On the Beauty and the Beast and the Gospel

I have never been a massive fan of fairy tales or anything regarding princesses.  I know more about the Hardy Boys than Cinderella and Prince Charming, and I've never enjoyed stories about witless girls dressing up and swooning over charming boys with flowing hair and more brawn than brains.  My tomboy heart has always gravitated toward adventure over romance, I guess.  Now that I'm older, though, I've begun to appreciate those old fairy tales for the truth they hold apart from the sensationalized and overly girly depictions I knew when I was younger.  

A couple years ago, I read an article by Kristen O'Neal for Relevant Magazine, in which she talks about the value of fairy tales and their inherent truth.  She references Tolkien's stunning essay on fairy stories:
"It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the 'turn' comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art... In such stories, when the sudden 'turn' comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through." (Tolkien, quoted here)
Tolkien argues that fairy tales set in a world outside ours allow truth to shine in through our own longing.  In the way every young woman in those stories longs for a man who will complete her and make her whole, so we broken humans long to be made whole.  Tim Keller, in a 2008 sermon entitled "Thanks Be To God", also talks about fairy tales and riffs on Tolkien, saying:
"We long to find a love that perfectly heals, and from which we can never part, and we long to triumph over evil, finally and totally.  When you are in the middle of a great fairy tale, the fairy tale lets you live, even briefly, with the dream that love without parting, escape from death, triumph over evil, are real and realizable.  That's why the stories stir us so deeply, and why we will go on reading and writing them no matter what the critics say." (Keller)
That truth and longing is what I want to talk about today.  Seeing the story of the Beauty and the Beast played out beautifully on screen resurrected all my feelings about that story and the greater story of fairy tales.  Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairy tale, though, granted, I only know a couple, and I'm excited to share what I love about it.  Hang on, folks, it's gonna be a long one.

The conflict of the story of Beauty and the Beast is that there was once a prince whose horrible, selfish actions resulted in his transformation into a hideous beast.  He lost all of his human form, and was essentially exiled to his castle, which was also transformed – it grew dark and scary and in that part of the forest, it was perpetually winter (huh, sound like another familiar bit of fiction?).  This dehumanizing curse also affected some of the people closest to the prince, and they took on the form of objects, though they retained the ability to move and speak.  These characters are wasting away in a castle in the wintery woods, counting down the days until their punishment becomes permanent and they will harden into their forms–the objects will lose their animation, and the prince trapped within the beast will fully become the monster, never to regain his humanity.  That is, unless this horrible, ugly, terrifying creature can somehow be loved by someone.  The beast has given up hope – how could anyone learn to love him?

And yet, there is this girl who comes along, rather by chance, to rescue her father and take his place in the prison, and at once, there is a tiny little sliver of hope.  Perhaps this is the one to love the prince back into life.  Perhaps this one will love him at last.  But things happen and Belle leaves and a horde attacks the castle and a vengeful man shoots the beast, and the last petal falls from the rose and the beast dies in Belle's arms.  And it all seems irrevocably over.  But there's this thing Tolkien talked about in storytelling and in fairy tales in particular – this thing called a eucatastrophe – the idea, or the moment when it seems like everything couldn't get any worse and then it does, and then, when hope has disappeared, the whole thing turns completely around and something amazing happens and the horrible situation that couldn't be worse suddenly couldn't get any better.  That's what happens in this story.  Belle whispers those most consequential words as the beast lies cold and dead: "I love you," and everything changes in an instant.  The beast becomes a perfect man with a heart of gold and all of the objects in the castle who had a moment before turned into just a clock and just a teapot and just a wardrobe become human again and everything is made new and perfectly whole.  And yes, the story does end happily ever after.  It's supposed to.

The unlovable is made whole by love.  The ugly is made beautiful by love.  The lifeless is made alive by love.  The winter turns into spring through love.  The unlovable is loved and at once, everything changes.  

