Every year, we compile all our favorite books, albums, TV shows, films, and more from that year and post them here for everyone’s mutual edification. Now that 2018 has come and gone, here are our choices. What were some of your favorites from 2018? Post them in the comments section below!
1. Wearing God, Lauren Winner: With the eye of a scholar and the heart of a poet, Winner draws on personal stories, deep Biblical study, and a love of language to explore lesser known metaphors for God in a book I couldn’t stop thinking about for maybe a month after I read it.
2. Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren: Liturgy is not just religious activity, but the practices that shape us in our everyday lives, and in this book, Tish Harrison Warren explores this idea through our most mundane moments. You may not look at brushing your teeth or losing your keys the same way again.
3. The Jubilee, John Blase: It’s rare for me to make it through an entire poetry collection from start to finish but these were just so good, finely tuned with wisdom, gentle grace, and a touch of humor in all the right places.
4. The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, Catherynne M. Valente: I finally finished Valente’s Fairyland series this year, and this final volume was a beautiful conclusion to September’s adventures. If you’re into colorful characters, whimsical narrators, and old-fashioned fantasy with a healthy scoop of nonsense, pick up this series!
5. Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen: I always try to tackle either a thick intimidating novel or an unread classic in the winter, so for 2018 I worked on my Austen deficiency and discovered I relate a little too much to Elinor Dashwood.
1. Evergreen, Audrey Assad: Lovingly crafted from start to finish, Evergreen tells a painfully honest story of faith lost and found, spiritual growth, and evergreen hope and marks a courageous new chapter in her career.
2. Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves: Blending small-town country with glistening pop and songs that waver between wistful and playful, Golden Hour quickly won me over. I guess this means I like country now?
3. The Painted Desert, Andrew Osenga: The Painted Desert comes after time off from the road and studio, and these songs about renewal and hope create one of the most powerful records of the year.
4. Before the Sun Goes Down, The New Respects: Elements of funk, soul, blues, and 70’s rock n roll come together for one of coolest rock records I’ve heard in a long time.
5. Save Me, Liz Vice: If you haven’t discovered Liz Vice yet, her sophomore solo project is a great place to start. She blends classic R&B, soul, and gospel influences with pop beats and for one powerful, hopeful musical experience.
Film/TV 1. Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse: With compelling characters, stunning animation, and tons of delightful nods to the comics and movies of the past, Spider-Verse is one of the best moviegoing experiences I’ve had in a long time. Totally worth catching on a big screen while you can.
2. Black Panther: After 10 years following the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’m pretty much in for whatever they offer, but there are a few that truly rise above the standard superhero blockbuster. Black Panther succeeds with power and style, through nuanced characters, a beautifully rendered world, and a story asking big questions about peace, justice, and courage.
3. Isle of Dogs: Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion animated film about a boy searching for his dog in a dystopian near-future Japan is, well, just as weird and charming as you’d expect, with a meticulous attention to detail and lot of heart.
4. Eighth Grade: Set in Kayla’s final week of eighth grade, this coming of age film skips the sentimentality and explores the tenderness and awkwardness of growing up in the Instagram age. Also, it has one of the best father/daughter conversations I’ve ever seen on film.
5. Won’t You Be My Neighbor: I never thought a documentary about a children’s TV star would make me cry, but well, this was 2018 after all. Such a beautiful portrait of one man’s long obedience toward loving others well.
1. Prayers of a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke: Just read what I had to say about this book here. 2. Falling Upward, Richard Rohr: This book was immensely helpful and full of wisdom in the midst of my spiritual reconstruction. Rohr argues that we must move from rigid rules and systems in earlier life to openness as we mature. 3. The Wildwood Chronicles, Colin Meloy: Read the first book many years ago, but decided to start the series over, and was rewarded with one of the most satisfying ends to a book series that I’ve read in quite awhile. 4. When The English Fall, David Williams:This post apocalyptic tale told from the perspective of an Amish man hauntingly grapples with pacifism in a world gone mad. 5. Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen: Bruce compelling and poetically tells his life story. Read a lot of this when preparing for my session at Hutchmoot this past year.
Music 1. Eurus, The Oh Hellos: This second EP in a four part series continues the band’s exploration of the question “Where do our ideas come from?”. Once again The Oh Hellos continue to display floor stomping musical wizardry with potent, thoughtful lyrics.
