The Best of a Bad Year
Some say 2016 was the worst, but for others it was hard just like every year. For me, it was punctuated by the Big and Good (first book published, bought a house, read at Powell's) and also the Very Bad (none of which I can discuss in public, alas). Then, we have the whole freaking political situation plus every day life with small kids and jobs and bills and church and . . . you have a year that you survived. Here are some of the things that helped with that endeavor.
Everybody read this book last year (and for good reason). A great (devastating) way to get inside the housing crisis. For me this book had a special impact in that I watched as neighbors of mine were forced to relocate over and over again. Christians need to get on a theology of safe and affordable housing, and soon!
The title is a reference to the thorn fences that surround the world's largest refugee camp in Kenya. I have friends who have lived here, so I was very invested. Again, this is a relatively risk-free way to enter into the stories of some of the most marginalized people in the world. I highly encourage everyone to read it.
I love this book and read it in a day (though it takes much longer for all the truth contained to sink in. Harper is a smart theologian but she also weaves in current events and life experiences which makes for a much richer text. Why couldn't I have read this in Bible college? It's deep and topical (#blacklivesmatter!) and Harper brought her communities with her as she wrote about Jesus being actual good news. I can (and do) see myself giving this book to a very wide spectrum of people.
Caveat: Yes, Shannan is my friend. She is friends with lots of cool people :) But what makes her book so special is that it is a subversive work of practical and applied theology. What if living our best life now meant diving into chaos, disfunction, a lack of a savings account, and drawing a very wide and wobbly circle around who is in our family? Oh man this book is funny but will also cut you like a knife. Be warned!
Full disclosure: I am not all the way done with this one. But I already know it is one of my favorites. It is like the most intensely timely commentary on the book of Lamentations you will ever read. In one or two sentences Rah will upend so much of what I was taught in my childhood--and he does this over and over again. It's gorgeous and makes me feel like I recognize the God the world that Rah is talking about.
I'm not a huge fiction person but I read a few this year that I can't stop thinking about. These are like bonus picks for intense non-fiction me :)
This book is about a missionary going to another world in order to convert the locals. Already relevant! Then it takes a harrowing turn as the main character communicates with his wife back on earth, where things are slowly falling apart. This book brought up so much for me to process. If you have read it, lets chat about it!
Ah, the holy grail of YA that is actually grounded in non-middle class sensibilities and conflicts . . . I think I read this book in a day? Definitely some heavy themes (but hey, all the teenagers I know are all dealing with very grown-up problems) but the writing is wonderful and fast-paced and it is a really good portrait of living with quietly angry adults in your life and how to overcome. Bonus: this is being made into a movie this year!
This is another YA book with a fascinating plot: twins whose parents completely embraced an end-of-the-world cult. The twist is, we meet this family right after the world DOESN'T end. The tension in this book is real, and I could vividly sense what it was like to be in the main character's lives . . . well worth the read!
(Bonus bonus: kids books!)
Here are some podcasts that I really dug this year:
This podcast is from the Reformed African American Network. I am neither African American nor Reformed and yet this podcast has helped me so much! The hosts (Tyler Burns and JEmar Tisby) use much of my evangelical language but they infuse it with new belief. I love this. This is such a great way to learn from POC if you are in mostly-white spaces.
Still my go-to for when I need to switch my brain off and listen to witty ramblings about pop culture. Love it.
This is a fascinating podcast on all things related to race in America. I learn so much and have to wrestle through a lot while listening--which I enjoy!
This is so awesome for people (like myself) who need some help being contemplative. Every day there are scripture readings, songs, and reflections. Some of my favorite memories from the past few months involve me wandering around my neighborhood in the early mornings, listening to pray as you go.
Still my favorite comedy on TV. Fresh off the Boat was in second place but this season has felt rather heavy handed . . .
Mozart in the jungle
This show is weirdly delightful. There are a couple of storylines I could do without, but I think the characters are fascinating!
Man in the High Castle
Ok so I have not seen the second season yet. The conceit is--what if the Nazi's won? It is the only drama I really watched all year and I was totally on edge. Now I am wondering if it will all seem too applicable . . .
This little comedy was a sleeper surprise--I think it tackles issues of class and religion in ways most television shows don't. Also as someone who worked in retail for many years I highly relate to it.
Bonus: Kids Shows!
For kids, I love Puffin Rock (Chris O' Dowd is the narrator!) and when my daughter is older I can't wait to watch Gortimer Gibbons Life on Normal Street with her.
Honestly, I didn't love most of the (few) movies I watched this year. Here are the three I could come up with wholeheartedly recommending.
Song of the sea
I'm not a super big music person these days but here are my highlights:
Hamilton Mixtape (even better than I could have imagined)
Teenage Politics by MxPx (somedays you just want to be as self-absorbed and angsty as a teenager)
25 by Adele
Pho (and trying to make it myself)
Little Debbies Christmas Tree Cakes
Afghan-style bread by my neighbor, who is a baking genius.
And there it is--my rather random list. What are some things that helped you survive this past year? I want to know!