Do you like to read? How would you describe yourself as a reader?
I love to read, but don’t always have as much time as I’d like for reading. I read a lot of non-fiction, and love to discuss books I’ve read with other people who enjoyed them.
What books would you recommend?
I like to recommend books that I found thought-provoking… I also enjoy lighter reading, but haven’t done as much of that recently. A few recent books I have read and would recommend are listed here.
Half the Sky (the Agnes Reads book this year) is very high on my list for thought-provoking (and wrath-inducing) and I highly recommend it, but be prepared to get a bit angry and frustrated.
I Am Malala is a book I picked up in an airport over the summer to read during a flight, and I found it really interesting. If you would like an advocate’s view of girls’ education, and a window into another culture that will help you think beyond the often simplistic view presented about women in Islam, this is the book for you. Her affection for her homeland, her religion, and other aspects of her culture are clear, which makes this a poignant story as her family encounters threats and violence.
While we’re on the subject of women and opportunity, I also recommend Lean In (Sheryl Sandberg). She has some important things to say about leadership and productivity in the workplace, and how we are all affected by issues of gender stereotyping and socialization (both conscious and unconscious).
Speaking of unconscious biases and other hazards of the human brain, Strangers to Ourselves (Timothy Wilson) discusses our adaptive unconscious brain functions and is a really interesting look at how we think even when we don’t know we’re doing it! I think this book is a great companion read for the issues faced by introverts that are discussed in Quiet (Susan Cain).
Another great book about our brains is My Stroke of Insight (Jill Bolte Taylor), which documents the process of a stroke as experienced by a neuroscientist looking at herself from both inside and out. She has a lot to say about how we understand the brain, how medical practice can improve in dealing with patients with brain injuries, and what it is possible to recover given the knowledge and the will to do so.
On the lighter side, two space books are fun and inspiring so I can recommend them as well: Packing for Mars (Mary Roach) and My Dream of Stars (Anousheh Ansari). Packing for Mars was recommended to me by Alan Koch, and is an in-depth look at what goes into human spaceflight in many ways that most people don’t consider. The book is investigative and interesting, yet lighthearted, and acknowledges the humor that often intersects with humans in space. Ansari’s book introduces the concept of space entrepreneurs, and documents her entire journey to the ISS, including her childhood dreams and nightmares in Iran. It is another great read about a Muslim woman and her accomplishments as well as her lifelong love of space.
Do you remember the first book you read or any childhood favorites?
I don’t remember the first book I read, but as a child, I really loved the ʺLittle Bearʺ books. As a parent, I loved reading them to my kids too – the stories are so sweet and true to the nature of childhood and imagination, I never get tired of them. My other childhood favorites were funny books like Pippi Longstocking or things written by Dr. Seuss.
Have you always liked to read? Was there any person in your life who really inspired you to read?
I have loved to read since before I can remember. My mother taught me to read at an early age, and always encouraged my love of books. Whenever we moved to a new town, we’d get library cards right away, and would take me to the library often. I think every summer of my childhood, I joined one of those summer reading clubs that local libraries run.
Did you read any interesting/memorable books when you were in college?
I read Contact by Carl Sagan… it helped inspire my interest in astronomy and space exploration. I did a lot of reading for my classes, and while I was in college, most of the pleasure reading I did was during the summers or other breaks when I didn’t have homework!