A slightly early happy and healthy New Year!
This has again been a very challenging 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, during year two of the pandemic.
I read quite a few excellent books this year. The best of them were non-fiction:
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe was the best book I read. It is an incredible story about the despicable behavior behind the origins of the opioid epidemic. (Dopesick, a TV series I watched this year, based on a different book about the same subject, is also superb.) Other excellent books: How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychadelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan, The Sum Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee, and Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us about Ourselves by James Nestor.
During a year in which I immersed myself in music even more than usual, I loved reading Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina, and Richard Farina by David Hajdu and Never a Dull Moment: 1971 The Year That Rock Exploded by David Hepworth. (I also highly recommend the 1971 TV series, based on this book.) A few more recommendations: Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant, The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neuman, and the Great Startup Delusion by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell (yet another book about the crazy money that flies around when investors are misled into believing a business is worth far more than they should. If you haven’t read Bad Blood, the super-fast read about the Theranos scandal, and its founder Elizabeth Holmes, who has been on trial of late, check it out. It was one of my favorite books of 2018.)
I did love a few works of fiction, particularly several collections of humorous short stories by the extremely creative Simon Rich, including his latest, New Teeth.
To keep up with current events, I scan three newspaper apps every morning and regularly read a few newsletters, my favorite of which are “Axios AM” and Dave Pell’s Next Draft, each afternoon. Pell also published one of my favorite books of 2021, Please Scream Inside Your Heart; Breaking News and Nervous Breakdowns in the Year that Wouldn’t End, which defied my expectation that I would never enjoy a book about 2020 (and early 2021), the year we all hope will never repeat itself.
I loved Lupin. If you watch it, do so in French with subtitles (vs. dubbed). After I caught up on the first three seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale, I watched the fourth season as each episode was released. In my opinion, it’s best show on television (and the spoilers from having read the book were minimal.) Other favorites: Bo Burnham: Inside, season 11 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, season 3 of Succession on HBO, all three seasons of Formula 1: Drive to Survive (about Grand Prix racing, one of the few sports I previously knew nothing about), 1971 (as I mentioned above in the Reading section), and the phenomenal The Beatles: Get Back. As I also mentioned above, I strongly recommend Dopesick.
I didn’t go to any movie theaters this year, but I loved 1917, which won the 2019 Oscar for Best Picture. Another favorite movie was King Richard on HBO Max, the bio pic about Richard Williams, his budding tennis superstar daughters, Venus and Serena, and their family.
Listening (to Music)
I listen to music very frequently – old favorites and new music. I also love going to concerts, and while I went to none again this year, due to the pandemic, this year was a big music year for me.
I divide my music eras as follows:
High school: listening to music, reading album covers, and talking about music with my friends.
College: listening to music, talking about music, being an on-air deejay at my campus radio station and, serving as the station’s general manager during my senior year.
Early child-rearing years: listening to kid-friendly music in the car.
Later child-rearing years: back to grown-up music, mostly with iTunes.
2010s: I bought a lifetime subscription of SiriusXM when I got a new car so I could listen to Howard Stern (after a handful of years not listening following his departure from terrestrial radio). The unexpected benefit was all the new music I was exposed to on the Alt Nation and SirusXMU stations.
2021: Subscribing to Spotify changed my life. I discovered an insane amount of music, new and old. My favorite new album this year was Collapsed in Sunbeams (Arlo Parks). I love all the albums by Big Thief, and I’m looking forward to their next album, due in 2022. So far, they have released seven of its 20 songs and almost all of them are superb. I’m a big fan of the prolific Lana Del Rey, who released two fine albums this year, Chemtrails Over the Country Club & Blue Bannisters.
In addition, some favorite new songs include: Serotonin (girl in red), Brutal (Olivia Rodrigo), Savage Good Boy (Japanese Breakfast), Big Energy (Latto), Grumpy Old Man (Remi Wolf), The Best God Damn Band in Wyoming (No-No Boy), Rae Street (Courtney Barnett), Valentine (Snail Mail), Levitating (Dua Lipa), Fly As Me (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic).
Considering the way women have had to fight for their place in the music business (and all businesses), it’s awesome that nearly every album and song I listed are from women. (This Spotify playlist contains my favorite 2021 songs including those listed above, and more.)
Listening (to Podcasts)
Podcasts first became part of my life during 2015. 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 find most of 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 these music podcasts: Broken Record, Hit Parade, Song Exploder, and All Songs Considered.
Trips with family and friends, and to visit family and friends, are my single favorite thing to do, and the thing I’ve missed most during the pandemic. After getting vaccinated in the spring, we went on summer drives for long weekends, or for a week with, or to visit, family and friends in Woodstock (NY), Cooperstown (NY), Acadia National Park (ME), the Berkshires (MA), and Montreal (when Canada’s border was opened to Americans in August).
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 to help you to “Be Happy” – lists of what you are grateful for, what makes you smile, and your accomplishments. When I started posting these annual reviews, I realized they fit with 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, 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. I continue to look forward to 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 2022,