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David's 2019 books, movies, television shows, and podcasts

December 31, 2019 • 9:49 PM

Every three months, I reflect on the media I consumed in that time period. Here, I’ve listed each book, movie, TV show season, and podcast I finished in October, November, and December 2019. I’ve only included those works which I’d never completed previously, or which I’d finished so long ago it felt unfamiliar (eg: The Joy Luck Club, which I last read in high school).

This is not my complete media diet. I also watched a lot of TV that isn’t worth recapping, notably a bunch of Simpsons and Billy on the Street episodes, plus MLB and NBA games. I also subscribe to several podcasts which I enjoy, but don’t listen to every episode: The Right Time with Bomani Jones, The Lowe Post, and WTF with Marc Maron. I got tired of Chapo Trap House and stopped listening to it this year, and The Deadcast appears to have bitten the dust thanks to the idiots who destroyed Deadspin.

Speaking of Deadspin, it used to be one of the few websites I read every single day, but alas. So was Hmm Daily, which is now the Hmm Weekly newsletter. I don’t have much loyalty to any remaining sites, but I do make sure every day to read Kottke, Dear Prudence on Slate, and I check ESPN. I subscribe to several newsletters, but actively look forward to the ones from Will Leitch, Anne Helen Petersen, and The Action Cookbook, though TrueHoop is great, too, and I'm strongly considering paying for it.

Someday, I’m going to quit social media because it’s probably a net negative on my life because I can lose hours just churning through *content* but it turns out I have to maintain access to Facebook for work, Instagram gives me a bigger serotonin hit than anything else, and Twitter is a cesspool that happens to also be the most efficient way to find interesting things to read. All in all, seems like a fair trade.

Let’s get to it.

Most of the passages below are short. If there’s a longer passage, it’s probably because I wrote more extensively about the work elsewhere. At the end, I’ve included a list of every book, movie, TV show, and podcast I consumed this year that was new to me. Here are my media diet reflections for January to March, April to June, and July to September.

BOOKS

Priestdaddy | Patricia Lockwood

This memoir about living with a father in the Roman Catholic priesthood is far from a soft-focus reminiscence, but Lockwood’s prose is full of love and concern for her parents, who she describes as eccentrics who are well aware of how unusual their lives are.

The Princess Bride | William Goldman

You can’t read The Princess Bride novel and completely separate it from Rob Reiner’s 1989 film version. There are a few significant differences — e.g.: Zoo of Death versus Pit of Despair — but all in all, the movie hews closely to the book, and the tone is so similar that it’s hard not to visualize Cary Elwes as Westley and Andre the Giant as Fezzik and Wallace Shawn as Vizzini, et cetera, even though those characters’ descriptions in the novel do not match how they appear in the film.

Moreover, author William Goldman also wrote the movie’s screenplay, and he brought many lines from the book directly to the script, resulting in many of the film’s most memorable moments. Never mind that a different character at a different time utters a variation of, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something” — the sentiment is in both works and the overall effect is to signal to the reader that this is no ordinary fairy tale romance.

Over the years, I’ve developed a strong dislike of The Princess Bride film because it’s plainly misogynist. But I’d never read the novel until now, and I was curious to see if that misogyny was original to the book and simply ported over to the movie, or if it was somehow an unfortunate result of wrangling the story into dramatic form.

If you click through that link to my old essay on the movie, you’ll see I picked up on a theme that Buttercup’s value is tied directly to her beauty and loyalty, and that she is punished every time she acts affirmatively on her own behalf. For me, the most disturbing instance in the film is when Westley raises his hand in a threat to hit her, saying, “That was a warning, Highness. The next time, my hand flies on its own. Where I come from, there are penalties when a woman lies.”


The novel has more room to complicate this dynamic, but isn’t much better, if at all. While it’s true that, ultimately, Buttercup is the one who dispatches Yellin and the Brute Squad to allow our heroes to make their final escape, by appealing to their deference to authority and loudly asserting, “I am the QUEEEEEEEEEEEEN,” she is treated arguably worse in the book than in the movie.

