Tag Archives: npr

2019 In Review

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Stuff That Happened

Stuff I Did

  • Things I tried and liked: line dance, spades, Master Swim Club.
  • Things I tried but did not like: CrossFit, acupuncture, testing for CPO.
  • I turned 30.
  • I KonMari’d my house. It is still just as organized, months later!
  • I visited Maui and Olympic National Park.
  • I saw ionnalee live in Seattle. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for a decade now and I was so lucky to see her while she was in the US.
  • I ran a 10k with a friend. I don’t have any desire to run farther than a 10k ever again, if I can help it; meanwhile, said friend is now training for a marathon!
  • I deployed for hopefully the last time.
  • I began the pre-separation classes from the Navy. I have a little over 200 days left until I become a civilian again.
  • I put in an application for graduate school!
  • I saw Hamilton (Hartford), Phantom of the Opera (Honolulu), and the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra play Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
  • I got PRK surgery and it changed my life.
  • I started volunteering at the women’s prison on Oahu.
  • My cousin came to visit me in Hawaii! This is the first time someone has come to see me since I joined the Navy.
  • My dad got married! We now have two teenagers in the house, and it’s actually pretty fun to have them around.
  • I read some books. Not as many as last year, but enough.
  • I started playing a lot of Pokémon Go. Like, a lot. I also met a ton of folks in my neighborhood this way.
  • Emma Donoghue visited a library near my mom. Not only did Mom get a book signed for me, she went completely over the top.

Favorite Book of the Year

Card reads: “Trash-talking, queer AF Necromancers in outer space! So many bones, such magic, major flexing. This genre-bending novel is my favorite thing published this year. I laughed, I cried, I obsessed and joined the cult of the ninth. Join me!”

(Kelsy from Savoy Bookshop & Cafe, Westerly, RI)

The hook of “lesbian necromancers” is obviously a huge draw, and it’s mostly true. Gideon the Ninth combines fantasy, sci-fi, and murder mystery in a big spooky mansion, where nine necromancers and their bodyguards have to outwit one another and overcome physical and mental trials to become the immortal, omniscient right-hand servant of their Emperor God. The titular Gideon, a rowdy, queer orphan, gets tricked into protecting the necromancer from the Ninth House, the ruthlessly ambitious and cruel girl who spent her childhood bullying Gideon. The two have to learn to trust one another if they’re going to succeed – and survive.

The majority of the dialogue consists of Gideon and Harrow mercilessly roasting each other (“I completely fucking hate you, because you are a hideous witch from hell. No offence,” Gideon tells Harrow early on, to which Harrow replies pityingly, “Oh, Griddle! But I don’t even remember about you most of the time”). But beneath the hate emerges fondness and respect; these two care about one another more than the job dictates. As they proceed through the tests, the relationships they develop with each other and the other necromancers and bodyguards are, at turns, intriguing and delightful and suspenseful, especially considering only one pair can win.

Muir sums up the tone of the story in an interview with Forbes: “I wanted a book that was absolutely saturated with horrible things, but leavened with a more flippant narrative style.” I enjoyed this book from start to brutal finish, and I intend to reread it soon – the sequel comes out next summer.

Runners-Up

City of Girls (Elizabeth Gilbert)
The Light Brigade (Kameron Hurley)
Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) (read for the first time this year)

Favorite Movie of the Year

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A down-on-their-luck working class family cons their way into a wealthy home by providing services to the family under false pretenses. As the story progresses, the means that the family is willing to take to keep their identities a secret escalates, going from amusing, slapstick obfuscation to a truly shocking display of violence. This is not a spoiler; the arrangement is quickly revealed to be untenable and the breaking point is inevitable, but you don’t know when or what it’s going to look like.

Moments of suspense are so thick you could cut them with a knife. What made this story stick with me, though, was its moral ambiguity, especially regarding its underlying themes of socioeconomic hierarchies and the cycle of poverty. It was all very disturbing, but in a way, I think, that people will come out the other side better and more empathetic.

Runners-Up

Booksmart
Bombshell
Marriage Story

Favorite TV Show of the Year

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Based on the very good memoir by Lindy West, Shrill explores navigating life – family, friends, work, relationships, dieting – as a fat woman. This is a story about moving through a world that demeans you at every turn, and it is incredibly rewarding to watch Annie evolve from humble, self-effacing, and apologetic into funny, brash, and brave. Shrill made a strong and lasting emotional impression on me, and it changed the way I see myself and others – especially their invisible struggles.

