Beyond “The Boys in the Boat” — inspirational picks from University Book Store staff

Posted on by Ed Kromer. This entry was posted in Engaging Interests and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

In “The Boys in the Boat,” the bestselling story of the legendary University of Washington crew team that rowed with guts and gusto to win gold and glory at the 1936 Olympic Games in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Pacific Northwest author Daniel James Brown conveyed a story so inspiring that it, well, inspired a major motion picture directed by George Clooney.

You’ve probably seen the movie. Or read the book. Or both.

But now that we’re deep enough into January to feel reality pushing back against resolutions, you may find a need for fresh inspiration.

So, we asked our astute partners at the University Book Store to recommend some other great reads that will leave you feeling moved, exhilarated, uplifted, inspired. Here are their pleasantly eclectic picks:

“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

This Pulitzer Prize-winning work of historical fiction follows the intertwined lives of a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a young German orphan, Werner, during World War II. Their lives converge amid the chaos and horror of war in a poignant exploration of the power of human connection and hope. The novel explores the impact of trauma and themes of humanity and resilience through evocative storytelling, intricate character development and vivid portrayal of life in the seaside French town of Saint-Malo, a city under siege and ravaged by war. Doerr’s gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with keen observation is electric. He illuminates the ways that, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

“Better Living Through Birding” by Christian Cooper

Christian Cooper is a self-described “Blerd” (Black nerd), an avid comics fan and expert birder who devotes every spring to gazing upon the migratory birds that stop to rest in Central Park, just a subway ride away from where he lives in New York City. Equal parts memoir, travelogue and primer on the art of birding, “Better Living Through Birding” is Cooper’s story of learning to claim and defend space for himself (a gay Black man) and others like him, from his days as a writer for Marvel Comics (where he introduced its first queer story line) to vivid and life-changing birding expeditions through Africa, Australia, the Americas and the Himalayas. Cooper invites the reader into the wonderful world of birds—and what they can teach us about life, if only we would stop and listen.

“Class” by Stephanie Land

In her follow-up to the best-selling debut memoir “Maid,” Land takes us with her as she finishes college and pursues her writing career while struggling with a byzantine loan system, food insecurity, and the judgment of professors and peers. It paints an intimate and heartbreaking portrait of motherhood as it converges and often conflicts with personal desire and professional ambition. Who has the right to create art? Who has the right to go to college? And what kind of work is valued in our culture? In clear, candid and moving prose, “Class” grapples with these questions, offering a searing indictment of America’s educational system and an inspiring testimony of a mother’s triumph against all odds.

“The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store” by James McBride

In this novel, McBride tells the fictional story of Chicken Hill, a long-forgotten and neglected neighborhood in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, where immigrant Jews and Black Americans once lived side by side, sharing lives, ambitions and sorrows. It centers around the cooperation and struggles of a Jewish grocery store owner named Chona Ludlow and a Black janitor named Nate Timblin, who works at the neighborhood movie theater. Their trials become emblematic of the struggles of all those who live on the margins of mainstream white Christian America. But through his deft and compassionate writing, McBride shows that even in dark times, it is love and community—heaven and earth—that sustain us.

“In the Form of a Question” by Amy Schneider

In eighth grade, Amy was voted “Most likely to appear on Jeopardy!” by her classmates. Decades later, she finally got her chance. Not only did she walk away with $1.3 million while captivating the world with her impressive 40-game winning streak, but she made history and won an even greater prize—the joy of being herself on national television and blazing a trail for openly queer and transgender people around the world. “In the Form of a Question” shares her singular journey that led to becoming an unlikely icon and hero to millions through the superpower of boundless curiosity and fearless questioning. The innumerable topics that have fascinated Schneider illustrate and celebrate the results of a lifetime asking why?

“The Power of Days” by Celeste Mergens

Every month, millions of girls and women around the world miss school and work during their periods because they don’t have access to menstrual products such as pads or tampons. While working in an orphanage in Kenya, Celeste Mergens devised a simple solution: combining a washable, long-lasting pad with taboo-breaking health education. This innovation sparked an inclusive global movement and the international nonprofit Days for Girls. In “The Power of Days,” Mergens writes about the positive mindset, determination and humility that enabled her to overcome every obstacle in her path. And her story of innovation, inclusion and equity highlights the powerful impact we can have when we come together for common cause.

“Remarkably Bright Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt

In this curious but transcendent novel, a recently widowed woman named Tova Sullivan becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living in captivity at the aquarium where Tova works the night shift. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn’t dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors—until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova and uses every trick his old invertebrate brain can muster to solve the mysterious disappearance of her son on a boat lost in the Puget Sound more than 30 years earlier. Van Pelt’s debut novel is a gentle reminder that sometimes taking a hard look at the past can help uncover a future that once felt impossible.

“The Winners” by Fredrik Backman

In “The Winners,” Backman returns to Beartown, a small, hockey-obsessed village in Sweden that has been rocked by a shocking act of violence that happened two years prior. As the residents of this close-knit community try to move on from this tragedy, profound change is on the horizon. And they continue to grapple with life’s big questions: What is a family? What is a community? And what, if anything, are we willing to sacrifice in order to protect them? In this moving conclusion to the Beartown trilogy, the resilient community experiences first loves, extends second chances and says last goodbyes. This series finale ultimately demonstrates the power of forgiving in a community that reaches for redemption.

“Woman, Captain, Rebel” by Margaret Wilson

“Woman, Captain, Rebel” is the magnificent and daring account of Iceland’s most famous female sea captain, who persistently fought for women’s rights and equality—and also solved one of the country’s most notorious robberies. Wilson, a cultural anthropologist, introduces the fearless, controversial and wave-breaking captain Thurídur Einarsdóttir, who dispelled the many myths and superstitions of women at sea by proving herself an expert and respected ship captain—while also fighting for the dignity and equality of underrepresented Icelanders. By turns horrifying and heroic and often mesmerizing, Wilson’s captivating story will keep you thinking long after turning the last page.

And, if you happen to be one of the few who have not yet had the pleasure of cracking open “The Boys in the Boat,” you are in for a treat!

Special thanks to Christopher Rauls and Pam Cady of the University Book Store for sharing their exceptional insights.