Stuff We Liked in 2019

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One of our favorite year’s-end traditions is to look back to all the great books, music, films, and television shows that we were fortunate enough to encounter throughout the last twelve months. And as far as well-crafted art and entertainment goes, 2019 was not bad at all. So, without further ado, here is an avalanche of recommendations (plus commentary!) from many of our contributors, recounting all their favorite stuff from 2019. Enjoy, and we hope it leads you to discover a new favorite gem of your own.

Pete Peterson

Movies/TV

A Hidden Life – This is not only my favorite film of the year, it’s one of my favorite films ever. I also think it’s Terrence Malick’s best. It’s not going to be everyone’s kind of film, but if you love Malick’s style, you’re going to love this movie. Go see it on a big screen while you can.

Little Women – I haven’t read the book, and knew nothing about the story. That said, I loved every second of this movie. Just about perfect.

Chernobyl – This is television at its finest. Absolutely captivating and terrifying. I had no idea of the scope of the disaster. Everyone should watch this one.

The Detectorists – Good golly, I love the people in this show. It’s so simple and so calm and uninteresting that I couldn’t get enough of it. Every episode made me want to move to England. I miss this show 🙁

Knives Out – Now THIS is why I go to the movies! So funny, so fun, so clever and well-written, so wonderfully acted and directed. We don’t get enough who-dun-its these days. Rian Johnson has become one of those directors that I’ll watch no matter what he’s up to.

Books

Malcolm Guite’s Sonnets – I finally got sucked into his Sounding the Seasons collection and loved all of them. He manages the fine trick of being inventive and accessible and profound all at once, something most poets aspire to but few achieve will such confidence. I’ve moved on from that collection and I’m thoroughly enjoying others. Highly recommended.

Upcoming Helena Sorensen book – This might be cheating, but I don’t care. I’ve spent a LOT of hours with Helena’s forthcoming novel this year (coming spring 2020 from Rabbit Room Press), and I am a HUGE fan. It’s a book that’s unique and brilliant and takes on universal questions in a way that I just can’t say enough good things about. Helena is a razor-sharp writer and the intentionality of her storytelling is a thing of wonder. I love this book desperately and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

Cider with Rosie – I didn’t see this one coming. We visited the Cotswolds this year and I kept hearing whispers of the name Laurie Lee and his book Cider with Rosie. This did NOT sound like the kind of book I’d be drawn to, but boy was I wrong. It’s a memoir of growing up in a the small village of Slad in the early 20th century, but it’s the authorial voice of this masterpiece that elevates it to one of my top five books of all time. The writing is just so vibrant and unexpected and lovely that I couldn’t get enough of it. There’s a troubling chapter late in the book that I’m dying to talk to someone about, but I can’t seem to find anyone else who’s read it. So you guys get busy, we need to discuss.

Holloway – Another takeaway from my time in England. This is a small wonder of a book by Robert Macfarlane in which he and a friend attempt to retrace the steps of one of his favorite books, but the delight is in its love of the the English country-road and its storied history. Magical.

Martin & Marco – Much like Helena’s book, this one lands a spot here because I spent so much time with it this year and learned to love Jonny and his storytelling gifts so well. I’m so glad to have had a part in publishing it and I can’t wait to see how the series continues to develop.

Music

I Am Easy to Find (The National) – This is the album I played more than any other this year. I love it head to toe. The addition of female voices to The National’s sound is a revelation and the way they turn the record into a relational struggle and picture of marriage is just marvelous.

Nick Cave (Skeleton Tree / Ghosteen) – After hearing Lisa McKelvey tell me over and over again how much she loves Nick Cave, I finally dove in with Skeleton Tree and was immediately awestruck. Then a couple of months later Ghosteen came out and I got a double dose of Cave-awesomeness. He’s probably an acquired taste for many, but he’s right in my sweet spot: mysterious, epic, lyrical, full of ache and longing.

Everyday Life (Coldplay) – The last few Coldplay albums have been pretty hit or miss for me, but this one feels like a return to form. I certainly haven’t loved a Coldplay album this much since Viva La Vida, and there are songs on this one that are some of their best ever. It’s also really experimental, playing with gospel music and even “sacred” music. Just a fantastic record all around.

Parallels & Meridians (Jess Ray) – I couldn’t get enough of Jess’s music this year. It’s been so delightful to see her take a place in the community and her contributions to the new Behold the Lamb record are some of my favorite moments. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.

Andrew Peterson

Movies

A Hidden Life – I saw this twice last week. The first was with Aedan, and I had no idea what I was in for; the second was with Jamie and knowing what I was in for made it even better. It might be too soon to say, but this might be my favorite movie of all time. I’m an admirer of Malick’s filmmaking, though I’m by no means an expert. I saw Tree of Life and loved it, but I also had the feeling that there was a lot going on that I didn’t understand—nor was I necessarily meant to. You have to go into his films with a willingness to let him do his thing and trust that it’s going to work on you in ways that you might not be able to articulate. This film, however, had all the poetry and theology of a Malick film but also had a gripping narrative thrown in. The layers of meaning (and there are so many!) were more apparent, so you aren’t left feeling like you need a film degree to get it. There’s not room here to get into all the things I love about this movie, but I’ll close with this: it made me want to do more than admire Christ, but to follow him.

Knives Out – I’ve always loved a good murder mystery. (I’m reading a great one by P. D. James right now, in fact.) This one had all the tropes in all the best ways. I want to see ten more movies with Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc.

Ad Astra – This isn’t an action movie. It’s a slow burn meditation on fathers and sons and forgiveness. Plus there are moon pirates.

Apollo 11 – The moon landing wasn’t faked, y’all. I’ve always been fascinated by NASA stuff, and this rang all my bells.

TV

The Crown – The classiest television show ever. Great writing, exquisite production, great acting, fascinating story.

Chernobyl – Terrifying, amazingly written, and the courtroom scene at the end is marvelous.

When They See Us – This one broke my heart.

The Bible Project – This isn’t strictly television, but it’s close enough. I couldn’t love what these guys are doing any more than I do. We’ve been working through the Old Testament overview videos, and I’m amazed by the folks behind this project, and have been amazed all over again by the Bible itself.

Books

The Lost Words – Robert MacFarlane. Beautiful poetry, beautiful paintings. A celebration of creation. I read The Old Ways a while back and liked it, but this one got me into MacFarlane again and I gobbled up…

Landmarks – Robert MacFarlane. I loved, loved this book. The last chapter was especially good. Essays on several different landscapes in Britain, and glossaries of the old and wonderful words that grew out of each region’s intimacy with the land. If you love words, this is for you.

Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman. Disturbingly prophetic, and he was writing about the short-attention-span culture of the EIGHTIES. He had no idea what was coming, which makes it all the more poignant.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John LeCarré. A bleak, atmospheric, gripping spy novel, and one that basically created the genre as we know it. My first LeCarré but it won’t be my last.

Mariner – Malcolm Guite. A spiritual biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I’d read “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” but that was about the extent of my familiarity with STC. I learned so much about not just him, but Wordsworth and the Romantic movement, and the theology that underpinned so much of what they did. Even if you don’t think you like poetry, read this one.

Sleep No More – P. D. James. A delightfully chilling collection of short mysteries by one of my faves.

Music

J Lind’s  – For What It’s Worth
Mission House – Taylor Leonhardt and Jess Ray’s new project
Coldplay – Everyday Life
Ron Block – A Light So Fair

Colony House – Leave What’s Lost Behind (They’ve only released a few singles, but I’ve heard it all and it’s unreal.)

NAMO – So far, Asher’s only released the single “Thunder in a Blue Sky,” but I’ve listened to it a zillion times. I’ve heard a few other songs, and they’re just amazing. Can’t wait for him to finish this thing up.

Jennifer Trafton

Movies/TV

The exact same list as Pete’s, and for all the same reasons. I also enjoyed The Peanut Butter Falcon, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and The Mandalorian (because Baby Yoda).

Books

2019 was a year of a lot of rereading for me: revisiting beloved books that have shaped me in one way or another. I won’t list them all here, but a few highlights of the year were The Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot, Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, and Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge.

New books that stood out:

The Lost Words by Robert McFarlane – Brought to life by Jackie Morris’s exquisite watercolor paintings, Robert Macfarlane’s poems are glorious to read out loud, full of alliteration and internal rhyme and wordplay reminiscent of one of my other favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins. This masterpiece now sits propped up on my art table, partly because it’s too big to fit any of my bookshelves (!) but also because Oh. My. Goodness. It’s beautiful.

