So a friend asked for my podcast recommendations for this year, apparently remembering this list from last year. Which led me here, and the sad realization that I haven’t posted in almost a year.
I’m just going to blame Irma. What’s the expiration date on that, anyway?
A lot of my regular listening (The Daily, On The Media, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me) hasn’t changed, though this year there have been a couple additions to the regular rotation — I listen occasionally to Today Explained, Vox’s answer to The Daily and pretty regularly to It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders, especially the weekly recap shows — they are much more interesting and varied than most recap shows, which I think stems from the diversity (in all ways) of the guests and Sanders’ realization that the world and our lives extend beyond the latest palace intrigue from DC. Thank you! And the Football Daily from the BBC. I’ve gotten into the Premier League over the last couple years, following my mom and other family members, and this helps me learn more about the game even if I don’t always understand everything they’re saying, both for accent and football technicality reasons. Also: It’s a relief to listen to people talk passionately about something other than politics or a hideous murder.
Anyway, my favorite limited series for this year are:
In The Dark, season 2 - The first season was so incredibly good, about a murder from the ‘80s that took way too long to solve. This one was about a bunch of murders and the man who has been tried for them — six times! — and why the case keeps getting overturned. And why the prosecutor keeps trying him. They did what real investigative journalists do: they found new evidence and held accountable the people making decisions. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Curtis Flowers’ case.
Slow Burn, seasons 1 and 2 - Season 1 was about Watergate, which happened when I was a little kid and I read “All The President’s Men” like 30 years ago so I feel like it’s OK I don’t know all the weird details. Season 2 was about the Clinton impeachment, which happened when I was an adult — but it was still amazing to hear the details, some of which I knew and some I didn’t. Both seasons have obvious relevance to our current situation, but it was truly harrowing to listen to the episode on how women, especially, reacted to the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship and his behavior in general — an episode I happened to listen to just as the Brett Kavanaugh hearings were happening.
30 For 30 season 3 - Key West was reportedly one of the first places in the country with a Bikram yoga studio and I went there a lot in the mid-90s. This season is all about Bikram Choudhoury, his empire and his downfall. The primary voice is someone who used to manage a Bikram studio so it’s told with understanding and compassion for those who became part of that world (I was never an acolyte, thank God, but I understand the appeal of the routine and it did make me more flexible).
Serial, season 3 - It’s like they read my mind! Or my earlier complaints about season 1 and maybe some other true crime shows - I like them, obviously, but I was a little frustrated with how season 1 focused on one extraordinary case. Not that it didn’t deserve the focus but it felt like many listeners, especially, didn’t realize that the justice system can be incredibly unfair or messed up for a LOT of people — especially poor people, especially minorities — and that this one case was not an isolated incident, even if it had some extraordinary qualities. So in season 3 they took on an entire city, or at least hung out there for a year, and really looked at it in a systemic way, still using individual, compelling stories to illustrate but always keeping the broader context in mind. Brava, Sarah Koenig and crew.
I was on Sundial, WLRN’s excellent locally produced show, today talking books with Connie Ogle and to prepare I went through some of my favorites for the year. Here they are along with the answers to some of host Luis Hernandez’ questions.
Number of books read: 51, according to my Goodreads account
Favorite work of nonfiction: (I’m still reading this and it was published last year but … wow): Bunk by Kevin Young, an amazing work of scholarship and historical/social analysis about hoaxes, humbug and fakery, from the Sun newspaper’s 1835 Moon hoax and P.T. Barnum to “reality” TV and …
Most immersive reading experience of the year: The seven books (so far) in James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series. I got interested via the TV show, but as usual the books offer a much richer world and so much more information about the characters. Also: they really know how to move along the plot. And the good news: the two guys who write under this pen name seem to be much better than George R.R. Martin - one of them used to work as his assistant - about keeping the books coming despite having an ongoing TV show at the same time.
Best read of the year: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. Published in 2015, it’s a series of interlinked stories set in the Soviet Union and after, with a particular painting that ties it together. Brilliant, heartbreaking, beautiful. H/t to my husband Mark for the recommendation.
Biggest disappointment: The Witch Elm by Tana French. Unlike some readers I know (Connie, cough cough), I am willing to go with the sometimes preposterous plots in French’s Dublin murder squad series because I so love spending time with these characters. This book was French’s first where the protagonist was not a detective but was a victim/witness/suspect. But I found it a real slog to spend 700 pages inside that guy’s head. Please go back to the squad room!
Looking forward to in 2019:
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, the first in a proposed fantasy series. Yes, please!
Big Sky by Kate Atkinson - a return to the excellent Jackson Brodie series. Thank you!
Tiamat’s Wrath by James S.A. Corey - next in the Expanse series. Keep it up, guys!
I read and enjoyed several books by some of my favorite writers this year, along with one newcomer. They included: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness (how fun to return to that world with the unexpected bonus of spending time in late-Colonial Hadley, Mass. Hadley!), Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) and The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden - that’s the conclusion of a trilogy based on Russian history and folktales and isn’t officially published until January, but I got my hands on an advanced copy.