Best Books of 2014 (Part 2)

Mark Logsdon, who has been an essential part of our conversation of the Marilynne Robinson novels, suggested that we take a bit of a break before our discussion of Lila. I’m reading the novel for the first time now, and I’ve come to realize that it was, in the words of Rev. Ames, presumptuous of me to think I would have anything intelligent to say about the novel during a first reading. I’m also realizing that I should reread the Book of Ezekiel, and probably Calvin’s commentary on Ezekiel, before I tackle blogging about Lila. So I’ll start up again in the new year.

In lieu of a discussion of Lila, I wanted to take up a suggestion that Dominic Preziosi made to dotCommonweal bloggers to list our favorite books of the year. Anthony Domestico has already taken him up on it, and I thought I would add some recommendations as well. (Rumor has it that your name does not have to end in a vowel in order to chime in. But maybe it helps.)

Fiction
1. Zia Haider Rahman, In the Light of What We Know. Not only was this the best novel I read in 2014, but it's the best novel I've read in quite some time. Unfortunately, apart from a glowing review by James Wood in the New Yorker, this novel has gotten very little attention. Rahman tells the story of two Oxford-educated friends whose families both hail from South Asia but who are otherwise worlds apart. The novel addresses the global financial crisis, the war in Afghanistan, philosophy, law, class, and the academy. Ultimately, though, the novel addresses central issues such as friendship and faith. Rahman’s erudition sparkles on each page, and, months after reading it, I can recall some sentences word for word.I look forward to reading the novel again.

2. Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers. Officially this came out in 2013, but there was a paperback edition in 2014.  Kushner’s novel addresses the New York City art world of the 1970s, Italian manufacturing, motorcycles, and revolutionary politics. The novel asks us what happens in the name of love when the personal and the political collide.

3. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch. Like The Flamethrowers, this novel came out at the end of 2013. Be sure to read Anthony Domestico’s review of The Goldfinch in that latest print issue of Commonweal. Of course, I agree with everything Tony writes there, and I would only add that besides being a fairy tale, the Goldfinch (much like The Flamethrowers) asks us to consider the relationship between art and truth. (In this way, its true precursor is William Gaddis’s The Recognitions.)

4. William Giraldi, Hold the Dark. Dominic Preziosi has already reviewed Hold the Dark on this site. It is a superb and terrifying read. Be sure to check out Giraldi’s, Busy Monsters as well. That novel is as funny as Hold the Dark is terrifying. I got some strange looks on the CTA for laughing out loud while reading Busy Monsters.

Theology
Officially speaking, my academic training is in theology, and so I thought readers might be interested in some theological works I read this year.

1. John Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity. This book came out in 2013, but I spent a good chunk of the fall reading and rereading it. I would go so far as to say that this is the single best book written on Irenaeus of Lyon in any language. (I did my dissertation on Irenaeus, and so I’ve read lots of books about him.) Behr’s book is not only an introduction to this central Christian theologian, it is also a discussion of theological method, which is to say, a discussion of how to preach the good news of God incarnate, who has come to give life and give it fully.

2. Cyril O'Regan, Anatomy of Misremembering: Von Balthasar's Response to Philosophical Modernity: Volume 1: Hegel. This book is not for the faint of heart. Joseph Ratzinger described Hans Urs von Balthasar as the most cultured man in Europe, and Cyril O’Regan is unique in his knowledge of the historical, philosophical, theological, and cultural issues that shaped Balthasar’s theology. O’Regan sees Balthasar as a contemporary Irenaeus, who, like his second-century predecessor, draws on the culture around him to proclaim the Christian kerygma.

3. Robert Louis Wilken, The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity. This book was originally published in 2012, and came out in paperback in 2014. We are increasingly and importantly worried about Christianity’s place in the global community. Wilken’s masterpiece reminds us that Christianity was always, in an important sense, a “global” faith, whose race extended from Spain to China and from Sweden to Ethiopia. In the Winter Quarter at DePaul, I will be teaching a class on the history of Christianity from Jesus to 1500. Wilken’s book will form the backbone of our course.

Books I’m looking forward to reading.
The following books were published in 2014, but I'm ashamed to say that I haven't gotten around to reading them. I'm hoping Santa leaves one or two under the tree for me. All of them were written by graduates of my high school. (My first post of 2014 celebrated Regis's Centenial, and so I thought I would mention it again in what will likely be my last post of 2014.)

1. Phil Klay, Redeployment. Phil, an Iraq war veteran, won the National Book Award for this collection of stories about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the homecoming the soldiers face.

2. Matthew Thomas, We Are Not Ourselves. This is the story of three generations of an Irish-American family in Queens, New York. The book has been compared with Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, and I’m willing to bet it’s even better than that fine novel.

3. David Lat, Supreme Ambitions. Dave is the editor of Above the Law, a legal blog, which, I’m told, is required reading among law students and associates in New York law firms. This novel follows a recent Yale Law School grad who dreams of clerking for the Supreme Court.

4. Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and A War at the Ends of the Earth. Mazzetti is the national security correspondent for the New York Times. He broke the story of the CIA destroying tapes that showed torture of detainees in Afghanistan. In light of the Senate Report chronicling American torture of Al Qaeda suspects, Mazzeti’s book should be required reading.

5. Robert Imbelli, Rekindling the Christic Imagination: Theological Meditations for the New Evangelizaiton. Well, of course!

Merry Christmas to the dotCommonweal community!

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Scott D. Moringiello is an an assistant professor in the Department of Catholic Studies at DePaul University, where he teaches courses in Catholic theology and religion and literature. He blogs at dotCommonweal.

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