Welcome to the Second Annual Ralphies — First Annual Codex Edition. Following the example of Ed Cook, a number of bloggers, including Rick Brannan, Joe Cathey, and Loren Rosson, and “Targuman” (a new blog I found through Ed’s), have been compiling their favorite books and films of 2005.
What follows is my own list. While I have tried to honour Ed’s template, I find it difficult to narrow lists like these down to one top pick, so I have includes some runner-ups.
Best NONFICTION BOOK of the year: This is a tough one since I have read quite a few non-fiction books! For books published in 2005, here are my selections. My top choice is Vincent Miller, Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture (Continuum, 2004; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This work is not in my primary field of research and that is one reason why it would be my top choice since many of the ideas within it were so new to me. I read it in preparation for my popular culture course and found it to be a compelling and convicting expose of the commodification of religion.
A very close runner up from within in one of my primary areas of research is Ulrich Dahmen, Psalmen- und Psalter-Rezeption im Fruehjudentum: Rekonstrucktion, Textbestand, Sturktur und Pragmatik der Psalmen Rolle 11QPsa aus Qumran (Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah 49; Leiden: Brill, 2003; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This work is an impressive examination of the so-called Qumran Psalms scroll taking into consideration both literary and textual characteristics of the scroll. I highly recommend it!
Best FICTION BOOK of the year: I typically only read fiction when on holidays. Probably the best fiction work I read this year (but was published a while ago) is Susan Howatch, Scandalous Risks (Fawcett, 1991; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). This is the fourth of Howatch’s Church of England series. I enjoy the intellegent theological discussions in Howatch’s books, among other things.
Runner-ups would include J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Scholastic, 2005; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). I enjoy the Harry Potter books, though I am always left with a small sense of dissatisfaction after reading them — I’m not sure what it is, though I wonder if it is the fact that they are based on the school year and therefore like a TV show, you know they will be wrapping up loose ends as the school year nears its end. I also reread Chaim Potok, In the Beginning (Ballantine, 1997; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). I love all of Potok’s books (The Chosen, The Promise, My Name is Asher Lev, Davita’s Harp, etc.), but this one I especially appreciate because it narrates the story of David Lurie, a brilliant young Jewish boy who stuns his family and friends by laying aside his Orthodox upbringing and becoming a secular biblical scholar. I love the final exchange between David and his Rebbe (p. 435):
- Rebbe: “… Are you telling me you will not be an observer of the commandments?”
- David: “I am not telling the Rebbe that.”
- Rebbe: “What are you telling me?”
- David: “I will go wherever the truth leads me. It is secular scholarship, Rebbe; it is not the scholarship of tradition. In secular scholarship there are no boundaries and no permanently fixed views.”
- Rebbe: “Lurie, if the Torah cannont go out into your world of scholarship and return stronger, then we are all fools and charlatans. I have faith in the Torah. I am not afraid of truth.”
Best MOVIE of the year: This is a tough one for me — especially since I taught a religion and popular culture class and consequently watched a few films over the course of the year! In terms of movies released in 2005, my vote for best movie of 2005 would be Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, 2004; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). While this film technically came out in 2004, I didn’t watch it until it was released on DVD in 2005. I found this to be a moving/disturbing film about the genocidal atrocities in Rwanda and how the colonial powers contributed to the problems. It is an excellent case study in situational ethics (what would you do if you were in that situation?). It should be seen in tandem with the Canadian documentary based on the autobiography of Romeo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of RomÃ©o Dallaire (Peter Raymont, 2004; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com).
Honorable mention goes to Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com) for a movie that ponders the notion of redemptive violence; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Mike Newell, 2005; IMDB) for a good film adaptation; Crash (Paul Haggis, 2005; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com for a captivating movie about the ubiquitious nature of racism; Palindromes (Todd Solondz, 2004; IMDB; Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com for a provcative use of eight different actors (playing the same character) in a thought-provoking examination of the moral complexities of abortion.
Finally, I have to give special mention to The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Andrew Adamson, 2005; IMDB). I liked the film, though in order to really appreciate it I will have to see it again since I went with my kids and ended up spending most of my time answering questions from my four-and-a-half year old son! (Q; What is that? A: That’s a faun. Q: Why? A: Uh, because it is. Q: Why? A: Because C.S. Lewis drew upon classical mythology in his writings. Q: Is the faun a bad guy? A: Well, not really, he does bad stuff but then turns good. Q: So he’s a good guy? A: Yes. etc. ad naseum!)
Best CD of the year: This is a no-brainer! U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is the best CD of the year (Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com). I think that with this CD, U2 has returned to their roots (not that I didn’t like all of their music in between!). Sad to say that was the only CD that I purchased in 2005. I actually had my CD collection stolen from my office early in the year and I have been replacing what I lost by downloading them as mp3s since I tend to listen to music only when at my computer (and I can always burn a CD if I want one).
Song of the year: “Yahweh” from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. This is a catchy and intriguing song. Itâ€™s a prayer for Yahweh to intervene, to transform the singer: “Take this shirt / Polyester white trash made in nowhere / take this shirt / and make it clean, clean. Take this soul / Stranded in some skin and bones / Take this soul / and make it sing…. Take this heart / And make it break.” But it’s also a lament, questioning why God is not acting: “Yahweh, tell me now / Why the dark before the dawn?” At any rate, I am impressed that U2 included a song called “Yahweh” on their CD.
A close runner up would be “Crumbs from your table.” When I first heard this song I loved it. But then I watched the DVD that came with the CD and listened to Larry Mullen note how he was so drunk when they wrote that song that he doesn’t even remember writing it! Talk about a downer! But then I read a great blog entry on this song from Spera In Deo where he relays an interview with Bono about the song that redeems the song in my eyes. Here is an excerpt:
About the Crumbs song, he [Bono] told the story of the Irish nun, Sister Ann, who’s story broke his heart. She lives and works near a sewer and brings in people who live in horrific conditions. When he visited her, he saw people who were sleeping “three to a bed.” I had previously thought the song was about Bush’s promised–then rescinded–offer of $15b in Africa aid. But it turns out it is really (also?) about this nun and how some people in the world await crumbs to fall from the feast table of American Christianity (You speak of signs and wonders / But I need something other / I would believe if I was able / But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table).
Once again, brilliant! Well, that’s all she wrote, so I’ll see you at next year’s Ralphies!