2. Magic, Ben Rector: Ben Rector continues to excel at thoughtful pop music by channeling 80s sound with meditations on childhood and growing up, both in himself and looking at this newborn daughter.
3. Ancient Transition, Beta Radio: Beta Radio, out of Wilmington, NC, has quietly become one of my favorite bands. In this new album, they continue expanding on their folk sensibilities and sensitive songwriting by examining what home is in a world of transition.
4. Palms, Thrice: In a year in which I was processing spiritual deconstruction and reconstruction, it was so encouraging to find out that two of my favorite artists, Audrey Assad and Dustin Kensrue of Thrice, had gone through the same experience and put it into their art.
5. Voice in the Silence, Mutemath: Feels like the old school Mutemath of their first three albums that I’ve always loved.
Film/TV 1.Springsteen on Broadway: Bruce Springsteen is one of our most compelling American storytellers, and this film just proves it.
2. I Am Not Your Negro: This came out in 2017, but I just had a chance to finally watch it several weeks ago. A powerful gut punch of a film focusing on the last unfinished work of James Baldwin.
3. First Man: Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of a grief-stricken Neil Armstrong in this film is a beautifully understated performance.
4. First Reformed: Ethan Hawke as an anguished, despairing priest grappling with his own failings and the struggles of a parishioner left me haunted.
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley: The first in a series of detective novels featuring Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old amateur sleuth whose obsession with poisons prompts her to blurt out such phrases as “Lord, How manifold are Thy works!” What’s not to love? 2. Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks: A novel based on the true story of a village that quarantined itself during an epidemic of the plague. Horrifying topic; gorgeous writing. 3. Worlds of Exile and Illusion, Ursula K. LeGuin: A collection of LeGuin’s first three science fiction novels, each more wonderful than the last. Nobody can plunge you into a strange new world like Ursula. 4. Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott: My first Anne Lamott book. Where has she been all my life?! 5. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving: This one’s for you, Jonathan Rogers. Albums Songs from the Valley, Sandra McCracken: Nothing made me cry in 2018 like Sandra’s latest album. If you haven’t put “O Gracious Light” on repeat and bawled your head off, you’re missing out. Oh, but wait! There’s “Fool’s Gold and “Lover of My Soul” and “Letting Go.” Dadgummit, Sandra! Movies/TV
1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Because Frances McDormand is fabulous at everything, and because I didn’t see that reconciliation coming. Beautiful. 2. Paddington 2: Movies that parents and children enjoy equally are big winners in my book. And the colors! And Ben Whishaw! So delightful. 3. Outlaw King: Just when I’d settled on the fact that Robert the Bruce was the most loathsome traitor in history, this Netflix Original gave me another perspective. Also, I really love to hate Edward Longshanks. 4. The Last Kingdom, Season 3: The kind of writing that makes every word, every scene, seem inevitable. Plus Alfred the Great and Danes. 5. The Crown, Season 2: The acting! The acting! The last scene of the last episode, in the little cottage by the garden, when I clutched the arm of my couch with terrible force while my jaw sank to the floor!
1. Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl: Half memoir of his time in a WWII concentration camp and half philosophy, everyone alive should read this book that links hope with the ability to find meaning in/through your suffering. 2. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving: Hilarious. Poignant. I am a better writer for having read this novel. 3. Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings, Diana Pavlac Glyer: Yes, I heard the author’s wonderful talk at Hutchmoot, but reading the book was even better. I felt like I was actually hanging out with he Inklings and it made me realize my own longing for creative community.
1. Mighty Refuge, Aaron Strumpel: Beautiful take on old hymns. 2. “Hold Out Your Hand,” Brandi Carlile: She’s one of my songwriting heroes and I love everything she did last year. 3. Sentimental Creatures, Jess Ray: I know it didn’t come out last year, but I’ve had this on repeat.
1. Sorry to Bother You: Near-future sci-fi with a super weird twist and intense social commentary (i.e. Get Out) that fit in the narrative. Not for the sensitive souls. 2. Daredevil Season 3: I really enjoyed the latest (and apparently last) season of Daredevil which featured the return of the infamous Wilson Fisk. 3. Black Mirror, “Bandersnatch” (episode): Yes, I actually have two Bandersnatches on my list. Dark sci-fi that’s interactive so that the viewer is literally choosing their own adventure? Yes, please!
