Last year, my reading challenge was derailed in the second half of August. Instead of working my way through a list of science fiction classics, I ended up scouring the internet for articles on culture and diversity, reaching out to people for recommendations on how to learn more about theology and reconciliation, and consuming everything I could think of that might have an answer to how, how, how this past year could have revealed so much indifference toward these issues. See, I expect ignorance and disagreement, but indifference is the one that kills me. Indifference is what allows people to say that they are grieved at the lack of diversity in their own lives, but feel no drive to take any action that would change that. One of the conversations (arguments) I had repeatedly this year was with people whose response to Trump was to say that we need to hope that things won’t be that bad. Uh, no. I’m sorry, but the only people who benefit from that are the ones whose lives probably won’t be affected by anything that Trump does. That isn’t a position that fights for the least, the last, and the lost. We can do better than that.
I learned a new word recently: praxis. Praxis is the combination of critical thought and meaningful action. It is the process by which people can understand the reality that they live in, and use that knowledge to enact meaningful change in order to transform the world. It’s not enough to have knowledge on its own or to carry out a set of actions without understanding their purpose. If you really want something to change, you need to both think and act.
But I recognize that there are many people who truly are at a loss, who don’t know what to do, and who are afraid of causing more harm by acting in ignorance. If that’s you, then try reading some of the books below with me, in order to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the current reality of the US. The reading challenge I’m setting for myself is 50 nonfiction books in a year.
I’ve included links here so that you can read their descriptions. I might try to blog about some of these, because I figure most people are more likely to read a blog post than work their way through all of these books. We’ll see. My hope would be that, if you really want to learn more about this, you won’t wait for someone to explain it to you. You’ll seek knowledge on your own.
This year, I’ve gathered as many books as I could find from lists like this one on understanding how Trump got elected, from my own shelves of books that I’ve picked up to read and never got around to, and from suggestions from those who know more than me. I’m thinking of it as a nonfiction year, but really, it’s a year of intensely studying history, culture, diversity, and theology.
I won’t read all of these, and probably won’t read them in exactly this order, and if I find a book not on this list that looks worthwhile, I’ll stop what I’m doing to read that. This list is just a starting point, so I always have something to read next.
There are a few novels and off-topic nonfiction books on the list, because I know that my brain will sometimes need a break, and these are books that friends have recently recommended.
I’ve mixed in a few science nonfiction books as well, because whenever an obstacle seems impossible to overcome, I remember that scientists have a habit of making the impossible possible with every breakthrough they find. The history of scientific discovery is one of the clearest pictures of hope that I know, and I certainly could use more hope.
Despite the focus on nonfiction, the first book I’m reading this year is One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I’ve read sections of this book, but never the whole thing from start to finish. The copy I have was given to me by my aunt who passed away almost three years ago, and this past year, I’ve missed her. I’ve really wished that I still had her here to help me process some of the things that happened in 2016. So I’m starting 2017 with a book she gave me, because that’s about the best I can do.
2017 Nonfiction Reading Challenge
1. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
2. Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit
3. Honor & Shame, Roland Muller
4. Freedom is a Constant Struggle, Angela Y Davis
5. Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, Deepa Kumar
6. Scripture and the Authority of God, NT Wright
7. The Democrats: A Critical History, Lance Selfa
8. No One is Illegal, Justin Akers Chacon and Mike Davis
9. To Change the World, James Davison Hunter
10. Faith of Our Fathers: God in Ancient China, Chan Kei Thong
11. Splinterlands, John Feffer
12. American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang
13. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
14. Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, Arundhati Roy and John Cusack
15. The United States of Fear, Tom Engelhardt
16. Subterranean Fire, Sharon Smith
17. Howard Zinn Speaks, Howard Zinn, Anthony Arnove
18. The Nazis, Capitalism, and the Working Class, Donny Gluckstein
19. The Will to Resist, Dahr Jamail
20. Rich People Things, Chris Lehmann
21. Palante, Young Lords Party
22. Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen
23. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
24. Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow
25. Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt
26. Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, Soong Chan-Rah
27. Exclusion & Embrace, Miroslav Volf
28. The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
29. A Credible Witness: Reflections on Power, Evangelism and Race, Brenda Salter McNeil
30. The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu
31. Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov
32. Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, Andy Crouch
33. China in Ten Words, Yu Hua
34. The Romanovs, Simon Sebag Montefiore
35. The Planets, Dave Sobel
36. Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, Caroline Elkins
37. Union with Christ, Rankin Wilbourne
38. The Epic of Eden, Sandra L Richter
39. Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.
40. Gospel of Freedom, Jonathan Rieder
41. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King
42. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
43. Physics for Future Presidents, Richard A Muller
44. At Home: A Short History of Private Life, Bill Bryson
45. Contact, Carl Sagan
46. The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto Che Guevarra
47. James Baldwin, Collected Essays
48. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
49. A Long Way Gone, Ishmael Beah
50. House of My Own, Sandra Cisneros
51. Six Easy Pieces, Richard Feynman
52. Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea, Christine Garwood
53. A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman
54. Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, Mark Kurlansky
55. Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
56. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt
57. Time Travel: A History, James Gleick
58. Tiger Writing, Gish Jen
59. The Basque History of the World, Mark Kurlansky
60. Waiting for Snow in Havana, Carlos Eire