WELA Summer Reading List

Summer Reading List

From our community, to your hands! A WELA summer reading guide.

With summer fast approaching and hopefully a much needed break arriving also, we recently asked the WELA Community for some book recommendations to get us through the coming weeks. Whether that means finding an hour of quiet solitude with a book amongst the madness that can ensue with the festive season or taking a day getting lost in a world of inspiring stories and enchanting worlds.

Here is a list of books that have changed people’s lives and given them the escapism they needed, and of course as they are all coming from the WELA community, there is no shortage of determined and brave women protagonists and inspiring women writers in there! 

We can’t wait to start reading.

Memoir and biography

Into the Planet, My Life as a Cave Diver, Jill Heinerth

From one of the world’s most renowned cave divers, a firsthand account of exploring the earth’s final frontier: the hidden depths of our oceans and the sunken caves inside our planet. 

More people have died exploring underwater caves than climbing Mount Everest, and we know more about deep space than we do about the depths of our oceans. From one of the top cave divers working today–and one of the very few women in her field–Into the Planet blends science, adventure, and memoir to bring readers face-to-face with the terror and beauty of earth’s remaining unknowns and the extremes of human capability.

Jill Heinerth – the first person in history to dive deep into an Antarctic iceberg and leader of a team that discovered the ancient watery remains of Mayan civilizations – has descended farther into the inner depths of our planet than any other woman. She takes us into the harrowing split-second decisions that determine whether a diver makes it back to safety, the prejudices that prevent women from pursuing careers underwater, and her endeavour to recover a fallen friend’s body from the confines of a cave. But there’s beauty beyond the danger of diving, and while Heinerth swims beneath our feet in the lifeblood of our planet, she works with biologists discovering new species, physicists tracking climate change, and hydrogeologists examining our finite freshwater reserves.

Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, And Dying In The National Parks,  Andrea Lankford

The real stories behind the scenery of America’s national parks. 

For twelve years, Andrea Lankford lived in the biggest, most impressive national parks in the world, working a job she loved. She chaperoned baby sea turtles on their journey to sea. She pursued bad guys on her galloping patrol horse. She jumped into rescue helicopters bound for the heart of the Grand Canyon. She won arguments with bears. She slept with a few too many rattlesnakes.

In this graphic and yet surprisingly funny account of her and others’ extraordinary careers, Lankford unveils a world in which park rangers struggle to maintain their idealism in the face of death, disillusionment, and the loss of a comrade killed while holding that thin green line between protecting the park from the people, the people from the park, and the people from each other. Ranger Confidential is the story behind the scenery of the nation’s crown jewels: Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Great Smokies, Denali. In these iconic landscapes, where nature and humanity constantly collide, scenery can be as cruel as it is redemptive.

Educated, Tara Westover

The multi-million copy bestseller and an extraordinary memoir about the transformative power of education. 

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Intimate in feeling, astonishing in scope, and impossible to put down, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her enslaved ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Over the decade it took to uncover this story, Rebecca became enmeshed in the lives of the Lacks family—especially Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, who was devastated to learn about her mother’s cells. She was consumed with questions: Had scientists cloned her mother? Did it hurt her when researchers infected her cells with viruses and shot them into space? What happened to her sister, Elsie, who died in a mental institution at the age of fifteen? And if her mother was so important to medicine, why couldn’t her children afford health insurance?

Little Weirds, Jenny Slate

An essay collection from actor and stand-up comedian, Jenny Slate

To see the world through Jenny’s eyes is to see it as though for the first time, shimmering with strangeness and possibility. As she will remind you, we live on an ancient ball that rotates around a bigger ball made up of lights and gases that are science gases, not farts (don’t be immature). Heartbreak, confusion, and misogyny stalk this blue-green sphere, yes, but it is also a place of wild delight and unconstrained vitality, a place where we can start living as soon as we are born, and we can be born at any time. In her dazzling, impossible-to-categorise debut, Jenny channels the pain and beauty of life in writing so fresh, so new, and so bursting alive, we catch her vision like a fever and bring it back out into the bright day with us, where everything has changed.

