The Best Things I Read, Watched, and Listened to in 2018

Best Books I Read in 2018

  1. The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett
    These six books are the most melodramatic historical novels I’ve ever read.  Francis Crawford of Lymond is an arrogant genius with an alarming amount of self-hatred who willingly plays the villain in order to play a long game of justice, so like, he’s my exact favorite kind of character.  These are DENSE books that somehow fly by, and the fourth book (Pawn in Frankincense) had me literally screaming at the pages.  I’ve been avoiding Dunnett’s second series, The House of Niccolo, because I know they will once more overtake my entire life.
  2. Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel
    I haven’t yet read something by Oppel that I don’t like, but Every Hidden Thing tops my list of his books.  It’s a Shakespearean story of star-crossed lovers from competing families of archeologists scrambling to discover new dinosaur fossils in the Badlands in late 1800s.  If that doesn’t immediately grab your attention, then…I don’t understand your brain.
  3. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    I was entirely surprised to find myself won over by Mitchell’s book, since before this year I only had bad memories of watching the movie in Memphis in a theater full of Yankee-hating Southerners.  But Mitchell is a phenomenal writer!  The story is surprisingly feminist, an unflinching examination of a woman who is willing to flout societal gendered expectations in order to ensure her family’s survival.  It’s messy and inspiring and depressing – three of my favorite things!
  4. Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
    This is satirical fantasy with a heart, where a bunch of over-the-hill champions have to reform their warrior team to save a daughter from an evil bunny-man.  Which is ridiculous, but also the bunny-man is legitimately scary?  And in the very good sequel, Bloody Rose, there is a hero bunny-man who actually made me cry, so…satire with a heart.  At one point they hide from giant trolls who are idly arguing about whether one is using the word “literally” correctly, and I think that sums up the feel of the book quite nicely.
  5. The Power by Naomi Alderman
    How would the world change if women suddenly woke up with the ability to conduct electricity?  This was a depressing and fascinating story that stayed with me for a long time.  There’s a sense of satisfying justice in the beginning, as women who have been abused or belittled for years suddenly have the power to defend themselves.  But it doesn’t end there, ultimately positing that when power comes from physical force, there can never be equality.  The parts that were especially compelling to me were the eerie echoes of women defending their power (“it wasn’t rape, because he liked it”) that throw real life problems into excruciating clarity.
  6. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
    Not nearly as sexy as its title would have you believe, this is both a murder mystery and an empowering story of overlooked women finding camaraderie and joy through sharing, well, erotic stories.  It covers generational immigrants and their conflicting priorities, the inner lives of those whom society labels irrelevant, and the dangers of the patriarchy.  It was entirely unique for me, and I adored it.
  7. Saga (volumes 1-9) by Brian K. Vaughan
    WHAT A SERIES.  These graphic novels had me hooked within a couple pages, and I am so sad to have reached the end of what is currently published, so now I have to wait for the next installment very impatiently.  This very adult story is about two worlds at war, both of which want to kill the child of two pacifists who abandoned the fight.  It is INCREDIBLY creative, with a nation of robots that are just grey people with televisions for heads, and the higher in status they are, the more modern the tv (royalty’s screens are in color).  And, like Kings of the Wyld, this might sound ridiculous, but it’s all played seriously, and yes, I did also cry because of one of the robots.  There’s a lot of crying in this series, because it covers years of this family’s fight to survive, and a lot of people help them and suffer for it throughout the way.  I don’t honestly know how to describe its brilliance, so here’s just this:  It’s my actual first favorite thing I read all year.

