Laura Ansley: It’s been yet another hard year to be a woman (or really a person) in America, and I found myself turning to books that some might think frivolous. The contemporary romance genre has blossomed in the last few years, with more diverse writers bringing new stories to huge audiences. I’d highly recommend reading Jasmine Guillory, whose The Wedding Date and The Proposal both brought me a lot of joy, and Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient.
Sarah Swedberg: I almost saved the best for last (unknowingly). In November 2018, I read Myriam Gurba’s Mean. She is a spoken word artist and it comes across on the page in the best way. It’s funny and tragic and if I was independently wealthy, I would buy everyone a copy.
Averill Earls: Hands down Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver. I loved her 2015 Uprooted, but Spinning Silver is the first high fantasy go at the Rumpelstiltskin story that I know of, and it is brilliant. It is complex, intense and beautifully written, and set in medieval Lithuania, complete with rampant anti-Semitism, abject poverty, and farcical courtly machinations. But also wonderful, convincing family and romantic relationships, and some beautiful magic. I love love love this book. I read it as soon as it came out, then made my Dessert Book Club read it two months later, and I RE-READ IT with them, which is something I haven’t done since Harry Potter. I loved every second of it the second time around, maybe even more than the first. I can’t wait to read it again.
Bridget Keown: Trying to narrow down the list is so difficult! In the non-fiction category, I learned so much from Richard A. McKay’s Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic, which not only focuses on the life of Gaétan Dugas, a gay man who was incorrectly identified as “Patient Zero” in the North American outbreak of AIDS, but also discusses the various narratives that humans have historically utilized to lay blame in the wake of epidemics and illness. I also loved The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability by Jasbir K. Puar, which focuses on the concepts of “debility,” bodily injury, and social exclusion brought on by economic and political factors to disrupt and critique narratives in disability studies and political policies. Fictionally speaking, I spent a lot of time re-reading my favorite Stephen King books; I love his storytelling skills, but I also really appreciate his studies of toxic masculinity and demonization of passive and selfish behavior.
Sarah Handley-Cousins: I also loved Spinning Silver, much to my surprise, but my best books are non-fiction this year. I knew I had to read Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion when I heard his work lauded by some of my favorite religious thinkers on a podcast over the summer. The book is about the ways that American evangelicalism has acted, and continues to act, as a bulwark for white supremacy — in other words, how it continues to be the religion of the slaveholder — and how white Christians (like me) can, and should, do better.
Lara Freidenfelds: For me, it was the year of the autobiography. As a social historian, I always like to hear people tell their stories, and this year I loved hearing from Michelle Obama, Becoming; Trevor Noah, Born a Crime; and Tara Westover, Educated. All are extraordinarily thoughtful about where they came from and where they ended up.
Cassia Roth: Mark Bittman’s updated How to Cook Everything Vegetarian got me back in the kitchen and using my CSA box to its fullest potential.
Emily Contois: For histories of food, the south, race, and so much more, I loved Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original, edited by Sara B. Franklin. I also enjoyed the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, given the film’s release and how it opened up classroom conversations about representation and power in film.
R.E. Fulton: Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann is a supremely engaging blend of Native American history and true crime, and it brought me back to that experience I rarely have time for these days of truly not wanting to put a book down.
Lizzie Reis: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup: I couldn’t put it down. It’s all about the scandal at Theranos — hard to believe it really happened!
Sarah Swedberg: My favorite album of 2018 actually came out in 2016, but I just discovered it. It’s case/lang/veirs and it is brilliant and it helped me get through this year. In “I Want to Be Here,” Neko Case, kd lang, and Laura Veirs sing, “The hungry fools/ who rule the world can’t catch us./ Surely they can’t ruin everything.” If you watch the video of their performance, you will see so much love on the stage.
Evan Sullivan: My favorite album was The 1975’s live album DH00278. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Bleachers. Both bands have new albums coming out that I’m pretty excited about.
