I Read Over 100 Books in 2019: Here Were My Favorites

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

2019 was a ~transformative~ year for me. I made three new year's resolutions, modified them halfway through the year in a whirl of outrage, then realized that mama didn't raise no quitter and found the grace to actualize my best self. Long story short, I decided who I wanted to be and asked for help to become her. That included, I guess, reading over 100 books.
Like I said, mama didn't raise no quitter.

I have another horrifyingly long rant below in favor of my most recommended book, so I'll keep this introduction brief-ish. Every single day, literature redeems, revives, ignites me. I have no rawer love language than to share my books with you. I hope that in these you'll find what I desperately want you to know: even when alone, you are not lost, nor forsaken. 

The one I recommend most, with all of my heart, the literal top 1% of my year:

Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate
Jill Hubbard and Leslie Leyland Fields
Okay, so let's assume you have the same defensive barriers as me, and you don't want to read this book because (1) ecclesiastical responses to universal emotions like pain and disappointment seem like cop-outs ("just give it to God" -- it's frustrating to hear, I know), (2) you are filial and don't want to implicate the humanity of your parents by reading a book about how they've failed you, and/or (3) you believe you do not owe your oppressors the grace of your forgiveness, and to expect such of you is a form of further oppression. These snarling, visceral reactions being my own, I of course empathize and understand completely. Here's the thing, though - if I could pinpoint the true formation of Leona 2.0 (or 3.0, or whatever upgraded version we're on), it wouldn't be my first Transformation Church sermon or the day I finally cracked open my bible after years of shuttling it from drawer to drawer. It'd be the night preceding both of these when I realized, my temper will literally destroy everything and everyone important to me. Or more precisely, the following thought: God help me.

My entire life, I have harbored an impassioned mean streak: a polycephalic impulse for judgment and.great, crushing love. At my best, I'm simply sensitive. At my worst, I hold the entire world to an impossibly narrow and absurd standard, believing my crusade against their faults to be righteous when it is only, stripped down, the tenderness of my own disappointment.
What I'm trying to say is, justly or not, even strangers wound me, and I let them. The space of my unfulfilled expectations, whether from politician or parent, just about wrecks me. It's not, I know, a happy or even peaceful way to live.

So -- wow, apologies for all that, but that's me and all my baggage, and why I needed this book. Onto its merits, structured as responses to the aforementioned doubts:

(1) As far as religious books go, this one is as inviting and gracious as the best of them. Hubbard and Fields acknowledge the shared doubt of the faithful and secular: why would a good God allow bad things to happen? More importantly, why would He allow them to happen to me? I never felt preached to, or asked to obey a set of commandments in order to access their promise. The crux of this book might be in the Christian language: honor thy mother and father. But it's a universal mandate, and gently suggests that its impossibility is only rendered possible through divine example.
(2) I don't want to talk about my own parents, but I will say that the first step to breaking generational curses, especially if you're a third culture heir, is to develop an extraordinary sense of empathy. You will not shame them by admitting the ways their behavior and your own expectations misaligned. Even if your parents are absolutely, 100% not the source of your trauma, this book offers a gracious paradigm for literally any figure in your life - partner, sibling, teacher, friend. If you want extra credit, it might even teach you to forgive yourself.
(3) Forgiveness is never about the forgiven, and will not erase the ways they have hurt you. But it can release you from their power to control you. Despite all the ways that your circumstances and loved ones have been insufficient or even destructive, listen to this promise: you can still have freedom. 

Boom. If that's not a resounding endorsement, I don't know what is. Please don't let my long-winded chattering put you off. It was just such a necessary part of my year, and I want to shout it from the rooftops. Read this book.

Mary Oliver
I read a poem of hers that reminded me of someone truly good I'd met (I know a man of such mildness and kindness it is trying to change my life. He does not preach, teach, but simply is) and I realized if anybody ever, unprompted, finds me in a line of really good poetry and thinks to share it with me, that boy loves me and I'm his forever. I actually think about these unlikely meet-cutes a lot, like how I might find my future husband sitting on the library floor reading Book of Cord. Or how we'll meet at a Keep Taiwan Free rally and he'll ask to borrow my Sharpie to write "and Hong Kong" on his shirt and...
Anyways. I'm very happy being single. Obviously.
Jokes aside, the only reason I don't mind blabbing about myself in this description is because Mary Oliver needs no introduction from someone as insignificant as me. Read this book.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
Reza Aslan
I remember the entire experience of reading this book, partly because it was all contained within a single flight from Salt Lake City to Oakland but mostly because it was so astonishing and inspiring. Get this: the manicured (yet somehow hypermasculine), white pacifist Jesus you know of Americanized Christianity is a myth. And the real Jesus was a politically woke, seditious revolutionary. Someone still, spirituality stripped, absolutely worth following. I've never actually seen Game of Thrones, but based on fan reactions, I'd guess the pacing of this book is similar: thrilling, searching, spectacular. Read this book.

The Flatshare
Beth O'Leary
It's rare I read a romance-ish novel without being too embarrassed to acknowledge it, but I loved this one and my sister (literal Literature major so her opinion is more credentialed than mine) did, too. It's the best timeless pairing: the quirky, vivacious girl (except she's explicitly tall and not predictably petite/dainty, which is weirdly so refreshing) and a very stoic, very British man who tolerates and is occasionally delighted by the color she brings into his very stoic, very British life. I've been in that pairing, actually, and it's a lot of fun. But this book was just so smart and wistful, with just enough seriousness to make you feel like you've done a bit of introspection. My favorite English terms are "cheeky" and "oh, bless him/her/them" and I felt both of those with The Flatshare. Delightful and delicious. Read this book.

Honorable Mentions

Letters to a Young Poet
Rainer Maria Rilke
My literature ride or die, this will top every list for the rest of my life.
Everything which makes more of you than you have previously been in your best hours, is right. Every exaltation is good if it is in your whole blood, if it is not intoxication or turbidness, but joy into whose depths you can see. Do you understand what I mean? 

American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment
Shane Bauer
Through the course of my digging, it has become clear that there has never been a time in American history in which companies or governments weren't trying to make money from other people's captivity. 

On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope
DeRay Mckesson
If faith is our belief that our world will be better, and hope our belief that it can be better, imagination is what allows us to navigate between the two, to paint a picture of the future that we can one day touch, feel, bring into being. Both require a relationship with the future that is not solely dependent on the past. Both require a belief in things yet to come. We can't fight for what we can't imagine. 

Church Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness
Jennifer Berry Hawes
Through its two-hundred-year history, this congregation had survived slavery, segregation, wars, a massive earthquake, hangings, and fires set by white racists. They would show the world that while devastated, Emanuel wasn’t destroyed now, either. Evil had entered this sacred space, but Emanuel still meant “God with us.”

The Collected Schizophrenias: Essays
Esme Weijun Wang
Among psychiatric researchers, having a job is considered one of the major characteristics of being a high-functioning person. ... Most critically, a capitalist society values productivity in its citizens above all else, and those with severe mental illness are much less likely to be productive in ways considered valuable: by adding to the cycle of production and profit. 
I Read Over 100 Books in 2018: Here Were My Favorites 

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