1. The Bull That Was Terrifico, Karel Jaeger, illustrated by Barbara Mary Campbell (also known as “CAM”): I found this book in an old book store in Victoria, BC, with my pal Kevan Chandler. It’s a gorgeously illustrated gem of a book that made me crave more books illustrated by CAM. 2. The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, Glenn McCarty: The finest story and authorial voice of the year in my opinion. It instantly reads as an old classic, yet is fresh and alive, full of heart and adventure and grounded in truth and goodness. I don’t mean to seem self-serving by mentioning a book I was honored to illustrate, but it’s a fantastic story that deserves to be read by those who appreciate good writing and great characters. 3. I’ve also been collecting older, more obscure titles illustrated by Lillian Hoban. Music 1. Hope Where There Was None, Loud Harp: The album of the year for me. It’s beautiful, powerful and filled with hope amid pain and struggle. 2. Where The Light Shines Through, Switchfoot: I was late to actually purchasing this one, but it’s wonderful, and Switchfoot remains a favorite of mine for their constant message of hope. 3. Loud Harp’s previous album, Asaph, was played in rotation with their new album throughout the year and is equally powerful and moving in its vocal, musical and lyrical content. Film/TV 1. Wonder: After reading it a few years ago, I held off watching the film, but finally decided to a month ago. I actually found it to be far more effective in telling the story than the book, and found it to be far more moving in its telling. 2. Almost Holy: a documentary about Gennadiy Mohknenko, a Ukrainian pastor and vigilante who hunts the dark streets of the Ukraine, pulling drug-addicted children from the slums and sewers and clutches of depraved adults, by force if necessary, adopting them and giving them a better life. I found Gennadiy to be the first real super hero I’ve come across in film in quite some time.
The Incredibles II: I don’t see many new things, because I don’t get out much, but my eldest daughter reminded me that this Pixar gem came out last year. I like Pixar’s work in general, but for me, this film meant a lot. It’s not perfect, but like it’s predecessor, it put both hands directly into a number of family issues that usually get ignored.
Bob Parr’s struggles to identify as the man of the house were home territory for me. I’m mostly a stay-at-home husband, bringing in a modicum of income through a grab bag of music, playing shows, writing, live sound engineering, and production. My wife works at a school and generally brings in the larger portion of our pay. She likes football; I couldn’t care less. She loves steak; I could live off fish and vegetables. She is more willing to try new technology; I like axes and dirt. At times, it feels to me like my wife is more aligned with the male stereotypes, while I tend toward a domain more traditionally that of women. I know life is rightly more complex than that, but that doesn’t mean I’m not subject to feeling inadequate about it. To see a character wrestling with those same inner hardships was freeing to me. I was not alone in a world of suited male CEOs and Ward Cleavers carrying briefcases and reading the paper. This, by the way, is a good remembrance that happens to other people when they see actors of color or characters struggling with sexuality, mental issues, or various other human conditions that escape your standard cookie cutter film. Feelings shouldn’t be the highest of driving forces, but knowing you’re not alone is a lot more than a feeling, and it’s worthwhile to show it in film. Album
Portage, Vol. 1, Arthur Alligood: There are records I need for running, and they tend to proceed with a certain sense of narrative. If I distract myself from the hideous discomfort of aerobic motion, I can keep going a while longer. Not only does Portage accomplish the difficult feat of seeing me through two miles of jogging, it does so with a hope and a dead-eye stare at reality that most records leave out. Arthur’s project is a departure from his normal folk-n-roll idiom. It’s also right in his wheelhouse. Though largely electronic, the arrangements feel warm and inviting, while the lyricism is a complex and needed blend of acknowledging the horrors and faults of our modern culture and deciding to walk a different direction. Every song feels secure in the work of God’s grace even while admitting to a fallenness that follows but, by the Spirit’s providence, does not overcome. Arthur allows us room to say with him: “I won’t live in fear. I refuse.” Book
Virgil Wander, Lief Enger: The sheer richness of this book ought to be enough for anyone to pick it up. Lief Enger’s command of sentences and pacing—and his cast of driven characters—make for a novel that doesn’t so much flog you along the road as cradle you, with all the homespun mystique of a long-rope tire swing. Virgil Wander is a mystery at heart, but the stakes are much larger. All the characters are the suspects; most of them are gumshoes; the crime is the unknown question of why things always go wrong when people work so hard to make it right. The northern-wilds hamlet of Greenstone, Minnesota, seems plagued by the recalcitrant woes of small American towns. There are the tragic, prodigal scion, the fallen ne’er-do-well who can’t hold a job, the widow looking always to the horizon, and the looming hulk of the abandoned ore plant. In the midst of this achingly familiar grayscale, Enger conjures the inviting magic of bright, outlandish kites, a treasure trove of old films, the potential of a Bob Dylan concert, and the reticent specter of Lake Superior.
