Welcome to Favorites Week here at the Rabbit Room. For the next few days, we will be detailing some of our favorite finds of the last calendar year in the form of Recommended Reading, Recommended Listening, and Recommended Viewing.
This year, we thought we’d separate things a bit to allow each category to shine on its own, and we polled some of the Rabbit Room staff and contributors for their answers. Check back later in the week for some of our favorite albums, podcasts, TV shows, and movies. For now, however, here is our Recommended Reading, a list of books that captivated and challenged us in 2022.
Read on and let us know your own recommendations in the comments!
Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren is a beautifully written reminder to see God in all moments and cherish the simple rituals of our faith. The Inheritance Games (Book #1 of The Inheritance Games) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes is engaging on every account. This YA novel checked all the boxes. If you loved the film Knives Out and consider yourself a fan of love triangles, you’ll devour this book! On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Book #1 of The Wingfeather Saga) on Audiobook is too good not to mention. The audiobook is particularly enjoyable because I get to hear Andrew bring the book to life! So fun.
My oldest son hiked 400 miles of the Camino de Santiago last year by himself, and my husband joined him for the last 100 miles. Since I couldn’t participate in person, I looked for books to read and videos to watch about this pilgrimage. I stumbled upon the book, I’ll Push You. It’s an amazing story of friendship and perseverance as one friend literally pushes another friend with disabilities on the entire 500-mile journey. You also get to see how strangers will rally around when there is a need, as this goal could not have been accomplished without the help of strangers on the same journey.
The Poldark Series by Winston Graham. I’m currently in book five of this sweeping story set in Cornwall on the southern coast of England in the late 1700s. Ross Poldark is often heroic, but his passionate nature can sometimes have him impulsive, quick-tempered, and selfish. He creates many of his own problems. Main themes are sin, loss, redemption, and grace, and of course, there are mature themes/immoral actions by some of the characters (you know, yeah, kind of like real life). Fiction should open our empathy, show us the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil (complicated though it all may be), and give us food for thought. “In reading I become a thousand men and yet remain myself,” says C.S. Lewis. Poldark delivers.
I found myself giving away Emily Oster’s data-driven books (Cribsheet and Expecting Better) about as often as I give away Every Moment Holy. Oster’s newsletter and Instagram offer refreshing relief that value a parent’s ability to gather information and make decisions. Sticking with the social media thread, for a charming Christmas treat, I recommend Humans of New York’s recent interview with Santa.
Although I really do love words, books, and reading, this year I found it hard to finish most books I started—even if I was enjoying them. But there were a few that I did stick with. The Soul of Desire: Discovering the Neuroscience of Longing, Beauty, and Community by Curt Thompson, MD helped me make even more sense of my life as I have been talking with God about it over the past few years with cancer. I loved how Curt discussed beauty in our lives and that God not only desires to create beauty in our lives but also with us out in the world. His conversation about shame, our longing to be seen, secure, safe, and soothed, as well as the role of imagination (in our ability to hope for good in our future) has been really illuminating and helpful — for me and also for how I seek to care for my loved ones, knowing they too struggle and need the light of hope to overcome the shadows they face. I really loved reading You Bring the Distance Near by Mitali Perkins and Luci Shaw’s new book of poetry Angels Everywhere.
Obviously, The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad was the best book of 2022. If anyone suggests any book besides that one, they are ill-informed and have no taste in books at all. Other books I enjoyed this year include Wild Things and Castles in the Sky: A Guide to Choosing the Best Books for Children, The City for God: Essays Honoring the Work of Timothy Keller, and 33: Reflections on the Gospel of Saint John. But if I have to choose books in which I had no part in their creation, I would highly recommend Russ Ramsey’s Rembrandt Is in the Wind: Learning to Love Art through the Eyes of Faith, A Journey of Sea and Stone by Tracy Balzer, and Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club (and its sequel, too—it might even be better than the first book). Finally, (and I know this may seem like illegal insider trading, but…) looking ahead to 2023 I can tell you that you are going to LOVE Ordinary Saints: Living Everyday Life to the Glory of God and Why We Create: Reflections on the Creator, the Creation, and Creating.
From a conversation with a stranger on the street, I found out about the book Facing The Mountain by Daniel James Brown (best-selling author of The Boys in the Boat) which chronicles Japanese-American internment and patriotism during WWII. Growing up in Hawaii, now living in the Pacific Northwest, and attending college in the midwest much of the geography and communities Brown describes are familiar and within living memory of my parents and grandparents. It was a compelling and difficult read, and helped me to examine the questions “Am I American enough?” and “How do we decide who does and who does not belong?”
Jack Zulu and the Waylanders Key has been blowing my mind lately! I’m thoroughly enjoying it. S.D. Smith and his son Josiah (J.C.) knock it out of the park with their first collaborative project. Their understanding of friendship and adventure is on par with that of The Princess Bride, The Sandlot, and Stranger Things. Can’t recommend it enough!
Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers voiced so many thoughts and doubts that I often believe and melted them away one by one with God’s gentle words of love.
