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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.

The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

From one birthday to the next, Ross Gay set out to record the delights, both large and small, of each day. I wish I had studied one essayette a day rather than devouring the entire book (slow down, I must remind myself), but rest assured, The Book of Delights now sits on my bedside table like a daily devotional, reminding me to honor the sacred nature of the ordinary and mundane.

“It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.”

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

Maybe once a year I can say that a book changed my life. If that means the rest of the year is downhill from here, so be it. Jenny Odell has given me much to think about, which I will surely share in other posts, but for now I’ll say that reading How to Do Nothing inspired me to embark on a personal mission to sit in public once a week and wait for anyone I know to join me (more on that another time). Already a transformative experience in a matter of weeks, I have Odell to thank for opening me to more meaningful intimacy.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

As I become more selective in what I read, I decided to include one novel per month, since I am usually drawn to essays, memoir, and other nonfiction. In January, I wanted to read a new release with a lot of attention, so I picked Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age, which revolves around Emira, a black woman who babysits for a white family and is accused of kidnapping the baby by a grocery store security guard, and how the family tries to “fix” the situation in the ensuing drama. Reid’s debut novel reads quickly, and I nearly missed some of its observations, but ultimately it examines how white guilt can turn into overcompensating actions that do not repair broken relationships or dismantle racist structures.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

“We’ve submitted to the harsh instinct to crush those among us whose brokenness is most visible. But simply punishing the broken—walking away from them or hiding them from sight—only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.”

I should have read Stevenson’s book years ago, but having heard pieces of his story here and there it took me this long to finally do so. I read it ahead of the film’s release, and Stevenson’s work moved me deeply. A call for grace in a nation bent on perpetuating punishment and not restorative justice, Stevenson’s book should be required reading for every lawmaker, pastor, educator, person. I recommend both the book and movie.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

This was my book club read for January, and I had looked forward to this particular one since its release in November, as I am never disappointed by Graywolf, the publisher. In vignettes that use literary archetypes as jumping-off points, Carmen Maria Machado delves into queer relationships—histories told and silenced, representations and misrepresentations—in order to observe and understand an abusive relationship from her own life. Described as “gothic horror,” In the Dream House is haunting, a kaleidoscopic view of pain, trauma, and healing. I felt some of my own wounds from relationships past opened as I started to see in this kaleidoscopic memoir a kind of mirror.

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