Collage 2020 header

Nursing Clio Presents Its Sixth Annual Best of List

2020 has been the worst of years, but the Nursing Clio staff still found a few things to enjoy.

Favorite Book

Laura Ansley: In times of stress, I reach for happy reading. And what’s more fitting than the guaranteed happily-ever-after of romance novels? Some of favorite reads in 2020 were Alexis Daria’s You Had Me at Hola; the Fug Girls’ much-awaited sequel to The Royal We, The Heir Affair; Talia Hibbert’s Take a Hint, Dani Brown; Courtney Milan’s newest novel The Duke Who Didn’t; and basically Tessa Dare’s entire back-catalog of historical romances.

Averill Earls: Best DBC (Dessert Book Club) pick of the year: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno Garcia. It’s a little slow to start (I think that’s intentional though – hence the “gothic”) but it’s also creepy and weird and kind of romantic.

R.E. Fulton: Different books gave me different things this year. Robert Kolker’s Hidden Valley Road was a great dive into both psychiatric history and family dysfunction. Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and Axton Betz-Hamilton’s The Less People Know About Us fed my true crime needs. But my favorite book has to be Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, which I read (most of) along with friends this summer. The book is incredibly dense, but worth it: it taught me a lot about the origins and logics of the U.S. prison system and pushed me to better understand the place of prison in my own geography.

Hanne Blanke's book cover
Cover of Fat. (©Bloomsbury Books)

Lizzie Reis: Hanne Blank’s Fat (one of the Bloomsbury Object Lessons series) is engrossing. Blank covers so much ground succinctly; readers will learn, for example, exactly what a “calorie” actually is (and isn’t) and why we fear that unit of measurement so much. I loved her thought-provoking and sometimes heartbreaking takes on fat in virtually all aspects of our lives. Now I’m in the middle of We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence by Becky Cooper, about the murder of a young anthropology graduate student at Harvard in the 1960s. And then a work-related book that I’m going to use in class is Andrea Freeman’s, Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice (reviewed at NC). It’s about how the Pet Milk Formula Company basically stole a Black woman’s quadruplets (!) from her in the 1940s and ’50s to prove that formula was better than breast milk – a series of events that had devastating consequences for many involved, especially the four girls.

Sarah Swedberg: I taught a course on race and American slavery after a long hiatus and loved the books I chose based solely on others’ recommendations. My favorite of the three was Stephanie Smallwood’s Saltwater Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora. It was heart wrenching, but more than worthwhile. Outside of work, I fell in love with MariNaomi’s Life on Earth series of graphic novels.

Library of Legends cover
Cover of Library of Legends.

Sarah Handley-Cousins: Not going to lie, I have not had the bandwidth at all to read much this past year, but I really enjoyed The Library of Legends by Janie Chang, which was perfect for listening on headphones while watching my kids in the pool. When my husband and kids and I were driving to our family’s cottage this summer, we listened to Howl’s Moving Castle for the first time, and we were completely charmed. It’s become a family favorite!

Evan Sullivan: Definitely going with Chris Capozzola’s new book Bound by War: How the United States and the Philippines Built America’s First Pacific Century. I can remember hearing him speak about this project when he came to Albany some years back. Of course, at that time I was more interested in his first book Uncle Sam Wants You, but Bound By War is a real page-turner. I also enjoyed Evan Kutzler’s book, Living by Inches: The Smells, Sounds, Tastes, and Feeling of Captivity in Civil War Prisons.

Bridget Keown: Like Sarah, I struggled a lot of this year to read, but I did enjoy rediscovering the works of Shirley Jackson, including We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Jason Arnopp’s The Last Days of Jack Sparks. I taught Anthony M. Petro’s After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion and Andrew Jolivette’s Indian Blood: HIV and Colonial Trauma in San Francisco’s Two-Spirit Community, which my students in LGBTQ in the USA found enormously insightful.

Karen Weingarten: Ling Ma’s Severance was published in 2018 but reading a novel about a pandemic that drives people to work from home (if they can) and creates N95 mask shortages was both unsettling and gripping. I also always love a new Tana French mystery and was glad to see that at the very least 2020 brought one with The Searcher. I stayed up way too late one night to finish this one.

Cassandra Berman: After defending my dissertation in February, I took a much-needed break from scholarly works – but I made an exception for my good friend Allison Lange’s Picturing Political Power: Images in the Women’s Suffrage Movement, a beautiful, timely book that was published in May. I also went down a deep, dark hole during my commutes by listening to memoirs of dysfunctional survivalist childhoods (in part due to a longstanding academic interest in separatist groups . . . but this was also, I think, a reaction to pandemic isolation, toilet paper shortages, and the widespread hoarding of dried beans!).

