In what’s being almost universally recognized as a year we’re glad to be rid of, there were still bright spots. Here are the ones I found this year.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates was an absolute revelation. The writing is beautiful, of course, but Coates’ perspective is what makes this book so gripping. Everyone should read it.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro is one of those books I finished and immediately felt like I had to talk to about with someone. I think it’s better if you go into it not knowing too much about the premise, like I did, but it explores the consequences of remembering and what we lose, good and bad, when we forget. Ishiguro’s writing is stunning and subtle until he smacks you with a passage or a sentence or a turn of phrase that leaves you feeling a little melancholy. But in a good way.
Revisionist History, from Malcolm Gladwell, was solidly at No. 1 on the podcast top chart while new episodes were coming out this summer, and all 10 episodes are fascinating. His miniseries on education (episodes 4-6) and especially his look at where ultra-expensive private universities spend their money (“Food Fight,” episode 5) is a great place to start. Now I have to read all of Gladwell’s books.
NPR’s Planet Money is fun, which is a word I would pretty much never assign to anything business- or economics-related. The episodes are usually around 20 minutes, and they manage to turn copyright law, manufacturing innovations, shipping regulation, etc. into compelling stories that leave you feeling smarter, and isn’t that what everyone wants out of a podcast? The five-part series about the oil industry is a must-listen.
Of course I came to Game of Thrones as it’s launching into the final seasons, but I don’t care. The show is fantastic. I read the series this summer (felt pretty lukewarm about it) and feel like I can say the small-screen adaptation is way better. If you’re like I was and have been holding out for no discernible reason, quit. Go watch it.
Good Girls Revolt, the unfortunately canceled Amazon Prime series about late ’60s/early ’70s women journalists tackling gender discrimination at work, is completely binge-worthy. Watching this and reading Gloria Steinem‘s My Life on the Road this year made me realize how little I know about the women’s movement, something I’m planning to fix in the upcoming year.
In the March issue of Northern Virginia Magazine, we ran a profile on Shasta Donegan, a taxidermist in Leesburg. Really, though, Donegan is an artist, a pioneer in the male-dominated world of taxidermy. Writer Melody Rowell created a piece that is a little kooky, a little reflective and everything a good profile should be.
Want to irk journalists to no end? Refer to “the media” as some single-minded group operating without integrity to influence, deceive or manipulate the public. The Washington Post‘s Paul Farhi sums up why this is so ridiculous: “Those who work in the media don’t gather in our huddle rooms each morning and light up the teleconference lines with plots to nettle and unsettle you. There is no media in the sense of a conspiracy to tilt perception.” And yet plenty of educated people believe otherwise.
Esquire published “El Chapo and the Secret History of the Heroin Crisis” by Don Winslow in August, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. It’s a story about unintended consequences (specifically those resulting from marijuana decriminalization and El Chapo’s capture), Mexican cartels and the heroin epidemic, which in 2014, according to the story, killed “125 people a day, more than five lives every hour, a fatality level that matched the AIDS epidemic’s peak in 1995.” There’s definitely not a happy ending—fentanyl, cheaper and deadlier, is poised to take the place of heroin, and a former collection of big cartels is dissolving into chaos.
This year was accidentally the year of country music because I can’t help it; it puts a smile on my face. I discovered Cody Jinks: “Birds,” “Mamma Song” and “We’re Gonna Dance” are lovely, and his new album, I’m Not The Devil, is the perfect counterpoint to radio-friendly pop country.
Also streaming this year, courtesy of my much-loved Spotify Premium subscription: Hero, the debut album from Maren Morris (who is everywhere and has four Grammy nominations); Dierks Bentley‘s Black, especially “Freedom” and “Mardi Gras,” which have held up through many repeated listenings; Miranda Lambert‘s “Vice” and “Highway Vagabond” and probably the rest of Weight of These Wings once I make my way through the entire double album.
But it wasn’t exclusively country music for me in 2016. I was obsessed with Rihanna‘s Anti and listened to it pretty much nonstop for the first few months of the year. And if I believed in guilty pleasures (I don’t—why should I be ashamed?), I guess Ariana Grande‘s Dangerous Woman would count, but I wouldn’t care. Girl’s got a killer voice.
Leah Remini did an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit about Scientology, and it was equal parts engaging and horrifying. Next up: Watch her show on A&E.
Wink Wink Studio (@winkwinkstudio) on Instagram is such a great follow. Artist Suzy Lindow’s creations are whimsical and uplifting and gorgeous, and her collages are at the top of my list of gifts to give myself.