As with Peace Like a River, faith in Virgil Wander serves as an undercurrent. Enger refuses to give in to the temptation to make it a plot device. In this regard, the everyday interactions between the characters tend to be about more than they appear to be about. Through the potency of his concentrated prose and the approachable savor of the characters, Enger reminds us that there is an intricate shining deep down in real life.
1. “Nothing Has to Be True,” First Aid Kit: The lyric, “You can tell yourself so many things, and nothing has to be true” is devastatingly human. 2. “I Made This For You,” Chris Thile: A song for those of us who tend to go numb in the face of chaos and disorder. The last verse feels like a manifesto. 3. “Why It Matters,” Sara Groves: I love the reminder that the Kingdom comes in giving cold cups of water. 4. “Velvet Elvis,” Kacey Musgraves: I’m pretty sure there is not a song more fun than this one.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: The unashamed, unfettered, game-changing movie that Miles Morales deserves.
The Breadwinner: A brutally honest, brutally compassionate drama of the human condition.
Mary Poppins Returns: If there’s one thing I need stories for, it’s to make my jaded soul homesick for wonder.
A Quiet Place: Compelling character drama and tension, no dialogue, couldn’t look away.
Loving Vincent: A compelling portrait of a fascinating artist, presented through painted recreations of his vision.
Book Consolations, David Whyte: These short meditations on words like “friendship” and “heartbreak” by poet and author David Whyte is a treasure. I have picked it up many times this year to find words of comfort and solidarity in the deepest places of being human. Movie Beautiful Boy: This movie resonated with me in a deep way, despite the emotional beating it inflicted on my heart. It is a fearless and redemptive portrayal of addiction and recovery, the risks of love, and ultimately, letting go. Album Let Them Fall in Love, CeCe Winans: If you need an infusion of hope, this is the album for you. No one sings like CeCe Winans. Every syllable is rooted in something deeper, a richness of tone that comes from years of living out her faith. I absolutely love the timeless “He’s Never Failed Me Yet.”
Books 1. Letters to a Diminished Church, Dorothy Sayers: Until this year I hadn’t read any Dorothy Sayers but this book was my top read this year. Challenging, engaging, captivating, and generally Inkling-ish. 2. A Diary of Private Prayer, John Bailie: The whole idea of liturgy is relatively new to me, but I’ve been using this book in my private prayer this year and I love it more each time I go through it. 3. Ember Rising, S. D. Smith: I love Sam Smith’s books but I think this one is my favourite so far.
4. Courage, Dear Heart, Rebecca Reynolds: I’m guessing I won’t be the only person to list this for so many reasons. 5. Illustrated Summaries of Biblical Books, The Bible Project: I’m a big fan of the Bible Project and this (enormous) book was probably my favourite Christmas present. TV Shows / Movies 1. Mary Poppins Returns: I was totally unprepared to love this as much as I did; it’s magical. 2. Mrs. Wilson (BBC Series): This three-part drama is based on the true story of Alexander Wilson, a novelist and former Secret Intelligence Service agent during the Second World War, and tells the story of the complicated life he led, discovered by his family only following his death. 3. Les Miserables (BBC Series): This one is a bit of a cheat on a 2018 list as it is currently only three episodes into a six episode run. We started watching it straight after seeing the West End Touring Production and I hate it, love it, and spend a good part of the week mulling over the episodes—normally a good sign.
