Best books of 2022
The encyclopedic Leibniz anticipated going on learning forever; TS Eliot noted that “the wisdom of humility is endless.” For humanity, humility will always be associated with learning (and hopefully vice versa). And some of the best learnings don’t simply draw connections and enlighten, but indicate how little we actually know, and how much more there is to discover.
Books, of course, are one way to do this, but so many things can be “read” and learned from. Many of our “best” learnings don’t come from books. All the same, here are a few best readings, and best learnings, from last year. Here’s to a new year of much more learning. Happy New Year & Holy Name of Jesus!
Six Facets of Light Ann Wroe
This densely poetic book questions, illumines, and exults and can be read and dipped into like a poem, a long hymn to six distinct ways we experience and talk about light. Illustrated with six paintings by six artists, Wroe brings into the discussion these artists as well as numerous writers, poets, and scientists, in the process “behaving like light, in short—as any poet could, by opening out and illuminating what was hidden in things, the beauties, the connections. What did a poet add to a scene? Coleridge asked himself; and answered, 'Lights and Relations.'”
George Mackay Brown: The Life Maggie Fergusson
Here is a 20th-century poet whose deceptively understated, translucent writing sprang from a lifetime of observation among the spare landscapes of his homeplace, the Scottish island of Orkney. But for a few years spent in Edinburgh, Brown was born, raised, and chose adamantly to remain on a land area only just smaller than the footprint of Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago. Fergusson limns the form of a man who preferred depth to breadth, who can show an experience-hungry generation the riches to be had from staying put and looking lovingly at the wild hidden within the familiar.
Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams Mike Higton
Essentially an introduction to Williams’s writings, essays, talks and collected works to date, Higton picks up the through line of the radical, unearned acceptance of us by Jesus that runs through all of it. That Gospel is difficult, not because, as Williams himself admits, his work can be obscure and theologically out amongst the weeds. The Gospel Williams preaches is difficult because Williams insistently brooks none of the adjustments Christians have made to it over the centuries to make it more nearly familiar to us, more like us—that is, condemning, conditional and harsh.
The Story of Art without Men Katy Hessel
Some of us have been waiting a lifetime for a book like this. Hessel recounts art history as a story of developments, themes, questions, exploration, and production by a single gender—that is, the opposite one through which most of us learned and still learn art history—and also of widespread geographical and ethnic backgrounds. One of the most exciting things about Hessel’s book is that many artists are left out, just as with “ordinary” art history which cannot mention every (male) artist possible. More of the story of art remains to be written.
The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, & the Unmaking of the World Iain McGilchrist
This is one of those massive, comprehensive books about which it is easier to say less than more. Through this meticulous, yet very readable effort of carefully unpacking, on the ground of substantial research, what each hemisphere of the brain can and cannot do and how they interact, McGilchrist hopes to prompt a Gestalt shift in the reader’s view of the world in his “attempt to engage with” questions concerning scientific truth, the nature of reality, and our place in the cosmos, “through exploration of the extraordinary capacities, and, as importantly, the limitations, of the human mind, and the brain.”
Thérèse à plusieurs mains : L'entreprise éditoriale de l'Histoire d'une âme (1898-1955)
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything your American History Textbook got Wrong
Looking East in Winter: Contemporary Thought & the Eastern Christian Tradition