What We Read, Watched, and Listened to in 2023
Books, Shows, and Albums That Contributed to Our Learning
Continuing a tradition from 2022, 2021, and 2020, members of our board and staff are eager to share what we read, watched, and listened to in 2023 that contributed to our learning and growth. From beautifully illustrated children’s books that spark conversations about complex topics to clashes of class during America’s Gilded Age, we dive into our recommendations for books, albums, and shows that informed us about gender, racial, and economic equity. While you may have heard of some of these best-sellers and chart-toppers, others are lesser-known gems that we highly encourage our community to check out.
Poverty, By America – A Book by Matthew Desmond
Why does the richest country on earth have more poverty than any other advanced democracy? This is the question that Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Princeton Professor of Sociology Matthew Desmond asks in “Poverty, by America.” Desmond grew up poor and has spent his life examining poverty. This book is his quest to find out why the U.S. continues to have so many poor people. He provides statistics, historical perspective, field reports, and comparisons with other countries. He builds his case that we allow poverty to persist because it benefits those of us who are not poor. Desmond details changes that will make a difference and calls poverty what it is – “a national disgrace.”
It is an important book, and I believe it will be quoted for years and used by decision makers to find solutions. For those of us seeking answers for gender, racial and economic equity, it is a foundational read.
– Debbie Hammons, WFCO board of trustees
The Gilded Age on Max
I’ve dedicated what some might consider an unreasonable amount of time (though I’d argue otherwise) eagerly awaiting the second season of “The Gilded Age” on Max. Set in bustling New York City of the 1880s, this American historical drama unfolds an intriguing tale of a young woman navigating the rigid social scene. Her journey intertwines with the daily conflicts between the new-money Russell family and the old-money van Rhijn-Brook family, both residing as neighbors near Fifth Avenue on the Upper East Side.
The show brilliantly captures the clashes within the upper- and upper-middle classes, the Black upper class, and the unsung heroes – the domestic workers attending to their every need. You might not expect “The Gilded Age” to delve into issues of gender, racial, and economic equity, but that’s precisely what makes this show so captivating. The first season introduced us to real-life historical figure Clara Barton, founder of The American Red Cross, and the fictional Peggy Scott – an educated Black woman determined to break barriers as a journalist.
While the show’s title may nod to prominent wealthy men such as William Vanderbilt and William Astor who are synonymous with this time period, it’s the women who form the backbone of this society, often discreetly steering the course of events behind the scenes. “The Gilded Age” seamlessly weaves together history, feminism, and drama – a trifecta that happens to be among my personal favorites!
– Erica Jackson, digital marketing manager
Lessons In Chemistry – A Book by Bonnie Garmus and on Apple TV
I was so excited to read “Lessons in Chemistry” because my undergraduate degree and the earliest years of my career were in analytical chemistry. At The Ohio State University, I had the opportunity to work for Dr. Susan Olesik, the groundbreaking first woman full professor and chair in the chemistry department. Together, we worked to make scientific exploration accessible to K-12 and university students of every background and identity.
I found the main character, Elizabeth Zott, inspiring for her innovations in the laboratory and her dismissal of gender expectations. She behaves and communicates as though she had never been exposed to the widespread cultural norms that limited women’s choices and opportunities in the 1950s. She held true to her belief in herself, blazed her own path, and encouraged women in her life and audience to value themselves and pursue their dreams. Her character sparked hopeful questions about what could be possible if we all were free of the biases, gendered norms, and sexist, racist systems that surround us.
I hope you, too, will find inspiration in Elizabeth Zott’s lessons in life and leadership for gender equity. Whether you read the book first or not, you might also enjoy the adaptation on Apple TV. I just started watching the miniseries. The heart of the original content is beautifully styled in this period piece and there are some intriguing character and storyline adjustments I’m eager to keep watching.