Start with the novel’s preoccupation with ranking Buttercup against all other women in the world by her physical beauty. If I were reading in 2003, 30 years after the book’s publication, I probably would have breezed right by the narrator’s comments about Buttercup’s looks, but that’s because at that time I was a dumbass 20-year-old who, unfortunately, still thought about most women largely in terms of myself and my desires and not as fully human people with their own lives and concerns. Now, I read this shit and shudder:

Buttercup, of course, at fifteen, knew none of this. And if she had, would have found it totally unfathomable. How could someone care if she were the most beautiful woman in the world or not. What difference could it have made if you were only the third most beautiful. Or the sixth. (Buttercup at this time was nowhere near that high, being barely in the top twenty, and that primarily on potential, certainly not on any particular care she took of herself. She hated to wash her face, she loathed the area behind her ears, she was sick of combing her hair and did so as little as possible.)

Yes, that’s the narrator of this book, a fictionalized version of William Goldman himself, saying a 15-year-old girl is in the top 20 most beautiful women in the world, particularly because of her “potential,” as if she’s some power-hitting catcher playing Class-A minor league baseball. Moreover, in the novel, Count Rugen spots Buttercup like some kind of scout coming across said power-hitting catcher on a sandlot, and at the opportune time informs his boss, Prince Humperdinck, that he’s spotted this teenage hottie in the sticks that he should take as his wife. Read their conversation about her:

"And she is truly-without-question-no-possibility-of-error beautiful?"

"She was something of a mess when I saw her," the Count admitted. "But the potential
was overwhelming."

It’s… bizarre? And given that it’s the sympathetic narrator and not just the ostensible villains leering this way, it’s more than a little creepy.

By far the most disappointing moment in the book is the parallel scene I mentioned earlier, when Westley threatens to hit Buttercup. In both works, Buttercup does not yet know the Man in Black is Westley, and when she comes to believe he has killed Westley, she says, “I have loved more deeply than a killer like you can possibly imagine.” In the movie, Westley raises his hand and threatens to hit her, but does not. In the book, however…

“I have loved more deeply than a killer like you can possibly imagine.”

He slapped her.

“That is the penalty for lying, Highness. Where I come from, when a woman lies, she is reprimanded.”

“But I spoke the truth, I did, I—” Buttercup saw his hand rise a second time, so she stopped quickly, fell dead silent.

Within a few pages, they’re all lovey-dovey again, which makes it all the more gross that in the book Westley hits Buttercup and when she protests he threatens to do it again, silencing her.

Ultimately, it’s very odd to read Goldman claiming he wrote this story for his young daughters after they prompted him with the words “princess” and “bride” because its message for young girls is pretty repugnant. Perhaps he was just being facetious with that anecdote, but either way, The Princess Bride is obviously a story about a superman who wins in the end, and the tension comes from how Goldman throws enough doubt our way that we wonder if the superman will, indeed, defeat the bad guys and get the girl — never mind that in order for the girl to choose the superman she has to overlook that he’s a “cocky-funny” bro with violent tendencies.

In the movie, there was no reason for Buttercup to jump down the hill after Westley. In the book, it would have made more sense to have her spit on the ledge she’d just pushed him off, but in this case, Westley doesn’t even have to apologize; he only has to remind Buttercup that he was kind to her years earlier and all is forgiven and forgotten.

The Joy Luck Club | Amy Tan

“Four immigrant Chinese women and their American daughters describe and explain their histories and what’s going on in their lives through the prism of the mother-daughter relationship, everything bulging with a Lady Bird-like energy — if not in text then in subtext — that threatens to fracture their families. They don’t understand each other, but they strive to see who the other is because there’s no other choice; the daughters realize they can’t escape their mothers, while the mothers know their daughters will have to reckon with their heritage while building their own lives, yet they keep trying to influence that reckoning, as their mothers did before. Perhaps it’s futile. Perhaps not.” (Complete post here.)

This Is Where I Leave You | Jonathan Tropper

Think about that garden-variety asshole you know. Yes, that person. The one who you’re sure is not a murderer. The one you’d be mostly surprised to discover is a thief. And yet at the same time you’re fairly confident has no problem with deception, though it’s also pretty clear that this person is so pathetic they might not even be trying to be an asshole for effect, that everyone holding them in contempt might be a giant cosmic accident, from their point of view.