"I will show my love to the one I called 'Not my loved one.'  I will say to those called 'Not my people,' 'You are my people,' and they will say, 'You are my God.'" (Hosea 2:23)

I am unlovable and yet the one who is love loved me and made me whole.  While I was still ugly and deformed, He loved me into beauty.  He loved me into life.  If I am a beast (and I am), then Jesus is beautiful.  That sudden turn in the story that changed everything was when He decided to love me despite my unloveable-ness.  And no, He didn't have to learn to love me.  My affection didn't change his mind.  But then neither did my sin.  He loves always, no matter what.

There's this line in Tolkien's Return of the King that just gets me every time.  After everything is over and Sam and Frodo by their bravery have saved Middle Earth and almost died as a result, Sam Gamgee wakes up in Rivendell and is astonished to see Gandalf, whom he and Frodo had believed dead, sitting at the foot of the bed.  He exclaims, "Gandalf!  I thought you were dead!  But then I thought I was dead myself.  Is everything sad going to come untrue?" (930)  That line ran through my head watching this movie.  Everything sad was coming untrue.  The spell was undone by love.  And so the man and woman loved each other perfectly and the characters became human and whole and loved and lived happily ever after.

All the longing we feel, everything that thrills our weary human hearts in fairy tales does so because they are our stories, too.  There's a Prince who died to save us, his true love.  There's a King who gave up everything for us.  There's a Beauty who loves our beastly selves.  The story of Beauty and the Beast is ours, if we give ourselves over to the love of this King, this Prince, this Beauty.  
"But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.  After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life, and be satisfied (Is. 53:5+11).


Books Recently Read

Well.  It's been a while, but I had a sudden hankering to write about books.  Today, then, I want to talk about three books I've lately finished.  Two of these I read for class and the other is an audio book.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I took a literary interpretation class last semester - I just finished and I'm very sad about it - and during the second half of the class, we read two books: a play, The Tempest, by William Shakespeare, and a novel, The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.  I wrote essays about both of these things, and I am excited to talk about them here.

 Before this class, I'd read a handful of Shakespeare plays and The Tempest was unlike any of them.  It reminded me of Greek mythology, and I really enjoyed it.  The plot of this romantic tragedy centers around an exiled magician, Prospero, and his daughter, Miranda.  Prospero used to be the King of Milan, but his throne was usurped by his brother Alfonso? (not sure...I have the hardest time remembering names in plays), and consequently, he and his daughter were forced to set adrift at sea, and end up on a remote island.  The central event of the play is a tempest that Prospero, by his magic, creates to bring the ship within which are the usurper, Alfonzo, the wise, old Gonzalo, Ferdinand (who will marry Miranda eventually), and a host of other characters to wreck upon Prospero's island.  What seems like a revenge plot takes a sudden turn (or volte) around the 3/4 mark in the book, and Prospero, ashamed that he let his desire for righteous justice fall into base revenge, gives up his plot and his magical powers, and provides for his brother and his companions to return safely to Milan.  There are things I left out, but if this sounds interesting to you, I highly recommend it.  I think it would be an excellent place to start with Shakespeare.  I loved the play, and it had so many interesting themes and elements, any of which I could have written about.  As it were, my essay argued that while Prospero's "fall" seems tragic and hopeless, it was ultimately redemptive in ways that perhaps Prospero himself did not understand.  It is such a fascinating play, and once again demonstrates Shakespeare's utter mastery of his genre.  Note: while the edition pictured is aesthetically pleasing and very cool, I would not recommend it for reading/studying the play.  For those purposes, I recommend the Folger's Shakespeare edition.  Read the play and then get the pretty version.

