Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Five Best Books I Read in 2013

Also getting this post in under the deadline. Fortunately I've blogged about these books,so I don't have to say too much here. Follow the links! Once again in alphabetical order...

Behind the Beautiful Forevers was the first book I read this year, and as 2013 comes to an end it remains one of the best. It is a stunning, heartbreaking work of the sort that only true journalism can bring us. In presenting its powerful story of poverty and injustice and endurance and hope, Katherine Boo teaches us fundamental truths about community, family, and the human condition. See more here.

The Education of Henry Adams is a challenging book to read, and not just because the elliptical way in which Adams constructed his autobiography, using the third-person throughout; it is also difficult because, as he sees his life, he has spent it learning and learning, but never truly becoming educated. Ultimately, though, Adams account of himself becomes compelling, and I can understand why the books is considered a class. Among its many rewards is a portrait of a unique kind of anarchist sensibility, about which I talk some here (scroll to the bottom).

Gilead is a fantastic book, the most beautiful and careful and demanding novel that I've ever read. It is a story whose language is so entwined with the landscape and history and voice of the character--John Ames--who narrates it that learning to read Marilynne Robinson's story actually brings you into it, in a manner that I've never experienced before. It's a book that lead me to rethink my favorite book of the year, so consider them both here.

I wrote a lot about The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Rod Dreher's wonderful memoir of his sister's life and tragic passing, this year; it was my favorite read of the year, and it gave me a great deal to think about, including the connection which occurred to me with Gilead above. As I hope to visit with Rod Dreher when he visits Friends University a few months from now, maybe I'll write even more about it then.

Thinking the Twentieth Century, which is the edited transcription of an months-long collection of discussions between Tony Judt--who was dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease in 2010--and Timothy Snyder, taught me stuff I never dreamed I wanted to know, about history and philosophy and politics and academia and more. While much of it was so discursive as to be almost infuriating, it revealed new ideas and arguments on every page, and that is what got it on my top five list. Read a long collection of quotes from the book here.

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