Saturday, January 11, 2020

2020 Reading List

Also, please check out our 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 Reading Lists.

Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa (South Africa) *Audible
This book traces the origin of South Africa and the discovery of gold and diamonds there that sparked off a bloody conflict with Britain that ultimately led to the consolidation and foundation of the apartheid republic that existed until 1994. This detailed history should be mandatory reading for any budding Africanist.  The main criticism one might find with Meredith's exhaustive history is its decidedly white-western focus.  This likely stems from the challenge in finding primary source material which could help better capture more of the African perspective.
My full review is here.

Don't Save Anything
Salter’s wife put together a collection of his essays and articles and entitled it “Don’t Save Anything”. The title comes from Salter’s long time advice “don’t save anything”--meaning don’t reserve any writing ideas or details for a later piece, rather pour everything you have into each piece. It’s a fitting title representing some of the best writing from Salter, the authors’ author. In particular, I was struck by the Salter’s terrific profile pieces in the book--I’ve never read such masterful writing in this genre. Reading them made me wish he’d done biographies.  My full review is here.

The Art of Fiction
In his inaugural lecture as a UVA Kapnick Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, Salter offered that “books are passwords”, this is the idea that among those who are well read--books are a connection, a filial link of brotherhood amidst theretofore strangers.  Reading Salter's lectures in this slim collection affirms the notions that I (most of us?) have about great and famous writers--about their life experiences and methods. For any fan of Salter these lectures are essential reading, chocked full of autobiographical details on the author and his views on writing, literature, and life.  My full review is here.

Educated *Audible
"Educated" is the story of how one Mormon (ish) girl overcomes a childhood under the reign of an (undiagnosed) bi-polar, off-the-grid father who believed that the "end times" are imminent and enforced his own brand of extremist Mormon values upon his value.  Not to mention the author's psychopathic brother Shawn who belongs in jail, not free on the streets. While Tara's mere physical survival makes this memoir incredible, it's her own grit in persevering to educate herself, eventually getting a PhD from Cambridge that is most stunning.  This accomplishment from someone who never stepped foot in a classroom as a child, and whose "homeschooling" experience involved sitting in a room by herself with textbooks. You'll tear (and tear) through this story and be left contemplating both the power of family and the individual. My full review is here.

The Submission
The 2011 American Book Award Winner* "The Submission" is a backwards look at the psyche and soul of an American public that will never stop grieving 9-11.  Published a decade after the attacks, author Amy Waldman imagines a world where the design of the 9-11 Ground Zero memorial is open to anonymous submissions (hence the story's name) and the winner turns out to be a *gasp* American Muslim.  In this story's case the winning architect is a non-practicing, non-fasting, decidedly lower case muslim (in reality the actual real-life 9-11 architect was an Israeli-American). Waldman has a journalist's eye for detail and speech and has penned an engrossing novel that does the hard work of not offering an easy ending but instead forcing the reader to grapple with their own assumptions, doubts, and memories.  My full review is here.

The Insanity of God (Somalia) *Audible
At on point author Nikk Ripken's NGO was the ONLY ONE operating in Somalia--his team of 8 was feeding 50,000 refugees a day and running mobile health clinics around the country.  Without his efforts countless hundreds of thousands would have starved.  When no one else was there--he was--serving and loving the Somali people.  It was in his years there that he also learned the costs though of following his calling--he lost a son and hundreds of Somali friends who ended up believing in Jesus. He had this to say about religious persecution: “I’d never met a believer in persecution that wasn’t running for their life,” said Ripken. “In those years in Somalia, we had 150 followers of Jesus in the country. When we left, only four were left alive. They hunted them down like we would hunt animals in rural Kentucky. They killed four of my best friends in one day in Somalia." My full review is here.

Being Mortal
Early on author Atul Gawande captures the decision that we will all make (ideally) before we grow old: “how to make life worth living when we’re weak and frail and can’t fend for ourselves anymore.” More specifically, he seeks to find out “how [can] people age without having to choose between neglect and institutionalization? Most frightening is his conclusion that for the majority of the medical community “hope is not a plan, but it is our plan.” My full review is here.

Blessed Child
The premise is that an American baby named Caleb is given to an Ethiopian monastery after his mother is murdered by invading Eritrean forces. 10 years later his life is in jeopardy and a Peace Corps worker and Red Cross nurse rescue him and take him to the U.S. In the United States, we discover that Caleb can heal people and that senior politicians want him dead. This political thriller unfolds as the central characters grapple with the idea of miracles in the modern age and what is more important: healed hands or healed hearts?  My full review is here.

Mrs. Bridge
With a careful eye and razor sharp bite, author Connell captures a period in American history for the well-heeled social strata decades before the sexual revolution, feminism, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement. The reader will see the slowly building revolt bubbling beneath the surface in subtle ways. Take for example when Mrs. Bridge spies a book called “Theory of the Leisure Class” in a bookstore: “She experienced a surge of resentment. For a number of seconds she eyed this book with definite hostility, as though it were alive and conscious of her. She went inside and asked to see the book. With her gloves on it was difficult to turn the pages, so she handed it back to the clerk, thanked him, and with a dissatisfied expression continued to Bancroft’s.”  My full review is here.

