Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Buried by Books

This blog post is about an existential crisis. OK, it is not really an existential crisis but it is about something I recently discovered that shocked me, or at least made me stop and think. If you know me, you know that I make and keep a lot of lists. One of those lists is a list of books that either I heard about and think that I might like to read or that someone recommends very strongly that I read.

Well, this list had gotten a bit sloppy so decided to clean it up and, when I did, I discovered that my list of books to read is 479 books long! At the rate that I read books, that is the equivalent of nine years of reading. Or, in other words, even if no books were published in the next decade and even if nobody shares a book title with me that they think I should read, it would take me over nine years to read all the books on my list.

Yes, there are bigger problems than this in the world. Yes, I have bigger problems than this. But, it makes me the teensiest bit melancholy and disappointed to know that this list will never be completed. If anything, I expect it to grow even larger and even more unmanageable and daunting.

All of this overly-existential hand-wringing has been to share with you the top 25 titles on my “Books to Read” list for 2011.

1) The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona-Mexico Borderlands – by Martha Regan
This book is the UUA Common Read book of the year. At the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church we’ve asked for our members to read it and come to one of several discussion groups we will be hosting on the book in January.

2) Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives – edited by Peter Orner and Luis Alberto Urrea
If I am going to read The Death of Josseline, I might as well also crack into the Voices of Witness series published by McSweeney’s press. They have already published five titles in this series.

3) The New Personality Self-Portrait: Why You Think, Work, Love and Act the Way You Do – by John M. Oldham and Lois B. Morris
In early 2011 I am going to be attending a church auction event called “An Evening with Two Psychologists.” The evening, as I understand it, will include discussion and games based on the different personality types described in this book. Luckily, I’ve been told that it is impossible to fail this personality test.

4) The Squeaky Wheel: Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem – by Guy Winch [TO BE RELEASED IN JANUARY]
While researching voter turnout during the 2010 midterm election, I ran into this piece Guy Winch wrote for Psychology Today online. I mentioned his upcoming book in my sermon on Disillusionment on December 5 and Guy Winch wrote me a Facebook message to say “hello.” I’ll be reading his book when it comes out in January.

5) The Instructions – by Adam Levin
Who else but McSweeney’s would publish a 1,030 page first novel? Supposedly the novel takes place over four days in the life of a ten year old Jewish boy. James Joyce is very impressed.

6) McSweeney’s 33
One of the many, many great things about McSweeney’s literary quarterly is the fantastic packaging. I’m not sure how I am going to read this issue which was printed on large-format newsprint and resembles an extra-bulky Sunday paper.

7) McSweeney’s 36
McSweeney’s 36 just arrived in the mail. This issue consists of stories in the form of booklets and pamphlets tucked inside a cubic box/human head.

8) Zeitoun – by Dave Eggers
After reading Eggers’ What is the What, perhaps the best book I’ve ever read, I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to read his narrative non-fiction account of the experiences of a Syrian-American survivor of Hurricane Katrina.

9) The Pale King – by David Foster Wallace [TO BE RELEASED IN APRIL]
There is no book I am more looking forward to reading in 2010 than the long-awaited Pale King. After David Foster Wallace committed suicide in 2008 the literary world has been holding its breath to learn what would become of his unfinished final novel. Now, it looks like it will be released in only 115 days.

10) A Better Angel: Stories – by Chris Adrian
Adrian is a not just a brilliant writer. He is also a specialist in pediatric medicine and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. Last summer the New Yorker named him as one of the 20 best writers under 40 years of age. After reading his amazing short story in McSweeney’s 32 and his story in the September 27, 2010, New Yorker I am eager to take this short story collection off of my bookshelf.

11) The Great Night: A Novel – by Chris Adrian [TO BE RELEASED IN APRIL]
Although I wasn’t impressed by Adrian’s first novel, Gob’s Grief, I was blown away by his second novel, The Children’s Hospital. His third novel is due out in late April.