Sarah Handley-Cousins: Amanda Shires, To the Sunset. This album is sexy and intellectual, and while her lyrics definitely match her previous work — she is a genius songwriter — the music is creative and fresh.
Lauren MacIvor Thompson: Tom Petty, An American Treasure. I’ve always been a big Petty fan, but since his death last October, I’ve gotten really into listening to his entire catalog including the super deep cuts. This fall, they released this big retrospective album that gives such a good perspective on a remarkable life and career.
Favorite TV Show, Movie, or Live Performance
Laura Ansley: Last year in this space, I recommended The Good Place and it remains my favorite half-hour of television every week. Now in its third season, it continues to raise the stakes and make me laugh. BORTLES!
Sarah Swedberg: I wanted to see The Miseducation of Cameron Post on the big screen. It wasn’t in Boston when I was there. It wasn’t in Philadelphia when I was there. It will, likely, never come to Grand Junction, CO, so I finally streamed it. The male equivalent, Boy Erased, is getting all the press, because, well… BOY. Miseducation is quiet and often internal. Chloë Grace Moretz can act. (I just Googled “conversion therapy movie” and Google has Miseducation as a romance (WHAT?) and Boy Erased as a drama.)
Evan Sullivan: Westworld season 2 was amazing. Altered Carbon was also really good. If you’re interested in biopower and like to critique capitalism, this one will appeal to you.
Bridget Keown: I was devastated when Lucifer was canceled in May — it’s got lots of deep messages about good and evil, excellent diversity, and emphasis on supportive female relationships, and some delightful storytelling. Needless to say, I was thrilled that Netflix picked up the show and that it will be back in 2019. In the meantime, I am loving everything about Superstore, from the audaciously absurdist humor, to the willingness to tackle very real and often divisive issues with compassion, to the relationship at the core of the series (that relationship, especially!).
Averill Earls: The third season of The Magicians slayed me. Especially Episode 5. I mean, you have to watch all of The Magicians to appreciate it, but once you’re caught up, call me and we can sob together. Also, I finally gave Jane the Virgin a chance, and it has been an absolute delight. Definitely binge-worthy Netflixing.
Lara Freidenfelds: Pianist Aaron Diehl playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Diehl is amazing. He improvised the piano solos, per the original score, and his interpretations were brilliantly supported by his rapport with conductor Joshua Weilerstein. They are artists at the top of their game, showing what true collaboration looks like.
Carrie Adkins: Like Laura, I’m in love with The Good Place. I’m also still enjoying Bojack Horseman and Big Mouth. Most of my other favorites are related to food: Top Chef, The Great British Bake Off, and most recently the Netflix four-part series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.
Cassia Roth: I can’t stop watching Brooklyn Nine Nine. The opening where Jake Peralta makes a line-up sing Backstreet Boys is fantastic. And I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’m hooked on Riverdale, a show that goes from woke to broke about every 30 seconds.
Emily Contois: It’s from 2017, but we devoured the German series Dark. The last season of The Americans was incredible, especially the final episode. We also liked the second season of GLOW. Oh and the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which sure, has faults, but I still enjoyed it, and I adore Rose Weissman’s classic wardrobe. Stuff of dreams.
Lauren MacIvor Thompson: I binged The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel while on a research trip in May/June, and it was the perfect antidote after sitting in the archives all day. Fun, great costumes, and a compelling feminist story. I hear mixed reviews on Season 2 though!
R.E. Fulton: I loved Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, partly for the loving and fascinating dive into the life and story of Mr. Rogers and his neighborhood, and partly for the couple who sat in front of us in the theater and, half an hour into the movie, agreed in loud whispers that this wasn’t Jurassic World and left.
Lizzie Reis: I enjoyed Green Book more than I expected to. It has a bit of a “Hollywood” feel to it but still, I learned from it and liked watching it.