Music 5. By The Way, I Forgive You, Brandi Carlile: An excellent collection of stories sung by the most comforting and heartbreaking voice in modern Americana. 4. Joy As An Act of Resistance, IDLES: On their second album, this British punk group achieved a balance of righteous anger toward injustice and joy-filled encouragement greater than I’ve never experienced before. 3. Historian, Lucy Dacus: Dacus’ personal stories of heartbreak and, well, just life are so earnest on this record. Also, she really knows how to slowly build to a rock & roll crescendo (see “Night Shift”). 2. Care For Me, Saba: The young Chicago rapper offers a bleak look at life in his hometown, mortality, and violence, but in the end is able to see hope and beauty through the pain around him. 1. High As Hope, Florence & The Machine: No album filled me with yearning hopefulness this year as much as this one. Florence Welch is keenly aware that “we all have a hunger” for something greater than ourselves and does her best to search here for hope and grace.
5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: This animated masterpiece won all the style points available; the rest can go home. Also, it’s the best Spider-Man film. 4. A Quiet Place: A truly suspenseful thriller with wonderful performances from John Krasinski and Emily Blunt who offer everything they can to protect their children and thrive despite the darkness. 3. Black Panther: I love superhero movies, but this was so much more than just an action flick, offering thoughtful looks at foreign policy and race amidst the admittedly awesome action sequences. 2. Eighth Grade: The best coming of age film made for the social media generation. Director Bo Burnham nailed the nuances of being a teen in the 2010s. 1. Won’t You Be My Neighbor: You can’t see this movie without shedding tears and being inspired to share the grace of Christ with your neighbor. Thank you, Mr. Rogers.
1. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjee: This book was a riveting undertaking. Mukherjee’s writing is pristinely clear, highly educational, and bursting with insightful storytelling. I not only learned about the history of cancer; I learned about the vicious cycle of spectacular human achievement reinforcing the tragic consequences of hubris. 2. Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis: In my opinion, this is his best writing. I only just got around to it recently, and it struck me as a more fully developed telling of The Great Divorce, brought to a fever pitch at the end. It felt like he was laying all his cards on the table, and I’m so grateful that he shared his wisdom in this mythical form. 3. Harry Potter, Books 3-5, J. K. Rowling: These books have been a salve to me and Kelsey. We’ve been reading them out loud—Dumbledore’s Army has become a compelling image of the church for me, Rowling’s commentary on death is spot-on, and the friendship portrayed in these novels is so rich and beautiful. 4. The Tombs of Atuan, Ursula Le Guin: Thank you, Helena and Hetty! A captivating read all the way through that will really get your wheels turning. I came away with lots of delicious questions about the storytelling of religion and its ability to shape the worlds we inhabit. If you want to get really tripped out, read this and Till We Have Faces back to back. Lots of mutually-enriching ideas, and Lewis will feel like coming home after Le Guin’s grand adventure. 5. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster: I picked this up on a whim one day and could not put it down. Not only is it hilarious, but it has wonderful things to say about the perils of dividing God’s creation into neat, antagonistic categories. Music 1. Symphony No. 2, Leonard Bernstein: The good Steve Guthrie recommended this to me. One December evening when I was home alone, I played it through my stereo and sat on the floor. It is a wild, wild ride, both gorgeously orchestrated and at times frightening. Get ready for goosebumps. 2. See You Around, I’m With Her: Excellently arranged, sparsely written folk songs with a heart of gold. Listen and be moved. 3. Monument Valley 2 Soundtrack, Todd Baker: This guy nailed it. If you need some immersive, wide-angle sounds and melodies to calm you down while you work or drive (or nap), this is a great choice. 4. Violin Concerto, Mason Bates: I bonded with this one again after having not listened to it for a long time. During our sophomore year of college, a friend of mine and I stumbled into Anne Akiko Meyers’ premiere of this piece at the Schermerhorn, and I recall feeling like I was in an actual rainforest. Years later, through my speakers, it has the same effect. Listen and be ready for something altogether new and enchanting, even if a bit taxing. 5. Love, Lose, Remember, Madison Cunningham: Watch out for this artist. She is taking the world by storm. She’s an enthralling performer, effortless vocalist, intuitive songwriter, and perhaps most formidable of all, she seems to have a direct, mystical connection to the spirits of both Joni Mitchell and Jeff Buckley. I saw her open for the Punch Brothers at the Ryman last year; just her and an electric guitar, and she had the whole place wrapped around her finger. I would fully support her doing an actual mic drop at the end of her performances, but she’s too classy for that. Film/TV 1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Amy Sherman-Palladino is a genius and this show has serious guts. The amount of wit is beyond comprehension and the social commentary is spot-on, but neither of these interfere with the heart of the story and its characters. 2. The Good Place: Even if rather inconsistent, every second of this show is worth watching. It takes enormous risks, upending each and every premise of the show almost on an episode-by-episode basis. It somehow manages to cathartically express the absurdity of modern life in a way that leaves you feeling uplifted rather than depressed. 3. The Century of the Self, Adam Curtis: A four-part documentary series investigating the roots of consumer culture in the insights (and fears) of Sigmund Freud, tracking the evolution of advertising as it infects every area of life, all the while making astute observations about human nature? Yes, please! But be careful—you may emerge in a haze of existential malaise afterwards. But it’s worth it. 4. Mary Poppins Returns: Everything Jennifer Trafton has to say about this film is true. Despite my usual misgivings about the Gospel according to Disney, this film’s songs were superbly written. I walked out of the theater with all the usual logical connections in my mind somewhat loosened, in the hope that new connections might arise. Mission accomplished. 5. The Great British Baking Show: Do you need to be reassured about the state of the human condition? Watch these cute British people be nice to each other. It works.