Beverly, Right Here and Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo – Beverly rounded off the trilogy that began with Raymie Nightingale and Louisiana’s Way Home, and though it wasn’t my favorite of the three, I still loved it for all the reasons I love everything she writes. But my favorite DiCamillo book of the year was Leroy Ninker. I read this simple chapter book in one sitting at the library and then took it home and immediately read it out loud to Pete because it was too good not to share with him. This is what makes Kate DiCamillo remarkable to me: she can write a simple story that is beloved by six-year-olds AND cause a 43- and a 47-year-old to giggle and tear up together. It’s a kind of hilarious love story–between a would-be-cowboy and his horse. It’s a lovely picture of what it means to be a gentleman and to treat someone with courtesy and affection (as Pete noted). It’s about listening, and about giving the gift of beautiful words. And dagnibbit, how does she always make me laugh and cry at once?

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy – I picked up this little book after several friends whose opinion I trust were glowing in their praise of it, and it completely won me over. Mackesy’s art, with its wild ink strokes and its tender, melancholy beauty, keeps the simple text from ever feeling saccharine. It’s not a story, exactly, but there is a broad narrative arc of four characters journeying together, asking questions (“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?”), expressing vulnerable emotions (“Sometimes I feel lost”), wondering aloud (“Imagine how we would be if we were less afraid”)  and offering insights and encouragement (“Life is difficult—but you are loved”). I hesitate to describe it too much, for it simply needs to be experienced, but let me just say that this is a book I want to meditate on one page at a time.

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson – This is not an obligatory inclusion. 🙂 There are two parts in particular that pushed this book into my favorites list, beyond the fact that it was a beautiful window into my family and my community. The chapter “Discipline” punched me in the gut (in the best way) and reminded me why I’m writing books for children at all. I typed this sentence at the beginning of the current draft of my in-progress novel so I’d see it at the beginning of every writing day: “That story may be the only beautiful, true thing that makes it through all the ugliness of a little girl’s world to rest in her secret heart.” And my other favorite part of the book is from the end of that same chapter—Andrew’s reflections walking down the hill toward the Warren, about how we writers are toddlers in a cathedral and how creation is, perhaps, a burst of laughter from the mouth of God. The whole description is transcendent.

Music

Ella Mine’s “Dream War.” This floored me when Pete and I first heard it at Ella’s senior concert at Lipscomb University, and then again when she performed it at Hutchmoot. Ella has created something completely and magnificently her own, unlike anything I’ve heard before, and the emotional arc of her musical journey through darkness toward hope felt deeply true, and familiar, to me. I can’t wait to get my hands on the recording.

Chris Thiessen

Music

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
Bon Iver – i,i
Tyler, the Creator – IGOR

Films

The Lighthouse
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Parasite

Shigé Clark

Music

Ember by Breaking Benjamin – This is the most honest expression of grief I’ve personally encountered in music. In a world where we as Christians don’t seem to know what to do with anger, Ember provides a phenomenal model for handling rage, confusion, and internal conflict in a genuine and holy way, without downplaying the difficulty being faced. This is one of those works where the music, lyrics, structure, and story all come together in an edifying way to achieve an effect that no one element could have reached on its own. I’m grateful this album exists; I have yet to hear another like it.

Desolation & Consolation by Drew Miller – Expertly crafted and beautifully performed. The theme of the album bears itself out holistically, but through individual songs and lines as well. It’s just so excellently done. “Grace” especially strikes me every time, particularly the symmetry and truth in the lines “there’s a grief older than you are / there’s a grace older than you are.” Powerful.

For What It’s Worth by J Lind – This album shot straight up to one of my favorites. I got to the line, “It’s not that hard to find a flaw / When the earth is red in tooth and claw / But I’d like to learn to love it anyway” in the opening song, and knew I was in for a fantastic album. It did not disappoint. From the excellent writing, to the dynamic song styles, to the quality content—if you haven’t listened to it already, you should.

“Sellers of Flowers” by Regina Spektor – One of my favorite songs of the year, hands down. It has that glorious effect of great poetry wherein you feel more than know what it means, and each time you go back you can take it in from a different angle and perhaps come a little closer, but it’s always going to leave you lingering in a question.

Film/TV

I finally saw La La Land. I didn’t see it when it came out, because the trailers had me thinking it would be another sappy Ryan Gosling romance. Then I was hesitant to see it because my friends loved it so much, and I was concerned I wouldn’t like it. All my worries were unfounded. It’s masterfully done on so many levels, and an important story that hits straight home. I want to sit all my creator friends down and have a big ol’ discussion about it. And if that’s not a mark of great art, I don’t know what is.

The Mandalorian – I’ve never been a big fan of spaghetti westerns. Apparently what it takes is a sci-fi setting and good female characters (having also loved Firefly, I’d say it’s a theme at this point). An adorable baby alien also doesn’t hurt.

Tolkien – A quiet, often subtle story that honored the titular author by speaking well to the importance of story, art, music, and community. I left feeling validated and inspired to create and cultivate community, which is exactly how someone should feel at the end of a movie about Tolkien.

Books/Poetry

Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot – How is one supposed to capture this in words? It’s just something that has to be experienced, and I can’t believe I never had before this year (thanks Jennifer and Pete). I’ll be coming back to it again and again—hopefully holding more in memory every time. “For us, there is only the trying” has become a mantra, and this work is full of gems like that to treasure and retrieve when needed.

Fin’s Revolution, particularly Fiddler’s Green, by A. S. Peterson – This series is wonderfully complex. In the seemingly endless sea of sidelined, flat, or Mary Sue female characters, thank God for the life raft that is Fin Button. The story is chock-full of adventure and fun, while not shying away from the darkness of reality. The fact that it approaches that darkness through a flawed protagonist with a messy story makes it a truly powerful read for anyone who has ever wondered if they’re capable or deserving of redemption. I’ve never been much of a re-reader–it takes a special kind of story to make it into that category for me–but this one has so much nuance, so much intentionality, and so many beautiful sentences that I’ll definitely be coming back.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton – I’ve said it a thousand times over the year, and I’ll say it again: this is my favorite children’s book. I’ve yet to read anything that so captures the mind of a child—the magic and adventure with which they perceive the world, the way everything is so full of color and possibility, so much more than it could be. This book could (and should) be a study in the use of simile, and it’s just a bastion of creative thinking and spot-on imagery. It genuinely changed the way I think about children’s literature.

“The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo” by G. M. Hopkins – Because it seems dishonorable to have one poem take the place of an entire book, but I also can’t bear not to mention it. It’s simply glorious, and—like Four Quartets—has to be experienced. (I suggest in the form of having spoken-word poet Mike Hood recite it to you at Hutchmoot UK, because that’s how I was introduced to it, and I’d submit that there is no better way.)

Drew Miller

Books

Lilith by George MacDonald – This was a big deal for me. Felt like passing through a flame, some kind of initiation that left me different than it found me. It’s a lot of work with a magnificent reward at the end. I highly recommend Rebecca Reynolds’ audiobook version of this.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – Comforting, informative, and just a straight-up excellent use of free time.

Helena Sorensen’s newest novel (coming from Rabbit Room Press this spring) – Just try to imagine a story that combines the bold, Christian imagination of George MacDonald, the warmth and intimacy of Wendell Berry’s Port William, and the slow, inevitable unraveling of mystery found in an Ursula LeGuin novel. Then multiply it by at least five.

Music

Who Are You Now by Madison Cunningham – This razor-sharp songwriter is absolutely crushing it. The depth of craft she shows goes beyond mere cleverness—she has an ear for subtlety and delivery that makes for masterful arrangements. An album that begs to be listened to again as soon as it’s finished.

The Lost Words: Spell Songs by a variety of artists – An album to accompany the already brilliant book of the same name. And this album is just as brilliant. It strikes a deep chord in me—a chord that sounds something like innocence, recovery, and hope. If you have time only for one song, listen to its last track, the “Blessing.”

For What It’s Worth by J Lind – I reviewed it at length here. I’ll just say that I can’t get enough of the way J writes songs. He’s sharp, concise, and never heavy-handed.

Film/TV

A Hidden Life – I’m one of those people freaking out about how good this movie is. It did a number on me.

Little Women – Deeply captivating. Heartfelt and earnest. Unflinchingly and eloquently honest. Greta Gerwig, please make more movies.

Song of the Sea – I’m a sucker for imaginative, semi-mythological animated films, and this one is stunningly well-made, both in terms of story and production. Haunting and stirring, and leaves you with plenty to consider.

Doug McKelvey

As I’ve been for the last several months writing liturgies for seasons of dying and grieving, I’ve intentionally immersed myself in literature related to those things. The most powerful such book I’ve read is Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff. So beautiful, heart-rending, and poetic. Not a eulogy so much as a lament and a love song. On a personal level, this book allowed me to name the experience of grief in my own life, in areas where I was clearly grieving but had never recognized it as such.

Jonny Jimison

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin. A heartbreaking, real-world struggle for survival and hope, Illegal is a graphic novel vividly illustrating the mythic quest of African immigrants. You can read my full review here.