Lives Other Than My Own
In this memoir, French author Emmanuel Carrere takes issue with Fitzgerald's well known assertion that "All life is a process of breaking down" as he peers into the life of Juliette, carefully building a picture of her circling journey from tragedy to love to passion and back to tragedy as her cancer returns to deal its final blow. And while her body was indeed breaking down--she lived her life fully for her children, her husband, and notably for the French people affected by the country's consumer law. Carrere noted the power and necessity of connection, stating: "And that is the worst of fates: never to have been seen, never to have been acknowledged.” The people and couples described in "Lives Other Than My Own" all shared a similar triumph amidst tragedy--having been seen--having been loved. My full review is here.

She Would Be King (Liberia)  In her debut novel Wayetu Moore channels Philip Hitti's idea of lawful magic (see Hitti's History of Arabs for more background) as she joins magical realist authors like Couto, Martel, and Marquez in her telling of an alternative origin story of the Pepper Coast lands that would become Liberia. In her novel, Moore has decided to focus not on Liberia's historical realities and details but rather on highlighting the people and ideas that would become Liberia.  This shift allows the reader to more thoughtfully ponder the roles of justice, religion, and slavery against the backdrop of the most unique colonialist setting on the continent.  My full review is here.

By Night the Mountains Burn (Equatorial Guinea)  This novel takes place back during the colonial era on one of Equatorial Guinea's neglected islands--the country itself is run from its capital city Malabo on its largest island called Bioko. A frequent critic of dictator Obiango, the self-exiled author tells a tale in this novel of a marginalized community that survives (sometimes) on the narrowest of margins depending on passing European ships and a strange periodic washing ashore of squids. Life on the island revolves around the ocean and the canoes which the entire community bands together to create and which men are buried in when they die. My full review is here.

Death Be Not Proud  The name of this 1949 memoir was taken from the English poet John Donne’s poem of the same title: “Death Be Not Proud.” In it the author and father John Gunther recounts the life and death of his son who passed after a struggle with a malignant brain tumor. Much as Donne pushes back against death’s supposed power, so does Gunther as he celebrates the vitality and beauty of his son Johnny’s life saying that the book’s purpose was for him “to write, as a mournful tribute not only to Johnny but to the power, the wealth, the unconquerable beauty of the human spirit, will, and soul.” My full review is here.

The Red-Haired Woman   On the surface the novel is about a boy serving as a well apprentice in post-WWII Turkey, two possible murders, one case of possible incest, and late 20th century capitalism in the country. These subject cut quite a wide swath, particularly because Pamuk uses them comment on political exile and the deep cutting power of father-son relationships.  My full review is here.

American Spy  (Burkina Faso) This novel is both a fictionalized telling of Burkina's President Sankara’s downfall and a commentary on what it means to be a black woman in both an American and African society. The novel’s protagonist is a black female FBI agent named Marie who is haunted by her sister’s death and stifled by the lack of opportunity in her office. When she gets a chance to become a real spy she dives into it but soon realizes that many of her assumptions may have been wrong. My full review is here.

Burn-In  In the authors' latest novel/future historical fiction, the writing duo tackles a future in which AI, drones and robotics have continued their current development trajectory to the point where they’ve consumed every aspect of American life. Unfortunately, these “developments” have left gaping vulnerabilities within the US infrastructure that are exploited by a group of homegrown terrorists. My full review is here.

Yes, Call Sign Chaos is a biography of one of the Marine Corps’ more storied and legendary generals, but it’s also a primer on leadership, and a first person account of the wars America fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Here's his leadership philosophy distilled to its essence:  Have a bias for action. Set the tempo for that action and reward those who meet that tempo or exceed it. Speed is king because time can’t be recovered once it’s lost. Reward the initiative of those under you--even when they fail.  My full review is here.

That Will Never Work  In this book, equal parts origin story, startup manifesto, and leadership manual, author Marc Randolph recounts how Netflix grew from an idea bandied about in a beaten-up Volvo to a $194B global behemoth.  Listening to the book on Audible lends an added layer of depth as Randolph does the narration. The listener can experience the story as a conversation, hearing Randolph’s intonations, frustrations, humor, and jubilance as he speaks of the ups and downs of pursuing his passion while also discovering his own limitations.   

For military service members and veterans, Randoph’s tale offers three valuable imperatives: create your origin story, embrace the startup manifesto, and lead with self-awareness and vision.  DoDReads published by full review on its website here.

Chasing Black Unicorns (Nigeria)  My full review will be here after I complete the interview with the author.

Designing Your Life: A Framework For Building A Life You Can Thrive In:.  I also purchased the accompanying workbook which is excellent!  The author's use design prototype theory to lead readers through a process of self-reflection and self-discovery.  This is an ESSENTIAL read for any veteran considering a transition from the military, or for anyone considering a career pivot.  

If I Have to Tell You One More Time.  Emily said this secular book had a lot of interesting points and useful parenting techniques but there were parts that a Jesus-following parent might need to pair with truths like grace, mercy, and forgiveness to more effectively speak to your children's heart language.  

My Mother's Secret
Emily loved hearing the different perspectives of multiple narrative characters and the author's sparse direct writing. In particular, she was struck by the mother's courage, resolve and steadfastness in the novel.

Awaking Wonder  Emily said it's a great book for parents regardless of whether you homeschool or not.  Packed with reminders and tips on how to instill a love for learning and reading and curiosity in your children.  

The below are pending reviews from Emily still: 

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