Vicki Daniel: I only managed to squeeze in some reading over the summer. I reread Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette, a departure from my usual favorites, but her storytelling is so engaging. Plus, reading the story of a woman publicly maligned during a contentious political upheaval must have allowed me to process my political anxieties subconsciously. For work, I had the chance to read Allan Amanik and Kami Fletcher’s new edited volume Till Death Do Us Part: American Ethnic Cemeteries as Borders Uncrossed, which is such a fascinating contribution to death studies and ethnic studies. It really showcases how complicated the term “American” has always been and how much we can learn about communities through their burial practices.

Molly Brookfield: Catherine O. Jacquet’s The Injustices of Rape: How Activists Responded to Sexual Violence, 1950–1980 was my go-to source as I finished my dissertation this spring. Fiona Vera-Gray’s The Right Amount of Panic: How Women Trade Freedom for Safety is a necessary read. I also really enjoyed Leslie Kern’s Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World. Buy the Canadian edition if you want a fun design: when someone catcalls you or tries to distract you, you can flip open the inside flap that reads, “Fuck off, I’m reading!” For non-work books, I devoured Miriam Toews’s Women Talking.

Cover art, The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy. (©Oxford University Press)

Lara Freidenfelds: In January I finally got to share The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy: A History of Miscarriage in America with the world, seventeen years after I first said “I really need to write this book.” I even managed a brief book tour, arriving home from Portland and San Francisco just days before the lockdown.

Cassia Roth: I published my first book this year, A Miscarriage of Justice: Women’s Reproductive Lives and the Law in Early Twentieth-Century Brazil. I’m very proud of how it turned out.

Emily Contois: Lara and Cassia mentioned publishing their fab books, so now I don’t have to feel weird sharing that I also published a book this year: Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture. Also, given how the pandemic hurt a lot of local bookstores, I’ve been subscribing to Magic City Mailbox, which sends a new book each month, and I’ve loved so many of the picks, including Kelli Jo Ford’s Crooked Hallelujah, Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind, and Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half.

Favorite Album or Song

R.E. Fulton: Spotify Wrapped says it was Harry Styles’s Fine Line, but really it’s Orville Peck’s entire body of work. I’m on a cowboy kick.

Laura Ansley: The somber and beautiful melancholy of Taylor Swift’s folklore became my soundtrack for this dour year. Obviously, “the last great american dynasty” is my favorite track. ADDENDUM: I cannot believe she just dropped a second album! I spent the rest of December switching between folklore and evermore.

Taylor Swift
A really old picture of Taylor Swift – circa 2011! (Wikimedia Commons)

Eileen Sperry: I also spent a lot of time deep in folklore and have no regrets about it – Taylor Swift wrote the quarantine album we all needed. But the other album that’s been playing nonstop in my house is Reunions, the new album from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. I’m convinced that Isbell might be the best songwriter alive right now.

Sarah Handley-Cousins: If you know me at all, you know I’m a Jason Isbell superfan. His new album, Reunions, is fresh and emotionally complicated. I totally agree with Eileen: Isbell is one of America’s best songwriters, hands down. But I actually think the best new song is one written with his wife, Amanda Shires, called “The Problem.” The lyrics are a conversation between two partners about an abortion. You gotta listen to this one (or watch the incredible music video) to get the full experience. I guarantee you’ll get the chills.

Sarah Swedberg: This year kept bringing me back to the playlist my LGBTQ+ Studies class created the last time I taught the class. Probably my #1 song is Hayley Kiyoko’s “Girls Like Girls.”

Evan Sullivan: The 1975’s new album Notes on a Conditional Form.

Gianna May Sanchez: The first lines of Laura Stevenson’s song “Time Bandits” feel like the deep breath you take for a calm moment amidst chaos. Her voice never fails to stir melancholic heartache while also soothing the tense anxiety that tends to envelop my mind. It’s a comfort in the same way that looking at old photographs can be: familiar and bittersweet. Given, well, everything right now, it is refreshing to acknowledge that things are not okay, but will someday, maybe, get better. At the very least, there was a time when things were alright. That’s what this song is to me.

Bridget Keown: James Agee’s “Sure on this Shining Night” is one of my favorite poems, and Morten Lauredsen’s choral arrangement has been my go-to piece this year.

Cassia Roth: Fiona Apple’s “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” was the best. The lyrics from “Relay” are a true representation of my inner self: “I resent you for being raised right / I resent you for being tall / I resent you for never getting in any opposition at all / I resent you for having each other / I resent you for being so short / I resent you presenting your life / Like a fucking propaganda brochure.”

Cassandra Berman: 2020 will always be remembered in my household as the year that my three-year-old got really, really, REALLY into opera. I am not quite sure how it happened, but we now listen to Carmen and The Magic Flute on repeat (with a little Frozen mixed in for good measure, of course).

