What were your favorite books of 2006?

In a twist on the question above, I thought I’d write about the books that I’ve talked about the most with people who have asked me for reading recommendations. In a way, these two books are the ones that have stayed in my mind longest after reading and have seemed appropriate to the people I was speaking with. Both books are challenging and have distinct , fully realized aesthetics, and they share a kind of spirit that questions commonly accepted realities.
In nonfiction, that book would be Garry Wills “What Jesus jesusmeant.jpgMeant,” his reading of the gospels and scathing critique of present-day Christianity.

“What is the kind of religion Jesus opposed? Any religion that is proud of its virtue, like the boastful Pharisee. Any that is self-righteous, quick to judge and condemn, ready to impose burdens rather than share or lift them. Any that exalts its own officers, proud of its trappings, building expensive monuments to itself. Any that neglects the poor and cultivates the rich, any that scorns outcasts and flatters the rulers of this world. If that sounds like just about every form of religion we know, then we can see how far off from religion Jesus stood.”

This harsh indictment is only strengthened by the position Wills takes in his book. He is not only a critic, he is also a believer who finds the truth of his faith in the primary material. He writes, “This is not a scholarly book but a devotional one. It is a profession of faith a reasoning faith, I hope, and a reasonable one.”

The clarity of his sharp intellect, however, defines a faith that is far from easy.

Few communities, he asserts, have lived up to the radical ideals of poverty, equality and faith that are inherent in what Jesus meant.

In fiction, it’s “The Thin Place,” by Kathryn Davis, a multitextured novel that focuses on a small New England townthinplace.jpg and plays with the Celtic notion of the “thin place,” where there is movement between this world and the next.
The novel excels when it it being innovative. With wit and elegance, it packs in so much in a mere 271 pages as it touches upon the “Beautiful Nothing” before creation; a “girl’s subtle, all but imperceptible, shift of alignment toward womanhood”; methods of beaver trapping and rat eradication; the inhumanity of humans; and a church “alive with unspoken wishes … some of the air thick, some of it thin, unspooling lightly or dark and clotted, a terrible mixture, so sweet and heartbroken.”

The greatest achievement of the novel is its believability. We can see the town. We can be among these people. And we can follow this narrator wherever she takes us.

The book never becomes corny or pretentious; rather, it is always compelling, offering the possibility that people can understand the life-force of rocks, lichen, beavers and other people, and that young girls can resurrect the dead.


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