Best Things I Watched in 2018

  1. Call Me By Your Name
    This movie is absolutely beautiful!!  It is sumptuous, capturing a lazy summer in Italy with just, an incredible attention to the physicality of a moment, whether that’s the slap of wet feet in sandals or the magnetic embrace of someone newly in love.  I saw this four times this year, and I accidentally cried while describing it to someone.
  2. Stephen Universe
    This cartoon! is! amazing!  I binge-watched all five seasons currently out, and while it started as cute 10-minute adventure segments, the world slowly expanded and got very emotionally compelling!!  It is one of the most good stories out there, by which I mean its hero genuinely wants to help everyone, even his enemies, and his heart is just so big and so beautiful!  This is one of those shows that I think could actually make the world a better place if everyone were forced to watch it.
  3. Queer Eye
    This is another series that could change the world for the better if everyone were forced to watch it!  This is reality tv with massive heart, as five gay men do total life makeovers for straight men.  And I mean total life makeovers.  While there is the requisite hair and clothing changes, the real magic of this show comes from the inside-out transformation of men blossoming under male attention and learning to express their emotions.  I cry a lot while watching this show, and
  4. Terrace House
    For someone who thinks she doesn’t like reality tv, it’s weird to have two on my list this year!  But this Japanese reality show is so sweet!  It’s a classic “six strangers have to live together” scenario, but instead of in-fighting, they generally support each other’s goals and politely discuss any conflict in the house.  And rather than vote people out, a person can stay until they feel they’ve accomplished their goal (which can be anything from ‘launch a ski clothing line’ to ‘fall in love’), they leave and someone new comes in.  It’s all really lovely, non-confrontational, and funny.  Because oh yeah, there’s a panel of Japanese comedians who interrupt the show twice per episode to make jokes about what’s going on.  Genius.
  5. I, Tonya
    I wasn’t around for the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan debacle, but that did not affect my enjoyment of this movie in the slightest.  Okay, “enjoyment” is a strong word.  It’s an excellent movie about abuse, made even more amazing by how it traces her abusers from her mother to her husband…to us, the viewers who judged and opinionated and laughed at her.  It’s also just very cleverly done, intercutting flashbacks with dialogue from the present day.  Inspiring and depressing…hmmm, there’s a trend here.
  6. She-Ra
    Except for these wonderful cartoons with not a bit of depression in them!  The She-Ra remake ALMOST made me want to have kids, because both girls and boys could be so benefitted by its diverse representations of girls and boys.  It’s all about the power of friendship, and it’s also just so healthy.  At one key point, a sidekick begs She-Ra, “You have to fix this!”  Overwhelmed, she admits, “I can’t.”  And instead of forcing or guilting her, the sidekick says, “Okay,” and hugs her, preparing to be destroyed together.  Spoiler, they aren’t, but that moment of grace made me cry actual tears.  Also, there is a princess prom and Catra and Adora have mad chemistry, and I cannot wait for season two!!

Best Podcasts I Listened to in 2018

  1. Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard
    Sometimes he interviews famous friends (or his famous wife, Kristen Bell, whose episodes are always my favorites), and sometimes he interviews mostly unknown experts in various fields (I loved the episode with Dr. Drew about addictions).  It’s a long show, and I don’t listen to every episode if it’s a celeb I don’t care about, but it’s always a fun listen.
  2. Buffering the Vampire Slayer
    Two women review Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, but they spice up their routine with character jingles, a sexual tension award, and a legit good song about each episode.
  3. Failed Missionary
    Hosted by Corey Pigg, former missionary in Germany, this podcast tackles some very real problems in the missionary world like the white savior complex (fittingly discussed by Ugandan men and women).  It’s updated irregularly, but every episode is amazing.
  4. Hoist the Colours I didn’t stop being obsessed with Black Sails this year, and luckily there are still people creating new content about the world’s best television show.  This podcast focuses on the numerous queer characters in the show, tracking their character arcs through the seasons, and it literally makes my heart spike every time I see a new episode uploaded.
  5. Milleneagram
    An irreverent podcast about the Enneagram that’s for “babes and trolls, kids and queers,” it maintains the complexity and beauty of learning from the personality test while including a lot more cussing and real talk than the enneagram podcasts made by middle-aged men and women (which I also love, but they are not my favorite).
  6. Queerology
    An amazing podcast for LGBTQ+ people to discuss their relationship with Christianity.  It’s…just exactly that simple, and I love it.
  7. The Daily
    I am very bad at keeping up with the news, but this half-hour podcast makes me feel a little less uninformed every day.  I especially like it because the current topic is framed in a historical context that makes it all a lot more interesting and relevant.

What were some of your favorite books, movies, tv shows, and podcasts this year?
Tell me in the comments, and maybe they’ll make my 2019 list.

