A 2016 Reading List from One Who Doesn't Like Reading
I don’t like reading.
I’m tired of being ashamed of that fact.
I’ve tried. I really have. But there are just too many other things to do.
My ability to know a lot about books often deceives people into thinking I am well-read, but I’m not. I have read very few books in my 23 years. But I have read the first four (give or take) chapters of countless books – and that’s all you really need to convince someone that you’re well-read.
However – I see the value in reading and I know that all the smart and influential and good and well-rounded people in my life read. I also have been reading a little more than in the past, so I’m ready to publicly state my achievements and seek some accountability in achieving my goal of one day becoming a regular reader.
Here’s some of the best things I read in 2016 (and just to be clear, most were not written in or anywhere near 2016). I recommend these books because if I, someone who does not quite fancy reading as much as others, enjoyed these books, then I believe anyone could feasibly read them.
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
There may be no more appropriate time to read this book. The book traces the true narrative of a refugee family living in California whose daughter has epilepsy, which they interpret to be a result of a greater spiritual problem. Fadiman thoroughly and creatively analyzes the forces at play – the culture of the family, the host culture, the Southeast Asian worldview, the American worldview, doctors, social services, lawyers, journalists, anthropologists, and many more – to describe the complicated web that is behind every cross-cultural interaction. This book was enlightening to say the least and informs not only on a culture foreign to America, but also about my own culture and the biases that are the foundation of so many of my decisions. Being aware of these cultural biases, and aware of the struggle of immigrant cultures to integrate and connect, can build a bridge between the native and the foreign that creates a new integrated, loving, and listening community.
“Dan had no way of knowing that Foua and Nao Kao had already diagnosed their daughter’s problem as the illness where the spirit catches you and you fall down. Foua and Nao Kao had no way of knowing that Dan had diagnosed it as epilepsy, the most common of all neurological disorders. Each had accurately noted the same symptoms, but Dan would have been surprised to hear that they were caused by soul loss, and Lia’s parents would have been surprised to hear that they were caused by an electrochemical storm inside their daughter’s head that had been stirred up by the misfiring of aberrant brain cells.”
Justice by Michael Sandel
Have you ever wondered: what makes something right? what informs my decisions about what is right? how do I decide? what are ethics? what is Kantian (or any other kind) philosophy? If so, this is the book for you. Sandel simply and straightforwardly explains various approaches to ethics and justice in light of current events and allows readers to come to their own conclusions about how to go about deciding what is just, how to have a standard of justice for ourselves, and how to understand others who have different views or approaches to justice. Especially in a time of such staunch polarization, this book has helped me to articulate my stances on different issues and the foundational reasoning behind them, while being able to better understand opposing views.
“To achieve a just society we have to reason together about the meaning of the good life, and to create a public culture hospitable to the disagreements that will inevitably arise.”
My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
It had been a long time since I read any fiction and I’m glad this was the fiction I picked up. Y’all – this book is hilarious. It is the story of a young girl who must figure out the mystery that is her grandmother by way of going out and apologizing to all of the people whom her grandmother wronged. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be a better human.
“’Only different people change the world,’ Granny used to say. ‘No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.’”
Reviving Old Scratch by Richard Beck
Coming from a Christian tradition that doesn’t talk about spiritual warfare too much and being a part of a generation of Christians that talks about spiritual warfare as a matter of politics, this book was great for integrating spiritual and political aspects of spiritual warfare, and how having and understanding of that process is foundational for a strong faith while living in a world full of suffering. It was especially relevant for me now, being in a place where physical and spiritual oppression is overtly sitting along the road on my walk to the market, but I think it’s something that Westerners living in a world of political turmoil, secularization, and lukewarm faith need to hear.
“Many compassionate Christians are losing their faith because they lack this supportive theology, a theology that can reconcile their compassion with their doubts…In the face of doubts and disenchantment we need a vision of spiritual resistance and struggle that energizes our faith in the face of pain and suffering. To save our faith we must embrace spiritual warfare.”
Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
This is my first time reading one of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s works, and I’ve heard that this isn’t his best – so I’m very excited to read one of the others. Thiong’o is a Kenyan writer who was imprisoned for penning his satirical Petals of Blood in 1977. He is now a professor at University of California, Irvine, and continues to write pieces of satire that critique African government and parts of African culture. His tongue-in-cheek humor brutally and humorously describes the power plays of African politics, the disparity between the rich and poor, and the various cultural traditions that affect the changing African worldview. As an American living in an African context it has been extremely enlightening to see into parts of the African worldview, especially when it comes to African perceptions of modern Africa, so that I can have a better understanding of how my neighbors may interpret money, power, poverty, the spirit realm, education, relationships, and so much more. If you’re looking to laugh, learn, or expand your library with Kenyan satire, here’s a place to start.
“’I am deeply moved by the tremendous love that you have shown today…’ adding that before speaking further, he would like to show his appreciation of their love with an act of mercy by announcing the release of hundreds of political prisoners, among them a few authors and journalists all held without trial including one historian who had been in prison for ten years for crimes that included writing a book called People Make History, Then a Ruler Makes It His Story.”
Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith
I was given this book by a friend who described it as “old man humor.” I’m still not really sure what this means, but this is a quick read about the antics of Professor Dr. Igelfeld, the German author of his superior work, Portuguese Irregular Verbs. It is a story filled with situational humor that most of us, or at least I, could relate to, whether it be competition among colleagues, pretending to know how to play tennis, romantic failures, moments of spiritual enlightenment, or conspiracy theories about radioactive waters.
“Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria Von Igelfeld often reflected on how fortunate he was to be exactly who he was, and nobody else. When one paused to think who one might have been had the accident of birth not happened precisely as it did, then, well, one could be quite frankly appalled.”
Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann
I have been reading this book in segments over the past two years and I must say that is one of the, if not the, most spiritually formative book I have read. In Crucified God Moltmann lays out the relevance of Christ as God on the cross, a God that is unique in that man can look to his suffering for liberation from spiritual and political oppression. Moltmann analyzes the paradox of a God who suffers and a God who rules, a God who empathizes in Heaven and a God who overcomes on the cross. That is who God is – one who is not too big or too powerful to endure what we endure, and not merely endure, but overcome and pave a path for his followers.
“God became man that dehumanized men might become true men. We become true men in the community of the incarnate, the suffering and loving, the human God. This salvation, too, is outwardly permanent and immortal in the humanity of God, but in itself it is a new life full of inner movement, with suffering and joy, love and pain, taking and giving; it is changeableness in the sense of life to its highest possible degree.”
Now accepting all 2017 recommendations.