We asked some of the most bookish people we know to share what they’re enjoying these days, from the latest unputdownable novel to their current movie obsession. We’re excited to hear from Jen Wang, Senior Designer and Art Program Manager for Clarkson Potter at Penguin Random House! Read on to hear in her own words what she’s reading and recommending right now.
As Senior Designer and Art Program Manager for Clarkson Potter, my work revolves around designing books on food, lifestyle, art, and culture. I am privileged to be able to have a job I enjoy. I try to pay it forward by mentoring designers through a year-long design temp program I developed as Art Program Manager with the Potter and Random House teams (the next application period is coming!).
I enjoy books that have strong visual language and tend to gravitate to science fiction and fantasy although I also enjoy classic English and American literature. I love that reading books allows me to share in a different reality, which in turn allows me to think critically, empathetically, and creatively.
I love curling up to a cozy mystery, preferably with a hot cup of tea and a cat. Stephen Spotswood’s Pentecost and Parker Mystery series more than adequately fills the book requirement. The series centers around the two titular characters who run a boutique detective agency in World War II-era New York City. It’s a contemporary take on the hard-boiled detective genre with a splash of Sherlock Holmes, complete with a malevolent foil to our noble heroines. The mysteries are mysterious, the characters are opinionated, and the plot is well paced. I read them all out of order, starting with book two, Murder Under Her Skin, and wasn’t worse off for it.
Stay True is one of the best memoirs I have read. So rarely have I had the pleasure of reading somebody whose experiences as a young adult are so close to my own. Though the story is largely driven by a violent tragedy, Hsu treats his younger self with compassion, humility, and humor without glossing over the cringe-worthy awkwardness of becoming a grown person in the world.
Though this was published in the late 1960s, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin asks questions we are still actively grappling with today. What would it look like for a society to not adhere to expressions of gender binaries as an overriding organizing principle? How much does that adherence to the gender binary influence our thoughts, choices, and interactions? While these sound like academic questions, Le Guin shows us through the interactions between the two main protagonists who feel very human and relatable in their fumbling towards mutual understanding.
I picked up The Mirage Factory by Gary Krist because of my interest in the history of Los Angeles, my hometown. The strength of Krist’s book lies in the tight focus and compelling narrative style, akin to The Devil in the White City and Killers of the Flower Moon. The Mirage Factory looks at three driving factors that created the LA we perceive today — water, movies, and cults. While these are not the only drivers that influence the creation of LA, it provides the groundwork for understanding not just the city itself but the construction of LA in our collective imaginations. I incidentally read the book before watching the first season of HBO’s Perry Mason, which enriched my viewing experience immensely.
I would be remiss as a designer who works on diversity, equity, and inclusion at Penguin Random House to not mention Dr. Tunstall’s work, which I first experienced through her lecture on decolonizing design in 2018 at Parsons, The New School. Her influence on the way I practice, teach, and engage with design cannot be understated. Although I haven’t read this yet, it is a title I am excited to have on my current reading list.
I had never read Middlemarch before last year; it looms so large as a canonical English work it made me suspect. But last year, I felt the urge to read some well-written words and so embarked on the journey with a friend of mine — a two person book club. Though there are moments that were lost on me (the nuances of the English Reform Act of 1832 anybody?), the writing is unsparing in a way that still feels fresh and surprising. I am sure George Eliot will be validated in knowing I do not find her work overrated.
Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton was a good starting point for me to learn more about the Black Panthers. Even though this is technically a memoir I found it more a treatise that links Newton’s revolutionary views to the systemic oppression of his lived experience. It’s not hard to see why the Black Panthers formed when hearing about the lived experiences of Black people at the time. It’s also not hard to see the connection between that past and our present.
I feel I should have a cookbook on here since that is what I work on most. I personally like Cool Beans by Joe Yonan. I picked it up because beans aren’t something I am very familiar with cooking and his book provided a knowledgeable and inspiring starting point.
Hannah Che’s The Vegan Chinese Kitchen takes a deep dive into the history of plant-based cooking in Chinese cuisine. I love the minimally processed, simple yet flavorful recipes as well as the reframing of vegan food narrative as not just a Western practice. Also, I designed this one.
What are you watching?
I am excited for Shadow and Bone to be back on Netflix and to see how they continue to blend the stories of the Grisha trilogy and the Six of Crows duology into the show. I love how Leigh Bardugo changed up her approach for the television series making something of the books but also keeping them distinctly it’s own.
What are you listening to?
Time To Say Goodbye hosted by Jay Caspian Kang and E. Tammy Kim is my top podcast at the moment. I don’t know how I heard about it but I am a fan. When I started listening, a lot of it felt over my head (and a lot of it still does at times), but I appreciate their broad-ranging critical discussions and that they don’t take themselves too seriously while keeping me engaged.
Thank you, Jennifer!