Averill: Mystery: Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series – there are two so far, and they are delightful; romance: Helen Huang’s The Heart Principle; historical(ish): Alix E. Harrow, The Once and Future Witches; fantasy: Natasha Pulley, The Kingdoms; and sci-fi: Andy Weir, Project Hail Mary. Most of these I listened to as audiobooks, and recommend all to be consumed that way.
Eileen: Since I’ve always been a fan of his poetry, I spent last spring and summer slowly picking my way through some of Wendell Berry’s essays. “The Long-Legged House” and “An Entrance to the Woods” are still rattling around my brain.
Lizzie: Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath by Heather L. Clark is so long (937 pages) that I’ll probably still be reading it next year when we do this list. But I’m loving it! Clark has pulled together so many primary sources from Plath’s college years, and as a Smithie myself, it’s fun to read about an earlier era that was so different from my own. I had to stop and reread The Bell Jar, which was even better than I remembered.
Karen: I read Elizabeth Strout’s trilogy, My Name is Lucy Barton, Anything is Possible, and Oh William!, this year. Strout writes so poignantly about aging, the pain and joy of human relationships, and how our own self-doubts often color the way we see the world. The second book can be particularly bleak at times (it deals with poverty and abuse), and while I think each book can be read alone, the effect of reading all three in order is especially moving. Also, if you haven’t yet seen Michelle Millar Fisher and Amber Winick’s beautiful book Designing Motherhood, I highly recommend getting your hands on a physical copy of the book. It’s such a beautifully designed book, and I can’t think of anything out there that’s quite like it. (I also reviewed the museum exhibit at NC.)
Evan: For a purely enjoyable read, Owen Davies’s A Supernatural War was fantastic. It discussed the belief systems and superstitions of mostly European combatant countries. For a book that I needed for my own research that turned out to be extraordinary in its scope and effectiveness, John Horne and Alan Kramer’s German Atrocities, 1914. This is one of the best examples of history writing I have ever read.
Bridget: Lizzie O’Shea’s Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Can Teach Us about Digital Technology became an instant favorite for me this year. We were fortunate enough to have her speak (virtually) on campus, and my students are still talking about how inspired they felt by her ideas and her energy! Also, I’ve been really captivated by Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World (translated by Adrian Nathan West), a really intriguing blend of history and imagination that considers the long-term moral consequences of scientists’ ground-breaking discoveries.
Vicki: I had the chance to read Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle this year as part of a book club at work. Whitehead’s writing is so enveloping. He takes us into Harlem in the late 1950s through the mid-1960s and paints a vivid picture of the city’s rhythms. The plot kept me in suspense but, as a historian, I was more engaged by how Whitehead weaves the fictional plot and the historical context together. The rapid pace of change in the city’s landscape becomes a metaphor for our main character, but Whitehead also uses the character to make some incisive comments about the realities of money and power in America.
Sarah H-C: I used to pride myself on smashing my Goodreads goals, but have really failed since March 2020. This year, I’m starting to finally getting back on my game. I absolutely devoured Brian Deer’s The Doctor Who Fooled the World and Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain. I am an unabashed fangirl of Anne Helen Peterson and was radicalized by Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, which I binged on a roadtrip. I’m sure my family loved listening to me rail about working moms and the second shift after a gin and tonic by the lake! And romance novels are, as always, a coping mechanism. I read every book in the original Bridgerton series this year, and they were absolutely delightful.
Sarah S: I love Sarah Schulman’s Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987–1993 (which I wrote about for NC). I love the combination of storytelling, oral history, and whole-ass primary sources (not excerpted). It’s HUGE but I devoured it and then told everyone else to read it, too.
Laura: If we are friends or you follow me on Twitter, you know that I read entirely too much, and I read entirely too many romance novels. (So many that I wrote about my love for them at my day job.) So my favorite romance that I read this year: Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert; Heated Rivalry by Rachel Reid (the hottest book I’ve ever read!); Battle Royal by Lucy Parker; The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood (about academia and grad school!); and A Marvellous Light by Freya Markse. In not romance, I also loved a lot of other books, including Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead; Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe; Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid; and The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans.
Favorite Album or Song
Averill: First I saw him on SNL. Then one of my students wrote a really good essay about his music and queer politics. Now I listen to Montero a few times a week. I <3 Lil Nas X.
Eileen: Thanks to TikTok, I’m now obsessed with Lawrence. Their very-earworm-y “Don’t Lose Sight” dug straight into my brain for a few weeks, followed quickly by “The Weather.” Not only are they super talented but, as their videos make abundantly clear, they are having the time of their lives.
Evan: I’ve been really into “Run Baby Run” by Casper Baby Pants, as it is a hit in our house with our son. I have also been listening to Anberlin’s live albums that they recently recorded. I seem to be gravitating toward live albums lately, perhaps because I miss going to concerts.