Would you read a novel in which that person was the protagonist? What if the novel was told in first person using the asshole’s point of view? That’s what I kept thinking as I read This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper.

We begin with the protagonist, Judd Foxman, finding out his non-religious recently-deceased father apparently wanted the family to sit shiva after his death, but the real beginning of the story is Judd’s recollection of the time he walked into his bedroom and discovered his wife having sex with his boss. On the one hand, it’s a classic (cliched?) setup to explore Judd’s crippling sense of inadequacy and self-loathing, but not before we get a comic payoff of a birthday cheesecake slammed into the boss’s sweaty bare rump.

Judd gets in fistfights with his brothers, fights the boss who cuckolded him, sleeps with a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, mocks elderly visitors paying their respects to his father, pushes inappropriate boundaries with his emotionally spiraling sister-in-law, and more. If all this sounds boorish and boring and not worth your time, you’re not wrong, but this is actually a positive review and you ought to know This Is Where I Leave You turns the nifty trick of making a pathetic asshole worth listening to.

Except for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl thing, which plays out limply and predictably with Judd disappointing the MPDG by being an asshole, which makes him feel bad and realize he’s missing something important about relationships with other people, the story works because it’s populated with a glorious variety of assholes who make Judd appear less despicable thanks to their proximity. Judd’s mother is a celebrity pop-psychologist who blithely offers unsolicited emotional, sexual, and parenting advice to her grown children with no sense of proper boundaries. Judd’s brother-in-law can’t take off his bluetooth earpiece and prattles on about this deal and that deal like a deranged Charlotte Pickles. Phillip Foxman, Judd’s younger brother, is about the biggest shithead one can be — all cocky-funny douchebro energy, driving like a maniac, hooking up with exes while home to sit shiva even though his actual girlfriend is there with him. Just a piece of work.

It goes on and on, but there’s something fascinating about how Tropper keeps it chugging along. It’s not easy to make a pathetic asshole interesting. We’re in a golden age for anti-heroes, but someone like Don Draper, even though he behaves poorly and is unkind and cruel in many moments, isn’t really that much of an asshole. The full-fledged assholes of the modern canon — Tony Soprano, Walter White — tend to be charismatic men struggling to reconcile their duty with their conscience.

Consider Raging Bull. I’m probably in the minority on this, but Raging Bull is boring and has little to offer its audience other than a brand of cruelty that’s attractive to certain demographics because its protagonist is a monstrous asshole who revels in his dickishness for more than 80 percent of the movie. Compare to a movie like Young Adult, in which Mavis has a real arc to her shittiness that profoundly changes who she is.

It’s a genuine accomplishment that Tropper’s novel largely avoids getting bogged down in attempts to make Judd appear anything more than minimally sympathetic. The only comparable work that comes to mind right away is Sideways, and even that movie made a hard push to get the audience to pity Miles. For most of Judd’s journey, Tropper seems to go the other way: Just when you think you’re supposed to feel sorry for Judd, he undercuts it.

Less | Andrew Sean Greer

I guess I can see why this won the Pulitzer, but all in all it seemed too cute by half. Novels about writers and/or the process of writing tend to annoy me because it’s very hard not to hear one of my multiple college literature instructors who talked about how the struggle to write is a symbol of broader impotence and helplessness and oh God my head hurts from the self-importance of it all. At least Greer tries to soften the navel-gazing by having his middle aged white male protagonist explicitly say he’s tired of middle aged white male concerns in books, but still it’s a bit much for me to get invested in the story.

I Feel Bad About My Neck | Nora Ephron

A collection of essays that are mainly about being a woman dealing with middle age, but also an unabashed love letter to upper-middle-class New York City life.

Emma | Jane Austen

There’s a movie adaptation coming out next year, which I don’t think is necessary because Clueless did it so well. Even if you don’t struggle with the early 19th-century language, there’s a LOT of filler to work through that is supposed to heighten the drama for Ms. Woodhouse, though the whole Jane Fairfax thing could have been resolved in about 1/3 the number of pages.

