As has now become my custom, this is my year in culture in review post. I’m posting it super early because I know I won’t get to read or watch stuff in the next month as I become a holiday wraith. (If you’re curious, I also wrote lists in 2017 and 2016.)
Below are things I listened to, read, or watched this year. Most were released in the last year to two years, though a few are oldies that I only just discovered. I tried to err on the side of more obscure selections, though a few popular choices slipped through. I make no pretense that this list represents the year’s “best” entertainment; it’s merely the culture I enjoyed the most in 2018.
- “Movement,” Hozier: it takes a few views to hear anything given the, um, visuals, but once you’re able to listen, the song itself is soulful, deeply felt, and dead sexy. Here’s to the full album next year!
- “Space Cowboy,” Kacey Musgraves: the title is a pun and it’s the perfect song for Dean and Vivy from Free Fall. But seriously, the entire album is gorgeous, grown up, and an absolute delight.
- John Field, Complete Nocturnes, Elizabeth Joy Roe: I’m still years from being able to play nocturnes, but when I get there, I’ll start with Field. And maybe in a decade or two I’ll be able to pretend to play this well. It’s a lovely collection, made more special in that you don’t know it the way you do Chopin.
- “Redbone,” Childish Gambino: so I found “This is America” to be a bit glib (I know), but when it was everywhere, I dug into Gambino’s backlist and fell hard for “Redbone.” That Donald Glover has it going on.
- “Pristine,” Snail Mail: I almost, almost saw Snail Mail live this summer, and if I had, I would have properly been able to brag I knew about them first. I’ll have to settle for this instead: I love Lindsey Jordan’s voice and lyrics and I bet you will too.
Genre Fiction and Romance:
- Fantasy settings: my number one reading trend of the year is genre fiction that doesn’t take place in this world. And it paid off: The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner, A Court of Thorn and Roses series by Sarah Maas, the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden, and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi were all awesome. Note that these books have varying level of romance, if that’s a thing you look for (or avoid).
- Luck of the Draw, Kate Clayborn: this book eviscerated me. I cried; I had to a take a break; I was certain there wouldn’t, couldn’t, be an HEA. But then it repaired my heart and made me cry a second time, but in a good way. It’s uber angsty but gloriously swoony.
- The Gaucho’s Lady, Genevieve Turner: it’s probably kinda sketch to recommend my critique partner and co-writer’s book, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve strongly resisted the concept of a novel only to love the final product so much. I didn’t think I wanted Juan’s book, at least until I had it in front of me, and then this action adventure marriage of convenience romance set largely in turn of the century Argentina won me over. I’m biased, sure, but this book was criminally under-read and under-buzzed.
- The Rogue Series: I continue to devour every installation of the resistance romance series. Among the volumes published this year, I particularly adored Olivia Dade’s “Cover Me,” Ruby Lang’s “The Long Run,” Suleikha Synder’s “In Her Service,” and Talia Hibbert’s “Resisting Desire.”
Lit-Fic and Non-Fic:
- Secondhand Time, Svetlana Alexievitch: this series of interviews with people who lived through (and now mourn) the fall of the USSR is both extremely specific to a place and time…but also terrifyingly relevant to current events in the United States. Also, it’s a masterclass in how to write voice.
- The Fifth Risk, Michael Lewis: this is my favorite current events read of the year. It is somehow bracing and hopeful while also being gutting and depressing. Focused on what service and government can be–at least in their best incarnations–this book is everything I hope we get back to someday.
- Less, Andrew Sean Greer: a laugh out loud satire of literati and academics, and also a poignant and deeply romantic mediation on middle age, art, insignificance, mortality, and travel. The Pulitzer committee got this one right.
- An American Marriage, Tayari Jones: I stayed up all night reading this, and I didn’t regret my book hangover a bit. It’s a page turner and it’s experimental. It’s crushing and it’s about human resilience. It’s literary fiction and genre fans should read it (and vice versa). In sum, I’ve thought about it every single day since I finished it.
- Black Panther: I don’t do super hero movies, okay? I don’t. Unless they’re good, and this was SO GOOD. The writing, the music, the design, the romance: I loved it to pieces, and it’s held up through many, many subsequent viewings.
- Mozart in the Jungle, Season 4: I adored this show (see my super long post about it here), and I’ll be sad we didn’t get a fifth season forever. Maybe someday, when I’m ready to write fiction again, I’ll dig out my classical music romance series proposal. To me, the show’s final season had everything, and I’m glad it got to go out doing its blend of quirky comedy, workplace drama, and shameless celebration of the arts.
- Damnation: in contrast, I’m alright with this one only having a single season because it’s so satisfying. I mean a radical preacher, a farmers’ strike, a critique of small town race and class dynamics, and the Depression…how much long could we have expected it to have lasted? It’s super violent (also, it’s on Netflix), but the sheer novelty and radicalism of it are worth a look.
- Jesus Christ Superstar: one of my clearest memories from adolescence is stretching out on the floor of my parents’ living room listening to their original JCS cast record–yes, a literal record. So I won’t pretend to be objective about this. But it was the best live TV event I’ve ever seen. An absolute revelation.
- The Americans, Season 6: this is the final show of Peak TV. There, I said it. But I’ll never get over how good Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys were in this show. I love how the two parts of the plot (the spying and the marriage/parenting) fed into and amplified one another. And for a show that could be incredibly violent, the ending was beautifully constrained.
- The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: because I try not to be too political on the blog, what I’ll say is that I respect the kairos of what Colbert does tremendously, and every night, I look forward to Stephen making the news a little more bearable.
- Crazy Rich Asians: in a good year, I see maybe 4 or 5 movies in theaters, and I catch up on the rest on streaming way after the fact–so you shouldn’t listen to me about movies. But in my relief that rom-coms might be coming back, I made a point of getting out for this one, and it was glorious. What impressed me most was what a good adaptation it was. The cuts from the book (Astrid!) and the changes to the ending made the film in some ways more satisfying than the book, and left me ravenous for the sequel.