We know we’re two weeks into 2018, but it takes some time to consider the mark a year leaves behind. We’ve finally gathered all our thoughts together, though, and here’s a look at the books, movies, TV, music, and some other stuff we in the Rabbit Room enjoyed the most in the past year. What were your favorites?
Books 1. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr 2. The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 3. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, William Zinsser
Film/TV 1. Dunkirk 2. Better Call Saul 3. Runnin’ Down a Dream – The Tom Petty Documentary
Books 1. Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson: I won’t belabor it since we’ve already talked about ita lot, but seriously. This book. Eye opening, upsetting, hopeful, and perhaps the most important book I read this year. 2. The Children of Men, P. D. James: Post-apocalyptic sci-fi that made a surprisingly moving and perfect read for Advent. 3. The Road Back to You, Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile: Yes, I am one of those Enneagram nerds. If you want to know why all your friends are talking about personality numbers, this is an engaging and practical introduction.
Music 1. All is Not Lost, The Brilliance: The New York worship collective addresses hope and reconciliation in one of the timeliest and most thought provoking records of the year. 2. Songs of Experience, U2: I will never not be excited about a new U2 record. These songs arrived like an unexpected Christmas present at the end of a tough year. 3. Mercury and Lightning, John Mark McMillan: This album feels like one of the most complete and cohesive records of JMM’s career. Springsteen meets Southern gothic in a haunting, yet somehow catchy rock record. 4. River House, Taylor Leonhardt: A lovely, understand folk record that I had on repeat in my car for a while. (And if you have a chance to see her live, do it!) 5. Sleep Well, Beast, The National: Sometimes, you just need some dark, brooding, slow-burning rock in your life.
Books 1. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, Brian Zahnd 2. The Wild Robot, Peter Brown 3. The Song of Glory and Ghost, N. D. Wilson
Film/TV 1. Paterson 2. The Last Jedi 3. Blade Runner 2049
Music 1. Life In A Paper Boat, Kate Rusby: Kate has been one of my favorite artists for years now, and her newest record proves she just gets better and better. Her bandleader and husband, Damien O’Kane, is one heck of a producer. Along with being a fantastic trad Irish banjoist and guitarist, he’s added more modern elements to her sound, updating her music but with the utmost respect and love. If you love Story, and if you love beautiful, heart-felt music, well, here you go. 2. Avenging and Bright, Damien O’Kane: Damien’s latest is his third solo record. His music still has the fundamental trad Celtic base, but contains even more modern elements than Kate’s. Again, if you love Story, and real, rooted music, this is for you. I’ll be finishing up a bluegrass/Irish banjos record with Damien this month, and touring with him in July and August in the U.K. 3. Cold on the Shoulder, Tony Rice: Tony is probably the most influential bluegrass and acoustic musician of the 1970s-1990s. His song selection, guitar playing, and singing always put the story across. This record features songs by Gordon Lightfoot, Rodney Crowell, Jerry Reed, Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, and more. The instrumental soloing is absolutely stellar—Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Bobby Hicks, Jerry Douglas. This is one of my all-time favorite records, and I’ve had the LP version since it came out in the mid-1980s. This has been on my turntable a lot lately.
Music 1. Bruce Hornsby & The Range 2. Betty Who 3. Lord Huron
Film/TV 1. The Last Jedi (I have kids) 2. Phineas & Ferb (I have kids and don’t get out much) 3. The Simpsons (I don’t get out much)
Music 1. Long Ambients 1: Calm. Sleep.,Moby 2. Barriers, October VI
Films/TV 1. Patriot (Amazon) 2. Wonder Woman 3. The Punisher (Netflix)
Books 1. Denys Wortman’s New York, edited by James Sturm: A gorgeous, vast yet intimate view of daily life in ’30s and ’40s New York, through the pencil sketches of cartoonist Denys Wortman. 2. Centerburg Tales, Robert McCloskey: Somehow I’ve just never paid attention to McCloskey’s work beyond picture books. His Homer Price books fell in my lap this past year and are among the most beautifully designed and illustrated kids novels I’ve ever seen. 3. Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, Russell and Lillian Hoban: As a lifelong fan of the Henson film, I had yet to ever lay eyes on the book that inspired it. Now all I can think about is making a book so beautiful and quaint.