Runners-Up

Letterkenny
Good Omens
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

Favorite Game of the Year

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There was some quiet indie hype surrounding Outer Wilds. Published by Annapurna Interactive – which also produced Florence, a wonderful app game I reviewed in a previous post – this game is Firewatch meets Firefly meets Groundhog Day. The player, armed only with a translation tool, radio, and camera, is caught in a 22-minute loop, starting with awakening at a campsite beneath the stars, launching into space, and researching a long-dead civilization, before the sun goes supernova and destroys everything in the system. Wake up, explore, die, repeat – until you understand why it’s happening. And maybe do something about it.

Look, I’ll be real: if you are prone to existential dread, Outer Wilds is going to mess you up. The whole Groundhog Day gimmick is in service to a shockingly bold question about the purpose of our existence in a way that I’ve never seen any other medium – game or otherwise – try to do. I still think about it a lot.

Outer Wilds took me on an adventure I was not expecting or, honestly, entirely emotionally prepared for. It gave me moments of fear and triumph that haven’t experienced in anything else in some time. The game is far from perfect: the ship flies like a toilet covered with banana peels and it gives you no guidance whatsoever on how to actually finish the story (though, admittedly, that’s sort of the point). If all of this seems extremely vague, it’s because I desperately want you to play it for yourself and feel all these terrible and wonderful feelings without expectations, because the struggle is absolutely worth the payoff.

Runners-Up

Untitled Goose Game
Pokémon Sword and Shield

Dead by Daylight (not from 2019 – just played a lot of it!)

Favorite Album of the Year

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The trajectory of Lizzo’s career across 2019 is basically a straight vertical line: from the release of the music video for “Juice” in January to performing “Truth Hurts” at the BET Awards in June, Lizzo went from relative obscurity to the longest-running #1 song by a solo female rapper in the unbelievable span of only six months. Cuz I Love You had more plays for me than any other album this year by a long shot, and for good reason: Lizzo’s incredible pipes and relentless confidence, packaged in 11 unskippable tracks, create a nearly transcendent state of positive self-love. The twerking-while-fluting is a great gag, too.

Not sure if Lizzo is for you? Watch her NPR Tiny Desk Concert, where she is at her most effervescent and charming.

Runners-Up

Dedicated (Carly Rae Jepsen)
Wasteland, Baby! (Hozier)
My Name is Michael Holbrook (Mika)

Resolutions for 2020

See as many movies as I read books

I’m always scrambling at the end of the year to get caught up on the pop culture that I was neglecting throughout the year, by which I mean movies and TV shows. I think I’ve figured out my problem: when I’m sitting at home, I rarely want to take a risk on renting a movie I’ve never seen before, potentially losing an hour or two on something I won’t like, and instead defer to a movie I’ve seen a million times but know I will love, namely Mad Max: Fury Road or Pride and Prejudice or Spirited Away. But I end up missing out on a lot this way and I’d like to do better. So, for 2020, my big goal is to see as many movies as I read books, which usually works out to one per week. I’m not the movie-watching type, but I’d like to be!

Get out of the Navy

You’d think this was a done deal by now. I think it is. But I guess you never really know; I could sleepwalk into my own reenlistment (story of some people’s careers). Regardless of whether or not I get accepted to graduate school, my time in the Navy will come to an end in 2020. It’s just a matter of when: July or October.

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#TRYPOD

During March, NPR and others are encouraging podcast enthusiasts to share their favorite content. Last year, I asked for recommendations, and my friends provided. Now I am almost always listening to a podcast: while I’m getting ready in the morning, working out or out for a walk, doing housework, driving. I use the default podcast app on my iPhone, but there are many more out there for all types of platforms.

Here are my top ten favorites, in no particular order. If you give one a listen and like it, I’d love to hear what you think!

The Sporkful (WNYC)
It should surprise no one that I like a show about food. I love food. But this is not a highbrow foodie program – it’s about the foods that we all know and love. These episodes are short and usually full of laughter. My favorite episodes are the arguments that seem insane on the surface (is cereal a soup? is a taco a sandwich?), but end up making you reconsider some of your etymological assumptions. I learned a lot, too, about the struggles of people with food sensitivities and particular religious diets through this show.

Judge John Hodgman (MaxFun)
I wish I had thought of this idea first. John Hodgman listens to disputes between people – such as, recently, “I want to convert our master bedroom into a dedicated virtual reality space, but my wife is not down” – and, after listening to arguments from both sides, decides on the issue. One of my favorite aspects of this show is the inversion of drama. Ordinarily, in court shows, we come to see people at their worst. The “litigants” in JJH present their issues not only humorously and with affection for the person they’re arguing with, but they also allow the listeners a peek into their personalities and individual lives as well. It is always charming and uplifting.

