Sunday, January 7, 2018

Brent's Top 10 of 2017

Like the last couple years, finding reading time in 2017 was often a challenge. But I tried to read more women and POC this year, and it was rewarding. It was really my theology reading that kept me from closer parity--I guess finding good women writing about God is a priority for next year. My favorite books, though, reflect the type of diversity I'd like to aim for on the whole next year.

I certainly didn't expect to have a year where Marilynne Robinson didn't make my top ten, but besides Home being a weaker effort, this was just a really solid year of reading. Without further ado, and in no particular order:

Yaa Gyasi
The multigenerational, continent-spanning novel really took me by surprise with its scope and ambition. In spite of an ending that didn't quite pull everything together, it was one of the most compelling books I read this year.

Alice Munro
My third Munro book and by far the best, every story in this book is fantastic. It's cliche to say so, but reading a good Munro story is  like reading a novel in 1/10th of the time.

Go Set a Watchman
Harper Lee
In another year, I doubt this would have made the top ten; in a year when everyone I grew up respecting somehow justified voting for Donald Trump, Scout wrestling with whether or not Atticus was a good man carried some extra weight.

Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison
I can't believe it took me so long to read this. Without question one of the greatest novels I've ever read on a stylistic level, its a tour de force that sucks you in and makes you feel every racially-charged page.

A More Christlike God
Brad Jersak
I intentionally kept this list theology-lite, but this was the book that finally turned me away from the angry-God theology I grew up with and introduced me to the Gospel in Chairs which radically reoriented my perspective. I'll always be thankful I read this book.

Patrick White
I don't know if I can say that I deeply loved Voss. But then, it's a hard book to love. Still, it's so singular and fantastic (in all senses of the word) it could hardly miss the list. Also: the hardest thing I read in 2017.

Under the Net
Iris Murdoch
This is the movie the Coens never made. It somehow wrings poignancy out of absurdity, and was probably the most fun I had with a book this year.

The Medusa Frequency
Russell Hoban
I know Chris is going to jump on me for choosing this over the likely-superior Kleinzeit, but this one got me in the gut in a way Kleinzeit didn't. They almost seem like sister books, with their twinned preoccupations. Hoban is such a gift.

The Towers of Trezibond
Rose Macauley
It's hard to imagine a book more tailor made for my interests. Macauley's mashup of travelogue, theology treatise, and madcap adventure story works wonders, and turns on a dime near the end to become something else entirely.

Brighton Rock
Graham Greene
My favorite Greene is The Power and the Glory, but Brighton Rock might be even more singular. Far darker than anything else of Greene's I've read, this is a bracing examination of evil and God, and who's really in charge. Spoiler: the answers aren't at the end.

And that's another year in the books! Thanks so much to everyone who participated, especially Chloe who absolutely killed it with her reviews. And here's an ever better 2018!


Christopher said...

An excellent list.

Chloe Pinkerton said...

I'm interested in hearing more about what you thought about Go Set a Watchman. I was so disappointed and heartbroken by it on so many levels...I'm surprised to see it in your top 10 (even in a Trump Presidency kind of year).

Brent Waggoner said...

Sure! So, to me, it makes a lot of sense to keep it canon (even though I know that introduces some weird continuity issues). It's certainly not the fine little pearl that TKAM is, and I'm not surprised that a lot of people reacted negatively to it.

For me, though, it resonated on a personal level. Lots of people that I have known my whole life, that I respect and who would, to a person, stand up for someone being oppressed, harbor racist, sexist, homophobic attitudes, and Trump really brought those ugly sides out to play.

I wish I'd reviewed it because there were a few sections where Scout said exactly what I have thought over and over.

"The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly."

"Now she was aware of a sharp apartness, a separation, not from Atticus and Henry merely. All of Maycomb and Maycomb County were leaving her as the hours passed, and she automatically blamed herself."

"Why doesn’t their flesh creep? How can they devoutly believe everything they hear in church and then say the things they do and listen to the things they hear without throwing up? I thought I was a Christian but I’m not. I’m something else and I don’t know what. Everything I have ever taken for right and wrong these people have taught me—these same, these very people. So it’s me, it’s not them. Something has happened to me."

To me, Atticus' racism resonated because I've struggled myself with separating out how people can be good and evil simultaneously. How my family and friends could support a platform based o fear and hate--and, like Atticus, I've come to think that a lot of it is because of their own fear or lack of understanding. It doesn't mean they don't do good things--they might even be good people though I wonder what that even means--but they're flawed, sometimes horrifically.

So I'm not 100% sure if Watchman holds up as a piece of literature. I'll probably have to read it again in a decade to find out. But for me, it helped me to confront and deal with some turmoil of my own.

Hope that helps a little. I'm interested in knowing what specifically bothered you so much.