RELEVANT Roundtable is when we ask our slate of culture writers a question and compile their responses. This week’s question: Which book is at the top of your 2019 reading list?


Mary McCampbell: I am working through Jemar Tisby’s forthcoming The Color of Compromise: the Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. I wish every Christian in America could read this book: It pinpoints many painful stories from American church history that have been swept under our theological rugs. Tisby is a historian and a theologian, and his handling of the difficult subject matter is both forthright and pastoral. He argues the historian’s job is to speak the truth, and that this kind of truth-telling can be an act of Christian activism. A life-changing read.

Lauren Beatty: Last week I finished Hamlet, Shakespeare’s tale of a prince who fails to avenge his father’s murder. Unfortunately, the story’s themes of the destructive desire for power still has relevance in the world today. One day we will heed the words, “to thine own self be true,” and stop stepping on people for personal gain. Nothing says, “new year, new you” like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Jon Negroni: My first book of the year is a book of poetry from 1957, aptly titled Meditations in an Emergency. This is poet Frank O’Hara’s collection of observations during his time in New York City. The book comments on identity and the smallness of the elite, but in 2019, I’m discovering new themes these poems illustrate. Meditations captures a grainy photograph of a city that has never felt more central to our public discourse. Understanding New York’s complicated, steel battleground of monuments (the city of which our current president once called his main home) will forever be worth exploring past, present, and future.

Seth Tower Hurd: Sebastian Junger’s latest, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging is my first book of 2019. It’s a short read (you can burn through in a couple of hours) and jam packed with need-to-know info for navigating the digital world. Junger’s excellent research and storytelling explore why experiencing some difficulty in life is necessary, and his words will leave you ready to work harder at community and purpose and worry less about stuff and status.

Sharon McKeeman: The first book I finished in 2019 is John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. I’ve inched my way through, because I need to let its heaviness sink in, but also take breathers. It’s a hard read. It not only paints a picture of a sad season in our country’s history, but gives us a glimpse of the suffering and heroism of modern day migrants and refugees. It culminates with a surprising redemption, too, weaving together hardship and hope, a fitting way to begin the year.

Joshua Pease: I wish I could say Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward because that answer feels impressive to me, like I’m really taking Being An Adult seriously and all. The truth is, I’m reading the new Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) novel Lethal White instead. It’s not as impressive, but it’s the mental chicken soup I need right now. 

Joy Netanya Thompson: Right now I’m working my way through Refinery29 Money Diaries by Lindsey Stanberry. It’s a compilation of the online magazine’s Money Diaries series (in which millennial women write a narrative log about everything they spend money on for a week) along with personal finance information targeted at women in their twenties and thirties. The subtitle pretty much sums it up: “Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Your Finances… And Everyone Else’s.” It’s fascinating, challenging, and empowering––perfect to kick off 2019!

Tyler Daswick: Celebrity memoirs have become pretty disposable, but Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? had a wisdom beyond its title. Favoring the “essay collection” model instead of the “chart my career” model, Kaling still delivers insight into Matt and Ben and The Office (she wrote this one before The Mindy Project), but bolsters it with lots of sharp ideas about comedy, popular culture and seizing opportunity. I always appreciate when famous people are real about both their hard work and their incredible luck, and Kaling’s acknowledgment of each makes this book feel grounded and truthful.

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