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Dear reader, this list is too long—so much so that I must serve it in two courses! But I feel better when I reflect that, nowadays, for better or worse, we are accustomed to rapidly scanning text, pausing to zero in when something catches our eye.

This doesn’t purport to be a list of the “best” books of the year; rather, these are the ones from a year of reading that most readily come to mind. (The rules stipulate that only titles published in 2022 are eligible. That means I can’t include Rhonda Ortiz’s delicious historical novel In Pieces, which I read this summer but which was published in 2021. Fortunately a sequel is scheduled to appear early next year.) As I type this on my laptop, legs extended on a venerable reclining chair, I am quite literally surrounded by books. I mustn’t let my eye wander, or I’ll be tempted to add just one more title to the list, and then another, and so on. And there are books that would be here, I’m sure, if they had already come into my possession: A. E. Stallings’s This Afterlife: Selected Poems, for instance. The titles are mostly given in alphabetical order (the logic of departures from that rule will be clear). I hope you will find two or three, five or six, even a dozen or more beckoning you.

A-Tumblin’ Down
by sarah hinlicky wilson
hornbush press

Not many theologians write fiction; we should probably be grateful for that. But there are notable exceptions: Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, for instance. This new book, her first novel (though not her first work of fiction), counters preconceptions about what a theologically informed novel should look like. A fat family saga, it is subversively chatty, funny, relaxed, even as it also encompasses tragedy. 

African Founders:
How Enslaved Peoples Expanded American Ideals

by david hackett fischer
simon & schuster 

Decades in the making, this massive book by one of our foremost historians will repay your time and attention. As I wrote when I reviewed it for Close Reads, “Fischer doesn’t at all minimize the evil of slavery and its long aftermath, down to the present day. What he does is quite different: he opens our eyes to the many strands of African influence that the slaves brought with them and transmitted to their descendants. . . .” I can’t imagine anyone with a genuine interest in American history reading this book without profit, not to mention moments of revelation and delight. 

America’s Book:
The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794–1911

by mark a. noll
oxford university press 

This sequel to America’s God, like Fischer’s African Founders, is a masterwork that was years in the making. Noll’s tone is measured, but his account is unsparing. His chronicle will give readers who take the time to absorb it a perspective from which to assess the ever-proliferating accounts of American Christianity from the early twentieth century to the present, especially though not at all exclusively those focused on evangelicals. 

Bark to the Future
by spencer quinn

If you haven’t tried the Chet & Bernie series, consider checking it out. (Also, good news for all Peter Abrahams/Spencer Quinn fans: In 2023, we can look forward to two Quinn novels, one of them continuing the adventures of Chet & Bernie, one taking a new tack.) 

Christian Poetry in America Since 1940:
An Anthology

edited by micah mattix and sally thomas
paraclete press 

I’m sure this superb book will be assigned reading at many Christian colleges and universities; it should also be in the bedside book-stacks of poetry lovers far and wide. In a forthcoming review for Ad Fontes, I attest to this anthology’s restorative powers: It lifted my spirits. The range of writers included (the oldest born in 1940, the generational cut-off date) is particularly welcome. Order a copy for yourself today, and another one or two for Christmas gifts.

Desert Star
by michael connelly
little, brown 

Like his signature creation, Harry Bosch, Michael Connelly is driven. His new novel again pairs Bosch with LAPD detective Renée Ballard (the fifth book in which she is featured). The connection between them isn’t romantic (Bosch is decades older); “rather,” as I wrote when reviewing the novel for Close Reads, “it is based on a mutual commitment to achieve justice, such as it can be found, for murder victims especially—a commitment that doesn’t merely come with their job but rather gives them their reason for existence.” This is propulsive storytelling fueled by moral passion, a gut-punch of a book. 

Distant Melodies:
Music in Search of a Home

by edward dusinberre
university of chicago press 

Whenever I write about anything having to do with music, I feel the need to issue a caveat. While I love music and listen to a lot of it, I am a musical ignoramus, the “non-musical” member of a very musical family (I could never so much as carry a tune!). Nevertheless, I want to nudge you to check out this book by Edward Dusinberre, who has been the first violinist of the Takác Quartet since 1993. He writes beautifully; this memoirish book would make a splendid gift for the musically inclined on your Christmas list. 

The Doomsday Clock at 75
by robert k. elder & j. c. gabel
hat & beard press 

This cleverly designed and handsomely produced book traces the history and iconography of the “Doomsday Clock” from its origins in 1947 (when it was not yet called by that name) to the present. How close are we to midnight? The emphasis at first was on the threat of nuclear weapons and their proliferation: “midnight” = nuclear war. But over the decades, while concern over that looming threat never simply went away, the emphasis shifted to other issues—especially, in recent times, climate change. In 1947, by the way, we were said to be at seven minutes to midnight; in 2022, we’re told, we’re only one hundred seconds from midnight, a calculation intended to spur action. There are, you might say, rival discourses on the End Times—or perhaps they are complementary. 

