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What We're Reading in 2023

Pause, breathe and read.

Don Sanford 

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I’m half way through Michener’s sweeping historical human drama novel, Caribbean. It starts with the early settlers landing in the West Indies and barrels through 500 plus years of life in the peaceful ocean concentrating mainly on the stretch of tiny islands from Cuba to Trinidad, and many related places along the coast in Central America. We become familiar with pirates and famous buccaneers (Captain Morgan of the famed rum), military leaders and sailors fighting for land (from Spain, England and France), and barons who manage powerful sugar plantations with abusive slavery as a backbone of their operations. Sometimes inspiring, sometimes sad, sometimes horrific and other times beautiful … with Michener you will run the gamut of human emotions while also coming to understand how we got where we are today. He is a master of bringing history to life.

The Road is a Pulitzer Prize winning book by Cormac McCarthy (he also penned All the Pretty Horses) set in a post-apocalyptic 2006. It follows the journey of a father and son as they move south in a desolate world fraught with danger and mystery at every turn. It’s a quick, edge-of-your-seat read and you really aren’t sure what will become of these two characters until they reach their final destination. Creepy and yet captivating at the same time, I marvel at how this tale parallels the feeling we had living through the pandemic, even though it was written fourteen years prior to Covid.

Julia Wolf

A friend gave me this book for Christmas. If you followed the Olive and Mabel videos during the COVID-19 shutdown (which I obviously did!), you’ll love Cotter’s loving explanation of how his Labrador Retrievers, Olive and Mabel, inspired him and translated into videos that uplifted us all!

Provides an important understanding of the Federal Reserve Bank and its impact on the U.S. economy.

Glen Gonzalez

A.E. Stallings studied classics in Athens, Georgia, and now lives in Athens, Greece. Fitting, since her poetry is known for use of classical forms and allusions. I think I discovered Stallings while searching for translations of The Nature of Things by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius. (Her translation was published in 2007.) While all this may sound like the kind of stuffy academic prattle that turns most people away from poetry, Stallings work is accessible, fresh and modern. Check out the opening stanza to Pop Music:

The music that your son will listen to
To drive you mad
Has yet to be invented. Be assured,
However, it is approaching from afar
Like the light of some Chaldean star.

Rhyme, rhythm, form and a reference to ancient Mesopotamians all in a mother’s lament about the state of popular music. That’s Stallings.

Or take her poem Olives. Each line includes an anagram of the word “olives” and it’s 19 lines long. Is love / so evil?

Her work seems so simple, but it’s a masterclass in the art and craft of poetry. Once I started reading her work, I was hooked and have started buying every one of her collections I can get my hands on.

Trey Wood

I fell in love with noir early on – books and movies. In a college class many years ago, my first exposure to the ideas expressed in this broad category of cynicism and moral ambiguity came in the form of Dashiell Hammett’s writings. My first reads were his Red Harvest, The Big Knockover and The Dain Curse—all these focusing on his iconic character the Continental Op, a short, fat, unimaginably tough private investigator whose name we never learn.

A new year’s resolution has been to revisit some of the books, characters and movies that first struck my interest in noir and the modern response to its fatalism that has come, in my view, in the popularizing of Marcus Aurelius’ stoicism. Well, I’m beginning where I started—with Red Harvest. It’s not only a fabulous detective story, it’s a classic tale of corruption that is purely American in its violence and lonely individual hero.

Gretchen Vaught

This year my kids and I together read (“Chariots of Fire”) Eric Liddell’s biography. It was an inspiring example of Divine talent “wasted” for others instead of self. A poignant contrast to current cultural messages teens are overwhelmed with.

Though I don’t usually enjoy fiction, The Songbook of Benny Lament was both captivating and entertaining.

Allison Artnak

I came across a podcast from neurologist Dr. Perlmutter on dementia that touched on the link between purines, high uric acid and dementia (not to mention a host of other conditions that can be influenced by inflammation) that I found quite fascinating. I have only gotten through the first chapter but have already learned a bunch.

I wasn’t familiar with Mary Reynolds until I recently watched the movie Dare to be Wild, the journey of how Mary won the Chelsea Flower Show. I enjoyed her passion for restoring native ecosystems to develop beautiful spaces and sanctuaries. I researched her a bit after watching the movie and found she had just published this book that also incorporates lovely illustrations. I can’t wait to dig in!

A humorous novel about a woman scientist in the 1960s that becomes a star of a TV cooking show.