Next up, The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.  I don't know if I ever mentioned it on this blog, but when I first read this book during the formative years of my youth (early in high school), I kind of hated it.  I enjoyed the reading process, but the ending made me want to chuck it across the room.  Naturally, this experience made me wary when I saw it in the class syllabus, but I had a distant inkling there was something I was missing, and I was excited to see if my feelings would change.  The Portrait is a coming-of-age novel centering around the protagonist, Isabel Archer, an independent, free-willed, intelligent American girl who travels to England with her aunt shortly after the death of her father.  In her early twenties at this point, she becomes close friends with her cousin, Ralph Touchett, an invalid, who is one of a few characters who seems to have Isabel's genuine well-being at heart.  Before she has been in England for too long, Isabel's has attracted suitors and refused two proposals.  She's apparently a great girl who has the power to woo men instantly.  Sarcasm?  Pshhh no...  Early on in the novel, Isabel comes under the influence of a middle-aged woman named Madame Merle, who takes Isabel under her wing in a way, and persuades her to go to Italy to make the acquaintance of this super great guy she knows, named Gilbert Osmond.  Spoiler: he's not super great.  Things progress from here, and I will refrain from spoiling them, though I do truly enjoy ranting about this book.  Now, you may assume I dislike this book from the way I talk about it, but, while I still have vitriolic reactions toward some (most) of the characters, I have come to deeply appreciate it despite all those feelings.  I think this is partly due to my being a more mature reader now, but I think it's a reaction that must be cultivated - intensely disliking parts of a book while still valuing and appreciating it deeply for other, more important reasons.  I'm happy to say, then, that those are exactly the ways I feel about The Portrait.  James is truly a master of his craft, and rereading this made me understand that.  His writing is mind-blowingly amazing, the themes of this book are important and far-reaching, and I could talk about it for a long time.  If you are willing to power through 600+ pages for an ending that mildly disappoints but to ultimately experience a book that is hard-hitting and thought-provoking, read The Portrait.  If nothing else, there are sentences in it that will make you actually gasp.  Find my edition here.

Finally, a book unlike either of the other two – Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich.  I listened to the Audible version of this one, and I'll briefly mention that experience at the end.  About the book itself, though.  Secondhand Time is a completely different sort of historical nonfiction book.  As it says on the cover, it's an oral history, which means that it's full of interviews and stories from people Alexievich has actually sat down and talked to and recorded.  This was my first time reading anything like this, and it was really interesting.  More about that later.  This book is principally about people in post-Soviet Russia living in a country they don't recognize.  Most of the stories seem to be from people old enough to remember Russia before the Cold War and Gorbachov and Yeltsin and before capitalism affects their way of life.  The people Alexievich talk to don't feel they fit in in Russia anymore, and they don't understand the nation it's become or the people who now live there.  Most of these stories are incredibly sad and devastating and horrifying and they opened my eyes to episodes of history I was clueless about.  Now, my thoughts of the book.  I read this book not because I thought it would be enjoyable or interesting, but because 1) I am deeply fascinated by Russian history and 2) I believe that as humans (and more importantly Christians) in the world, we have a responsibility to learn about the pain of the world, to try to understanding the depth of human suffering, and at least attempt to feel something of the sorrow and grief of mankind.  For whatever reason, I believe that this small act in some way honors the loss and pain of humanity.  But mostly, I think it's our duty, my duty, to feel something of the pain God must feel for a world devastated by sin.  We have to look at the suffering of the world and allow it to motivate us to work for the redemption of this earth.  That's why I read this book, and that's why I think it is important to read books like this and engage with stories that are hard and heavy.  And yes, this particular book checked all those boxes.  It is incredibly intense.  There are some really graphic stories in here about particularly horrific suffering.  I had to skip one or two parts because it was too much.  Ultimately, though, I am grateful to have read it.  I have an empathy for those people who believed in socialism and worshiped Stalin as god that I never had before.  Capitalism isn't the right answer for Russia, and there won't ever be an easy solution to the problems that beset a nation with such diverse and complex issues.  This book reminded me that it is impossible to simplify the actions and beliefs of a whole nation of people into a few inadequate words.  I could say so much more about this book and everything it made me consider, but I want to quickly mention a few things about the listening experience.  First of all, the audio book has different narrators so as to recognize when a new person is talking, which was helpful.  The distinctions between the author's voice and the interviewee's voice could have been made a little clearer, but for the most part, there wasn't too much confusion.   However, it was impossible, either because of the audio book or simply because it wasn't mentioned, to tell when each person was telling their story.  I had a vague idea of the era being talked about, but the timeline was fuzzy, which was disorienting.  All in all, the process of listening to the audio book was mostly positive, but I do want to procure the physical book so as to refer to specific stories and dates more easily.  One final note: not unexpectedly, there is a ton of language and really graphic stories/experiences in this book, so like, huge warning.  This book is not for the faint of heart.

