Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin: This was just what the doctor ordered for many reasons. Hearing of Griffin’s experiences as he traveled through the south in the late 1950’s disguised as a black man was a powerful and grief-filled reminder of our nation’s past sins and the historic burden blacks have carried. It was also an uplifting reminder of how far we have come. While I did feel conflicted reading from the perspective of someone merely pretending to be black, I certainly admire Griffin’s courage in seeking to bring to light the injustices suffered by so many.
I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe: I had a love/hate relationship with this book. Set on the campus of an elite, fictional Ivy League university, it tells the story of the title character and the many ups and downs of her freshman year. Tom Wolfe is a master storyteller, creating characters who feel genuine and yet act as perfect stereotypes of their demographic. The innocent country girl who wants to fit in. The frat boy who wants to get laid. The athlete who wants to keep his starting place on the team. The journalism nerd who wants to make his mark (and get laid). Wolfe captures them all and writes a story which is simultaneously personal and yet emblematic. This was why I loved Charlotte Simmons. What I hated was the deluge of profanity and moral perversity filling the pages from cover to cover. I am sure it is absolutely authentic, but it was so profoundly filthy that at times I had to step away from reading in order to give my sense of propriety a chance to catch its breath. I seriously doubt anything would have been lost had Wolfe dialed back the vulgarity, but it still one of best books I have read in recent years.
A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman: There are only a few books in life about which I can say “Reading this changed my life.” A Failure of Nerve is one such book. In many ways, it seems an unlikely candidate. It can be rather dry and reading it was slow going given the number of times I had to double back and reread sections in order to be sure I understood them. But the profound insights into human nature I have gained from Friedman are ones to which I have come back to over and over in recent days. I now give myself pep talks, saying things like “Don’t triangulate here! Don’t triangulate!” or “Quick, self-differentiate!” Just as I believe that God has woven universal truths in the arrangement of the stars and the design of a single cell, I believe He has created patterns and complexity within our psychologies, both personal and interpersonal, which are waiting to be discovered. Friedman has taken a microscope to those patterns and laid out his discoveries for all to see. Whatever your vocation in life, you will find this book to be a game changer.
Endurance by Alfred Lansing: I actually meant to read a different book by the same title but enjoyed this one nonetheless. While it filled me with a deep gratitude for the fact that I am not an explorer, nor do I intend to become one, I gained new found respect for men like Ernest Shackleton and the twenty-seven men who traveled with him in 1912. I think what struck me most regarding this story was the fact that not only did they all survive, but in their will to live they never seemed to sacrifice their humanity. I did wish the book provided more of an education regarding the technical aspects of the voyage but it’s a good introduction to an amazing story. Perfect for reading from the comforts of your climate controlled environment.