Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My Favorite Books from 2014

Each year I set a goal of reading at least 52 books. This past year I came close to reaching my goal finishing 46 books. (And, that’s if you don’t count all 22 volumes – more than 2,800 pages – of The Walking Dead comic book series that I binge read in October.)

In 2014 I read numerous books on the theme of racial justice. Most notable was Blood Done Sign My Name, Tim Tyson’s amazing history/memoir of a racist murder in a small North Carolina town in 1970. I also read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, an oral history of the Chicago high rise housing projects, and New Yorker theater critic Hilton Als’ extraordinary White Girls, a collection of essays exploring race, gender, and sexuality.

This past year I also continued on my quest to read every book published by McSweeney’s Press. To date I’ve read 194 of the 222 books published by McSweeney’s.

The most usual book I read this year was Paul LeGault’s The Emily Dickinson Reader. I read this alongside the complete collected poems of Emily Dickinson. What Paul LeGault did is an act of both genius and obsession. In The ED Reader he offers a one line “translation” of each of Dickinson’s 1,789 poems. These tweetable translations are often witty and sarcastic. I’m a big fan of art projects that demonstrate obsession on such a large scale.

I tend to read a lot of fiction and I’m especially a fan of short stories. My favorite novels from this past year include Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story about a technological dystopia, Courtney Moreno’s In Case of Emergency, Bill Cotter’s The Parallel Apartments. My favorite short story collections included Pastoralia by George Saunders, Further Joy by John Brandon, Jess Walter’s We Live in Water, and Painted Cities by Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski.

In non-fiction I read several books in the Voices of Witness series. These collect oral histories to illuminate human rights abuses both within and outside of the United States. I read oral history collections from survivors of Hurricane Katrina as well as from prisoners who had served time on death row but were later exonerated. Cory Doctorow’s manifesto about copyright law in the information age – Information Doesn’t Want To Be Free – was an interesting analysis of a topic I had never considered. No book I read this past year was as fascinating as A Very Bad Wizard by Tamler Sommers. This book includes a dozen interviews Sommers conducts with leading philosphers, psychologists, and biologists who think about the topic of morality.

My favorite book on the topic of religion from this past year was Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God. I don’t completely agree with Bell’s theology but I’m a big fan of his project of trying to write both honestly and popularly about doing Christian theology in our contemporary culture.

What does 2015 hold in the way of books? My immediate to-read list includes six volumes from the Voices of Witness series illuminating Human Rights crises in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Myanmar, Columbia, and Palestine; the complete essays of James Baldwin; the last two Marilynne Robinson novels, Home and Lila; the latest book by Barbara Ehrenreich called Living With a Wild God which deals with mystical experience; and all the short story collections by George Saunders I haven’t read yet.

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