Vicki: I’m very, very late to the game here but I really enjoyed discovering Phoebe Bridgers this year. In particular, “I Know the End” was on regular rotation. However, my true love is oldies, so my favorite “album” is the Pandora station for ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.
Laura: I am bad at new music, so my answer is that I still listen to folklore and evermore way too much. Yes, I am a basic white lady.
Favorite TV Show, Film, or Live Performance
Averill: If I had to pick qualities that make a show or movie my “favorite,” it would be films that I can immediately rewatch and TV shows that make me want to watch instead of only half-paying attention. By that measure, my favorite films of 2021 were Shang-Chi and Free Guy, each of which I saw twice in theaters. The shows that I watched closely are more numerous, but I think probably Mare of Easttown (yes, that was 2021) and the new season of Sex Education get top billing for me.
Eileen: 2021 was my year of falling deeply, head-over-heels in love with Roy Kent. Ted Lasso, all the way.
Laura: I’m on that Ted Lasso train too! Roy is a grumpy dream.
Lizzie: Yes to Ted Lasso. And I also liked Dopesick, though it’s completely the opposite: very depressing!
Bridget: I streamed the Bristol Old Vic’s online production of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I adored it. Dorian Gray has always been a love of mine, but this production challenged a lot of my readings of the text, and included some fascinating visuals that made me appreciate the medium of online stage productions.
Karen: Passing, based on Nella Larsen’s novel of the same name, is a wonderful Netflix adaptation of the book. My kids and I watched the new season of The Great British Baking Show because it continues to be some of the sweetest (in all senses of the word!) TV out there. And the new season of Sex Education was definitely the best!
Evan: Easy. Ted Lasso.
Emily: Have to agree with everyone that Ted Lasso was the show we needed this year, though like Lizzie I also ragefully enjoyed Dopesick. I also liked Hacks, Reservation Dogs, and Maid.
Vicki: Like all of you, I also leaned into feel-good TV this year. Ted Lasso, GBBO, and rewatches of The Good Place. I enjoyed Bo Burnham’s Inside this summer, but also found its dark underbelly a little too real for the second year of the pandemic. As for film, I went in totally cold to the new Dune adaptation and was impressed by the visual ambition of the director and cinematographer!
Sarah H-C: I needed something soothing and family-friendly to watch while my kids were learning from home in the winter and spring of 2021, so I decided it was finally time to stop avoiding Gilmore Girls. (Yes, I know, I can’t believe I never saw it when it was originally on from 2000–2007, either! Listen, I lived in the middle of nowhere and we didn’t get the channel!) We loved it. Actually I might just rewatch it right now. But yeah, also Ted Lasso. I guess I really needed feel-good content this year!
Sarah S: I got into Longmire. Not too gory and most things are solved in an hour. I found it soothing.
Eileen: Maintenance Phase. Aubrey and Mike are a dream, the subject material is timely and interesting, but the show’s most overwhelming success is making something as seemingly dull as cohort study design fascinating. Methodology queens!
Lizzie: Welcome to Your Fantasy, hosted by our fellow historian and friend Natalia Mehlman Petrzela! It’s about the Chippendales – remember them? The drama, the murder, the sex! It’s really fun to listen to.
Bridget: Unwell: A Midwestern Gothic Mystery remains my favorite fictional podcast, followed closely by The White Vault. In the nonfiction category, I’m sticking with It’s Christmastown (formerly Dave and Jeb Aren’t Mean), a review of Hallmark Channel movies that is as thought-provoking about American culture, politics, and narratives as it is giggle-inducing.
Karen: If you have kids under 12, I highly recommend the new history podcast Who, When, Wow! (You might enjoy it even if you don’t have kids.) Each episode focuses on an overlooked historical figure, and it’s funny, fun, and really smart. I think a lot of podcast listeners probably know about You’re Wrong About since it’s been airing for a few years now, but if you haven’t discovered it yet then check it out. It does exactly what its title suggests, and the hosts have a lovely rapport.
Evan: I have been a regular listener as of late of The Daily from the New York Times.
Emily: I probably consumed more podcasts this year than any other media. I enthusiastically second Maintenance Phase, Welcome to Your Fantasy, and The Daily. 2021 ended up being a rough year for me professionally and so I found solace in academic self-help podcasts like You’ve Got This and Self-Compassionate Professor. On a happier note, I’ve really enjoyed Nice Try (the second season “Interior” is all about domestic lifestyle objects and products), The Plot Thickens (season 3 is on Lucille Ball and season 2 was on The Bonfire of the Vanities), and Just Something About Her for great feminist interviews.
