OK folks, it must be time for a round-up of some highlights from the past year – mainly books, but also music, TV, films, and websites:
- Denys Turner, Julian of Norwich, Theologian (Yale University Press). An exciting theological reading of Julian of Norwich, collapsing the divide between mysticism and systematic theology.
- Lewis Ayres, Augustine and the Trinity (Cambridge University Press). A deep reading and thoroughgoing reevaluation of Augustine's De Trinitate.
- Ralph Wood, Chesterton: The Nightmare Goodness of God (Baylor University Press). An exploration of the darker side of Chesterton's religious imagination.
- Geoffrey Rees, The Romance of Innocent Sexuality (Cascade Books). A sort of meta-critique of the contemporary sexuality debates, and a retrieval of the good old Augustinian doctrine of original sin.
- Margaret Miles, Augustine and the Fundamentalist's Daughter (Cascade Books). One of my all-round favourites of the past year – a delightful autobiographical narrative that follows the structure of the 13 books of Augustine's Confessions. More than an autobiography, it's really an autobiographical commentary on the Confessions. I read this on the way home from San Francisco after AAR, and it reminded me why theology matters.
- Eberhard Busch, Meine Zeit mit Karl Barth: Tagebuch 1965-1968 (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht). Eberhard Busch's diaries from the last years of Barth's life are crammed full with insight and incident. An enormous contribution to Barth studies.
- Eugene Peterson The Pastor: A Memoir (HarperOne). I'm awarding this one preemptively, since I haven't actually read it yet. I've dipped into it, and it looks like a beautiful memoir – I hope to get to it soon.
- Erik Peterson, Theological Tractates, translated by Michael Hollerich (Stanford University Press). A very important contribution to English-language theology. This collection includes some of Peterson's most brilliant and influential essays.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theological Education Underground, 1937-1940, translated by Victoria Barnett (Fortress Press). Letters, journal entries, sermons, and lecture notes from Bonhoeffer's time in the Finkenwalde seminary. As the young folks say: epic.
- Sergius Bulgakov, Relics and Miracles: Two Theological Essays, translated by Boris Jakim (Eerdmans). This sounds like a quirky topic – but actually, this little book offers penetrating reflection on the doctrine of creation, the theology of the body, and a theology of transcendence and materiality. Definitely one of the most profound pieces of doctrinal writing that I read all year. Light-years ahead of most of the tosh that gets written about the doctrine of creation.
- Donald MacKinnon, Philosophy and the Burden of Theological Honesty: A Donald MacKinnon Reader, edited by John McDowell (T&T Clark). MacKinnon was a master of the short, punchy essay – the kind of thing you read in half an hour, and then spend the rest of your life thinking about. It's great to have more of his essays available in this form.
- Nicholas Wolterstorff, Hearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church, and World (Eerdmans). A fabulous, spirited collection of short pieces exploring the intersections between liturgy and justice.
- Sarah Coakley and Paul Gavrilyuk, eds., The Spiritual Senses: Perceiving God in Western Christianity (Cambridge University Press). An important contribution to theologies of spirituality and theologies of the body. Taste and see!
- Rob Bell, Love Wins (HarperOne). I've recommended this book to several people, and I've talked to people who found it enormously helpful. In spite of all the kerfuffle surrounding it, it's really an excellent little book. Even my wife read it – twice! No theologian could ask for more.
- N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus (HarperOne). I haven't read this yet – but again, it looks like just the kind of book to recommend to people. It's a shame we don't have more theologians who can write in this kind of attractive plain speech.
- Hilarion Alfeyev, Orthodox Christianity: Volume I: The History and Canonical Structure of the Orthodox Church (St Vladimir's Seminary Press). The first volume of a massive new reference work, by the prodigiously learned Russian scholar. Just think of it: a single-author reference work! It's a feat of Herculean proportions!
- Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (Knopf). A tender, hurtful meditation on time and memory.
- Téa Obreht, The Tiger's Wife (Random House). A spell-binding first novel from this young Serbian writer. It's a delightful story, told in gorgeous prose. First sentence: "In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers."
- José Saramago, Cain (Houghton Mifflin). Translated posthumously, this is Saramago's irreverent and funny re-telling of the Pentateuch. It's not one of his best books, but it's – well, its Saramago.
Children's novel (chosen by my daughter):
- Clare Vanderpool, Moon Over Manifest (Yearling). My daughter loved this book so much that I've started reading it too. Here's a few lines from the first chapter: "The seven-forty-five evening train was going to be right on time.... Being a paying customer this time, with a full-fledged ticket, I didn't have to jump off, and I knew that the preacher would be waiting for me. But as anyone worth his salt knows, it's best to get a look at a place before it gets a look at you."
