I had a not great year personally, but I did read and watch a lot of really good stuff. Here are some of my favorites. A general rule across categories: it doesn’t matter what year it came out, if I consumed it this year it is eligible.
I read 58 books this year. My goal is always 60, so I am gonna call that close enough. I am really glad I have managed to keep reading for fun since I’ve been back in school. I really love reading, and I hope this newsletter has encouraged you to pick up a book!
Of those 58, 53 were written by women (lol) and 27 were written by people of color. These are things I started paying attention to in the past couple of years because I want to be mindful that I am not just reading the same types of stories from the same types of people. I’m not necessarily concerned about reading more books by men (its not my fault they are not writing romance novels) but I would like to read more books that aren’t written by white people next year.
I read 12 non-fiction books this year, which is lower than I would like it to be. I think/hope I will read more non-fiction once I finish school. I generally did not count my reading for school in these stats unless I actually read a book cover to cover.
You can see the full list of everything I read this year on Goodreads. In no particular order, my five favorites from each category:
The Intimacy Experiment by Rosie Danan: This is the second in a series and I really love them both. You don’t need to have read the first one (The Roommate) but I recommend you do anyway. This one is about Naomi, who starts teaching a Modern Intimacy workshop at a local synagogue after she meets Ethan, the new Rabbi who is trying to bring new, younger people into the synagogue.
Well Matched by Jen Deluca: The third in one of my favorite rom com series, all about a small town called Willow Creek that has a Renaissance Faire every summer. These are fun and cute and so, so good.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood: In order to convince her best friend that she is over her ex, Olive, a PhD student, starts fake dating Adam a professor in her department who is infamously strict and mean. LOVED this one.
The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon: An enemies to lovers story about Shay and Dominic, who work at a radio station and become the hosts of a show where they discuss their previous relationship and give out dating advice. BUT, they never actually dated and it’s all a lie.
Beach Read by Emily Henry: I absolutely love this book and am constantly recommending it, even to people who think they don’t like romance novels. Plot: Augustus and January are both authors who become neighbors, and they strike up a bet to each write a book in each other’s genre and see who can get it published first. This is not just one of my favorites from this year, but one of my favorites ever.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: Such a fascinating book that takes place in two different timelines. In the earlier timeline, Amy and Reese are two trans women who date for five years. In the present day, Amy has destransitioned and is now Ames, and he has accidentally gotten his boss/girlfriend pregnant. Ames knows Reese has always wanted to be a mother, so the three of them explore the idea of parenting the baby together. This made me think so much about gender and motherhood, and is also just such a good story.
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney: I am Team Sally Rooney is Good, and if you are too, I think you will like this book. I think she is such a good writer, and the characters in this are a little older than her previous novels so it felt a little more mature. I loved.
The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans: This short story collection blew me away. These stories all touch on similar themes of race, culture, identity, and history, and they are just compulsively readable. This is so well written it made me upset. A+.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: I just read this book this week, but I loved it so much it had to go here. This takes place in the lead up to a flu-like pandemic that wipes out a significant portion of the world’s population, and also 20 years in the future in a wholly new world. I can’t really describe this in a way that does it justice, but I found the writing and the character development to be so incredible in this. Could not put it down, highly recommend.
When No One Was Watching by Alyssa Cole: A WILD thriller about a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn. Best to go in knowing nothing else. Worth a read if you liked Get Out.
How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith: A truly incredible book. Each chapter is about a different landmark or location that is significant to slavery in this country. Clint Smith is an absolutely incredible writer and I learned so much from this. This should be required reading.
Maid by Stephanie Land: A memoir about the year Stephanie spent trying to leave an abusive relationship, cleaning houses to make ends meet and taking care of her young daughter. A visceral portrait of what it is like to live in poverty in this country and just so well written. The show, on Netflix, is one of my favorites from this year too.
Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe: A deeply researched and incredibly comprehensive book about the Sackler family, who started Purdue Pharma, created OxyContin, and knowingly and without shame fueled the opioid epidemic. This reads like a novel, and it is absolutely infuriating.
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong: An essay collection about Asian American identity, part memoir and part cultural criticism. Hong is a poet and this is just beautifully written.
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford: A memoir about growing up with a father who is incarcerated and all the ways that can ripple throughout a family for decades. Ashley is an incredible writer and I really loved this. Content warning for sexual assault.
This was SO hard to narrow down. This was such a good year for television. I watched so many good things!
Pen15: A very funny, very heartwarming, very on the nose show about Anna and Maya, two best friends in seventh grade in the year 2000s. The final season just came out a few weeks ago. I think this show is brilliant and am sad to see it end. On Hulu.