Hicotea: A Nightlights Story by Lorena Alvarez. In the sequel to Nightlights, Lorena Alvarez is back with more gorgeously evocative illustrated pages to explore. Young hero Sandy’s imagination is as wild and powerful as ever, but this time around the focus has shifted from her inner world to the ecosystems and environments of the natural world.

Grand Theft Horse by Gregory Neri and Corban Wilkin. A captivating, cinematic biopic of a graphic novel about an unconventional horse trainer taking desperate measures on behalf of the animals she loves. I couldn’t put it down.

Ella Mine

Music

Glen Hansard’s 2019 record This Wild Willing
Wilco’s 2019 record Ode to Joy
The War On Drugs’ 2017 record A Deeper Understanding

TV

Patrick McHale’s Cartoon Network miniseries Over the Garden Wall
Steven Conrad’s series Patriot

Chris Yokel

Books

I finally got to read John Garth’s Tolkien and the Great War, which explores Tolkien’s experience in World War I and how that influenced the creation of his early mythology.

I read several books by African-American authors this year, but perhaps the most representative is The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby, an exploration of the American church’s relationship with slavery and racism throughout our country’s history.

For fiction, I finally got to read a series I’d been curious about for a while, The Dark Foundations trilogy by Chris Walley. It’s a very interesting piece of Christian science fiction.

Music

So much good music came out this year, so it’s hard to narrow down, but these are three albums I listened to on repeat at various points this year:

Lover by Taylor Swift
San Isabel by Jamestown Revival
Mission House (Jess Ray and Taylor Leonhardt)

Film

I have a top ten list of films this year, but here are three I was delightfully surprised by:

Blinded by the Light (which I jokingly call S(pr)ing Street) is a love letter to the music of The Boss and the angst of being a teenager.

Knives Out is an Agatha Christie-like whodunnit that was just a wickedly delicious treat to watch.

Frozen II was 6 years in the making and you can tell. Kudos to Disney for not simply getting out another sequel fast for the sake of making money, and taking their time in developing a thoughtful and deep story about heritage and legacy and forgiveness.

Jen Yokel

Books

Henri Nouwen – The Return of the Prodigal Son: I don’t know why it took me so long to read this, but now that I have it’s on my short list of life-changers. So gentle and compassionate and hopeful. Everyone needs to read Nouwen, and this would be a fine place to start.

Howard Thurman – Jesus and the Disinherited: This year, I wanted to intentionally read more works by people of color, and this classic gave me so much to contemplate. Thurman’s theological explorations of what the gospel has to say to people “with their backs against the wall” changed me for the better. (A good companion read to Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise and Austin Channing Brown’s I’m Still Here)

Erin Morgenstern – The Night Circus: I’ve been intrigued by this novel for a while now, and it did not disappoint. Her writing sets the haunting, magical atmosphere beautifully for a love story spanning decades, all bound up in a mysterious circus and magical realism. Can’t wait to dig into her new book The Starless Sea this winter.

Music

Maggie Rogers – Heard it in a Past Life: Maggie Rogers sounds like a pop singer with an old soul on a record full of thoughtful, catchy songs and interesting production.

Bon Iver – i, i: No matter how crazy the experimentation gets, I’m always willing to spend some time with anything Justin Vernon and co. come up with, and i,i seems to take the best bits of their past three records and mash them up into something beautiful, strange, and moving.

Joy Williams – Front Porch: Just a raw, earnest folk record about heartache and healing, where Joy’s powerful voice really shines. 

Film

A Hidden Life: A profoundly moving portrait of simple courage and quiet faith, told in the most Terrence Malick-y of ways. Expect thoughtful monologues and gorgeous scenery, but pay close attention to the uncomfortable soul questions Franz’s sacrifice raises.

Avengers: Endgame: I’ve spent the last ten years all-in on the Marvel Comic Universe, so of course this was a big one for me. Thankfully, it brought all twenty-one films to a satisfying, heartfelt conclusion, and of any blockbuster I saw this year, it’s the one I still think about the most.

Little Women: Look, I know it’s heresy to prefer anything over the 1994 version, but I missed that one growing up, so I’m pretty sure this is going to be my Little Women. Greta Gerwig’s take on this classic hits all the right story beats, but with a fresh approach and a stellar cast that honors the unique beauty of each of the March sisters. I loved it.

TV

The Mandalorian: I was only moderately interested in this show when I first heard about it, but Rabbits, I am all in. A Star Wars spaghetti Western that is so fun, atmospheric, and beautifully made. And somehow it’s managed to unite a fractured Internet with Baby Yoda!

LOST: After years of saying, “Yeah, I should watch that,” it’s happening. And… according to my incredulous tweet thread, I’m not entirely sure what’s happening, but I’m totally enjoying the ride. I just started the final season, so ask me in a month or so how I feel about the ending.

Kelsey Miller

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser (and the rest of the series): a delightful children’s series that feels both modern and timeless.

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum and A History of Loneliness by John Boyne. Both of those novels should not be read if you find yourself in a fragile place. But the writing is alive.

J Lind

Books

Joy by Christian Wiman
The Gay Science by Friedrich Nietzsche
The Idiot Fyodor Dostoevsky

Music

Thanks for the Dance by Leonard Cohen
“Into the Darkness” by Drew Miller

Film/TV

The Man in the High Castle
Planet Earth II

Joe Sutphin

Books

The new audiobook version of Watership Down, read by Peter Capaldi. Peter does a fantastic job of reading this classic story with all of the voices and emotions of a full-cast radio production. I can’t recommend this audio version highly enough.

I got to illustrate Glenn McCarty’s The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, which I happened to find to be a fantastic, heartfelt and well-written story, aside from any contribution of my own to its publication. It reads like a classic children’s book.

Music

Hillsong United’s album, People, is a return to the passionate writing styles of their earlier albums. “As You Find Me” and “Starts and Ends” are two of the greatest songs they’s ever written.

Switchfoot, Native Tongue. “Strength To Let Go” is one of my new favorite Switchfoot songs of all time.

Film

Diagnosis is a fascinating experiment in crowd sourcing experiences and theories regarding specific, unidentified, real-life ailments. I’m looking forward to new seasons of this one.

The Repair Shop is a lovely little show about a group of artistic restoration experts in the UK working to restore everything from clocks to music boxes, toys and furniture. My only complaint is that the episodes are far too brief to really show much of the processes involved in each restoration.

David Mitchel

Books

Alan Jacobs, The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis (2018): A skillfully told account of how the works of a handful of notable writers and philosophers — C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, Jacques Maritain, and Simone Weil — converged to form a powerful Christian critique of the deficiencies widespread in post-Enlightenment Western democracies.

I spent the months immediately preceding Virginiamoot (June 2019) reading up on Thomas Jefferson, whom I still find infuriating but not quite as inscrutable as I did at this time last year. Two notable books on Jefferson: Thomas Jefferson and Music by Helen Cripe (1972) is a careful look at the role music played in Jefferson’s life from childhood to old age, and catalogues Jefferson’s substantial collection of sheet music, the instruments he owned, and the instruments he gave as gifts to various family members; and Most Blessed of the PatriarchsThomas Jefferson and the Empire of Imagination by Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter Onuf (2016) is the best overall biography of Jefferson I’ve ever read. The “Empire of Imagination” at Monticello to which the book’s subtitle refers contains all the moral ambiguity of Jefferson’s life and legacy. Jefferson’s idealistic imaginings about liberty and responsibility were mostly not realized—not at Monticello nor in Virginia more generally, due mostly to his double life and double-mindedness about African-Americans and slavery.

Waiting on the Word by Malcolm Guite (2015): The poems collected in this little book and arranged in sequence for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany—some by Guite himself, several by other poets—are beautiful. Guite’s essays about each poem, written as they are by one of the great contemporary poets, afford unique insight into the art of poetry.

Music

Sierra Hull’s Weighted Mind (2016) is one of the most beautiful albums I have ever heard, and features the best mandolin playing I’ve ever heard.

Movies

Stan & Ollie released at the very end of 2018, and I had the pleasure of seeing it in February of 2019 with one of my oldest and dearest friends at a delightful little theater on the Charlottesville downtown mall. The film features pitch-perfect portrayals of Stan Laurel (by Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly)—they’re so good that at times you forget you’re watching actors and not the actual Laurel and Hardy. It’s a penetrating look into the perils and glories of artistic collaboration, as we see the duo’s friendship and natural screen/stage chemistry tested by financial hardship, health problems, and personal frictions between the hard-driving Laurel and the affable, easygoing Hardy.

TV

The Slugs & Bugs Show. I could say much in praise of the first thirteen episodes, but here I’ll just note that I cannot wait until my daughter is old enough to enjoy these with her mom and dad.

Matt Conner

Books

The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwan – A debut novel of first loves and religious zeal, of cults and acts of terror, of our desperate attempts to belong as long as it provides a temporary salve on our woundedness. A brutal but beautiful read.