A Life of Charles Lamb

by eric g. wilson
yale university press 

This is easily one of the best literary biographies I have read in the last decade. Charles Lamb, so distinct from his famous Romantic-era contemporaries, is rendered here in all his strangeness and excess and idiosyncrasy, both magnificent and terribly sad. And yet the deepest lesson of Wilson’s book is this: The “eccentric,” seen full-on and from all sides over the span of a lifetime, shows us ourselves. We are all passing strange, each of us one of a kind and yet sharing our common humanity. 

Dryland Lament:
The Rise and Decline of High Plains Culture

by peter r. sandberg
westbow press 

I’ve often mentioned my delight in “forthcoming books.” At any given moment, I am looking forward to a vast range of titles that I’ve learned about from one source or another (publishers’ catalogues, now digital-only, alas, but still treasured; the seasonal lists in Publishers Weekly; bulletins from a vast array of online sources; good old word-of-mouth; and more). At the same time, every publishing season brings a number of delightful surprises. Case in point: this captivating book, combining memoir with kultur critique (the latter strongly drawing on Carl Trueman). Please check this book out if my brief account and the evocative title and subtitle stirs any interest; it will repay your attention. 

The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon:
A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened

by bill mckibben
henry holt 

When I wrote about this book a few months ago, I began by deploring (as I often do) the fashion for laments over “the increasing polarization of ‘American society,’ the growing difficulty of any communication between rival factions (generally but not always with the onus on ‘the Right’), and so on, ad nauseam.” What such accounts leave out, I argued, is “the blessedly routine experience of learning from and appreciating people whose angle of vision on our common world is in some respects quite different from our own.” And here I zeroed in on Bill McKibben’s latest book, from which I profited greatly. “We do inhabit the same world, after all,” I concluded, “and to see it for a while through Bill McKibben’s eyes is good medicine.” 

The Good Country:
A History of the American Midwest, 1800–1900

by jon k. lauck
university of oklahoma press 

City of Hustle:
A Sioux Falls Anthology

edited  by jon k. lauck & patrick hicks
belt publishing 

I have often lamented the foolishness routinely in circulation about “the Midwest,” where Wendy and I have lived since 1994, when—in our mid-forties—we moved from our native California to Wheaton, Illinois. Evidently you can say anything about this region providing it is negative in the approved fashion, no matter how unhinged (see for example a recent fantasy on the subject in the august pages of the New York Review of Books). Given that deplorable tendency, Jon Lauck should get a Congressional medal for his blessedly commonsense corrective, even if at times he goes a little too far in the other direction. City of Hustle, a new entry in an ongoing series of city profiles from Belt Publishing, makes an excellent companion volume. Wendy and I came to know Sioux Falls during the eight years (concluding last summer) in which our daughter Katy was working at Saint Joseph’s Indian School, about two hours from the “City of Hustle.” 

Hilma af Klint:
A Biography

by julia voss
translated by anne posten
university of chicago press 

Every publishing year includes puzzles, anomalies, and such along with much that is entirely predictable. For me, one of the biggest surprises of 2022 was that this biography of the Swedish artist and visionary Hilma af Klint (1862–1944), issued by one of our finest university presses, has not received, so far at least, as much coverage as I expected. Not that it has been entirely ignored. But given the widespread fascination with the artist’s work—certainly one of the salient cultural phenomena of our time—I expected much more. (Perhaps some magisterial pieces are still to come.) Julia Voss is a German scholar, critic, and editor, much drawn to her subject; her biography of “Hilma” was published in Germany in 2020. The English translation, we are told, incorporates some material that has come to light since then; also, the text has “been modestly revised in collaboration with the author to address the needs of Anglophone readers.” Hmm. In any case, I strongly commend this book to your attention. 

Home Is the Road:
Wandering the Land, Shaping the Spirit

by diane glancy
broadleaf books 

The Native American writer Diane Glancy is sui generis, a shapeshifter who writes in many genres, sometimes cross-breeding them, always working on several projects, some of which may be on the back-burner for a long time. She is not only a Christian; she is (in the eyes of many among the literati) a believer of a particularly reprehensible type, worshipping with the Spirit-filled. Her work combines elements not often found together: sardonic humor, sometimes wacky; elliptical sayings (“On Thanksgiving night the stars forget to fly”); testimony (“I come from dust and the breath of God”). Now in her eighties, she is still often literally on the road, criss-crossing the country in her car as she has for decades. Kudos to Lil Copan, editor at Broadleaf, for overseeing this beautifully produced heterogeneous volume, pure Glancy. 

John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books and senior editor at The Marginalia Review of Books

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Image by Marco Verch Professional Photographer's photstream licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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