Eileen: By far, it was Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic. Spooky, weird, and gorgeously written. I’m counting down the days until winter break so I can spend an afternoon re-reading it.
Vicki: My reading habit has not been particularly good this year. One book I’m still thinking about, however, is Wayétu Moore’s She Would Be King. A mix of magical realism and historical fiction, it’s a novel that asks the reader to really pay attention. Moore explores the very personal experiences of her characters – loneliness, alienation – against the backdrop of the founding of Liberia and the tensions around colonization and enslavement in West Africa.
Kristin: S.A. Chakraborty’s Daevabad Trilogy stands out for me. Based on Islamic legends and story-telling, this fantasy saga centers on an Egyptian female con artist who becomes an empowered healer defying family, racial, and gendered expectations to blaze her own path in a magical realm. Not only is the trilogy a quick read (despite each book’s increasing page length), but it’s also an inspiring and nuanced take on traditional fantasy.
Laura: I always have to break this down into a few categories. My favorite general fiction book of the year is Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, a lovely book on friendship, collaboration, grief, and so much more, all set within the world of video game design. Like Sarah, I read a ton of romance. Of those, I have to highlight Heartbreaker by Sarah MacLean, Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade, and Long Game by Rachel Reid. (The last was my most anticipated book of 2022 and it did not disappoint.)
Chelsea: Hands down my favorite book this year is David Sacks’ Letter Perfect, which traces the history of every letter in the English alphabet. If you’ve ever wondered why English pronunciation is so weird, this will explain why. Almost every alphabet system in the world is descended from a singular Semitic alphabet, which used borrowed Egyptian hieroglyphs, over three thousand years ago. Very cool.
Sarah: I read a lot, but I’m not particularly good at reading new releases or even venturing across genres – listen, romance novels remain a major coping mechanism. I’ve mostly been reading through Lisa Kleypas’s interconnected Wallflowers, Ravenels, and Hathaways series of historical romances. (Derek Craven! Sebastian St. Vincent! Rhys Winterbourne! West Ravenel! Swoon!) But I did finally read Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker, which was fascinating and as compelling as any novel.
Emily: Like Vicki, my reading habits were a bit different this year, but looking back, I enjoyed Michelle Zauner’s memoir Crying in H-Mart; like Sarah, romance was a welcome escape and I found it in Jen Comfort’s The Astronaut and the Star; and I’ve pre-ordered Natalia Mehlman Petrzela’s Fit Nation: The Pains and Gains of America’s Exercise Obsession, which comes out early in January and I can’t wait to read it.
Averill: I set out to read 100 books this year, about double my usual GoodReads challenge goal. As I write, I’m 13 away from succeeding! But that means I have a lot of book opinions this year. I’ll limit it to a few. I just finished Rivers Solomon’s Sorrowland, which left me haunted, and sad, and kind of hopeful? Which is how their writing usually leaves me. I read everything that Natasha Pulley reads, and The Half Life of Valery K was horrifying like HBO’s Chernobyl, but with all the tenderness and biting humor of any of Pulley’s novels. I discovered Emily Henry this year, and now I aspire to be her – Beach Read is maybe the best romance novel I’ve ever read. And I assigned new-to-me books in a couple of my classes which were a hit – my students (and I) loved Jen Manion’s Female Husbands, Wendy Lower’s The Ravine, and of course Jake Newsome’s Pink Triangle Legacies. We had really excellent conversations about all three.
Anna: I had more time this year to catch up on some great new sci-fi books. I particularly enjoyed Arkady Martine’s enthralling imperial space thriller A Memory Called Empire and its sequel, A Desolation Called Peace. I also loved Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori – it’s creepy and atmospheric, with one of the strangest (but somehow completely relatable) protagonists I’ve ever encountered.
Natalie: These both came out toward the end of 2021, but I enjoyed Farah Jasmine Griffin’s Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature and Jim Downs’ Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine.
Cassandra: My absolute favorite novel that I read this year was the 2019 masterpiece and Booker Prize winner Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. I was so upset when I finished it – I just did not want to say goodbye to the characters! I was also fascinated by Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which I was fooled into thinking was nonfiction for the first twenty pages or so.