The Tradition by Jericho Brown (poetry) – A new favorite poet who opens my eyes to perspectives of race and class in very unexpected and even uncomfortable ways.

Heavy by Kiese Laymon – Laymon’s memoir stayed with me for weeks. His mastery of storytelling and use of language is worth the investment, but Heavy lives up to its name as a weighty read on how our stories play into the larger cultural ones already present and at work in our lives without our knowledge. I laughed and cried but mostly read in awe at a new favorite writer.

Music

Good Luck, Kid by Joseph – Three sisters from Seattle crafted the year’s best album for me. Good Luck, Kid has thirteen tracks and you won’t skip a single one. It’s self-assured pop with to-die-for harmonies and non-stop hooks. These songs delightfully stick without sacrificing substance. A near-perfect listen.

Better Oblivion Community Center’s eponymous debut – Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) and Phoebe Bridgers (boygenius) opened the musical year with a surprise (to me) side project/collaboration that featured so many straightforward gems. “Chesapeake” might be the most beautiful song I heard all year.

Eraserland by Strand of Oaks – the story: Tim Schowalter (the man behind Strand of Oaks) was done with music and was lamenting the career shift after years of being “under-the-radar.” He was alone on a beach when his friends in the rock band My Morning Jacket called him and said they’d paid for studio time for him and that they would be the backing band if he would try one more time. The end result is the best Strand of Oaks album ever, which is saying something. “Weird Ways” is a must listen.

Film/TV

Chernobyl – Maybe the greatest thing I’ve ever watched on television. Just a total triumph in every conceivable way, not to mention the importance of such a historic event.

Barry – An assassin trying to start an acting career is an odd plotline for any sort of show, let alone a comedy, but Bill Hader is perfect as the protagonist here.

Ad Astra – With a five year-old around, going to the movies is a rare thing, but making time to see Brad Pitt’s latest dramatic turn was worth every effort. The ways in which parental wounds can so deeply control us, for better or worse, is a theme within my own life, so this film resonated with me long after we’d left the theater.

Jill Phillips

Film

Little Women – I enjoyed this from beginning to end. I went with some dear friends and our daughters which made it memorable and meaningful. I thought the characters were incredibly well cast and I would watch about anything with Saoirse Ronan.

Knives Out – This was a delightful surprise for me and my favorite film of the year. We went with our whole family and every single person loved it—I cannot remember the last time that happened in our family of widely differing opinions! It was such a satisfying new take on the classic whodunnit and I loved the diverse cast.

Television

I didn’t watch much TV this year, but I think the thing I enjoyed the most was watching Will Ferrell’s Thanksgiving sketch with Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen on SNL. I’m not sure what that says about me.

Doctor Thorne – a miniseries scripted by Julian Fellowes and adapted from the Anthony Trollope novel. I think you can find this on Amazon Prime. I loved the story and the cast and it scratched my “British miniseries itch” for the year.

The Bookshop – a wonderful movie starring Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy. A perfect cozy night in kind of movie and the scenery is stunning.

Books

Educated by Tara Westover – I am a bit late to the game on this one but I am grateful someone from my book club chose it earlier this year. I found Westover’s storytelling incredibly vivid and vulnerable. I was moved by her resilience and also her willingness to discuss her lingering trauma.

The Familiars by Stacey Halls – This is a book I picked up in England this summer. There isn’t much to unpack here, but I enjoyed it more than most novels I have read recently and loved the strong female characters. 

Music

The Big Day by Chance the Rapper – I loved the songs “I Got You” (featuring En Vogue!) and “Let’s Go on the Run.” If you want to smile really big, watch Chance perform “Let’s Go on the Run” on Good Morning America.

Import by Elle Macho – This is an older album, but I introduced my oldest to this gem and we listened to it a ton this year. The combination of David Mead and Butterfly Boucher singing and writing songs together is almost too good to be true. Listen to “Sweet Pancello,” “This is Not a Love Song,” and “Bombs.”

John Barber

Movies

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – My affection for this movie grows the more I think about it. It’s the only movie I saw multiple times in the theater, and I wish it was still out so I could see it again. Tarantino’s gambit here—to use art to change a historical narrative, and create justice in the process—is wonderful. It’s a modern take on cowboy culture, set in the 60s.

Parasite – Completely original. Completely compelling. And it’s the most interesting take on the economic disparity issue around.

The Irishman – Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci, all at the top of their game. It’s a profound and moving statement about purpose. And Jesus.

Doctor Sleep – Flanagan gives us a worthy successor to The Shining. It’s so intensely personal, and the idea of our deeply held ghosts being the very things that can save us is great. Also, there’s a ton of really good father/son thematic content, which always works on me.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco – Finally… something new! This bright take on what makes a community feels completely fresh. If Wendell Berry were from California instead of Kentucky, this might be the movie he’d make.

Books

The Tradition by Jericho Brown – It’s daring, it’s beautiful, and it’s important poetry.

Andrew Osenga

Podcasts

I really dug Rick Rubin and Malcolm Gladwell’s Broken Record podcast.

Music

John Mayer’s Paradise Valley and Radiohead’s The Bends came back into major rotation for me.

Film/TV

HBO’s Watchmen and John Oliver were my favorite things to watch this year.

Books

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

Both are amazing collections of stories by Asian American authors. Most stories are a wild mingling of sci-fi, philosophy, religious history, fable, and deeply intimate character studies. Both collections read like a more compassionate version of Black Mirror. They start with alternate versions of our own reality or history and then create moral dilemmas and personal narratives within that framework. Ultimately, these give the reader a new viewpoint into our actual reality. Lots to think about and much beauty to behold.

Jeremy Casella

Books

Born To Run (the memoir) by Bruce Springsteen – I just finished this one and it floored me. I didn’t expect him to be so personable and vulnerable. He comes off as deeply self-aware and confident at the same time, yet also humble and friendly. I have loved his music for a long time (Nebraska, Born In The USA, The Rising, Tom Joad—so many great albums) but didn’t know much about him personally. This was my favorite read of the year.

Sealed Orders: The Autobiography of a Christian Mystic by Agnes Sanford – Richard Foster and Dallas Willard turned me on to Agnes Sanford and her healing ministry work during the 1950s-80s. She is a mysterious (and beautiful) sister in Christ who moved in the gifts of the Spirit, especially healing. I have been undergoing a pretty huge shift in my faith these last several years and Willard and Foster have been helpful voices. They both kept mentioning Sanford in their books so I started researching her. In addition, Carolyn Arends pointed me towards some of her books and I ordered a few. I started with this one—it tells her life story and it’s pretty wild. Side note: Buechner met her once and wrote an essay in The Magnificent Defeat referencing his time with her.

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of The Inklings by Philip Zeliski – I’ll confess that I only read the sections of the book on Lewis and Tolkien, but I loved them! I skimmed the Charles Williams section (he was creepy to me) and haven’t read any of the Owen Barfield portion. I loved the info on Tolkien’s friendship with Lewis over the years.

Prayer by Richard Foster – A profound book about prayer, written from the Quaker perspective. I love the ecumenical approach and the focus on listening. 

Writing Alone (And With Others) by Pat Schneider – Currently about half-way through this and it is fantastic. It’s more of a manual for a healthy inner-life of the writer than it is a guide to better writing. It’s been helpful for me and I’ve been sharing it with friends. Check it out!

Music

Mystery Girl by Roy Orbison, J. S. Ondara’s Tales of America, and Bruce Springsteen’s Western Stars were all frequent listens for me this past year. I also revisited a lot of Tom Petty, both his solo stuff and the Heartbreaker records. Last fall, I circled back into some old Mark Heard stuff too.

Eric Peters

Music

Good Luck, Kid by Joseph – Intelligent, articulate pop genius is my kryptonite, and this album, for me, checks all the boxes. A strikingly good album. I hear so many influences: Tegan & Sara, Chantal Kreviazuk, Wilson Phillips (!!), Katie Herzig. Track 1 (“Fighter”) is special to my wife and I.

Brandon Flowers – Much to my personal chagrin, The Killers’ frontman has only two solo albums. Flowers’s voice and range are legendary (I personally am jealous), and his wisdom and insights are increasingly wise. Start with the song “Crossfire,” then find the music video online to be further amazed.

Books

Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton — I cannot possibly imagine a better opening paragraph in all of literature than this one.

Hardtack and Coffee: The Unwritten Story of Army Life by John D. Billings – So this book is not exactly new (it was published in 1887), but I am still a sucker for A) history books, and B) the American Civil War history books. I find it remarkable.

The Man Who Never Was by Ewen Montagu – In addition to Eric being a sucker for history books, he is also an A) admitted Anglophile, and a sucker for B) espionage and covert trickery during war time. This is the true story of British genius, of very good luck, and success at deceiving the enemy.

