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reading

February Reads

Last month I shared that I was limiting my monthly reading so that I would have more time to prioritize writing and people in my life. I also wanted to get better at reflecting on what I was reading, so I started this monthly newsletter to write a few words about each of the five books I read in a given month (you can read about my January books here).

In February, two works of criticism (by Emily Nussbaum and James Baldwin) deepened my understanding of the critical task, while two novels (by Sally Rooney and Annaleese Jochems) both coincidentally included sharp commentaries on capitalism. As the shortest month of the year draws to a slow end, I turned to poetry (by Ada Limón) to settle into the slowness and change my thinking process. More on all of that below:

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A Little Tenderness

A few weeks ago, over coffee with a friend, our conversation turned to our shifting opinions on approaching political issues with others. I had left the fundamentalism of certain Christian theologies to join the fundamentalism of certain social justice practices. Eager to join the cause, I lost sight of my own habits of engaging the world and began to mirror the popular ones of the day, particularly on social media. Forgotten were the words of activist Angela Davis, who wrote that we need a “constellation” of alternatives to oppressive structures, rather than a one-size-fits-all model.

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reading

January Reads

Yesterday, I wrote that I turned my annual reading goals into a reading limit so that I might spend less time running a marathon and more time reflecting and sharing my learning. Each month this year, I’ll be limiting myself to five books, and my hope is to record a note about each so that I can read more consciously and hopefully connect with others who read books from the list. Drop me a line in the comments or an email if that’s you.

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reading

I Stopped Reading to Say Hello

In October of last year, reading 100 books in 2019 seemed possible if I really pushed myself. Over the years, my annual reading has steadily increased by about ten books, and last year I planned to read eighty. After surpassing this and hitting triple digits, regret—instead of accomplishment—settled in.

The privilege to read for leisure is not lost on me, but something about indulging a personal scorecard felt especially off. The last two months of the year felt like reading to win a marathon rather than reading to learn or enjoy. I skipped my reading journal and seemingly picked books at random. Writing and reflecting became secondary to the act of digesting pages.

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Year End Lists

My 2019 Bookshelf

Last year I started a new tradition of keeping track of my favorite reads from the year. It led to great conversations with friends who read some of the books and recommended some to me in turn. Besides reading, I really love to talk about reading, so please drop me a line if you want to discuss these or anything else you read.

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Music Year End Lists

Soundtrack to My Decade

For the past seven years, I have reflected on the year behind me through the music I loved (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013). I wanted to do the same for the decade, but had no idea how stressful that would quickly become (okay, I had some idea). The list that follows features 35 of my favorite albums, but at various stages of this process it numbered 100+. I even reordered every year and tried to imagine what my lists would have look liked for the first three years of the decade before I started this tradition. (Why am I the way that I am? Another reflection for another time…)

The point is, if you’re baffled by the exclusion of a particular album, it’s probably on my overall list somewhere. But the 35 albums that follow defined me more than anything else, and I couldn’t put the decade to rest without writing a few words about each.

All rankings are subject to change, so don’t hold me to any of this.

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Music Year End Lists

Soundtrack to My Year, 2019 (vol. 7)

As another year draws to an end, I take a moment to reflect in the way that I have since 2013: ranking and writing about my favorite music of the year. Taken together, these albums represent my personal trials and growth this year. I still have a queue of albums to listen to fully, but this non-definitive list does its best to capture something unique about the person I am still becoming.

For past year’s lists, see: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.

If you’re more of a listener than a reader, I won’t hold it against you. I’ve made a playlist of some of my favorite songs from the year.

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nonsermon #8: my soul

My final nonsermon is about my soul, which it has taken me this long to see as whole and not merely broken. Endless gratitude to New South Journal for giving me the space to share this series.

New South

by Ben Lewellyn-Taylor

A few months ago, I bought some flowers for my wife. She likes Queen Anne’s Lace, Anne
being her grandmother’s name and their shared favorite flower, but the florist had none, so I settled for a mixture of orange and white flowers, the names of which I have since forgotten. In the months that have followed, I have somehow managed to keep the orange flowers alive (the white not surviving the first month). Or—rather—I should say that I have managed not to kill the orange flowers. They have perhaps survived in spite of me.

For my part, roughly once a week while drinking water I will remember that the flowers—like me—need water to survive. I will fill my glass and share the water with them, letting in the light through the window and realizing that both the light and water are good for me and this plant…

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nonsermon #7: my church

nonsermon #7 is about spaces I have held sacred, both places I have and have not called church.

New South

by Ben Lewellyn-Taylor

It’s true what they say, though acknowledging this doesn’t make it easier to accept: sometimes you can’t go home. I was exiting a toxic relationship, searching for a place within my friendships, and for the first time in my life wondering who I was, worrying it wasn’t who I believed myself to be. I had recently met a band and went to see them play down the street from my apartment. Though the venue was a coffee shop, there was something else about the building that I couldn’t quite figure. In addition to the coffee shop was also an art gallery, a lot of seemingly unused space, but no explicit purpose stated anywhere. Later, I found myself on the building’s website, reading about Sunday morning worship.

I had never known a church to remain so close to the chest, like a secret to be kept instead of…

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nonsermon #6: my ghosts

nonsermon #6 is a meditation on ghosts, how we move on from or alongside that which haunts us.

New South

by Ben Lewellyn-Taylor

I’ve long been drawn to the idea of ghosts. At first, I was fascinated by the ghost as symbol: what it means to have something hanging over your head or within your psyche. How you are haunted by what you do and don’t do, by what happens to you. Something from our past always lingers in the peripheral, awaiting our attention.

I eventually came to turn a critical eye toward the Western distrust of anything in the spiritual realm, both by those claiming religion and not. The idea that everything can be explained by logic and reason seems, rather, a way to assert dominance over nature and the supernatural world, and subsequently any minoritized group that believes in the power of these worlds. Thus, this disbelief acts as thinly veiled arrogance and overall ignorance of the unseen. But a thing is not nonexistent only because it cannot…

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