Amelia Grabowski: There was nothing quite like rolling through my conservative hometown playing Daveed Diggs’s band, Clipping’s “Chapter 319” with the windows down. Favorite lyric: “Donald Trump is a white supremacist, full stop. If you vote for him again you’re a white supremacist, full stop.” The only song that could top it was my anthem for the year, “Angel from Montgomery,” written by John Prine, who died of COVID. As he wrote, to believe in this living is just a hard way to go.

Molly Brookfield: I saw Rocketman on my last flight before COVID and I must have been trying desperately to stay in that world because Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright” was my top song of the year. Also very effective when you want to dance off some COVID blues.

Favorite TV Show, Film, or Live Performance

Laura Ansley: I watched a lot of gentle British television this year. In addition to my years-long addiction to The Great British Bake Off, I enjoyed new-to-me series The Great Pottery Throw Down (just like Bake Off, but with pottery) and The Repair Shop, a lovely show featuring artisans and craftspeople who restore or repair family heirlooms.

Victoria sponge
Prize-winning Victoria sponge. (Wikimedia Commons)

Eileen Sperry: I had been a Disney+ hold out, but I caved in early April when it became clear I’d be working from home with a toddler. The downside was that I’ve watched Moana about a million times since; the upside is that I finally got to see what all The Mandalorian fuss was all about. Happy to report I am fully hooked.

R.E. Fulton: Early in quarantine, I started revisiting the shows I was obsessed with when I was in high school, which was (as you can imagine) a real mixed bag. I won’t endorse the show, but I will admit that I made my wife sit through a PowerPoint presentation that I created on how season two of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse could have actually been pretty good.

Averill Earls: Pandemic Times called for comfort TV. I rewatched all fifteen seasons of Supernatural and cried watching the final episode of the series. I got HBOMax so that we could rewatch Big Bang Theory, and then we did Community and Parks and Recreation from start to finish. We tackled Schitt’s Creek so that we’d be ready when the final season dropped. Most recently we started Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which I don’t think I’ve seen since it first aired on television. The new season of Big Mouth is as gross and hilarious as all previous, season nine of American Horror Story is now in my top three for the show (after Coven and Apocalypse, of course), the final (sob) season of The Magicians was heartbreaking, and THE WITCHER!!! Even if the nonlinearity of it was hard to follow at times, and there are good reasons to critique Yennifer’s character arc, it was glib and funny and exciting. Can’t wait for season 2. Normally I’d also see one or two movies in theaters every week. I really miss movie theaters, y’all. Before the pandemic, the last movie I saw in theaters was Invisible Man, which made me hopeful for the Monster Universe that is rumored to be in development. There were a couple of straight-to-streaming films I enjoyed: HBO’s The Witches update was great, Hulu’s Bad Hair was creepy and awesome, and yes, The Christmas Chronicles 2 was just right.

Lara Freidenfelds: My friend Patrick Quinn performed an intense and exhilarating dance theater solo piece, Must Go On, in a January/February run at the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City. It’s a neat piece in and of itself, and as the last live performance I saw before lockdown, my memories of it contain a whole year of love and concern for all of my dance artist friends.

Sarah Swedberg: Seeking comfort, I rewatched David Byrne’s True Stories for the first time since the 1980s. Then I watched it again the following night.

Sarah Handley-Cousins: What a weird question this year. The last movies I saw in the theater were Knives Out and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which were both fabulous. (I am not here for any debates about Skywalker, thanks, I enjoyed it!) As for TV, one of the things I found most relaxing during the long, stressful, locked-down spring was watching shows while working on a paint-by-number. I loved The Stranger, The Morning Show, and Succession. My husband soothed his anxiety with The Repair Shop, which I found both super boring and also undeniably soothing. I watched a zillion art history documentaries. (The ones by Waldemar Januszczak are awesome!) I’ve watched basically all of Disney+ with my kids. But the biggest hyped event in our house in 2020? Without question, Hamilton.

Evan Sullivan: Might have to be Queen’s Gambit. Very recent, but it is the only one that is standing out to me right now. And I am always watching Parks and Recreation.

Gianna May Sanchez: Many of my top mentions for shows and movies have already been mentioned. Hamilton, of course, was brilliant and stirring – a true joy and new experience in spite of the fact that I’d listened to the album many times over and knew the words to every song. The Great British Bake-Off similarly fell in line as a comfort. A few stand-out shows deserve recommendation, though. Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts has no right being as brilliant as it is, with an engaging story, fantastic characters, and a soundtrack that energizes and exudes confidence. BNA: Brand New Animal also is worth mention, with a similarly striking soundtrack that vibes with 1980s teenage yearning, a compelling world (that I may or may not have utilized as the setting for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign I’m DMing), and what is, quite possibly, the best baseball side plot episode I’ve ever seen.

Bridget Keown: My last public event of 2020 was in February, when I got to introduce a 100th anniversary screening of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at the Carnegie Science Center. That’s remained one of my favorite memories of this year. I also enjoyed the indie horror film Headcount, and the cleverness of Host, a horror film created during quarantine on Zoom. On the less spooky side, I also really enjoyed the creativity of Glow Up and Next in Fashion.