Amy Crowell

A novelist scratching for his second bestseller uses the idea of a former student, newly discovered dead, as the premise of his book and then suffers at the threat of being exposed. If you are in it for the mystery, you may be disappointed as it likely will be prematurely solved. But the writing is fine, and the main character’s angst is sympathetic. Thoroughly enjoyed.

One morning, at exactly the same moment, every person in the world receives a box that holds the answer to the exact number of years they will live. Everyone faces the same dilemma: Do they wish to know how long they’ll live? And, if so, what will they do with that knowledge? I’ll find out when I’ve read more than 3 chapters.

Norine Cannon

Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus
An historical fiction book about an independent, strong woman in the 60s. She’s a scientist whose career takes a detour when she becomes the reluctant star of a TV cooking show. It’s funny and poignant at the same time, addressing issues faced by so many women today.

Fun, firsthand accounts from 100 years of Hollywood history. It’s a compilation of interviews with the biggest names in front of and behind the camera, as well as lesser-known individuals who shaped what was seen and heard on screen—from the archives of the American Film Institute.

Michael Garcia

Yes, the same Michael Mann who wrote and directed the 1995 movie Heat with Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, wrote this novel—his first—as a 466-page prequel and sequel to his original story. I had to read it, at least to find out what happened to a heartbroken Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer) after he got the no-go sign from Charlene. If you’re following, welcome, you’re a Heat devotee like me. The book didn’t disappoint. I encourage you to read it…or don’t. It’s a free country, brother.

Truth be told, I received this book for Christmas and haven’t started it yet. McCarthy is one of my favorite authors. I’m more than ready to soak up another of his stories, even if a little nervous that his new work (it’s been since 2006!) won’t live up to the greatness of his past.

Rick Cole

A quirky little book (The cover is on backwards.) promoting the courageous pursuit of creativity and innovation. With a dizzying array of historical examples, quotes and photographs, Kessels (a successful adman and provocative artist) takes dead aim at the myth of perfection and its stunted offspring—safe mediocrity.

I found this in our voluminous used bookstore, Chamblin Bookmine. It caught my eye for two reasons. First, Disney and the State of Florida are having a protracted falling out for the first time. Second, native son Carl Hiaasen is a witty and deeply knowledgeable chronicler of Florida’s transformation over the past 50 years.

As a third generation Floridian born in 1965, my life has run parallel to Disney World’s inception and its unimaginable impact on the natural, economic and cultural nature of Florida. For the record, I miss Old Florida.

Scott Walters

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What We're Reading

Our nightstands are overflowing with good reads.

Glen Gonzalez (Click on our name to access to our LinkedIn pages)

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl.

Even though they are considered a standard bearer for my generation, I wasn’t a big Nirvana fan when they broke through; but they had an undeniable impact on rock music. Over the years, though, I have become a fan of Dave Grohl’s various music projects: Probot, Them Crooked Vultures, the Sound City documentary and, of course, Foo Fighters. He’s easily rock’s greatest ambassador and it’s most dynamic catalyst right now. I don’t typically read books like this but my wife picked it up for me and, so far, it’s been worth the read. 

The Poetry of Freedom

I found a used copy of this 1948 anthology on the theme of freedom while browsing a small bookstore. I was immediately intrigued. It includes religious poems, anti-religious poems, patriotic poems, poems of battle and poems from “our enemies” in war. It includes works both familiar and unexpected, domestic and international, resulting in a panoramic, human perspective on the concept of liberty — one worth revisiting and relishing. 

Jennifer Needham 

Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon

My reading lurched across the spectrum in 2021. Everything from Whiskey in a Teacup (Reese Witherspoon’s cookbook/Southern entertaining guide) to The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Tyson. Tyson’s book reads like a novel, taking Till’s story from Chicago to Mississippi.

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith

My favorite book of the year — and the one I’ve given as a gift several times — was How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith. If you want to broaden your perspective and learn about erased history, start with Smith’s book. Smith is a poet and his book is worth the read not only for his explorations but also for his writing. Oddly enough, I’ve learned about my own family history from both the Tyson and Smith books. What a gift.

Don Sanford 

The Overstory by Richard Powers

I’m currently reading The Overstory by Richard Powers. It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction and was released in 2018, back before the pandemic crept into our lives and changed everything. While the book is essentially about trees, it’s mostly about the people who live around the trees and about their lives. It is masterfully written and a surprisingly engaging read, given the subject is, well, trees. 

