In a preview for the upcoming Books I read in 2022 post, here are the five most memorable books I encountered over the past twelve months. Listed in the order they were published, one is decades old but still holds power. Another is an in-depth study on remembrance. There are sobering assessments of authoritarianism. And the most recent is a sensitive and tender memoir around loss, love, and being human. All are thoughtful and well crafted, bringing perspectives that pushed me to think in new directions.
Jesus and the Disinherited (1949) by Howard Thurman.
The book by this philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader may be best known as Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiration before he led the Montgomery bus boycott. Thurman “demonstrates how the gospel may be read as a manual of resistance for the poor and disenfranchised.” In the chapter on hate, he writes that Jesus affirmed life and rejected hatred “because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father.” As Martin Luther King demonstrated, Jesus and the Disinherited can be a life-changing book.
Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016) by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
This comprehensive look at what Americans call the Vietnam War and what the Vietnamese call the American War pushes the reader to think beyond simple frames, self-serving myths, and established timelines to examine the many ways we remember wars and how those memories are shaped through the years. Nguyen calls for a process of commemoration which remembers others as well as one’s own. His book is as current and important as today’s headlines over who owns and who sets the narrative of American history.
Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, (2020) by Anne Applebaum.
An important work that stands as a sobering and clear-eyed assessment of the motivations and tactics of authoritarians and their followers who have taken over political parties formerly dedicated to democracy. These authoritarians — individuals driven by resentment and envy, true believers in the righteousness of a moral system that elevates them while punishing those they do not like, grifters looking to make a windfall, and elite intellectuals who will destroy their countries to maintain power — have adopted a similar playbook in a variety of countries. Applebaum brings context while synthesizing history over centuries into compelling, digestible portions.
How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, democracy and the continuing fight for the soul of America (2020) by Heather Cox Richardson.
A searing, provocative, and masterful history of how America’s oligarchs have tapped into the extraordinary strength of the ideology of American freedom to undermine freedom and liberty for anyone who is not white and male. After their defeat in the Civil War, these oligarchs regrouped and aligned with business and extraction interests in the West to create a new political power based on hierarchies. That shift changed America’s trajectory toward equality. How the South Won the Civil War is full of surprises and insight.
Lost & Found: A Memoir (2022) by Kathryn Schulz.
A gem of a book, this is the rare memoir worth reading that is written by someone who is happy. Schulz knows that there is both a wonder and fragility to living in this world, but she is constantly amazed by life. Lost & Found is a meditation on loss and love in three parts, beginning as she is losing her father. She considers loss from the trivial to the consequential, the cosmic to the personal. At the same time, she is finding her life partner. Every love story, writes Schulz, “is a chronicle of finding, the private history of an extraordinary discovery.” The final section considers how in the midst of the transitions of losing and finding, life goes on. Schulz ends this wonderful meditation by noting that disappearance reminds us to notice, transience to cherish, fragility to defend. “We are here to keep watch, not to keep.”
In the Honorable Mention category, I would include these four works:
- Entangled Life: How fungi make our worlds, change our minds & shape our futures (2020), a vibrant and vision-changing work on the amazing world of fungi, written by Merlin Sheldrake.
- How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America (2021), a groundbreaking book by poet and author Clint Smith, asserts that slavery is not irrelevant to our contemporary society; it created it.
- The 9.9 Percent: The New Aristocracy That is Entrenching Inequality and Warping our Culture (2021) is philosopher and historian Matthew Stewart‘s wide-ranging survey and urgent call to action on wealth inequality.
- The Baseball 100 (2021) by Joe Posnanski — the self-described “writer of sports and other nonsense” — is characterized by the publisher as “a magnum opus…an audacious, singular, and masterly book that took a lifetime to write.”
The full list of the 60 books I read in 2022 will be published here on Wednesday, December 28th.
More to come…
Since books are the gift that keeps on giving, click here as a bonus to see the five most memorable books I read in 2021.
This Weekly Reader features links to recent articles, blog posts, or books that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.
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