Novels

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy

From the author of the beloved national bestseller Migrations, a pulse-pounding new novel set in the wild Scottish Highlands.

Inti Flynn arrives in Scotland with her twin sister, Aggie, to lead a team of biologists tasked with reintroducing fourteen gray wolves into the remote Highlands. She hopes to heal not only the dying landscape, but Aggie, too, unmade by the terrible secrets that drove the sisters out of Alaska.

Inti is not the woman she once was, either, changed by the harm she’s witnessed–inflicted by humans on both the wild and each other. Yet as the wolves surprise everyone by thriving, Inti begins to let her guard down, even opening herself up to the possibility of love. But when a farmer is found dead, Inti knows where the town will lay blame. Unable to accept her wolves could be responsible, Inti makes a reckless decision to protect them. But if the wolves didn’t make the kill, then who did? And what will Inti do when the man she is falling for seems to be the prime suspect?

Propulsive and spell-binding, Charlotte McConaghy’s Once There Were Wolves is the unforgettable story of a woman desperate to save the creatures she loves–if she isn’t consumed by a wild that was once her refuge.

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun.

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The highly anticipated debut novel from the award-winning, bestselling author of We Were Eight Years in Power – a story of bondage, freedom, and love. 

Every slave plantation is a house of spies and intrigue. No slave walks a straight line or has a single story – deep within their hearts is rebellion. But against whom?

Hiram Walker is a man with a gift and a curse. He was born between worlds: his father a white plantation master, his mother black and enslaved. And, unbeknown even to himself, he was born with a special power. When he is sold to a new mistress as punishment for attempting escape, Hiram discovers her home is a secret hub of the underground railroad: a training ground for its agents.

Hiram fast becomes a highly skilled agent, retrieving the enslaved from the most dangerous circumstances and gradually learning to harness his power – but betrayals lurk everywhere. And eventually Hiram must risk everything to return to his father’s plantation and free the friends he left behind.

Historical fiction

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant — and that her lover is married — she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters — strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis — survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion.

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

The Temple of my Familiar by Alice Walker 

A visionary cast of characters weave together their past and present in a brilliantly intricate tapestry of tales.

It is the story of the dispossessed and displaced, of peoples whose history is ancient and whose future is yet to come. Here we meet Lissie, a woman of many pasts; Arveyda the great guitarist and his Latin American wife who has had to flee her homeland; Suwelo, the history teacher, and his former wife Fanny who has fallen in love with spirits. Hovering tantalisingly above their stories are Miss Celie and Shug, the beloved characters from, ‘The Colour Purple’.

Science fiction

Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy

Woman on the Edge of Time is a 1976 novel by Marge Piercy. It is considered a classic of utopian “speculative” science fiction as well as a feminist classic. 

Hailed as a classic of speculative fiction, Marge Piercy’s landmark novel is a transformative vision of two futures—and what it takes to will one or the other into reality. Harrowing and prescient, Woman on the Edge of Time speaks to a new generation on whom these choices weigh more heavily than ever before. 

Connie Ramos is a Mexican American woman living on the streets of New York. Once ambitious and proud, she has lost her child, her husband, her dignity—and now they want to take her sanity. After being unjustly committed to a mental institution, Connie is contacted by an envoy from the year 2137, who shows her a time of sexual and racial equality, environmental purity, and unprecedented self-actualization. But Connie also bears witness to another potential outcome: a society of grotesque exploitation in which the barrier between person and commodity has finally been eroded. One will become our world. And Connie herself may strike the decisive blow.

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Travelling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

The 2023 WELA National Leadership Program is now open for applications.

The program is transformational for women who want to accelerate positive change for our environment and climate.

WELA’s National Leadership Program has successfully supported the leadership, career development and influence of over 135 women and gender diverse changemakers since 2016. 

Want to know more?

Come along to our online information session. Monday, 13 February 2023, 8-9pm AEDT. Register now.

Check out all the information on our program page including retreat dates, program fees and scholarship information, testimonials from previous participants, and the application form.