1. The Death of Ivan Ilych, Leo Tolstoy: This year I thought a lot about death. This Russian classic is short, readable, and thought-provoking. 2. Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Francis Fukuyama: This examination of modern identity politics helped me make a bit more sense of our cultural moment. 3. Remembering, Wendell Berry: Andy Catlett leaves Port William to deliver a speech in San Fransisco. In the process he finds his way back home in more ways than one. It’s beautiful and sad. 4. Leaf by Niggle, J. R. R. Tolkien: It’s short and wonderful. You can read it easily in one sitting. I’ll give a warning: I read it aloud to my family. By the end when tears began to fill my eyes, I looked around and everyone else just looked confused. It surely must have been a problem with my reading! 5. Culture Care, Makoto Fujimura: This book connected with a number of interesting themes and ideas for me. One of my favorites is his concept of the artist as a border-walker (mearcstapa) and his ideas of how our communities might become “estuaries” in which artists flourish in an environment of diversity and balance. Music 1. She Waits, The Gray Havens: I love the sound and the lyrics. 2. Thunderbolt and Lighting, Marc Martel: An album of Queen songs which are quite often better than the originals. 3. No Story Is Over, Son of Laughter: The album gets my mind swirling with thoughts and ideas about life. 4. 100 Years of Nine Lessons & Carols, The Choir of Kings College Cambridge: A great recording of a classic piece. 5. Remember Us to Life, Regina Spektor: I discovered this later than most, but have made up for lost time! Film 1. First Man: Try to find a big screen to watch this film about Neil Armstrong.
2. Three Identical Strangers: This is a fascinating and ethically provoking documentary where I found myself utterly astonished at four or five different twists of the story. Podcast 1. A Point of View, BBC Radio 4: These are thoughtful and diverse essays recorded in one take by the author. 2. Speaking with Joy, Joy Clarkson: I stumbled across this one as I noticed we had a number of friends in common. It’s interesting and full of good thoughts and conversations. 3. The Pivot, Andrew Osenga: This podcast features interesting interviews about making transitions in life. The interviewer is winsome and draws out the best and most honest parts of the story. Theatre Frankenstein, Studio Tenn & Pete Peterson: It is a play for our age in what it says about technology, science, and the power of the creative energy we steward.
TV Shows (saving films for a podcast) 1. The Americans: First hear me say that this is not a show for everyone (especially not kids), but I can’t remember being so wrapped up in the lives of a group of characters since the end of Breaking Bad. I loved the endless moral complexity of this show, and they pulled off a fantastic ending. 2. The Good Place: A comedy series about philosophy? I”m in. Haven’t seen season three yet, but I love seasons 1 & 2. 3. Making a Murderer: Season 2: As it turns out, yes, there is a lot more to this story. 4. The Great British Baking Show: As long as Paul Hollywood is on board, so am I. 5. The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2: I had zero hopes for this continuation of what I thought was a perfect end to the story in season one. But I have to admit, it’s still compelling. Bumpy, for sure, but the arc Serena’s character is on is fascinating. Music 1. Resurrection Letters, Vol 1., Andrew Peterson: All brotherly bias aside, this album (and Resurrections Letters as a whole) is a profound accomplishment of theology. Oh, and it’s also a great bunch of songs.
