Every year I create reading goals and mostly fail at them. My goals are rough guidelines, more than hard goals.
This year I accomplished some of them. I had a goal to finish the fiction of three authors. I finished all of Marilynne Robinson and Flannery O’Connor’s fiction. But I still have one more Octavia Butler fiction book. I also had a goal to read at least three books by both Madeleine L’Engle and James Baldwin. I read three books by L’Engle and one biography. But I only read one book by Baldwin and two books about him. (I am aware that the two authors I didn’t complete my goal were Black and the ones I did were White, including O’Connor who has some very questionable writing about race.)
I had a goal to read more about beauty, and did not pick up a single book on beauty.
Race and Gender of Authors
Sometime around April, I sat down and figured out the race and gender of the authors I read in 2017 and early 2018. At the time I was reading roughly 2/3 non-fiction and 1/3 fiction. I realized that I was roughly even between men and women authors in fiction, but my non-fiction was disproportionally male.
My real hole was reading non-fiction by non-White women. That is still a pretty big deficit, but I went from 1% in 2017 to 4% in 2018. I also am not reading hardly anything by authors that are Asian, Native American or Hispanic. As far as I can tell, I read no books by Native Americans or Hispanic authors and only six books by an Asian author in the last two years.
This chart is the percent, by category, with each year equalling 100% and the sections (non-fiction and fiction also equaling 100%). In 2017, 50% of the books I read were non-fiction books by male authors and 35% of the books I read in 2017 were non-fiction by white male authors. I read nearly twice as much fiction by women as men in 2018, and that holds true for both Black and White authors. But I read just over three times as much fiction by White authors as Black authors.
I actually increased the percentage of White non-fiction authors this year from 46% to 51% because I was reading more White women non-fiction, without reducing the amount of White male non-fiction authors. One of the parts I did not foresee was that while I have been reading a number of books about race, history and theology around race, a number of those books were written by White authors grappling with race from their place as Whites. Of the 23 books I read this year around race, 10 of them were by White authors. None of them were bad books. But that is actually an increase from 2017 when I read 21 books roughly about race and only 6 of them were by White authors.
I am ambivalent about posting a best of 2017 list. My books are not, for the most part books that were published in 2017. And what is best, or most important for me, is unlikely to be the best for anyone else. So this is a recounting of what is important, but not really what was ‘best’. I would probably come up with a slightly different list on a different day. Overall I read 101 books in 2017, roughly two-thirds were non-fiction.
Two rough themes emerge as I looked back on the year. One is an exploration of race and history in the United States and the other is a seeking out of wisdom in memoirs.
The memoirs are far easier to look at. Madeleine L’Engle, over a 20 year period wrote four memoirs that are together called the Crosswick Journals. They will be books that I read again in the future. I have appreciated L’Engle as a great young adult author, but I had not really explored the range of her writing. Many of her books have been out of print and over the past year have been reissued in ebook versions. It is because of these new editions that I stumbled across the Crosswick Journals.
They start with A Circle of Quiet, which is roughly about creativity, writing, family, and seeking wisdom from life. The second, The Summer of the Great Grandmother, is her memories of her life that are brought about by the dying of her mother. The third, The Irrational Season, is a riff off of the liturgical year and what that structure has brought to her life. The last, Two Part Invention, is about her husband and their life together as he grew sick and eventually passed away. I also read three of her fiction books. The best of which I think was A Live Coal in the Sea, but none of which I think were among her best books.
The other two memoirs that were worth reading are Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto Fujimura, which yes, was on last year’s list of most important books. But I read it again and then read his Culture Care, which is also worth reading. Fujimura’s focus on what art and culture bring to life and faith are important. And it is largely because of his work that I want to read more about the concept of beauty this next year.
The other memoir that was worth reading is Stanley Hauerwas’ Hannah’s Child. Part of what is important in this memoir is the reminder that as much as a person may be doing important things or thinking great thoughts, they are still human and still likely have regular human failings and problems. Hauerwas’ long marriage to a severely mentally ill wife had an impact on this theology and work in both positive and negative ways. But without a memoir or some other writing by him about it, only gossip or maybe a future biography would prompt me to remember how much brokenness is part of our life as Christians in the same way. (This is still on sale for $1.99 on kindle.)
Ta’Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power fit well with the previous books, but it is a series of essays that I had mostly previously read. So it was the introductions to those essays about why they were important and why he wrote them that were more interesting to me.