Movies

I’ve seen one movie in a theater this year: The Rise of Skywalker. I could care less about plot holes or all those fancy, critical things that make people decry a film. This movie series, for me and so many others, was our childhood. If I get an opportunity to go sit in a theater in a comfy chair and be transported back in time (to my childhood) and be entertained for a couple of hours, I could care less about logic or reason or storylines that don’t add up. I want to escape for those two hours. All errors or misjudgments are forgivable. As far as I’m concerned, Jar Jar Binks is George Lucas’s only unpardonable sin in the entire SW epoch. Mee’sah gonna go see da Rey and friendsihoop all ova’h d’again.

Jonathan Rogers

Books

2019 for me was the year of Thomas Aquinas by way of Josef Pieper (and it’s looking like 2020 will be as well). I find Aquinas exceedingly difficult to read, but Pieper, a 20th-century philosopher and Aquinas scholar, is a great guide. Western culture is reaping the whirlwind of the very strange belief that we all make our own reality. Aquinas (and Pieper) are very strong on the idea that reality is something we receive, not something we make. But whereas that kind of conservative-sounding language has often been used to maintain the status quo and keep the powerful in power, Pieper reminds us that an appeal to reality by definition looks beyond the status quo: conforming to ultimate reality rarely means conforming to current power structures. Here’s a characteristic quotation: “Whoever looks only at himself and therefore does not permit the truth of real things to have its way can be neither just nor brave nor temperate—but above all he cannot be just. For the foremost requirement for the realization of justice is that man turn his eyes away from himself.” My favorite books by Josef Pieper:

Only the Lover Sings (this one, about art, is a good one to start with)
Leisure: The Basis of Culture
The Silence of St. Thomas
The Four Cardinal Virtues
Faith, Hope, and Love

I also just finished One Long River of Song, a collection of essays by Brian Doyle. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Doyle died of cancer in 2017. This short passage from the last essay in the book, Doyle’s “Last Prayer,” is an excellent summary of what you can expect from these beautiful, insightful essays:

I could complain a little here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave me, a mere muddle of a man, so often selfish and small. But no man was evermore grateful for Your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headd back home ot the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago.

Also high on my list for 2019: Fleming Rutledge’s Advent. She’s pretty great. And I read through Kathleen Norris’s Acedia and Me again this year, and it had a big impact on me again.

Movies

Others have praised A Hidden Life, and I agree. The biggest and most pleasant surprise for me was Knives Out. I went only because I trusted the judgment of my friends who loved it. It didn’t seem like the kind of movie I usually go for, and I found the trailer uninspiring. But that movie made me so happy. It felt very Chestertonian. My next-biggest and next-most-pleasant surprise was Peanut Butter Falcon. It had all my favorite movie things: a road trip, people pursuing unreasonable aspirations, swamps, wrestlers, romance, and unexpected friendship.

Ron Block

Books

A Seaboard Parish by George MacDonald. This was sometimes slow reading for me because I kept interrupting it for other things, like Andrew’s Adorning the Dark, which I’m halfway through and love. I finally finished Seaboard and started MacDonald’s David Elginbrod, and I love that one, too. George MacDonald’s writing produces a deeper understanding in my heart of the love and purposes of God, so I’ve been reading him a lot this year.

Benedictus: A Book of Blessings by John O’Donohue. Devotional reading that blesses. I’ve given this book to several people as gifts.

Love Conquers All by Robert Benchley. Benchley was a 20th century humor writer who is truly funny. I tend to read a few chapters at a time and leave off.

Film/TV

I love The Mandalorian.

Peter Jackson’s WWI documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old.

I loved three more documentaries:
The Loser, which was moving due to father issues and the boxer’s wide-open honesty.
The Imagineering Story about Walt Disney and his creations. Inspiring. Haven’t seen all the episodes but it’s well done so far.
Long Shot, about a man, Jim Catalan, who was wrongly accused of murder. Gripping and moving. 

Music

I often return again and again to older recordings. Paul Brady’s The Liberty Tapes is one of the best recorded examples of Irish simplicity, emotive power, and sophistication.

Kate Rusby’s Philosophers, Poets, and Kings. Kate’s music is always a joy and full of soul.

I’m also currently digging into The Painted Desert by Andrew Osenga, and Jess Ray’s Parallels and Meridians (both in my car), loving them both.

Plus my usual musical studies: Merle Haggard, Flatt & Scruggs, Clarence White, and lots of other older American music.

Thomas McKenzie

Books

The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter – Robert Alter is the greatest living translator of the Hebrew Language. This is his life’s work. If you read the Old Testament at all, spend the next few years with Alter. Your understanding and emotional connection with the Hebrew people will grow and deepen.

The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg – Avivah Zornberg reflects on the Exodus Mishnah. She will blow your mind wide open. I cannot begin to tell you how enlightening and exhilarating it is to re-read this familiar story through the eyes of the rabbis.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby – An important book, and especially at this moment in American history. Jemar is a faithful Christian who confronts our sin in an uncompromising and incredibly helpful way. Read it.

Music

High as Hope by Florence and the Machine – Florence needs to give St. Augustine co-write credits on this one.

Damn by Kendrick Lamar – I’m a couple of years late to the Kendrick party. But, damn y’all, this is fantastic.

Led Zeppelin III (Deluxe Edition) by Led Zeppelin – I have been listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin, and this is my favorite this year. If “When the Levee Breaks” was on this album, it would have been perfect.

Movies

The Irishman – The best mob film since The Godfather II, and better than Goodfellas. Yes, I said it.

Parasite – Lucid, funny, unexpected. If you haven’t seen it, your 2019 is not complete.

Little Women – Proof positive that Greta Gerwig is a real director who says Important Things in entertaining ways.

Queen and Slim – Not perfect at all, but a narrative that had me shook for days.

TV

When They See Us (Netflix) – The retelling of the tragedy of the Central Park Five. If there is any part of you that doesn’t believe America is a racist nation, just have a look. This series had me in tears during every single episode.

Chernobyl (HBO) – The most terrifying horror movie of the year. It’s hard to grasp the heights of heroism and the depths of stupidity on display. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Mandalorian (Disney+) – Finally, a TV Western. Oh, and it’s Star Wars. Oh, and BABY YODA!

Westworld (HBO) – Love it. Messes with my head, goes way too far, entertains, cheats, freaks me out, and makes me beg for HBO to take my money.

Helena Sorensen

Books

A Long Way from Chicago, A Year Down Yonder, and A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck – Hysterical children’s books about an unconventional grandmother. Peck’s writing is wonderful.

The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle – I loved Tickle’s take on the history of the church and the major upheavals that come every 500 years. An accessible book, easy to read and absorb, and so encouraging.

Circe by Madeline Miller – An immortal goddess with a believable character arc. Amazing.

Film/TV

No Country for Old Men – I saw it this year for the first time, at my husband’s urging, and we spent many hours discussing it afterwards.

The Crown, Season 3 – What I most appreciated about this season was the tenderness with which the writers approached each person’s story. You cannot see Charles’s disappointments or Princess Margaret’s rejection without feeling for them deeply, and I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be moved by the courage Prince Philip shows in “Moondust.” His closing monologue in that episode is a stunning example of authenticity. Gosh.

Unbelievable – Susannah Grant and Michael Chabon are two of the writers for this series, and they do an outstanding job of honoring the subject matter. Instead of maintaining a snappy pace, with investigators finding leads, interviewing suspects, and racing to a thrilling conclusion, the writers and director allow the little moments to spin out. There’s time, there’s silence, and no viewer who’s paying attention can maintain an emotional distance from the horror of sexual assault. All that without being visually graphic. Two thumbs up.

Music

I spent the most time this year with Taylor Leonhardt’s River House, Brandi Carlile’s By The Way, I Forgive You, and the soundtracks for On Chesil Beach (Dan Jones) and The Exception (Ilan Eshkeri).

Andy Gullahorn

Music

Travis Meadows – My introduction to him was “Sideways” which has all of the therapy-talk I like to hear in songs. But as I dug in deeper to his catalogue, there was so much to love. He writes songs about recovery like no one else.

Madison Cunningham – I am amazed at Madison’s talent and writing ability. My favorite is “Beauty Into Cliches.”

Books

Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer – “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”

Learning To Walk In The Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor – I love the concept of lunar spirituality where the light waxes and wanes and the moon never looks the same way twice. That feels more at home to me than the full solar spirituality where nothing is hidden and everything is certain. And I just love Barbara Brown Taylor.

Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler – Jill told me to read this one. I think it should be required reading for anyone before they talk to someone going through a hard time in their life. There are even very helpful, practical tips in the back about what to say and what not to say to people in the midst of suffering.

Talking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell – I think this book is speaking directly to this time when everything is so polarized. In a way it’s about understanding that our perspective isn’t the only one—which sounds like an easy thing to grasp but it really isn’t.