Evan Sullivan: I’ve mostly been keeping up on Economic Update with Richard Wolff.
Averill Earls: As always, Dig is #1, on principle. But I also got really into sci-fi/fantasy narrative podcasts this year, so The Black Tapes podcast consumed several weeks of my life, followed by The Bright Sessions, and more recently, the first season of Archive 81. I didn’t research Black Tapes at all while listening, so was really sad when I figured out at the end that it wasn’t real. But that show sparked my interest. I love the narrative device and characters in Bright Sessions, and Archive 81 was kind of like Peter Clines writing mixed in with oral history interviews. So, my jam.
Bridget Keown: I am part of a podcast with my fellow graduate student workers at Northeastern University, called the Breaking History podcast, and I adore learning from each of the incredible people with whom I work. I’ve also recently discovered the Lore podcast (and related book series), which is satisfying my love of folklore and local superstition.
Sarah Handley-Cousins: I binged The Dream as fast the episodes came out. I’m in several mom Facebook groups, so I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the gendered and classed dynamics of multi-level marketing schemes, and this podcast was a fascinating deep dive into the topic. Also, good gravy, Dr. Death. A must-listen for anyone interested in the modern health system, although I really wanted it to be a deeper investigation of the ways that hospitals work and medicine as a for-profit endeavor, but nonetheless, it was gripping.
Carrie Adkins: My two podcast obsessions of the year have been My Favorite Murder (hard to describe in a way that does it justice, but it’s basically a comedy podcast about real-life murders, and somehow that doesn’t wind up horrifying) and The Dollop (a funny take on various insane stories from American history). Like Sarah, I listened to all of The Dream and loved every second of it. I’m also still loving Criminal, Lore, How Did This Get Made?, and Doughboys, which is somehow endlessly entertaining despite just being a podcast that reviews chain restaurants.
Lauren MacIvor Thompson: I love, love, love, Unexplained. Anything that is creepy, spooky, or weird, I want to know about it. Host Richard McClain….Smith (He has a dramatic pause when he says his name at the beginning of every episode ) is a great writer and storyteller.
Lizzie Reis: Unorthodox, a podcast about all things irreverently Jewish. So funny!
Amelia Grabowski: Death, Sex, and Money. What more do you need, it’s all in the title? Episodes are consistently outstanding, but cover a range of topics — testimonial, historical, overarching social research, and more. (Also, of course, Dig. ❤️)
Jacki Antonovich: Season 2 of Slow Burn, focusing on the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal was amazing. I will also second (third?) The Dream. Heaven’s Gate, the podcast focusing on the cult, was also fascinating and thoughtfully done.
Favorite Historical Callback
Sarah Handley-Cousins: I was really fascinated by all the talk about military parades, which kicked up a discussion about the Grand Review, the massive military parade held to celebrate the end of the Civil War. But more importantly, I spent some time last winter really thinking about the historical echoes of the definition of “able-bodiedness” — this is something I write a lot about in my own work, and I was fascinating (probably more accurately horrified) at how the idea was being used in modern conversations about putting limits on Medicaid. My, how things haven’t changed.
Bridget Keown: For me, this year (and really the past four years) has been dominated by discussions about the centenary of the First World War. I’ve been alternatively heartened and very disappointed by discussions about how we as historians, and as heirs of the world the war created, remember the war without reproducing the prejudices and exclusions of previous eras. While there is some wonderful work being done to change our historical narratives, the focus of this year’s memorialization remained predominantly on white men killed in the war, and I mourn the lack of intersectional, global histories that this historic moment had the potential to produce.
Lara Freidenfelds: This year for Halloween/Get Out The Vote I dressed up as a suffragette! And then I took my younger child trick-or-treating in the neighborhoods I had recently canvassed. And I would just like to say, while I am pleased that the Mary Poppins movie gave people at least some mental image of the suffragettes, the real suffragettes were radical activists who went on prison hunger strikes to protest their disenfranchisement, not dippy society ladies parading about and then sitting down for high tea.