This was much longer than expected, but really, would you expect any less from me?  I hope you enjoyed reading about the books I've finished recently.  I am now on a short break before my summer class begins, and I have big plans for reading in the coming week or so.  Anyway, thanks for sticking around!


Five Things - no. 3

I'm on Spring Break now, blessedly, and even though I'll still be doing homework, I'm excited anyway.  I'm going to read, and catch up on movies, and sleep in.  Today, I wanted to talk about some things I've been enjoying/loving recently.

First up, a new podcast called The Allusionist.  It's a podcast in the Radiotopia network, and I absolutely love it.  It's all about words and the histories of words, and the science of language and sounds.  This semester I'm taking an intro to linguistics class, and while the class isn't my favorite thing ever, I'm seeing a lot of connections between what's talked about in class and on the podcast.  If you're a fan of words, check out The Allusionist.  The host's sublime British accent doesn't hurt either.  And while you're at it, take a listen to the other podcasts in the Radiotopia family – the other podcasts are great, too.  Subscribe to The Allusionist on iTunes here.
The next thing I have to talk about is a blog, or more specifically a single blog post that took my breath away when I read it.  Rebecca Reynolds is a friend of The Rabbit Room, Andrew and Pete Peterson's website which is also a new discovery I totally love.  Anyway, somehow I started following her writing website, and I love everything she writes.  Check it out.

I'm taking a literary interpretation class this semester that I am completely and absolutely loving.  I have a great professor, and I just love everything about the class.  The writing is a challenge which I am really enjoying, and all the class discussion about what we're reading is super fun.  I would like to do a post at some point about all the things we're reading/have read, mostly for myself, because I want to remember it.  But yeah, totally loving that class, and kind of sad that it's already half over.

The last three or four weeks, I haven't had any social media on my phone.  I originally did so because I had a couple super busy weeks and I wanted to make sure I was being as productive as possible, but I don't find myself wanting it all back.  I've really, really enjoyed not having it on my phone.  Instagram was my biggest time waster by far, and Twitter is so overtly negative recently it seems, that I grew tired of it all.  Now, don't get me wrong, I love Twitter and Instagram, but I am loving this break and I've decided to continue the "fast" through Lent.  My mind just seems quieter, which isexpected, I guess, but I didn't realize how much I would love being free of that noise.  If you've never totally removed social media from your phone/desktop, I highly encourage you to try it out for a while.

The final thing I want to mention is a book I've finally cracked open this week.  I heard about someone reading this book over Advent, and that inspired me to read it over Lent.  The book is Upstream by Mary Oliver.  It's an essay collection, and it is incredible and breathtaking.  At this rate, I'll be underlining the whole book.  Here's a line I love:
"Something is wrong, I know it, if I don't keep my attention on eternity.  May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful.  May I stay forever in the stream.  May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest respect." – Mary Oliver
I highly, highly recommend this collection.  Oliver is one of my favorite poets of all time, and these essays are beautiful and startling.  And they make for good Lent reading.

That's everything.  I hope you check some of these things out for yourself and have a great week!


On Lord of the Rings

I'm two thirds through my third re-read of Lord of the Rings, per my tradition of re-reading the series at the beginning of every new year, and I've been taking notes on all the things that stand out to my this time around on the notes app on my phone.  This all is taking me much longer than last year, mostly because February is going way way way too fast for my to-do list and deadlines are approaching much too quickly.  College is trying to kill me, I'm convinced.

