It feels a bit odd to write a post on books for the holidays because… well, I read year-round. All the time. And because of that, I don’t get the same “seasonality” affect with books that I get with tastes and sounds. I don’t have holiday books to save for this time of year like I have holiday tastes, smells, and sounds.
Even with that, I like to be intentional about my reading. Not in a legalistic or joy-clamping way, but I like to make sure what I’m putting into my brain is suited to something, whether a mood, a topic of study, relaxation, or personal growth. For me, reading is less about specifics of what to read and more about the intentional practice behind it. In reading, we get so much: we learn, we listen, we explore, we wrestle, we thrill, we weep. Reading touches so much of our humanity that it should be done with purpose as well as enjoyment.
For serious readers, I think a wonderful holiday exercise is to look back at your year of books and find (or form) a narrative about how all or some of those books have contributed to your current sense of self. What have those books taught you or revealed to you that is now part of the fabric of your core, authentic self? How have those books changed or shaped the way you now see the world? I think the holiday season is ripe with time and opportunity (and perhaps responsibility) for reflection. That starts with our experiences, and so much of my personal internal experiences starts with books.
These are some of the books that formed me in 2018, followed by some I plan to read during this holiday season for their individual riches.
Peter Singer’s The Most Good You Can Do. I reviewed this book months ago, and it is still sticking with me. I am seriously considering a plant-based diet, not for health but for compassion and ethical living. I’m even more committed to our plan to adopt children. I’m still motivated and thrilled by the stories of people who have given up so many first-world creature comforts to support causes that address human suffering on a broad scale. I think it is an important book for anyone who wants to live an ethical life in a first-world country designed to make us wholly self-absorbed, greedy, ignorant, and careless about the sufferings of others.
Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. Wow, this book. Last year I read quite a bit about the physical brain, and this year’s reading has been dedicated, unconsciously, to understanding the ways our brains betray us. This book has made me slow down when thinking through an issue, has made me a lot more sympathetic to others, and has given me some explanatory sanity of the devastation in this country. (Aside from the moral evils.)
Image from and link to purchase here.
Tara Westover’s Educated: A Memoir is one of the most raw, real, painful, redemptive, and REAL memoirs I’ve ever read. I don’t relate to much of her story and her life, but it is a striking reminder of the power of education and how one of the best things we can do is see every child in his or her circumstance and situation and give them as many chances as we can to succeed, to break through the psychological, emotional, and physical barriers imposed on them by their family, community, or situation. I read it in one day and wept.
Full disclosure: I’m not a big fan of YA literature. I think it’s wonderful and has a LOT to offer adults young and old, but I gravitate towards other genres. Angie Thomas’s book, however, showed me how I need to be more open to the genre. It is a powerful novel, and gave me a window into a world and culture that is part of my country but feels so foreign to me. A language, a style, bodily concerns, all things I assume we share, but that this book highlights (for this white reader) are very different depending on where we live, what we look like, and how others see us. (“Others” meaning our broader community and systems.)
This book was a delightful read on the Inklings and you can read my thoughts here, here, and here. (Yes, I was a little obsessed for a bit!) What has stuck with me, however, on a “what kind of person I am and want to be” level is the ways it outlines how to be a better friend. Specifically, how to be a friend who helps my friends achieve their best, whatever that best is and in whatever field or pursuit they choose. It also set a deep longing for relationships like those in that group, and I think our longings are pretty significant aspects of who we are.
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Once classes get out, sometime in early December, I’m excited to focus on some reading for fun. These are the books and ideas I plan to end my year with, to have in my immediate brain as I head into the new year.
Lord of the Rings
Can you believe I’ve yet to read the entire LOTR trilogy? Shame shame. Truth be told, fantasy is not my favorite genre. I adore nonfiction and all-things-real, so getting too far afield (Orcs! Magic! Talking trees!) can turn me off pretty quickly. However, I do love how imaginative elements can illuminate complex ethical issues in a way that straightforward examinations cannot. Every literary genre has a unique purpose and strength and beauty. Plus, sometimes a book sets just the right mood… and that is holiday season to me. So I am working my way through the trilogy over the next couple of years.
Photo from last year with my favorite mulled wine. Also, is it obvious now that reading and drinking go hand-in-hand in my world?
Last year I read The Fellowship of the Ring, so up for 2018 is The Two Towers. And seriously, how could I not read the books when I have such a perfect, beautiful, tactile-y delicious set?
I have a friend who reads the entire trilogy every holiday season, ending The Return of the King on New Year’s Eve. I think that’s lovely, and I love that someone I know and love is doing it.
Image from and link to purchase here.
I started José Medina’s The Epistemology of Resistance (and even wrote a paper on a couple chapters!) last semester, but never finished it. I think it is marvelous, and I’ve been really anxious to finish. I was feeling oddly afraid of finishing it over the summer, because I was afraid I’d read something that would make me realize my paper was garbage and that I’m stupid. (Yes, I am in therapy for, among other things, my raging self-doubt.) This Christmas, for my philosophy fix, I am looking forward to getting back into this meaty, thought-provoking book on the epistemic forms of oppression.
And finally, the book I use to cap off every reading year: Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s The Sacrament of the Present Moment. I am a deeply anxious person, and this book always calms me and reminds me that this moment is all we have and that it contains riches often left untouched when I insist on looking constantly to the future. My yellowed, weathered, sun-bleached copy is dear to me.
Those three will do it. I think the blend of a call to holy attention, fantastical heroism, and intellectual stimulation will give me everything my brain could want during the holidays. They will set the mood, confer comfort, and challenge me to think deeply about the next year; things all great books and all great reading should do.