I’m also reading, or shall I say, perusing, The History of Art in 50 Paintings. I read clips from it on occasion because I want to better understand Art and how we got where we are today. It’s a chore sometimes, but I find it helps me by making me more aware of Art … and sometimes it even helps me answer a query or two on Jeopardy. I am woefully ignorant about most topics in Art. This book helps me be less so.

Amy Crowell 

Stoner by John Williams

Currently finishing Stoner on the recommendation of Trey on the recommendation of Rick. (One of the many benefits of working with smart people.)

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart.

On the shelf is Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart, my first read set in the pandemic.

At Night All Blood is Black, by David Diop about a Sengalese villager who finds himself fighting  with the French army during World War I. It’s first up on the virtual book club my college roommates and I are starting this month.

Julia Wolf

The Last Negroes at Harvard by Kent Garrett and Jeanne Ellsworth

“The Last Negroes at Harvard: The Class of 1963 and the 18 Young Men Who Changed Harvard Forever” by Kent Garrett. I decided to order this book after reading an intriguing review in the WSJ. At this point I’m about halfway through the book. As a white woman who is only slightly younger than the group described in the book, I found it to be a profoundly compelling read, and fascinating snapshot of our society as a whole.

One Man’s West by David Lavender

“One Man’s West” by David Lavender. I bought this several years ago while on a visit to Arizona. It’s a fascinating (and sometimes cringe-worthy) look at life in the American West in the 20s and 30s.

Michael Garcia

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

A wonderful novel about baseball — one of my favorite things — that’s not really about baseball at all.

Allison Artnak

All the Colors of Life written and illustrated by Lisa Aisato

I came across this book online while Christmas shopping. I wasn’t familiar with the author/illustrator, Lisa Aisato, but apparently she is a well-known illustrator in Norway. I looked at sample pages online and thought it was incredible, so I ordered one as a gift and one for myself. I was absolutely blown away by the creativity and illustration. And even better, it’s a story of experiences in sequential order from childhood through adulthood (it’s 192 pages, but there is one sentence or two per spread, so it is a super fast read, but you linger on each page to soak in the beauty and all of the detail in each full-spread illustration). It is lovely on so many levels. She has written and illustrated six other books that I will explore sometime in the future.

David McCandless is an author, photo-journalist and information designer in the U.K. I first learned of David and his work while looking for unique infographics roughly 10 years ago and came across his website ( I bought his first book (it was awesome!) and since then, visit his website at least four times a year to see what’s new in the world of infographics. He has a new book (Beautiful News:…) that will be released in the U.S. in March that I have pre-ordered and I can’t wait to get my hands on.

Sara Levinson

This is John U. Bacon’s account of the 1918 explosion of the cargo ship Mont-Blanc in Halifax harbor. The 2.9 kiloton TNT explosion, the most powerful ever excepting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leveled the surrounding city and caused a thirty-five-foot tsunami. The choices made that day ultimately killed 11,000…but heroic and remarkable efforts saved thousands. 

Norine Cannon 

Come Fly the World by Julie Cooke

Fascinating stories from Pan Am flight attendants who worked for the airline in the late 60s to mid-70s. Required to have a college degree and speak two languages, they played a role in the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon. Good discussion on sexism, gender and racial discrimination.

The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglass Abrams

Goodall makes an argument for hope in these challenging times. She highlights some of the positive changes happening in the world and shares stories of the exquisite wonders of nature.

Trey Wood

Post Office by Charles Bukowski

Like most who know of Bukowski, I was introduced to his writing through his poetry which, on occasion, is not filled with obscenities. But those are rare moments just as his output of novels was rare. While he produced thousands of poems and hundreds of short stories, the writer only completed six novels. Post Office takes the grimly hysterical world of Bukowski’s poetry and stretches it to novel length. If you never get offended, Charles Bukowski is up for the challenge. 

A History of Britain by Simon Schama

This is one of those wonderful books that accompanies a documentary series one might see on PBS or the History Channel. In fact, Schama’s documentary of the same name first appeared in the US in just that manner twenty years ago. Unfortunately, I did not see the series but I have enjoyed the book immensely, particularly the facts and speculations that intertwine to tell the story of Britain 3500 B.C. to the time of the first Romans. 

