Unlike in past years, I didn’t keep a monthly media log in 2018. For that and for other reasons, I had a rather haphazard year of reading and watching. The PBS Great American Read inspired my reading selections, and Netflix largely dominated my viewing. In sum, I read 40 books and watched 20 movies, plus more TV series than usual. I also listened to many podcasts, but I’ve yet to find a reliable way to track my listening. Maybe in 2019 I’ll finally figure it out!
For now, here are the top five books, shows, and podcasts that defined my 2018:
1. Ru Paul’s Drag Race (Season 10 & All Stars 3)
Miss Vanjie. Miss. Vaaaaaanjie. The most memorable media moments of my 2018 centered around Drag Race. From seeing the Season 10 final four at NYC Pride – just days before the season finale! – to screaming at the television when Trixie Mattel snatched the All Stars 3 crown (Shangela was ROBBED and we all know it!), Drag Race was the media through-line of my 2018. This show gave me so much joy this year – joy that continues on into 2019 with All Stars 4! YASS.
2. James Baldwin, in general
I started 2018 with Baldwin’s classic The Fire Next Time, then read Giovanni’s Room and Another Country, which was a PBS Great American Read pick. Although Another Country was by far my favorite book of 2018 – and now one of my favorite books of all time! – I extend this slot to my discovery of James Baldwin as one of my favorite writers. He is a master craftsman in the art of writing, and this year his work led me down paths of inspiration (me: “This! THIS!”) and despair (also me: “I will never be as good a writer as James Baldwin”).
3. Caliphate (NYT Podcast)
In 2017, I was obsessed with S-Town. I thought nothing could possibly top the audio storytelling of that series until I encountered Caliphate from the New York Times. Wow. It follows journalist Rukmini Callimachi as she reports on the Islamic State, interviewing a former member of ISIS and entering war zones to rescue documents. I’ve never listened to anything quite like it. Both haunting and enlightening, it gave me a newfound appreciation of journalists like Callimachi who risk their lives to document the what, how, and why of terrorism.
4. The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix series)
Speaking of haunting… how about a fictional one? The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is one of my all-time favorite books, and so I approached this Neflix series with maybe more skepticism than the average viewer. It surpassed all expectations. Adding family drama to the atmospheric horror that makes the book so great was a wise direction. And they made/kept Theo queer (thanks Netflix!). I only wish that the ending wasn’t quite so tidy and optimistic.
5. David Bowie: A Life by Dylan Jones
Please Kill Me! by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain enlightened me to the fact that I love oral histories. Go figure! So, an oral history about my favorite musician, artist, famous person, and starman David Bowie? I’m IN! Instead of reading David Bowie: A Life all at once, I snacked away on it over a few months, savoring the sections as they chronicled Bowie’s eras. Through interviews with Bowie’s colleagues and acquaintances, I came away with the sense of Bowie as an intensely disciplined artist.
Maniac (Neflix series) was bizarre and beautiful, and Jonah Hill turned into a hawk.
Nancy Podcast Live! at the Museum of Science was my first ever IRL podcast experience! The podcast itself continues to be awesome.
Nailed It! (Netflix series) inspired my sister and me to make a unicorn cake! And it came out pretty good!: