our favorite books and music of 2016

Every year I like to share a few of my favorite books and albums (here's last year's list). This year the whole family wants to play along! 

Owen (age 5 1/2)
Owen can read - he likes BOB books and National Geographic early readers. But his favorite books of the year include books we read together and an...encyclopedia of sorts.

1- I'm A Frog (a Piggie and Elephant Book) by Mo Willems
The Piggie and Elephant books are perfect for preschoolers and early readers, but I think they're also some of my favorite books to read aloud, because they are hilarious.

2-Pokémon Deluxe Essential Handbook: The Need-to-Know Stats and Facts on Over 700 Pokémon

3- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
We read the new illustrated version, which was a big hit with both kids.

Owen's favorite albums of the year were the Beatles 1, and the Beatles Blue Album.

Rosie (age nearly-8)
After about thirty seconds, Rosie had her answer. "My favorite books are these three serieses," she said.

1- The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley

2- The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer

3- The Dork Diaries by Rachel Renee Russell

Her favorite albums this year have been the soundtrack to Hamilton and Red by Taylor Swift.

Jack's favorite books of the year reflect his research interests, as he's spent most of his reading time with PhD work. (Sorry about this adorable/hilarious picture. It helps balance the ridiculous titles you're about to read.)

1. Translingual practice: Global Englishes and Cosmopolitan Relations by Suresh Canagarajah

2. Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning by Karen Barad

3. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington

His favorite albums of the year were David Bowie's Blackstar, Rihanna's Anti, and -- when our friend Julia got a job in music journalism this year, she told us that she felt like she needed to educate herself about music that was released before the year of her birth. What year were you born? we asked. And that is how Jack got started listening to basically every album that came out in 1994.

As for me, this summer I started an MFA program, and some of the best books I've read have been for that. Here's my top three works of non-fiction:

1. Citizen by Claudia Rankine
A genre-bending work, this book uses poetry, nonfiction, and modern art script. Rankine gives readers a glimpse of her life as a black woman in contemporary America, and the view she offers is powerful and moving. Her memory of the microagressions she’s swallowed rather than responded to - and the anger that’s built up - and the sense that ignoring microagressions (and other mistreatment) is what it means for her to be a good American citizen  — these are the themes she explores over the seven sections of the book.

2. Safekeeping by Abigail Thomas
I don’t know that I’ve ever read in memoir such a complex, nuanced portrait of human relationship and love as I’ve read in this book, which is composed of very short vignettes in non-chronological order, and is absolutely compelling.

3. Dakota by Kathleen Norris
This was a re-read, but it had been over a decade -- and I'm not sure I actually finished it the first time around. This memoir about life in the rural plains speaks presciently to our contemporary political moment. It's meticulously researched, metaphorically resonant, and spiritually rich.

And my top three works of fiction:

1.The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber (I wrote about it back in January)

2. The Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid mysteries by Deborah Crombie
They're not quite up to my Inspector Gamache standards, but while waiting for the next installment from Louise Penny, this did quite nicely.

3. The Confessions of X by Suzanne Wolfe
in this gripping, beautifully written historical novel, Suzanne Wolfe brings the ancient city of Carthage to life, immersing readers in the experiences that shaped the theology of Augustine of Hippo.

My favorite albums to listen to this year were the soundtrack to Hamilton, Rihanna's Anti, and Sandra McCracken's God's Highway.

If you're not signed up to get my newsletter, be sure to sign up today - tomorrow I'll be sending out the link to a giveaway for a couple of excellent 2016 books as well as a copy of our church's Advent journal, which includes my original essay "Song Dedications" and one of Jack's poems (or you can buy an ebook version here - all proceeds go to the work of the church). In that newsletter, I'll also share my Christmas playlist and a tiny bit of unpublished writing.

Merry Christmas, friends.


a few things in January {+book giveaway!}

Well, in January I went to Italy, and what else is there to say? Plenty, actually. Because I haven't told you about the books, movies, and music that accompanied me on the planes, trains, and buses.


My editor suggested that I read The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber - and boy does she get me! This weird story about a British missionary to aliens (like, the sci-fi kind) had as much relevance to faith and missions and cross-cultural communication and what it actually means to be human as anything I've read this year, and it was a page-turner, to boot.

I loved the descriptions of growing up in the South in Amber Haines's lovely Wild in the Hollow. At some points, her prose was so raw and vivid, full of unexpected yet concrete images of the physicality of the human experience, that I was reminded of Annie Dillard.

Also, I read the latest Veronica Mars novel.  I was in an airport for 10 hours.  It was perfect.


I watched three movies worth mentioning on the plane: 

The Intern - totally charming

The Martian - I thought the writing was a bit uneven (particularly the scenes on earth run toward cliche), but Matt Damon was pretty fantastic.

Paper Towns - I'm always up for some John Green, and I loved the way the ending of this movie dismantled the "manic pixie dream girl" thing 

I spent more than a few hours listening to the music that I listened to last time I was in Italy - stuff like Indigo Girls and Pete Yorn - but I also tried some new bands that Emilie recommended, The Staves and Daughter. Another new favorite is this little album by Joan Shelley.

And Also
When I couldn't sleep on the plane, I listened to The Gilmore Guys podcast, and the soothing sounds of conversation about my favorite tv show helped.

Rosie turned 7.  
We took the kids to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

Aleteia launched a new website called For Her in January.  I have several pieces there-
Tuning In To Taylor Swift - how I dealt with my six year old's TSwift obsession
The Joy of Being Alone (Without Your Phone) - the proven sociological value of solitude
Fall in Love with Fair Trade Fashion - I love these pieces, especially the Noonday earrings, which I got for Christmas
Resolve to Retreat - I did not write the deck copy on this piece, and kind of hate it, but this is a list of affordable retreat centers across the States

I might have book title news soon... when I do, I'll announce it first through my newsletter.  Sign up if you haven't!

And Finally, the Giveaway!
When I got back from Italy, I had a package waiting for me - two advance copies of Christie Purifoy's new book Roots and Sky. Since I had also preordered a copy, I want to share these two! I haven't finished the book yet (because: first week of the semester + jet lag), but I've valued Christie's words and her friendship for several years now.  She wrestles honestly with darkness and still finds hope. (See, for example, this post she wrote for my blog about the pain of infertility.) If you've been following her over the last few weeks, you know that this has been an especially dark time for her family.

If you'd like to read this book (and yes, you probably would - it's a lyrical, meditative reflection on home and hope), leave a comment on this post.  On February 10th, I'll close the comments and choose a winner at random. {Update: generated 14, and the 14th commenter was Hannah! You'll be receiving your copy soon.}

The second giveaway copy will be given away randomly to a newsletter subscriber, so if you haven't yet, sign up to receive my very occasional newsletter.

PS this post is linked up with Leigh!