Stuff i liked in 2017

Each year the Rabbit Room publishes a list of the contributors’ top 3 books, films, and music, and invites readers to share their favorites in the comments. i was planning to spend time in my review posts sifting through everything i read so as to be prepared for listing my top three. Well, i am not done sifting yet, but the “Stuff We Liked” post went up on Thursday, so i did my best to narrow things down. This resulted in a comment long enough to be a blog post all on its own, so i am posting it here also. i do intend to finish that series of review posts, though.


So i read 76 books last year and only hated two of them and the short list for the ones i loved best is basically seven plus one whole writer. Forewarning: i am going to break the rules. The editor can give me demerits if he wants (but seriously? Demerits for games? That’s crazy).

Books

JAMES DICKEY. GAH. i LOVE HIM. i read four of his poetry collections between June and December (Buckdancer’s Choice; Selected Poems; The Strength of Fields; Death, and the Day’s Light; and Buckdancer’s Choice again), and if anyone wants a Dickey education i am so ready to get you started. This guy is fascinating. i can’t stop reading him. His poetry runs the gamut from mythological to war memoir to seriously troubling to stories that i don’t know if, and i don’t know if anyone knows if, they’re true. Some of his “i” narrators are him, some are fictional, plus he was apparently a pathological liar in real life. A couple of weeks ago i was flipping through a book that had multiple drafts of one of my favorites of his poems and thought, i could read this guy for the rest of my life. So. One of my reading goals for this year is to read and reread enough of him that next year i can justify making a foray into reading commentary—his own or scholarly. And his son wrote what looks like a great memoir about his dad and their relationship, and i want to read that too, but before i get too far into thoughts about Dickey (even his own thoughts) i want to read his poetry on its own terms for a lot longer. i can only think of one other writer who’s ever just exploded my brain and taken over like this, and he’s the one who introduced me to Dickey.

Ha. Okay. i will try to move on from there. But get me started again, i dare you.

Du Iz Tak? Ken Priebe has be keeping me supplied with picture books for the last several months, and this one is without question my favorite. i didn’t know i was a language nerd until i started studying Hebrew in seminary a few years ago (although i probably should have known this all along). It turns out i love languages, and what really lights me up is the little epiphanies scattered throughout the learning process—idioms and etymology and the connections between everything. This book was maybe written just for me. It’s told in an entirely made-up language—a “nonsense” language, it first appears. But as i read it i started to pick up on vocabulary and even grammar in this bright-colored picture book and i. just. freaking. exploded. Remembering this not only makes me want to reread the book, but gets me revved up to get back to Hebrew.

This is the part where i start cheating, because this should be my third and last book, but instead it is my third and NOT last book.

TheForgottenBeastsofEldWatershipDownHenryandtheChalkDragonWinter’sTaleLesMisérablesEveryMomentHoly

Those are all in chronological order by date of completion.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and Watership Down were both recommended by Jeffrey Overstreet and i have yet to read a book he’s recommended and not be ruined by it. i cried on every single page of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon. Jennifer Trafton is the avatar of the goddess Courage. i love her. This book, like everything she writes, makes me brave. There were times last spring when i would write “TIE YOUR SHOELACES” on my hand to get me though Akkadian tests. Also, Henry and i have started coloring in my books. We have colored in a lot of the illustrations in his book, and we have also started to illuminate the copy of Four Quartets that lives in my purse. For days after reading Henry all i could think of was color. From Henry’s imagination and woes to the adult characters’ arcs to the conflict with Oscar to the DRAGON! to Jade the Bard to the prose itself, there is literally nothing about this book that isn’t perfect.

Winter’s Tale and Les Mis were both assignments from my Patronus and i loved them so much. i loved the fact of them and the assignment of them and the reading of them. Winter’s Tale is a wildly, magically, quietly hilarious dream of a thing and i have never read anything like it. Plus, it has Barnabas Bead references in it and Pete didn’t even do all of them on purpose. Les Mis—i am still not over Gavroche and his mômes. That whole book just gutted me in the best way.

Finally: EVERY MOMENT HOLY. i can’t believe i know people who make art like this.

Film

i didn’t track movies and music the way i did books, so that gives you a reprieve from further enthusiastic exhaustions. But i love that Pete mentioned mother! because oh my gosh, that movie completely exhilarated me.

100% the best thing this year: The Wingfeather Saga: A Crow for the Carriage. This thing exists. Oh my word. It exists, and it is beautiful. i might cry just thinking of it. i’m so, so unbearably proud of that team.

i’m not going to bother with ranking the rest of these, but: La La Land. i saw that one four times in the theater. i had to fight for it—my first viewing and my second were completely different experiences and i’m so glad i went back.

Others: Jeffrey Overstreet came out this summer for a film seminar at our church library, and i followed that up with a film discussion series, and it was a blast. So hard to pick favorites out of that bunch, but i completely loved The Fits. Also, Paterson. Also, Babette’s Feast. (We also watched Timbuktu and La La Land, plus The Secret of Kells, which i’d already seen.)

i’m with Pete on War for the Planet of the Apes also, but the film series selections were so good that i think that one has to be an honorable mention.