Emily Contois: I devoured the fourth season of The Crown. For films, an unexpected favorite was I’m No Longer Here. For holiday Hallmark-ish movies (which should make us all re-read this Nursing Clio piece!), I will also go out on a limb and say I genuinely enjoyed Holidate. I also agree with others that The Queen’s Gambit, The Mandalorian, and the final season of Schitt’s Creek were all amazing. This year has definitely been one for comfort TV too, so I rewatched lots of Grey’s Anatomy, The Office, and The West Wing.

Karen Weingarten: The TV show Sex Education is such a pleasure! The storyline follows the son of a sex therapist, and it’s funny, smart, and thoughtful in its depictions of teenage and adult sexuality. Better Things about a mother and her three children is similarly sassy and entertaining, and I like how the episodes are so short. I can commit to twenty minutes of television!

Cassandra Berman: After living abroad for three years, I finally had the opportunity to catch up on American TV shows I had completely missed, notably The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Americans. Like others, I also enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit, and I somehow found myself hate-watching (but also enjoying) Emily in Paris while washing dishes late at night.

Vicki Daniel: TV is a go-to for me when I’m stressed, so I tackled a lot this year. I’m someone who rewatches favorite shows a lot (I find comfort in the familiar, I guess!), so we worked our way through The Wire again. By far, the show on repeat in the background for me is Schitt’s Creek. However, I also try to mix in the new. Like Laura, I stumbled onto The Great Pottery Throw Down, which was delightfully soothing. In contrast, we finally watched The Handmaid’s Tale, which was decidedly not soothing. We also watched Peaky Blinders, which is also quite dark but at least has Cillian Murphy to look at.

Amelia Grabowski: The category title of “or live performance” made me laugh, so I’d like to give a shout out to the only live performance I saw this year (on January 4) when my sisters dragged me to their roommate’s teenage cousin’s bands first show in a club. I stood in the back with his 90-year-old grandmother. It was kinda great.

Big Mouth promotional image
The cast of Big Mouth.

Molly Brookfield: Finally started watching Big Mouth and it is helping me wrap up my 2020 with laughs instead of tears. Also loved Lovecraft Country on HBO. But the big winner here was Ted Lasso, for which my partner and I caved and got an AppleTV+ subscription. We watched the whole series three times in a row. It is the thoughtful, three-dimensional, feel-good show we didn’t deserve but which I really appreciated in 2020.

Favorite Podcast

R.E. Fulton: Sleep with Me.

Eileen Sperry: After hearing about it constantly on the Nursing Clio Slack channel, I started listening to You’re Wrong About early last year and am hooked. The DC Sniper series was by far my favorite.

Laura Ansley: Pop Culture Happy Hour from NPR was the first podcast I loved, way back when I started listening to podcasts around 2013. They went daily this fall and added Aisha Harris as a co-host, and it continues to be the first thing I listen to when new downloads arrive in my app. For new stuff, I’ve been enjoying Merriam-Webster’s Word Matters.

Lara Freidenfelds: I keep returning to the Past Present Podcast for fun and insightful conversations among three American historians mulling over current events. They have tightened up their format to focus on a single main story plus a “what’s making history” section showcasing their favorite historical reads of the week, and it works well.

Lizzie Reis: I liked Nice White Parents about school integration in New York. And I just started one that I have high hopes for: Chameleon, about a big con that preyed on people who work in the Hollywood film industry.

Averill Earls: Dig: A History Podcast!! (JK. But also, listen, give us a nice rating, and review. :D) I’m also enjoying Making Gay History for short episodes that each feature someone that Eric Marcus interviewed for his book of the same name – he has an impressive archive.

Sarah Handley-Cousins: Uh, Dig of course! But seriously, I’m with Eileen: You’re Wrong About was quite literally a lifeline during lockdown. The Jessica Simpson episodes were amazing. Michael Hobbes’s new project with Aubrey Gordon, Maintenance Phase, is fantastic and important, and Sarah Marshall and Alex Steed’s Why Are Dads is the deep dive into “dad movies” I never knew I needed. I’m still thinking about how brilliant their analysis of my favorite dad movie, Top Gun, was.

You’re Wrong About logo. (©Michael Hobbes & Sarah Marshall)

Evan Sullivan: Earlier in the year I started listening to Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey’s Office Ladies podcast. I am now listening to Brian Baumgartner’s An Oral History of The Office, which is really great and produced very well.