-Louise Myrland, vice president of programs
Renaissance – Album by Beyoncé
The first thing I ever bought with my own money was a Destiny’s Child CD. The all-girl group that Beyoncé launched her music career with released their second album, “Writings on the Wall,” in 1999 and I wore out my Walkman listening to it. Beyoncé released her first solo album the summer before I started high school and “Crazy in Love” will forever be me dancing with my friends at freshman homecoming. I have quite literally grown up to her music.
And while her fourth solo album, “4,” is home to some of my favorite songs (you will find me absolutely belting out “I Care” and “End of Time” in my car at least once a week, and if “Party” doesn’t make you dance I can’t help you), “Renaissance” is a modern masterpiece. The album is a true work of art, a monument to the icons and legends of post-1970s Black dance music and queer culture, a transcendent escape to the dance floors where the disco and house beats that thread the album were born, and an invitation for folks to come back together, feel joy, have fun, be liberated, and dance. And when I saw her live for the second time in my hometown of Chicago this past July, we did just that.
If you ask me to name my favorite song, I’ll probably say, “Cuff It” and then go, “No, probably ‘Church Girl’ or ‘Thique’” followed by, “Oh, but I also really love ‘Summer Renaissance’ and ‘Pure/Honey’ and ‘Move’ and ‘Heated’”. Before you know it, I will have named the entire album which is the only way I can recommend experiencing this magnum opus. I’m that girl.
-Maggie Stoot, director of development
First Conversations – A Series of Children’s Books
With a one-year-old daughter at home, I am cherishing the moments we read together. I love the classics, the silly tales, and the new stories that didn’t exist when I was a kid. I’m also trying to use story time to share inclusive ideas and prepare for tougher conversations.
I can’t recommend the “First Conversations” series enough, which includes books on justice, grief, gender, bodies, love, consent, and race. Each is beautifully illustrated and provides an entrée to address more challenging topics. To top it off, each book concludes with a few pages that are for the grown ups – since learning and growth can happen at every age.
-Alison Friedman Phillips, Director of Programs, Policy, & Advocacy
The Purple Book: A Colorado Compendium of Useful Fiscal Facts
A top highlight of 2023 for me was learning from the Colorado Fiscal Institute’s “The Purple Book: A Colorado Compendium of Useful Fiscal Facts.” This handy tool blew me away with sobering facts about the fiscal nature of our wonderful, yet complicated, state. From CFI’s explanation of Colorado’s state budget to the deep dive into sales taxes, housing in Colorado, unemployment insurance, and many more areas, CFI paints a giant picture of why Colorado’s budget is the way it is and what that means for our communities.
Using fiscally colored brushes, they add color to the reality that our tax system is regressive, meaning that folks who have the least share of all income earned in the state are actually paying more of their share in state and local taxes while folks who have the largest share of all income earned in the state pay less in taxes than their percentage of income. All of that to say… our tax system is not equal or fair. And this is just one example of a fiscal fact that left a strong impression on me (if I had enough room here, I’d share about my deeply visceral reaction to learning about TABOR).
I highly recommend you get your copy of “The Purple Book” today (new edition coming out in 2024!) and consider joining the next Tax Ambassadors Program cohort through the Colorado Fiscal Institute. As a recent program grad, I can say that this training, as well as “The Purple Book,” are tremendously beneficial for anyone looking to understand Colorado’s fiscal context and seeking ways to change it so that all Coloradans have what they need to live and thrive.
-Crystal Ayala-Goldstein, programs manager
Pageboy – A Memoir by Elliott Page
“There it was, a portal – it was finally time to step through,” said actor Elliott Page of the decision to finally love himself and transition.
Gender dysphoria defined his life from an early age. It made him squirm in his skin and want to “peel it from his body.” He describes in uncomfortable detail the trauma of an Old Navy visit in his teens, where most kids are happy to spend time and money. He wanted to please his mom by asking for girls’ clothes, even though it was torture physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Later, he observes the irony that straight people receive acting awards all the time for playing a gay person in a role, yet he and many others mask the pain every day of living in a body that does not fit. The decision to live his life authentically came in spurts and stages and epiphanies, but ultimately, he decided that, “I spent so much of my professional life performing that I came to the realization that I should not have to perform in my real life.”
