Best Books of 2021: Part 2

Best Books of 2021: Part 2

Hello, weary souls. Anyone else fatigued by the pandemic?

As 2021 closes, I just want to hold space for those of you who are in pain, physically and/or emotionally, in grief, in mourning, or in overall “this sucks” feeling. Life with Covid seems to demand a certain kind of resilience, one that knows not only to buckle down and survive something intense, but one that also knows how to bear a persistent chronic condition and yet… still… live. Each pandemic year calls to me to let go of the world we knew before and to embrace the unknowable and uncertain world that is coming and is already here.

For 2022, I wish for more grace for you and me. Grace to live and leave each day, and then start anew. Grace to be disappointed and grace to be soothed. Grace to leave nostalgia that brings pain and grace to embrace tomorrow. Grace to find bravery along with our anxieties. Grace for each other, whether near or far.

May 2022 bring some healing to your soul. Be gentle to yourself. Be gentle to those around you. And have a Happy Better New Year.


Here are some books from the second half of 2021 that gave me life.

1. Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Buy at: Amazon | Bookshop

Jesus and John Wayne is a follow-up read to a selection from the first half of 2021 on women and womanhood. I think it does a great job in traversing the history of how the idea of rugged masculinity developed in the Evangelical Christian subculture and pointing out the cultural moments that defined the idea. Honestly, some parts of this book made me want to throw up (literally), because some of the toxicity described in the book was very recognizable.

Special note for book people: I also appreciated some of Du Mez’s commentary on a number of religious books, many of which I’ve consumed in the past. You may find this aspect of the book enlightening too.

This beautiful and short book is a behind-the-curtain look on how Robert Caro, the master biographer whose hefty volumes on Lyndon Johnson are–after thousands of pages–still not done, approaches and does his work. The level of depth that Caro immerses himself in understanding his subject is so astounding. It goes to show that there is no shortcut to producing something great.

Brown’s articulation of the weariness one suffers from being the lone Black person, the lone minority in a White world is so poignant that I, though differing in circumstances, found great resonance. This is one of the books that brought me healing this year.

In this powerful book, James Cone parallels the two dreadful symbols–the cross and the lynching tree–in the experience and history of the African American community. From the publisher’s note: “For African Americans, the image of Jesus, hung on a tree to die, powerfully grounded their faith that God was with them, even in the suffering of the lynching era.” This is a powerful example of how the African American spiritual heritage is a tremendous gift for all faith traditions and deserves to be platformed more in mainstream Christianity. 

I am very late in reading Rachel Held Evans, but when I was searching for something that could express my recent experiences with church, the joys and disappointments included, my thoughts on church–what I crave the church could be for me, my peers, and my generation, Searching for Sunday almost nailed everything on the head. It was almost like reading an epistle to the millennials. 

I’ve had many conversations with friends who lament the performative aspect of going to church without authenticity. Where you really are not sure who to turn to talk about your struggles, questions, and doubts. Where the framing of ideas is more culture war than Jesus. And these are people who are in the church. Yet many churches are wondering why young people are not coming… I suspect I’ll have more to say on this later on. But if you’re someone who has been looking and not finding belonging at church, know that you are not alone. 

Favorite Books Lists

2021: Best Books of 2021 Part 1, Best Books of 2021 Part 2.

2020: Best Books of 2020 Part 1, Best Books of 2020 Part 2.

2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1, Best Books of 2019 Part 2.

2018: Best Books of 2018 Part 1, Best Books of 2018 Part 2.

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1, Best Books of 2017 Part 2.

2016Best Books of 2016 Part 1Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015Best Books of 2015 Part 1Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

 

*Amazon Product and Bookshop links on this blog are affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!

 

Best Books of 2021: Part 1

Best Books of 2021: Part 1

Hello, All! I am about two months behind from when I typically publish my mid-year favorite books, but better late than never. 2021 has been a slow reading year for me since I’m focusing on my professional development, but here are the few stellar books that I want to highlight.

1. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Buy at: Amazon | Bookshop

Another one of Isabel Wilkerson’s masterpiece (her fantastic The Warmth of Other Suns was my favorite last year). In Caste, she acutely outlines the workings of social strata, linking the caste systems of India, Nazi Germany, and America. She breaks down how societies keep their social classes separate and the levers of power put at work. She describes the attitudes that different classes hold about each other, which frankly, I find so insightful because they are familiar-sounding to me, having experienced both Eastern and Western societies. Most compellingly, however, this book is written with heart. Wilkerson inserts her personal stories with the caste system–some hopeful, most heartbreaking–that helps readers realize the inescapable reality of caste in the everyday lives of some people in America.

Caste is like an explainer of human societies. A must read.

Of the public figures that we lost in 2020, the one I lamented the most was John Lewis. Bearing the scars from Bloody Sunday in 1965, he seemed to me a living watchtower whose presence safeguarded us from (totally) running the civil rights ship aground. The most striking witness of his life was that he saw the Civil Rights movement as a spiritual movement, his political acts as spiritual acts. This biography pays tribute and reverence to this spirit of John Lewis, and it ends with Lewis’ own words that he penned before he died.

See also Lewis’ book from my 2018 favorite books list.

