I saw this over on the God’s Politics blog, and it seemed like a good idea to look back over the books I’ve read in the past year and pick some favorites. The only problem is that I’ve read a lot of books in the past year, and picking out a handful of them (the max seems the be five at the blog I’m borrowing this from) is going to be difficult. So, I’m just going to list them here with a few thoughts about each title.
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris – Technically, I read this last December, but I’m including it anyway because it influenced much of the rest of my reading this year. I was browsing in a book store, not looking for anything in particular when I found this one. Actually, the title caught my eye and after reading the summary on the back, I picked it up. Once I started reading it, well, I found Sam Harris was saying a lot of stuff that I’d been thinking. It was the beginning of a year of exploration. I’ve stayed impressed with Sam Harris since then.
For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence by Alice Miller – Earlier this year, personal circumstances caused me to revisit my childhood, to try and understand it and put it into context. I read a lot of books on the subject, and came across this title in the bibliography of one of them. Again, it was a case of an author saying what I’d been thinking
Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse by Philip J. Greven – This one was suggested by the Alice Miller book above. I finally ordered it off Amazon and read it so quickly that I was actually sorry to close the book. It’s one of those books that actually speaks to much more than is indicated in the title. Reading it makes clear the connection between our families and our politics. And the consequences.
The Riddle of Gender by Deborah Rudacille – I’ve always been interested in the subject of gender, ever since a friend of mine came out as trangendered in college, and began transitioning from female to male. This was one of the most accessible books on the subject, and one of the rare science-related books that a non-scientist can read and be simultaneously informed and entertained.
Clifford’s Blues by John A. Williams – This one had been on my “to read” list for a while, but I’d been neglecting my fiction reading. When Octavia Butler died, I decided to read Kindred. I enjoyed that one so much that I ordered this one from my Amazon wish list, because a novel about a black, gay jazz pianist trapped in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII sounded like a compelling story. It was.
Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism – by Michelle Goldberg – After reading several interviews with Michelle Goldberg, and excerpts from the book, I got tired of waiting for a paperback edition, picked up a copy and devoured it. If you want a primer on the players and goals of the religious right movement in the U.S., I’d recommend this one. I read it as part of what became a trio of books I ended up reading on the subject.
American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21stCentury by Kevin Phillips – This one was suggested by the previous title, and since the author of this one also predicted much of our current political reality in The emerging Republican majority, I figured he must know what he’s talking about. If Goldberg’s book is a primer, Phillips gives a thorough history of the evolution (pun intended) of the religious conservative political movement in the U.S., and a pretty interesting take on the consequences if they succeed.
A History of the End of the World: How the Most Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western Civilization by Jonathan Kirsch – After realizing how much of the conservative religious political movement is driven by a literal reading of the Book of Revelation a longing for the “Rapture,”so strong that it now influences our foreign policy, I went looking for more info on it. What I found was an interesting, readable history of Revelation, including it’s full KJV text, so I didn’t have to buy a bible (because I don’t own one) to read it. I’m not sure, but my impression is that the guy who wrote the bible’s grand finale was only slightly crazier than his biggest fans.
Skipping Towards Armageddon: The Politics and Propaganda of the Left Behind Novels and the LaHaye Empire – by Michael Standaert – The pervious title merely whet my appetite for more. So I picked up a copy of Pocket Guide To The Apocalypse: The Official Field Manual For The End Of The World, which was actually published by a Christian publishing house, but it still a funny, irreverent, informative guide to apocalypticism today. In the bibliography, I found this book, which includes a synopsis of all the books in the Left Behind series, so I don’t have to read them. It’s like a guided tour into the mind of Tim LaHaye and others like him.
Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians And Gays in Black Churches by Horace Griffin – This is probably one of my favorites among the books I read this year. It’s probably my pick for the book that should be read but most likely won’t be read by the people who could benefit from it most. But it does put black homophobia into a historical and cultural context, while also describing the consequences of homophobia in black communities, and countering the myths and mis information a the root of much black homophobia. If I could, I put one on the desk of every black minister in America.
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins – Having started out with Sam Harris, I suppose it makes sense that I’d end up with Richard Dawkins. I tried reading his The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, but never quite made it through. I found this book more accessible, once I got my hands on a copy. I looked for it for about a week, once I decided to read it, and every book store I went to had sold out of its copies. I’m not sure, but maybe that means the publisher underestimated the level of interest. Actually, there’s a lot of interest in Dawkins, but some of what I’ve seen written about him doesn’t quite make sense. I might post about that later, but suffice it to say that a lot of what he says makes sense to me. Does that make me an atheist?
Anyway, that’s been my year in books. Of course, there are a few that will carry over into next year. I’m just finishing Atheist Universe: The Thinking Person’s Answer to Christian Fundamentalism, which I found in the bibliography of Dawkins’ book. And I’m a couple of chapters into Born to Be Gay: A History of Homosexuality (Revealing History. On the night-stand, I’ve got Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why and Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time.
I’ll have to wait and see how the rest of next year’s reading shapes up.