Music 1. There Is A Cloud, Elevation Worship: Life can be really hard. 2017 wasn’t always an easy go for us and many we know. This album provided some encouraging and uplifting mindsets, specifically “Do It Again.” Walking around these walls. I thought by now they’d fall. But you have never failed me yet – I’ve seen you move. You move the mountains. And I believe, I’ll see you do it again. 2. Wonder, Hillsong UNITED: Again, I’ve found that worship is the thing that gets me through the hard times. This album, like so many by Hillsong, is full of wonderfully written and produced music, but the final track, “Water To Wine,” just crushes me in ways few songs can, yet reminds me that my Father loves me despite what I may perceive. 3. Let There Be Light, Hillsong Worship: I’ll just admit that I can barely sing or even type the line Watch as the clouds He rides swing low / Lift up the sound as He makes our praise His throne without an uncontrollable sobbing welling up within my chest. How an almighty God can build his throne on the praises from my brokenness is beyond me, yet it’s one of the most amazing thoughts I have about Him.
Books 1. Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe: I wasn’t thrilled when the school asked me to add Defoe to my teaching schedule this year. However, this book hit me so much harder with an additional thirty years under my belt. In the midst of a frantic life, I needed to see a character stranded and alone, wrestling with hard questions about God and culture. This reread reminded me to give classic literature a second shot later in life.
2. The John Carter novels, Edgar Rice Burroughs: After I began to fall in love with this series, my mom told me that my grandfather used to devour the books when he was a boy. He was named Earnest, a Kentucky coal miner and World War II veteran—a hard man with rock-like shoulders who began his own publishing company (before people did this sort of thing) because he had stories stuck his head and wanted to be a writer. As a child weathering severity in the Depression, he had found excitement and refuge in Burroughs’ dauntless protagonist.
As I’ve found myself lost on Mars this year, it’s been great fun to think about my grandfather reading these same words. I wonder how the courage found in these pages carried him through battles of his own—foreign and domestic. [Editor’s note: Tim Riggins approves of this choice.]
While I wanted academic instruction, I also wanted to ditch the haughty posture which often follows grammatical expertise. Strong writing is mostly an extension of etiquette—a willingness to make life easier for others. It’s also inherently pragmatic—like a motor that runs when it needs to run more than a high and holy religion to obey. Williams hits the bulls eye in both regards. He is others-centered and practical in his approach to instruction, exposing the shallowness of pseudo-academics who carry a legalistic and pedantic attitude about making good sentences.
This book is now one of my three favorite writing guides, alongside Stephen King’s On Writing and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. Audaciously honest, irreverent in places, brave, and humble—Joseph M. Williams has won my heart.
Music 1. No Story is Over, Son of Laughter: I love Chris Slaten’s voice. I love his images. I love how he makes me think.
2. The Crucifixion of Jesus, Fernando Ortega: I was expecting a record and ended up with a comprehensive worship experience. I don’t even know what genre to use for this.
3. My daughter’s singing. She has the most resonant voice I’ve ever heard, and it’s come into its own this past year. Because she doesn’t have plans to sing professionally, I get the benefit of hearing her chase beauty for the sheer sake of beauty. She experiments day and night, and she sings her way out of all sorts of stress, loneliness, and trouble. I’d rather listen to her than any sound in the world.
Film/TV 1. The Great British Baking Show: I’m late to the game on this one, but I’ve needed it this year. With all the barbarism of American media, this program has been a balm. The music. The scenery. The civility. The kindness. It’s been a reminder of so much that I’ve needed to see.
2. There’s this local lady who does oyster shucking on Facebook Live. She uses a painted plastic plate with five segments, each holding an oyster. You send her some money, then you tell her which segment holds the oyster you want her to shuck live. While everybody is watching, she cracks that thing open, and you get to see what color pearl is inside.