I’ve been following some of the conversation–or reckoning, I should say–in the Evangelical Christian world on women (re: abuse, mistreatment of), race, and Christian nationalism. Barr’s book is part of the vortex of these conversations. Her thesis is that “biblical womanhood” as defined in evangelical teachings is made, as in by humans, not by God. Drawing on her academic expertise as a medieval historian, she paints historical contexts on the idea of womanhood and how it has evolved in Christianity. Let me tell you, this book has generated a lot of valuable discussions in my closest circle of friends that will for sure keep going. I also picked up Jesus and John Wayne as a follow up to this book. 

The next two selections are a switch from the heady, serious topics of human issues to the expansive world of nature and science. This is how I balance my reading experience and prevent it from going too dark! 

As someone who has been following Brian Skerry’s work for over a decade, I was so excited and blown-away by his latest masterpiece, Secrets of the Whales. This book is a companion to the video series of the same name (check it out on Disney+) on how a number of whale species preserves their tradition and culture. They are just…magnificent.

This selection is for those of you who enjoy essays on life reflections inspired by science. Quoting from the publisher’s note: “Drawing on her diverse experiences as a scientist, mother, teacher, and writer of Native American heritage, Kimmerer explains the stories of mosses in scientific terms as well as in the framework of indigenous ways of knowing. In her book, the natural history and cultural relationships of mosses become a powerful metaphor for ways of living in the world.”

Favorite Books Lists

2021: Best Books of 2021 Part 1, Best Books of 2021 Part 2.

2020: Best Books of 2020 Part 1, Best Books of 2020 Part 2.

2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1, Best Books of 2019 Part 2.

2018: Best Books of 2018 Part 1, Best Books of 2018 Part 2.

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1, Best Books of 2017 Part 2.

2016Best Books of 2016 Part 1Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015Best Books of 2015 Part 1Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

 

*Amazon Product and Bookshop links on this blog are affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!

 

Best Books of 2020: Part 2

Best Books of 2020: Part 2

This is my second installment of the best books of 2020. See Part 1 here. If you’re curious about all the books I’ve read in 2020, see this page.

1. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson


This is hands-down the best book I read in 2020. While the book is aptly subtitled “The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” you won’t truly appreciate the epic-ness of the story unless you delve into it. The Great Migration that Isabel Wilkerson is talking about is the migration of Blacks from the South to the North throughout the 20th century in America. For this book, she conducted more than 1200 interviews with individuals who either were part of the migration themselves, or those whose lives were touched by this phenomenon. Yet she packages her research beautifully in the story of three individuals, bringing us along the ups and downs of their incredible lives.

Don’t be discouraged by the book’s length–it is a page-turner. Further, this will be one of the most important books you’ll ever read in your life. Note: This book was also featured in my Reading Guide to Antiracist Books.

I would describe Hong’s writing as fierce, because first, she is so incisive in her analysis of the Asian American experience–both as victims and perpetrators of racist attitudes. Second, her analysis is weaved into poignant story-telling. To me, her sentences come blazing out of the page, and I relish the burn from this fiery book. Minor Feelings is an important contribution in the wider multi-way conversation on race.

This is a little-known, under-told history of the decades-long struggle for equity in my particular community of faith. I so appreciate Calvin Rock’s contribution in outlining the context of key events in the denomination’s history with regards to Blacks and Whites’ leadership. Before this book, I, like many others in the community of faith, had only superficial understanding (or rather, misunderstanding) of the racial dynamics in the church. This book is eye-opening, to say the least.

An Important read for you who are fellow Seventh-day Adventists, or others who may want to see an example of how race relations play out in a faith community.

What you’ll find in this extraordinary telling of Mandela’s life is an example of tenacity, a kind of charismatic stubbornness that shrewdly aggravates the power it wants to change (i.e., apartheid). With humor and winsomeness, Mandela graces us with stories of his life, who he is, how he thinks and does things. It’s a fascinating study on activism and how to change the world.

As a member of a faith community that keeps the Sabbath ritual (i.e., ceasing from work from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown), I’ve always found it ironic that most of my favorite books on the Sabbath are by writers who are outside of my own community of faith. Often, Sabbath books in my church tend to be cerebral and academic, whereas my favorite ones tend to be poetic.

Well, this book bucks the trend. It is both resourceful in the academic sense, but also poetic and profound. It synthesizes wonderfully the many facets of the Sabbath, the various schools of theological thoughts on each facet, and the author’s commentary on the prevailing views. In an exhausting year that is 2020, Sabbath carries an extra special significance in retaining and restoring our humanity (more on this in an upcoming post), and it has been a welcome relief to immerse myself in the topic of rest.

 

Favorite Books Lists

2021: Best Books of 2021 Part 1, Best Books of 2021 Part 2.

2020: Best Books of 2020 Part 1, Best Books of 2020 Part 2.

2019: Best Books of 2019 Part 1, Best Books of 2019 Part 2.

2018: Best Books of 2018 Part 1, Best Books of 2018 Part 2.

2017Best Books of 2017 Part 1, Best Books of 2017 Part 2.

2016Best Books of 2016 Part 1Best Books of 2016 Part 2.

2015Best Books of 2015 Part 1Best Books of 2015 Part 2.

 

*Amazon Product and Bookshop links on this blog are affiliate links, which means that each time you purchase something through those links, I get a small commission without you paying any extra. Of course you don’t have to use them, but if you want to chip-in towards content creation for this blog, I’d really appreciate it!