Coates is clearly an atheist and is famously not particularly hopeful about racial issues in the US. It is an interesting pairing to have read Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman, who was a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr and who did a lot of the background theology that gave rise to the Civil Rights era. I have picked up Thurman’s memoir and I will read that this year. Thurman’s books also was an interesting pairing with James H Cone’s memoir My Soul Looks Back. Cone and Thurman are in quite different places theologically, but have quite a bit of overlap in the diagnosis of the problem. The black authors I read this year were born in 1899 (Thurman), 1924 (Baldwin), 1936 (Cone), 1944 (Alice Walker), 1945 (John Perkins), 1957 (James McBride), 1958 (Dyson), 1969 (Colson Whitehead) and 1975 (Coates). That 76 year spread is interesting because of what seems to be similar and what changed.
Part of what I know is important is to keep listing to different voices. No one person can be the voice of a race. I did not read a lot of minority women (Color Purple and Christena Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ I think were the only books I read by minority women this year.) I also did not read much by non-black voices about racial issues. Although Aliens in the Promise Land as a book of essays was excellent about including a range of voices beyond the standard Black minority voice. And Still Evangelical, which won’t be published until later this month also had several Asian voices talking about racial issues within the Evangelical church world.
The two books that I haven’t yet mentioned but I think need to be at least quickly referenced are: How to Survive the Apocalypse, which was an excellent book about theology and philosophy using pop culture as a teaching tool. And Richard Beck’s Reviving Old Scratch about the need for the theological left to embrace the concept of Satan was well worth reading. Both of these books talked about Charles Taylor a good bit and at some point I will get around to reading Taylor.
I didn’t read much fiction this year that I was blown away with. Color Purple was very well written and very difficult to read. I thought Underground Railroad was worth reading in context of my other reading but I thought was too much of a concept book that didn’t quite live up to its hype. The latest of the Inspector Gamache books, Glass Houses, is among the best of the series, which is impressive for a series that has 14 books. The two Binti books, the novella Binti and the longer novel Home were refreshingly original. And I look forward to reading the conclusion of the trilogy that comes out in a couple weeks.
2018 Reading Goals
I am not much of a goal setter. My reading is usually focused on whatever happens to catch my eye right now. But I have tended to set some rough goals most years. I have four goals this year. I am a bit over half way through Subversive Gospel about Flannery O’Connor. And because of that and the biography of her I read a couple weeks ago I want to read the two novels and the rest of the short stories that I have not previously read.
My second goal is to work toward finishing a couple of author’s books. There are two novels of Octavia Butler that I have not yet read. I am not sure I will ever read all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books, but I want to read at least three more L’Engle books and at least three more of James Baldwin’s books. I have not yet read any of his fiction. So at least two of those I want to be fiction.
My third goals is to continue to explore racial issues and history and expand my reading to include more women and additional voices that I have not yet read.
The final goal is to read some formal books on the concept of Beauty in Christian theology. If anyone has some suggestions in that area I would love to hear them.
I have a goal every year of reading more fiction. But I tend to not read as much fiction as I want to because I get lost in the information. But fiction, in part because of its ability to communicate beauty is important and I hope I will move closer to even ratio of fiction to non-fiction this year.
This is my annual best of 2016 list. (Way late I know.) This is my list of the books that at the end of the year I still think about. They are not all from 2016 (most are not) and they may not be the ‘best’ books that I have read. Some years my best list has been more heavily fiction oriented. And some years I have split it up into a fiction list and a non-fiction list. But this year I am going to keep it all together (fiction is at the bottom). This is my list, roughly in order. I am not sure how you really compare books of widely different genres. So think of it as an approximation.
Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto Fujimura The new Martin Scorsesee movie Silence, based on the novel by Shusaku Endo goes into wide release next weekend. You theoretically have time to read the original Endo novel and then this book, which is Fujimura’s reflection on the novel and his reflections his and Endo’s Christian faith and the culture of Japan. Silence is not for the faint of heart. It is a novel about Christians that renounce their faith in the face of persecution. I think it is an important book and I think Fujimura’s book is the best book I have read this year. I am in the middle of re-reading it right now.
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is the most unexpected book on the list. I have liked Noah when I watched The Daily Show, but I don’t watch it often. And I tend to not pick up many celebrity memoirs, so if this has not been offered for free on audiobook I would not have picked it up. But it is very well written and a fascinating look at a culture and country that I do not know much about. Growing up in post-apartheid South Africa is not a particularly funny subject. But Noah handle it with humility, appropriate weight for the subjects and with lots of humor. I will pre-order anything else that he writes.