Advertisements

The Lymond Chronicles and The Fleeting Fame of Twitter

I spent the first couple months of 2018 reading through The Lymond Chronicles, a six-book series of historical novels written by Dorothy Dunnett in the 1960s.  I picked up the first one, A Game of Kings, because a podcast I follow had recommended it.  When the first 50 pages proved to be VERY Scottish slang heavy, I tweeted the podcaster and asked for encouragement to keep going.  That interaction evolved into me live-tweeting my Intense Emotions and becoming Twitter famous.

IMG_0291

Let me be very honest.  By “Twitter famous,” I mean I gained about 50 followers who do not know me in real life, and I had a regular group of 5-10 people who would interact with me about these books, including a couple people who I started to consider friends.  An unexpected highlight was when the author of Flora Segunda (one of my favorite books, check out this review I wrote in 2013) liked and retweeted me because apparently she also loves Francis Crawford of Lymond.

IMG_0187

…And then I finished the series.  And two or three people stuck around to like my real life thoughts, but mostly it ended.  I no longer woke up to 20 notifications.  My fifteen minutes of fame were over.  And I could SEE how it had become an addiction for me, the likes and retweets firing dopamine hits to my brain that I didn’t know how to do without.

So I worked through it, dealt with my return to obscurity, and am now doing just fine!

HAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHA.

Just kidding.

IMG_0265

I bought Dorothy Dunnett’s eight-book House of Niccolo series because I feel so empty inside without regular validation from total strangers!!

The end, no personal growth, just the sad but relatable truth.

What I Read | FEBRUARY 2018

112077The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

The friend who shares my love of The Queen’s Thief series suggested that if I like Rogues with a Heart of Gold™, I ought to give Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles a try.  Twenty pages in, I was overwhelmed by the Scottish history and lingo, but a deluge of rabid Lymond fans on Twitter encouraged me to keep going.  One hundred pages in, I was ready to call this (mostly unread) series the best in the world.  It is beautifully and cleverly written, both at the sentence level and in terms of the over-arching twisty plot.  Lymond himself is awful and complex and SO AMAZING, but the huge cast of supporting characters more than live up to his level.  I adored this book, and I can’t wait to read all the others in the series!

23197837The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Although this book has an interesting premise in creating a world in which a special few magically talented girls are revered for their ability to beautify humans that are born with grey skin and red eyes, I just couldn’t buy into the full picture this novel tries to paint.  Why is this ability so important that literally the whole country and political structure revolves around them? Why are Camellia and Amber friends, when throughout the book we only see them arguing or being annoyed with each other?  Big points for a creative concept, but that’s it.

Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 11.38.01 AMAmerican Panda by Gloria Chao

Although distinctly Chinese-American, this book speaks to the universal transition of a college student learning to differentiate herself from her parents.  I loved watching Mei struggle to decide how she wants to live her life as she both appreciates and resents the omnipresence of her parents in every aspect of her existence.  I was also extremely interested in the Chinese-American culture presented here, and I can only imagine how funny and gratifying and meaningful this story must be to readers with immigrant parents.

leonardo-da-vinci-9781501139154_lgLeonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

I loved Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, and I adore Renaissance art, so this book was an obvious go-to for me.  Isaacson once again tells the story of a man’s life with clarity, appreciation, and enough fanboying that the 500 pages flew by.  Da Vinci is famous for his artwork (specifically his Mona Lisa and Last Supper paintings), and I loved reading about how they came to be.  But even more, I enjoyed reading about da Vinci’s obsessive observational skills, and how they led him to discover more about anatomy and machinery than anyone else in his era (or for centuries after him).  He was a genius because his passion for life married art and science, a combination I hope we see more of today!

35099058Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely

A post-apocalyptic story that veers into classical Western tropes of brothels and gunfights, I really enjoyed this book until its last act.  I liked Pity and her conflicted feelings about both enjoying and fearing her new dangerous home.  I appreciated that the stakes were high, with characters actually dying almost from the word go.  But I never really believed the romance, and I thought the ending devolved into stereotype when it could have easily been more interesting.  This seems to be set up for a series, and I won’t be reading more, but this first glimpse into Ely’s world was pretty fun.