Gianna May Sanchez: Unfortunately, my podcast listening severely dwindled as the pandemic took over 2020, and there was less opportunity to catch up on various shows in the idle moments of movement between my apartment, the university, or a coffee shop. However, as my Spotify account emphatically reminds me, I did listen quite a bit to the New Books Network as a desperate attempt to study for my prelim exams in April. New Books Network: Latin American Studies held the binge-listening record, with five episodes in one day. Less anxiety-inducing podcasts (only due to its relation to prelims, the actual episodes were amazing) include The Adventure Zone, a DnD podcast, and GameSpot After Dark.

Bridget Keown: I have rediscovered my love of horror over this year, so a lot of my podcasts this year have been focused on exploring some of the subgenres and themes that make up the genre, including The Faculty of Horror and Horror Queers, as well as fictional titles like Unwell and The Magnus Archives. By far, though, the podcast that has meant the most to me is the Patreon feed related to the podcast Dave and Jeb Aren’t Mean. David J. Roth and Jeb Lund are both wonderfully insightful journalists, and their analysis of the world has been both empathetic and informative. I’ve been struggling this year to help my students make sense of world events, politics, the pandemic, and this podcast has done this work for me. Their regular-feed podcast is also a delightful exploration of the works of the Hallmark Cinematic Universe, which is my ideal kind of escape listening. (If you’re exploring Patreon, check out Nursing Clio, too!)

Cassia Roth: Foro de Teresina from Revista Piauí is as if the New Yorker and the NPR Politics Podcast made a Brazilian baby. The Retrato Narrado podcast about the life and rise of Jair Bolsonaro is a chilling tale of populist authoritarian trends. Of course, you must learn Portuguese first.

Emily Contois: Public Books 101 kicked off with an amazing season on the past, present, and future of the Internet and how we live with it, which was so good I taught a couple of the episodes in my Intro to Media Studies class. Anthrodish with Sarah Duigan has amazing interviews on food anthropology, and I was honored to be a guest this season. I’ve also been learning a lot about sports studies, capitalism, and justice from The End of Sport.

Karen Weingarten: Dani Shapiro’s Family Secrets covers exactly what its title suggests. The episodes can be quite emotional, however, so when I wanted something a bit lighter I enjoyed Jill Lepore’s The Last Archive (which could be a bit cheesy at times but was still fun and entertaining). Each episode is focused on a different historical aspect of the very relevant question: Who killed truth?

Cassandra Berman: I continue to enjoy You’re Wrong About, and I listened to Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me in podcast form until it became too morose.

Vicki Daniel: I also started listening to You’re Wrong About after learning about it from my NC colleagues, and especially like those episodes that touch on the events that I remember so well from my teenage years! Since I think about death in my work all the time, I also was weirdly delighted to find podcasts produced by funeral directors, especially Undertaking the Podcast.

Amelia Grabowski: My podcast listening took a severe left turn into two categories: love (Love Letters from the Boston Globe) and life and death (all the women of World War II episodes of True Spies). 2020 may be hard, but at least my dating life wasn’t documented by radio producers, nor was I trying to escape a Nazi prison.

Molly Brookfield: I wasn’t immediately sold on the style of You’re Wrong About, but after multiple recommendations from trusted friends and the NC crew, I am also hooked. The co-hosts are charming and thoughtful and they cite everything they use in their research, and openly critique their sources, which can be a rarity in the podcasting world.

Favorite Board, Online, or Video Game

Laura Ansley: I spend my days visiting neighbors and the museum, gardening, and shopping for home furnishings. I enjoyed weekly firework displays and concerts over the summer. In October, I wore a different Halloween costume each day, and we had a lovely gathering of friends for Thanksgiving. Am I flouting all COVID public health mandates? No, I’m spending time every day on New Penzance, an island populated by myself, my partner, and 10 adorable villagers. Like zillions of others around the world, I’m a devotee of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Gianna May Sanchez: As many would probably agree, Animal Crossing is the real MVP of this year. I initially bought it reluctantly, more out of a feeling of missing out while other people played and talked about it than an actual interest in playing the game. This, however, quickly turned to obsessive enjoyment and legitimate delight as I spent my days developing my island, going on “dates” with my husband to visit the in-game museum, and sending gifts and tips to friends who were also enjoying the island life. In the timeless void of the pandemic, the real-time cycle of Animal Crossing gave me a reason to look forward to the next day – a grim, but true statement. I’ve more recently been enjoying Hades, a rogue-like dungeon crawler with a brilliant and engaging plot, surprisingly addictive gameplay, and a plethora of anime boys to go around.

R.E. Fulton: My favorite video game this year was Red Dead Redemption 2, hands down (see cowboy kick above). It gave me everything I could ever want as a homesick Colorado-raised medical historian of nineteenth-century America stuck in a Brooklyn apartment in 2020. I’m obsessed; come talk to me about Red Dead on Twitter. (Honorable mention in this category goes to the original Last of Us, which I beat on Grounded mode this spring. This remains my greatest achievement in 2020.)

