I read almost 100 books this year, so it was rather difficult to pick my top ten reads. These aren’t necessarily my favorite books of the year, nor the ones I most enjoyed. Instead, they are books that each touched me in a different way. This year, thanks to the prodding of a dear friend, I’m adding more than a one-sentence review (see 2018 Top Ten Books).
James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree
Cone’s serious and needed engagement of reading the lynching tree as a cross and connection between the Black experience and Christianity was a needed part of my studies this year. I read this, along with two other books on this list, for my sacrifice course, and the books are going to stay with me for a very long time. This one particularly has led me to consider lynching in my own culture’s/the cultural milieu I come from and the shadows that haunt my life because of that. No white person in America, with ancestry on this land, can escape the long shadow those trees cast, and this book is a good beginning in a journey to approach that shadow and realize what it has done, what it still does, and what it might do if not approached.
N. K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky
Jemisin’s work, I hope, will be a staple to these top books, especially since I have plans to do a top books of each month starting in January (since I read so much, and I don’t like picking ten at the end of the year). The Stone Sky was a superb ending to a trilogy that makes you rethink family, self, and the world around us. The other two novels in the trilogy, The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate, are also superb, so I encapsulate all of them in this one text in a hope to exude how important and necessary this work is to understanding humanity and the planet we call home.
Chris Hedges, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
I listened to this book, read by the author, and it had a profound effect on me. Hedges argument is that war is a fundamental part of being human. A war correspondent and graduate of HDS, Hedges has a succinct style that allows one to understand the atrocities of and reasons for war. I encourage anyone hoping for world peace—asking for it in prayers or thoughts—to pick up this book and read it in the coming year and for the coming wars.
Moshe Halbertal, On Sacrifice
Halbertal is a key thinker in Jewish studies, and we all need to be reading and engaging more in Jewish works of literature in order to end the rise of anti-Semitism growing in our nationalistic-tending country. On Sacrifice explains to the reader the past of sacrificing to a deity and meditates on the present sacrificing for conceptualization that we have in religion. It’s a good text for anyone wondering why we do things for religions nowadays.
The Lais of Marie de France, translated by Claire M. Waters
I love Arthuriana of all types, and it was great to finally sit down and read some of the core texts. Written by an unknown Marie whose only signifier is that she is “of France” in a time when British aristocracy lived on both the island and the continent, Marie’s engagement with the Arthurian legends is uplifting and fun. Her Lais play on the wild side of humanity, while still being able to engage some of the core meanings of that same subject.
Arkady Martine, A Memory Called Empire
This book blew me away. It’s slow, but deliciously so. It’s personal, and wonderfully so. It’s grand, and epically so. The story of a diplomat sent from a small colony to engage with one of the largest empires in the known galaxy, Martine’s complexity of city life (she’s a Byzantine scholar and city planner, so it makes sense) and her nuance of imperial politics (again, Byzantine scholar) are engaging and fulfilling. I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel.
Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera, What If It’s Us
It’s the story of two boys who randomly meet in New York and then attempt to find each other. I love Albertalli’s (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah on the Offbeat) and Silvera’s (They Both Die at the End and History Is All You Left Me) work, so it was great to see them work on these two characters together. I think I stayed up late into the night reading this one, which is not a normal occurrence for me. It made my little gay heart happy, which is also not a normal occurrence for me.
Elizabeth Freeman, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories
Time is queer, time is erotic, get used to it. Freeman’s text has been very influential in how I view, and am viewing, the relationship of temporality, texts, and queerness. It’s very poignant for someone like me, who loves the medieval and early modern periods, along with the contemporary periods, and wants to write on both, to read someone else who is working through this relationship theoretically. Lovely read.
Lee Edelman, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive
I engaged with this text in a brief paper for my New Testament course this year, in which I looked at the theology of the resurrection—eschatology, essentially—and the death drive. It was a great paper where I thought through how Christ, like Edelman, says fuck the future. Edelman’s text is very important on a broarder scale though because his argument is one that is still prevalent today: queer people are not allowed engagement in society at large because society, ever so focused on the futurity of itself, sees that queer people, in general, cannot provide a future. Queerness is shunted to the side because it is engaged with the present and not the focus on “but what about the children” (i.e., “what about the future of our race/species/society/city/town/family”). It’s a very poignant read.
Margaret Atwood, The Testaments