[Books] tend to be my escape from technology and a way to turn my brain off into a more imaginative space rather than being so rigid and focused.
As a kid, Neese said he read frequently and enjoyed series such as "Harry Potter" and "A Series of Unfortunate Events."
by Kurt Vonnegut
Neese said he first read this book for a college assignment, where students could choose from a list of options to relate to the Cold War in US history specifically.
It shined a light on how greedy and negative some people were in that process and how [it] led to the Cold War. I think it’s reflective of what’s happening today – how different governments or different people can choose things that help them but ultimately hurt other people.
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
by Elizabeth George Speare
Growing up, Vakili said she first read this book in 7th grade for her history class and fell in love with it, going on to reread it periodically throughout different points in her life. To this day, it is one of her favorites.
Vakili especially admires the main character in the story, Kit Tyler, and believes that Kit's strength of character is one of the main reasons she continues to come back to this story, even as an adult.
She’s young and doesn’t fit in but tries to. She’s growing and learning and kind and open and seeking truth for her friend. That spirit she has can’t be crushed and her desire to seek justice and truth... she’s unwavering and courageous.
The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. (goodreads.com)
Berner claims this as his favorite fiction book of all time. He said that after reading it for the first time back in high school, he's kept it around as his go-to book to reread on occasion. When he graduated from college, he and a friend biked around in Europe for three months. Because they figured it would be difficult to find English books to read there, they both brought a few paperbacks with them, and Berner brought The Grapes of Wrath. When the weather was bad or they were stuck in one place, that was the book he read.
I think it’s such an important moment in our country’s history, when people were really struggling. There’s a lot of that that’s still happening today but at the same time our world is so different than when so many people were suffering so much and trying to keep their family together. Most of that book has to do with family, which is really touching for me.
Having reread this book at several different points throughout his life, Berner said he finds that his perspective of the story has shifted with his changing definition of family. Now, as a parent of two daughters rather than a high school student, he identifies much more acutely with the situation of the characters in the book.
As you grow, family is always important, but your concept of family changes greatly from being a child to someone who’s left the nest as a young adult and then as a parent. As a parent, it’s so hard to imagine being in that situation where you have kids and the idea that you might not make it.
The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906
by Philip Fradkin
The first indication of the prolonged terror that followed the 1906 earthquake occurred when a ship steaming off San Francisco's Golden Gate "seemed to jump clear out of the water". This gripping account of the earthquake, the devastating firestorms that followed, and the city's subsequent reconstruction vividly shows how, after the shaking stopped, humans, not the forces of nature, nearly destroyed San Francisco in a remarkable display of simple ineptitude and power politics. (goodreads.com)
Berner said he used this book to write his Master's thesis, which focused on the segregation of Japanese-American students following the earthquake, and so this book has remained close to his heart since.
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