03. Sing, Unburied, Sing (Jesmyn Ward)

Jesmyn Ward: Sing, Unburied, SingI loved Salvage The Bones but I read it during this blog’s long fallow period so how could you know? This covers similar ground but hews closer to Jones’s The Known World in feel, thanks to the explicit inclusion of the dead in the narrative. Ward, like Jones, gives African American dead in America the voice they deserve: some of us should be cutting out our tongues in repentance and recognition. Grounded in the story of an intergenerational multi-racial family of you-swear-they’re-real people, West does alchemy here, turns dirt and blood into pure melody. Her insistence that our sins, our pain, don’t invalidate our love is like a psalm. Keep writing, I’ll keep reading.

02. Why Not Socialism? (G. A. Cohen)

G. A. Cohen - Why Not Socialism?I don’t know, why not? Can’t remember why I ordered this– someone pointed to it online somewhere for some reason, probably political. Very, very slim primer on current directions in socialist thought. Cohen all but throws up his hands and says, “I can’t see how it can work and it probably can’t, but I’m not ready to give up hope yet.” Cohen’s problem — and I gather the problem of most current socialist thinkers but by all means, school me — is that he can’t explain exactly how to leverage generosity to move economic interests, as a counterpoint to leveraging fear or greed in the current capitalist system. But he still believes that there’s something there. As a postscript, I’ll say that I just watched the Coen Brothers’ (no relation) (actually, I don’t know that for certain — maybe related?) Hail, Caesar! this weekend and the plot revolves in large part around a group of socialist writers arguing the economic imperative against capitalism and this book was… timely, strangely appropriate.

01. Manhattan Beach (Jennifer Egan)

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer EganThe high-profile “next novel” from Egan following the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From The Goon Squad. A love letter of sorts to Egan’s city. A character meditation in which daughter and father mirror and reinforce each other’s choices and traits. I intuit the genius required of the author, to wrestle with where the story wants to go in defense of what she wants to say, and to come out with a narrative that so completely erases the evidence of that struggle from the final text. Envy-making sentences and phrases, observations (a boat slides into the water “like a cat into a cushion”). Egan is also concerned with what we are guilty of vs. what we think we’re guilty of, and she plays variations on that chord in dazzling arrays all through the novel. Can’t escape yourself: wherever you go, there you are.

04. Empowered evangelicals: bringing together the best of the evangelical and charismatic worlds

Empowered evangelicals - Rich Nathan and Ken WilsonRich and Ken do a good, thorough job of fleshing out the theological underpinnings and practical consequences of Vineyard’s self-proclaimed approach to Holy-Spirit dependent evangelicalism, challenging both traditional charismatics and traditional evangelicals to reconsider the theology behind their traditions. A good primer and a good reminder why we do what we do and why we believe what we believe. Always, the bottom line is Jesus with these guys, and that’s important– they’re so concerned not to fall into the errors of either camp. Tension, not balance.

03. Come on all you ghosts

Come on all you ghosts - Matthew ZapruderOne of the NYT’s 100 best books of 2011. Except it’s 2010. Whatever. If I were to oversimplify I’d say most modern non-Language poetry I’ve read strikes me as either “Wide-eyed wonder at the amazingness of it all” or “Post-millennial confusion about being alive,” with a small slice of “I fucking hate everything, especially God.” Zapruder is there in the second category, again– as a simplification. This is better than most, employing an easy everyday voice to take you through not-so-everyday thought, mostly about life, some about poetry itself. Standouts include Minnesota, Paper toys, Global warming (“I have seen the new five-dollar bills / with their huge pink hypertrophied numbers / in the lower right hand corner and feel / excited and betrayed. / Which things should never change?”), and the title poem, which runs for pages and is about poetry and the interplay between the writer, the reader, and the dead. Found myself thinking what it’ll be like when (not if) I re-read this collection.

02. For the relief of unbearable urges

For the relief of unbearable urges - Nathan EnglanderNine pretty amazing stories about being Judaism, being Jewish, feeling Jewish, loving and hating being a Jew. A writer comes up with his masterwork and is shot by Stalin in the space of a few minutes. A family of ultra-orthodox Jews narrowly escape the concentration camps by becoming ersatz acrobats. A schizophrenic Levite commits an unforgivable sin. An aging wigmaker steals the perfect hair. A gentile wakes up Jewish. A Jewish Santa Claus quits the mall in disgust and despair, knowing his wife will just send him back. A frustrated husband tries to circumvent the Law and receives in his body the consequences. I read it after the Millions admitted anticipating his second book of short stories, What we talk about when we talk about Anne Frank. The ability to pack life and power into the short story, that’s a rare gift, and he’s got it. Plus they each do that trick of taking you in a direction you didn’t expect. And then there are the turns of phrase. Whew.

01. The quest for the radical middle: a history of the Vineyard

The quest for the radical middle - Bill JacksonJackson’s history of the Vineyard movement, from John Wimber’s conversion, through Fuller seminary and “lab time,” the Kansas City Prophets, the Toronto Blessing, up to about 1998 or so. Lovingly done, and great to read about the many places the movement has been in its journey to the present day. Probably only of interest to insiders or sociologists of evangelicalism, but it filled in a lot of holes for me.