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ICYMI 2016 Edition

By December 21, 2016 4 Comments

I’m a sucker for end-of-the-year “best of” lists.  Not sure why—maybe it stems from a misspent youth listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 countdown each week. Or, as a Victorianist, maybe it’s the inherent Arnoldian debatability of what’s “best.”

Maybe another reason I like “best of” lists is that they alert me to all sorts of things I missed during the year. Unfortunately, breaking my foot this year (and not being able to drive as a result) meant I missed a lot this year. Add to that the sheer quantity now available on seemingly endless channels.  So there’s just too much for me to have any pretensions that I could make a “best of.”  Instead, I thought I might be able to manage something more modest: a “In Case You Missed It” (or as the kids say, ICYMI). Just an eclectic listing of things from 2016 that maybe you’d like to check out, too.

My Book of The Year (and the Things that Go With It)

A lot of white folks have talked about wanting to listen better, especially on issues of race. Of the many wonderful resources available, the book that most moved me this year was one not published in 2016. But it’s definitely a life-changing book for me: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. Add to that Ava DuVernay’s powerful film13th, which uses Stevenson’s book—and the work of Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) and other important thinkers—to trace the history of mass incarceration but also to examine the larger causes and effects of systemic racism. Even if you are familiar with the scholarship presented, you will appreciate DuVernay’s beautifully crafted film. And then, add to that ESPN’s six-part series, OJ: Made in America. You don’t have to care one bit about the OJ trial to value Ezra Edelman’s masterful documentary and its nuanced, multifaceted examination of American culture. Finally, throw in Beyonce’s savvy history lesson, Lemonade. Those, at least, make a small start in  learning to attune the ear to other voices.

Movies: Mostly Intriguing

  • Rogue One is definitely a worthy addition to the Star Wars galaxy. Go.
  • You have to love a movie where the English professor is the heroine. Arrival is a great puzzle as well a thoughtful meditation on language and time and what it means to be human. (See Debra Rienstra’s recent review here on The 12).
  • Love and Friendship is, in my opinion, the most Austen-y of all the Austen adaptations. That may be for good or for ill, depending on your tolerance for very talk-y late 18th century comedy. I loved it, but a whole row of people in the theatre I was in walked out about 25 minutes into the film.
  • If you aren’t completely burned out by the political season, Weiner about the come-back attempt of disgraced Anthony Wiener is incredibly insightful.
  • Really weird, but really smart (and even funny): The Lobster. A devastating critique of society’s view of singleness.
  • For a gender-focused double feature: Certain Women, Kelly Reichardt’s subtle (though some might say slow-moving) triptych of stories about women in Montana, and Equity, about women on Wall Street. Spoiler alert: sisterhood may not be powerful.
  • Kubo and the Two Strings: Brilliant animation meets one of the darkest films I’ve seen in a long time about loss and death and love. Moving.

Music: Genres Abounding

My discovery of the year is in a genre in which I typically don’t buy albums: choral music. I was blown away, however, by Dan Forrest’s setting of Psalm 100 in multiple languages, entitled Jubilate Deo. The final movement, “Omnis Terra,” has been on heavy rotation—it reminds me of a modern day “Hallelujah Chorus.”  You can hear the entire piece here.

Other Notables:

  • Quaker folksinger Carrie Newcomer’s The Beautiful Not Yet is perhaps her strongest collection ever. As usual, she brings her gorgeous alto voice to profound songs about the sacred ordinary.
  • Other faithful folks: the legendary Mavis Staple gave us Livin’ on a High Note. And Sandra McCracken followed up her moving Psalms album with another strong effort on God’s Highway.
  • Leonard Cohen left us with one final gift, You Want It Darker.
  • On the country/country-folk side of things, you can’t go wrong with any of these albums which feature compelling story-telling and winsome musicianship: Lori McKenna’s The Bird & the Rifle, Miranda Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings, and Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
  • Three-part harmony fan? The women in Applewood Road (with an Americana sound) and Joseph (with an alt-rock orientation) are glorious.
  • Something fun: check out Lake Street Dive.


Finally, there’s a website I hope you’ll check out: the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing. The CCFW was founded last spring to house the long-time Festival of Faith and Writing and launch new initiatives–all of which to celebrate a Reformed engagement with the written word, championing faithful and intelligent conversation about the intersections of religious belief and literature, broadly defined. This new website not only gives an overview of everything the Center is up to, but is absolutely chock full of great stuff: there’s audio and video from the CCFW’s fall series on race and imagination, including behind-the-scenes interviews and full recordings of all the sessions. There’s also a regional literary arts calendar, so you can find speakers and book signings and storytimes for kids and many other events, taking place all over the region. And there’s more to come in January 2017, including a stellar podcast that you won’t want to miss.

Full disclosure: I’m the co-director of the CCFW, along with my colleague, Jane Zwart. But I’d think this website was cool, even if I wasn’t!  And like the rest of these finds, I didn’t want you to end 2016 without knowing about it.

What did you enjoy this year? What would you recommend? Add your suggestions in the comments below.

And have a very Merry Christmas, too!

Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.


  • Kathy DeMey says:

    I loved learning and performing composer Dan Forest’s “Requiem for the Living.” (Jennifer mentioned Dan Forest in her article, and that reminded me of how much I love his music!) The Calvin Alumni Choir performed it at our November concert and we’re taking it on tour to France in late June. The Sanctus movement is particularly evocative.

  • I absolutely can’t thank you enough for introducing me to that Dan Forrest piece. I’ve been listening while working and it’s incredibly motivating.

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