Dopesick: Very well done miniseries based on the book of the same name, about the opioid epidemic, Purdue Pharma, and the Sackler family. This show is infuriating and so incredibly sad, but it is also so good. On Hulu.
Love Life: I love this show!! There are two seasons, each with a different main character. Each episode chronicles a different relationship throughout their life. I thought season one, lead by Anna Kendrick, was good, but I thought season two, lead by William Jackson Harper was EXCELLENT. I want everyone to watch this so they make many more seasons. On HBO Max.
Dickinson: A criminally underrated show. Hailee Steinfeld plays Emily Dickinson as she comes of age and strives to become a published poet. This is one of the most unique shows I’ve ever seen, its set in the 1800s but it has a modern feel. The performances in this are all excellent, it’s so funny, and the soundtrack is one of the best on television. I am begging everyone to watch this. The final season just ended this week. On Apple TV+.
Maid: This show is so well done. A fictionalized version of Stephanie Land’s memoir, it follows Alex as she tries to leave an abusive relationship and starts cleaning houses for money. I could not turn this off, I watched all 10 episodes in one weekend. It is frustrating and sad, but also uplifting. Margaret Qualley as Alex is incredible, deserves an Emmy nom for sure. On Netflix.
Sex Education: This is one of my favorite shows of all time. Season three came out this fall and its one of the best seasons of television I have ever seen. This is an ensemble show about a group of high schoolers at a school in the UK, and it’s just so, so good. There is such diversity in the types of people represented and the stories told, it portrays platonic friendships in a way that I rarely see on screen and I love, and it is just so funny and heartwarming and GOOD. I cannot recommend this enough. On Netflix.
The Other Two: I think this is the funniest show on tv right now. Every episode has me laughing out loud. It’s about Cary and Brooke, two siblings who try to build successful careers in the entertainment industry after their 13 year old brother becomes internet famous overnight. If you love pop culture, if you love inside Hollywood gossip, if you are very online, and/or if you are a millennial, this is for you. It is so hilarious, I cannot adequately express how funny this show is. Two seasons, on HBO Max.
The Good Fight: Once again I am screaming about how everyone should watch The Good Fight!!! This is a spinoff of The Good Wife, which is one of the greatest television dramas ever made, but it really doesn’t matter if you have watched Wife. Fight is just as good, maybe better. The cast is full of icons like Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald. It touches on current events better than any show on right now. I subscribe to Paramount+ just to watch this. It is worth it.
Starstruck: I loved this cute little rom com show! Its a quick 6 episodes, so it almost felt like a long movie. Jessie meets a guy named Tom at a party, goes home with him, and in the morning realizes he is a very famous movie star. This is so good, I watched it twice in one week. If you like a rom com, you must watch. On HBO Max.
Rutherford Falls: I don’t think enough people paid attention to this because it is a Peacock original, but I thought it was so good. It’s the newest Mike Schur sitcom (he made The Office, Parks and Rec, The Good Place, etc). Ed Helms plays Nathan Rutherford, who is fighting against the mayor’s intention to move a statue of Nathan’s ancestor, one of the town’s founders. He is also in conflict with members of the local Native American tribe who support removal of the statue because it honors a man who colonized their land. This is funny and poignant, it’s getting a season 2 and I really recommend you watch. You can get Peacock for free if you are an Xfinity customer.
Superstore: This show absolutely ruined my life for a full week earlier this year, I could not do anything except binge watch this. This is definitively one of the best sitcoms I’ve ever seen and I’m not sure why it does not get Parks and Rec/New Girl level hype and praise. It’s a workplace sitcom about a group of employees at a big box store called Cloud 9. It made me laugh and it made me cry, this is a perfect show with one of the most satisfying series finales I have ever seen. If you’re looking for a binge, it should be this. On Hulu.
It’s a Sin: This is a gorgeous, absolutely devastating miniseries about the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the UK in the 1980s. This is a very quick five episodes, but I watched it so slowly because after the first one I was already so in love with all of the characters and I did not want to watch them go through what I knew they were about to go through. This is a beautiful show, wonderfully written and acted, joyful and celebratory and also heart wrenching. It’s so well done. On HBO Max.
Search Party: One of my favorite discoveries from this year, this show is so weird and so hilarious and I love it so much. In the first season, Dory sees a news story about an acquaintance from college that has gone missing and she and her friends become obsessed with trying to find her. I cannot say anything else about any of the following seasons without spoiling it all, but I am obsessed with this weird little show. John Early and Meredith Hagner play two of Dory’s friends and are giving two of the funniest performances I’ve ever seen on tv. The final season comes out next week and I cannot wait. On HBO Max.