Music

Thankfully for you i listened to very little new music (as is typical for me), so:

Scott Mulvahill is my favorite new thing to happen to music, period. i have spun the five songs on his EP for hours straight.

Psallos’ album Hebrews is so crazy awesome. i’ve never heard anything like it. The whole book of Hebrews, straight through, as a community theater production with a full Broadway orchestra. What the heck.

In other news, i am still spinning The Burning Edge of Andrew Peterson.

What i read in 2017: The reviews, part 1

In my last post i made an attempt to explain how i read 76 books last year (75, really, if you don’t count repeats), and i doubt i knew what i was talking about to any great extend. i say this partly because another factor arose in my upper head a day or two after writing it, and it is this: Jennifer Trafton included READ, READ, READ in her list of 2017 goals, and it is always best to do whatever Jennifer Trafton is doing if at all possible. She is a magical fairy creature. Also, and perhaps most importantly, i made the decision at the beginning of fall semester to not check Facebook before lunch, and to not check at all on school days (once a week), but to instead open a book immediately upon waking. This lasted only about halfway through the semester (i did manage to keep up the Facebook part of it), because by a certain point i was more likely to fall back asleep in my book if i tried reading before getting out of bed. But it did help for awhile.

tl;dr: Obey Jennifer Trafton. Read every morning in place of Facebook.

Anyway, to the reviews. i said i would give a 1-2 sentence gloaning for each of the books i read last year, so we commence. But rather than proceed in a linear fashion, i shall divide the list into categories and go from there.

Categories:

  • Patronus assignments
  • Patronus recommendations
  • Poetry, generally
  • James Dickey (also poetry)
  • Picture book assignments from Ken
  • Textbooks
  • Everything else

i’m going to start with Textbooks.

Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian DiscipleshipProper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship, by Lesslie Newbigin. i read this one for Hermeneutics, right after reading Henry and the Chalk Dragon, and it was all i could do to not color in it.

 

A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study TheologyA Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology, by Kelly M. Kapic. This is a truly little book—about 7″ tall and 1/2″ thick—and i totally, completely recommend it. It was another Hermeneutics text, but it was equal parts textbook and devotional. And if you are not quite up to thinking of yourself as a theologian, read it anyway. Click the cover image for a fuller review on Goodreads.

 

A Grammar of AkkadianA Grammer of Akkadian, by John Huehnergard. This was our text for two semesters of Akkadian, the language of the Assyro-Babylonians. i can’t compare it to other Akkadian textbooks, but i do appreciate that Huehnergard (i still can’t spell his name without checking) included a variety of exercises, including writing/composition. The Gilgamesh and Hymn to Ishtar tablets in the back were a great challenge—the whole reason i took Akkadian was to read (and write) ancient fiction. i did manage a few haikus and some very disturbing adaptation of the Ishtar Hymn. But i will never love Akkadian. Hebrew forever. i do wish the key (which was SUPER helpful) had included actual parsing or anything at all on those supplementary tablets.

 

Four Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the GospelsFour Portraits, One Jesus: A Survey of Jesus and the Gospels, by Mark L. Strauss. i would respect this book more as a seminary textbook if it had not been printed in full color on glossy pages. i wouldn’t have thought highly of that approach even as an (admittedly arrogant) undergrad. But it was well-organized. The introduction, summary, and study question sections for each chapter were very thorough. i wish it’d had an index of maps, though. They were always impossible to find. This was the main text for the Gospels portion of Gospels & Acts (NT survey, part 1).

 

Synopsis of the Four GospelsSynopsis of the Four Gospels, by Kurt Aland. This was the other Gospels textbook. All four Gospels, in columns, with parallel passages (and even near-parallels) lined up. It boggles my mind that anyone could put together something like this.

 

Called to Be Church: The Book of Acts for a New DayCalled to Be Church: The Book of Acts for a New Day, by Anthony B. Robinson and Robert W. Wall. This was our main text for the Acts portion of Gospels & Acts, and i appreciated it. It was co-written by a pastor and theologian so as to exegete and apply the text for pastors, and rather than cover the entire book they focused on key chapters, watershed moments in Acts. The approach served very well. i ended up putting it in the church library after the semester was over.

 

With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to GodWith: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, by Skye Jethani. This book was assigned reading for the introduction to our school’s mentoring program, and it was also recommended by our pastor. The main premise is fine—that instead of the various postures we often take toward G-d (life over, under, from, and for G-d), we would do better to approach Him from a posture of Life With G-d. But it was so repetitive. i didn’t need a fresh definition of all four deficient postures in every chapter. This also contributed to the book coming across as more negative than necessary, despite half the book being devoted to the with posture. But as i said, the premise is good, and if the with posture did not already feel most natural to me it might have been a more formative read.

Best book in this bunch: A Little Book for New Theologians. Read it.

Which category should i do next? Maybe picture books?