In our second On the Square essay today—and just in time for last minute Christmas shoppers—Christopher Benson offers his take on some of the most Notable Books of 2010
’Tis the season when major transatlantic publications, such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Atlantic, Economist, Guardian, and Times Literary Supplement, feature their holiday guides and notable books of the year. Seldom pleased with the selections, I’ve put together my own list of best reads. Every book critic is idiosyncratic and I’m no exception. If my list were the curriculum of a liberal arts college, you’d notice that it’s heavy on the humanities and light on the social sciences and natural sciences. Vocational reading—law, business, medicine—is utterly ignored. Given a choice between primary and secondary sources, I favor primary. I’ll take the great books, in new translations or editions, over the fashionable books (e.g., Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom). I focus on books whose themes are perennial and whose questions are big—esotericists should look elsewhere. Expect a strong dose of religion, theology, and spirituality because these subjects rarely get attention by the secular media. Expect an overrepresentation of Protestant authors, owing to the process of “traditioning” (to use a favorite word of Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann). And finally, expect an ethnocentric bias toward “the West,” which is not a prejudice against “the rest” so much as a pursuit to understand my own “situatedness” (to use a favorite word of postmodernists).