Russ Ramsey’s Rembrandt is in the Wind is such a gift. Foremost, the book is a knowledgeable companion that helps you understand and appreciate the work of a diverse set of artists. But more than that, it lifts a veil and allows you to understand the humanity and soul of each one. I loved the book so much that I spent two months teaching through it.
I’ve been trying to include books that differ from my perspective—y’know, to try to see the world through different sets of eyes and escape my own prejudices and assumptions. That can mean reading someone more conservative or progressive than me. It was good for me to read Do I Stay Christian? (Brian McLaren) and The Book That Made Your World (David McRaney) back to back. Both seemed pretty dedicated to their preconceived ideas in their own ways but were still enlightening. The Holy Longing (Ronald Rohlheiser) was one of the most religiously formative books I’ve ever read 20 years ago and had a similar effect on me when I reread it this year. This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared (Rabbi Alan Lew) was a book I picked up after Father Thomas McKenzie posted about it two years ago. I’ve read it three times now and love it more each time. I started and ended the year with books about two of my favorite artists: Paul Simon and Bono. Surrender (Bono) was the most fun I’ve had reading in a long time. Who knew Bono could do impressions?
John Michael Heard
Who knew that the art of violinmaking could yield so many lessons about the Christian life? Martin Schleske’s book The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty is a masterpiece; reading it was a highlight of my year.
Lightfall: Shadow of the Bird (Tim Probert, 2022) has locked in Lightfall as one of my favorite comic series of all time. Volume one premiered in 2020 with gorgeous art, brilliant fantasy world-building, and well-defined, relatable characters. Volume two, Shadow of the Bird, is even better, with a story that digs deeper into lore, character motivation, and the history of a broken world aching to be mended.
Like many in the Rabbit Room, I’ve been enjoying the poetry of Malcolm Guite for a few years now. This past year I discovered the beauty of David’s Crown, his masterpiece on the Psalms. With one poem on each Psalm, woven together into a corona, it’s profoundly beautiful and a wonderful companion on a journey through Psalms itself.
The Measure by Nikki Erlick and In the Unwalled City by Robert Cording. My favorite books of the year were both focused on how finite life is and what we choose to do with our days. At the beginning of The Measure, every adult in the world receives a box inscribed with the words “The measure of your life lies within,” and what follows is an exploration of how the world responds, told through eight narrators which begged the question of what I would do if I woke to found a similar box at my door and what I would change in how I live. Similarly, Cording’s book drove me to reflect on how I connect to the people I love. The book is a reflection on the loss of his adult son, Daniel, told in essays and poetry. It is lovely and sad and hopeful and a reminder that the people we’ve lost are still somehow a part of us.
I’ve chased myriad subjects and titles, anything from a history of the Volkswagen (Small Wonder), to the Father Brown mysteries (GK Chesterton), history (The Golden Isthmus, The Pursuit of a Dream, Wall of Empire: The English Channel, The Capture of New Orleans 1862, Arthur: Roman Britain’s Last Champion), books on books, Horatio Hornblower, The Plague, and survival stories (The Raft, Rogue Male). I’ve allowed myself the freedom to quit a book if it’s too dense or too much for my brain to handle, or it simply doesn’t grab my attention. I’ve started and stopped several books as a result, which has been a nice mental shift for me to not waste my time.
Borderland, by Roger Lloyd. Published in 1960, it’s an exploration of the borderland between theology and literature. Lloyd, an Anglican priest, makes a case for the importance of artists in the translation of theology into ideas and expressions the non-theologian/non-academic can understand—which is to say that artists need theology, and theologians need art. He praises those writers who straddle the two, including C. S. Lewis, Chesterton, Sayers, and others we tend to read here in the Rabbit Room. It’s not an earth-shattering book, but I’m so glad I read it.
Faith, Hope, and Carnage, by Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagan. I first heard Nick Cave on the About Time soundtrack (which is one of the best out there), singing the line “I don’t believe in an interventionist God” in his song “Into My Arms.” Nick Cave does believe in God, as a matter of fact—it’s the adjective “interventionist” that he’s distancing himself from in the song. It’s an old song, and his views on God have deepened drastically in the meantime. The most obvious cause for that deepening of faith was the tragic death of Cave’s son, Arthur. That’s what the book is largely about. O’Hagan is a journalist friend of Cave’s, and they had the idea to make the book a conversation between the two—one an atheist, the other a believer. They cover the music business, touring, songwriting, grief, doubt, faith—all of it. Cave’s journey has been a rough one, so be prepared for that, but his faith is beautiful and real and utterly fascinating to read about. I don’t know that I’ve ever read an interview with so many underlineable sentences. Cave’s waters run terribly deep, and his ability to articulate difficult and mysterious things is astonishing.
I don’t know that I’ve loved a book like Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi since, well, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The best thing I can liken it to is Lewis’s space trilogy, even though it’s not about space and it’s not a trilogy. But it plays with ideas and images in similar ways and creates a strange world pregnant with meaning, wonder, and mystery. Our world doesn’t have enough books like this. Give us more, Mrs. Clarke. We needs it.