Honorable mentions: Succession, Insecure, Only Murders in the Building, Euphoria, Hacks, Mare of Easttown, You, Good Trouble, Impeachment, Shrill, The White Lotus, and The Great Pottery Throwdown (I told you this was hard to narrow down).
I’m only going to talk about movies I watched for the first time this year, not my all time favorites that I rewatch over and over again. That is another post for a different time.
CODA: This is such a heartwarming film. CODA stands for Child of Deaf Adults, which the main character, Ruby, is. She is the only hearing member of her family and helps to run the family business, and the movie begins with her senior year of high school when she joins the school choir. This is a delight, such a great coming of age film. It won a bunch of awards at Sundance and I think it could be an Oscars dark horse! On AppleTV+.
Zola: This movie is a TRIP. It’s based on that Twitter thread that went viral a few years ago, an insane story about a woman named Zola who goes on a trip to Florida with a girl she hardly knows to make money stripping, and then all hell breaks loose. Aesthetically this movie looks dreamlike, content wise this movie is *insane*. Everyone in this cast committed 100% in a way that was very fun to watch. This will not be for everyone, but I thought it was very funny. Rent on Amazon.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar: God this movie is so stupid. I loved it. This was written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, who also wrote Bridesmaids. They play the titular Barb and Star, two middle aged women from the Midwest who decide to go on an adventure…to a resort in Florida. I simply cannot explain any more of the plot. This is ABSURD, so so stupid. It’s like if you combined the vibes of Austin Powers with the humor from Bridesmaids. Just so dumb. It’s also so hilarious, it had me cackling and there’s one moment towards the end that made me laugh so hard I had to pause it. Very fun, very dumb. On Hulu.
Shiva Baby: This is about a college student named Danielle who goes to a Shiva with her parents, where she runs into both her ex-girlfriend and her sugar daddy. This is exactly as chaotic as it sounds. I was stressed! The music really added to the overall vibe of claustrophobia and panic. Danielle is played by Rachel Sennott, who I don’t think I’ve seen in anything before, and the ex-girlfriend is Molly Gordon, who I love. This is very much an indie movie, and will not be for everyone, but I thought it was good. On HBO Max.
Bo Burnham: Inside: When I think back on the year 2020, I’m not sure anything has better captured what it felt like than this. Bo Burnham wrote, filmed, and edited this alone, during the pandemic, and I think it’s really good. On Netflix.
Plan B: I loved this movie so much and I hardly saw anyone talking about it! This is about two high school best friends who end up on an all-night road trip to get to a Planned Parenthood because one of them needs a morning after pill (the titular Plan B). Of course, they run into the most absurd scenarios and hit quite a few roadblocks on the way. This is such a fun take on your classic up-all-night high school movie. Reminiscent of Booksmart, one of my favorite movies of all time. Highly recommend. On Hulu.
20th Century Women: This movie came out in 2016, but I watched it for the first time this year. This has an incredible cast—Elle Fanning, Annette Benning, Billy Crudup, GRETA GERWIG. Annette plays a single mother living in and running a boarding house with multiple tenants in Southern California in the 70s. I enjoyed this immensely. It’s very visually appealing, has an eclectic, melancholy vibe, and it’s a lovely story. On Showtime.
Minari: I struggle to explain how much I loved this, because just describing the plot doesn’t really convey how lovely this film is. This movie is gorgeous. It’s about a family of South Korean immigrants who move to an Arkansas farm in the 1980s. I loved this so, so much. The score is incredible, the performances are incredible, this movie is just stunning. One of my favorites from last year’s Oscars season. On Showtime.
Promising Young Woman: This movie was truly wild. One of those films that ends, and I immediately need to read everything that’s been written about it. Visually this was so appealing, and the soundtrack is so good. The cast is stacked, full of really famous, funny people. Carrey Mulligan gives a really good performance. The plot was insane but kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time, and I did NOT see the end coming. This is definitely polarizing, I am very Pro. Heavy content warning for sexual assault. On HBO Max.
Together Together: I just thought this was so delightful. It stars Ed Helms as a single, middle aged man who wants to have a child, so he finds a surrogate, a woman named Anna (Patti Harrison). It just follows them throughout the entire pregnancy. This was so endearing, just really lovely. I liked it a lot and it made me SOB. On Hulu.
Honorable Mentions: Spencer, I Care a Lot, In the Heights, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and Britney vs Spears.
Writing this newsletter every week has really made me love writing again. Here are some things I wrote this year:
I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these things, if you tried and liked something I recommended this year, or if you have a suggestion for me! Thanks for being here.