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Oh, my! So many titles still remaining to be mentioned. (And many more that could justifiably be included.) Happy reading, and all best wishes for the new year. (Keep an eye out for Jennifer Reeser’s book of poems, Strong Feather, due in March from Able Muse Press.)

I Walk Between the Raindrops:

by t. c. boyle

Who is the best American short story writer of the last fifty years? There have been a lot of very good ones, of course, but still (for me, at least) this is an easy call: T. C. Boyle. Among the many virtues on display in his latest collection, I will single out just one. Boyle is a ruthless anti-sentimentalist, yet he never assumes the easy and equally superficial role of the Professional Cynic. Raised a Catholic, he left the faith in his teens and hasn’t looked back, but his fiction (like that of Donald Barthelme, another great writer of stories, though of a very different kind) bears the indelible mark of his formative years.

Last Summer on State Street
by toya wolfe
william morrow

One of the worst tendencies of current fiction is the impulse to ramp everything up, as if fearing that only thus can readers be persuaded to pay attention. (And this applies not only to fiction itself but to the “discourse” surrounding it, in reviews, essays, prize-citations, and so on.) By contrast, Last Summer on State Street, written by a woman who grew up in Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes, trusts the tale and trusts the reader. Years ago I read (in manuscript) a short story by Toya Wolfe from which this novel grew. To see the finished book was a great joy. Check it out, and you’ll see why.

Ministers of a New Medium:
Broadcasting Theology in the Radio Ministries of Fulton J. Sheen and Walter A. Maier

by kirk a. farney
ivp academic

This meticulously researched book, which comes with a foreword by Mark Noll, drew my attention for two reasons. First, ever since I discovered Walter Ong (thanks to a Hugh Kenner footnote) in my junior year in college, I have been fascinated by the “soundscape” and what came to be known as “Sound Studies.” Second, when I was a boy in the 1950s, growing up in Pomona, California, with my mother, my grandmother, and my younger brother, “radio ministries” were part of everyday life. I strongly recommend Farney’s account of these two influential figures, contrasting in some respects, similar in others, and very much “of their time.”

Misinformation Nation:
Foreign News and the Politics of Truth in Revolutionary America

by jordan e. taylor
johns hopkins univ. press

I learned about this exceptionally timely book from John Fea’s interview with the author at Current. The title and the subtitle should be sufficient to prompt you to check it out. The current discourse about “misinformation,” “fake news,” and so forth in our society is itself radically ahistorical—a rich irony indeed. Taylor’s book provides a much-needed corrective while offering a fresh angle on the Revolutionary era.

Mother of the Lamb:
The Story of a Global Icon

by matthew j. milliner
fortress press

This book is, as promised by the subtitle, a story global in scope, tracing the history and effects of the icon often known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help, from its creation to its present-day manifestations. A marvel. It should inspire someone with the requisite connections to generate funding for an onscreen companion, with maybe a half-dozen installments, featuring the author and assorted worthies: fellow scholars in a half-dozen fields, visual artists, writers—the poet Scott Cairns, for one—and more.

My Hollywood:
And Other Poems

by boris dralyuk
paul dry books

Boris Dralyuk is a poet, a wide-ranging translator (this volume includes, in addition to his own poems, a section in which he translates poems by five Russian-language émigrés to Los Angeles), an editor (until quite recently presiding over the Los Angeles Review of Books), and more. His voice, now melancholy, now witty, is wonderfully distinctive; his craft is dazzling.

The Mystery of Iniquity
by daniel taylor
slant books

I’ll quote what I wrote for the back of the book:

A lot of misinformation is circulating about Christianity and “the American novel,” especially the American novel right now. If you want to dispel some of that fog while repeatedly experiencing the shock of recognition, the ideal place to start is Daniel Taylor’s just-concluded four-book sequence centering on Jon Mote (a distant relation of Hazel Motes, perhaps) and his developmentally disabled sister Judy, one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in a lifetime of reading fiction.