Film/ TV

Knives Out – Yep. Super fun. You already know.

Dead to Me – I wouldn’t say that I liked this as a whole—but there were a number of times that I was really pleasantly surprised at how well Christina Applegate depicted grief.

Adam Whipple

Music

Everyday Life by Coldplay – It’s already been said, but I’m saying it again. This is a stellar album by a band who cares about making good, important music, whether you think it’s hip or not.

The Gospel According to Water by Joe Henry – Joe Henry is an American treasure. His writing is as enigmatic as E. E. Cummings and his production is as calico as Thelonious Monk. He’s unafraid to undress the spiritual journey in public, revealing all its fears and victories and insecurities. The guy does for Spirit-haunted lyrics what Norman Rockwell did for skin wrinkles. I looked forward to this record coming out more than Star Wars IX.

Movies

Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker – I have reasonable closure. If you didn’t like The Last Jedi, etc. —whatever. Argue if you want, I guess. I had fun. I don’t have Disney+ or Netflix, so I make do. I did watch a lot of YouTube clips from Chernobyl, which I thought were excellent and important.

The Lighthouse – I’ve never read any Lovecraft, but according to the stereotypes, this film felt Lovecraftian. It’s a potential commentary on so many things, so I won’t begin to try and explicate its meta-narratives here. I tend to like good black and white photography for the contrast, and regardless of the material, this film looked beautiful. Also, it’s about two guys staying in a lighthouse with no wi-fi or phones. Yeah, I get that one or both of them went insane, but if I was single and not a parent, I’d probably go do that job in a heartbeat. I’m sure that makes me some Enneagram number that I don’t know. Oh, and it’s not a date film, unless you’re Sheldon Cooper.

Joker – If Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds asked what it means for an audience to enjoy violence, Joker asked (among other things) what it means for bystanders to defer blame in light of mental illness. This feels like an important question as we, by dint of ever-bloating jargon, further distance ourselves from the consequences of our thoughts, words, and actions. I didn’t see many new films overall, but this one feels like an Oscar contender. After this film and You Were Never Really Here, Joaquin Phoenix may need a hug.

Books

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman – I know this is probably old hat here, but I finally read it this year after reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane last year (also a great novel). I like that Gaiman does world-building in an unexpected way, creating a kind of dinnseanchas under modern London. Instead of expanding sideways, he burrows downward. The Messrs Croup and Vandemar are the best henchmen I’ve ever read. The Marquis, for my money, is Syndey Carton from A Tale of Two Cities, and I love him for it.

Ethics by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – I’ve barely dented this, but I wanted to include it here. It felt important, in our times, to read the moral writings of a believer who served the Lord while under a murderous, power-grubbing regime. Continuing as I can.

Hetty White

Books

No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin – The more I read Ursula’s non-fiction, the more she reminds me of Madeleine Le’ Engle. I don’t know if they ever met each other, but I’m sure they would have been fast friends.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk – A fascinating look at trauma and how our bodies hold onto memories.

Film/TV

Ingmar Bergman films – I discovered Bergman this year, and I think I’m better for it.

Marriage Story – I’ll admit it: I’m on an Adam Driver kick. This story is beautiful and funny and thoughtful. Speaking of Adam Driver…

The Rise of Skywalker – I don’t think it was great filmmaking, I just really enjoyed it. And my mom, who remembers standing in line for the opening of A New Hope in ’77, went with me, carrying her portable oxygen tank with her (it kind of sounded like Darth Vader).

Podcasts

Scriptnotes – Two working screenwriters discuss writing and all things interesting to screenwriters or wannabes.

Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend – Conan goes in depth with the celebrities he’s interviewed over the years but hasn’t really gotten to know. SO funny, and sometimes very poignant. The one with Colbert was especially fascinating and deep.

Chris Slaten (Son of Laughter)

Music

Album: Father of The Bride by Vampire Weekend is the perfect summer album, while still being filled with misty-eyed one liners. Gloria Duplex by Henry Jamison might be the winner lyrically for me, but we didn’t wear out any other album this year like Father of The Bride.

Artist: We saw Josh Ritter at the Ryman, and while he did release an album in 2019, this fall we have been soaking in his entire catalogue since the show. There are few living storytelling songwriters as strong as Ritter that also have such a strong sense for production and performance. I could finally understand after the show why some of our friends (Looking at you, Hetty!) have seen his shows eight or nine times.

Score: I think The Mandalorian end title theme is the best Star Wars theme to come out in decades. While John Williams clearly hasn’t lost his touch, Ludwig Goranson has brought such a distinct musical voice into this universe that I want to hear more from him.

Film/TV

Yesterday, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, and The Rise of Skywalker all served the purpose of reminding me of the value and joy of the kinds of massive cultural artistic experiences that I often don’t take so seriously. Sidenote: The Imagineering Story TV series and the Dolly Parton’s America podcast did the same.

Also, I’ve still been trying to track with the new wave of brainy horror films this year. While Us and Dr. Sleep were not perfect, they left us with so much to talk about in the weeks that followed.

Books

Theology of The Ordinary by Julie Canlis – While so many of the films I mentioned above romanticize fame and measure success by numbers, Julie Canlis’s little book offers such a beautiful antidote to this common conception of the American dream, both by deconstructing it and by unpacking how the work of Christ has dramatic implications for a much smaller existence.

Educated by Tara Westover – This is a perfect book to read with a high school senior, and I did so with about sixty of them. Westover shares her story in a way that is both visceral and accessible, encouraging her readers to pursue truth even when it is costly and painfully elusive.

Impossible Owls by Brian Phillips – Phillips seems to have the same kind of endless curiosity as David Foster Wallace, but without as much despair. This collection explores sumo wrestlers, Russian animators, AREA 51, the Iditarod, and more with a kind of giddy wonder and wit.

The Gospel of Luke and The Acts of The Apostles – I had never read these two as a singular series until this year. Studying them in tandem brings out so many fascinating and strange parallels.


34 Comments

  1. Laure Hittle

    @mrs-hittle

    This is my favorite post of the year, and i left last year’s bullet journal at home! Ah vell. i shall regale you with my lists later. For now you must content yourselves with the following comments/squeals/retorts:

    Literally everyone i know who’s seen The Lighthouse says it’s not a date movie. Wut. What do you people do on dates?

    Father Thomas, i love you for recommending Alter. i have adored him since encountering his work in a Hebrew narrative independent study a few years back. My husband (see his greatness above) got me his Hebrew Bible for Christmas and i am SO excited.

    Jeremy, read Williams’ Descent Into Hell (i know, it’s a heck of a title) and come find me at Hutchmoot next year.

    We are finally seeing A Hidden Life tonight and driving an hour to do it.

    Pete, i accept your challenge.

  2. Shigé Clark

    @s-clark

    Also, there’s so much cheating going on here! XD We were supposed to pick only 3 in each category. Elsewise, I obviously would have included others. So I’m gonna cheat slightly by jumping on here and listing works I wanted to include but left off because I’m not a dirty, rotten cheater. :p

    Audio: The Habit Podcast with the world’s best interviewer, Jonathan Rogers. Ella Mine’s Dream War (blew me away), Sleeping At Last’s Enneagram series, Andy Gullahorn’s “Light a Candle” and “Small Things,” Dolly Parton’s America podcast (who ever would have thought? certainly not me), and Jess Ray’s “Gallows” and “Too Good.”

    Visual: I FORGOT ABOUT Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse! Oh man, did I love that movie, and listened to the soundtrack on repeat for weeks. Also, there didn’t seem to be a place for this, but I got into several painters this year, and I’d like to call attention to Jamin Still’s The Guardian, Eric Peters’ Northern Lights Over Antarctica, and Kyra Hinton’s Enneagram Four, which all especially moved me.

    Written: Helena’s upcoming book (I didn’t know this was allowed!) is PHENOMENAL. I can’t wait for everyone to experience it. My goal this year was to get through the RR Press books (which I have not yet accomplished), and there were too many wonderful RR Press books this year to list them all, but man did the scene in Wingfeather Saga with Janner next to the Fane of Fire wreck me, along with Maraly and Gammon’s arc. Also, Doug McKelvey and Jonathan Richter’s Subjects With Objects is an unheralded treasure, and Doug’s “10 Lord of the Rings Characters Who Named Their Left Hands” from Molehill III had me in tears from laughing so hard. Someone literally had to take over for me at checkout so that I could recover.

    There are others – a year is a long time to remember, and I didn’t realize we’d be doing this, or I would have kept notes. But that’s at least a few that deserve to be recognized!

  3. Laure Hittle

    @mrs-hittle

    @s-clark, WE MUST HAVE ADVENTURES. Also, i did know we were doing this and i still did not keep notes. XD But i am making pages in my bullet journal for movies and such this year. (If you ask me “What movies did you watch last year?” i will not know. If you ask me, “Did you see any movies last week?” i will STILL NOT KNOW. WHAT IS TODAY?!)

