I set a goal to read 40 books this year, and according to my Goodreads Reading Challenge, I read 59!
I am profoundly grateful to be able to read this much and this widely, considering the historical “book famine” that has plagued blind readers. Only about 10% of English books ever make it into an accessible Braille or audio format, and in most world languages that number is closer to 1%, Advances in technology (like Bookshare and the NLS) and policy (the Chaffey Amendment to U.S. copyright law an the Treaty of Marrakesh internationally) are allowing for more books to be made accessible in Braille and audio more quickly than ever before.
And so, to celebrate, I have taken a cue from my friend Emily K. Michael and decided to share my full 2017 reading list. I’ve pulled out a few that I highly recommend to everyone and added a few comments (choosing which was hard—almost everything I read this year was good!).
(grouped by subject, not quality):
The Dream of Scipio, by Iain Pears
This intricate and well-crafted historical novel traces the lives of three men who live in southern France at different times in history: a fifth-century Roman philosopher-turned-Christian-bishop, a poet in the court of the fourteenth-century Avignon papacy, and a scholar of medieval French poetry in the years leading up to World War II. The three men’s lives parallel one another as each reads and interprets the work of the one who came before.
The King Must Die, by Mary Renault
Mary Renault is a master. This historicized novelization of the myth of Theseus is infused at every turn with her deep knowledge of the ancient Mediterranean world. It perfectly balances the foreignness of the past with the universality of human experience. Historical fiction at its finest.
Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglass
I have thought of this book often since I read it. It is the third and last of Frederick Douglass’ autobiographical works, revised in 1892, three years before his death. Douglass’ life and accomplishments are, of course, astounding, and his prose is masterful. He is a model of the courage to risk everything for freedom, the passion to fight for justice and equity, and the strength to forgive even those who have harmed us most.
The only fault is Douglass’ meticulous effort to thank and acknowledge every abolitionist and freedom fighter he ever met, which results in long lists of names otherwise forgotten to history. Those aside, the writing is excellent, and this book is well worth the read.
Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, by Dr. Willie Parker
This is a must-read for all American Christians, and probably for most other Americans as well. Dr. Willie Parker is a Southern, African-American, Pentecostal Christian abortion provider—a unique perspective in a political landscape known for entrenched positions and hostility to productive discussion.
Dr. Parker argues from his life history and his Christian faith that access to safe abortions is a moral imperative in a loving and just society. It is precisely the Christian foundation for his beliefs and practice (often in the face of abuse and threats of violence) that makes this book so unusual and valuable. It defies the notion that Christianity can permit only one stance on reproductive rights, and I hope by the end readers will see that there is more to being truly pro-life than simply voting against abortion.
Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, by Roy F. Baumeister
Probably the best book I’ve read on the dark side of human nature. Baumeister’s broad synthesis of the research debunks the common simplistic notion that only unusual, intrinsically bad people (i.e., “bad apples”) can commit acts of horrific violence. He also avoids the emerging popular view that these terrible deeds are primarily the product of external, situational factors (i.e., “bad barrels,” an approach typified by Philip Zimbardo in The Lucifer Effect, below).
Instead, Baumeister presents a complex interaction between individuals and their contexts. The seeds of evil are present in every person to a greater or lesser extent, but how they manifest depends greatly on the social and cultural context.
The theoretical backbone is strong, but it is still a 20-year-old book. I would love to see an updated second edition informed by more recent research and world events.
Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition, by Michael Tomasello
This is a pretty dry, technical linguistics book, but I loved it so much. Tomasello blew my mind on nearly every page as he completely reconfigured the way I think about language and human interaction. If you are interested in fundamental aspects of what language is, how it works, and how we use it, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
The End of White Christian America, by Robert P. Jones
Important reading for pretty much everyone in the U.S. Whether the title inspires glee, fury, or anything in-between, it is difficult to deny that in the coming century the “default American” will no longer be both white and Christian. This book gives a good overview of the rise and decline of White Christian America over the course of the last century, with an insightful epilogue written after the 2016 presidential election.
Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That is a Problem, and What to Do About It, by Richard V. Reeves
Phenomenal book. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institute shows that rising income inequality cannot be blamed on the wealthiest 1% alone. The entire top 20% of the American income distribution have done their best to elevate their position and then “pull up the ladder” behind them. Laws governing taxes, housing, education, and inheritance have all been shaped to protect the upper middle class and their children from downward mobility, and have stifled upward mobility in the process. As the top 20% pulls further and further ahead of the rest, the meritocratic American ideal becomes less and less a reality. I was convinced, convicted, and inspired to reanalyze my policy views and voting choices.
Designing Your Life: Build a Lifethat Works for You, by Bill Burnett andDave Evans
This superb book applies design thinking to life choices, demystifying some of the most perplexing aspects of wayfinding in life and career in the process. I plan to reread this and work through the exercises in detail, probably multiple times throughout my life.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg McKeown
A strong argument for ruthless focus. If you, like me, have the tendency to make “a millimeter of progress in a million directions,” this book might help you reframe and refocus on the few essential things.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport
A practical guidebook for developing practices, habits, and schedules that foster deep focus and productivity. Great framework for getting things done!
The Rest of the List
(in the order I read them):
- Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore
- Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, by Paul Bloom
- Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform our Lives, by Tim Harford
- Empirical Models Challenging Biblical Criticism, edited by Raymond F. Person and Robert Rezetko
- America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, by Jim Wallace
- Little Book of Restorative Justice, by Howard Zehr
- Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by Arlie Russell Hochschild
- The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
- Why Wall Street Matters, by William D. Cohan
- Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man who Dared to See, by Robert Kurson
- The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge
- Intelligence in the Flesh: Why Your Mind Needs Your Body Much More than it Thinks, by Guy Claxton
- On Bullshit, by Harry G. Frankfurt
- The Shadow Series by Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, and Shadow of the Giant)
- Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt
- The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
- Dreamblood Series by N. K. Jemisin (The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun)
- The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
- Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet can tell us about Who we Really Are, by Seth Stephens Davidowitz
- The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
- Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
- The Babylonian World, edited by Gwendolyn Leick
- The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class, by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett
- The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
- What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly
- When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
- Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult
- The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language, by John McWhorter
- The Song of Achilles, by Madeleine Miller
- Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
- The Giver Series by Lois Lowry (The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son)
- Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law, by David Cole
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield
- The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, by Philip Zimbardo
- The Articulate Mammal: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics, by Jean Aitchison
- The “Lotus Sutra”: A Biography, by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.
- The Book of Mormon: A Biography, by Paul C. Gutjahr
- Nefertiti, by Michelle Moran
- The Reign of Nabonidus, by Paul Alain Beaulieu
- The Time Keeper, by Mitch Albom
- Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters, by John Steinbeck
What is the best book you read in 2017? Leave a comment and help me build my 2018 list!