Garlic and Sapphires | Ruth Reichl

Americans’ relationship with restaurants and food has changed dramatically since this book came out, perhaps in part because of Reichl’s work as a food critic for the New York Times, which Garlic and Sapphires describes in a series of stories about getting in disguise and visiting restaurants in New York. Imagine people writing angry letters to the big-city newspaper because the critic reviewed a mid-priced eatery with Asian cuisine. That’s… crazy! But that was her environment in the early 1990s.

The Collected Schizophrenias | Esmé Weijun Wang

You must read this book. It’s not easy to read the whole thing, and there are a couple points where it feels like information is turning repetitive (because it’s a collection of essays, many of which were previously published), but there’s a rare clarity and righteousness to Wang’s writing. I like to think of myself as empathetic to people with mental illnesses, but Wang’s descriptions of her own bouts with psychosis and more, paired with her unsparing critiques of the American health care system, both hammered home that I know very little and challenged me to think about how we care for people I’d prefer not to think about.

Night | Elie Wiesel

Somehow, I was never assigned this slim volume at any level of schooling, but it’s just as well because it’s as wrenching as anything I can imagine ever reading again. Yeah, yeah, we all agree “the Holocaust was bad”, but what do you really mean when you agree with that sentiment? It’s our responsibility to face and engage the bare ugliness and brutality of putting people in ovens, not sanitize it into a “the Nazis didn’t like Jews” narrative.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore | Robin Sloan

Despite some early feints toward being A Recession Novel, this settles in as a wonderfully fun yarn centered on an unusual bookstore in San Francisco and the connected organization that has multiple people trying to puzzle out the bookstore’s mysteries.

Crazy Rich Asians | Kevin Kwan

A slog. Somewhere around the fourth time the Cupertino-raised, NYU-educated Rachel Chu “looked around in wonder” or gasped or was rendered temporarily speechless by some Singaporean display of wealth, I wanted to quit, but soldiered on in the hope that this book would turn into either a campy indulgence or savage critique of the obscene wealth on display. Instead, it’s neither, amounting to a celebration of wealth that presents those lifestyles as neither desirable nor objectionable — in this world, it’s just the way things are, and always will be. Isn’t it fun to take over an Indonesian resort on a whim?

Watchmen | Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Watchmen deserves every accolade. While reducing the heroes’ ultimate choice to a binary is an unfortunate rhetorical sleight of hand, that’s a relatively minor quibble considering just how dense this book is. Seemingly every panel is layered with meaning, and while the story jumps through space and time, it’s easy to follow the plot. That said, the reader still must work to uncover meaning. If all you do is read the words and turn off your brain, as if Watchmen is a normal superhero story that will tell you who the Good Guys and Bad Guys are, you’ll end up like Ted Cruz or something. (Every one of the main heroes we follow are monsters in their own way. The Comedian. Nite Owl. Silk Spectre. Rorschach. Dr. Manhattan. Ozymandias. They all suck.)


MOVIES


Knut and Friends

Don’t bother.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Much less enjoyable than the should-have-been-better first Maleficent movie. Angelina Jolie should have gotten much more screen time to vamp it up as the “evil” Maleficent moving through the “civilized world.” Alas, we get shuffled off to watch Princess Aurora make scared faces, or the camera follows action in a forest so dark it’s nearly impossible to see who’s actually in the scene.

The Last Unicorn

A deeply misguided and poorly-executed failure. If you’re going to make a children’s animated movie with a cast of B+ celebrities, maybe don’t include a harpy with drooping bare breasts, and also maybe have the cast do more than one take for each of their lines so that they can be edited together to actually sound like dialogue.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco

I imagine there are a lot of people who live in San Francisco, let alone people from outside the city, who watch this movie and wonder where most of the scenes were shot. I happen to have grown up a relatively short distance from the spot where Jimmie and Mont wait for the bus, and I recognized several of the hills where Jimmie’s skateboarding during those montages. But even with that knowledge, it’s a punch in the gut to see rapid urban change dramatized this way, where an unholy kind of heterogeneous decadence is pushing out all the things that are funky, bizarre, and lived-in, and the people who made and loved those things, let alone the people who have their roots and homes there but have always struggled to find any kind of stability.

Bo Burnham: Make Happy

An extremely literary stand-up special. Though it’s fairly funny, it’s much more interesting to think about the broader points Burnham makes in the special, especially in light of Eighth Grade, the fantastic film he subsequently wrote and directed.

