Continuing the tradition I began last year, I’ve decided to celebrate the increasing availability of books to the blind by sharing my full 2018 reading list, with some of the best and most meaningful given special comment.
In 2017 I read 59 books, and thought I might have to slow down. So of course in 2018 I read 67 books! Many of them were meaningful and formative, and I struggle to narrow down the list to recommend just a few. Below are some notable works in no particular order, followed by the rest of my reading list.
The Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy by Cixin Lio (The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, Death’s En)
This imaginative, thinky trilogy is quintessential speculative fiction for super nerds. If you like your novels pumped chock full of wonky physics and written in a non-Western cultural idiom, these books are for you.
The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky)
I thought I had lost the taste for straight fantasy, but then I read this series by N. K. Jemisin. The world she builds here is spectacularly creative, and she delves deep into some very real and very rough parts of human nature. There’s a reason she’s just become the first author to win the Hugo award three years in a row (once for each of these books)—you won’t regret reading them.
Non-Fiction: Race, Society, and Inequality
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
A detailed and masterfully-argued examination of the changing face of racial discrimination in America. Writing at the height of the Obama era, when many Americans were heralding the onset of a post-racial society, Alexander revealed their optimism to be largely unwarranted. Discrimination is still rampant, though it now adopts subtler and less explicit means than slavery or Jim Crow segregation. Alexander shows how the construction of an unnecessarily punitive and differentially-applied justice system has effectively created a new iteration of the same old racial caste system—exploiting Black Americans for free labor, diminishing their economic prospects, and reducing their access to voting and other rights and responsibilities of full citizenship. All of this goes on within a culture of nominal colorblindness, a thin veneer of propriety and unbiased objectivity that peels away under Alexander’s relentless scrutiny.
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
This book is dizzying in its scope and utterly surprising for many who learned a sanitized version of American history in school. Kendi defines three strains of thinking on race and traces them across four centuries through the life, work, and context of five paradigmatic American thinkers: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. DuBois, and Angela Davis. Each of these individuals exhibits one or (more often) more than one of Kendi’s three strains of thought: segregationist, assimilationist, and anti-racist. Kendi does an excellent job of showing how racist ideas were created and perpetuated to justify exploitative economic practices, as well as how the particular expressions of those ideas changed and adapted to new cultural, legal, and economic context. Racist thinking has changed, but never disappeared from American life.
I have a few residual questions about the nature and scope of Kendi’s assimilationist category, but they do not diminish the overall value of the book. This book would pair well with Paul Ortiz’s An African-American and LatinX History of the United States or Karen Fields’ Racecraft, mentioned below.
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas
The world of big-money philanthropy operates under the assumptions that market solutions provide the best hope to rectify societal ills and that it is possible to become extremely wealthy in a way that also benefits society as a whole. Long an insider to this world, Anand Giridheradas has become disillusioned with these beliefs and argues effectively against both in this incisive book. He questions the basic premise that one can “do well by doing good,” that every problem has a win-win solution that allows for both the reduction of inequality and the accumulation of fabulous personal wealth. Instead, he urges the creation of more democratic and more egalitarian institutions and social structures to combat growing inequaltiy and the worsening prospects faced by many Americans.
Womanist Midrash by Wilda C. Gafney
Gafney combines rigorous scholarship and imaginative storytelling in this quest to rediscover important female characters of the Hebrew Bible. She provides fresh and well-argued interpretations of the text and explores the evocative importance of its gaps and holes. This welcome and challenging contribution honestly probes the concerns and perspectives of biblical women, addressing in the process a host of neglected questions that will benefit all readers and interpreters.
The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity by Eva Mroczek
The Bible was not always the Bible. Before the diverse texts we now call biblical were gathered into one binding, each of them had a life of its own (and some more than one). They existed alongside and together with a vast library of other writings—some were lost to history and others survived in non-biblical contexts. How did people think about these texts before there was a Bible, before there were even books? Mroczek approaches that question with clarity and creativity, suggesting a number of productive metaphors that can guide our thinking about the Bible before there was a Bible.
Nonfiction: Blind Lit
Crooked Paths Made Straight: A Blind Teacher’s Adventure Traveling Around the World by Isabelle D. Grant
Dr. Isabelle Grant was a Scottish-born Los Angeles schoolteacher who was forced out of her job after she went blind as an adult. So of course she embarked on a trip around the world with her cane and Braille typewriter. Alone. In the 1950s. She visited five continents and many countries to observe and assess the quality of education for blind children, encouraging teachers and authorities to invest in blind youth and improve their self-sufficiency and self-determination.. Her intelligence, good humor, and openness to new ideas and relationships make for a delightful and surprising read. Foreword by Debbie Kent Stein, who found this manuscript decades after it was written and saw it through to publication.
Non-Fiction: Personal Growth & Effectiveness
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris
A master class in humility. Tavris digs deep into wrongness—why it’s inevitable, why we have trouble recognizing it, and why we avoid doing anything about it. The process is so universal and so relatable that you can’t help but begin to recognize unwarranted certainty and misplaced confidence in your own life and thinking. Everyone should take the lessons of this book to heart.
Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke
This book can help address some of those pernicious human problems described in the last entry. Duke applies her experience as an international poker champion and Ph.D. in psychology to the problem of making good decisions in an uncertain world. Excellent theoretical frameworks as well as practical tips. Let’s all work on thinking better!
French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered Ten Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon
A much more nuanced book than the title implies. I found it extremely helpful—not for definitive answers, but for opening up new avenues of thinking about food and food education within the family. French parents consider good eating a crucial skill to be acquired, and teach it as intentionally as reading, writing, or math. They do not consider children’s tastes to be immutable, but condition them by repeated exposure to and discussion of healthy and diverse foods. A great read for parents of young children trying to escape power struggles over food.
The Rest of the List
- The Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, An Acceptable Time)
- You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman
- How to Write Short: Wordcraft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
- Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
- How We Talk: The Inner Workings of Conversation by N. J. Enfield
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
- R. J. Rommel: An Assessment of His Many Contributions, edited by Nils Petter Gleditsch
- Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey
- An African-American and LatinX History of the United States by Paul Ortiz
- Can We Talk About Race? and Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation by Beverly Daniel Tatum
- The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness by Karen Armstrong
- Rethinking Expertise by Harry M. Collins
- God and Sex: What the Bible Really Says by Michael D. Coogan
- Reality is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli
- Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein
- Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein
- Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy J Keller
- The Formation of the Jewish Canon by Timothy H. Lim
- Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind by Gary F. Marcus
- What is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics by Adam Becker
- The Talmud: A Biography by Barry Scott Wimpfheimer
- Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life by Tasha Eurich
- People of Vision: A History of the American Council of the Blind by James Megivern
- Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success by Shane Snow
- The Anne Shirley Series by L. M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne’s House of Dreams, Anne of Ingleside)
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
- Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope, and Love by Rob Schenck
- What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel
- Manhood: How to be a Better Man or Just Live with One by Terry Crews
- Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
- How the Bible Became Holy by Michael L. Satlow
- The Akata Witch Series by Nnedi Okorafor (Akata Witch and Akata Warrior)
- The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story by Rosalind Perman
- Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse
- Love and War: How Militarism Shapes Sexuality and Romance by Tom Digby
- On Liberty by John Stuart Mill
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Karen E. Fields
- How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them by Jason Stanley
- Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind by Osagie Obasogie
What is the best book you read in 2018? Leave a comment and help me build my 2019 reading list (as if it isn’t 20 books deep already)!