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Why your summer reading list could be the most effective tool for building empathy

June 24, 2022, 10:08 PM UTC

Happy Friday.

Readers sounded the alarm over the erosion of LGBTQ+ rights this week. The consensus was that leaders must speak.

One reader name Anne wrote in to say that conservative leaders often use one of two paths to manipulate perceptions of the LGBTQ+ community for political ends. That’s the cycle that needs to end, she says.

“One is to mock the failure of the progressive community to understand that the ‘electorate’ is only interested in how people are doing economically and sometimes foreign policy threats. The second is to cherry-pick individual incidents that conflate criminal acts with sexual identity.”  Political operatives, behind the scenes, gleefully watch the public respond to these incidents and count on misplaced outrage to drive votes, she says. “Leadership….all leadership….needs to find its voice.  It is a tricky political calculus but so are most issues when there’s such a deeply and emotionally divided public. And sadly, there will be little probative reasoning in the media. I hate that I think we have some more lost battles though I still hope there’s a war to be won.”

Keep the mail coming.

Now, in the spirit of understanding each other better (and in the search for more micro-moments of joy) I’d like your help in crowd-sourcing a new reading list that might also help us have an inspiring summer.

I’m looking for fiction works, from any era or style, to give our imaginations a boost and offer a legitimate break from the news of the day. And I’m looking for one of two things.

  • A book that helped you feel seen in a particularly powerful way.
  • Alternatively, a book written by someone very different from you which has inspired you, or helped you better understand the lived experience of others.

I’ll start.

I am currently in the middle of The Book of Form and Emptiness, the glorious fourth novel by Ruth Ozeki, a Canadian-American Soto Zen priest who in an earlier life was an art director on low-budget horror films. That checks the “different from me” box in several delightful ways.

The novel recently won the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and deservedly so—it is an original and inspiring story of love, family, grief, and the power of books, elevated by Buddhist ideas. It follows the story of a 13-year-old boy who begins to hear the voices of the objects around him after the tragic death of his father. I loved it from the very first word.

“As a child, I related to objects as though they were semi-sentient, and even now I think about the stories that things could tell if only they could speak,” Ozeki said. “Do things (trees, pebbles, toaster ovens, nuclear reactors, etc.) speak? Can they teach us about life? About reality? Obviously, the answer is yes, if we could only learn to listen.”

In her acceptance speech for the Women’s Prize, she also made a plea for the power of stories to change the world.

“I wanted to call out the names of the women who have supported me, because now more than ever this is a time that we need to speak out and rewrite the dominant narratives that have landed us into quite dire straits,” she said.

Sounds like a job for a good book.

You can use this short form to submit your recommendations. I look forward to seeing the world through your eyes.

Wishing you an imaginative weekend.

Ellen McGirt
@ellmcgirt
Ellen.McGirt@fortune.com

This edition of raceAhead was edited by Ashley Sylla.

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Your micro-moment of joy is the greatest wedding vow you’ll ever hear Just trust me on this.

Parting words

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”

—Argentine essayist and poet Jorge Luis Borges

 

This is the web version of raceAhead, Fortune’s daily newsletter on race, culture, and inclusive leadership. To get it delivered daily to your inbox, sign up here.