Poetry & Mysticism
by raïssa maritain
wiseblood books

In his fascinating introduction to this chapbook, which provides valuable historical context, James Matthew Wilson writes, “Poetry is ‘evangelical’ not because it is winsome, appealing, and charming, but because it is a way of encountering reality.” (I suppose it can be both, wouldn’t you say?) The two short essays by Raïssa Maritain that follow flesh out Wilson’s observation.

Quiet Places:
Collected Essays

by peter handke
translated by krishna winston and ralph manheim

In 2022, we were fortunate to get two books from Peter Handke: a novel, The Fruit Thief, first published in German in 2017, and a book of five essays, Quiet Places. Three of the essays were previously published in English translation, but two appear here for the first time, including the long and quite extraordinary title piece, written in 2011. As I said when writing about this essay in FORMA Journal, it “begins with Handke’s memories of outhouses, boarding-school and railroad-station toilets, restrooms (especially in Japan), and so on.” Ah, Handke! Let those who huffed and puffed at his Nobel Prize twist themselves into knots. We have his books to read and reread.

Reading the Book of Nature:
How Eight Best Sellers Reconnected Christianity and the Sciences on the Eve of the Victorian Age

by jonathan r. topham
university of chicago press

The Bridgewater Treatises were a series of eight books first published in Great Britain between 1833 and 1836 and reprinted for some decades thereafter. They were written by prominent scientists of the day selected by the Royal Society to illuminate “the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation.” Jonathan Topham’s massive but unfailingly readable account of the series combines almost surreal erudition with a gift for clarity and a keen eye for homely detail.

The Romantic Revolution:
The Birth of Modern Spirituality, 1848-1898

by dominic green

“Brilliant, witty, enjoyably idiosyncratic,” I wrote in National Review, this

. . . is not a work of “history” as conventionally understood (and here “conventional” is purely descriptive, not pejorative); it is “literary” as much as it is “historical,” rather like the unclassifiable books of the late Roberto Calasso, though Green’s style is distinctively his own. . . . Part of what makes Green’s narrative so beguiling is his strong sense of irony. (Actually, “strong” is too weak a word here; I suspect that the first words the infant Dominic Green spoke were ironic.)

Sonorous Desert:
What Deep Listening Taught Early Christian Monks—And What It Can Teach Us

by kim haines-eitzen
princeton university press

This fascinating book could easily have been twice or even three times as long as it is—and much the worse for it. Perhaps by spending so much time “Listening to the Desert” (the title of her first chapter), Kim Haines-Eitzen, Hendrix Memorial Professor of Early Christianity and Early Judaism at Cornell University, learned the power of concision. Toggling between the world of ancient monasticism and the present, she includes links with each chapter to recordings she made in desert settings. I’ll be returning to Sonorous Desert many times—and tirelessly (but not tiresomely, I hope) recommending it to others.

Spending the Winter
by joseph bottum
st. augustine’s press

This is just the third volume of poems we’ve had from Joseph Bottum over the years, each one impeccably crafted and yet idiomatic at the same time. Consider this four-line poem from early in the book, “Bliss and Blunder” (the second and fourth lines are indented): “Worthless things and things of wonder / Are fish in a single lake— / For much of bliss is caught by blunder, / And joy by some mistake.” That will stick in my mind as long as I still have my “faculties.”

A Strange Habit of Mind
by andrew klavan
mysterious press

“What if much that passes for informed good sense,” I wrote earlier this year, after Andrew Klavan's new novel appeared, “the picture of our common world that pretty much all sensible people share, is itself riddled with falsehoods and distortions? Maybe our consensus reality is subject to deep manipulation. Whoa. Shades of Philip K. Dick.” No one explores this territory with more subtlety and zest than Andrew Klavan does here. 

Taxi from Another Planet:
Conversations with Drivers about Life in the Universe

by charles s. cockell
harvard university press

2022 has been a very good year, publishing-wise, for the space-minded, but my favorite of the lot, as I wrote for National Review, is this book by a professor of astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh. “And here’s a tip,” I added: “If you don’t like this title (‘Too twee,’ you might object), don’t bother checking out the book itself; you won’t like it. On the other hand, if you do like the title—if it strikes you as delightfully unexpected, especially in conjunction with the brilliant Oliver Munday dust jacket—you will almost certainly relish the book, as I did.”

