庚子年的书架 2020: A (Chinese) Year in Books

It’s that time of year again, and this year I’m on time! Like everyone, my 2020 was, to put it mildly, unprecedented. My family and I left China two days after Chinese New Year, 2020, and as of Chinese New Year, 2021, we have been stuck in the U.S. for a year. We have undeniably been more fortunate than many people. We’ve had the support of family and the good fortune of being able to work online, but it has been a challenging year. Reading, as always, has brought me inspiration and enjoyment, and although the extra demands on my time have kept me from reading as much as in previous years, I can honestly say that a my reading this year has transformed me like no year before.

The books that had such an impact on me were all written by African-American authors. It all started with James Baldwin. For a long time now, I have been convinced that Baldwin’s short story, “Sonny’s Blues” was one of–if not the–best short story ever written by an American. I kept meaning to read his The Fire Next Time, but never quite got around to it. Stuck with a ringside seat to the events of 2020 in the U.S.–the undeniable police brutality against African Americans and the military force used against those who protested it–I could no longer put it off. It is among the finest essays ever written, but read in 2020 what was most shocking was that it read like something written that very year. Baldwin’s descriptions of police intimidation and violence against Black people during the 1940s and 50s are identical to the stories coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement. Seventy years have passed and almost nothing has changed. With that sobering and disheartening revelation, I began to read more. I have known of a long time that African-Americans were not treated fairly in the U.S., but I had always believed in the American myth of progress–that American history was an upward curve tending ever closer to justice and equality. What I read this year shattered that myth, and I thank the authors who did it. We have serious problems as a country, and we’re not going to fix them by ignoring them.

Allan warren, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I know my own education is only beginning, but I’ll make bold to suggest some reading for anyone who also wants to learn more about race in the U.S. These four books had the greatest impact on me, and I think they would make a good starting point for anyone:

  1. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (also read “Sonny’s Blues” you won’t regret it!)
  2. Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own Time
  3. Frederick Douglaas, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (also read his speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July”)
  4. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

For a more gentle introduction–and one suitable to younger readers–try Jerry Craft’s graphic novel, New Kid.

As always, a lot of things that I read don’t make it into this list because it’s too much trouble to keep track of them. Books I only read part of, articles I read online, and especially poetry, are usually left out. It’s a shame, but I haven’t found a good way of including them.

I present this list as I do each year, in the hopes that within it someone may find something they love, something that inspires them, something that shows them a way forward or just helps them keep going. The tragedies of this year have caused some to doubt the power of words, but I am not one of them. We make the world through our words, so we’d better find some good ones.

