Totally biased fave reads of 2022 (fiction)

Hi friends,

Well, it’s that time of year. The time when every magazine, newspaper, website, and blogger published their “best x books of 2022” list, like, two months ago. 

(How do you even know until the year actually ends? What about the books that get published in November and December? Are they destined to be sad and lonely forever?) 

Anyhow, I like to wait until the year is closer to actually being over. And I like to resist the urge to pretend that I know anything at all about the best books of 2022. 

But here’s what I do know. I know I read a bunch of books in 2022—some published in 2022, some published earlier. (I’m hesitant to say how many, because what does that even mean when books vary so much in length and density?) I know I liked a lot of them, but some more than others. And I know I’d love to share some of the ones I liked most with you. 

Thus, my “totally biased fave reads of 2022”!

Let’s start with fiction, and then we’ll mosey on over to nonfiction next week. 

I don’t know that I had one clear favorite fiction book this year. (Although if I did, it would probably be Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko.) I feel like it’s hard to compare, because there are so many different genres, different subject matters, different levels of seriousness. All worth reading. 

So instead of trying to rate them against each other, I’ve made up some made-up awards. The books are ordered, very imprecisely, from most heartbreaking/serious to most light/fun. 

Here we go!

  • Most heart-wrenching exploration of queer people & communities’ experiences in the 80s: Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers (Penguin Books, 2019)

Omg, this book was sad. Loved the characters and was right there with them. And it helped me understand and empathize with the people and communities impacted by the AIDS crisis in a deeper way.

  • Most epic multigenerational historical fiction with morally complex villain: Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko (Grand Central Publishing, 2017)

So epic. Learned a lot about East Asian history, woven through this story about a Korean family living in Japan. Beautifully done. Especially appreciated the attention to women’s lives and experiences. And for some reason I found the main villain-ish character very delightful—not delightful in the sense of being likable or a good person, but in the sense that his complicated bad-ness was complex and interesting.

  • Most awesome first half before becoming a little more grim than I was hoping for: Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun (Tor Books, 2022)

I was so into this book for quite a while, but the last maybe-third-ish of it was…I don’t want to say disappointing, because maybe you’ll love it (and that’s great if so!), but personally I was bummed about it. But I really, really liked the early story about a cunning and gutsy girl who survives poverty to become a novice monk and then a sort of nonviolent(ish) resistance fighter against the empire.

The parts narrated by the octopus were my faves, to be honest, but the book as a whole was also delightful. Bonus points for being set in a fictional town in western Washington. If you’re looking for something a little lighter, Ken and I both enjoyed this one.

I felt like this book had some (good) messages that were laid on a little thick, but it was still a good, fun read. Lucy was my fave. 

  • Most delightfully interconnected fictional universe of the rich and famous: Everything (not a book called “Everything,” but actually all the things) by Taylor Jenkins Reid. 

I read Malibu Rising (Ballantine Books, 2021) early in the year and found it a lovely, intriguing story about the adult kids of an absentee rock-star (like he’s literally a famous musician) dad, combined with some nicely-woven-in-and-not-too-unsubtle thoughtfulness about love and family and such. So I kept going with Taylor Jenkins Reid and ended up reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (Washington Square Press, 2018), Daisy Jones & the Six (Ballantine Books, 2020), and Carrie Soto is Back (Ballantine Books, 2022). 

I enjoyed all of them and don’t think I could pick a favorite. So, if you’re looking for one to start with, you can choose whether you want to get into surfing (Malibu Rising), acting (Evelyn Hugo), music (Daisy Jones), or tennis (Carrie Soto). 

As a fun side note (not a big part of the stories, but still fun), I enjoyed that they’re all set in the same fictional universe. (As in, minor characters in one book play a large role in another.) 

Hope you enjoyed these made-up book awards! Feel free to comment or otherwise get in touch with your own—I’d love to hear what fiction you’d recommend these days.

Advent prayer: Soul

An Advent poem/prayer on the theme of “soul.”

Soul

God,

I want to live and move 
out of the depths of my soul.

I want to see soul in everyone I meet. 

I want to be connected with my soul.