    Where i get caught up on rules is if i start a book one year and finish it the next.

  4. Jen Rose Yokel

    @jroseyokel

    @s-clark the great secret of this whole thing… everybody cheats. And nobody tells us to stop, so we keep cheating. 😂
    Here’s a Stuff We Liked pro tip for you (and @mrs-hittle), the only reason I can successfully remember stuff is by logging books on Goodreads, music on Spotify (via a listening year playlist), and movies on Letterboxd. It helps. And I still forget stuff, like the fact that I failed to log my movie watching for the middle of the year and completely forgot about The Peanut Butter Falcon! (even though it was delightful)

  5. Ken A. Priebe

    @kenpriebe

    MUSIC
    THANK YOU SCIENTIST – Terraformer
    LUXURY – Trophies
    ELBOW – Giants of All Sizes
    JOSEPH MANCUSO – All a Game
    HEXVESSEL – All Tree
    OVER THE RHINE – Love and Revelation
    LEPROUS – Pitfalls
    AURORA – A Different Kind of Human
    THE ARCADIAN WILD – Finch in the Pantry
    RHIANNON GIDDENS – There is no other
    LANKUM – The Livelong Day
    THE LOST WORDS: SPELL SONGS

    BOOKS
    Adorning the Dark
    Hilda and the Mountain King
    Just Because
    The Girl, The Cat, and the Navigator (or ‘Girl Who Sailed the Stars’)
    King of the Sky
    Cicada

    MOVIES/TV
    The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
    The Kid Who Would be King
    Penguin Highway
    I Lost My Body
    Klaus
    The Lighthouse
    At Eternity’s Gate

  6. Jen Rose Yokel

    @jroseyokel

    @s-clark That’s the Great Secret… everybody cheats on this post. We’re a bunch of terrible rule-followers. Now you know. XD
    @mrs-hittle The ONLY way I remember everything is by logging my books on Goodreads, my music on Spotify (in playlist form), and my movies on Letterboxd. Otherwise, I would never remember anything. Case in Point: I’m new to using Letterboxd, so I missed a few months and completely forgot about The Peanut Butter Falcon until a few people here mentioned it! What a delightful film. Good thing this crew has excellent taste to help me remember things.

    PS: Eric’s Star Wars rant made me laugh SO much today. So grumpy and perfect. Thank you, Eric.

  7. Jen Rose Yokel

    @jroseyokel

    I think the website ate my comments twice… ugh. Anyway!

    Shigé: That’s the great secret… we all cheat. XD Horrible rule-followers, we are.
    Laure: I started using Letterboxd because I couldn’t remember movies at the end of the year either! Turns out I still forget to log them sometimes… so I totally forgot about The Peanut Butter Falcon! So delightful.
    Eric’s Star Wars rant is so grumpy and perfect and my favorite part of this excellent post. 🙂

  8. Reagan Dregge

    @rdregge

    BOOKS
    Crime and Punishment contained some of the most powerful scenes I read this year.
    The Hiding Place was an awe-inspiring true story.
    Placemaker is the book I want to write my very own version of someday.
    Home and Lila were incredibly moving sequels to Gilead, which I read in 2018, and now I need to go back and reread the trilogy all over again.
    MUSIC
    Drew Miller’s “Into the Darkness” was my highlight this year, but Scott Mulvahill and Sleeping At Last were on repeat a lot too.
    POETRY
    Andrew Roycroft’s recitations at UK Hutchmoot pierced my soul. Patience is not my strong suit, but doing my best to await this poetry’s publication.
    GAMES
    Dead Last, Patchwork, and halfway through Pandemic Legacy S2.
    MOVIES & TV
    Ladybird
    Detectorists (The finale!)
    Rise of Skywalker
    Honorable Mention: The adorable kids in that final scene of HTTYD3. Agents of Shield Season 6 Episode 6. Tolkien. Nebraska.

  9. Laura Peterson

    @laura

    I read this entire thing with a smile on my face—I love hearing people talk about things they love. So much! It’s hard to type this with just ordinary punctuation and no capital letters!
    ome favorites for me this year:
    TV/Movies
    UNBELIEVABLE. Absolutely wonderful performances from Toni Collette and Merritt Wever (love her, and the ordinariness she brought to a person of faith doing their job and letting their faith inform that job).
    LITTLE WOMEN. I saw this twice in theaters and am considering a third. If we only got one story in life (you know, besides the Bible), this is the one I would pick. All the Oscars to everyone involved.
    DERRY GIRLS. A crew of high school girls growing up in Derry in the 1990s. *Lots* of profanity, “your mileage may vary,” all the standard disclaimers – but it made me laugh out loud more than anything else this year. Find it on Netflix.
    Books
    MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU by Barbara Dee. A middle-grade novel that I think every 5th grader in the country and their parents should read. A super-important conversation about teasing, bullying, harassment, consent, and what is ok and not ok, written in a way that’s very accessible and not super-scary.
    Jonathan Rogers’ WILDERKING trilogy. I listened to these on audiobook and recommend that highly! I thought I knew what was coming with these, but reader—I did not. Surprised and teary (and surprised-teary) at multiple points.
    PAY ATTENTION, CARTER JONES by Gary D. Schmidt. A butler, cricket, a funny dog, deep family issues, and a middle school boy. Formula for success from one of my favorite middle grade authors.
    THE WAR I FINALLY WON by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. The second in a two-part series about a young girl and her brother in early WWII-era England. Impossible to read without massive amounts of empathy for this kid and her struggles, and rooting for her to open her heart and be loved. I reviewed it for Story Warren here: https://storywarren.com/the-war-that-saved-my-life-by-kimberly-brubaker-bradley/
    NO ONE TELLS YOU THIS by Glynnis MacNicol. A memoir about losing a mother, turning 40, remaining unmarried. I absolutely loved some passages, and also literally threw this book across the room at one point. A mixed bag, but one that stuck with me such that I read it 11 months ago and am still including it here.
    Other Stuff
    THE GOOD PLACE: THE PODCAST. Hosted by Marc Evan Jackson (he plays Shawn), this is a must-listen for fans of The Good Place. Excellent interviews and funny show insights, and very heartfelt. A favorite pop-culture critic (Linda Holmes) tweeted – “Look, if the only thing you heard in the Good Place podcast was the mustard Marc Evan Jackson puts on the word ‘Shawn,’ I would still tell you to listen to it.”
    I’m sure there are other things I enjoyed this year, but this is what comes to mind. Hooray for good things we loved!

  10. Jesse Hayden

    @jesse-hayden

    Gonna go see “A Hidden Life” this Friday with a friend. Thank you all for the recommendation! I totally would’ve missed it otherwise.

  11. Aimee Guest

    Hetty, during your Adam Driver kick have you watched Logan Lucky? So fun to see his versatility. I watched LL last night and Marriage Story tonight.

  12. Matthew Shedd

    Favorite post to read each year. I have a new list of music, books, and movies to check out!
    My favorites:
    Books:
    -Salvation By Allegiance Alone by Matthew Bates. This is a biblical theology book that put my convictions into clear words for the first time.
    -The Bark of the Bog Owl–Wow I loved this. So much fun, and so moving!
    -The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. I read the entire Chronicles with my 7 year old this year, and this one moved me in a profound way this time round. I rarely finished a chapter without tears.
    -A Christmas Carol–I love Dickens, but this is the first time that I have read this classic. Highly recommend reading the original.
    TV/Movies
    -Little Women–Just delightful.
    -Abominable–I don’t know why, but I loved this animated story.
    -The Man Who Invented Christmas–Starts slow, but becomes wonderful
    Music
    -Nicola Benedetti’s Homecoming: A Scottish Fantasy
    -Alice Sara Ott’s Wonderland
    -Andrew Peterson’s The Burning Edge of Dawn has become my most listened to album two years running now.
    -Joy Williams’ Front Porch
    -The Beach Boys Smiley Smile.
    -The Arcadian Wild
    -Caroline Cobb’s Tell That Story
    -Jenny & Tyler’s There Will Be A Song
    Sister Sinjin’s Daughter’s of Jerusalem

  13. Laure Hittle

    @mrs-hittle

    Okay, here’s my list:

    BOOKS
    The Brothers Karamazov. This is the first time in my life i’ve ever finished a book and then immediately started reading over from the beginning.
    Among Others by Jo Walton. Somebody needs to talk to me about this book. And somebody who’s read more Walton than me needs to tell me which book to read next.
    The Southern Reach Trilogy. Amazon and Facebook conspired to suggest these books to me, and you know, invasive ads are not always wrong. This is the series the film Annihilaton is based on—i didn’t even know there was a book—and it is phenomenal. It’s subtly frightening, beautiful, mysterious. i couldn’t tell whether to follow it up with Lovecraft or Eliot. i loved it.
    —Honorable Mentions: Adorning the Dark (even better the second time, and i can’t wait to listen to it). Flame of the West, brilliant and terrible. And—A.S. Peterson’s <The Stonemason's House. Partly because i am so proud of it. But also because of all the layers and subtleties and meaning it revealed to me during all the time we spent together.

