Happy New Year!
This has been a horrible year for all the reasons I don’t need to list here. Nonetheless, as I have done for quite a few years, here are some of the experiences I enjoyed this past year: what I listened to, what I read, what I watched, and more—pandemic edition.
After several years reading very few books, and instead watching TV shows, reading tons of news, and listening to podcasts, I cut back cut back on alerts and news in 2019 and became more selective about my podcast listening. As a result, for the second year in a row, I read quite a few books during 2020. These were the best ones:
Non-Fiction: Caste by Isabele Wilkerson whose The Warmth of Other Suns was a favorite of mine in 2019, Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, a book I can’t believe I didn’t read sooner, Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, whose prior books were all favorites of mine, Arc of Justice by Kevin Boyle, and The Life You Save by Peter Singer (no relation).
Fiction: Years ago, I heard about the Neapolitan Novels, a four-book series known by Elena Ferrante. During 2019, the TV show my wife and I loved watching most was My Brilliant Friend, the screen adaptation of the first of the Neapolitan Novels. In early 2020, I read the other three books in the series, The Story of a New Name, (which we then watched when it was on HBO this year), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child. These are beautiful books and make for incredibly beautiful television. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins was a compelling, fast read. Most recently, I read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. I saw Hitchcock’s movie version of Rebecca many years ago and barely remember it. When I heard a remake was coming out this year on Netflix, I was going to watch it, but the reviews weren’t great. A review I read mentioned how wonderful the book is. I agree. It’s superb. Du Maurier’s writing reminds me of Edith Wharton’s.
I read two newspaper apps every morning and regularly read a few newsletters, my favorite of which are “Mike’s Top 10,” each morning, from Axios, and Dave Pell’s Next Draft, each afternoon.
Marcie and I loved the mini-series The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. We enjoyed the third season of Ozark and the fourth season of The Crown on Netflix, the mini-series Unorthodox on Neflix, the mini-series The Undoing on HBO, the eighth (and final) season of Homeland on Showtime, and (as mentioned above) the adaptation of the second of the Neapolitan Novels, The Story of a New Name on HBO. Our favorite documentaries were Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, and The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart on HBO. I also greatly enjoyed two Netflix movies: Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7.
I loved season 10 of Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO and I binged seasons one and two of Succession, the disturbing HBO series about an incredibly vile family and their “family” business. For a lighter view of the news, I enjoy Last Week Tonight with John Oliver HBO and Weekend Update (on Saturday Night Live).
As I say every year, not too long ago I watched no TV other than some sports. Now, TV delivers lots of high-quality entertainment, while quality, full-length movies are a rarity. During this pandemic year, with movie theaters not a viable option, quality TV was a very valuable diversion.
Listening (to Music)
I listen to music very frequently – old favorites and new music. I also love going to concerts, but went to none this year.
My favorite new albums: Punisher (Phoebe Bridgers), RTJ4 (Run the Jewels), Fetch the Bolt Cutters (Fiona Apple), Color Theory (Soccer Mommy), and Wildflowers & All the Rest (Tom Petty). As a huge Tom Petty fan, it was a wonderful surprise to be able to listen to new music from Petty, who passed away too young, two years ago. Timed to coincide with his 70th birthday, his family re-released his 1994 Wildflowers album as Wildflowers & All the Rest, with never-before-heard songs, as well as demos and live versions of favorites.
Listening (to Podcasts)
Podcasts first became part of my life during 2015. My love for them has grown each year since. I learn more from podcasts than almost anything I do. (The links I have included are for the Apple podcast app. I imagine you can also find these wherever you listen to podcasts.)
Newsworthy is a 10-minute daily podcast about the news of the day. I listen weekly to the wonderful This American Life. Fresh Air is a daily podcast with a wide range of interviews, many of which I listen to. I also listen to most of the episodes of the music podcasts, Broken Record and Hit Parade.
Podcasts are another way I have kept up with what has been happening in the U.S. since the 2016 election including these daily podcasts: The Gist and The Daily (from the New York Times). One of the best interviewers out there is Ezra Klein. I will continue listening to him as he moves his interview podcast from Vox to the New York Times.
Last, this month I’ve been bingeing Whatever Happened to Pizza at McDonald’s?, which I recommend if you enjoy offbeat humor.
I’ve always enjoyed making lists. Going back as long as I can remember, I have made lists of my favorite movies, books, and music (and within music, my favorite artists, albums, songs, and concerts).
I’ve often recommended making lists of what you are grateful for, what makes you smile, and your accomplishments. When I started posting these annual reviews and lists, in a post like today’s—what I read, watched, and listened to this year—all fit somewhere in the weekly happiness lists. Looking back at all I’ve learned, experienced, and enjoyed gives me a sense of accomplishment, a sense of gratitude, and makes me smile.
During this terribly sad and stressful pandemic year, thinking often about everything I am grateful for has helped me. I am fortunate to have a job that allowed me to shift to working from home. More importantly, I am grateful for the health of my loved ones.
One of my daughters (age 26) got the virus in mid-March. If it wasn’t for the pandemic, she would have thought it was just an ordinary fever. It was so early in the pandemic that she was not able to get tested, but she later she tested positive for the antibodies. Remarkably, despite the fact that my (twin) daughters live together, my other daughter did not contract the virus.
I can’t think of the right words to say about how grateful Marcie and I are that our parents, including Marcie’s mom (now 95!) have made it through the pandemic so far, and how badly we have felt for our friends and loved ones who lost family members this year (whether from COVID or otherwise).
We are praying for, and looking forward to, much better times ahead.
Tell me about your year. What did you read, watch, learn, enjoy? What are you grateful about? Please join the conversation with your comments…
My best regards for happiness, peace, and health for you and your loved ones in 2021,