Cassia Roth: I wish we could bring in the history of US involvement in Central America during the 1980s into our discussion of the current refugee and migrant crisis on our southern border. Our country is directly implicated in the economic strife and violence that is forcing people from their homes in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Favorite News Story
Averill Earls: One of my brothers posts weird shit on his Facebook all the time, and normally I don’t read it because it’s borderline conspiracy theorist / Bernie Bro kind of stuff, but I really wanted this one story he posted to be about the opening of an interdimensional rift under the ocean. But according to Nat Geo (aka SciFiBuzzKill), it’s just the makings of a new volcanic island.
Cassia Roth: When brothel owner and all-around gross guy Dennis Hof won a seat in the Nevada State Assembly in the 2018 elections, I thought WTF! He’s dead! He died after partying with Ron Jeremy on his birthday. But, I think there’s a lesson here. As this Slate article says, “This will be how democracy dies: at a brothel, after a birthday party, with Ron Jeremy.”
Jacki Antonovich: Really big cow. Never forget.
Evan Sullivan: I tried Biryani for the first time this year and I’m pretty hooked on it now.
Cassia Roth: Putting my clothes away instead of throwing them on the floor.
R.E. Fulton: Slow cookers.
Jacki Antonovich: Moravian Sugar Cake.
Laura Ansley: Democrats in Virginia have started a big push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in 2019. Hoping they make it happen so we can reopen the conversation on adding gender equality to the US Constitution.
R.E. Fulton: I’ve got simple tastes. Moths were the best meme of 2018.
Jacki Antonovich: Anything and everything Gritty.
Favorite Organization to Donate Time and/or Money
Averill Earls: Now that the elections are over, I have to focus on my basics again (though my heart is still broken over Beto and Stacey … I put a good bit toward their efforts. 2020 ❤️). So it’s always my local Planned Parenthood branch, Greater Texas Planned Parenthood (because I worry about women in all states without governments that care about women, but with finite resources, I gotta pick my battles), and the national org.
Bridget Keown: This is pure selfishness on my part, but as a part-time librarian, I see the good that libraries do in the community. On a larger scale, we are always helping people with job searches, providing classes for people looking to acquire US citizenship, and offering internet access to the many in our community without it. On a more individual basis, we also provide programs like sensory storytime for kids with autism, sensory integration issues, and their typically developing peers, book groups and book delivery for our elderly patrons, and writing groups for teens and adults alike. Some libraries in our network also provide social workers and resources for people in the community who had no other support networks in a time of need. I would always advocate for libraries and the work they do, so check out your states ALA Chapter, check and see if your library has a Friends Group that needs assistance, or if your library network accepts donations. A lot of libraries and library networks also have Amazon Smile donation sites, so you can help us out that way, too!
Lara Freidenfelds: Partners in Health brings health care to the people who need it most around the world. ZanaAfrica delivers reproductive health education and sanitary pads to girls in Kenya, to empower them to stay healthy, be more in control of their future, and stay in school.
Carrie Adkins: I continue to support Planned Parenthood, obviously, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union. In addition, though, I discovered a wonderful nonprofit organization called The Detroit Creativity Project, which uses improv and other creative work as a way to help Detroit kids (6 of 10 of whom live in poverty) increase their literacy skills and feel more confident. Its president is Marc Evans Jackson of The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine Nine.
Lizzie Reis: I am so proud and honored to be voted (just the other day!) onto the board of interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth. What an amazing organization that is, trying to get physicians to stop performing unnecessary cosmetic genital surgeries on babies born with intersex traits. And the other foundation close to my heart is Talia’s Voice: Projects for Patient Safety. You can read about Talia and how the medical system failed her here.
Amelia Grabowski: Does Nursing Clio count? I’m constantly humbled by the hard work all our editors and writers put in to create such a wonderful blog and an exceptional community.