Lara Freidenfelds: My teenagers spend a lot of time playing the online game Among Us, and it has filled our house with the sounds of kids happily socializing despite the pandemic. I don’t play myself, but I am getting a lot of vicarious pleasure out of it.

Averill Earls: I only play board games, but since the Pandemic the majority of my weekly gaming has moved to the virtual. My favorite interface is Board Game Arena, where you can play hundreds of board games with friends or strangers. Every week my regular gamer group gets together to play games and video chat for a few hours. This has also been the year of “legacy” games, which are board games that unfold over multiple sessions. You discover secrets, build the game board, expand your character abilities, etc. – kind of like a DnD campaign, but without the need for a DM. There’s a new Pandemic Legacy season now available, Season 0, which we will start playing in a few weeks, but my favorite legacy of the year was Clank! Legacy. These can be played usually with 1-4 people and are pricey, especially since they can only be played once, but totally worth the experience. We’ve also done a bunch of virtual escape rooms. Some are terrible, but some are excellent. My favorite so far is Omescape, Pursuit of the Assassin Artist. 10/10 recommend.

Sarah Swedberg: Adele (my sweetie) and I play endless rounds of Rummikub. We sometimes change it up with cribbage or gin rummy, but mostly stick to Rummikub.

Evan Sullivan: I haven’t played many video games this year for some reason. Which is kind of odd for me. I just recently picked up Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. So the jury is still out on that one.

Karen Weingarten: I played a lot of Forbidden Desert with my kids. It’s a cooperative game so the players either all win or we all lose against the game. At the beginning of the pandemic, Uno saw us through.

Cassandra Berman: Go Fish, with my toddler.

Vicki Daniel: We don’t play many games, but as my stepkids have grown up, we still manage to get an evening of Carcassone in occasionally. I always lose but it’s fun to watch my stepson try to thwart our efforts to build our cities or farm our land.

two dice.
Dice. (Pixabay)

Molly Brookfield: I played my first ever Dungeons & Dragons game this spring (over Zoom, under lockdown) and I’ll never be the same again.

Favorite Tweet or Meme

Eileen Sperry: The pictures of the owl they found in the Rockefeller Christmas tree had me laughing for about a week.

Sarah Handley-Cousins: My daughter and I laughed so hard at this fake video of Donald Trump complaining about Scooby Doo. It made my week.

Gianna May Sanchez: Like many anxiety-ridden millennials, I joined TikTok this year to provide instant jolts of entertainment and dopamine. The various niche communities and obscure pockets of the platform (from ADHD TikTok to Latinx weebs) have provided endless hours of amusement. I highly recommend checking out the Washington Post’s account, Dr. Rachel Brenner, and Coach Curtis. Honorable mention to the summer meme of women trying to write a professional email or the Plague Doctor Cirrus. Also, witnessing the chaos of election night and destiel becoming canon in the worst way possible on Tumblr was definitely a moment.

Cassandra Berman: Two music-related Twitter threads made me laugh all night. First, Alexis Hall’s epic retelling of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Second, I finally discovered Dionne Warwick’s brilliant Twitter account, and her hilarious trolling of Chance the Rapper, The Weeknd, and all musicians with “the” in their names.

Vicki Daniel: Ok, this is beyond weird, but someone made a parody of the Ken Burns Civil War documentary featuring “Robert E.T.” It hit at just the right moment and I laugh every time I watch it. I still send a picture of Robert E.T. to my husband at random moments for a smile.

Best Way of Coping with the Horrors of 2020

R.E. Fulton: Mutual aid and video games.

Eileen Sperry: I taught myself to quilt. Since I had to brush off my sewing machine (and my home-ec skills) for mask making, I figured it was time to learn a new stay-at-home hobby.

Laura Ansley: Our monthly game night transformed during quarantine into a weekly Dungeons & Dragons game (via video chat). Getting to explore a fantasy realm as a bard who just wants good material for her songwriting has been a nice distraction and something to look forward to. Though visiting a town called Plague-Mort was probably a bit on the nose.

Bridget Keown: I’ll second Dungeons & Dragons! Two of my closest friends from undergrad brought me into their campaign, and playing a Death Cleric who is hellbent on bringing balance and order back to the world has felt really satisfying, because she has the magic to do what I wish I could. I’ve also been taking long, rambling walks around Pittsburgh, which has helped me learn the city, even if I can’t really interact with it in the ways I had hoped to do. Dr. Fintan the Cat has been taking good care of me and my students, as well, being his general snuggly self, and Zoom-bombing meetings when he senses someone needs some words of wisdom or some purr-therapy.

Lara Freidenfelds: I spent a lot of time volunteering on the Pennsylvania Democrats Voter Assistance Hotline, and it was a great way to deal with election anxiety. I could hear my mother saying, “stop fretting and go do something!” For family entertainment, I bought the card game Dominion, plus an add-on box, and the four of us in my household play regularly. I suspect we’ll be doing a lot of that this winter.

Lizzie Reis: We bought a portable ping-pong set. It can fit on any table (the net stretches across) and it’s played with two regular ping-pong paddles and balls. It’s strangely fun. And it also encourages me to keep the mail and other random things off that table because we need it to be clean for playing!

Averill's painting of a barn
Averill’s painting of a winter barn.

Averill Earls: My sourdough starter, Bertrand, and I made a lot of baked goods. Three perfect summer weeks in Vermont, swimming in and reading by Lake Champlain. Yoga with Adrienne. Weekly virtual paint nights with my friends. And lots of snuggles with my pup, Curie.

Sarah Handley-Cousins: I worked on a super hard paint by number for much of the spring, most of it while rewatching The Office. Then some friends and I started a weekly Zoom paint night, following tutorials on Youtube, which has morphed into a deeper interest in learning to paint. I also loved bread baking with my sourdough starter, Beatriz (yes, she is Bertrand’s sister). I spent several very hot summer days while extremely pregnant sitting in my kids’ ice-cold kiddie pool listening to podcasts, which was honestly pretty great. My weekly escape now is visiting my horse, Coup, and working on learning to ride saddleseat.

Sarah Swedberg: The radicals in my community have really come through this year. I became involved with a couple of new organizations which may not survive in the long term, but made such a difference in the short term. I have always felt like a fish out of water here, but they have provided me a home.

Evan Sullivan: We got a beautiful kitten named Molly. She helps us keep our minds less on the horrors of 2020 and more on the scratch pads and toys around the house.

Gianna May Sanchez: Video games. And also probably being kind to yourself, but I’m still working on that part.

Cassia Roth: I started watching birds, growing herbs, and I became a poll worker.

Emily Contois: I’ve never been one for phone games, but I’ve been doing color by number with the Happy Color app, and I’m embarrassed how much I love it. I also put up a little Christmas tree in, like, early October. And since March, I’ve been doing intenSati workouts on YouTube, led by great fitness instructor, fab historian, and all-around-amazing lady, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela. As you do each move you say (or sometimes I yell) positive, empowering affirmations. At first, it felt so silly, but it eventually started to actually make me feel better.

Karen Weingarten: We started going on family hikes every weekend to get out of the house. I think it saved our sanity, and it taught us that there are so many amazing trails just outside of New York City. My favorite was visiting the quarry at Cranberry Lake Preserve.

Cassandra Berman: I had a baby. He’s cute, distracting, and very time-consuming.

Vicki Daniel: A lot of TV, getting way too invested in the animals in our backyard – some of them have names now! – and exploring new parks and trails in northeastern Ohio. I managed to buy one puzzle before they all sold out on Amazon, and I like the ritual of making and unmaking it periodically.

Molly Brookfield: Long walks on cold mornings.

Best Way to Treat Yo’ Self during the Pandemic

Laura Ansley: I’ve been tempted to join Book of the Month for a long time, but I finally took the plunge this year. Along with almost never wearing “hard pants,” books, and sharing them with others, are definitely getting me through.

R.E. Fulton: Goodfellow & Co. men’s jogger pants.

Eileen Sperry: Birkenstocks and down bed pillows.

Lara Freidenfelds: Subscriptions to online classes for dance AND yoga AND Pilates AND personal training, so I can do whatever I feel like (and help some dancers be able to pay rent).

Averill Earls: Face masks and clays and lotions. Painting supplies. DoorDash Fridays, with a big tip for the driver.

Sarah Handley-Cousins: Skin care. Painting supplies. Locally distilled gin for martinis and negronis. Basically every streaming service that exists.

Evan Sullivan: Weekend takeout. Books. Exercise.

Gianna May Sanchez: Sweet things and comfy clothes. A fun playlist to make things slightly less agonizing (I’ve recently discovered the magic of listening to Super Mario music to stay productive).

Bridget Keown: Brooklinen linen sheets and t-shirts. Horror novels.

Dead Sea Minerals clay face mask pouch
Dead Sea Minerals clay face mask. (Open Food Facts)

Emily Contois: At-home spa day supplies, including an outrageously soft house dress thing that Oprah put on her favorite things list last year. Oh and I bought my first semi-expensive piece of original art!

Karen Weingarten: Getting enough sleep. I can’t say enough good things about this because it makes a world of difference! But also making time to read for fun.

Cassandra Berman: I got a king-sized bed. Due to the aforementioned baby and toddler, I do not get to spend much time in it actually sleeping, but it’s a great place to hang out!

Vicki Daniel: I just did a round of online shopping for cozy winter clothes that I can wear at work or at home. I wish I had treated myself more! Giving myself permission to just slack off sometimes was hard but necessary. Definitely splurged on some takeout food every week.

