In her just-published book, “The Moment of Lift,” philanthropist Melinda Gates recounts stories from her own life and her travels in this exploration of how empowering women improves societies. As co-chair of the world’s largest private nonprofit, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she has long fought for gender equity around the globe. She and her husband, the founder of Microsoft, were recently named two of the world’s 50 greatest leaders by Fortune magazine. A former general manager at Microsoft, Gates lives with her husband and three children in Seattle.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
GATES: “The Rosie Result,” the third book in a series by Graeme Simsion about a scientist with autism-spectrum disorder. I’m laughing my way through it. I read fiction quite a bit, especially if it’s humorous.
BOOKS: What other kind of novels do you read?
GATES: Since I travel so much, I read a lot of cultural fiction. If there’s a novelist from a country or region I’m going to visit I’ll read that. I’ve read things by [Indian novelist] Rohinton Mistry, for instance. I’m often reading the book while I’m in the country, so while I was in South Africa I read Alan Paton’s “Cry, the Beloved Country.” While I was in Brazil I read “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When I went to Botswana I read this great murder-mystery series, Alexander McCall Smith’s “The No. 1. Ladies’ Detective Agency.”
BOOKS: Do you read nonfiction?
GATES: I like to read about things going on in society so I read Tara Westover’s “Educated.” Because of her book I picked up Sarah Smarsh’s “Heartland.” I loved Tara’s story, but that is a story of one individual. With “Heartland” I learned more broadly about what it is like to grow up poor and white in the United States.
BOOKS: What did you read for your book that you would recommend?
GATES: This wasn’t for research, but Mark Nepo’s “The Book of Awakening” had a big influence on me. I would call him a spiritual poet. I read his writings every day. I just open the book to any page. When I first thought I’d write a book, the one I kept thinking about was Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift from the Sea.” I have always loved that book and kept it around. I’ve seen it in the houses of a lot of women. A friend in Norway had it on the nightstand in the guest room. I want my book to be like that, to be timeless about the issues women face.
BOOKS: Are there books that shaped you as a philanthropist?
GATES: Aimee Molloy’s “However Long the Night,” which is about Molly Melching’s work in Senegal. That is a beautiful book. I gave that to Bill so he could understand [the cultural complexities surrounding] female genital cutting. The book about Dr. Paul Farmer, Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” rocked my world. I met Paul shortly thereafter and saw his clinic in Haiti. I told him without him even asking me that I’d bring Bill back to see his work.
BOOKS: Do you and your husband have similar tastes?
GATES: Our tastes are often similar. He reads far less fiction than I do. He reads a lot more fact-based books. Bill and I hadn’t done this in a while, but one of our favorite things to do is to read the same book at the same time. It was our 25th wedding anniversary recently, and we picked up “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles at the same time, which we enjoyed.
BOOKS: What else have you both liked?
GATES: The first time we went out he wanted to tell me all about his favorite book, which I thought was wonderful. Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” He suggested I should read it, and I was like, “I’ve already read it twice.” At Microsoft I put a green light in my window like the one on Daisy Buchanan’s dock. I would turn it on so he would know I was done working, and it would be OK to come over.