2. She Waits, The Gray Havens: I will never not love The Gray Havens music, and this album adds Propaganda into the deal. Amazing. 3. By the Way, I Forgive You, Brandi Carlile: I’ve often told my wife that I’m pretty sure if my soul could sing, it would sound like Brandi Carlile. This record is further proof. 4. The Painted Desert, Andrew Osenga: It seems like Osenga keeps trying to quit making music, and yet he keeps coming back and making better and better albums. Stop that. Make the music. I like it. 5. So Many Feelings, Sho Baraka & Vanessa Hill: I’m a huge fan of Sho Baraka, and last year he and Vanessa Hill ambushed me with this album that’s all about marriage and its million complexities. Great stuff. Books 1. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom: I’m adapting this for the stage this year so I’ve spent a lot of time with it. It’s an incredible story that I’m endlessly challenged and fascinated by. 2. Courage, Dear Heart, Rebecca Reynolds: We all knew Rebecca needed to write this book years before she did. I’m glad she finally came around. There’s plenty more where this one came from. Now we just have to make her write it. 3. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley: I’m putting this here because I spent more than half my year with it while adapting it for the stage. I love Shelley’s visionary mind, and I’m delighted to have had the chance to winnow her tale down to stageplay format. Thanks for the material, Mrs. Shelley. You’re a genius. 4. Among Others, Jo Walton: I heard sci-fi writer Jo Walton speak at the Festival of Faith and Writing this year and was captivated by her (I won’t even try to describe why. If you’ve met her, you’ll know). So when I got home, I was anxious to read some of her work. I picked this one up because of its awards recognition and wasn’t disappointed. This is one of the most Rabbit Room books I’ve ever read. It’s slow, complex, beautiful, troubling, baffling, and ultimately beautiful. I loved it and I’m dying to talk to someone about it. 5. Beloved, Toni Morrison: I had very little idea what I was getting into when I read this (though I faintly remembered the movie), but I can’t recall the last time I was so gobsmacked by a book. It’s certainly one of my top-five books of all time. Morrisson’s prose and her facility with structure (at all levels) are marvels. I finished the book and immediately began reading it again. I will love this book forever.
Movies My top three are easy and probably don’t need any defense: 1. Mary Poppins Returns 2. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? 3. Eighth Grade After that, it’s harder to choose, but I thought A Quiet Place was masterful and deeply emotional even though I usually hate scary movies, and The Americans, Season 6, was one of the best seasons of TV I’ve seen in a very long time though it took a lot of patience to get there. On an aesthetic level, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse was visually phenomenal and creative and family-friendly and I’d recommend it to everyone, and yet oddly enough I have no great need to see it a second time. Not sure why. Books There are some excellent books from last year that I’m still in the middle of, but here are a few highlights of those I finished: 1. Night, Elie Wiesel: I had never read this classic, but reading it out loud in the car as we drove from Ravensbruck concentration camp to Dachau last October was one of the most chilling and unforgettable reading experiences I’ve ever had. I can’t call it a “favorite.” I’m not sure I’ll ever get over it.
2. The Faithful Spy, John Hendrix: This would have been on my favorites list even if I hadn’t just been to two concentration camps when I read it. 3. Louisiana’s Way Home, Kate DiCamillo (the sequel to Raymie Nightingale): I am continually amazed at how DiCamillo can make me laugh and cry in a single sentence. I loved it so, so much and just wanted to go find a forgotten, heartbroken child to hug afterwards. 4. Theology of Joy, Jurgen Moltmann: He says all the things I’ve been thinking for years, only much more eloquently than I could. 5. Beloved, Toni Morrison: I read this in 10th grade. 10th grade! I can’t believe anyone would give this to a 10th grader, and it clearly went over my head back then. This time through, I was completely enthralled. It’s a masterpiece. Music
This is a hard category because we’re surrounded by so much wonderful music, and the music of my community is always my favorite. So putting aside the awesome albums of those who are related to me by marriage or by geographical proximity: The two biggest surprises for me this past year were Taylor Leonhardt and Jess Ray. Good grief, they’re talented. Jess’s “Too Good” is my favorite song of the year along with Andrew’s “Is He Worthy?” By far the most-listened-to non-Rabbit-Room artist in our house is Brandi Carlile. I’ve loved her since her album Story in 2007, and her new album By the Way, I Forgive You is fantastic. The Mary Poppins Returns soundtrack has been on repeat for weeks, and I can’t get “A Cover is Not the Book” out of my head. I mean, come on, it’s a song about BOOKS.
