Sunday, January 2, 2011

Book Recommendations from 2010

Once more I am vanquished by my own contest. We have had this challenge of reading fifty books each year for the last three, but I never quite make it. Fox has made it twice. To count a book must be read from cover to cover. Twenty-nine books were thus read by me, and this year I will endeavor to begin again. I even have a new and shiny book journal to help me. Looking back at 2010, however, I see a few books from my 29 that I would recommend.

My favorite book in 2010 was this slim volume by Jonah Lehrer. It explores the decision-making capabilities of the human brain. Mr. Lehrer opened my eyes to a world of cognitive science that I was completely ignorant of.  I never realized how chaotic, how terribly random so many of my choices were, and I also never realized how beholden I am to my brain's chemistry. This was a terrific read, utterly fascinating, and one of the very few books that I can actually see myself re-reading in the future.

This book changed my dissertation project. In fact, if it were not for this book, I think that my dissertation would be in a more tenuous position. More important than that, however, is how this book helped me to remember the strength of a child's aesthetic life, and the power of the young imagination. Watching Thorn grow and learn, observing him while he plays and imagines, are now vigorous moments for me. I have taken to heart Spitz' caution not to let these early encounters with wonder pass me by, and to do my very best to foster a sense of wonder in my child.

A dear friend recommended this book to me, and I am indebted to her for it. Set in an Israel both mythical and historical, it is the tale of a small village and the complicated lives of the families who call it home. I adored Shalev's tale, and I'm told that it is even better in the original Hebrew. Mysticism, so-called magical realism, abounds, as do the grittier, uglier details of human existence. I hunger for more Shalev, and so look for more recommendations of his work in 2011.  

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