So many forces have tried to break this connection.
Sometimes it feels like they have succeeded.
But not entirely.

I want to know my soul, 
and to know that she is worth knowing.

I want to live in communities 
where souls are seen and honored, 
reconnected with themselves, 
connected with one another
in love, trust, acceptance.

God, they say institutions have souls. 
So many of them are so bent, so broken. 

I don’t want to move in spaces 
that ask me to cut my soul off at the door.

God, restore my soul. 
Heal her. 

Help me trust her again, 
even when everything around me tells me not to. 

Amen.

A couple other pieces elsewhere on the web, if you’re looking for some (short and sweet) Christmas break reading:

  • A prayer and some reflections on joy – over at Christians for Social Action. Reflecting on the connections between joy, activism, and purpose. And Mary’s Song, because it’s Christmas. With appreciative shout-outs to Karen Walrond, Rebecca Solnit, & Cherrie Moraga.
  • I participated in a Patheos “seasonal holidays” initiative where I got to choose among a number of predetermined prompts…thinking and writing about New Years resolutions seemed fun, so here we are: How Do I Make Religious New Years Resolutions?
  • Still meandering through the Bible-themed part of a series of reflections on faith-related things I’ve changed my mind about. The latest: What Does It Mean to Read the Bible for Guidance?
  • Also, if you want to get an email whenever I post on Patheos, feel free to sign up here. (I believe this link should get you my posts specifically, not just Patheos Progressive Christian posts in general – please let me know if you experience something different :).)

Peace to you this Christmas.

Advent prayer: Release

A poem/prayer, reflecting on the theme “release.”

I’ve been reading an indigenous memoir called The Woman Who Watches Over the World, by Linda Hogan. One of the things Hogan says happened when she was in the hospital recovering from a traumatic brain injury was that she asked all the questions that had gone unasked and unanswered in her family.

Something about the ways her brain had changed and was changing released her from whatever fears or inhibitions had kept her from asking these things before.

I wonder what it looks like to be released into freedom to say the things we are afraid to say, but which are important, and which hold possibilities for healing.

Here’s the poem/prayer:

Release

God,

We hold anxiety in our bodies, more than we know.
We hold so much.

The news is depressing, overwhelming.
Our lives fall apart in an instant
and there is no room to mourn.

The pressures of our world build up inside us 
over a long time.
Muscles clenched and tight, hearts hurting.

What would release mean?
Is it in our power?

And if our souls found release, 
what exactly would come out?

Words unspoken, thoughts unvoiced, 
fullness of humans shrunken too long
to fit whatever was expected of them. 

A valve holds back all the “too much,” 
all the improper, the inappropriate, 
the rage.

These rivers were not meant 
to be dammed up inside us.

God, hold us in the release.

In your voice that says exactly what needs to be said 
and never lies.

In your being that encompasses us 
and is not drowned by our rivers.

God, provide safe people, 
safe spaces for release.

Provide people who will bring their full selves, 
and who won’t run away when we bring ours.

Because we’re all a lot.

God, release us into freedom.

Amen.

Advent prayer: Favor

A poem/prayer on the theme “favor.” Perhaps a loaded word depending on the church-y circles you may have been in. I’m wrestling with that here, as well as more generally what favor could mean in an unjust world.

Favor

God,

I don’t want the kind of favor 
where I have more and someone else has less.

I want your favor for everyone I know.

Favor in the good things they’re doing.
Favor in the good people they are, 
the good inside of them.

Favor to know they’re loved.

Favor that gives confidence 
to keep trying, keep growing, keep moving.

God, I don't know that I want unconditional favor.

I want the kind that will get my attention 
when I start to go the wrong way.

The kind that will direct and redirect 
my feet onto good paths.

I don’t want the kind of favor 
that keeps me happily singing Jesus songs
while my theology, my words, my actions, my attitudes 
make others suffer.

I want the kind of favor 
that opens up a new world.

Favor to level mountains and raise up valleys.

Favor such that all are valued, 
all live freely and in joy.

Favor toward a world where barriers, hierarchies, injustices 
are washed away.

Favor like the sun’s warmth 
after weeks of rain.