Anyway, I thought I'd share some of those thoughts I've accumulated about LOTR today, just as they are in the app, and I hope they will encourage you to read the series whether it's your first time or 26th.

I'm halfway through The Fellowship and one thing's jumped out at me this time through so far.  Good stories of the past are important, not only to share around the fire in the middle of the wilderness, but to repeat in the middle of the worst.  To chant over and over with the rest and hold onto the hope in all of them.  So many times Aragorn or Sam or another has recounted a tale of bravery in the dark or to bind up hearts when the cold clench of evil seems so near.  Story is important to everyone, it seems, in LOTR.  And not made up stories, but real stories of history long forgotten.  I love that. 

A theme Tolkien really hits on in LOTR is the idea of humanness vs. inhumanness: the state of being either human or not and most of his characters fall somewhere on either side.  The Nazgûl, for example, were once men, but because of their infatuation  with the Ring, they eventually lost that humanity completely.  The hobbits and the men are more human, perhaps the most human, but different, and the elves are more-than-human, somehow otherworldly.  And it's fascinating how Tolkien crafts these characters and tells their stories as if they're on this continuous plane and they are either becoming more or less human all the time.  Lewis talks about humans in our world the same way.  We are all either going one way or the other; we're either becoming something altogether lovely or altogether horrible.  And humanness is not physical, it doesn't follow that we appear differently – though that is certainly the case with say, the orcs – it's that we are either going back to the way God first created us at the dawn of time, or we are becoming ourselves like the angel-turned-animal in the Garden.  From a perfect being to one of inhuman evil. 

I'm noticing this theme of returning in LOTR, more so than I have in the past.  And not only regarding the story of Aragorn, but with so many others: Gandalf, Theoden, the hobbits.  There's talk of exile, and going and returning and it's all so irresistibly reminiscent of the return of Christ.

Ah, what a picture of the Gospel and the battle for man's heart.  Why accepting the gift of salvation is so bloody hard, but the most desperate need. (pg. 568)

Also, the Ents are my favorite.  The first couple times through this book, I thought them boring, but they've got a wisdom more than knowledge that runs true as their roots, and maybe there's something to their tree-ness, something there for us.  A tree planted by the river will not fail to bring forth fruit.  They are never hasty, always thinking, but ready as ever to fight for the good.  Their roots run deep in goodness and truth. 🌳🌲🌳🌲

"The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater." – Haldir, The Fellowship of the Ring

"Yet he felt in his heart that Faramir, though he was much like his brother in looks, was a man less self-regarding, both sterner and wiser."  So many characters in LOTR are described as being stern, not in a derogatory way at all, but as something good.  And I think that should be a trait of a Christian.  There should be a sort of solemn seriousness about us beside that subterranean river of joy; a consciousness of the grief of the Father and the pain of the world – a quiet awareness of the brokenness that was mended at such a price. (650)


My 2017 Goals

I'm interrupting my annual re-read of The Lord of the Rings to talk about my goals for 2017, in the last week before my second semester of school begins.  Setting these goals always makes me excited and expectant and I'm excited to talk about them all today.

The last couple years I've set yearly goals; they're less like resolutions and more often than not, they become the theme of the next twelve months of my life.  Often these goals become part of my life in a permanent way, and rather than becoming something to tick off every month, they subconsciously work their way into my everyday life.

For as long as I've set yearly goals, my primary goal has been to be brave.  That goal has manifested itself differently each year, and as I continue to practice it, I hope it will become sort of the soundtrack to my life.  This year, in the same way, the goals I have set all mirror that theme – to be brave – just not in so many words.  First, though, the practical ones.

