Let’s face it, 2016 was a dumpster fire and we’re glad to see it die a fiery death. But in between the political cataclysms, celebrity deaths, and general terribleness, there were moments in 2016 that gave us life. Nursing Clio presents its second annual Best Of list.
Laura Ansley: I read a lot so I can’t pick just one. But for nonfiction, Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation — a bit of history, a lot of interviews with women of all ages. For fiction, I really enjoyed Alexander Chee’s Queen of the Night. For comics, one I found just at the end of the year that I loved is Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, a character you might recognize from the Jessica Jones Netflix series. Come talk books with me on Twitter (@lmansley), I have a lot more 2016 recs.
Sarah Handley-Cousins: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street! A complex, sometimes befuddling story that came together with a stunning finish. It defies all expectations! (Plus there’s an mischievous clockwork octopus named Katsu. I mean really.)
Averill Earls: Sarah stole mine (we read it in our monthly Dessert Book Club!), but a close second would be Victoria Schawb’s Shades of Magic series. After the second came out this summer, I proceeded to consume everything else I could find by her.
Lizzie Reis: Four favorites this year, and OK, full disclosure: I am friends with all of these authors. But all four were reviewed by the New York Times or won major awards, and so you can see that my gushing is justified! White Trash by Nancy Isenberg; A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley by Jane Kamensky; Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation by Jim Downs; and The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner.
Lauren MacIvor Thompson: I haven’t finished it yet, but I am really loving Jeffrey Toobin’s American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst. Heard the interview with him on NPR and it was so interesting, I had to pick up the book!
Cassia Roth: Ok, I have to be honest. It is sitting on my nightstand, waiting to be read. But I can’t wait. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. I taught a course on slavery in the Americas this fall, and I am excited to read a fictional take on the institution in the United States.
Lara Freidenfelds: J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy. In his compassionate and beautifully-written memoir, Vance points out that poor and working-class whites are the only Americans liberal elites feel free to look down upon. Instead, he says, we’d do better starting from a position of respect and understanding (as I’ve argued with regard to gun control) if we want to find common ground. If you don’t have time to read Hillbilly Elegy, read this interview with Vance. Runner-up for best book: America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks, by Ruth Whippman. Whippman, a British expat, trenchantly and humorously observes urban American elites’ frantic helicopter parenting and hot yoga, and suggests we’d be more likely to find happiness meeting friends for a leisurely drink at the bar.
Austin McCoy: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation is essential reading for anyone seeking an understanding of the transformations in US and black politics, policing and the carceral state, and the economy that laid the groundwork for the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Adam Turner: Swing Time, by Zadie Smith. Elegant, stunning.
Lizzie Reis: Leonard Cohen, You Want it Darker. Cohen died recently in his 80s, and his son helped him record this last album at his dining room table because his health was too bad to get into the studio. This album is dark and spiritual, and seems to fit with what’s going on in the world right now.
Cassia Roth: Beyoncé’s Lemonade. I went to her concert and it was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
Lara Freidenfelds: This year, William Finn’s Falsettos was re-staged, this time on Broadway, to wonderful effect. Finn wrote the show as two one-act musicals as the AIDS crisis was unfolding in the 1980s. This time around, in many ways it feels like a historical piece: AIDS is treatable, a man can marry another man and make a family, and the Jane Fonda-style workout wear sported by Mendl and Trina in one scene is a funny gag. And yet, the story of an unexpected crisis threatening a minority community is timely in ways the producer and director of the show presumably did not anticipate. Enjoy the witty lyrics and hummable tunes with the original cast recording, or look forward to the current cast’s recording coming out in January.
Austin McCoy: A Tribe Called Quest — We Got It From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service. Next to the Wu Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest is my all-time favorite hip hop group, so I was excited to learn that ATCQ was releasing a new album 18 years after their split. We Got It From Here was worth the wait — probably one of the best comeback rap albums of all time. It managed to capture the serious mood surrounding race relations and the presidential election while retaining the group’s old school playful vibe. The album was a fitting sendoff for Phife Dawg, who passed away from complications from diabetes in March.
