Although I did a lot of re-reading this year (including Suzette Haden Elgin’s The Ozark Trilogy and the entire Foundation series of Isaac Asimov), and I also filled some gaps reading books I’ve had on the shelf for decades (I actually read all of Finnegan’s Wake… yes, the whole thing) nevertheless I offer here the obligatory list of “great new reads of 2021.” I forced myself to only list ten, and I’ve excluded some books (like The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, David Graeber (https://amzn.to/3pN3JTF) that I fully expect would have made the list but I just haven’t read them yet. I also excluded a couple of books that feel too much like “reference” works rather than reads, Wil Gafney’s Women’s Lectionary, and Sarah Ruden’s translation of The Gospels.
Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization by Elaine Enns (https://amzn.to/3yqFs9S)
I’ve followed Ched Myers work for years, ever since reading his groundbreaking commentary on the gospel of Mark. I wasn’t aware, until Elaine Enn’s published this book, that the two of them (now married) have worked on theological projects over the last ten years at the intersection of community reparations and theology. This is a profound work, and has permanently shifted how I think about “ancestor work” and social justice. In this moment when Canada is doing important work in truth and reparations related to the harm of the boarding school movement, this book offers an important path for those of us descended of settlers to take up our responsibility. Read my longer Patheos review here.
Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (https://amzn.to/33rnpVH)
This book literally blew my mind. My imagination has permanently shifted as I think about how the awareness of those with experience of disability reforms how we approach justice work and how care resides as central to it.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Clarke famously wrote Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a critically claimed novel and bestseller. Then, she developed chronic fatigue syndrome, which affected her ability to write. Piranesi is the way she found her way forward, and what an incredible way forward it is. I’ve honestly never read anything like it, not even close. It’s haunting and philosophical and if I told you an endless world of rooms and statues and a lone man wandering them could be riveting, I don’t know if you would believe me. But you should.
Beowulf: A New Translation, translated by Maria Dahvana Headley
There are a few books where I try to read a new translation of them every year. The Odyssey is one. Second on the list is Beowulf. I love the fresh approach Headley brings to this translation. Those who want a more rigorously faithful reading might prefer others, but I love the license she takes in order to make the epic sing.
Ecotheology: A Christian Conversation, edited by Kiara Jorgensen
I don’t know a single volume that more handily presents multiple theological perspectives on the ecological crisis. I appreciate the way in which these theologians enter into conversation with one another in order to illustrate the risks of some moves within theology that fail to extract us from worldviews that fail to commit us fully to heading off deepening the climate crisis. Read my review at The Christian Century.
Leviathan Falls, by James Corey
I’m listening to this one on audio. Jefferson Mays narrates, and wow does he know how to do voices. This is the ninth and final volume in the space opera that has also been made into the spectacular television series The Expanse. I will never stop loving one of the best space ships of all time, the Rocinante, and the cast of characters that travels in it. It’s simply the best.
Salvation: Jesus’s Mission and Ours, John Cobb and A New Climate for Christology, Sallie McFague (https://amzn.to/3EMEK9j)
Cobb is now a nonagenarian, and he’s still composing riveting theology. This one synthesizes the influence of process theology on his work while also offering a perspective on how discipleship in the way of Jesus connected to the establishment of an ecological civilization. Then if you want to keep reading, pick up Sallie McFague’s post-humous final book, also on Christology and the climate crisis.
Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, adapted by Damian Duffy
Octavia Butler’s science fiction classic is here adapted into a graphic novel, and is rendered beautifully. The move to graphic novelizations is not new, but there are some (like this one) that make a difficult novel accessible to a wider audience.
The Aeneid, Vergil, translated by Shadi Bartsch (https://amzn.to/3lVJUIs) and A Thousand Ships, Natalie Havnes
I have read The Aeneid less frequently than The Odyssey or the Iliad, and unfortunately this is the case because I have simply found most translations of it less readable than translations of the Greek epics. However, Bartsch’s new translation is wonderfully accessible, and it’s the first time I really found myself committed to and enjoying Vergil’s connecting of the Greeks to his (at that time modern) period.
Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals, Alexis Pauline Gumbs
The title says it all. Who would have imagined such an approach, or that we might come at social justice by learning from non-humans. Survival at the margins.