Nature’s God by Matthew Stewart

This beautifully written book is the retelling of our country’s founding. Stewart endeavors to convince the reader that the American experiment, as envisioned by the likes of Jefferson, Franklin, Paine and many others, was not just a liberation from non-representational government but also a demand from the tyranny of super natural religion. Occasionally, Stewart comes close to invoking Dan Brown and the reader expects someone from the Illuminati to be quoted. But he manages to avoid that trap and produces a very interesting read. 

Rick Cole

Together by Vivek Murthy M.D.

Covid has physically cut us off from one another. Social media, instead of connecting us, creates more desire for human warmth than any cold LED can muster (or worse, causes us to cancel each other). Should we be surprised that there’s a crisis of loneliness?

Dr. Murthy explains how loneliness is more than just sad. It’s an epidemic contributing to disease, despair and violence. His book is solidly informative, warmly compassionate and reminder about what’s important and how to nurture it.

Beyond HR by J. W. Boudreau and P.M. Ramstad.

“Human Capital” is not just a clever rebrand. It’s an emerging approach to work that leverages technology to optimize the management of personnel and assignment. Boudreau posits a future role for HR departments that pushes them far beyond their traditional roles of talent acquisition and compliance toward full immersion into managing/maximizing of people, teams and processes. Fascinating book.

Haven’t They Suffered Enough? Beano Cooke and John Lukas

As corporate media continues culling true characters and eccentric personalities from onscreen talent pools, it’s wonderful to reminisce over the words of a Beano Cooke. This old school sports journalist was a fantastic raconteur and innovative media talent. (Beano was a co-founder of College Game Day.)

This book is Beano in his own words — writings and stories compiled by his protege and mentee John Lukas. If you love great story telling, college football, or laughing, read this book.

Scott Walters

The Cult of Trump by Steven Hassan

Regarding current events, Steven Hassan’s “The Cult of Trump: A Leading Cult Expert Explains How the President Uses Mind Control” struck me as an important piece. Cultural trends, and lessons learned from history, sparked my interest in the subject of Hassan’s book. I’m hoping this book shed light on a very disruptive, growing ethos.

Mythologies by Roland Barthes

Like most folks, I was introduced to Barthes in college but have always wanted to dig a little deeper. “Mythologies” has particular relevance for designers — speaking specifically about his writings on Semiology (study of signs and symbols). Understanding how individuals and communities assign meaning to things is very much in my wheelhouse. 

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Reimagined Healthcare

April Kyle's Keynote Address

Reimagine is one of those words that marketers have latched onto that probably should be reserved for solutions that are important, real and seriously proposed. 

Because reimagine is the right word for what has happened to healthcare at the Nuka System of Care in Alaska. Imagine a system where patients are owners, and preventing illness is as important as curing illness. 

Smith was a proud sponsor of the 2021 Aspirational Healthcare Conference. The CEO of Nuka, April Kyle, was the keynote speaker. Her presentation is an inspirational and informative explanation of how Nuka has actually reimagined healthcare.  

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What We're Reading.

Here’s what’s under our reading lamps in 2021.

Allison Artnak

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo

Conversations about biases, racism and how they infect nearly every aspect of life.

Presence by Amy Cuddy

How to bring your boldest, most authentic self to challenging situations.

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

A memoir about growing up as the daughter of Steve Jobs.

Norine Cannon

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

He’s a great storyteller and his reflections on his presidency and his life confirm what I’ve always thought—he’s a good man.

Is This Anything? by Jerry Seinfeld

A compilation of his favorite material over his long career. I also admire his dedication to his craft, choosing to return to stand up vs. retiring on a beach (on his own island, probably).

Mary Cohen

The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge

Such a hopeful book. It’s only recently that neuroscientists have confirmed the plasticity of the brain. Reminiscent of the late Oliver Sacks, Doidge presents the latest research and case studies to bolster research findings. As he says, “the true marvel is … the way … the brain has evolved, with sophisticated and neuroplastic abilities and a mind that can direct its own unique restorative process of growth.

The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search for the Past by Meave Leakey

Yes. Meave is part of “that” Leakey family. The daughter-in-law of Louis and Mary Leakey and part of three generations of paleoanthropological royalty, she tells her story along with her youngest daughter, Samira. Her discoveries have changed how we think about our origins. Instead of straight-line, ape-to-human progression, her work suggests human species living simultaneously.

