As I wrote last year, despite popular opinion, I am actually a big fan of end-of-the-year lists, roundups, and rankings. I like to hear people talk about things they love, I like getting recommendations from smart people, and I like forcing things I enjoy onto the people around me, so this is basically my favorite time of year.
Here's the first half of my Best of 2016 compilation, specifically focused on all forms of media.
Books Are Best
I've written elsewhere about some of the books I read in 2016, including several of the ones on this list, but here is a straightforward list of what I loved the most this year. I didn't do a great job of keeping track of everything I actually read (#2017goals) but I know that these ones were GREAT.
Bellweather Rhapsody - I wrote about this book in my summer reading post, but it really was one of the best things I read in 2016. It's a murder mystery, a coming-of-age story, and a really smart music novel all in one. If any of those genres appeal to you, READ THIS BOOK.
Sweetbitter - Another one I wrote about this summer, and another one I had strong personal connections to, as a foodie and sometimes food writer. Sensual and entertaining without being prurient; walks a fine line and does it well.
The Queen of the Night - One last repeat from my summer reading list. Probably my favorite book of the year. It's epic but also shockingly intimate and detailed. It's technical but also gorgeously impressionistic. This is a Great Novel.
The Wangs vs The World - This is one of the last books I read this year. It got a ton of hype, but I have to say it really lived up to it. It's enormously invested in both its plot and its characters and tells a story that feels entirely new and fresh but also timeless and familiar. Really lovely writing.
Fates and Furies - This was actually one of the very first books I read this year, and it's still kind of haunting me. It's about love, marriage, and, you know, the ultimate unknowability of other human beings. Or whatever.
The Album as Art Form
In a few days I plan to post a playlist of my favorite songs from this year, but for now, here are some albums I enjoyed qua albums this year.
Beyoncé - Lemonade - Really? If you have questions about this, do not tell anyone.
Bon Iver - 22, A Million - Yeah, I still love what that weirdo Justin Vernon is putting out there, I admit it.
Daughter - Not to Disappear - I'm a little worried that every Daughter song is starting to sound the same, but their music is still the perfect thing for a *surprising* number of my moods.
Allen Tate - Sleepwalker - The lead singer from one of my favorite bands (San Fermin) put out his first solo album this October and it's been a late-breaking fave. That voice!
Hannah Epperson - Upsweep - This one's a little out of left field; I came to it via my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify and just feel for it, really hard. It's the debut album from a Canadian signer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who falls into the "looper" category with other faves such as Andrew Bird, Kishi Bashi, and Imogen Heap. Each song on the album is paired with another song that has the same title, one written in the persona of Amelia, one in the persona of Iris. There's a narrative explanation for this on Epperson's bandcamp page but mostly I just love the playfulness, creativity, and sonic world of this album.
Yeah, I just don't watch enough TV to give a top 5 list. I honestly don't have the attention span for most of it? I love Jane the Virgin but I'm way behind on this season. I've started The Crown but I'm proceeding at a leisurely pace. I didn't watch Stranger Things, Atlanta, or Westworld or the Gilmore Girls revival. Maybe someday? I was unimpressed by the new Black Mirror episodes. The only new and kind of revelatory thing I watched all the way through was High Maintenance, so let's just say that was my top TV show of 2016.
I definitely do have the attention span for podcasts, though. My love affair with this medium is still progressing along very, very healthily. Here are five new podcasts I started listening to this year (all but one actually started up this year, too).
See Something Say Something - A new podcast from Buzzfeed about being Muslim in America that is informative and hilarious and really, really charming.
Still Processing - A whip-smart new podcast about race and culture from The New York Times
Witch, Please - A not-new podcast about the Harry Potter series run by two Canadian academics that is everything I want from engaged public literary scholarship.
Code Switch - This incredibly brilliant and attractive wing of NPR finally started their own podcast this year and it is such very necessary listening.
The West Wing Weekly - One of my favorite podcasters (Hrishi Hirway of Song Exploder) going episode by episode through one of my favorite television shows (the only one I have *ever* owned on DVD) while also making social and political commentary with the help of brilliant and erudite guests? Well, duh. (Josh Malina is there too, although that's not the way to sell this show if you're talking to someone like me.) (Sorry, Joshie.)
If you're looking for a way to spend some of your Hanukkah cash or Christmas gift cards or need a last-minute prezzie for someone on your list, you could do way worse than handing them one of the books or albums listed here. Mostly I just think you should seek out everything I've mentioned in order to make your own life better, though. Let me know if you try out anything I've suggested and have thoughts and/or if you have media that you want to recommend to me in exchange. Happy reading, listening, and viewing. Watching for 2016 #top5, part 2, coming soon!