While all this is going on, you sometimes see her son and husband come home from work, and they will kiss her on the forehead while she glows and brags on them. The dog barks, there’s some clutter in the background and a curio cabinet full of porcelain birds—a stack of papers, a forgotten Styrofoam cup half-full of sweet tea.
3. Murder on the Orient Express: It was worth admission, even though I liked David Suchet’s 2010 version far better. Branagh’s filmography was stunning, and it was good to see a fine old story brought into the American mainstream.
Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham was particularly impressive to me. I don’t know if that’s because she was remarkable or because I was blown away to realize that this was Rey halfway through the flick. Her transformation was complete.
If you haven’t seen it, I think this film is definitely worth a couple of bucks on streaming—just watch it before you watch Suchet’s version so you can save the best for last.
Books 1. Roots and Sky, Christie Purifoy 2. Remembering, Wendell Berry 3. The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work”, Kathleen Norris (Bonus: A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis)
Film/TV 1. Stranger Things 2. Victoria (Masterpiece) 3. Look and See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry
Books 1. Henry and the Chalk Dragon, Jennifer Trafton: Playful, messy, uncertain, creative, exuberant—this book captures what it’s like to be a kid. It’s a great touchstone for growing up and growing young. 2. Nightlights, Lorena Alvarez: I love books that invite me to slow down and soak up captivating visuals. Nightlights does even more, telling a fearless story of art-making that’s directly tied to those visuals. 3. Mickey’s Craziest Adventures, Lewis Trondheim: This is the weirdest, wackiest, funniest Disney comic I’ve yet read.
Podcasts [Editor’s note: 10 demerits for Jimison for going off script.] 1. Myths and Legends: Modern retellings of mythology and folklore from around the world, presented with both an affection and irreverence for the source material. 2. Fictional: Since I can’t get enough of Myths and Legends, I love that there is now an accompanying podcast focusing on more modern novels, plays and short stories. 3. The Pivot: Andrew Osenga brings us fascinating, honest conversations about the unexpected twists and turns that life often takes.
2. When Kingfishers Catch Fire, Eugene Peterson: A charming, surprising, and challenging final book from the pastor all pastors should aspire to be like.
3. American Gods, Neil Gaiman: Seriously, this is the book I wish I had written. Not perfect, but so highly interesting, creative, and entertaining that I can’t get it out of my head.
Film 1. Blade Runner 2049: Significantly better than the classic original. Pure, transformative science fiction. If there is anything wrong with this movie, I can’t tell what it is. [Editor’s note: It’s the length.]
2. The Shape of Water: I’m out on a limb with this one, but I just loved it. What a creative and seamless blend of Italian cinema, science fiction, fantasy, and fairy tale. Best of all, Sally Hawkins (who is always been tremendous) finally gets her chance to shine.
3. Wonder Woman: The only D.C. movie worth seeing. Much more than that, the best portrayal of a woman as an action hero I’ve ever seen. [Editor’s note: Furiosa heard that.] There are flaws in this movie (the long, cheap CGI climatic scenes), but the greatness of Gal Gadot’s acting, Patty Jenkins’ direction, and Allan Heinberg’s writing transcend everything that could have gone wrong with this movie (I’m looking at you, Zack Snyder).
TV 1. Master of None (Season Two): I can’t believe how subtle, funny, touching, and thought-provoking this little series is. Aziz Ansari might just be a master director in the making.
2. Ozark (Season One): The somewhat-more family friendly inheritor of Breaking Bad. Loved it.
3. The Handmaid’s Tale: I read this little novel for the first time in college. It’s both shocking and saddening that it’s more relevant now than when it was published.
Music 1. Orchestral Suites for a Young Prince, J. S. Bach 2. No Story Is Over, Son of Laughter
Film/TV 1. The Last Jedi 2. Doctor Who 3. The Crown
Books 1. Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard 2. The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, Robert Louis Wilken 3. The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall
Music 1. No Story is Over, Son of Laughter 2. Creator Spiritus, Arvo Pärt, 3. The Tony Bennett-Bill Evans Album, Tony Bennett and Bill Evans
Film/TV La La Land [Editor’s note: David literally only watched one thing all year. Over and over and over again.]