Movies 1. The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs: Like a collection of Flannery O’Connor stories set in the Wild West, all dealing with the perplexity of death. 2. A Quiet Place: A scary, wholesome movie! I thought the colors were beautiful, the score and sound design were just right, and all the story-telling devices were so perfectly employed. 3. Phantom Thread: This is a gorgeous film with a lovely score by Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead. Speaking of Flannery O’Connor, this was a story about a severe act of grace and raised questions about what love is allowed to do for the sake of the beloved. 4. Mary Poppins Returns: I love the original Mary Poppins and the Sherman brothers immensely. I thought this honored the original and was itself a delightful movie. Books Walking With God Through Pain And Suffering, Tim Keller: Collected poems of Richard Wilbur. Thank you, Andrew Peterson, for this. Music New things: 1. Big Red Machine, Big Red Machine: “We met up like a ski team.” “Where your TV’s, Boss?” These, and other lines, make me love Justin Vernon more than ever. 2. Colors, Beck: Because Beck always be’s Beck. 3. Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves: It took me a while to forgive this record for not having a song like Biscuits on it, but I do like it a lot. 4. Sword Of Damocles, Rufus Wainwright Old things: 1. String Quartet in F Major, Ravel 2. Ella and Louis, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong 3. The Blue Notebooks, Max Richter 4. The Four Seasons Of Buenos Aires, Astor Piazzola 5. 22, A Million, Bon Iver
1. Portage, Vol 1: At the Edge of the World, Arthur Alligood: I couldn’t bring myself to take this out of my car CD player for a month.
2. Book of Travelers, Gabriel Kahane: Inspired by a cross country train trip, Kahane spins these tales with just a piano and his voice. This was the first recording to immediately entrance me this year.
3. Remain in The Light, Angelique Kidjo: This is a full album cover of Talking Heads’ Remain in the Light from the 80’s, as re-imagined by a Benenise singer with an Afro-pop band. It is my go-to for cleaning the house.
4. Critical Equation, Dr. Dog: This album had the kind of balance between strong hooks, interesting textures, and surprising development that I was hungry for in a year of releases that were often far too challenging for my patience.
5. The Bible Project Podcast: Tim and Jon are exploring all the questions I have about the Old Testament in ways that make me love it and want to read it so much more. I could listen in on their conversations all day.
1. The Haunting of Hill House (TV): Most of the most meaningful films and TV shows we watched involved ghosts or the afterlife. I am learning how horror/supernatural fiction is one the richest ways to face the terrors of the ordinary. Also, I love how writer/director Mike Flanagan clearly lets his love of live theater creep into how he creates for the screen.
2. The Good Place (TV): It’s not quite The Screwtape Letters in its weight, but it is probably as close to it as we will get in a sitcom. More supernatural fiction.
3. The Phantom Thread (Film): This is officially my favorite P.T. Anderson. It stuck with me in a way no other film did in 2018. Also spooky.
4. Won’t You Be My Neighbor (Documentary): May Mr. Rogers haunt us all.
The Faithful Spy, John Hendrix: It’s a masterpiece and clearly a labor of love. I would put it as essential reading for any believer in this era. I keep picking it back up and staring at the pages for long periods of time.
1. Locke (Film): This would work well as a one man stage show, but I prefer Tom Hardy in a car. So much can happen in two hours.
2. Searching for Sugar Man (Documentary): Don’t read anything about it ahead of time. This is an incredible story. I couldn’t stop smiling afterwards.
3. The Dick Van Dyke Show (TV): My kids laugh so hard every time.
4. The Devil’s Highway: A True Story, Luis Alberto Urrea (Book): Read it even if you aren’t interested in the border wall debate. Urrea is a poet, the story is devastating, and it needs to be experienced.
5. American Gods, Neil Gaiman (Book): This was my first Neil Gaiman novel. What should I read next?
6. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and The Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible, John Walton (Book): Like the Bible Project Podcast, this book has only deepened my appreciation of the uniqueness and elegance of the Old Testament.
7. Symphony No. 2 (“Romantic”), Howard Hanson