13414183Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

The Illinois Caudill books are out, and this was the first I picked up.  It is a hilarious and endearing story of a sensational pre-teen sneaking off to NYC to audition for a Broadway musical.  I loved seeing the city through his eyes:  when he’s excited, all the chaos is beautiful, and when he’s disappointed, the same things are suddenly dreary or scary.  Nate is a BIG character, overwhelming the story and the characters within it with his personality.  It’s easy to see both why he is bullied in school AND why those exact same qualities are going to win him fast friends and success once conforming stops mattering so much.  This is a great book about family, friendship, and first steps toward self-awareness.

whatlight25f-1-webWhat Light by Jay Asher

This is a schmaltzy YA Christmas romance, and I was not into it.  The girl works on a Christmas tree farm one month every year, and she falls in love with the “bad boy,” whose badness is boring and is in actuality the most Do Gooder teenager on the planet.  I was super unimpressed by this one, but it’s a nice thoughtless feel good story if that’s what you need in the moment.

What I Read | JANUARY 2018

Screen Shot 2018-01-27 at 4.35.38 PM

The Queen’s Thief Series (The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings, Thick as Thieves) by Megan Whalen Turner

This is my go-to comfort series, and I reread them when two of my friends in Greece decided to read them as well.  We literally had parties where we talked about the books for hours and fell all over ourselves squealing about Eugenides’ perfection.  They are children’s adventure stories with a political backstory that becomes increasingly important throughout the series, and seriously.  Eugenides is the embodiment of my Ideal Fictional Hero and I cannot even hold it together any time he does anything.

51IpIExqbQL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Pegasus by Robin McKinley

This is an unfortunately cut-off first book in a series that I assume is leading to a human/pegasus romance that I…was super into??  McKinley’s ability to create lush fantastical and creative worlds is very evident here, and I’m really disappointed that there seems to be little possibility of a sequel, just as the political aspect of things were heating up!  I wanna know if humans and pegasi can coexist when led by representatives of their species that can speak telepathically!

6a016760e4a142970b01676103f988970bThe Moon-Spinners by Mary Stewart

This was one of my favorite childhood movies, so I was curious how the novel that inspired the Disney movie held up.  While mostly similar in plot, Stewart’s novel feels more grownup, to the point that I believed a devastating plot twist that fortunately turned even twistier.  A perfect book for those of you who like murder mysteries set on Greek isles!

516RKT4NIAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr

The final conclusion that Rohr reaches “Everything is holy” feels incredibly satisfying and encouraging after a deep dive into the relationship of the Trinity (both amongst themselves and with humans) and how that informs all of life.

2337457The Art of Crossing Cultures by Craig Storti

I read this as I was flying back from Greece, and it was incredibly validating to see my cultural experiences laid out on the page before me.  It helped me to see what I did well and what I did poorly while trying to adapt to a foreign culture, and I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone considering living in a country not their own.

a328d7c9caf2857e082fe981af6df5b8Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

I read this because *ahem* it was a significant plot point in the amazing television show Black Sails, and I’m glad I did.  It’s a bit like the book of Proverbs, and there were quite a few bits of wisdom that I really took to heart, including this one:  “But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human – however imperfectly – and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.”

31207017Love Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Half teenage romance, half social commentary, I didn’t like this book as much as I should have.  Everything felt a little too perfect, and I couldn’t help wanting a bit more grittiness in a novel about hate acts and terrorist attacks.  But it’s a fun quick read, and well worth a day’s read.

 

What I Read | DECEMBER 2017

22-secret-history.nocrop.w710.h2147483647The Secret History by Donna Tartt

If you like stories about pretentious young adults screwing up their lives, you will love this book.  Luckily, I do and I did.  A small group of classicist students try to recreate a bacchanal, which leads to a string of murders and lies that grows beyond their control.  It’s engrossing and horrible and wonderful, and I’m now going to have to read everything else Tartt has written.

