Best New Books of 2012: Emil S.’s Picks

Sometimes readers seek books out. Sometimes it’s the other way around. These books ended up in my hands thanks to my position at the library. They are also some of my favorite books of 2012. — Emil S.

Evolution of the Word: Reading the New testament in the Order it Was Written by Marcus J. Borg
Jesus grew up poor in an era that was politically oppressive and economically exploitative, as the ruling classes used violence against their own populations to maintain control, and engaged in war to expand their wealth and power. Jesus’ teachings are exceptionally radical, and he was not on earth to start a new religion – his calling was to restore faith, tear down religion and its ceremonies, and to make way for the kingdom of God: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:52). Jesus challenged the system to show its true face, and its response was to force a crown of thorns on his head and to hammer nails through his flesh and bones. Here Borg arranges the texts of the New Testament in chronological order (as opposed to traditional canonical order), and by doing so, he shows how the radical teachings of Jesus – the Way – eventually became a movement concerned with “maintaining power and control.”

An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies by Tyler Cowen
When Tyler Cowen’s An Economist Gets Lunch was published, it received some well-founded negative criticism in the New York Times, and the reviewer, Dwight Garner, wrote, “Bitterness and gloom bespeak seriousness of purpose.” True enough. But Cowen’s book is nevertheless worthwhile reading, and being a professor of economics he’s bringing an intriguing perspective to the food debate. Cowen shows how economic circumstances affect both the quality and the price of a restaurant, and how all kinds of quirky culture – including food culture – nowadays, due to financial circumstances, tend to be found on the peripheries of major cities. The book is filled with analysis and well-meant advice, and perhaps Cowen’s eating-out philosophy can be summed up like this: If you want good, cheap food, try the streets before the avenues.

Did Jesus Exist? the Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth Bart D. Ehrman
There are those who say that Jesus is a myth, created by the early church, but the vast majority of scholars of antiquity and Bible studies agree that, yes, Jesus did exist. Bart D. Ehrman is a historian and a professor of religious studies at UNC, Chapel Hill, and to him evidence matters. People may be opposed to Ehrman’s claims, but no one should doubt his integrity. The professor’s book – Did Jesus Exist? – reads like a detective story and the tools used to unearth a probable truth are mainly contextual credibility, multiple attestation, and the criterion of dissimilarity The close readings of available sources are simply breathtaking and as Ehrman discusses the different texts, he brings the reader almost within arm’s length of Jesus from Nazareth.

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco
Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a furious and fearless attack on what they refer to as “unfettered capitalism” in America. In a way, it is prophecy in the traditional sense, as the creators of the book show the reader what is going on in the country today. But it is also a warning of things to come, as the pair claim that the development of a permanent and large American underclass may be under way. Not all readers will agree with the duo’s gloomy warnings and their call to arms, but the portrayal of poverty in America is powerful, important, and upsetting.

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Colby and Beverly have been best friends since forever, and after high school they are supposed to share a year in Europe. Then Beverly reveals that she’s won’t join Colby – instead, she will attend college in autumn. Colby is stunned and a seed of doubt has been planted: how well does he know his friend, himself, and the world? And now they’re supposed to travel together as Colby is the roadie for Bev’s band – The Disenchantments – that will tour small towns of the American Pacific. Colby has to adjust to the new situation in this novel about an ever-changing world that can be a dead end and an open road, and Colby says: “Just when I thought we had figured everything out, here it is: something else.”

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