose.  It is journalism at its very best, worth reading, (or rereading), to be reminded of what that excellence looks like.”

May 25, 2021

Homeland Elegies

by Ayad Akhtar

“In Ayad Akhtar’s fierce and brilliant book—a hybrid that blends fiction and non-fiction, journalism, and autobiography—the multi-talented novelist, actor and playwright takes a searing look at an immigrant family and the country they call home. In a wallop of pain and longing, he puts America and its founding and enduring myths under a microscope without losing the central drama of a father and son trying to find peace with each other and their place in this world.”

May 18, 2021

The Yellow House

by Sarah Broom

“If you have ever been haunted by a place, you will love Sarah Broom’s captivating memoir, The Yellow House, her magical evocation of her childhood home in a neglected part of New Orleans. Though the house was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, it comes vividly back to life in Broom’s story—which is not just about the shotgun house her mother Ivory Mae bought in 1961 where she raised Sarah and 11 other children, but also about the city itself, so alluring yet so full of racial and economic inequalities. A story of loss and resilience, the book won the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction.”

May 13, 2021

Facing the Mountain: Japanese American Heroes of World War II      

by Daniel James Brown

“Narrative storytelling does not get more compelling than Daniel James Brown’s new book about the thousands of Japanese American men who served in World War II.  Despite the intense anti-Asian bigotry, including the forced incarceration of so many Japanese families in concentration camps, many Japanese American men of draft age stepped up to fight for this country, emerging as some of the most decorated heroes. This is a story of America, of prejudice and patriotism, with resonance today given the renewed epidemic of anti-Asian sentiment and violence in the United States.”

May 11, 2021

Livewired:  The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain

by David Eagleman

“What does drug withdrawal have in common with a broken heart? Do you only feel empathy for those in your ingroups?  Why do we dream at night, and what does that have to do with the rotation of the earth? These are the kinds of fascinating questions Stanford University neuroscientist David Eagleman explores in his new book.  He is the ultimate guide for an in-depth tour of the three-pound organ we all carry in our skulls. Filled with magical and mind-blowing information, this is a book to share with family and friends.”

May 6, 2021

How To Love A Country: Poems

by Richard Blanco

“One of the heartening trends in these complicated and divisive times has been a hunger for the voice of the poet. No voice has spoken to the wounds of our country with as much beauty and depth as that of Richard Blanco, the fifth Presidential Inaugural Poet in U.S. history. To read any poem in his new collection — be it about the tragedy at the Pulse nightclub, or the pull on an immigrant’s heart — is to be filled with a buoyant sorrow and hope for the country he so clearly loves.”

May 4, 2021

An American Marriage

by Tayari Jones

“There is a reason An American Marriage by Tayari Jones won the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction. The book manages to speak about issues of social justice while giving us a heartbreaking love story. When Celestial’s husband Roy is imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, she must reckon with complicated choices in a reconfigured world. This lyrical and moving novel is perfect for our time – and yet timeless in its literary and emotional reach.”

April 29, 2021

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

by Elizabeth Kolbert

“If you want to be informed, alarmed, and somewhat heartened by a deeply reported look at climate change and those who are trying to reverse its effects, read Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book. A terrific journalist and storyteller, she takes us on an adventure to meet the researchers and scientists who are looking for ways to pull us back from the brink by preserving the world’s rarest fish or figuring out ways to cool the earth. It is a truly engaging read while reminding us that our very survival is at stake.”

April 27, 2021

Where the Crawdads Sing

by Delia Owens

“Delia Owens’ novel has been a literary phenomenon—selling 10 million copies. If you haven’t read it, do. If you have, reread it, as I just did, to be once more in the wild marshlands of coastal North Carolina with Kya, the abandoned girl who lives wild and free until loneliness pulls her out of her solitude. By an act of creative magic, the book moves from a sensory celebration of the natural world into a strange, compelling love story and murder mystery. Prepare to be transported.”

April 22, 2021

The Soul of a Woman

by Isabel Allende

“I am always looking for someone to say something witty, wise and new about being a woman. Here comes much-loved novelist Isabel Allende with a new memoir/manifesto, The Soul of a Woman. I found myself smiling reading it: at her zesty feminism, her lifelong determination to be liberated in all ways, professional and personal. A great message for young women—and those of us not so young.”

April 20, 2021

2034: A Novel of the Next World War

by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis

“If the phrase ‘cyber weaponry’ doesn’t ring bells, specifically alarm bells, just read this new novel by Elliot Ackerman, a former U.S. Marine, and Admiral James Stavridis, a retired four-star naval officer. Smart and scary, the book shows us how all of our sophisticated gadgets are nudging us—China and the U.S.—closer to the brink of World War III. Remember to breathe when you read it.”

SVWC 2021 Reading List