Sarah H-C: I listen to way too many podcasts. Maintenance Phase came at just the right time as I’ve been dealing with post-last-baby body changes. I also really enjoyed The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, which analyzes the hugely influential evangelical church in Seattle and its (in)famous founder, Mark Driscoll. I was totally hooked by The Opportunist, about con artists and cult leaders who seize the moment when opportunity arises, and Astray, about the complex phenomena nicknamed “India Syndrome.” And finally a new season of Cocaine and Rhinestones!!!
Laura: My romance addiction extended to podcasts this year. Fated Mates is hosted by romance novelist Sarah MacLean and romance critic and now editor Jen Prokop. There are episodes where they do a read-along on a single novel. In “interstitial” episodes, they narrow in on specific tropes or subgenres (enemies to lovers, sibling’s best friend, spies or sports or paranormal). And in the latest season, they’ve been doing “Trailblazers” interviews with those who helped establish the romance genre. Those have been fascinating dives into the history of romance writing and reading, including the author of the first gay romances with a happy ending and the first romance author whose characters used condoms. As a historian, I’m excited every time a Trailblazer episode drops in the feed.
Favorite Board, Online, or Video Game
Ave: Board games always and only for this gal. Though I’ve continued to play virtually once a week on Board Game Arena with friends in Florida, Ontario, and the Buffalo area, we finally got to start playing with our friends in-person on Saturdays again. My favorite games that have hit the table: Lost Ruins of Arnak, Wavelength, Cubitos, and Pandemic Legacy Season 0.
Eileen: Does playing Jeopardy! with Alexa while I fold laundry count?
Karen: My nine-year-old and I have been enjoying New York Zoo, a puzzle game with an adorable animal theme. I would definitely play it with only adults too.
Sarah H-C: My kids and I loved playing a game that seems perfect for the Nursing Clio crowd: Snake Oil! Hilarious.
Laura: My mother-in-law introduced us to Rummikub, which is quick to learn and fun to play.
Favorite Tweet or Meme
Eileen: Watching Rebecca Mix’s Twitter thread journey from “It’s about…soccer?” to “I am a basket of feelings” pretty well captured my own experience of Ted Lasso, so, yeah.
after seeing so many people tweet about ted lasso i finally caved and looked up the show and it’s about……soccer???
— rebecca mix (taylor’s version) (@mixbecca) June 26, 2021
Emily: The meme of the year had to be all those inspired by the Ever Given container ship stuck in the Suez Canal like these.
Sarah H-C: I currently cannot get enough of roasting Sharon Weiss blaming Marie Callendar for ruining Thanksgiving.
Laura: I’m still not on TikTok, but one of the best weeks of the year was when sea shanties got big over there and they trickled over to Twitter. I’ll never forget the lyrics to “The Wellerman” now.
Best Way of Coping with the Endless Pandemic
Karen: The pandemic does feel endless. In the last year I started running again, especially after it was confirmed that being outside without a mask doesn’t pose any risk if you stay away from people. (I live in a very urban area.) My family also adopted two kittens after we lost our 15-year old cat at the beginning of the pandemic. They’ve brought us a lot of happiness.
Emily: Like a gazillion other people, I found Yoga with Adriene this year and have really enjoyed doing (free! at home!) yoga regularly.
Bridget: I’ve started multiple book groups via Zoom with different academic organizations of which I’m a member, as well as with friends. Most of the time it’s a “show up regardless of how much you’ve read,” but they have provided stellar ways to stay connected. Also, I’ve become a big fan of at-home dance and kickboxing workouts. As someone who has had body-image issues and struggled with disordered eating as a result, finding body-positive, encouraging videos has made me feel proud of being in my skin in a way I haven’t in a really, really long time. (For those looking for the same, check out EMKFit and FitnessBlender.com!)
Vicki: Like Karen, I found that exercise was key. I’m the worst when it comes to motivation but I finally signed up for good, old-fashioned aerobics classes and have found that the routine helps a lot! We also started doing local hikes in the Cleveland area and, as clichéd as it is, being in nature was restorative!
Sarah H-C: I’ve also started exercising, using free YouTube workouts like Jessica Smith or Intensati, plus a good stretch with Yoga with Adriene. I was really saved this past year by spending lots of time with my barn family at Champion Hill Farm, and my horse Coup is the inspiration that keeps me going with all those squats and lunges. I also rediscovered my love of houseplants this year. I’ve always loved plants, but had a limited collection – now I have five in my bedroom alone, and they bring me so much joy.
Evan: Cooking and exercising!
Lara: Given that I have some vision and hearing impairment, I am feeling very done with screens at this point. Instead of trying to find TV shows to replace the live performances I miss so much, I’ve been spending a lot more time on long walks around town, appreciating nature. We had a gorgeous fall, and I visited all my favorite trees over and over again. Right now the geese are migrating, and the trees are bare so I can see the robins flying in to roost at dusk, framed by purple sunsets to the west of my house.