    FILM/TV
    We Have Always Lived in the Castle. i need to read me some Shirley Jackson.
    Ad Astra. What Andrew said, but also, this one was personal for me.
    —Honorable mentions (because i can’t figure out how to narrow down a bunch of these): Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. i agree 100% with Pete and John both. Harriet—now THAT is a faith-based movie. Jojo Rabbit. i want Taika Waititi to come to Hutchmoot. This wasn’t my favorite of his, but it was so unexpectedly joyous. The Lighthouse—YES, WE WENT FOR DATE NIGHT. XD (i loved The Witch. It was terrifying and heartbreaking, but mostly it left me fired up to go create something brilliant. This one was effective in what it was trying to do, which is different from saying i loved it. But it was very well crafted and an Experience, and left me quite willing to go see Eggers’ next film.)

    MUSIC
    i am bad about listening to new music. Somebody probably needs to take me in hand. i spent the whole year listening to Jess Ray again, and got two of her CDs for Christmas (so i can feel less bad about spinning her on YouTube constantly). Other than that: Ella’s Dream War. It completely, utterly flattened us. i have never heard anything that powerful. i loved it so much. And this is the year i discovered Johnny Cash (thank you, Eric Schumacher).

    GAMES (because this must be a category now)
    i did not keep track of all the billions of games we played this year. But we played a goodly amount of Marvel Champions and Spirit Island, and i played Power Grid for the first time (that game is remarkably well-balanced at the design level), and we taught our nine-year-old niece (who is now THREE INCHES TALLER THAN ME) to play Forbidden Desert. So it was a pretty good year. 🙂

  14. Holly Koster

    @hkoster

    Ok, my dear Laure, you have convinced me to come in and play a little!
    Favorite books for the year: My reading tends to consist of books that we’re doing for book discussion at work and reading with my 9 year old, who is obsessed with those awful mass market princess and fairy books. So there’s nothing too impressive here! My top two, though…
    * News of the World by Paulette Jiles – at first I was a little worried that it was going to be boring, but it turned into a nice, gentle story about life in Texas after the Civil War. There was enough action to keep it moving and overall our group felt inspired to learn more about the history.
    * The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck – after possibly too many books about life in France during World War II, this one focused on three women in Nazi Germany both during and after the war. It was an interesting change for us!

  15. Matthew Cyr

    @matthewcyr

    You people are killing me with your ravings about Helena’s new book. Hurry up and put that thing in my hands, or stop teasing me!
    Aside from that, this post is a diamond mine, I’m so glad y’all do this.
    @barberjo I still haven’t seen the Lighthouse. Take ME on a date.
    How was I not even aware Knives Out existed till now?
    Glad that The Peanut Butter Falcon got some mentions. I didn’t get so much watching in this year but really liked that one. I also saw Temple Grandin for the first time early in the year and was impressed and fascinated by it.
    I won’t ramble about great books that everyone probably already knows about, but I will say to anyone who’s maybe read Chesterton’s Father Brown stories but none of his other fiction, try The Ball and the Cross, and The Napoleon of Notting Hill. And I don’t find much YA fantasy that can hold my attention these days, but I discovered the Monster Blood Tattoo trilogy a while back and found it top-tier.

  16. Shigé Clark

    @s-clark

    I just have to stop in and say how much I adore @jonnyjimison and his submissions. I saw his additions on here and told Drew, “Of COURSE Jonny included comic strips.” What a guy, I’m so glad to know him.

  17. Terry Kreutzkamp

    @tkreutzkamp

    Read 100 books this year (don’t panic, I’m a retired teacher) and the top 3 were The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer, Paul by N.T. Wright and Finding Meaning:The Sixth Stage of Grief by David Kessler (who worked with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross). Andy Gullahorn that last one’s for you!

  18. The Terrethian

    I haven’t always loved Russian Romantic composers, but this year I was hooked on Rachmaninoff, especially Rach 2. Rachmaninoff has such simple, beautiful, and lonesome (perhaps?) melodies bridged by really intense, dramatic passages that sound impossible to play. (Warning: Rachmaninoff just doesn’t write 3 minute songs.) While on the theme of classical music, I started reading Aaron Copland’s book “What to listen for in Music” this year, and while I haven’t finished it yet, it’s helped me think so much deeper about everything that goes into music and composing (especially of the orchestral type). Also, as someone who does a lot of interviewing, Jonathan Rogers’ podcast, The Habit, was excellent, as well as his weekly newsletter which I think every writer should sign up for. Tuesday morning is exactly when I need a refreshing dose of Jonathan Roger’s witty, encouraging, and challenging advice. (I also love how I can never guess from the title what the newsletter is going to be about.) Finally, the Fin’s Revolution podcast is the best. I can’t wait to go listen to the newest episode. As soon as I finished reading the series for the first time, I knew the Fiddler’s Gun and Fiddler’s Green were my favorite books, and now I have an excuse to go through the series again, this time with the author’s own narration and some haunting, dramatic fiddle music.

  19. Maya Joelle

    @mayajt

    BOOKS: Adorning the Dark, Walking on Water, Children of the Mind, My Name is Asher Lev, A Time to Die, The Story Peddler, The Fantastic Beasts of Eld, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Six, Choosing Love, A Poet’s Dictionary (by Havilah Gael — this one I highly recommend and think a lot of Rabbit Room readers would enjoy)
    MOVIES/TV: Little Women, The Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian, Pride and Prejudice (BBC)
    MUSIC: Jess Ray (especially “Gallows,” “Too Good,” “Runaway,” and “Did Not Our Hearts Burn”), Namo (can’t wait for the album!), Peter Hollens, BYU Vocal Point, Audrey Assad (especially “Death, Be Not Proud,” “Even Unto Death,” and “Ubi Caritas”)

  20. Jesse Hayden

    @jesse-hayden

    This is my favorite post of the year as well! Here are my favorites:
    Books:
    – The Harry Potter Series: 2019 was the year when my family and I finally got around to checking out Harry Potter (we’re a bit late to the party). What a story! The Deathly Hallows in particular filled me with fresh wonder and gratitude for the old, old story of the gospel. It’s clear that Rowling loved this story and tried to reflect some of its light in her own tale. I’m so glad that she did!
    – Wingfeather Saga: God used these books to get me excited about writing stories again, which I’m so thankful for. They’re exactly the kind of book I always dreamed of writing when I was a kid. My siblings and I read the first book together, and it was such a joy to watch them encounter it for the first time.
    – “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan – My friend gave this to me and it shook me up. The book is an invitation to join a refugee in making sense of a foreign, fantastical world filled with strange creatures, places, signs, and symbols. The way that the author explores cross-cultural dynamics through fantasy is brilliant, and made me wonder, “How come I’ve never seen this kind of story before?” Everyone needs to read this.
    Movies:
    – A Hidden Life – I don’t know how to put this one into words, except that I’ve never been so blown away or moved to worship by a film before. This is one that I’m gonna be processing for a while.
    – Beautiful Boy – This is a recent movie that no one seems to know about, but that everyone needs to see. A brave, heartbreaking, and redemptive account of a young man’s recovery from drug addiction and of the father who refused to give up on him. It’s one of the most beautiful pictures of God the Father’s pursuing love that I’ve ever recounted.
    – Klaus – I’m not usually a fan of Christmas movies, but this one surprised me with its beautiful animation, humor, and heart. It also got me thinking about evangelism and the kingdom of God in unexpected ways. I wrote a blog post about it here:https://jeshuahayden.blogspot.com/2019/12/breaking-and-entering-santa-claus-and.html
    Music:
    – “The Ill-Tempered Klavier” by Ben Shive – This was my favorite musical discovery of the past year. So many thoughtful, encouraging, and challenging lyrics, and the tunes fit them so well! This record helped me process a difficult season of change and goodbyes as the year drew to a close.
    – “Behold the Lamb of God” by Andrew Peterson – Pointed me back to the Scriptures around Advent time, which was great. “The Holly and the Ivy” is a personal favorite track – no other music fills me with joy like a Celtic jig!
    – “The Joshua Tree” by U2 – I’d heard this one before, but 2019 was the year when I finally started chewing over the songs and exploring the stories behind them. There’s so much to discover! The opening build-up of “Where the Streets Have No Name” is one of my favorite musical things ever.

  21. Christine Sakwitz

    @chrissakwitz

    Looks like I need to add a few more books to the multiple stacks sitting around my house waiting to be read (or re-read). So many books, so little time! Thanks, everyone, for the great suggestions.

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