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More than twenty years ago, I started doing a year-end list (sometimes multiple lists) of notable books for Books & Culture. When I was blessedly invited to start this column (in 2018), I continued that tradition. Over the years, alas, the list has grown longer, indeed too long, though it has been hard to resist that creep toward more titles: There are so many interesting books.

This year I am making a couple of changes. First, I am doing separate lists for “nonfiction” (below), poetry (a separate column here early next year), and fiction (that list will appear before the end of this year at Prufrock). And the lists will not be endless; I’m determined to resist that temptation.

These aren’t the “best” books of the year, but they are the ones that swam most readily into consciousness when I entered the mildly trancelike state required by such an enterprise (“suburban surrealism,” I call it). I hope you will find a couple of titles that pique your curiosity.

A Theological Journey

by peter j. leithart
ivp academic

The theologian Peter Leithart has a fascinating, wide-ranging mind. Recently on X (formerly Twitter), he mentioned a piece of interest on “time,” prompting me to say that I wished he himself would devote a book to that subject. He responded by mentioning a couple of places where he’d addressed it, including this book (then just about to be published). It did not disappoint—but I am still hoping for a full-length treatment from him.

Easily Slip into Another World:
A Life in Music

henry threadgill and brent hayes edwards
alfred a. knopf

I was in the blessed Wheaton Public Library, browsing the shelves featuring new and relatively recent arrivals, when the superbly designed spine of this book caught my eye. I knew nothing about Henry Threadgill and his music, but I was curious. Partway down page four, there was a one-sentence paragraph in bold type: “I live in sound.” It may sound silly, but that hooked me, decisively. This is a fascinating memoir, one of the freshest and most compelling I’ve read in some years (not least for Threadgill’s account of his time in church). The musician and his coauthor make a great duo.

Elisabeth Elliot:
A Life

lucy s. r. austen

Here I’ll quote from my endorsement of Austen’s book:

Lucy S. R. Austen’s biography of Elisabeth Elliot is not only (by far) the best account we have of this fascinating woman; it is also a book that should inspire other biographers—both first-timers and veterans—to resist the relentless pressure to smooth out the rough edges of the lives they are seeking to chronicle. Here we have a story that will remind us of the twists and turns, the unexpected chapters, and the deep sense of grace that marks our own lives. 

Eric Ravilious:
Landscapes & Nature

ella ravilious
thames & hudson

This little book, beautifully conceived and designed and very reasonably priced, is a gem. If, like me, you are already an admirer of the British artist Ravilious, you will certainly want to acquire it; it would also make a lovely introduction for someone unfamiliar with his work. Ravilious (1903–1942) died while accompanying the crew of a British plane based in Iceland on a search for a missing airplane and its crew. Given time, he would have accomplished much more, but he left a treasure-store, introduced ably here by his granddaughter, who is curator of architecture and design at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Evangelical Imagination:
How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis
karen swallow prior
brazos press

Karen Swallow Prior is a scholar I admire and respect; a friend, too, though we have had only very limited opportunities to spend time together. I strongly disagree with much in this new book of hers (not least because I don’t think there’s any such thing as the evangelical imagination), but I think it’s important to engage with it, not least because it is widely cited by people whose views of evangelicals and evangelicalism are (so I think) wildly irresponsible (a judgment that certainly doesn’t apply to Prior’s own work, agree or disagree).

Remedios Varo:
Science Fictions

caitlyn haskell, tere arcq, et al.
yale university press/art institute of chicago

This volume was published in conjunction with an exhibition that my dear friend Gary Gnidovic and I were able to see at the Art Institute of Chicago. Though I have admired Varo’s work for many years, this was my first opportunity to see a full-scale show. Varo (1908–1963) was born in Spain but settled in Mexico in the early 1940s and spent the remainder of her life there. The exhibition (handsomely mounted) and the catalogue make the obligatory gestures toward “Surrealism,” but for me, that is largely a distraction from the particularities of Varo’s imagined world.

Rental Person Who Does Nothing:
A Memoir

shoji marimoto
hanover square press

I’m cheating a bit by including this title, which won’t be published in the U.S. until January 2024. It appeared some months ago in the U.K. (I got it from Blackwell’s, highly recommended for online orders from the U.S.). And I don’t want to say too much about the book here, because I am writing about it for National Review. If the title doesn’t intrigue you in the least, skip it.

Tudor Children
nicholas orme
yale university press

If you have followed these end-of-year lists for a while, you will know that I am a great admirer of the historian Nicholas Orme. My favorite among his many books is Medieval Children, which appeared more than twenty years ago. What a treat it was, then, to see his book on Tudor Children earlier this year, at once learned and pungent, loaded with detail, and disdainful of fashionable pontifications. If, like me, you love reading Orme, keep an eye out for the paperback edition of The History of England’s Cathedrals, due in February from Yale University Press (the hardcover edition appeared in 2017).

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

Image by Fawzi Demmane licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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