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
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
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.”
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
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.
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
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.
by raïssa maritain
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.
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.)
What Deep Listening Taught Early Christian Monks—And What It Can Teach Us
by kim haines-eitzen
princeton university press
by joseph bottum
st. augustine’s press
by andrew klavan
Conversations with Drivers about Life in the Universe
by charles s. cockell
harvard university press
Seasons of Rock Art on the Colorado Plateau
by craig childs
Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavia at Actium
by barry strauss
simon & schuster
by rachel howzell hall
thomas & mercer
Daily Life in Old English
by hana videen
princeton university press
A Treasury of Emotions from Classical India
by maria heim
princeton university press
by jane greer
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
The Last Children of Anglo-Saxon England
by eleanor parker
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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