It’s the most wonderful time of the year, the moment just before we flip the calendar page when we can take stock and separate the good from the bad and the ugly. Here’s what I would keep from my media consumption this year , what I suspect I’ll reread, relisten to, and rewatch in the years to come.
As is typical, most of these things are recent releases, but a few oldies snuck it. Tell me what I should fill the gaps with in the comments; and if you need more content from me, see my best of lists from 2018, 2017, and 2016.
Music and Podcasts:
“Eat, Sleep, Wake” by Bombay Bicycle Club: Infectious and endlessly danceable, this is the soundtrack of me making dinner and sipping wine almost every evening this fall.
“Flowers” from Hadestown: I love the entire soundtrack from this musical that tangles together the Persephone/Hades and Orpheus/Eurydice myths in a post-apocalyptic New Orleans, but the poignancy of this track, when Eurydice accepts her fate and sleeps in the bed she made, is deeply compelling. Eva Noblezada has an absurdly beautiful voice.
“hostage” by Billie Eilish: Sure, this song is from two years ago, but I am an old. I cannot be expected to keep up with all the trends! And though Eilish is undoubtedly trendy, she’s also weird and moody and just GOOD. The kids are alright–and talented.
“Now That I Found You” by Carly Rae Jepsen: I cannot get enough of Jepsen’s cotton candy blend of pop and electronic dance music and joy. If I don’t feel this way all too often these days, Jepsen makes me remember what it’s like.
Season 10, Revolutions by Mike Duncan: This is the soundtrack of my commutes. Twenty-three episodes in and we aren’t even to the revolution of 1905, but we’ve had hours on Marxism vs. anarchism? Yes, please. Also, this is the first appearance of the year’s main theme: all things Russian.
The Tiny Desk Concert by Lizzo: The YouTube video I’ve watched more than any other this year is Lizzo absolutely owning NPR’s Tiny Desk. An instant classic of radical self acceptance. Plus a flute.
“Walk Through Fire” by Yola: Part folk song, part bluesy rock anthem about how fires, literal and metaphorical, make us stronger. So basically it’s 2019 in a track.
Genre Fiction and Romance:
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri: A historical fantasy romance set in an alt Mughal empire featuring a self-rescuing princess, a powerful but gentle male protag, and magic? I adored it.
Faithful Place by Tana French: My first binge of the year was French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, and I went back and forth about whether to feature this or The Trespasser. Sure, Stephen Moran is more my speed, and I adored Antoinette Conway’s prickly vulnerability, but you could pick out a paragraph of Frank’s inner monologue from fifty feet away. Some of the best prose I read all year was French’s.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary: I just read this, so it’s sneaking in under the wire, but it’s CHARMING. A contemporary romance that begins with epistolary elements, features a gentle beta male protag, and a female protag who’s finding herself and her confidence after a terrible/controlling ex. I loved it.
The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas: My other major binge was Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, and this is far and away the best entry. I literally could not put it down and inhaled it in a single sitting. Everything in the first two books pays off here; the romance fires on all cylinders and so does the mystery. Ultimately, wherever Thomas leads, I’ll follow.
The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite: Achingly romantic, beautifully written, and so, so very hopeful. I loved both female protags and the science (of course), but it was actually the needlecraft metaphors that charmed me most. And one of my favorite romance trends this year was all the high profile f/f. It’s been a long time coming.
Teach Me by Olivia Dade: Full disclosure, I beta read this and Olivia is a close friend of mine, but this contemporary romance about two history teachers falling in love is dazzling and delightful. It’s also a chance to watch a writer coming into her full power and voice, and it’ll give you chills.
Lic-Fic and Non-Fic:
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: a book I would never have discovered if not for people crowing about it on my Twitter timeline, it’s terrific. A brilliant use of first-person POV that has you identifying with the narrator, and then yanks the rug out from under. Brilliant on gender and technology and, well, everything.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: In many ways, this was my book of the year, and I wrote about it extensively here. I spent more time with War and Peace, and reading other things because of it, than I did with anything else. The spin offs included this Napoleon biography and most of Svetlana Alexievich’s oeuvre, and thus it set the tone for my summer. If you have any interest in Tolstoy, for me at least, he proved worth the effort.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya von Bremzen: Part family memoir, part historical narrative of Soviet cuisine, nothing else I read this year better embodied ennui than this book. What does it mean to long for tastes you’ve never had? Bremzen tells you.
Apollo 11: The best documentary I’ve seen this year. Maybe the best documentary I’ve seen the last five years. How can it build such tension in telling a story we know the outcome of? I don’t know, but rewatch the lunar module landing sequence and tell me.
Booksmart: Another very late entry, I watched this on a plane a few days ago, and I could not stop laughing. I can’t really be objective about it because I found it too relatable, but if you’ve seen graduation party movies like Say Anything or Can’t Hardly Wait, you owe it to yourself to watch this feminist revision of a seemingly familiar story. Beanie Feldstein is a treasure.
Chernobyl: We all thought we renewed our HBO subscriptions for the final season of Game of Thrones, which turned out to be a dud, but we stuck around for this bleaker than bleak miniseries about lies and nuclear disaster. What can I say? It felt damn timely.
Fleabag: I liked and admired season 1, but I adored season 2. Every scene, every line, every performance is perfect. Phoebe Waller-Bridge deserves every single honor that can be heaped upon her. A love story indeed.
When They See Us: Several years ago, I watched Ken Burn’s documentary The Central Park Five, and it was so painful that I thought I couldn’t handle Ava DuVernay’s miniseries on the same subject. The truth is that it took me months to watch When They See Us precisely because every shot hurt. The specificity, the humanity, the righteousness: they were all necessary and perfect. Yes, this crucible burns, but the only way out is through.