2021 Lake Oswego Reads

Lake Oswego, OR: The Lake Oswego Public Library has selected Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson as the 2021 book for its award-winning citywide reading program, at the recommendation of the Lake Oswego Reads Steering Committee.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, a recent New York Times top ten best seller, is an extraordinary book that compares caste systems throughout our global history. It outlines how caste systems have helped perpetuate social customs and legislation that subvert the quest for equality in society. Wilkerson details the manner in which all caste systems “relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcements.”

Director of the Lake Oswego Public Library Melissa Kelly shares, “The Lake Oswego Reads steering committee voted unanimously to select Wilkerson’s Caste, with mutual sentiment that if our community was to read just one book this year, this engrossing examination of caste in America, Germany, and India holds particular interest and significance.  Wilkerson deftly demonstrates the detriment of caste systems on human history and human consciousness, and illuminates how societies can disassemble the caste structures they previously created.”

Lake Oswego Reads Steering Committee member Cameron Iizuka, Lake Oswego High School senior said, “To quote Ms. Wilkerson, in reading and digesting Caste, “[We must] look beneath what we thought we knew.” Purely, reading Caste is to dive into a polarizing and profound pool of analysis that will forever change you. Her book is especially poignant for our community because it examines race, class, and caste in a way that we have never seen before, and all without ever using the word “racist.” No matter what lawn sign you have posted or what flag you fly, everyone needs to read this book."

Steering Committee member Joann Geddes, Director & Faculty Emerita at Lewis & Clark College, said, “It goes without saying that it is well past the time to take a deep dive into our history as it relates to the systemic racial and ethnic challenges faced by our society today.  Borrowing from the author’s own analogy of building a house and caring for an older one, I would say that Isabel Wilkerson’s rigorous and in-depth research enabled her to establish a very solid foundation upon which to develop and lay out detailed contrastive analyses of the three prominent caste systems that have existed in our world. She offers the reader a comprehensive comparison of relevant background, development, structures, beliefs, tenets, goals and outcomes rooted within, and resulting from, these systems.  Whether or not one agrees with the author about contemporary political views expressed in Caste, Wilkerson has provided us with a new lens, as well as detailed blueprints and a workable framework, through which to revisit our own U.S. history and that of other nations.”

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents was selected by the Steering Committee for Lake Oswego Reads, consisting of librarians, community leaders, retired professors, high school English teachers and students.  Many books were suggested by community members and Caste was suggested by many.  For a list of the 42 books the committee read and considered this year, go to www.ci.oswego.or.us/loreads/books-considered-2021. New committee member and member of Respond to Racism, Cherie Dupuis, said Caste “is the work of an excellent reporter, piling facts on facts and making connections across cultures which once seen cannot be unseen.”

Literature allows readers to experience different points of view, and often challenges us to expand our thinking and understanding of the world.  Books engage us to think critically about themes, theories, and differing opinions. Most importantly, literature inspires us to discuss and explore. The goal of Lake Oswego Reads is to foster a sense of community and discussion through community reading.

Join Us

The official kickoff of Lake Oswego Reads will be on January 7, 2021.  While upholding COVID-19 precautions, 800 free books will be distributed to Lake Oswego Public Library card holders, thanks to ongoing support of the Friends of the Lake Oswego Library.

The Lake Oswego Reads Events Committee is currently developing February’s schedule of free, virtual programs that includes speakers, online displays, art and more.  Additionally, thanks to the Friends of Lake Oswego Library, Wilkerson has been invited to speak virtually in 2021. More details to come.

Retired Lake Oswego Library Director, Bill Baars adds, “These may be uncertain and unprecedented times, but one thing that remains consistent is that the Lake Oswego Reads programs continue to be provocative, enlightening, and entertaining. The methods and platforms for our annual community conversation around a book may be different, but fortunately the quality of the events and opportunity for engagement remain consistently high, and never less so than with the selection of Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste. Anyone familiar with her previous book, The Warmth of Other Suns, knew that her work would be well researched and comprehensive, and Caste was highly anticipated. Thankfully, the buzz was well-deserved and it is a real coup that we will have the opportunity to have the author engage with our community. The book should provide an excellent catalyst for important conversations around an issue that could not be more relevant. I’m thrilled with the selection for Lake Oswego Reads, 2021.”


The Lake Oswego Public Library has been recognized by national organizations, such as U.S. Conference of Mayors, for this immersive program that encourages all members of the community to read the same book, discuss its message, and celebrate an atmosphere of learning amongst all age groups. This will be the program’s 15th year and all events will be free thanks to financial support from the Friends of the Lake Oswego Public Library, Lake Oswego Rotary Club, and the Lake Oswego Review.

For more information about Lake Oswego Public Library or Lake Oswego Reads, visit the City’s website at www.ci.oswego.or.us/loreads.

For questions, please contact Nancy Niland at 503-675-2538 or nniland@lakeoswego.city

Author/cover image photo courtesy of Penguin Random House

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