Staff Summer Reading Picks

Foundation Staff Stack of books

Our staff summer reading recommendations highlight stories that help us see the world in different ways and from new perspectives. Reading diverse stories helps us listen more, learn more, and become better partners as we work with others to make California the healthiest state.

The following recommendations offer a snapshot of what's resonating with us right now — moving, challenging, inspiring, and empowering us to see the world — and our work — a little differently.

We hope you enjoy our summer reading picks, and please let us know if you have recommendations for us!


Carolyn Wang Kong

Carolyn Wang Kong

Chief Program Director

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Imagine fleeing your home country only to arrive in a new country that would never come to accept you, or even your children and grandchildren who would eventually be born on their soil. I’m not talking about life in America, but rather, life in Japan in the early 1900s. It’s a story of a young Korean girl, Sunja, who flees her home for Japan where she and her children live on the margins, as registered “strangers”. It’s an amazing story of how culture becomes layered, how it can breed resilience and isolate you all at the same time. And it makes me think about our work related to belonging and how, through our funding to the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, we are working to build a culture of inclusion, belonging, and social connectedness as critical protective factors needed to enable a healthy life and achieve our full potential. 


Andrew KolbenschlagAndrew Kolbenschlag

Senior Public Affairs Associate

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Say Nothing: A true story of murder and memory in Northern Ireland investigates the case of Jean McConville, a mother of ten who was “disappeared” at the hands of the I.R.A. during the height of the "Troubles" — sectarian violence that ravaged Northern Ireland for much of the 20th century. Initially interested because of the conflict’s impact on my own family’s history, I found myself deeply moved by the book’s focus on humanity in its unflinching examination of the cyclical nature of violence, how trauma can shatter families and communities across generations, and how healing — though painful and at times inadequate — can offer hope for the future.  


Jennifer LinJennifer Lin 

Program Officer

The Practical Playbook II: Building Multisector Partnerships That Work, edited by Lloyd Michener, Brian C. Castrucci, Don W. Bradley, Edward L. Hunter, Craig W. Thomas, Catherine Patterson, and Elizabeth Corcoran 

This nuts-and-bolts guide is a must read for anyone who believes that all sectors have a role to play in the health of communities. It features stories of unusual partners coming to the table — from faith communities to elected officials — and lessons from the California Accountable Communities for Health Initiative, The BUILD Health Challenge, and other regional efforts that are innovating through collaboration. It’s refreshing to learn from real-life examples of diverse partners coming together to produce lasting change by and for communities.


Richard ThomasonRichard Thomason

Director of Policy

Invictus by John Carlin

In this inspirational true story, Nelson Mandela negotiates with the South African regime to end apartheid, using rugby and the 1995 Rugby World Cup to unify the nation around a vision for its post-apartheid future. It shows beautifully how sports can be used to bring people together, rather than divide them, and gives me hope that if South Africa can overcome apartheid, we can all peacefully resolve our differences.


Christine Maulhardt VaughanChristine Maulhardt Vaughan

Director of Communications and Public Affairs

There There by Tommy Orange

This story of urban Native Americans who are preparing for the Big Oakland Powwow weaves together heart-wrenching, hopeful, tragic, and funny narratives of diverse Native American experiences that help you see that the “there” you once knew might not be the same “there” of today. I was gripped by one young character, who taught himself traditional dances by watching YouTube and another who is now sober and trying to reconnect with her community. Together, the stories show the profound multigenerational effects of racism, poverty, and displacement — and the tremendous power of tradition and connection among the urban Native Americans in Oakland.


Rachel WickRachel Wick

Senior Program Officer

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

This is a story of a family’s beautiful struggle in the rural south as they prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. I don’t remember a book that so vividly and viscerally connected people, animals, and the land, and held together feelings of joy, longing, pain, and loss all at the same time. I especially loved the story of Esch, a young woman who is learning to navigate her power and, in some cases, her desire in relationship to the men and boys around her.  


Amanda KimAmanda Kim

Communications Officer

Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler

“Everything happens for a reason” and “good things happen to good people,” are a few of the popular “lies” that Kate Bowler, historian of American Christianity and the prosperity gospel, explores in this unflinching, often humorous and always compassionate, memoir of facts, faith and mortality, as she, a 35-year-old professor and mother, faces a Stage-IV colon cancer diagnosis. This highly personal, deeply philosophical work makes me think about the stories we tell each other so we can feel safe and in control of our destinies, and the deep-seated need for security and connection that prompts us to create these stories in the first place.

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