I’ve already shared with you guys the ten best books that I read (for the first time) this year, but in case you’re still finishing up shopping for others, I’ve also added my suggestions to both The American Conservative and National Review‘s gift guides for the end of the year. And my recommendations there are a little less narrowly tailored to my hobbyhorses–so fewer philosophy of medicine and disease on those lists.
So head on over to both sites to see my ideas, and those of other writers:
There were two books in 2014 that compelled me to host dinner parties in order to bribe my friends into reading and discussing them with me: Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams and Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith. Jamison’s book is a collection of fantastic essays (read the title one here) that frequently touch on what it means to be embodied. Jamison narrates her experience playing a stand-in patient for doctors learning how to speak to patients, her visit to a conference for patients suffering from an allegedly psychosomatic disease, and being punched in the face.
The Empathy Exams is a great spur to thought and conversation about how we relate to our bodies and those of others. Tushnet’s book could be slotted under the same theme, but the most powerful parts of her book touched on the way we’ve circumscribed all forms of intimacy (not just the physical/romantic ones), restricting them to couplehood and leaving celibate queer people like Tushnet out in the cold. Tushnet’s book is a handbook on ways to offer sacrificial love to others, especially when cultural scripts have failed you.
For a Christmas present that’s also an investment in more-peaceable dinner-table conversation, try Arnold Kling’s The Three Languages of Politics. It’s just over 50 pages, just shy of $2, and just the thing to give you an understanding of how an opponent can be so wrong. Kling is an adept interpreter of progressive, conservative, and libertarian inclinations and makes it easy to notice what good (real or mistaken) your enemy is pursuing, so you can start a productive debate.
If you like applying clarifying typologies to hot-button issues, it’s always a good season to pick up C. S. Lewis’s The Four Loves, take a break from our sex-obsessed culture, and enter more deeply into friendship, neighborliness, and, yes, even the erotic, rightly understood. You may want to pair this purchase with Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith, a much-needed handbook on how to offer deep, sacrificial love . . . outside of either marriage or a monastery.
And if you’d like to keep the Advent spirit of anticipation alive, you can always tell your loved ones you’ve bought them my first book, Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers Even I Can Offer, but that they’ll have to wait ’til May to find out what the communion of the saints has in common with the Cartesian coordinate plane and why you might use the same skills to dance the rumba and pray the rosary.