Favorite Charity or Philanthropic Organization

R.E. Fulton: The short answer is Freebird Books’s monthly book drive for NYC Books Through Bars, which allows you to order a curated bundle of books to meet requests for reading material from people in prison. But the longer answer is that the COVID crisis and the uprising for Black lives have pushed me to think more expansively about the redistribution of wealth as a constant, crucial part of life and the importance of investing in places and communities (not institutions). So my favorite charity is your local mutual aid fund, your local bail fund, your trans friend’s top surgery GoFundMe, etc. etc.

Eileen Sperry: Nonprofit summer camps across the US, especially ones that serve at-risk populations, had to shut down entirely and lost a whole season of income. I’ve been donating to and volunteering for the summer camp I attended growing up – Sky Lake Camp and Retreat Center – but if there’s a summer camp you have fond childhood memories of, chances are they could use a boost.

Lara Freidenfelds: Stacey Abrams’s voting rights and voter registration organization, Fair Fight. Giving to campaigns is great, but I think giving to an organization that empowers people to choose their representatives both this year and in the future is even more important. Abrams proved her effectiveness in building an organization over a number of years to be able to flip Georgia this year, and I’d like to see her get the financial support to build on this work, and help enfranchise BIPOC voters across the country.

Averill Earls: I’d second Fair Fight. I’ve also ramped up my giving to Planned Parenthood, my local branch as well as the national and the Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. And I don’t know if it’s charitable, but I’ve been buying local as much as possible. I feel like I’ve relied on the convenience of Amazon for too long. Now I take the extra time to try and find what I need in my small local businesses.

Lizzie Reis: Movement Voter Project (MVP) supports a variety of grassroots groups in local communities to encourage progressive causes. You can see all the different groups doing amazing work on their website. Now they’re working on Georgia; you can donate to that in particular! And of course, there’s always interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth (I’m on the board). This year there were exciting developments in the intersex world as two major hospitals (Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago and Boston Children’s Hospital) decided to stop nonconsensual infant surgeries. We’re making progress!

Sarah Swedberg: I watched my friends in the community build a sustainable Mutual Aid group. They collect and distribute everything from food and clothes to furniture. They have served meals to houseless folks quarantining in motel rooms and make rounds in the middle of the night to try to prevent folks from freezing to death. Once the semester is over, I will participate in these ventures to a greater degree, helping to package and distribute needed items.

Cassia Roth: Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition, which has delivered food to families throughout the pandemic. It’s amazing.

Karen Weingarten: Always Planned Parenthood, but I also donated to some local organizations too, including this Laptop Initiative to help children in Harlem who are learning remotely but don’t have access to computers. My local hospital, Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, was particularly hard hit early in the pandemic when there wasn’t PPE, and donations helped them make it through.

Cassandra Berman: The Greater DC Diaper Bank, which provides families in the DC metro area with food, formula, diapers, period products, and more.

Vicki Daniel: Besides Planned Parenthood, I’ve been donating a lot this year to support food access. We donate to Second Harvest of North Central Ohio, as well as Feeding America.

Molly Brookfield: SisterReach, a reproductive justice organization in Tennessee (my new home).

New Year’s Resolutions

Eileen Sperry: Like everyone, I’m feeling a little burned out on my own home cooking. So I think I’m going to steal a friend’s resolution from last year: pick a chef I love, get a few of their cookbooks, and work my way through.

Laura Ansley: Not so much a resolution as perhaps as mantra: Doing the bare minimum is enough for now.

Sarah Swedberg: After working so hard to finish my book manuscript, I am going to revel in not having a big project hanging over my head and say no to new projects until I have some time to breathe.

Evan Sullivan: Be more present. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Practice gratitude.

Bridget Keown: I have been blessed with amazing academic comrades, and we are working on our book proposals together, so I am excited to finish that in the coming months. I am also looking forward to finding new workarounds and solutions for my ADHD for the second semester of remote teaching.

Cassia Roth: My resolutions are always very achievable. This year: close the kitchen cabinet doors whenever I leave the room.

Emily Contois: So, I’m on the record in last year’s list citing my astrology-loving mother-in-law, who had predicted that 2020 was going to be my best year yet, so I’m anxious to put anything here. That said, I’m very excited that I have some research leave coming in 2021. I’m in the very early stages with my second book, so I’m resolving to enjoy that—and to get the rest I’ve been putting off for basically the past decade.

Karen Weingarten: I want to focus on fewer things and practice saying no more often.

Cassandra Berman: Avoiding unnecessary distraction. (It took me 10 minutes to write this! Because I kept getting distracted! I do not yet have a plan of action.)

Vicki Daniel: It was really easy during fall semester to disconnect from my coworkers, so I want to be more engaged with them in the spring. I also want to get home to California, even if I have to drive out there again to do it!

Amelia Grabowski: I’m impressed by my colleagues’ big resolutions. Mine is to finish the sewing project I started two years ago. I’d say odds are 50/50. Tune back in for “Best of 2021” to find out.

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