Lady and the Tramp (2019)

I really didn’t like this movie.

42 to 1

A run-of-the-mill sports documentary.

Spring Breakers

In the first hour, it seems like pulpy trash. But if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded about the time the Britney Spears "Everytime" montage kicks in and Spring Breakers retroactively becomes a sharp commentary on pulpy trash culture.



Frozen 2

The plot is better than the first one, which shows signs of a tortured revision process that, at one point, at Elsa as the explicit villain. The songs in the sequel aren’t nearly as good, though “Lost in the Woods” is a solid Peter Cetera-style ballad with an inspired bit of animation to accompany it.


Rashomon

Well worth seeing if you haven’t, but as with other groundbreaking pieces of art from decades ago, the key concepts have been refined and expanded upon in more modern works that are probably easier to digest for today’s audiences.

Booksmart

Occasionally, it feels like it’s trying too hard to capture that delirious Superbad energy (though you can say that Superbad tries too hard to capture that energy at times, too). But that’s nitpicking a movie that’s a hoot all the way through, from the robot-dancing outside the car, to bragging about spending time in “Barthelona”, to the infamous bathroom scene, until finally, I was just so incredibly happy to hear, “You wanna get pancakes?” and “Fuck, yeah, I do! Fuck, yeah!”

Blockers

Much funnier than I expected. Less successful at its attempts to pull heartstrings, although it gets bonus points for making the “screwup” dad 100% correct from the start about how parents ought to treat their teenage children, which struck me as a somewhat subtle critique of these types of “prom night adventure” movies.

Tron

I regret not being able to see this through 1982 eyes, because even granting that some of the broader themes hold up, the anthropomorphized “programs” just came off as odd and took me out of the story a bit.

The Little Hours

This is probably really funny if you’re Catholic and stoned. Otherwise, you’re not really missing out on anything.

Knives Out

I wanted to like this a lot more. Unfortunately, the twists and turns and discovery of what actually happened and who did what takes on a leaden quality about halfway through, and the final reveal feels more like a relief that we’re finished than a euphoric sense of discovery, which is what one usually hopes for in a mystery.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

An abomination. This movie cheapens the entire Star Wars series.

I’d say it’s worse than all of them except The Phantom Menace, mainly because I felt deeply insulted by this thing. Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't watched it yet…

Plenty of people are picking up on the subtle and not-so-subtle “fuck yous” that J.J. Abrams issued by sidelining Rose, retconning Rey's parentage, the LUDICROUS Hux angle, et cetera, but I feel that the whole Palpatine thing makes little to no sense in the context of the entire series. Like, perhaps you make a Darth Plagueis callback and have Palpatine come back to life as a guy who has to start all over from scratch. But to have Palpatine attached to a giant medical crane in some sort of previously-never-mentioned massive spiritual underworld and create a battle where he’s using magic powers to bring down thousands of ships seems antithetical to everything the series is, thematically.

Abrams appears to fundamentally misunderstand that the power in Episodes 4-6 doesn't come from big space battles where Star Destroyers get taken down, similar to George Lucas's fundamental misunderstanding that he could improve upon Star Wars with CGI additions, or, in the case of the prequels, privileging CGI spectacles over everything else.

Rather, the original trilogy's power comes from Luke's internal battle to resist the allure of authoritarianism as he gets more powerful, Han's journey to understanding that he gains more from protecting his friends than being a lone wolf, and Vader's ongoing balancing act between loyalty to the Emperor, burgeoning feelings of care for Luke, and a desire to maintain his hold on power, himself. Rather than making him out to be some kind of evil god figure, if Abrams HAD to have Palpatine in the movie it would have been more appropriate for the former emperor to begin resurrecting the Sith as a faction gaining influence within the First Order through a secret apprentice, and that could have, narratively, opened up avenues for complicated multi-pronged conflict between Rey, Kylo Ren, First Order leaders, the Resistance, and so on. All of them would have reason to squash Palpatine before he became too powerful. Instead, in Rise of Skywalker, we see Palpatine is back from the dead and even more powerful than before. How, exactly, did he come back from the dead? Doesn’t matter. Why did he create Snoke when he’s wildly powerful and could have just offered to help Kylo Ren avenge his grandfather? No one can say.