My Brother, My Brother and Me (MaxFun)
I discovered those McElroy boys through Monster Factory, a youtube show where Griffin and Justin abuse video game character creation mechanics to make hilarious and disturbing creations, all of whom they refer to lovingly as their children. This kind of joyful positivity is infectious, and it led to me finding more and more of their content (so much content).

In MBMBaM, the boys take questions from listeners and Yahoo Answers and try to give advice. Spoiler alert: it’s mostly jokes and goofs, but on the rare occasion that actual advice is given, it is always heartfelt and sincere. The best part about MBMBaM is that, in their pursuit of inclusivity, the brothers are outrageously enthusiastic about everything, and it is this aspect of their comedy that sets them apart.

I could fill this post entirely with McElroy brother content. They are prolific. It was hard to put only one of their shows here, especially since I’ve just caught up on The Adventure Zone – a DnD podcast they do with their dad – and I can’t believe how invested I’ve become in this story. It is so good. But MBMBaM was the first, and I think it’s the McElroys at their best. And now it’s a TV show! Truly, if you could use a laugh, put on anything by the McElroy brothers and your day will be a little brighter.

Reply All (Gimlet)
Even with my lousy memory, Reply All has the least forgettable content. Maybe it’s because I encounter the general themes of the show – the internet and technology – so routinely. But the stories they tell are so engaging and relatable – especially for my generation, where so much of our culture originates and spreads through the internet. Example: a few months ago, there was an episode in which Alex and PJ took calls from anyone for 48 consecutive hours. For a show that is usually very upbeat and humorous, it was rawer than I was prepared for. I think about it often. I think about Reply All content in general pretty often.

Crimetown (Gimlet)

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My Nana and Papa in Silver Lake on their wedding day – early 1950s

My dad grew up in Providence. When I came home on leave last year, he drove me around his old neighborhood, dropping names and connections that didn’t mean a whole lot to me. Shortly after that, Crimetown came out, an investigation on Rhode Island’s mob past. As I listen, the names and places that my dad told me about come rushing back. This show isn’t just RI’s past; it’s my dad’s past, too, growing up in a place where organized crime was part of the neighborhood. He loves this show.

Even if it didn’t hit so close to home, I would still listen to Crimetown. It is journalism that feels intimate and alive. I suspect they will do other cities in future seasons, and maybe it will make those cities feel close to home, too.

Planet Money (NPR)
Planet Money is my favorite “short and sweet” weekly podcast. It presents economics in current events in a way that makes me actually care. It is funny and playful. The episodes are also usually the perfect length to listen to while I get ready in the morning, and I always feel like I learned something after I’ve finished listening.

Radiolab Presents: More Perfect (WNYC)
Radiolab – the original podcast – is very good, but More Perfect is great. It only ran for a few episodes, but they were all totally engrossing. More Perfect discusses the history and events surrounding some of the most interesting decisions of the Supreme Court. If there was any one podcast that I desperately want to return to life, it’s this one. It packs a lot of fascinating insights into only a few episodes.

99% Invisible (PRX)
99PI discusses aspects of design and history that are hidden in plain sight. I found one of my new favorite blogs (McMansion Hell) through 99PI. I learn something new every time I listen; more importantly, I learn something new in a way that makes me perceive and interact with the world a little differently than before. Roman Mars also has one of the most soothing voices I’ve ever heard, which makes learning even more of a pleasant experience.

Welcome to Night Vale (Night Vale Presents)
Welcome to Night Vale is the strange show about a fictional desert town that reignited my love of podcasts. It comes off a little heavy-handed in the weirdness sometimes, but the world of Night Vale stays consistent and believable because, I think, it creates an atmosphere where not only is anything possible, but also nothing is surprising. It is thirty minutes, twice a month, which allow me to think past my expectations of “normal” and wonder, “What if?”

The Night Vale folks have a few other weird-fiction shows: Alice Isn’t Dead (a truck driver searching for her missing wife becomes involved in a surreal plot), The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air) (the janitor of the Eiffel Tower tries to get involved in the radio show being broadcast there), and Within the Wires (the narrator of instructional audio tapes subtly coerces the listener to escape from an institution). 

Snap Judgment (WNYC)
Whereas other weekly themed storytelling podcast like The Moth engages with its rawness – one person, on a stage, sharing a story – Snap Judgment excels in composition, mixing music with personal narrative. I have never listened to an episode of Snap Judgment that wasn’t totally engrossing. Better yet, Snap is focusing increasingly on stories that don’t always reach the mainstream – stories from people with diverse backgrounds and struggles. They are usually from individual experience, sometimes from fiction, but they’re always true.

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