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Some of our regular RJ bloggers offer their favorites of 2022 — books, TV, movies, whatever. These aren’t necessarily works that came out this year, but simply something that they enjoyed.
Jennifer Holberg: As always, a year with a lot of variety, so I’ll keep it to a few mentions. For fun books, Ruth Ware’s The It Girl and a new collection of Miss Marple short stories, written by contemporary British women mystery writers, Marple: Twelve New Stories. Also fun, but non-fiction—River Kings: A New History of the Vikings from Scandinavia to the Silk Road. Very moving: Crying at H-Mart by Michelle Zaun. Also: Booker-nominated Small things Like These by Claire Keegan. That one packed a punch.
TV show: Bad Sisters. Films: Tar [I don’t know how to put in the little accent thing] because it was super intriguing and Cate Blanchett can do no wrong in my acting book; Everything, Everywhere, All At Once because I’ve been a Michelle Yeoh fan since the 1980s and this film is a fabulous fable. Speaking of fables, I enjoyed the really under-rated film, based on A.S. Byatt’s novella, Three Thousand Years of Longing—maybe because I’ve written a book about stories, but this is a wonderful meditation on stories and their power (both good and bad). I commend Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris as charming. And yes, I was charmed by Top Gun. I didn’t like it ultimately (though like/dislike are hard with this movie), but I’m still thinking about The Banshees of Inisherin.
Jeff Munroe: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, my novel of the year, actually came out in 2021. It is fascinating, disturbing, and has stayed with me. Interesting note: I became aware of this book because of an RJ review by Sarah Tolsma. After finishing the book, I re-read Sarah’s review and also the review in the New York Times. I’m not trying to brag or blow smoke, but Sarah’s review was better: she contemplated the book’s religious implications, which the New York Times overlooked.
My non-fiction book of the year is Evangelical Anxiety by Charles Marsh. I have written a review, which will be posted in January, so I won’t say much other than the book caught me completely off-guard. There are a few new movies I want to see, so this might change, but (so far) my movie of 2022 is The Banshees of Inishiren. It is incredibly quirky, sad, hilarious, and oh so Irish. Finally, my television series of the year is the final glorious season of Better Call Saul, which, IMHO, is as good as anything that’s ever been on television.
Jim Bratt: Non-fiction: Andrea Wulf, Magnificent Rebels: The First Romantics and the Invention of the Self (Knopf). A memorable portrait of the “Jena Set”—including Goethe, Schiller, Fichte, Schelling, the Schlegel brothers, and Novalis, with a side-order of Tieck, Hegel, and Napoleon handing the Prussians their lunch. An epochal crew that created an intellectual revolution, but their precious Ich did leave open the question of the Wir and the Sie—that is, how the newly commanding self would relate to society. The options would define the 19th and 20th centuries.
Fiction: Finally caught up with Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman (Harper, 2020) and fully understand why it won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Erdrich inhabits the white-indigenous border so memorably, without sentimentality, cheap indignation, or muting the voice of justice. COVID put me on long daily walks to maintain my sanity and so brought me around to the world of audiobooks. The format does lose something over the printed page but registers valuable gains in capturing distinctive voices, accents, and dialects. I could finally comprehend Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and got a jump-start on the movie version of Olivia Butler’s Kindred (2004).
Laura de Jong : Nope, directed by Jordan Peele. Having not watched Jordan Peele’s other two movies, I wasn’t sure what to expect of Nope when my friends invited me over for a movie night. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be what it was. As the credits rolled at the end, there was complete silence in the room, broken by my query, “What…what just happened?” Never have I watched a film that was so slow and yet held my attention so raptly. And never have I spent so much time in conversation analyzing said film, asking questions of the film…for days afterward my friends and I were texting each other with our theories, questions, and insights. Part Western, part Science-fiction fantasy, the film follows siblings OJ and Em Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) who discover an unidentified flying object shaped like a saucer that’s been eating horses from their ranch and spitting out the inanimate objects, one of which causes their father’s death. The film follows the Haywoods as they go to incredible lengths to capture the UFO on film, by which they hope to earn enough money to save their ranch. This is a film about exploitation, spectacle, and what it means to be truly seen and known, which makes it spectacle enough to be well worth watching.