Tracing Time:
Seasons of Rock Art on the Colorado Plateau

by craig childs
torrey house

When a new book by Craig Childs appears, I read it. “Here I’m going to do something unusual,” I said when I wrote about Tracing Time in May of this year: “I will list the titles of the many chapters in Childs’s book. . . . Handprints. Floating People. Spirals & Concentric Circles. Conflict. Horses. Adornment. Birth. The Hunt. Joined Hands. Rain. Galleries. Symbols. Processions. Crookneck Staffs. Ducks on Heads. Desecration. Children. Sundial.” If this sounds like your cup of tea, acquire a copy as soon as possible.

The War That Made the Roman Empire:
Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavia at Actium

by barry strauss
simon & schuster

“Strauss is one of my favorite historians,” I wrote in FORMA Journal, “and this may be his best book in a distinguished career. Those who have a particular passion for the classical world (or simply a fascination with Antony and Cleopatra), not to mention connoisseurs of great naval battles, should already have this book on their wish list, but Strauss is writing for a broad audience.” To keep all the strands of his narrative in play, “now foregrounding one, now highlighting another, holding the reader’s attention with no sense of disorientation, requires skills akin to but not identical with those of a gifted novelist. This crucial aspect of history-writing—whether it be superbly managed, as here, or shoddily handled, as is sometimes the case—routinely gets short shrift in reviews. Be sure to savor the art and the craft as you read.”

We Lie Here
by rachel howzell hall
thomas & mercer

There’s a special pleasure to following a writer over the course of her career. I’ve done that with Rachel Howzell Hall, from her early procedurals featuring a black woman in the LAPD (a character I got attached to and still miss) to more recent stand-alone books that aren’t so easily categorized but that continue to feature women who are refreshingly real (and who share a down-to-earth sense of humor). The protagonist of We Lie Here, Tara Gibson, is a case in point: She’s a TV writer dutifully traveling to her hometown in California to host an anniversary party for her parents. A murder changes the picture. Not quite the same as one of those Agatha Christie novels set in a country house, over Christmas, perhaps, but there is a surprising family resemblance!

The Wordhord:
Daily Life in Old English

by hana videen
princeton university press

Words for the Heart:
A Treasury of Emotions from Classical India

by maria heim
princeton university press

These two books explore very different worlds of words, and they differ a good deal in style and tone as well, and yet it’s wonderful to read them together. Both writers are immensely knowledgeable and passionate about their respective subjects. Both books (Heim’s especially) lend themselves to reading in small bits—in bed at the end of the day, for instance. They suggest deep human commonalities across time and across cultures while also reminding us of how many ways there are and have been to be human, as if to mock any normative understanding.

The World as We Know It Is Falling Away
by jane greer
lambing press

Here I’ll simply quote my endorsement of this splendid book:

Jane Greer’s Twitter handle, @NorthDakotaJane, sounds like the moniker of a frontier outlaw. So it should. I can see her face on a wanted poster. At a time when most poets and critics abhor “traditional” forms, she is a master of the ancient art. At a time when “religion” is equated with small-mindedness and intolerance, she brazenly sings an “Eschaton Song.” Long may she ride.

Books of the Year:

Winters in the World:
A Journey Through the Anglo-Saxon Year

by eleanor parker
reaktion books

The Last Children of Anglo-Saxon England

by eleanor parker
bloomsbury academic

Two extraordinary books in the same year from one of my favorite historians! The first proceeds through the four seasons as experienced in Anglo-Saxon England. To follow Parker’s lucid account is to experience both a profound sense of kinship with the past and at the same time a sense of rupture, of profound difference, for better and for worse. I couldn’t help but feel immensely sad at what has been lost. And speaking of rupture, that is of course the substance of Conquered, in which Parker focuses on a few exemplary figures who were children when the Norman Conquest irrevocably changed their world. These books could certainly be read independently of each other, but taken together they are even more powerful. 

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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