Adam Turner: Thankfully Cassia and Austin already shouted out Lemonade and ATCQ, so I can spread my love around a bit more. My absolute favorite album goes out to Fly Moon Royalty with Delicious Trouble. Also on near-constant rotation around my place has been Phantogram’s Three and De La Soul’s and the Anonymous Nobody…. Another album that caught my ear and has me looking forward to more came from Chicago-based Noname.
Favorite TV Show
Laura Ansley: My very first essay for Nursing Clio was a review of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and I gotta stick with that. The second season started in October and it’s just as full of joy and irreverence and funny music parodies as the first.
Sarah Handley-Cousins: The Crown on Netflix was fabulous. I’m already a big fan of British period dramas, so it had me at hello, but I found this series particularly fascinating (and infuriating) for its exploration of the tense gendered relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Prince Philip. The difficult position Elizabeth occupied as mother, wife, and sovereign, and Philip’s perfect portrayal of fragile masculinity were even more powerful in the wake of the 2016 election.
Averill Earls: But I, like many, discovered You’re the Worst this year. It started in 2014, two seasons are available on Hulu. It’s dark and sad and hilarious and sexy. Please watch it so they don’t cancel it.
Lizzie Reis: Tig Notaro did a comedy series about the worst year of her life: One Mississippi. It’s perfect for a binge watch — 6 half-hour episodes — I laughed and cried.
Lara Freidenfelds: Kate McKinnon’s performances as Hillary Clinton and Kellyanne Conway on Saturday Night Live were some of the most trenchant and moving pieces of political satire I’ve ever seen. Her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah reflected the heartbreak of millions of Americans, and demonstrated the unique and crucial role of artists in our society. Keep it up, Kate. We need you.
Austin McCoy: Mr. Robot. I love the idea of anarchist hackers trying to change the world by taking down an evil corporation. The show also offers an extremely nuanced look on what the revolution meant for the main characters and the rest of society. I also enjoyed The Get Down on Netflix, despite Baz Luhrmann’s over-the-top aesthetics in the pilot. It documents the rise of hip hop culture in the Bronx in the late-1970s.
Leah Reis-Dennis: Broad City.
Carrie Adkins: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Veep, Stranger Things, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Broad City.
Adam Turner: Stranger Things showered me in everything I hoped it would, as did The Get Down, and I absolutely loved Luke Cage. Ever since the Ghostface Killah–Adrian Younge collaboration album/comic/epic Twelve Reasons to Die in 2013 I’ve been wanting to see it used for something matching its scope. Every time I heard a Twelve Reasons to Die track fade into Luke Cage’s already stunning music I got a little thrill. Heavy-handed at times, but in the best way that could be expected from a superhero movie.
Sarah Handley-Cousins: The only acceptable answer to this question is Ghostbusters. A hilarious movie that blew the Bechdel test out of the water, featured Chris Hemsworth as brainless sex object, gave little girls female scientist role models, and enraged the MRA trolls? A dream come true!
Laura Ansley: Everyone loves Ghostbusters, right? It was great, and I got to see Lauren’s and Sarah’s adorable daughters in those awesome Halloween costumes. But a film not enough people saw that I really enjoyed was Hunt for the Wilderpeople — a kid, his dog, and his guardian flee from the authorities into the New Zealand bush. It was touching and funny, and it helps explain why I’m excited for director and screenwriter Taika Waititi to take on the next Thor movie, probably my least favorite of the Marvel Universe movie franchises.
Averill Earls: I don’t care what the critics say, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is everything I wanted and more. Let the magic wash over you.
Lizzie Reis: La La Land! It’s upbeat, clever, visually interesting, and the music is great — and this is from someone who doesn’t usually enjoy musicals!
Lauren MacIvor Thompson: I’m totally with Sarah and Laura on Ghostbusters. My kid has had so much fun with the actresses as playtime role models — she dresses up with her blow-up proton pack (!) and pretends to be a ghostbusting scientist! But I also just took her to see Moana and we loved it! A strong female character of color, a great story, and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda!? So fantastic! Definitely see it this holiday season.
Carrie Adkins: Moonlight. Moonlight, Moonlight, Moonlight, Moonlight. Moonlight. Also Kubo and the Two Strings and Arrival. And Moonlight. Please, please see Moonlight.
