Yudcast for 12/20/18 featuring Dr. Dan Glass' 'year end list' recapping the books + media that most impacted his thinking this year.
I began 2018’s words of the weeks with a list of the books that grabbed my attention in 2017, and I am going to end the year with a similar list, of the books and media that most impacted my thinking this year. So, without further ado, my list, presented chronologically in the order I encountered these cultural objects.
Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders
I have been reading widely enough, for long enough, that it is rare for me nowadays to encounter a book—especially a mainstream, prize-winning book—that truly does things with its form that I have never encountered before. Lincoln in the Bardo was the first novel I read in 2018, and remains the most singular, for its odd ghostly dramatis personae, and for the hauntingly uncertain, but undoubtedly moving, father-son relationship that binds the whole. Like the other two “big novels” that are on this list and on many other year-end best-of lists, this one is deserving of all the praise it received.
Black Panther (Ryan Coogler), “This is America,” Childish Gambino and Hiro Murai, “DAMN.,” Kendrick Lamar
This trio of meditations on blackness, violence, and power in America in some ways spanned two years (“DAMN.” was released in 2017, and I first listened to it in earnest that summer), but each made me rethink artists and genres in the winter and spring of this year. I hadn’t thought that a Marvel fantasy could resonate so deeply with a cultural moment—though I remember reading Black Panther comic books as a young boy and wishing for a larger window into the alternate reality of Wakanda. Childish Gambino’s virtuosic turn—as a dancer, first and foremost—in the brilliant video for his song directed by Hiro Murai, may be the image I most remember from this year. And this spring, I loved having the opportunity to sit with Brandeis middle schoolers and discuss how Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer prize for “DAMN.” (the first for a non-jazz or classical music album, ever) speaks to our cultural moment as a country. Each of these three pieces of art capture something of the despair and the hope around race in America, in a way that I am sure will resonate for generations.
Holy Ghost, David Brazil
I’ll let the poetry speak for itself.
I’m reaching for your hand in the dark I
reach and reach and is it found how
shall I find you in this kid o
where in waste is wisdom hid
Swimming in the Rain (New and Selected Poems 1980-2015), Chana Bloch
I want the language of lovers
before they touch,
when their eyes telegraph
verbs only, because
each word costs.
“Crossing the table”
Basketball and Other Things, Shea Serrano
A gift from a dear colleague (who clearly knows me very well), Shea Serrano’s hilarity and surreality as a documenter of some of my favorite entertainment industries (including rap music, along with basketball) is unmatched. No book made me laugh more this year.
Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passions, Peers and Play, Mitchell Resnick
Our summer all-faculty read, this book by the MIT Media Lab’s Resnick offers many colorful examples of the power of play in creative thinking and work. His was an inspiring world to dip into, and to bring back to ours at Brandeis.
Adam, Ariel Schrag
Schrag was a classmate of mine at Berkeley High School, but this book came my way by recommendation from a Brandeis parent. An at-times cringe-inducing, often hilarious, and always eye-opening account of a boy’s engagement with the queer and trans communities in New York City, this novel was a powerful counterpoint to the work we have been doing as a faculty and staff around inclusivity and gender identities in the 2018–19 school year.
There There, Tommy Orange
For me, having grown up in the milieu of the American Indian Movement in the East Bay in the 1980s, Orange’s account of the same (in the decade prior) rang incredibly true, and hit very close to home. Not since Welch’s Winter in the Blood have I read an account of modern Native American life that feels so vibrant, so challenging, and so true. This one also had strong curricular ties at Brandeis, with the work we have been doing as a school with Facing History and Ourselves in considering our First Peoples’ curricula.
Hybrid Judaism: Irving Greenberg, Encounter, and the Changing Nature of American Jewish Identity, Rabbi Darren Kleinberg
Darren, the head of school at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, gave me his book on a visit together last spring, and I have toted it with me in my briefcase ever since. His carefully researched and frankly brilliant account of our complexities, our hybridities, and our relativities as a Jewish community has given me much food for thought, and resonates deeply with many of our challenges and opportunities here at Brandeis.
Ceremonial, Carly Joy Miller
Long rivulet of me
strikes the ram horn.
My name hymns
god-bright in the lungs:
“Letter to a Body Made Breath”
The Overstory: A Novel, Richard Powers
I am ignoring my own chronology by ending here, but there is no more apt place to end a list of what I read, heard, and saw in 2018 than with Richard Powers’s towering, beautiful, incredible novel. Here is what I wrote about it upon returning back to school, after the summer:
The book makes the case for an entirely different understanding of trees—their relationships to each other, how forests communicate together, how they are connected both above and below ground—and especially our relationship to them. It is also a heartbreakingly beautiful novel. I finished it and saw the landscape around me with new eyes, aware suddenly of how little I know about the trees of California, the urban forest in San Francisco, or even the trees around my house. In reading the book, I was reminded of the power of sharing knowledge, of exposing our kids and ourselves to new learning, of the possibilities opened by seeing the world anew.
And that, after all, is the point of reading, listening, and looking—to learn, to grow, to see this amazing world of ours anew.