  1. Charlie Jane Anders, The City in the Middle of Night
  2. M.T. Anderson, The Daughters of Ys
  3. Thomas Aquinas, “On the Principles of Nature” (trans. Eleonore Stump and Stephen Chanderbhan)
  4. Thomas Aquinas, “The Treatise on the Divine Nature (Summa Theologiae I.1-13)” (trans. Brian J. Shanley)
  5. Thomas Aquinas, “The Treatise on Human Nature (Summa Theologgiae I.75-86)” (trans. Robert Pasnau)
  6. Hannah Arendt, “Lying in Politics”
  7. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time 
  8. James Baldwin, “The Outing”
  9. James Baldwin, “The Rockpile”
  10. Kelly Barnhill, Iron Hearted Violet 
  11. Kelly, Barnhill, The Mostly True Story of Jack
  12. Tony Barnstone, “Three Paradoxes of Translation: On Translating Chinese Poetry for Form” (in Ming Dong Gu ed., Translating China for Western Readers)
  13. David Baylis and Ted Orland, Art and Fear
  14. Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
  15. Marie Borroff trans., Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
  16. Jessica Brody, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel
  17. Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator”
  18. Conal Boyce, “Recitation of Chinese Poetry”
  19. Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
  20. Agnes Callard, “What do the Humanities do in a Crisis?” (New Yorker, April 11th, 2020)
  21. Anton Chekhov, “The Bishop”
  22. Yuehong Chen, “Aesthetic Fidelity Versus Linguistic Fidelity: A Reassessment of the Chinese Translations of Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell” (in Ming Dong Gu Ed., Translating China for Western Readers)
  23. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
  24. Jerry Craft, New Kid
  25. Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons
  26. Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass 
  27. Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
  28. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Circles”
  29. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar”
  30. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Experience”
  31. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”
  32. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sermon XC “Trust Yourself”
  33. Michel Foucault, “The Great Confinement” (in The Foucault Reader)
  34. Michel Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?” (in The Foucault Reader)
  35. Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own
  36. Maxine Greene, “Freedom, Education, and Public Spaces” (in The Dialectic of Freedom)
  37. Pierre Hadot, “The Ancient Philosophers” (in Mathew Sharpe and Federico Testa trans., The Selected Writings of Pierre Hadot: Philosophy as Practice)
  38. Pierre Hadot, “Ancient Philosophy: An Ethics or a Practice” (in Mathew Sharpe and Federico Testa trans., The Selected Writings of Pierre Hadot: Philosophy as Practice)
  39. Pierre Hadot, ‘My Books and My Research” (in Mathew Sharpe and Federico Testa trans., The Selected Writings of Pierre Hadot: Philosophy as Practice)
  40. James M. Hargett, “Cleansing the Apertures: The Hainan Exile of Su Shi”
  41. Ben Hatke, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl
  42. Ben Hatke, Mighty Jack
  43. Ben Hatke, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
  44. Ben Hatke, Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl
  45. Ben Hatke, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl
  46. Ben Hatke, Zita the Spacegirl
  47. Richard Hofstadter, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”
  48. Charlie N. Holmberg, Spellbreaker
  49. Rosalind Hursthouse, “Virtue Ethics” (in Gideon Rosen et al. ed., The Norton Introduction to Philosophy)
  50. Franz Kafka, “The Silence of the Sirens” (trans. Willa and Edwin Muir)
  51. Tae Keller, When You Trap a Tiger
  52. Erin Entrada Kelly, Lalani of the Distant Sea
  53. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
  54. Martin Luther King Jr., “Palm Sunday Sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi” (in Cornell West ed. The Radical King)
  55. E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  56. Leena Krohn, “Gorgonoids” (trans. Hildi Hawkins)
  57. Tim Leffel, Travel Writing 2.0
  58. Liu Huawen, “Real-m-ization (化境) and Eventualization: Toward a Phenomenological Approach to Poetic Translation” (in Ming Dong Gu ed., Translating China for Western Readers)
  59. William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow 
  60. Carson McCullers, “The Ballad of the Sad Café”
  61. Karen M. McManus, One of Us is Lying
  62. Aaron McGruder, The Boondocks: Because I Know You Don’t Read the Newspaper
  63. N. Scott Momaday, “The Way to Rainy Mountain”
  64. Michel de Montaigne, “Apology for Raymond Sebond” (trans. R. Ariew and M. Grene)
  65. G.E. Moore, “Proof of an External World” (in Gideon Rosen et al. ed., The Norton Introduction to Philosophy)
  66. Orhan Pamuk, My Name is Red
  67. Katherine Paterson, A Bridge to Terabithia
  68. Terry Pratchett, Sourcery
  69. Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
  70. Michael Puett, “On Relationships: Confucius and As-If Rituals” (in The Path)
  71. Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage
  72. Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials: Serpentine 
  73. Philip Pullman, The Secret Commonwealth
  74. W.V.O. Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”
  75. Richard Rorty, “Getting Rid of the Appearance-Reality Distinction” (in Philosophy as Poetry)
  76. Richard Rorty, “Relativism: Finding and Making” (in Philosophy and Social Hope)
  77. Conrad Schirokauer, “Reading and Teaching The Tale of Kieu” (in Wm. Theodore de Bary ed., Finding Wisdom in East Asian Classics)
  78. Mark Siderits, “The School of Diṇnāga: Buddhist Epistemology,” in Buddhism as Philosophy)
  79. Dana Simpson, Phoebe and her Unicorn vol. 4
  80. Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  81. Raina Telgemeier, Ghosts 
  82. Tsukushi Akihito, Made in Abyss, vol. 8
  83. Frederick Turner, “Translating the Tang Poets: A Personal View by a Western Poet and Reader” (in Ming Dong Gu ed., Translating China for Western Readers)
  84. Mark Twain, “Corn-Pone Opinions”
  85. Yamazaki Kore, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, vols. 12-13
  86. Linda Urban, The Center of Everything 
  87. Bryan W. Van Norden, “Kongzi and Virtue Ethics,” (in Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy
  88. Cornel West, Race Matters
  89. Ruth White, Belle Prater’s Boy
  90. Zeami Motokiyo 世阿弥元清, Atsumori 《敦盛》(trans. Arthur Waley, in Donald Keene ed., Anthology of Japanese Literature)

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