Cassia Roth: I have to agree with Carrie on this one. Moonlight.
Lara Freidenfelds: There is so much great live performance in New York, I never make it to the movies. Best concert: Human Requiem, the Berlin Philharmonic choir’s immersive performance of Brahms’ Requiem. With members of the chorus spread throughout the standing and mobile audience, it was like being actually inside one of the greatest and most profound pieces of music ever written, realized by some of the best musicians in the world. One of the finest performances I’ve ever seen.
Laura Ansley: NPR Politics helped get me through the election — though I wondered even at the time if the daily episodes in the last few weeks just helped to ratchet up my anxiety. Now they’re helping me understand this new Trump reality we’re unlucky enough to live in.
Sarah Handley-Cousins: Again, there is only one correct answer — The History Buffs Podcast, featuring two of your favorite Nursing Clio editors …. But really, though, I echo Laura in her endorsement of the NPR Politics Podcast. It helped me process this bewildering election season. Another one that Nursing Clio readers might love is The United States of Anxiety, which featured thoughtful explorations of the issues of race, fake news, and the frustrated white working class.
Averill Earls: The History Buffs Podcast, obvs, but also Hidden History of Business. They finally just started putting out new episodes in November after a long summer hiatus. Interesting approach to historical and contemporary topics.
Lizzie Reis: I don’t listen to that many podcasts, but when I do, it’s always This American Life. Mishy Harmon’s Israel Story is also wonderful, in the same vein as This American Life, only about life in Israel.
Carrie Adkins: I listen to a lot of podcasts, but my favorites this year have been The Memory Palace, Good Job, Brain, You Must Remember This, and (still, again) How Did This Get Made?.
Cassia Roth: 2 Dope Queens with Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson got me through this difficult year. These two brilliant and talented women host amazing stand-up acts, showcasing queer comedians, comedians of color, and female comics. Through their podcast I’ve discovered my new favorite comedian: Pat Brown!
Lara Freidenfelds: This American Life, trying to understand Trump’s appeal, went to St. Cloud, Minnesota, to talk to residents about immigrants, Islam, and their objections to the Somali refugees in their midst. Even their own congressperson was taken by surprise by his constituents’ objections to fellow citizens who didn’t look, eat, or socialize like them, and their conviction that they ought to “do something” to keep the newcomers out. An insightful, if depressing, piece of journalism.
Austin McCoy: For politics: Channel 33’s Keepin’ it 1600. I really wouldn’t consider myself a Democrat, but I enjoyed listening to Jon Favreau’s and Dan Pfeiffer’s takes on the terrible state of political punditry (is it ever good?). Their post-election podcast was rather moving. I can appreciate analysts who readily admit they are wrong. The Combat Jack Show is the best hip hop-related podcast because all of their interviews are so in-depth.
Adam Turner: If you’re still not listening to it, you need to catch up on Welcome to Nightvale. They just wrapped up their 2016 season with their 100th episode, which was beautiful and left me all smiley and teared-up, but you should really listen to the full run to appreciate it. If I’m being a stickler about 2016, though, I’ll point to The Orbiting Human Circus (Of the Air), with its poignant storytelling and beautiful cast. And for some political and television nostalgia, check out the West Wing Weekly, with Joshua Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway (whose other podcast, Song Exploder, remains another of my favorites).
Favorite Historical Callback
Laura Ansley: It was pretty incredible that, after hearing about it for so long, someone dug up an audio recording of Hillary Rodham’s commencement speech at Wellesley from 1969. Her voice sounds a little different, a little younger, but the passion for public service and justice was already there.
Lizzie Reis: They did a cool thing with the movie, Jackie, by inserting the lead Natalie Portman in historical footage from that era. I don’t know how they did it, but it was very effective!
Cassia Roth: Hillary’s choice to wear white at the DNC and during the final debate. Shout out to the suffragettes!
Lara Freidenfelds: George Takei on Twitter: “Watching people meltdown over a Black Santa in the Mall of America. ‘Santa is white!’ Well, in our internment camp he was Asian. So there.” A year ago I would have assumed I needed to explicate Takei’s tweet with some background on the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, long regarded on both sides of the congressional aisle as a shameful episode of American history to never be repeated. This year, of course, it’s been in the news as Trump supporters look for grounds for discriminating against Muslim-Americans.