  • Intentionally read: carve out time to read, make it a priority, and always. have. a. book.
  • Budget intentionally: have a purpose, have a plan, and stick to it.
  • Become consistent in daily prayer.
  • Wake up at a time that allows for maximum productivity and minimum stress.
  • Continue to say 'yes' to God, to accept 'no' and be brave – in the small stuff, too.
  • Stay in wonder.
  • Practice carpe Deum (seize God).
The crowning goal this year is that final one – Carpe Deum.  I read about this idea in a book last year (Holy is the Day by Carolyn Weber) and it has stuck with me since.  I want to seize God in the small stuff, I want to hear his still small voice and follow wherever He leads.

And those are my 2017 goals.  Some good practical goals for less stress and more focus, and some big, brave ones that I hope will flavor everything I do this year.  When I reach this point next year, I hope I'll still be attune to the song of bravery and grace and wonder that He sings over me.


Reflections on My Year of Reading

In 2015, I set a goal of reading one hundred books.  I got to only 85, but I pushed myself to read a certain number every month, and I picked up lots of books that were new and buzzy and perhaps not things I would normally enjoy.  This experience was good, but exhausting.  I got to the end of the year, and while my list of read books on Goodreads had grown, there weren't any clear favorites, or books that had thrilled me in that particular way that marks a good read.  That disappointed me, and made me think about how reading lots of books does not necessarily ensure they will all be notable.

Therefore, in 2016, I decided I would only read books I really wanted to read, I would read books of substance, books that could teach me, move me, change me, touch me from my intellect to my heart.  At the end now, I can say with confidence that my reading this year fulfilled those goals.  The books I read this year did change me, and I am infinitely grateful that a goal based on numbers didn't force me to read meaningless fiction all the time to stay on track.  I read what I loved this year, and I loved what I read.

That said, I read 29 books this year (maybe it will be 30 by the end), a far cry from the number I read last year, and fewer than I would have liked, if I'm being honest.  I did, however, enjoy every book I read, and I only read books I wanted to read.  Most of that number was made up of nonfiction, which is different for me, but ultimately what I wanted to happen.  And I never really felt like reading fiction this year at all, except during the summer, which always happens with me anyway.  Otherwise, I read a ton of history, some Tim Keller, a few works of poetry, and some Christian living type books.  But mostly, I read history this year, which was simply the sort of stuff I wanted to read most of the time.  I love military history, so the two main time periods I read were The Revolutionary War and WWII, with a healthy dose of Cold War era history.  It was great.  I did not get to as many classics this year as I wanted to, and apart from finishing War & Peace in the beginning of the year, I don't think I read any, which is sad.  Obviously, and not unexpectedly, college had a lot to do with both my smaller number this year, and the fact that probably about 50% of what I did read this year was through Audible.  I have no qualms about reading that way, and I expected college to disrupt my reading.  I didn't, however, appreciate how much it disrupted things.

So what are my hopes for reading in 2017?  Well, I've decided I need to read more.  More fiction, more classics, more nonfiction, too.  I didn't like not reading books for pleasure for a whole semester. I think if I had, my stress levels would have been less, and I would have had a better time, basically.  So that's goal number one.  Intentionally carve out time to read and make it a priority.  Rather than finishing up homework at night and then watching a show, as much as I love that, I want to choose to read.  Reading is important to me, not only because of how much I learn, but because it is such a part of me at this point, it feels utterly strange not to read.  Here's to having a book with me at all times and reading in between classes and before class starts rather than staring at my phone.

I've done my best not to set any lofty reading goals, but I have a couple small ones.  First, I want to get into another big classic.  I loved loved loved reading War & Peace and stretching that baby over a good few months, and I want to do that again.  I'm thinking Crime & Punishment by Dostoyevsky, because I've heard so many good things about it recently, but we'll see.  Secondly, I want to get back into fiction.  Taking a year off was good, and I love historical nonfiction to the moon and back, but I did miss a good old novel.  Any recommendations for substantive novels would be appreciated.  And that's pretty much all I've got.  Read more, read better.  Those will always be my goals when it comes to books.