817iFfLhJ+LThe Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

After a lukewarm reaction to this movie ages ago, I was happy to discover that I like the book quite a bit more.  It’s relational sci-fi, which isn’t too common of a genre, but should be.  In a Benjamin Button-esque way, I liked seeing Clare and Henry meet up at various ages and times, first as child and adult, meeting in the middle, then growing apart in the opposite direction.  Although it plays with a few sci-fi ideas, my favorite was the idea was compulsive time traveling as a genetic disorder attempting to be cured.  This book was fun, sad, and romantic – a great holiday read!

61VBnB-U+JL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To by Lillian Daniel

This woman is a spitfire, and I loved it.  This book is all about what’s on the tin – she’s a liberal pastor who embraces people of all kinds of lives, and she’s tired of apologizing for all the evils the church has committed over the centuries, and that some continue to commit today.  She makes a compelling case that we live in a new age where young people have grown up outside of the church and need to hear WHY it’s worth considering (because of community, and a connection with the sacred, and a calling to higher, deeper life) instead of hearing all the things other people have done poorly.

51-RupZrb3LStrong Women, Soft Hearts by Paula Rinehart

I bought this years ago, and I wish I’d read it then.  It’s an excellent book, but a lot of its themes of forgiveness, vulnerability, and powerlessness felt like retreads of the 12 Step work I’ve been doing for the past two years.  Still, I very much recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to interact assertively with the people and events that life throws at you while also remaining open despite some of those things being painful.

51W3KFEXGTL._SX281_BO1,204,203,200_Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody

Leant to me by a friend, this true story of an American woman trapped in Iran when a vacation with her Iranian husband turns into an imprisonment.  I didn’t like it at first, since her initial reaction to Iranian culture was entirely disgust, but over time it becomes apparent that this is (somewhat) influenced by her fear and anger.  She does wind up finding people she enjoys or empathizes with, which makes the story take an interesting turn because she fears she will grow complacent and abandon her plan to escape back to America.  Really interesting book, but it did unfortunately throw fuel on the fire of my “you can never know if the person you marry will drastically change!!” fear.

 

What I Read | NOVEMBER 2017

Wow, is it hard to go from working at a library to living in a foreign country.  From overabundance to scarcity!  Since my time is ending in Greece, I’ve decided to actual tackle the shelf of To Be Read books that I kept passing over.  This is actually pretty satisfying, though the going is slower.

Novel_the_blind_assassin_coverThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

This book was immediately intriguing, flashing between an old woman remembering her past and an at-first ambiguous meeting of lovers discussing science fiction plots.  It’s a dense novel, delving into generational family relationships, complications, and regrets.  Because it’s Atwood, the story consistently reveals the underbelly of what it means to be a woman during the early 1900s.  The middle dragged a little for me, but the beginning and end were totally engrossing.

71epnYVGumLThe King Must Die by Mary Renault

A historical novel focused on the life of mythical Theseus, I was ALL about this book.  It covers only the first half of his life (I accidentally read the second book so long ago I was writing full reviews).  Theseus travels to Athens and then Crete, where he lives in the Palace of Knossos (I WENT THERE) and survives by becoming a champion bull-leaper.  Renault is a master at creating believable history out of mythology, and I am continually impressed by how she allows events to unfold in such a way that they can be read as natural events or godly interventions.  Very fun read for Greek mythology nerds!

51zEfKBgrdLAbraham by Bruce Feiler

A Jewish man goes to the Middle East to talk to leaders of the three great monotheistic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – about the man that unites them all:  Abraham.  This is an excellent book for people who like history, culture, and/or theology, delving into sacred texts, oral traditions, and how people have twisted stories to suit their purposes throughout time.

220px-The-lost-city-zThe Lost City of Z by David Grann

A modern day journalist ventures into the Amazon in search of a mythical city and the man who disappeared while seeking it.  It’s more of a biography than a travel memoir, but Colonel Fawcett is a fascinating man.  I loved reading about the early 1900s and all the explorers trying to survive the Amazon rainforest.  Although a lot of it is horrific, and is portrayed as such, Fawcett himself is a man before his time, insisting upon pacifism when interacting with indigenous tribes.  So many people kept returning to the Amazon despite enormous difficulties, and this book does a wonderful job of conveying the enticing mystery that the forest creates simply by existing.