Neal’s Best Books of 2012
1493: Uncovering the New World, Charles Mann. An intriguing journey into a variety of biological changes, economic turmoil, and social upheaval, arising out of Columbus’ journeys to the Americas. This is fascinating, as he revisits familiar stories, but also ones you might never have imagined.
The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters. Andy Andrews. Short and sweet, and inspiring. Making a difference in the world. On my Christmas list for the guys I mentor at the youth prison.
House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. Anthony Shadid. He takes us to his family home in Lebanon, weaving stories of family, community, strife, and the desire to find and understand his family roots. This was informative, and a delightful read.
Assembling California. John McPhee. I revisited this tale of geological intrigue and mystery, while driving through the Golden State last winter. A fun way to learn about science, time, and the geologists who figured it all out.
East of Eden. John Steinbach. I came to this classic a bit late in life, yet I found it to be a delightful study of character and conflict in rural America in the early 20th century. The writing is excellent, and that alone makes it a worthwhile endeavor. One of the best American novels of the 20th century.
No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam. Reza Aslan. A detailed look at the life and times of Muhammed and his faith. The research and detailed discussion of the rise of Islam is worthy of consideration by those interested in religion and spirituality, as well as politics. This book offers a great deal of understanding of the world’s most widely practiced religion.
Fools Crow. James Welch. You are in 1870, seeing life as a Crow Indian. This is serious look at life from that perspective, and a culture going through traumatic change. Welch is a gifted writer and weaves his tale with passion for that time and that culture.
Sweeping Changes: Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks. Gary Thorp. A thoughtful examination of daily life, and how one can be prayerful while engaged in the mundane tasks of daily life.
The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music. Victor Wooten. A musician encounters a master of music, and takes you on a personal journey through many aspects of music and his spirituality. This is one of those “read five pages and then think about it for a few days” kind of book.
Sally Jo Survives Sixth Grade: A Journal. Karen Keltz. This book was born in our house this year, and I live with the author. I’m biased, of course, but this is a thoughtful and engaging journey into the mind of a sixth grade girl in 1987, seeking to find her place in the world of sixth graders, and looming adolescence. Now on Amazon. I’d recommend it even if I didn’t kiss the author every day.
The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating A Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. Madeline Levine. (2006). A good look at the upper class and their kids. The author’s research and discussion seem obvious to me, but the material offers our society some very provocative questions to ponder.
Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone. This is a call to think globally and act locally, and be the change you want to see in the world.
The Wolf At Twilight: An Indian Elder’s Journey Through a Land of Ghosts and Shadows. Kent Nerburn. A travelogue into Lakota culture and personal awareness, as the author’s trip to the “Rez” changes his life on many levels.
Boys Will Be Men: Raising Our Sons for Courage, Caring and Community. Paul Kivel. This is a classic for those seeking to understand and end domestic violence, and the disconnect that boys and men feel in our culture. This offers wisdom to all of us, as we all parent and mentor youth.
The Grand Design. Stephen Hawking. Quantum physics for all of us. Well written for the non-quantum physicist, and engaging. My most intellectual book of the year, but easily accessible.
On the Shelf
I retire at the end of this year, so there will hopefully be more time for reading.
Mary Oliver has a new book of poems out. I want to read more philosophy, more social analysis, more books on community involvement and community service.
I hope to finish my book on mentoring young men this winter, and put that on my “Best Books of 2013”! And, maybe write a guide book on local attractions, maybe a memoir or personal history of the area, maybe a collection of my essays.
The classics also are compelling, especially after my discovery, after sixty years, of East of Eden. I have My Antonia, by Willa Cather, on my reading shelf. David McCullough’s histories are calling me, and a plethora of good fiction. I’m reading a collection of American best short stories of 2012 and am discovering authors new to me.
I can’t wait for my friend, Judy Allen, to publish her new book. She tempts me by parceling out a chapter here and there.
As usual, too many books, not enough time.
-Neal Lemery 11/11/2012