Favor like the smile of a baby 
who has not yet learned to distrust.

Favor that holds us together 
when everything falls apart.

Amen.

Unrelatedly, a few other updates:

Advent prayer: Wisdom

Continuing with the theme of “Advent poem/prayers from 2021 that I’m still feeling”… The word for this one is “wisdom.”

Wisdom

God,

There is wisdom in our souls, deep down.
There is so much we don’t know.

We carry some wisdom 
and we need other humans for the rest.

We need the whole of creation
as our wisdom teachers.

The wise ones move in cycles of receiving, giving,
mutual respect, gracious attention.

God, in our world 
the wisest ones often go unheard.

We clamber after the confident ones, 
the smooth-talking ones, 
the quick-thinking ones, 
the shiny put-together polished ones.

But wisdom is carried 
in bodies who keep the score of suffering,
in wrinkled faces who have laughed and cried too much 
to bother putting up a front.

Wisdom is slow-moving.
She refuses to be commodified. 
We often rush right past.

God, help us not miss wisdom 
in our rush to say the right thing.

Help us not miss wisdom 
in our inattentiveness, 
in our tendency to think we know things.

Help us not miss wisdom 
as we still ourselves and wait.

Give us patience, as long as it takes.

We wait in the dark, where wisdom hides, 
that we might find her.

Amen.

Advent prayer: Open

Last Advent season, in 2021, I wrote a bunch of poem/prayers, responding to different daily one-word prompts offered by my church.

This Advent season felt like a good time to revisit these prayers and share some of the ones that still resonate. This one is on theme: open.

Open

God,
I want to be open 
with an openness that knows its boundaries 
and guards them zealously.

An openness that wells up from deep within 
and is not pressed or forced or manipulated.

I want to shut out so much.

I need to learn to shut out so much:
the insulters, the tired misogynist tropes, 
the name-callers, the actors in bad faith.

And yet, as I learn to shut them out, 
I want to be open.

Open to wonder. To awe. 
To the things I have yet to learn.

Open to beauty, to nature, to art.
Open to joy, to breaking open and being remade.

Open to challenge and correction 
from those who love me and are for me.

Open to letting people surprise me 
with their generosity, their kindness, 
their capacity for transformation.

There is goodness in the world.
It is not only sorrow.

God, in your extravagant profligate openness 
you created humans—
raw, unpredictable, glorious, fickle.

You know everything but were open 
to being surprised by us.

Help me be open to being surprised, too.
Amen.	

Are there parts of this prayer that you feel? Other prayers or reflections that come to mind when you think of openness?

On an unrelated note, this is what I’ve been up to writing-wise since the last update (and as a reminder, you can always go to the “on the web” page to see what’s new…or old…).

  1. Do Not Worry: A Communal Approach (Red Letter Christians)

For a while (like, October 2021 – Feb 2022), I was blogging a lot about the passage in Matthew where Jesus tells people not to worry. It started with a mini-sermon from church and then went all sorts of places, from worry as a good thing, to the feminine side of God, to what does and doesn’t add an hour to our lives, to what it might look like to learn from the wildflowers. And those are just a few.

Do Not Worry: A Communal Approach is a piece I wrote as part of that series and then thought, I wonder if someone wants to publish this one. Many months later, here we are!

2. On Hope: Prayers & Reflections (Christians for Social Action)

This is the first in a four-part series on the weekly themes of Advent (hope, peace, love, joy). It incorporates some of the prayers I wrote last year with new reflections on what these words might mean in our world. Featuring lots of engagement with activist scholars & writers.

3. When Clarity of Belief is Important (Patheos)

I wrote some things about my discomfort with belief statements and how they’re sometimes used – but of course everything is more complicated than that. When Clarity of Belief is Important adds a little of that complexity, particularly with LGBTQ+ people/communities in mind.

4. A Crisis of Authority – or, Life in the Mud (Patheos)

Starting off a series of reflections on how my views of authority (Bible, church, pastors, etc.) have changed over time. This post explores in a general way what crises of authority can look like…and how they can feel.

As always, thoughts about any of this are very welcome!