But the best effect of bringing back Palpatine as a potential threat instead of a superpowerful figure would mean the war would turn on the principals' moral choices, as ROTJ turns on Luke's choices to return to his training, to not kill his father, and Vader’s choice to put his son ahead of the Emperor.  Ultimately, TLJ did the entire series a favor by suggesting that it was an accident of history that the Skywalker family was pivotal to the fate of the galaxy for the previous few decades and that the Force is strong with many people. By the end, it's all but explicitly setting up audiences to accept stories from this galaxy about anyone, even a little boy in a stable who doesn't even realize he's using the Force every day.

(We never do get answers to the most important questions in Star Wars, too. Like: Why was Luke told his name is Skywalker if Anakin Skywalker is the most notorious villain in recent galactic history and the whole point of taking him to Tatooine is to hide him from the Empire? And why, in a world with advanced artificially intelligent droids, do people still have to fly spaceships and risk their lives in battle? Why can’t the ships just be droids?)

High School Musical

A couple B+ musical numbers and a great premise do most of the work. Otherwise, it’s a standard toothless TV movie. Zac Efron really is a charismatic presence.

Marriage Story

It’s clear why Nicole would want to divorce Charlie (he’s monumentally selfish; nothing Nicole does will ever come first for him; he’s compatible with her only insofar as she wants the same thing he does or, at least, goes along with what he wants), but aside from her open resentment that he never puts her or anything she wants first, it’s unclear why he would want to divorce her. The tragedy of this movie is you realize Charlie is divorcing Nicole because it’s just another thing he has to do to maintain his position at his theater and stay in his son’s life, and everything turns nasty when he realizes he might have to sacrifice one to have the other. Throughout the movie, I kept wondering to myself: If Charlie doesn’t want to have a fight and wants to stay in his son’s life, why doesn’t he just move to Los Angeles? He’s estranged from his family. I hear there are professional opportunities for drama directors in L.A. (Friday Night Lights spoiler incoming!) If Coach Taylor can move from Texas to Pennsylvania because he realizes he’s partners with his wife and football still exists in other states, then certainly Charlie can move to Los Angeles and pick up his career there.

Kingpin

A solid B- sports movie that, given its reputation, I thought might go somewhere less conventional than it did.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

For some reason, going into it I thought this was more of a screwball comedy and that it was actually set in Greece at a destination wedding. Instead, it was an obviously low-budget yet heartfelt romcom with a weird brief appearance from Joey Fatone. A classic example of a perfectly fine movie that far exceeds expectations based on its development pedigree.

TELEVISION


The Americans

I wrote about one of the best TV dramas ever right here.

Broad City | Season 1

Somehow, I’d never seen a minute of Broad City until I started watching on Hulu right near the end of December, and I plowed through the first season over a couple nights. Even though I’m a few years older than the protagonists, and I only lived in New York for parts of three years (for college), I have enough friends who stayed in the city and have otherwise followed various young people there that many of the notes the show strikes about life in New York in the mid-2010s feel not just true, but exceedingly true. New York is a big city with a huge population, but a lot of Abbi and Ilana’s lives are spent in small spaces and with other people right there. It reminded me of my favorite personal game to play while traversing New York: Can you ever go anywhere in public and simply not see another person? It’s harder than you might think.

All of this dedication to specificity and attention to detail serves the comedy. From the first scene of the season, when we’re introduced to Abbi and Ilana via a video chat that also hilariously introduces Lincoln, to the final scene, in which Abbi and Ilana talk about the relative hotness of O.J. Simpson and the Six Flags guy, I laughed and laughed and laughed and happily anticipated the next laugh.

Rick and Morty | Seasons 1-2

Brilliant. Even though it’s a fantastical sci-fi animated show with bizarre characters at the center, it tackles some heavy ideas and, most importantly, respects that its audience isn’t stupid and can follow complicated narratives. Shockingly few shows do that, even the supposedly “smart” prestige shows on premium cable networks.

