Continuing the best books of 2023 list, here are the best reads from the second half of the year. Number 1 on this list is also my most favorite read in 2023.
In December, I also started a bookstagram account, after debating it for a long time. It turns out that bookstagram is the best place on the internet! I can’t believe how friendly the community is and how thrilling it is to meet with other obsessive book lovers around the world. Follow my account at @obsessivelybookishjojo on IG!
Poets just make the best writers! How the Word Is Passed is my most favorite read of 2023, written beautifully by Clint Smith. In this book, he recounts his pilgrimages to eight sites where the story of slavery took place and reflects upon the ways in which those historical sites reckon with their past in the stories they tell of themselves. There is something really special about the author’s exercise of bringing his physical body to these physical sites that makes the text feel embodied. The prose is poetic and it brings you to a meditative space as he takes us along in these visits.
One of the sites covered in the book is Galveston Island, TX, which is relatively local to me. Because of this incredible book, I’m making plans to see the Juneteenth celebration there this year.
Favorite quote from the book:
“But as I think of Blandford, I’m left wondering if we are all just patchworks of the stories we’ve been told. What would it take—what does it take—for you to confront a false history even if it means shattering the stories you have been told throughout your life? Even if it means having to fundamentally reexamine who you are and who your family has been? Just because something is difficult to accept doesn’t mean you should refuse to accept it. Just because someone tells you a story doesn’t make that story true.”
As an addendum, also check out Clint Smith’s recent interview on the On Being podcast.
Poverty, by America is a stunning analysis on the level of poverty in America (too high). But whereas most books on poverty focus on the poor, this one focus on the rest of society, the rest of us. Desmond’s incisive thesis is that we have constructed a system of exploitation and profit that continues to extract from the poor, from which we benefit.
The book description is apt:
Elegantly written and fiercely argued, this compassionate book gives us new ways of thinking about a morally urgent problem. It also helps us imagine solutions. Desmond builds a startlingly original and ambitious case for ending poverty. He calls on us all to become poverty abolitionists, engaged in a politics of collective belonging to usher in a new age of shared prosperity and, at last, true freedom.
His first book, Evicted, was one of my favorite reads in 2018.
In Still Life With Bones, Alexa Hagerty recounts her work as an anthropologist with forensic teams to exhume bodies of the victims of violence and investigate crimes against humanity in Guatemala and Argentina. Her work reveals how bones bear witness to the life and suffering of the victims. More than that the story of the dead though, she also reflects on the impact of her work to the living–the family of these victims. In the exploration and investigation of death, this work brings some healing, closure, grief, and justice for the living. This book is a powerful reflection on how the living and the dead are entwined with each other.
From the book description:
Working with forensic teams at mass grave sites and in labs, Hagerty discovers how bones bear witness to crimes against humanity and how exhumation can bring families meaning after unimaginable loss. She also comes to see how cutting-edge science can act as ritual—a way of caring for the dead with symbolic force that can repair societies torn apart by violence.
“Exhumation can divide brothers and restore fathers, open old wounds and open the possibility of regeneration—of building something new with the ‘pile of broken mirrors’ that is memory, loss, and mourning.”
I love this book. I love that it centers the stories and narratives of a demographic, namely unmarried women, that is typically sidestepped as supporting characters, people in waiting for life to progress, doomed in a state of “not yet”. The book is very real on both the struggles and the joys of being unmarried women, and inadvertently, also real in deconstructing the common narratives about marriage. There is no single story about being a single woman, and that is worth celebrating!
Forgive is the last book that Timothy Keller, who passed away in May 2023, wrote at the end of his life. It carries a certain gravity as his final benediction and appeal to the world, one that sounds like, “My children, forgive one another.” The cultural sophistication that he always displayed as a speaker and writer shows up in this book as well. This book has echoes of the themes of his other works, e.g., God’s generous justice, how mercy and justice are fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ, his affirmation and critique on secular society (i.e., secular culture’s tendency to embrace aspects of teachings rooted in the Christian worldview, but leaving God behind), applied to the subject of forgiveness. It’s a worthwhile read, especially in a cultural moment in which many are skeptical about the power and need for forgiveness.
My full-length review of this book appeared in the December issue of the Adventist Review. (Check the link to download the pdf file)
Favorite Books Lists
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