Books 1. Food & Faith, Norman Wirzba 2. Crucified God, Jurgen Moltmann 3. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Film/TV 1. The West Wing 2. Cooked with Michael Pollan 3. Look & See: A portrait of Wendell Berry
Books 1. Cry, The Beloved Country, Alan Paton: If I could hand 2017 America a novel, this would be my first pick. This was my first time through it. And, yes, I cried so much I had to hide my face from my family for a little while. 2. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad: This was my third time through with this one, and it finally snapped into focus, particularly the humor. Heart of Darkness is hilarious! 3. The Art of Biblical Narrative, Robert Alter: Genesis is as sophisticated and intricately patterned as any modern novel. I started off the year bingeing this book and it has opened a new way of enjoying biblical literature. The Bible Project videos and podcast have also been helpful in that regard.
Music 1. Alpine Symphony, Richard Strauss: I listen to it almost every morning while eating my eggs. The sun rises with the sun over the Alps. It’s a delight. 2-3. I feel like I am just starting to get into the music of 2017. That being said I keep coming back to The Navigator by Hurray for the Riff Raff and Seen Comin’ from a Mighty Eye by Skywayman.
Music 1. Inheritance, Audrey Assad 2. Any playlist created by my sister, Joy Clarkson 3. Faure’s Requiem
Film/TV 1. The Crown 2. Wonder Woman 3. Call the Midwife
Books 1. American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession, Nate Blakeslee: This is the gripping story of the wolf known as O-Six and the first several generations of other wolves introduced, with enduring controversy, into the Yellowstone region in the 1990s. I didn’t know this at the time, but the Beyond Words book I mention below picks up where the American Wolf narrative leaves off.
3. Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, Carl Safina: My best friend has been recommending that I read this book for three years. When I finally did, it became one of my favorite books—as my friend knew it would. Beyond Words was literally paradigm-shifting, in that I’ll never see the world the same way again. Safina, an ecologist, looks closely at three species—elephants, wolves, and killer whales—and how emerging discoveries in the field of animal behavior are causing scientists (and readers like me) to re-evaluate our inherited notions about what animals think and feel. Many nonhuman creatures seem capable of grief, humor, empathy, altruism, and even love. Personality isn’t restricted to persons. Though I can’t remember if Safina ever calls this out specifically, a sub-theme of this book for me was the power of sustained attention, every day, over many years. This is relevant not only to field researchers, but to those of us who feel called to be faithfully present in our own particular communities. [Editor’s note: John’s dog actually made his list for him.]
Books 1. Just Mercy, Bryan Stephenson: This book rocked my world. Our society is so thoroughly broken that we can’t afford to keep looking the other way. Everyone in America needs to read this book.
Music 1. Crooked, Propaganda: I’ll remember 2017 as the year I learned to love hiphop. This record blew my mind. It’s so smart, so literate, so complex, and so darn listenable—and love everything about it (and it never fails to make me cry). 2. The Narrative, Sho Baraka: Again, 2017 was the year of hiphop. It was a delight to fall in love with this record this year and then get to welcome Sho to Hutchmoot. 3. No Story is Over, Son of Laughter: Go listen to “The Hurricanes.” If afterward you don’t understand why this record is listed here, we’ll talk.
Books 1. Raymie Nightingale, Kate DiCamillo 2. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard: No, I’d never read it—now remedied. 3. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee: Third or fourth reread, still my fav. 4. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert
Film/TV 1. La La Land: Second and third times. 2. Wonder Woman 3. The Last Jedi 4. The Crown 5. The Handmaid’s Tale
Music 1. All the music my friends and family have made (I don’t keep up with new albums very well) 2. Most played artist in my iTunes not in any way related to the Rabbit Room: Brandi Carlile
Podcast On Being with Krista Tippett
Theatre The Battle of Franklin, A. S. Peterson [Editor’s note: Trafton has impeccable taste.]