My reading this year has touched me and stretched me and molded me, and I am forever grateful to all the books and authors who change me each year.  Reading will always be my favorite thing, and in 2017, I will make it a high priority again and keep it there where it belongs.

Things I Loved in 2016

Call me sappy, excessively-sentimental, or whatever, but this year has gone by in a flash.  I've been busy in a mostly good kind of way the whole year it seems like, but I've been able to enjoy some things that I really loved in the meantime.  I like making these types of lists and remembering things I enjoyed during the hustle that almost act as signposts when looking back.  In the next week or so, I hope to share my personal goals for the coming year as well as consider my reading in 2016, so keep an eye out for that.  For now, though, I want to share the books, films, podcasts, and music that stood out to me this year.

This should come as a surprise to no one with how much I raved about this book both here and in my real life, but my favorite book I read this year, without a doubt, is Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber.  This book struck a chord with me and everything about it was my favorite.  I honestly could not think of a book premise more up my street.  I loved it, I loved it, I loved it.  In one of my few posts of substance in 2016, I reviewed/went on about Surprised by Oxford here.

I put two other books down as favorites, and not incidentally, they are rather representative of the majority of the nonfiction I read this year.  The first is Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, one of the largest books I read this year, er, listened to, as I spent the summer listening to this one on audiobook while mowing the yard (#goals, obviously).  It was fantastic, and the inspiration for another favorite thing this year, Hamilton: The Musical, by the inimitable Lin-Manuel Miranda.  While I read the book first, the music quickly followed.  While biographies about the Founding Fathers are rarely described as riveting reading material, this one was fantastic and utterly readable.

Finally, in the book department, I also read and loved Rogue Heroes by Ben Macintyre, maven of all secret agent-y, sabotage-related WWII to Cold War history.  I loved this book for all of its colorful characters and the author's unmistakable voice.  As these two suggest, most of what I read and loved this year was historical nonfiction set around the Revolutionary War and WWII.  Not mad about it.

I'm going to speed this whole thing up, or we'll be here awhile.  If you couldn't tell from my last post/rave, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was my favorite movie of the year (counting only movies released in 2016).  In reality, I didn't go and see too many movies, or even watch many new movies – at least not movies meant for audiences above the age of 10.  Lots of re-watching Lord of the Rings, mostly.  I detailed all my ramble-y thoughts on the new Star Wars film in a previous post, so I won't go into it again.  I won't admit it didn't have flaws, but I loved it despite them.

This year has truly been the year of podcasts for me, and I have discovered a few that have become firm favorites.  I've spoken about Overdue here before, but that remains one of my most-listened-to podcasts, as well as the one I laugh the hardest at.  Their backlog of episodes is a gold mine, people.  Also, a firm favorite, The New York Times Book Review podcast has been something I look forward to every Friday afternoon for a couple years now, and I thoroughly enjoy it.  There's something about it that makes me feel sophisticated, and I appreciate the variety of books they discuss on there.  And finally, my favorite podcast discovery of the year has to be Hardcore History by Dan Carlin.  This podcast is literally a guy sitting down and talking about history for HOURS.  Like, every episode is 3-4 hours long.  I freaked out when I discovered it.  My favorite series so far is called Blueprint for Armageddon, and it is all about World War I.  It is absolutely fantastic, and deeply moving/inspiring/awesome.  I don't care if you don't like history.  It's the bomb.

Finally, the music album/artist that defined my year the most has to be All Sons & Daughters and their newest album, Poets & Saints.  As a music artist, their music has touched me in all kinds of ways and so many songs, both on this record and earlier ones have put words to feelings and events this year.  They are incredible.  If there is one song that has moved me or left the biggest impression this year, it would be Even Unto Death by Audrey Assad.  It is just the greatest, and I want it to be my anthem forever.

And that wraps up this year and the books, films, podcasts, and music I loved the most.  Hopefully you found some new favorites, and I'll hopefully be churning out a few more posts before school starts up again (hold me!).