Looking Back on Fave Reads

So, lists like this are supposed to come out at the end of the year. However, the end of 2017 afforded me no time for reflection, much less thinking back on things I read.

Of the 35 books I read last year, three were fiction. I strongly prefer nonfiction to fiction. Not sure why. A few years back I went through a phase when I couldn’t stand music. These days I can’t tolerate most fiction. Give me a stylized slice of real life, and I’m happy.

The exception to my nonfiction preference was Diane Glancy’s The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwitha. I’m not sure how I came to read this work of historical fiction, since it’s far outside my usual taste in books. Still, I could not put it down. After I finally did put it down, it haunted me.

Glancy narrates the story of Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th century Mohawk woman who was converted to Christianity by the Jesuits. A smallpox epidemic has left her badly scarred, nearly blind, and orphaned, but her life in the aftermath is both piercing and tender. (Another novel I read last year, Molokai, similarly told the story of a girl whose entire life was altered by leprosy.) My fave quotation:

Father James de Lamberville read the scriptures for scriptures to read to us. He told us about the cherubim in Ezekiel—they had four faces, a man, a lion, an ox, an eagle. They had hoofed feet on wheels and wings. They were full of eyes. There were animals in heaven, they said. The Indian spirits were counterfeit of these (30).

My favorite 2017 book, nonfiction category, was Ilana Kurshan’s memoir, If All the Seas Were Ink. Kurshan tells the story of her life as an American woman living in Jerusalem in the aftermath of divorce, and joining the “world’s largest book club”—that is, reading the daily page of the Talmud with fellow Jewish people all over the world.

First off, a memoir about reading is right up my alley. Second, I’m fascinated by Torah study and the wild creativity that seems to be not just acceptable but standard in midrashim. I lapped up this book. Here’s a favorite quotation:

I knew God—and I continue to know God—primarily in shadows cast by other people. . . . I sought out God the way a traveler through the forest might seek out the moon through the trees; sometimes it was hidden, other days it was just a faint crescent, still other days it was a full orb with mountains and valleys of variegated hues. But it was still just a play of shadows, as all moonlight is (70).

Other favorites in 2017 include Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (once I worked up the courage to read it), Bitten by a Camel by Kent Dobson (a work of astonishing honesty about finding God), and The Art of Waiting by Belle Boggs (a well-researched book exploring infertility and the author’s individual experience of it).

What magic words will 2018 hold? Well, I just finished my pastor’s book, Love God, Love People, Don’t Do Dumb Crap by Rev. Shane Bishop, and I will soon crack open Philip Jenkins’s Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution that Made Our Modern Religious World. (Caroline also assigned me some Rainbow Magic Fairy titles to read.)

What book(s) will stick with you beyond 2017?

school hallway

Dream. Read. Learn. Good advice from the hallway at East St. Louis High School.