Laura: If it wasn’t clear from my book recommendations: reading. I read over 300 books this year, a personal record that I don’t think I’ll be able to match in the future.
Best Way to Treat Yo’ Self during the Pandemic
Averill: I’m vaccinated and boosted, so all the spa things. I discovered a nail bar where they have booze and do pedicures. It’s a game changer. I mean, I don’t drink booze, but I dig the vibe. And of course I have my IPSY subscription, and get nice little samples of fancy skin care things once a month.
Laura: I’m with Ave. The one big splurge in my monthly budget is a monthly massage.
Eileen: One of my family’s pandemic home improvement projects was slapping together a projector system for our basement. As anyone with small kids can speak to, last winter was a long haul of keeping everyone entertained at home. But being able to turn some of the endless screen time into something that felt more like an event (Basement pizza party! Popcorn! PJs!) helped immensely. Also, speaking from experience: there are plenty of high-res birdfeeder videos on YouTube, and indoor virtual birdwatching can be surprisingly fun.
Karen: Seeing friends regularly again for dinner or a drink out feels like such a treat and escape.
Bridget: Opera! I’ve loved opera for years, but there is something about people ensconced in a really elaborate narrative who stop to talk about their feelings a lot (and very loudly) is really providing a balm for my soul that has been doing very little but reacting for the past two years. Also, sweatpants! I finally gave in and got some this year and what the heck have I been doing with my life until now?!
Vicki: Although we have been slow to rejoin the world, going out to dinner and to the movies has transformed into something indulgent! My husband and I both had hectic semesters, with the pandemic layer on top, so anything we do that is a true break from the routine is great. But, if we can’t find the time to go out, I love to cook. The satisfaction of starting, completing, and enjoying a small project can be just enough to power through an otherwise stressful week.
Sarah H-C: I’ve recently gone back to having my nails done for the first time since March 2020. I get that it’s a silly indulgence but dude, having pretty nails makes me feel better, even if I’m working at home in penguin pajama pants. I’m also finally making use of the Starbucks app for my occasional coffee indulgence and I’ll tell ya, I squealed with absolute joy when I got to use my “stars” for my grande blonde roast with extra shot, pumpkin sauce, and oatmilk!
Evan: Buying books!
Sarah S: Lady Island. And, yes, this is like the cryptic yearbook entry.
Favorite Charity or Philanthropic Organization
Ave: Fair Fight, The Trevor Project, and all my local history organizations. Though I rarely make it out these days, I maintain my memberships at the Theodore Roosevelt Inauguration Site, the Buffalo Niagara-Heritage Village, and most recently, the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center.
Eileen: I’m a big summer camp booster. My home camp is Sky Lake Camp and Retreat Center, where I was a camper, then a staff member, and now a volunteer. Nonprofit camps across the country were hit hard by COVID, and so there are camps serving every community that are still in need of support. If you’re looking for a place to start, Brave Trails supports LGBT+ youth leaders and Double H Ranch serves kids with serious medical conditions.
Bridget: I fully subscribe that an educated electorate is the foundation of a good democracy. So I’m trying my hardest to support libraries and independent bookstores that are doing good work on the ground. Here are some of the ones I’ve been really excited to support this year: City of Asylum Books and The White Whale Bookstore (Pittsburgh), Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books and Harriet’s Books and Ida’s Books (Philadelphia), Bluestocking’s Cooperative (New York City) and, of course, my beloved Harvard Bookstore (Cambridge).
Karen: Planned Parenthood. The threat to Roe v. Wade and what that might mean for so many people’s lives is terrifying and infuriating.
Vicki: With so much need, it’s hard to stay consistent but food banks, which did so much extra service during the pandemic, are at the top of my list, including The Greater Cleveland Food Bank, and Feeding America. Like Bridget, I also think education is vital and I support Seeds of Literacy. Finally, we started donating to ProPublica in 2016 and continue to support their work.
Lara: My husband and I made our first donation to Partners in Health with some of our cash wedding gifts, and we’ve kept that annual tradition now for 21 years. I trust Paul Farmer and his group to use my donations well to promote social justice through health care.
Sarah S: I gave money when I could to a lot of organizations. Locally, Mutual Aid Partners. Nationally, Southern Poverty Law Center was one of the many organizations that I supported.
New Year’s Resolutions
Karen: Get through another year and fervently hope that in 2022 we’ll really see the end of the pandemic.
Bridget: Finish my book manuscript! Eek!
Vicki: Learn to take time off and not feel guilty about it!
Evan: Continue practicing gratitude!
Lara: Spend less time reading the news, and get a new book project underway.
Sarah S: Find a nonacademic job and move to Washington, DC.
Laura: After almost five years, it’s time to pass the reins of managing NC. Hoping to figure out who the new managing editor will be and get them ready to take over by summertime!