The March Trilogy by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with illustrator Nate Powell deserves it accolades (National Book Award and Goodreads Graphic Novel of the Year among others.) I have read a number of comic book/graphic novels this year. I have become acquainted with Seth Hahne who is behind the Goodokbad blog. He has shown me that there is so much more than traditional superhero or Manga. A lot of history is particularly well suited to graphic novel format. And the story of the Civil Rights movement through the biography of John Lewis, hits all the right notes.
Another very good graphic novel is Vision by Tom King. Vision is a member of the Avengers, but this is more a comic book about his family and what it means to love in difficult situations than about superheroes.
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes was my light pick of the year. I tend toward heavy fiction and lots of non-fiction. But I can’t only read those. I need funny books and lighters books as well. I am a huge fan of the Princess Bride movie and book. But I had not picked it up until it was on sale several years after I heard about it. This is a book that should be listened to. Elwes is not only an excellent narrator, who does great impressions of the other stars in the movie, but many of the others involved in the movie participated in reading their sections of the book as well.
Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soon-Chan Rah is the best biblical book I read this year. It is both a commentary on the book of Lamentations and a call to bring the concept of lamentations back to Evangelical worship and a commentary on how Christians should think about social issues. Soon-Chan Rah is a former pastor/church planter and now a professor at Northpark Seminary. He is a prime example of why we need more diversity not only in our seminaries, but in our reading and thinking about scripture as well. Diversity is not simply about making minority Christians feel represented but about becoming the whole body of Christ. Also related and worth reading is The End of White Christian America by Robert Jones. It is a book about demographics and polling more than theology, but it just serves to reenforce the need for a more diverse understanding of the church.
This is the 5000th Bookwi.se post. I have decided to delete free and sale book posts that are more than 50 days old, so there are just under 1700 posts still active (nearly 1300 book reviews, about 50 tips or kindle review posts, some recent sale and free book posts and a bunch of uncategorized posts that probably should be deleted as well.
I am trying to figure out what to do with this blog in the long term. I am not going to go back to posting more than the occasional sale and free books posts any time soon. So traffic has dropped significantly (around 80%) and I have put a LOT less time into the blog lately. I am just too busy with two young kids and a part time job to do much more.
But I do want to keep occasionally posting. If you want to find out about the (mostly book review) posts, subscribing by email or RSS is the best option. Facebook is only showing about 1 or 2 percent of fans each post. And I only note each post on twitter once.
My son turned two months yesterday. And my daughter will be 19 months at the end of next week. My wife’s last (paid) day as a teacher for this school year is today. I have had a hard time adjusting to this new reality while keeping up Bookwi.se. So I am going to take some time off. Likely what I am going to do is only post once or twice a week for a while. I will try to build up some reserve book reviews and try to come back with a lighter, but more consistent schedule.
If you usually come to Bookwi.se via social media, I would encourage you to subscribe via email (on right) or RSS so you see the posts that I do have. Facebook, especially, only shows a small percentage of subscribers and I almost never post links on twitter more than once.
Wesley Hill is a seminary professor at a small seminary in Pennsylvania. He has serious theology (I am reading his Paul and the Trinity right now), but he is best known for his two memoir-ish books about being a Gay Celibate Christian. The first, Washed and Waiting, makes the case for why he has chosen to be celibate and this second makes the case for the importance of deep friendships in direct relationship to the need for relational intimacy.
Neither of these books should be seen as only ‘gay Christian’ books. Hill has deep insight into the theological and spiritual issues around sex and marriage and intimacy. His illustrations are personal there are clear (at least to me) implications for understanding sexuality and intimacy in straight relationship as well.
Richard and O’Brien have written about nine areas that we as western Christians tend to misunderstand about the Bible because we are ignorant of the culture that the bible was written in and pre-suppose that the biblical era culture was similar to our own.
This is essentially a basic class in sociology and anthropology for the purpose of better understanding scripture. It is also well written with good illustrations and humor and good for those that are not bringing a lot of previous formal biblical education to the book.
The most read review of the month was not of a book but of the Scribd ebook/audiobook subscription service.
I am a fan of the service, although it does not work with my Kindle Paperwhite, which is my prefered device. But it does have a lot of audiobooks, which is what I have been using it for more than anything else.
The second most read review was about the areas that I think Scribd needs to improve. A few of them have already had updates since I posted (and I have updated the post where the improvements made a difference.
Lifehacker mentioned Scribd as one of the five best audiobook services last week.