Favorite News Story
Cassia Roth: David Fahrenthold’s investigative reporting on the Trump Foundation for the Washington Post demonstrated why independent journalism is so important.
Adam Turner: How about 99 of them? 2016 was a serious drag in a lot of ways, but this list might remind you of a few pretty great things that happened amidst the turmoil.
Averill Earls: Vacuuming robot. Now I just need one who washes the pots and does the laundry.
Cassia Roth: I met Cecile Richards while campaigning for Hillary Clinton. She’s really tall and totally down to take photos with fans (i.e. ME)!
Lara Freidenfelds: With Pantsuit Nation, I’ve discovered that feminist consciousness-raising never died, it was simply dormant and waiting for desperate times and a modern medium. While I wish the times didn’t demand it, I find it incredibly inspiring to see three and a half million feminists sharing their stories and supporting each other. While one important route forward as a nation is speaking to each other across the political divide, as I argued in recommending Hillbilly Elegy, equally important is having the backs of those who speak from vulnerable and isolated positions, as so many Pantsuit Nation members do, and finding ways to support and amplify their voices.
Favorite Public Institution
Laura Ansley: The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture — go as soon as you can get your hands on tickets. It is emotional, intellectual, incredible.
Cassia Roth: I’m a lecturer this year, and I joined the union. Union reps have helped me fight for my rights to a decent wage, health care, and respect on campus. #AWomansPlaceIsInHerUnion
Austin McCoy: All public libraries.
Lara Freidenfelds: I want to give a shout-out to public schools, and especially primary and secondary school teachers. It’s so easy to take them for granted. My two kids are in public schools, and this year they both have teachers who are special mentors who are helping them grow intellectually, emotionally, and socially. Earlier this year, I had the great pleasure of honoring my high school music teacher in a spectacular event put together by 35 years’ worth of alumni, celebrating the rededication of the high school auditorium in his name. Public school teachers change kids’ lives.
Adam Turner: +1 to public schools and libraries. We can’t praise them enough, but we should certainly try.
Favorite Frivolous Enjoyment
Laura Ansley: I already shouted out comics in my book recommendation, but I love getting trade paperbacks (books that compile 4-6 issues of a particular comic) from my public library. I’ve only been reading comics for a few years, but they’re quick reads and very enjoyable. Ongoing series I love include Lumberjanes, Saga, and Ms. Marvel. Now that Marvel is recruiting writers like Roxane Gay and Ta-Nehisi Coates, everyone should be reading them.
Cassia Roth: I have been painting my nails a new color every week. Often during my office hours.
Austin McCoy: I watched the last few episodes of The Bachelorette with a couple of friends. It was fun, but only when I can offer snarky commentary to friends. It is not a show I can watch alone. I’m not saying that because I think I’m too cool. I’m saying it because I’ve tried. JoJo should’ve chosen Luke.
Lara Freidenfelds: Is coffee in the “frivolous” category if you are dependent on the caffeine? I look forward to the days I’m in New York City and I know I’ll be able to swing by Birch for a cappuccino or Jacques Torres for a wicked mocha to obtain my mid-afternoon fix.
Adam Turner: I don’t believe in frivolous enjoyment; all enjoyment is fully worthwhile. I’ll just say: games. Whatever games strike your fancy, play more of them (to paraphrase Wil Wheaton’s wonderful Tabletop, which came back this year for its 4th season of marvelous). And to the unexpectedly engaging and relaxing “farming simulator” Stardew Valley: thank you for keeping me calm and occasionally distracted.
Laura Ansley: Oh Hillary. We didn’t deserve you. #ImAlwaysWithHer
Averill Earls: I mean… all the Barack and Joe memes.
Obama: Wave at the people, Joe.
Biden: IMMA POINT AT'EM
Obama: Please just wave.
— Reverend Scott (@Reverend_Scott) November 29, 2014
Cassia Roth: I just can’t get enough of Bill and the balloons at the DNC.