The Books of 2021

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It’s been a strange year in so many ways and it affected my reading. I have read a lot of articles, blogs, and chapters of books, but never have I fully read so few books as this year.

In one the many articles I read, I came across Neuroscientist and author of Biohack Your Brain, Kristen Willeumier, Ph.D.:

“The No. 1 thing I think people need to do more of is long-form reading, 15 to 30 minutes of picking up any kind of book,” Willeumier says. According to the neuroscientist, reading is a long-lost art—sure, you may read your fair share of texts, social media threads, and (ahem) mbg articles, but these are oftentimes short-lived experiences.

Rather, Willeumier wants you to crack open a book and become immersed in the pages, to really familiarize yourself with the characters and, you know, learn something new. ‘[When] the brain learns, [it] forms these cognitive maps’ she explains. ‘So the more reading you’re doing as you age will still keep your brain sharp.’ 

… One study found that reading novels was associated with both short- and long-term connectivity in the brain; another showed that those who engaged in mentally stimulating activities like reading had slower cognitive decline later in life. On a broader scale, research has also found that learning new things (like, say, from a captivating read) can enhance memory function in older adulthood.

Willeumier says you can even elevate your brain training by “speed reading,” or learning how to scan pages faster. However, you’ll want to stick to that 15-or-so-minute timestamp: According to Willeumier, it’s significant, long-form reading each day that enhances your brain health. Find a book you’re interested in (because chances are you’ll read longer!), a cozy nook, and pay attention to the pages—increased focus it turns out, has some noteworthy brain-healthy benefits as well.”

(Article from mindbodygreen.com)

The Books of 2021:

So much for the science of the long read. I managed to complete only five books this year, with many others left on counters, ledges, and shelves half-read.

These books are arranged in the order in which I read them. I leave it to you to decide if any capture your interest.

Intimacy with God: An Introduction to Centering Prayer, 1994, Thomas Keating. Keating may be considered a founder of the Centering Prayer movement. He is an author, teacher, and a member of the Cistercian Order in the Benedictine tradition. According to Keating, Centering Prayer is a preparation for contemplation, an exercise of intention, and “a habit of surrender to God’s increasing presence and action.” It is a prayer where we are developing “the capacity to wait upon God with loving attentiveness.” I encourage reading authors from other traditions in order to relook at our own spiritual journey.

Created for Connection: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, 2016, Dr. Sue Johnson, Kenneth Sanderfer. Johnson reprises her “Hold Me Tight” best seller with this joint project aimed at a simple message: “Forget about learning how to argue better, analyzing your early childhood, or making grand romantic gestures. Instead, get to the emotional underpinnings of your relationship by recognizing that you are attached to and dependent on your partner in much the same way that a child is on a parent, and we are on the Heavenly Father, for nurturing, soothing, and protection. The way to enhance or save our relationships with each other and with God is to be open, attuned, responsive, and to reestablish safe emotional connection.” This book requires heavy reading and a willingness to do the “Play and Practice” of each chapter.

A Farewell to Arms, 1929, Ernest Hemingway.  It was on the strength of watching the masterful Ken Burns documentary (PBS) on Hemingway that I was re-introduced to this story waiting on my bookshelf. This was Hemingway’s second novel, and somewhat autobiographical as he writes in the first person drawing on his own experience as a volunteer ambulance driver during WWI. The story is set on the Italian front in a loosing campaign against the Austro-Hungarians.

Read the first paragraph and marvel at it; marvel that he breaks every syntactical rule and gets away with it; marvel at how quickly and completely you’re drawn into the story. Read the last hopeless prayer and the dying love, or what passes as love, and marvel at the pathos of it all.

On the Road with Saint Augustine,  2019, James K. A. Smith. This is not a book about Saint Augustine – this is a book where Christian Philosopher James K.A. Smith integrates Augustine’s early Christian thoughts for our complicated post-modern world. “What makes Augustine a guide worth considering is that he knows where home is, where rest can be found, what peace feels like…” Smith covers topics such as ambition, sex, friendship, freedom, parenthood, and death. At around 220 pages, this was the best book I read in 2021. Thanks to one of my good friends who always manages to find gems like this. Smith is also the editor of “Image Journal” – a journal committed to covering “art, faith, and mystery.”

The Twisted Circle, 2021, Rosaliene Bacchus. I was delighted to read this novel by a blogger I follow, and who introduces me to such a wide variety of Central and South American poets and authors. This is a painful novel of religious betrayal – priests and nuns whom she says “did not live up to their religious vows.” There is no betrayal quite like religious betrayal, and there is no circadian cycle quite like this twisted circle. What makes the story more poignant is knowing the author draws from some of her own experience having been in a religious Catholic community for seven years. The novel is written in a fast pace that carries the reader along places, encounters, and historical events around the 70’s and 80’s in Guyana where the author was born. If you are interested in Bacchus’ book, you may be interested in her blog.

“Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies:” an Interview with Marilyn McEntyre:

I leave you with a fascinating interview with the author of “Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies” by Marilyn McEntyre. Listen to McEntyre’s insight on how to read well: