Before I started this blog, I had another one that I updated very infrequently with things like my birth story and oh-so-exciting anecdotes like our experiences with a huge hail storm. But there was one type of post that became an annual tradition after starting it in 2012 – a rundown of the books and movies I most enjoyed from the past year. I’m continuing that tradition here at my new blog with my 2016 lists.
But before I get to those lists, I want to just restate something from a previous post I’ve written (because I don’t mind quoting myself and because I’m too lazy to try and re-articulate the exact same sentiments) in case you’re wondering whether books and movies are relevant to the theme of this blog/the Christian life and also to give you an idea of how I personally measure the value of a book or a movie. If you weren’t wondering about any of that…too bad, you’re getting my answer anyway.
The arts and books and movies matter because they are wonderful and thought-provoking graces from God. I am one limited human living in a specific cultural context who will only experience a narrow slice of life in my time and place. But through art and storytelling, we are presented with various ideas and perspectives that broaden our horizons. Walking in the shoes of a character from a book or a movie can help us develop compassion and empathy for those whose lives look very different from our own. Art (or at least good art) makes us think, question, and wonder about the spiritual, the mundane, and the intersection of the two.
With a toddler who wakes up at the same time every morning regardless of how badly we want to stay up late and generally super-early bed times for my husband and I during the week, our time for watching movies is pretty limited these days. I have a huge to-see list that just keeps growing, and we didn’t see nearly as many movies in 2016 as we have in the past. But here are some of my favorites of the few I did get to see.
- The Gift – A bit creepy but we liked the interesting take on the retribution-for-past-sins storyline.
- Mr. Holmes
- Man on Wire – I haven’t yet seen the Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie dramatizing this story, but this documentary was great.
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- O.J.: Made in America – Probably my favorite in this whole list. A nearly eight-hour documentary but absolutely fascinating in its coverage not only of the murder case, but of race relations, power, fame, hubris, and local history.
- 99 Homes
- Bigger Stronger Faster
- Endeavor – This one isn’t a movie but a TV series on PBS/Masterpiece Mystery and we really love it. The actors are great and it’s very well-written with pretty complicated storylines. It’s refreshing to have to guess at the ending as opposed to seeing it a million miles away as is the case with most things on movies and TV.
- Stranger Things
- Hell or High Water – Really impressed with this one and Sicario, both of which were written by the same guy. Great performances, very well-written, good story. And while I’m no expert on what it is to be or live Texan, it’s fun to watch movies like this and other Texas-set movies (e.g. Bernie) and catch some of the cultural and geographic references that would’ve flown over my head had I not lived there for a little while.
- Florence Foster Jenkins – The story itself wasn’t terribly interesting but I added this to the list because I thought Meryl Streep was incredible! I think it’s much, much harder to sing poorly in a very specific way than it is to sing well.
For the same reasons I mentioned in the movies section, I didn’t get to very many books this year either. As such, the following are not necessarily favorites but just a rundown of all the books I read in 2016. I think they’re all worth mentioning…
- Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions by Timothy Keller – 4.5/5 Excellent little book examining some of Jesus’s encounters with various people throughout the gospels, and what they tell us about God and His relationship to us.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – 4/5 I’d never read it before and really liked it. A very heartbreaking and engrossing novel.
- The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri – 3.5/5 I really enjoy Lahiri’s writing but overall didn’t find the story particularly memorable.
- Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson – 4/5 Really interesting non-fiction book about the Lusitania attack in World War I.
- A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger Than You by Paul Tripp – 4.5/5 Lots of great insights about living for more than just making yourself happy, an ultimately impossible and unsatisfying endeavor.
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – 4/5 I didn’t always agree with his perspectives but it was well-written and a helpful window into race issues and identity.
- Rabbit, Run by John Updike – 3.5/5 I thought the writing was great but the story was pretty depressing.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – 4/5 There are some long-winded philosophical ramblings in there where I kind of glazed over, but in general I really enjoyed it. Such an interesting premise – what if there was a painting of yourself that magically absorbed and displayed your every sin and fault, while you yourself stayed physically unaffected but mentally tormented? Dorian Gray found out the answer to that question…
- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – 4/5 I did a couple of blog entries about this one – general thoughts and practical takeaways.
- Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz – 2/5 I thought this would be a fun spy novel to enjoy while I was on vacation, but I was pretty disappointed. The storyline was unoriginal and the characters really clichéd.
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg – 4/5 Interesting little book about habit formation and suggestions for how to break and build certain habits. It reminded me of some of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, and I really enjoyed those.
I’m always looking for suggestions so let me know what I should read or watch next!