Column: Five Impactful Books to Commemorate Barbara Bush’s Legacy

Like all people my age, I was not alive while former President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush were in the White House. And if I am going to be completely honest, it was not until recently when I read the various obituaries of the late Barbara Bush that I really understood the impact she had in advocating for a more literate America.

As someone who was taught not only how to read, but how to love to read at a young age in the public education system, it is possible that I reaped the benefits of Barbara Bush’s professional work without realizing it.

In honor of the legacy of Barbara Bush, then, I have listed off the five books that have had the most impact on me in the past year in hopes that you, too, could fall in love with them.

  • H is for Hawk

Helen MacDonald’s 2015 memoir follows her story of taking in and caring for a domineering yet stoic goshawk; it is a beautifully written narrative about using affection to overcome the fierce pains of heartbreak. After her father’s death, MacDonald, a falconer, finds emotional refuge in the bird of prey, which she trains over years to respond to her whistle and obey her commands. Throughout the read, I could not help but feel overwhelmed by MacDonald’s raw, honest emotion that she conveys throughout the book. Reading how MacDonald learned to live and love without her father, I came away with a greater understanding of the power of empathy and compassion.

  • There Are No Children Here

A non-fiction account of life in the inner-city during the late 1980s, “There Are No Children Here” paints a gruesome picture of fervent street violence and pervasive racism. The author, Alex Kotlowitz, follows two young boys who grew up in deep poverty in the Henry Horner Homes on the west side of Chicago. In its entirety, the book is hard to read. Katlowitz’s stories are horrid; kids are coerced into joining gangs; the justice system is broken; the implications are incomprehensible. After finishing it, I do not believe it is possible for me to underestimate the hardships of the inner city.

  • The Bookseller of Kabul

Norwegian journalist Asne Seierstand mixes in her historical account of the establishment of democracy in Afghanistan with a sobering and eye-opening story of misogyny and male dominance in the Middle East weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Seierstand, disguising herself by wearing a burka, is able to live with a bookseller’s family in Kabul, Afghanistan, to document day-to-day life in the town. Other than being just a compelling narrative of life in a culture I am unfamiliar with, Sierestand’s book showcased the similarities in human emotion and societal power systems that are seemingly common in every culture.

  • Sully

I’m going to be completely honest — I have not watched the Tom Hanks dramatization of U.S. Airways Pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. The book, though, was the first one I picked up at the store because it was on sale at Target, and I was intrigued. Along with giving readers an inside look into the much-publicized story of Sully ditching his commercial plane into New York’s Hudson River — saving the lives of everyone on board — it also tells the not-as-publicized story of the pilot’s haunted state after the incident. Sully later has dreams of the same plane crashing into a building; he cannot stop reliving the moment the plane crashed into the Hudson. For the rest of his life, Sully displays anxiety and a lack of confidence in his decisions; for me, it was a powerful revelation that there is so much underneath every story of triumph.

  • My Father & Atticus Finch

Those who know me well know that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of my favorite novels. “My Father & Atticus Finch” is the true story of attorney Foster Beck’s defense of an African-American man in court in the 1930s that foreshadowed the court scene set up in Lee’s novel. Though Lee stated before her death that her novel was not based on any story she heard before, the similarities between Beck’s story and Lee’s are undebatable. Not only did the book show how the pervasive racism seen in Lee’s fictionalized justice system was very real during the time period, but I walked away from the book feeling encouraged by Beck’s recreation of his father’s courageous and righteous stand for racial justice.

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