The Mandalorian | Season 1

Not the best show ever made, but it’s potentially transformational for Star Wars. The main story is standard mysterious hero fare, but the luxuriously slow pacing and lingering in far-reaching corners of the galaxy laid an exciting template for future Star Wars shows and movies. The beauty of all the world-building done in the original trilogy means we can drop in on virtually any setting and follow new characters. Note: characters. I suspect there’s a nearly-unending demand for interesting characters within the Star Wars universe, and focusing on galactic developments that alter our understanding of the Skywalker saga is just far too narrow a path to take.

PODCASTS


Bag Man

Well worth a listen, because I think Rachel Maddow is right that not enough people understand or remember just how insanely corrupt Spiro Agnew was.

30 for 30 Podcasts | Episodes: The Spy Who Signed Me, The Loophole, Queen of Sorts, No Rules: The Birth of the UFC, All In: Sparking the Poker Boom, Rickey Won't Quit, Madden's Game, Cursed and Blessed

Most of these are decent enough time-fillers. The Spy Who Signed Me, about the owner of a Russian women’s basketball team that signed Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, and The Loophole, about Hideo Nomo’s jump to MLB, are the standouts.

The complete list of books, movies, TV shows, and podcasts I consumed in 2019 is below, with special recommendations asterisked.

BOOKS
Angle of Repose | Wallace Stegner
Northanger Abbey | Jane Austen
*There There | Tommy Orange
The Glory of Their Times | Lawrence Ritter
Second Wind | Bill Russell
New York 2140 | Kim Stanley Robinson
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up | Marie Kondo
The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way | Bill Bryson
A Walk in the Woods | Bill Bryson
Of Mice and Men | John Steinbeck
Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet | Jamie Ford
Winter's Bone | Daniel Woodrell
The Confidence Game | Maria Konnikova
Bad Blood | John Carreyrou
The Idiot | Elif Batuman
Bad Samaritans | Ha-Joon Chang
*The Art of Fielding | Chad Harbach
Baseball's Power Shift | Krister Swanson
Priestdaddy | Patricia Lockwood
The Princess Bride | William Goldman
The Joy Luck Club | Amy Tan
This Is Where I Leave You | Jonathan Tropper
Less | Andrew Sean Greer
I Feel Bad About My Neck | Nora Ephron
Emma | Jane Austen
Garlic and Sapphires | Ruth Reichl
The Collected Schizophrenias | Esmé Weijun Wang
Night | Elie Wiesel
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore | Robin Sloan
Crazy Rich Asians | Kevin Kwan
Watchmen | Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

MOVIES
Role Models
*Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Bird Box
Black Panther
All the President's Men
The Lego Movie 2
Harriet the Spy
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Big Hero 6
The Greatest Showman
*Apollo 11
Enchanted
The Princess and the Frog
Despicable Me 2
Detective Pikachu
Bandersnatch
Winter's Bone
So I Married an Axe Murderer
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
High Flying Bird
Dinner for Schmucks
Toy Story 4
Beethoven
Mrs. Doubtfire
Raging Bull
Aziz Ansari: Right Now
The Iron Giant
Too Funny to Fail
Pick of the Litter
Stuart Little
The Favourite
Knut and Friends
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
The Last Unicorn
The Last Black Man in San Francisco
Bo Burnham: Make Happy
Lady and the Tramp (2019)
42 to 1
*Spring Breakers
Frozen 2
Rashomon
Booksmart
Blockers
Tron
The Little Hours
Knives Out
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
High School Musical
Marriage Story
My Big Fat Greek Wedding

TELEVISION
The Great British Baking Show (most of the episodes on Netflix)
*The Good Place
Brooklyn 99
When They See Us
Atlanta: Robbin' Season
Russian Doll
*Catastrophe
*Fleabag
G.L.O.W.
Silicon Valley | Seasons 1-2
Black Mirror
*The Americans
Broad City | Season 1
Rick and Morty | Seasons 1-2

PODCASTS
The Dropout
*Bag Man
30 for 30 Podcasts | Episodes: The Spy Who Signed Me, The Loophole, Queen of Sorts, No Rules: The Birth of the UFC, All In: Sparking the Poker Boom, Rickey Won't Quit, Madden's Game, Cursed and Blessed

(Photo: "37/365: Fair Oaks Community Library" by ray_explores. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)