Suzannah Lessard’s The Absent Hand: Reimagining Our American Landscape is the perfect Heartlands read. In this collection of essays, the veteran writer and observer lays bare what we have done to the land in the shift to the digital age. Lessard’s writing is beautiful and her thesis is strong–whereas the created landscapes we live in have previously been determined by the kind of work we do or the God we worship, we have entered an era in which the physical world has been swallowed up by the online worlds that consume our days. We are in the age of atopia–no place–and with no common understanding that used to be facilitated by the landscape we share.
You can read my review by clicking the title above, but here’s a portion:
We are casting about for what these relics [of the Industrial Age], still standing, mean. “Having no common interpretation of our surroundings, we are, to a degree, lacking in any common interior life with which to orient to one another. In a way we are lost.”(8) Lessard makes this point early on and it only becomes more clear as she works her way from the fields and villages of the countryside to the city and then to the sprawl. [originally published in The Englewood Review of Books]
So here’s the recap of the 10 Best Reads, with links to my reviews, along with a few other recommended readings from the year:
- The Absent Hand: Reimagining Our American Landscape by Suzannah Lessard
- Heavy by Kiese Laymon
- Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
- Joy: 100 Poems edited by Christian Wiman
- A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers
- Elmet by Fiona Mozley
- The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War by Andrew Delbanco
- These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore
- Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah
- Uncommon Prayer by Kimberly Johnson
Other recommended reads:
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson — Just your average novel about spontaneously combusting children and the pain of growing up. Wildly funny.
Exactly as You Are: The Life and Faith of Mister Rogers by Shea Tuttle — a beautiful exploration of the life of one of our favorite TV personalities. Tuttle brings him alive while avoiding the dangers of hagiography or take-down.
God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America by Lyz Lenz — another attempt to explain what’s going on in rural America and rural churches by an Iowa journalist with a wry eye.
The Behavior of Love by Virginia Reeves — Heartlands-favorite Reeves crafted another sterling story of marriage, loss, and institutional life–this time in Montana.
The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker — one of the most helpful books I read all year. If you are designing meetings or events, Parker offers a very practical and creative guide to helping them be meaningful.
Lists from previous years can be found here: