It's time for our team's annual rundown of what delighted, inspired, and distracted us (in a good way!) this year. We have contributions from Katie, Susannah, Yurina, Bonnie, Nina, L and Grant. Hope y'all enjoy our picks!
Katie: True confession, I’m only halfway through, but I’m pretty sure Horse by Geraldine Brooks will be my 2023 win. I was slow to start reading, perhaps uninspired by the subject matter—a pre-Civil war race horse, equestrian art history, the biomechanics of winning thoroughbreds. I’m not really a “horse person.” But, 159 pages later, I’m all in. Like, I don’t really want to leave the house because there’s a book tugging at my heartstrings. The book jacket calls it a “sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice.” Yes, yes, and yes. (And please, dear author, don’t let anything happen to that horse or to the boy that loves him…)
My other “best of ‘23” was an experience. This summer, at the strong recommendation of last year’s Vanderbilt Divinity School Porch intern, Randy, I audited Victor Judge’s “Creative Writing about Religion.” His teaching was masterful beyond measure—generous, smart, steeped in charisma and hospitality. Under his spell, I wrote several essays I was happy with. Drum roll… lucky us! Victor Judge is teaching for The Porch in March: The Incarnational Art of Flannery O’ Connor. I suspect that class will make my list in 2024 as well.
Yurina: My favorite book was My Picture Diary by Maki Fujiwara, a woman who was previously known simply as the wife of a renowned manga artist, but is clearly a true artist in her own right. Originally published in Japan in 1993, the English translation was released this year in beautiful binding via Drawn & Quarterly press, and I have already gifted this book to fellow mother-artists, as a gesture from reader to reader to say, "You are not alone." I saw the film Past Lives at the Belcourt and sobbed every time I even recalled that last scene. My favorite album of the year was Mitski's The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We.
Bonnie: 2023 has flown by, and I'm not entirely comfortable with it. One of my favorite reads of the year was Lolita in the Afterlife by Jenny Minton Quigley. I'm depressingly nostalgic and love revisiting old books, stories, and albums that were relevant years ago. For me, Lolita in the Afterlife was an opportunity to revisit a favorite author and the controversy that is Lolita in a post #MeToo society. The book poses essential questions about censorship and art that I haven't thought about since college. On a not-so-serious note, Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae was a popular staple in our house this year, and I'm not mad about it! Other obsessions in 2023 include The Gilded Age on MAX, Unreal Dark chocolate coconut bars, pilates, and Chicken Shop Date. Cheers to 2024!
Grant: My favorite book was Centered: People and Ideas Diversifying Design by Kaleena Sales. This book showcases non-white euro-centric design in a beautiful way. Seeing how design shows up around the world whether in a practical form (quilt making) or purely aesthetic (truck painting in India), seeing the art, and hearing about the different movements was invigorating. In 2023 I really leaned into audiobooks and the app Libby. Libby is a free app that utilizes your library card and offers books in digital audio and visual formats. Yves Tumor’s latest record Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds) was such an interesting discovery for me. This is def a headphones listen kind of record. This record feels like a prime example of where modern music is going. Yves slams genres together and really brings the 90’s nostalgia vibes. I recommend starting with the track "Meteora Blues" and then let the shuffle feature take you on your own journey.
Susannah: I read The Bhagavad Gita for a book club with my yoga studio (my home away from home), and it rocked my world. I hope to soak in its wisdom again in the future. I also loved Kathryn Schulz’s meditation on grief and love, Lost and Found; she's a brilliant writer. And Lauren Groff astonished me once again with The Vaster Wilds, a gorgeous and brutal novel, not for the faint of heart. In music, it was boygenius' world, and I was just living in it—and happily singing along. Wednesday's Rat Saw God was also on heavy rotation. I spent too much time on Instagram, naturally, and fell hard for Landon. A few more faves here!
L: Poems that have taken my attention this year include "I Grant You Refuge" by Hiba Abu Nada, "Mimesis" by Fady Joudah, and "i'm sorry, i'm sorry" by Chen Chen. Full length works include Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency by Chen Chen, and a collection I hadn't read until this year, The Tiny Journalist by Naomi Shihab Nye. The way each of these poets defy power structures—socially, politically, and interpersonally—and center their experience/s and love/s offers me hope to do the same. What I find in all of this work is a powerful literary reminder that community care is essential, and a gateway to worlds where all of our griefs are held, and all of our joys are sacred. (Not all of these offerings are new, but they were certainly new to me!)
Music: In 2023, some dear friends of mine (and ours) have left this life or are facing their own departure. NPR's Tiny Desk winner "Wonder Eye" by Little Moon is a gorgeous, not-to-be-missed song by frontperson Emma Hardyman written for her mother-in-law who was in hospice care. It's also a bit about leaving the Mormon church, and a beautiful approach to death, the inevitable. About the song. And the song and video.
Also, 2 songs by Joy Oladokun have been moments of oasis for me: "Somebody Like Me" and "If You've Got A Problem." An English professor friend of mind, a bit of a self-proclaimed snobber, responded to my recs of Oladokun's songs by saying, "Oh, these are like when I give my comp students the assignment to do a rhetorical analysis of song lyrics," to which I responded, "Simplicity and truth, my friend. Simplicity and truth." But also, listen to how gorgeously her rich vocals are wedded to these tracks.
Books: Justin Torres' new one, Blackouts, is a resonant gem. Though I'm only halfway finished, it's topping my 2023 list. It is a hybrid exploration of, as the New York Times says, "what it means to be erased and how to persist after being wiped away." It is also a lot about plagiarism and the theft of original work, and is steeped in queer identity. Interesting for me is that while I am not queer myself, but only an ally, about 70-80% of the authors who move me the most these last years and address my own lifelong sense of otherness are queer and write about erasure and liminality.
Of course I must add our own A Lighthouse to this list! As editor of this anthology of work by the Porch's Immigrants Write workshop members, you may say," Of course you're recommending it!" And you're right - of course! But let me recommend a very specific section of our anthology. I recommend that you read the section inspired by the simple prompt "Name," and that after indulging in the rich exploration these immigrant writers offer, that you write your own response to the prompt.
Theater: I was lucky enough to do a residency at Yaddo in 2023 and became acquainted with the work of L.A.-based of theater and performance artists Four Larks. Their works lives at the confluence of theater, music, dance, and visual art. It's astonishing. We hope to bring them to Nashville in Fall 2024.