Changed for Good: 2022 best-of

Changed for Good: 2022 best-of December 23, 2022

Creatures, what ho! It’s been a quiet year here in Lake Woebegone…. Some thoughts, below, on the highlights of my reading, watching, and writing. All lists are roughly from least-best to best-best i.e. the last one is the best. Previous years’ lists here.

Books (nonfiction): This was a stronger year for nonfiction than for fiction, for me (at least when it came to books I’d never read before—revisits are below). I read a lot of good books, but the top two books on this list are the ones I’d most confidently call great.

Natan M. Meir, Stepchildren of the Shtetl: The Destitute, Disabled, and Mad of Jewish Eastern Europe, 1800 – 1939

Rick McIntyre, The Reign of Wolf 21—I’d start here, but the other two books in this series are also a delight

Meg Hnter-Kilmer, Pray for Us: 75 Saints Who Sinned, Suffered, and Struggled on Their Way to Holiness—an international, thoughtful compendium for those who have wondered if a saint could truly understand their experience

Jared Farmer, Trees in Paradise: The Botanical Conquest of California—you think you don’t want to read five hundred pages about trees, but I promise that you do

Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House—formal and wrenching

Also notable, in chronological order: Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America; The Bloody Flag: Mutiny in the Age of Atlantic Revolution; Strangers: Homosexual Love in the 19th Century; Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping; Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear; Stigmata: A Medieval Mystery in Modern Times; The Life of St Macrina; The Symposium: A Treatise on Chastity; Our Lady of Hot Messes: Getting Real with God in Dive Bars and Confessionals

I also read Joseph Ratzinger/the Pope Emeritus’s Jesus of Nazareth trilogy. Highly recommended; it offered insight into several aspects of the New Testament which had puzzled or intrigued or troubled me for decades, from the role of Temple sacrifice to the “new wineskins” to the question of what actually changed when Jesus came. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the trilogy is its intense and respectful engagement with contemporary Judaism. Present-day Jewish belief is a live possibility in these books, despite/because Ratzinger emphasizes the astonishing claims our faith makes about the person Jesus. …Also it’s just very endearing to have this German academic be like, “I haff read all ze historiography about vhere zis story comes from, und my conclusion is: Mary told them.”

Books (real books):

Roddy Doyle, Love

Yoko Tawada, Scattered All Over the Earth

Andrew Holleran, Dancer from the Dance

Madeleine Thien, Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Ella Baxter, New Animal. Lol Do Not Say is unquestionably a better book, but New Animal punched above its weight for me, and in general I just think this is the right list for this year.

Also notable: Christ Stopped at Eboli; Bright Lights, Big City; The Conjure-Man Dies: A Mystery of Dark Harlem; The Overcoat and Other Tales of Good and Evil

Films (seen for the first time):

Spirited Away

Chameleon Street

The Fly (1986)

Times Square



Also notable: The Tragedy of Macbeth; Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche (see below); As Good As It Gets; The Rider Named Death; The Last of Sheila; A Nightmare on Elm Street III: The Dream Warriors; Francesco; Brother Sun, Sister Moon; Repo Man; Neptune Frost; Addams Family Values; The Age of Innocence; La Llorona (1930s); A Midwinter’s Tale; Benediction; The Woodsman; Monsieur Vincent; Nope; My Neighbor Totoro; Bent

Notable things I revisited: A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Breast, “Arachnophobia,” “Phone Booth,” Sula and Housekeeping, “The Flowers of St Francis,” “Hawks and Sparrows,” Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions, and Criticisms; Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

TV: No idea what the next season will bring, and HBO is certainly giving little reason for confidence, but I tell you what, Succession has felt like a near-perfect show so far. Gentleman Jack was imperfect, but raw and real. Its 1830s is simultaneously a truly, sometimes shockingly different world, and a doorway into the world we inhabit.

Others’ essays: My own reading has become too scattershot–I don’t think I have a coherent list here. Three voices I’ve appreciated greatly are In Spirit and Truth (a newsletter lifting up the voices, needs, and spiritual journeys of survivors of Catholic clergy sexual abuse), Nate Tinner-Williams and the Black Catholic Messenger, and Jerusalem Demsas on housing policy.

My published writing:

On urban planning for friendship. I hated this piece when I turned it in, and I still think it bites off much more than it can chew, but on reflection I think it does some important things I haven’t seen put together elsewhere.

On wolves.

Every Child a Wanted Child”: An essay about The Meaning of Birth.

On The Last Unicorn. I’ve tried to write this piece many times in the past and it never quite came off. This time, I think I said what I can say about this slice of children’s sublime.

On alcoholism and promise-making. Lol getting off my leash here a little.

I also enjoyed getting to compare Poly Styrene and L. Brent Bozell, Jr for We Are the Mutants. (Still the best name of any publication I write for. Be the mutants you wish to see in the world!) And I contributed to a Commonweal symposium on abortion after the Dobbs ruling. Trying to speak from within my very limited authority, and to convey what I believe to be important to people who may disagree.

My blogging and Substack: I didn’t write much on the blog this year, and I don’t know that I did a lot of essayistic work over at the pastry-filled Dragon. These are some things I liked:

This is very service-journalism, but “The Precondition for Catholic Theologies of Trans Experience” (scroll down) strikes me as important enough to list here.

The virgin woman as Socrates-figure in early Christian thought (aka “What if it was a Socra-shes and it was just for the ladies?”)

Five Gay Catholic Observations for 2022

Ecstasy the foundation of reason

And who would I be if I didn’t link to this roundup of my very favorite Star Trek tie-in novels?

Other professional work: I was very pleased by how my presentation on “Order in Same-Sex Love” was received at the De Nicola Center’s conference this year. The presentation notes are here and a brief reflection on what I was trying to do here.

Miscellany: I got way more into RPGs this year! I still think about a game of Dread where I was a robot with low self-respect. And I got to play a truncated session of Back Again from the Broken Land, a Tolkien-inspired game about storytelling and small people’s souls; extremely loved it, would recommend. I’d like to try Autumn Triduum from the same publisher. The top two games I’d like to try in the future are Bluebeard’s Bride and Montsegur 1244. If you’ve played those, I’d love to hear about it!

All right, people (or whatever you are). See you on the flipside.

I don’t entirely know why I googled “Christmas pig,” but I do know that this photo by “Visitor7” is used under a Creative Commons license.

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