I can’t imagine having to make such a deeply personal decision on a public stage. I won’t lie, much of Elliott’s memoir is heartbreaking and hard to read (or hear, as I listened via Libby). Soon after transitioning, he was chased on foot by a man who threatened to kill him, simply for being him. He wonders, “What about my peace demands vitriol?”
-Lisa Christie, vice president of programs
Sabrina & Corina – A Book by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
In recent months I’ve read two exquisitely written books that are soul-gripping. Words on pages capture stories of women, place, and ancestry then cast them into searing images. Sometimes they set them into flight. My attempt to describe doesn’t come close.
The first is “Let Us Descend” by Jesmyn Ward, a two-time National Book Award winner. It is truth, raw, real, and redemptive.
For the second, I want to focus on an author who was new to me. I discovered Kali Fajardo-Anstine through her 2019 story collection, “Sabrina & Corina” – winner of the American Book Award. Fajardo-Anstine, a Guggenheim Fellow, is a proud Colorado native whose passion for our rural land and Denver neighborhoods is backdrop for her characters based on her own indigenous Latina experiences. Through her, I heard women and girls of our community we know or too often let pass by unnoticed. This amazing collection by an emerging and notable voice, is worth every laugh, moment of silence, gasp and tear they will elicit from you. I’ll read anything by Kali. Next, “Woman of Light.”
-Lauren Y. Casteel, president and CEO
Endless Summer Vacation (Backyard Sessions) – Album and Disney+ Performance by Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus, a figure often at the center of pop culture controversy, has traversed the tumultuous journey from child star to pop sensation, all while grappling with critiques surrounding her womanhood, aesthetic choices, body image, and life decisions. As an icon for a generation, Miley’s impact extends beyond her music and performance art. Her latest album, “Endless Summer Vacation,” unveiled in March of 2023 alongside a Disney+ special, marks a significant chapter in her evolving narrative.
Miley bares her soul with raw honesty, providing listeners with a beautiful depiction of the human experience. The album delves into themes such as heartbreak, loneliness, self-love, womanhood, healing, lust, and the perpetual mysteries of life. The Disney+ special accompanying the album allows fans a unique glimpse into Miley’s creative process, discussing pivotal moments in her career and the inspiration behind her songs.
Through her music and introspective interviews, Miley Cyrus continues to challenge societal expectations, providing a platform for discussions around the implications of womanhood, queerness, the pressures of fame, and the multifaceted nature of personal growth. “Endless Summer Vacation” stands as a testament to her artistic evolution and an authentic exploration of the intricate layers that define her journey.
-Elva Escobedo, events manager
The Body Keeps The Score – A Book by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD
“The Body Keeps the Score” is about healing the effects of trauma on the human body. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has spent over three decades working with survivors and brings a wealth of experience to help those who have experienced trauma. In the book, he discusses how trauma reshapes both the body and the brain and how various treatments assist in the management of the trauma. He exposes the tremendous power of our relationships both to hurt and to heal—and offers new hope for reclaiming lives.
I found the beginning of the book to be a challenge to read as it covers the medical aspect of what causes trauma, how the medical community has historically viewed trauma, and how various techniques have assisted trauma victims in the past. The later part of the book goes into detail about the many ways a person can work toward understanding and healing the trauma that was inflicted on them. Most importantly, what I learned is that trauma comes in many shapes and sizes and it isn’t something that happens any more to those perceived as “the weak” than “the strong.” This book is so timely because the recent events due to the COVID-19 pandemic have triggered past trauma responses in many people or inflicted a source of new trauma for them. What is true is that there are tools out there to help anyone who has had a traumatic experience in their life. You just need the courage to take the chance on healing.
-Tracy Langworthy, office manager and staff accountant
Join us as we continue to learn alongside our community about gender, racial, and economic equity. Register for our virtual Advocating4Impact learning session on February 15 from noon – 1:30 p.m. or spend a morning at the Capitol with us on March 12 for our 2024 Advocacy Day. Sign up here.