What It’s Like to be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing —What Birds Are Doing, and Why by David Allen Sibley

During the early days of the pandemic, so many commentators marveled at their ability to hear the birds singing. It was finally quiet enough to hear birdsong. Birdsong. Is there anything more beautiful or hopeful? This encyclopedia of bird behavior contains a whopping 330 illustrations, many of them life size. Browsing through this volume, it is exciting to learn as much as possible about the creatures that we share this planet with—creatures we can finally hear. 

Rick Cole

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

Modern man has forgotten how to breath properly, says James Nestor. I had no idea that breathing with the proper tempo, depth and even orifice has a such powerful impact on health, emotional wellbeing and even disease vectors. Who knew breathing would be such a big deal in 2020?

Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America by Chris Arnade

No matter how many Lululemons and Whole Foods are in your neighborhood, you are only a short drive away from a much harsher America. A successful Wall Street banker, Arnade took long walks to clear his mind. On one walk he stumbled into a surprising community⏤poor, drug addicted, hopeless, dispossessed and forgotten New Yorkers living where Manhattan meets the Bronx. Over time he befriended and then photographed the residents of Hunts Point in a remarkably respectful manner. After discovering “back row America” is everywhere, Arnade left his job on Wall Street to introduce them to us. This book touched me deeply.   

Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan B. Petersen

Imagine Moses, Fredrich Nietzsche, Charles Darwin, Joseph Campbell, Malcolm Gladwell and Dr. Laura coming together to help us understand how our universe, biology, psychology, history and more create a framework for the ways we see and believe “reality.” Fascinating!

Amy Crowell

Empathy: Why It Matters, And How to Get It by Roman Krznaric

This book inspired the A Mile in My Shoes traveling museum, a collection of curated  personal stories in the form of short podcasts where the listener also walks around in the author’s shoes. 

Standoff: Race, Policing and a Deadly Assault that Gripped a Nation by Jamie Thompson 

Jamie was my college roommate. Its timeliness is apparent. Included on a short list of books recommended to read about this issue. Plus, I always love giving her a plug.

Also, The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington (see below). The latest by another contemporary of mine at Furman University. I enjoyed his first novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Homeland Elegies: A Novel by Ayad Akhtar

Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies that Delivered the Opioid Epidemic by Eric Eyre.

Eric Eyre and Ayad Akhtar were on a list of 2020 books recommended by the New York Times Book Review and given to me at Christmas. Hope to make it through before next Christmas.

Michael Garcia

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington

This is the second novel from an old college buddy who everyone knew would always write amazing novels. As predicted, it’s really good.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Inspiring and disturbing, this alt-history page-turner will keep you thinking.

The Expats by Chris Pavone

When you just want to read something fun.

Glen Gonzalez

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Because I’m craving a classic.

How to Read the Constitution and Why by Kim Wehle

Because it feels necessary.

A Village Life by Louise Gluck

Because this is a score for American poets. She was the first American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 27 years.

Pity the Reader by Kurt Vonnegut and Suzanne McConnell 

Because Vonnegut has a distinct and quirky literary voice and I’m curious to hear his perspective on the craft.

Don Sanford

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

His second novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. It is a fascinating glimpse into a dark time in American history seen through the eyes of a young black man in a segregated reform school in the South just one generation removed.

The Stand by Stephen King

I have always been a fan of King and, so far, I think this might be his finest work. Also, while the book was written decades ago, it is so relevant to what we are seeing in the world as the subject of the novel is a global pandemic. Wonderful character development and a real pager tuner. I can’t put it down.

Julia Wolf

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell.

The book is about how choices made without thinking aren’t actually as simple as they may seem. 

America Was Hard to Find: A Novel by Kathleen Alcott. 

The story, beginning in the late fifties, of a brief love affair and the child who resulted.   

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. 

The book traces the known history of our “most feared ailment” from its earliest appearances over five thousand years ago to the present, and the war that is still being waged.

Trey Wood

A Torch Kept Lit: Great Lives of the 20th Century by William F. Buckley, Jr.

Among Buckley’s many talents was an ability to see promise in most people regardless of their politics. This collection of that most challenging of the written arts – the eulogy – demonstrates both Buckley’s talent and his gift for seeing the best in people. Here, he shares final thoughts concerning 52 souls, including figures some readers might be surprised to see this famous political conservative comment upon in such fashion, such as John Lennon, Jerry Garcia and John Kenneth Galbraith. 

Let’s Connect

If you’ve read one of these or have a great suggestion of your own, we’d love to hear from you. 

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