Dec 11, 2012

My most memorable reads of 2012

Here is a list of the books that come to mind as I think back on the reading I did this past year. Not all of these books were published in 2012, so this isn’t a conventional year-end “best of” list. All the usual caveats apply — not the least of which is that this list would probably look totally different if I put it together a week from now.

In short, it was a fantastic year in books for me. Some of my reading experiences I’ve already written about: Marilynne Robinson’s latest essay collection impressed me in all the usual ways her writing does, my friend Justin Lee’s book on “rescuing the gospel from the gays-vs.-Christians debate” moved and provoked me, and Ben Myers’ recent book on Rowan Williams was, I thought, beautifully written and just the sort of introduction we need to one of the most important theologians at work today. And I got to write a blurb for my great friend Margie Haack’s new memoir, The Exact Place, which you all should read.

Here are other memorable reads:

10. The Garbage Eater by Brett Foster and The Poems of Rowan Williams. I read more poetry this year than I normally do (thanks in part to a new subscription to the amazing Poetry magazine), but these two collections stood out for their unfeigned, effortless exploration of matters of faith. No heavy-handedness here, even in the most prayerful poems.

9. Julian of Norwich, Theologian by Denys Turner. I found this book’s treatment of Julian’s theodicy utterly fascinating. Also, the way this book treats a historical figure as the occasion for developing a constructive theology of its own strikes me as a very fruitful approach that could be repeated with many other historical theologians.

8. The Quest for the Trinity: The Doctrine of God in Scripture, History, and Modernity by Stephen Holmes. This book excels not only as a narrative of the history of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity but also as a critique of some modern revisions of that doctrine. The conclusion is priceless.

7. God’s Long Summer: Stories of Faith and Civil Rights by Charles Marsh. This book is a series of snapshots of the civil rights movement in Mississippi in the summer of 1964. The chapter on Fannie Lou Hamer was the most powerful for me, but each of the chapters illuminate one another. Together the stories paint a picture faith and love in the face of extraordinary cruelty and hatred.

6. Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel. This graphic sequel to Bechdel’s Fun Home is somewhere between a memoir and an extended essay, a book whose point, as one critic has put it, is “the lack of narrative, the impossibility of narrating family history.” It’s powerful and troubling and insightful.

5. Telegraph Avenue: A Novel by Michael Chabon. I read quite a bit of Chabon this year, and although this perhaps isn’t the best of what I read, it’s the one that’s stuck with me. The cast of characters — two record store owners and their families — are as vivid and relatable as any Chabon has created, in my humble opinion. When I closed the book, I was sad it was over.

4. The Invention of Love by Tom Stoppard and At Swim, Two Boys: A Novel by Jamie O’Neill. These two books — one a play about the life of A. E. Housman, the other a novel about two adolescents living through the Irish uprising of 1916 — were both memorable for the way they portrayed their homosexual protagonists’ wrestling with the meaning of friendship. I’m working on a book about friendship at the moment, and both of these stories will turn out, I think, to be very important for my project. (I read Stoppard’s play for the first time several years ago, but only as I reread it twice this year did it really come alive for me. And I still want to see it performed on stage someday.)

3. Mariette in Ecstasy: A Novel by Ron Hansen. This book records a few months in the life of a young nun in New York in the early twentieth century who receives the stigmata. But what makes the novel so devastating is what Patricia Hampl notes — that “the majesty of the ordinary” becomes Mariette’s cruciform vocation.

2. Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner and Ordinary Time: Cycles in Marriage, Faith, and Renewal by Nancy Mairs. These two books are very different, linked only by their shared interest in marriage as the occasion for thinking about their authors’ respective Christian lives. Winner’s book discloses her divorce and doubt, and Mairs’ book tells the story of her decision to stay married in the aftermath of her husband’s affair. Both books are honest and beautifully written.

1. Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense by Francis Spufford. This is the book that probably stands out most when I think back over the reading I did in 2012. There are plenty of things that I didn’t like about this book (its theology is considerably more liberal than mine), but when I finished the “Yeshua” chapter (an excerpt is here), I felt like someone who’s just heard the story of the Gospels, having never heard it before. I was reconverted.
My name is Wesley Hill. I am an assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

This is my commonplace book and sometime-journal.

I blog at

My book is here: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.

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