Monday, December 24, 2018

Manong Ralph's Reading Year 2018

My brother, Manong Ralph, a human rights lawyer based in Manila, reads more voraciously than I do. In college he majored in English Studies, perhaps his best excuse to go the library and get lost in the world of stories and ideas. Analyzing stories of James Joyce wasn't a chore but a delight, which is why I wasn't surprised that he graduated top of his class. A lot of book ideas I gain from him. He introduced me to Michael Chabon, who appears in this list, and to many more authors who have made our lives and imaginations richer and grander. 


At the beginning of the year, I decided to read Marcel Proust’s tome, In Search for Lost Time, beginning with Swann’s Way. A quarter into the book, 2018 is already about to end! I did manage to squeeze in a few books, having read them while stuck in traffic, waiting in court, or before bedtime. Here’s the top ten books I’ve read this year, in no particular order:

1. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

At the heart of this novel is a love story between a father and his son that goes deeper than the grave. President Lincoln’s son, Willie, died suddenly and he was buried in a cemetery. That night, he visited the crypt and grieved for his son. Ghosts of bodies laid to rest in the cemetery talk and interact with one another. Throughout the book, you could piece together their histories and their stories. This reminds me of Spoon River Anthology written by Edgar Lee Masters. It is a collection of poems—narratives from the epitaphs of the town’s residents about how they lived and treated one another.

2. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

It is a quiet novella. There is no villain who needs to be stopped, no grand conflict that needs to be resolved. It is just a story of a man who lived a long life, and yet it is so compelling and sad and beautifully written. I haven’t heard of Denis Johnson until I saw a YouTube clip of Michael Chabon and Zadie Smith, two authors whom I admire, extol him and his work.

3. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Written by a self-confessed hillbilly who grew up poor, lived through adverse childhood experiences, and yet got into the military and then to Yale Law School, this book that is part biography, part critique, explores how it is to live in “middle” America. It also explains, unintentionally and in part, why people voted for Trump.

4. Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas

This is a biography of William Wilberforce, an 18th-century Christian who was mainly responsible for the abolition of the slave trade in England. As someone who works on the issue of human trafficking, exploitation of children, and other forms of modern day slavery, this book reminds me that the road ahead is full of challenges and opposition, requires hard work, and is not possible apart from the grace and mercies of God.

5. Name Above All Names by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson

This is one of the books that benefitted my soul. This treatise is written by two Scottish pastors, Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson. They write about Christ and examine key aspects of His person and ministry, from Genesis through Revelation. My favorite part is the last chapter where they talk about Jesus as The Lamb on the Throne—a wonderful and encouraging picture of a victorious King!

6. Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard

In this book, Knausgaard writes about the most ordinary things, as a way to introduce the world to his yet-to-be born daughter. There’s a section on chewing gum, bee keeping, toilet bowls, and the migration of birds.

7. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

About Ove, a grumpy old man who is the hero of this book: “Ove couldn’t give a damn about people jogging. What he can’t understand is why they have to make such a big thing of it. With those smug smiles on their faces, as if they were curing pulmonary emphysema. Either they walk fast or they run slowly, that’s what joggers do.” Ove is my spirit animal. This book is one of the funniest books I’ve read this year.

8. Moonglow by Michael Chabon

After I read the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay many years ago, I told myself I’ll read anything Michael Chabon writes. He has become one of my favorite contemporary writers. Moonglow is a bit different from Kavalier and Clay and his other writing in that it is sort of a fictionalized memoir about his grandfather. It is tender, exciting, and human.

9. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

A black woman with her two children takes a car ride to pick up her white boyfriend (and the father of her kids) from prison. The book explores race relations and its dark history in America, particularly in a fictional town in Mississippi. It is also a story about a family and the forces that threaten to break it apart. I love the magic realism that is interwoven in this book.

10. Made for Friendship by Drew Hunter

This book explores the theology of friendship drawn primarily from Scripture. His main thesis is “friendship exists because God befriended us and created us to befriend one another.” Set against the world’s shallow understanding of friendship, Hunter argues—as did C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves—that friendship can be so much more nourishing and satisfying, and we should deliberately pursue deeper, godly friendships.

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