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.

62. The moon is a harsh mistress

The moon is a harsh mistress - Robert Heinlein“Weirdly ideological, but I couldn’t put it down,” I wrote on readernaut. “Actually one of his less insane novels, which is a good introduction. Still, he’s an entertaining, thought-provoking kind of crazy,” wrote Eric in response. A computer technician from the moon (an open penal colony, essentially) describes how a bunch of free-thinkers, with the help of a sentient computer, liberate their underground colony from the imperial grip of the economically oppressive Earthlings. Free thinkers as in its obvious who is Enlightened and who is not in this novel. Line marriages, p[ressure]-suits, Radical Jeffersonianism, artificial intelligence — the whole thing is like a strange Mary Jane where Heinlein just writes himself into all of his pet theories and wins the day. It was impossible to look away from for that very reason. Yet another surprise from my book club.

61. Mockingjay

Mockingjay - Suzanne CollinsMeet the new boss, same as the old boss. In which Katniss discovers that the rebel regime is in many ways as totalitarian as the nasty old regime, and in a fit of magnificent melodrama turns on her liberators with what turns out to be perfect wisdom. And then wraps up the love triangle neatly and lives happily ever after. Whoops, did I spoil it? All the good characters are either martyred tragically or succeed against all odds. All the bad characters reveal their true colors at the end, and die either miserably or gloriously, depending on whether you see this series as a probing and multidimensional political critique or a healthy slice of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too reality television masquerading as a political critique. But its miserable and glorious, for sure.

60. Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy

Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy - John Le CarréThe trick is in making the stuffing so good, you overlook the skeleton of the beast. The spy-thriller-skeleton is all there — the subtle tips to “tradecraft,” “lamplighters,” “janitors,” and the lot; the parade of secondary characters being plied with drink to spill their portion of the narrative; the double- and triple-crosses — but the body of it is so good you just go along for the thrillride. Smiley is called in to ferret out a mole in British intelligence after a deep cover operation goes haywire in Czechoslovakia. I wanted not to see Gary Oldman (or Sir Alec Guinness for that matter) before I’d read this for myself. Le Carré seldom fails me.

59. Reconciliation blues: a black evangelical’s inside view of white Christianity

Reconciliation blues - Edward Gilbreath“When you’re privileged you don’t even know you’re privileged,” basically. Black evangelicals, get used to a life of checking your race at the door when you enter the world of white establishment evangelicalism. Gilbreath is kind and self-effacing about it, but that’s the gist. The issues considered in this book are right in my wheelhouse, and it was worth it to read the story of the black evangelical leader who had to suffer the white evangelical leader’s personal confession and apology for his and his race’s abuses. It doesn’t work like that, he told the teary-eyed confessor. Come over to my house and let’s grill out and get to know each other. Your absolution comes in relationship, not in ritual. There’s the takeaway, folks.