I did a lot of re-reading this year, and read a lot of fiction I don't need to revisit. I also separated out plays for the first time. Those facts combine to make the book lists a bit thinner than usual. So I've starred the books and plays-I-read which I would recommend without qualification to anyone who reads this blog. The unstarred things are often amazing, but not as universally-recommended.
Best books read for the first time (nonfiction): * Alan Bray, The Friend. Hands-down winner. One of the most beautiful and mind-expanding books I've ever read.
Speaking of the Eucharist, I love how thoroughly Bray has placed this sacrament at the heart of his book. Anyone interested in Eucharist as love-feast and as quintessential Christian prayer cannot afford to miss this book, for real.
* Caroline Walker Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion.
* Julia Serano, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity.
* Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez, Perfumes: The Guide.
Andrew Cherlin, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today.
I... don't want to be a bitch, but if this is service journalism then I should probably note that the Cherlin wouldn't've made it onto a best-of list in any previous year. I did a lot of re-reading and a lot of reading of subpar fiction this year. The Cherlin has a lot to recommend it, as I hope my review makes plain, but it's just not in the same league as the other four. And The Friend is just interstellar distances beyond the others.
Best books read (fiction/whatnot): Huh, this was not a fiction year for me. I did a lot of re-reading, as well.
Christopher Logue, All Day Permanent Red: The First Battle Scenes of Homer's Iliad Rewritten.
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood.
Paul Celan, Last Poems.
James Agee, A Death in the Family.
Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution.
Best movies watched for the first time: "The Trial."
"Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... And Spring."
"Ran." (Yes, by this ranking you can tell how difficult it is for me to separate personal-favorites from best-of.)
almost made it!: "(Untitled)," "The Squid and the Whale," "Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror," "The Descent."
plus honorable mentions for various shorts in the two discs of "Avant-Garde: Experimental Film of the 1920s and 1930s." One; two.
Best blog posts (six, not five, as is traditional):
"Song for a Future Generation": I wrote a lot about friendship and kinship and same-sex love this year. This post might be the best place to start. (more)
"The Most Important Word in the Declaration of Independence Is 'Created'": Or, why there's no point in requiring "secular reasons" for political stances. With bonus aesthetic theory and America-as-argument.
"Falling in Love (Is So Hard on the Knees)": A response to the best criticism I received for my Commonweal piece about Gay Catholic Whatnot.
What I actually meant can perhaps be discerned by noting that I don't only begin the Commonweal piece with my coming-out story. I begin it with two parallel love stories: my crush on a high-school girl, and my Catholic conversion. The implicit narrative of the essay is the story of how love of Christ and His Bride the Church became more central to my life than lesbian love (real love, not just crushes!), and how, therefore, I began to interpret the latter kind of love in light of the former.
Both of these loves are things I really experienced my own self. So my argument probably should not have been cast in terms of experience vs. tradition, but in terms of which experiences lead us to reinterpret prior experiences and transform our response to subsequent experiences.
"Wear Your Insides Out": Beauty is a killer mutant cat that hides inside another cat.
"Politics and the English Language," a two-part thing about gay marriage and the rhetoric of its opponents. The second post is by far the more important one, I think, but the first post provides context and concessions.
It is now my duty to completely drain you: Against sincerism.
Best things I wrote (nonfiction, non-blog): "Romoeroticism." Possibly the most interesting thing I've ever written for money?
This year, just like last year, Gay Pride weekend coincided with the feast of Corpus Christi.
"Defining the Relationship." Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?
We need to keep in mind that it's okay to challenge God -- Abraham did it. It's okay to howl at God in desperation -- Job did it. It's even okay to laugh at God -- Sarah did it. All of them still understood themselves to be bound to God, to hold Him as their Lord, even as they expressed themselves in ways that wouldn't make the parish council happy.
"Church Ladies," First Things review of Catholic and Feminist.
"Shelf Life," my American Conservative column on MLK library. I also liked my piece on Malcolm X Park. Both are subscribers-only.
But it would be a mistake to map the Burkean sublime too quickly onto a Christian sublime. In the Christian worldview, sublimity is like cheap lipstick -- or the ashes of Ash Wednesday: It gets all over everything.
Best plays (read or watched): Studio Theatre, Rock'n'Roll. (And a * for the script, which I also read for the first time.)
* Edward Albee, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?: Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy. I'd seen this before but never read it. It's a harsh, brilliant, scathingly funny play.
"A Midsummer Night's Dream," adapted and performed by the Synetic Theater.
* Elie Wiesel, The Trial of God.
"Dracula," adapted and performed by the Synetic Theater.
My published short fiction: "Better." What if the aliens are just better than us?
"A Story Like Mine": For every scar there's at least one story.
God bless, and see you in the new decade. Remember that New Year's Day is also the feast of Mary, the Mother of God, a holy day of obligation. Drag yourself to church!