Jim Schaap: In rich detail, A.B. Guthrie’s The Way West chronicles the saga of an early wagon train on the trail to Oregon. One delightful chapter describes the care the men took to discuss how they each were going to break the news that, given the dearth of trees on the prairies, the women (roles are clearly defined) will have to cook meals by way fires created from buffalo chips, of which there was no perceivable end. Loved it. I read The Way West—and earlier The Big Sky—because I wondered just how politically un-correct those novels are these days, even though The Way West won the Pulitzer in 1950. I wondered if Guthrie’s books could be read or recommended in a culture so significantly changed. I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I must needs confess that I loved both novels far more than I thought I would. They’re wonderful. The other book that left a permanent mark was Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. Like Tara Westover’s Educated, Under the Banner left me stunned. Undoubtedly, my appreciation for all three was increased by the time I spent following Oregon Trail a year or so ago—as well as a visit to Colorado City, home of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints. Oh, yes, and Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter—just terrific. I’m three-score and ten (and more) now; there’s just so much to catch up on.
Debra Rienstra: Books: Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr. I wrote about this one in a blog post back in October. Here’s what I wrote then: “At heart, this is a novel about the power of stories, the preciousness of texts, and our shared human longing to “slip the trap” of our suffering and seek the promise of elsewhere. Full of tenderness and empathy. For whatever makes your heart sore right now, this novel offers healing balm. Following Jesus in a Warming World, by Kyle Meyaard-Schaap. Brand new! Kyle is a friend of the RJ and vice president of the Evangelical Environmental Network. He writes with irresistible passion, telling his own story of “ecological conversion” and offering a deeply scriptural call to advocacy for people and planet as both moral necessity and spiritual discipline.
Podcasts: A Matter of Degrees, I listen to a lot of climate-related podcasts these days and this is a consistently good one. Hosted by policy experts Dr. Leah Stokes and Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, it’s appealing to listen to and deeply informative.
Television: Hawkeye, not all series cranked out by the Marvel machinery are worth one’s time, but this one is fantastic. (Technically, it was released in November of 2021.) Stylish, exciting, with just the right blend of humor, character work, and intrigue. Features not one but three bad-ass women characters (including Florence Pugh—swoon!), a surprise villain reveal, and terrific acting. Streams on Disney+. All Creatures Great and Small, when 2023 gets to be too much, head back to the world of 1930s Yorkshire and enjoy this sweet, warm-hearted series about James Herriot and his daily troubles as a rural veterinarian. Quirky characters (and great acting), gorgeous scenery, and plenty of horses and dogs. Soothing to a weary soul. Season 3 beginning soon on PBS.
Movies, Nothing heavy or artsy here. For some sheerly delightful fluff, I recommend Enola Holmes 2 (Netflix) and Rosaline (Hulu), both based on YA novels. Did you know that Sherlock Holmes has a little sister? Well, he does now. Her name is Enola, and she’s just as whip-smart and plucky as you could hope. She solves mysteries in Victorian England with aplomb. Rosaline manages to satirize both contemporary romantic comedy and Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet by imagining the whole story from the point of view of Romeo’s former girlfriend, Rosaline (a real character in the play). Lots of quippy lines, fun jokes, and adventure.
Just a very few days remain in 2022 and our “But Wait, There’s More” special offer for our supporters. One book now (Fiet, Munroe, or Rienstra) and two more books in the coming year (Holberg and Meyaard-Schaap), plus invitations to private author gatherings — all for a gift of $300.
If that’s not for you, may we simply ask for some gift of support before the year ends? Monthly gifts are especially helpful. For us, your gifts are encouragement, signs of appreciation. Simply click on the blue box below to make a one-time or monthly gift. Thank you and Happy New Year!
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