- Francis Webb, Francis Webb: Collected Poems (UNSW Press). A major publishing event, collecting the luminous work of this tragic, strangely neglected religious poet. Read it, and you'll understand why Sir Herbert Read called Webb "one of the most unjustly neglected poets of the century."
- Kevin Hart, Morning Knowledge (University of Notre Dame Press). Poems of grief, loss, faith, and love, surrounding the death of a father.
- Harold Bloom, The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life (Yale University Press). I'll be the first to admit that Bloom can be more than a little annoying. But his great virtue is his enormous – really, his megalomaniacal – love of reading. And that infectious love comes booming through in this boisterous swansong about a life lived through literature.
- Nathaniel Philbrick, Why Read Moby-Dick? (Viking). Quirky, concise, lucid, brimming with energy and personality – and it's all about Moby-Dick. What more could you want?
Best fine edition:
- Oscar Wilde, Salomé: A Tragedy in One Act, illustrated by Barry Moser (University of Virginia Press). A lavishly produced book, with Barry Moser's wonderfully dark and vivid engravings.
- Matt Kish, Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page (Tin House Books). After following Matt's blog for years, it was a joy to see the published version of this whale-sized art project.
- Elisheva Carlebach, Palaces of Time: Jewish Calendar and Culture in Early Modern Europe (Harvard University Press). Another beautifully produced book, full of sumptuous colour illustrations, and crowded with strange and improbable facts about the history of calendars. An enchanting book.
- Giorgio Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government (Stanford University Press). A magisterial essay on the political impact of the doctrine of the economic trinity. Somehow I've always found Agamben's writing – that gentle blend of history, philosophy, theology, Jewish mysticism, and sheer sleight of hand – as soothing as a lullaby.
Best new book series:
- Princeton University Press's Lives of Great Religious Books. What a great concept for a book series! So far I've only read Garry Wills' biography of Augustine's Confessions – and it was a real treat, especially the opening chapter on the practice of writing in antiquity.
Best older books I read this year:
- Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948; Mariner). It's true – somehow I'd never got around to reading this before. What a book! What a writer! What a life! Not so much a life as a one-man Broadway show, a runaway steam train, a carnival of sin and grace. Absolutely tremendous.
- Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare (1939; New York Review Books Classics). One of the most beautiful, precise, elegantly crafted pieces of literary criticism I've ever read.
- Tom Waits, Bad As Me. Nobody is as bad as Tom Waits. Or as good.
- PJ Harvey, Let England Shake. A blistering, rich, eloquent, disturbing provocation about warfare and the violence underlying contemporary society.
- Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues. Fleet Foxes: enough said.
- We Are Augustines, Rise Ye Sunken Ships. A pretty compelling rock debut. I discovered them by accident because I thought it had something to do with Saint Augustine. But I kept on listening long after I realised my mistake.
- Australian: Cloudstreet (Showcase). Wonderful mini-series about two working-class families sharing a house in Perth. It's a poignant family drama punctuated by moments of magic realism. Geoff Morrell's Lester Lamb is one of the grandest TV characters I've seen in years – a character of Dickensian proportions. (Honourable mention: ABC's The Slap, another excellent Aussie series.)
- American: Boardwalk Empire (HBO). Only halfway through this at the moment, but I'm loving it – a smart, classy series about organised crime during 1920s Prohibition.
- British: The Hour (BBC). Utterly gripping edge-of-your-sofa suspense about a 1950s current affairs show. Ben Whishaw is captivating as the slovenly genius Freddie Lyons.
- Australian: Brendan Fletcher, Mad Bastards. A raw piece of storytelling about three generations of indigenous Australians. The film used non-professional actors from indigenous communities, and the result feels gritty and confrontingly authentic.
- American: Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life. This beautifully filmed cosmic/domestic epic is a sort of visual commentary on the Book of Job, a cinematic theodicy in answer to the dark Manichean theology of Lars von Trier's Antichrist.
- European: Lars von Trier, Melancholia. The end of the world has never been lovelier.
- Religion site: ABC Religion & Ethics. Scott Stephens' work on this site has catapulted public discourse about theology and religion to completely new levels of depth and sophistication.
- Innovative site: Bibledex. A video for every book of the Bible. Why didn't someone think of it sooner?
- Blogs: Women in Theology and An und für sich. These team-blogs have produced some of the most fruitful and sustained discussions about theology in the past year. I've learned so many interesting new things from these discussions. When I only have time to lurk at a couple of blogs, those tend to be the ones I go to – and then I head over to Jason's relentlessly productive Per Crucem ad Lucem.