A Year In Books: 2015

This was a year of hermitage. It was a year of letting many of the social, creative, and interactive plates I was spinning come crashing to the ground. I needed to retreat to focus on more important things: my mental health, and my work. My involvement in gay activism all but vanished, and my previous blog, which had seen some mild and enjoyable success, collected cyber dust and eventually expired.

2015 was, however, a very good year for reading. I am a painfully slow reader, but I managed to get through 20+ books this year – the most I’ve tackled in years. I thought I would kick off this new year, and this new blog, with a rundown and brief review of the books I read this year.

Changing Our Mind by David Gushee – This incredibly slim volume is (yet another) game changer in the conversation over faith and homosexuality. David Gushee is the foremost ethicist of the Evangelical world, and his insight and logic are powerfully displayed in this book. It is a fantastic introduction to the subject.

Food Rules by Michael Pollon – Intended to be something of a companion to his book In Defense of Food, this is a brief outline of how to eat well. Wonderfully clear, and I recommend it to many people. His central thesis – Eat Food, Mostly Plants, Not Too Much – has changed how I think about food.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – I found this book incredibly helpful. He explores how habits – especially small habits – can go on to have gargantual consequences, and then breaks down how to hack and re-wire the circuitry of habit in the brain. I will probably use what I learned in this book for the rest of my life.

Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach – 2015 was the year my anxiety and depression decided to give me a surprise visit, and this book showed up at just the right time to help see me through the mess. Tara Brach combines ancient Buhddist teachings with modern psychology, and gave me some very powerful tools to get through the dark months at the beginning of this year. She does have a tendency to veer into the sacharine in her style, but I found it forgivable, because of the sheer impact this book had my life.

The Bible Tells me So by Peter Enns – This is a challenging book, especially for Evangelical childen like me. It dives into the inconsistencies of Scripture, while maintaining a belief in Christ. Peter Enns encourages us to consider that our popular view of scripture as an infallible rulebook is horribly misguided, and that we are actually causing ourselves a great deal of grief and dissonance by not allowing scripture to be what it is: very complicated.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchel – A jaw dropping, mind blowing literary experience. Much better than the film.

Mort by Terry Pratchett – Terry Pratchett, the Lord of the Discworld, is still the best. May he rest in peace.

Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon – This is a monolithic tome which took me several months to finish. It was well worth the effort, though. The book is about ordinary families with extraordinary children, and its topics cover everything from autism, deafness, to trans children, children of rape, and prodigies. I learned an enormous amount, and I felt as though my sense of empathy, compassion, and humanity were greatly expanded. This is one of those rare books that made me feel like a better human being for reading it. Andrew Solomon also has some of the most sublime prose I have read in recent memory.

Tarot: Reading Tarot Cards for Beginners by Michelle Gilbert – an adorable, poorly written, self-published essay on amazon. I didn’t learn anything new about the Tarot, but it was a relaxing diversion in between hefty reads.

What’s Wrong With Homosexuality? by John Corvino – A brief, enlightening philosophical defense of homosexuality from philosopher John Corvino. I deeply enjoyed this read: it’s funny, clear, and well argued. I have also spent most of my life in the theological quarters of the gay debate, so it was an enjoyable experience reading the perspective of a secular philosopher.

The Superstition of Divorce by G.K. Chesterton – A forgotten pamphlet by the legendary G.K. Chesterton, in which he weighs in on the divorce debate in England. A very interesting glimpse into the debate at that time. I disagree with Chesterton on many points, but he remains one of my favorite writers.

And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts – This was another life-changing book. It reads like a riveting true-crime novel, and chronicles the rise of AIDS in the 80s as the world stood by and did nothing. It stares unflinchingly into the darkness of the AIDS epidemic. It gave me much to think on, and it illuminated for me the depth of the crises: AIDS is still a global catastrophe, and we still don’t want to think about it.

Animal Farm by George Orwell – A terrifying little classic.

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin – Guilty pleasure reading at its best. This installment is slower, more political, and all my favorite characters were missing, but I still enjoyed it. I am, as I write this, nearly finished with A Dance With Dragons, which I think (contrary to popular belief) is George R.R. Martin’s best yet.

Codependant No More by Melody Beatty – This is the progenetor of the self-help genre. Some of it is dated, but I found a great deal of it helpful in maintaining healthy relationships with myself and others. I recommend this book to anyone who struggles with relationships and boundaries.

My Own Country by Abraham Verghese – This book devestated me. Abraham Verghese – an Indian immigrant doctor from Ethiopia – recounts his experience being the sole doctor in a rural Tennessee town treating the rise of AIDS in the eighties. Being from Appalachia myself, this one hit close to home. It is sublimely, movingly written.

Atonement by Ian McEwan – I absolutely loved this book. I could rave about this novel for days. Please just read it.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – I desperately needed this book, filth wizard that I am. She also talks endlessly about how socks have feelings.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susanah Cahalan – I was ultimately left disappointed by this book. It started strong, and it’s premise is fantastic: an up and coming journalist is afflicted by a mysterious disease that renders her insane. After her recovery, she investigates her own illness, and forgotten month, by interviewing friends, doctors, and family. It should have been riveting, but it wasn’t. It felt like a very earnest senior project from an English major – lots of passion but poorly written.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers – A philosophical mystery which takes place in Oxford. While the mystery unfolds, it addresses feminism, writing, intellect, and all other sorts of wonderful philosophical issues. It’s a challenge to get through, but absolutely delicious.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – Still my favorite children’s book ever.

We Hold These Truths to be Self Evident by Oliver DeMille – A conservative, libertarian Mormon (and founder A Thomas Jefferson Education) puts forth 12 principles of Natural Law that a nation must follow to survive. Of course, according to him, we are breaking all of them. I found this interesting, but poorly written and argued.

The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon – of all the books I read this year, this one was the hardest to get through. It explores every aspect of depression: the experience, the science, treatment, suicide, populations, and politics. It is a devestating read. If you want to gain a better understanding of depression, I encourage you to read this book, even though it left me speechless.

Here’s to another year of reading.

S

  1. For 2016, might I suggest some Brian McLaren – one of the most prominent voices of postmodern Christianity? I think you would particularly enjoy “A New Kind of Christianity” (not to be confused with his New Kind of Christian trilogy, which is also thoroughly enjoyable, and full of theological exploration and mystery, but New Kind of Christianity offers more substance to chew on). But I’ve loved pretty much everything he’s written.

    1. I read A New Kind Of Christian years ago, and I’ve been thinking that I need to revisit Brian McLaren. I have a feeling he would be very good for me. I will definitely put him on the list for this year. Thank you for the recommendation.

  2. Love Gaudy Night! One of my favorite books, and much underrated as an exploration of feminism and several other philosophical topics that relate especially to the healthy life of the mind and to those who love learning.

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