12) Paul Was Not a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle – by Pamela Eisenbaum
This book was a gift to me from Jennifer Forker who read it as a student at Iliff Seminary. In April I will begin teaching an adult religious education course on “Reading Saint Paul as Unitarian Universalists.” This is going to be research for that class.

13) Death of the Liberal Class – by Chris Hedges
I’ve read and enjoyed four of Hedges’ seven books. I can’t wait to get my hand on this, his latest and perhaps his most controversial.

14) Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America – by Chris Hedges
Besides reading Hedges’ latest book, I am also looking forward to reading his first.

15) Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal – by Jeffrey Kripal [TO BE RELEASED IN OCTOBER]
I am currently reading Jeffrey Kripal’s fantastic (and academically rigorous) Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. I can’t wait for the follow up, due out this October from the University of Chicago Press.

16) The Serpent’s Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion – by Jeffrey Kripal
I read only parts and pieces of Kripal’s first two books Kali’s Child and Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom. I do mean to go back and read them both in their entirety. But, I am also very interested in cracking into Kripal’s third book, The Serpent’s Gift.

17) Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – by Annie Dillard
I have absolutely no good excuse for not having read Dillard’s classic spiritual memoir. Put it on the reading list for 2011.

18) Four Spirits – by Sena Jeter Naslund
This novel was highly recommended to me a couple of years ago by a colleague of mine. Naslund is the author of Ahab’s Wife, which I have not read, a novel written from the perspective of the wife of the captain in Moby Dick. Four Spirits is a historical novel written from the perspective of four girls who died in a Civil Rights Era church bombing.

19) Five Skies – by Ron Carlson
This novel was highly recommended to me by a member of the SMUUCh fiction book club.

20) Home – by Marilynne Robinson
I had the good fortune of meeting Marilynne Robinson in 2006. I’ve enjoyed all of her books, but none more than Gilead. Home, as I understand it, is kind of a follow-up or alternative take on Gilead and, to tell you the truth, I am afraid of reading it because Gilead was just that good. But, there is really no excuse not to have read this one.

21) Half a Life – by Darin Strauss
This book, published by McSweeney’s press, has been getting rave reviews. Let me copy what is written on its dust jacket:
“Half my life ago, I killed a girl.” So begins Darin Strauss’s Half a Life, the true story of how one outing in his father’s Oldsmobile resulted in the death of a classmate and the beginning of a different, darker life for the author. We follow Strauss as he explores his startling past—collision, funeral, the queasy drama of a high-stakes court case—and what starts as a personal tale of a tragic event opens into the story of how to live with a very hard fact: we can try our human best in the crucial moment, and it might not be good enough. Half a Life is a nakedly honest, ultimately hopeful examination of guilt, responsibility, and living with the past.

21) Local Wonders – by Ted Kooser
Five years ago, when I provided sabbatical coverage for my colleague in Lincoln, Nebraska, I was given a copy of Pulitzer Prize Winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s book of prose poems. I need to take it off my shelf.

22) Here If You Need Me – by Kate Braestrup
Somehow I managed to pick this book up but never read it. It is the true story of a UU who goes to seminary after the death of her husband and becomes a chaplain working with search and rescue teams in Maine.

23) No Silent Witness: The Eliot Parsonage Women and Their Unitarian World – by Cynthia Grant Tucker
I read Tucker’s earlier group biography, Prophetic Sisterhood, about a group of female frontier Unitarian ministers. The Eliot family was the leading Unitarian family from the late 1800s until after WWII. This group biography delves into the lives of the women of the Eliot dynasty.

24) Blood Done Sign My Name – by Tim Tyson
Last week I was elected to serve as Vice-President of the Board of the MAINstream Coalition for 2011. The author of this book is the brother of MAINstream’s wonderful Executive Director, Boo Tyson. The book tells the story of racially motivated murder in North Carolina in the 1960s.

25) The Girl Who Kicked a Hornet's Nest – by Stieg Larsson
I completely devoured the first two book in Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. Must finish the series.

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