Books I Read This Year That I Won't Forget
it was a good, good reading year.
I don’t like to write Top 10 Books Lists. I love to read them, but they’re not for me.
I read a lot of books this year that helped me hit pause on my brain that’s ever calculating my to-dos. Books that helped me escape from sadness and worries for a bit. Books that offered me so much fun when day-to-day life felt a bit repetitive. Those books served a beautiful purpose in my life and I’m thankful for those authors and I don’t remember most of those books.
So instead of my Top 10 (because how could I even start???), I’m sharing the books I read this year that I won’t forget. Some of the books on the list below accomplished the above. I laughed out loud through two of them. Several of them offered solace.
But mostly, this list of seven books swept me away with their prose, expanded the horizons of my understanding of this world, and shaped my moral imagination for the good. A lot of the books I read in 2023 will stay in 2023, but these books will journey with me into the years to come. *Shared in the order that I read them.
People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn (audio) | Looking back at history and looking around at the world she currently inhabits, Horn offers a haunting, stunning critique of society’s relationship with the Jewish community and Judaism by examining stories, events and cultural artifacts. I rarely say this, but I think everyone should read this book.
When a young employee at the Anne Frank House tried to wear his yarmulke to work, his employers told him to hide it under a baseball cap. The museum's goal was "neutrality," one spokesperson explained to the British newspaper Daily Mail, and a live Jew in a yarmulke might "interfere" with the museum's "independent position." The museum finally relented after it deliberated for four months, which seems like a rather long time for the Anne Frank House to ponder whether it was a good idea to force a Jew into hiding.
Reading While Black by Esau McCaulley (audio) | Warm, scholarly, and poignantly personal, McCaulley documents his relationship and the African-American community’s relationship with the Bible. “How Far to the Promised Land” is on my must-read list for 2024.
If we all read the biblical text assuming that God is able to speak a coherent word to us through it, then we can discuss the meanings our varied cultures have gleaned from the Scriptures. What I have in mind then is a unified mission in which our varied cultures turn to the text in dialogue with one another to discern the mind of Christ.
Address Unknown by Katherine Kressman Taylor (Kindle) | Brilliantly structured, timely and brief (took me 45 minutes to read), I was shocked to discover this book was written in 1938 and not 1948.
Your new attitude I cannot discuss. But you must understand me. I did not expect you would take up arms for my people because they are my people, but because you were a man who loved justice.
How to Stay Married by Harrison Scott Key (audio) | While certainly not for everyone, this book was certainly for me with its humor, thoughtful meditations on faith and community, and field notes on how to stay married.
Maybe you think me a fool for believing in a God that helped me stay married to a woman who gave me every good reason to let her go. Maybe I let bad things happen because for many years I had the emotional intelligence of a potted succulent. Maybe so. There are a lot maybes in this book. Sometimes maybe is all you have to hold on to. That’s all faith is, an enthusiastic maybe. A passionate probably. A hopeful hopefully.
Maybe some these questions disqualify me from calling myself a Good American Christian, but I’m not worried about the approval of whitewashed tombs who can’t tell the difference between doubt and wonder.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (print in July + audio in December) | Although I read this originally in 2022, I re-read it twice this year and found myself generously rewarded by revisiting this story of a working-class, Irish man who must decide if he’ll choose to make a decision of small (in the scheme of the universe) yet costly love.
As they carried on along and met more people Furlong did and did not know, he found himself asking was there any point in being alive without helping one another? Was it possible to carry on along through all the years, the decades, through an entire life, without once being brave enough to go against what was there and yet call yourself a Christian, and face yourself in the mirror?
Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri (audio) | My life and my faith have been intertwined with those from Iran for as long as I can remember, and Khosrou’s story (so very imaginatively told) sent me back to many memories that formed me, offered me a fresh window into the immigrant experience, and challenged my understanding of my own faith.
The legend of my mom is that she can’t be stopped. Not when you hit her. Not when a whole country full of goons puts her in a cage. Not even if you make her poor and try to kill her slowly in the little-by-little poison of sadness. And the legend is true. I think because she’s fixed her eyes on something beyond the rivers of blood, to a beautiful place on the other side. How else would anybody do it?
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (audio) | I’m so glad I picked up this Pulitzer-prize winning, modern “bildingsroman”/contemporary re-telling of David Copperfield because what Dickens offered his society through his literature—a good story coupled with searing social critique—Kingsolver delivers in this novel of a young Appalachian boy growing up through the 1990s and early ’00s.
It’s not natural for boys to lose their minds… It happens because they’ve had too many things taken away from them.
Next week I’m sharing a few absolutely-lovely-but-ultimately-forgettable books in my year-end review.