Lizzie: For fiction, I also liked Laura’s pick: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. Plus The Latecomer: A Novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz and two new books by Akwaeke Emezi: You Made a Fool of Death by Your Beauty and The Death of Vivik Oji. Also Big Girl by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan and Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I also thought that Recitatif: A Story by Toni Morrison was brilliant; it was recently re-issued with a great introduction by Zadie Smith.
Favorite album or song:
Eileen: Spotify Wrapped tells me it was the Encanto soundtrack, but that’s just a result of my four-year-old learning how to use Alexa. I continued on a totally predictable and totally enjoyable Jason Isbell kick all year, who is not only brilliant but, more importantly, one of my favorite Twitter personalities.
Kristin: I listened to so many albums while working in archives this year, but the one that I kept returning to was Regina Spektor’s Remember Us to Life. The songs “The Trapper and the Furrier” and “The One Who Stayed and the One Who Left” particularly stayed with me. Her newest single, “Back of a Truck,” also caught my ear to such an extent that it ended up on my Spotify Unwrapped.
Chelsea: The Mean Girls Broadway cast recording rocks.
R.E.: Orville Peck’s Bronco pretty much consumed my entire year. Spotify informs me that I listened to it for a solid week.
Sarah: This year my Spotify Wrapped was mostly comfortable classics like Fleetwood Mac and Simon and Garfunkel, my backdrop for writing. My music taste is not particularly adventurous. But this fall I, like everyone else, fell hard for Taylor Swift’s Midnights. What an incredible, emotional, interesting album. Go listen if you haven’t yet!
Emily: Ha, I’m right with Sarah on Taylor Swift’s Midnights! And I’m currently gasping for air under a mountain of grading, and the Hans Zimmer channel of all things is helping me through, though it’s kind of startling to feel so uplifted by the main theme to Top Gun.
Laura: I’m always on the Taylor Swift train. Midnights.
Cassandra: My two-year-old only allows us to listen to “pirate music” in his presence, but he (thankfully!) accepts a very broad definition of the genre. Wading through endless sea shanties eventually led to the discovery of the Derina Harvey Band, a Celtic-rock group from Edmonton, and I can’t get enough of Derina’s growl!
Favorite TV show, movie, or live performance:
Eileen: I instantly became obsessed with Only Murders in the Building. Steve Martin and Martin Short are amazing, of course, but Selena Gomez is next-level funny.
Vicki: I have recently started to re-watch the BBC version of Ghosts. It is so delightful! Lots of hilarious throw-away lines but also sweet and charming. I also enjoyed the beauty of AppleTV’s adaptation of Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee.
Kristin: It’s a toss-up between Andor (Disney+) and The Great (Hulu). Both shows were gorgeously shot with casts that shined in the roles they played, even in each episode’s darkest moments!
Chelsea: I saw Hadestown on Broadway this year before any of the principal cast left. Incredible!
R.E.: I watched all three seasons of Barry in the space of about 72 hours. I can’t recommend that pacing, but the show itself is stellar.
Sarah: I really enjoyed Rings of Power. I had watched all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, but they didn’t really click with me the way they did some folks. Rings of Power actually changed that, and I enjoyed rewatching the films feeling like I finally got the story. I saw a lot of movies in the theater with Averill this year, and I especially liked The Northman and Bullet Train. They were both super weird and memorable!
Lizzie: Fleishman Is in Trouble. I wish I could binge-watch it, but they make you wait a week! I also liked Ozark but it wasn’t always easy to watch.
Emily: For movies, I really liked Everything Everywhere All at Once, and I didn’t think I’d be listing an Adam Sandler basketball flick, but Hustle was a solid, feel-good watch. On TV, I binged the latest season of The Crown, even though it wasn’t a favorite compared to past ones, and we started watching Yellowstone, just to try and understand what the heck folks seem to like about it. So far I don’t get it, but I’m fascinated by how viewers seem to accept the over-the-top-soapiness of it all because of how masculinity is threaded through the show’s cowboy characters, and how the west still functions in the American imaginary, especially states like Montana, where I grew up.
Averill: I watch all the movies and too many shows, so picking a favorite (or even remembering everything I’ve seen) is a challenge. In no particular order: Rings of Power, Andor, Abbott Elementary, and Interview with a Vampire. For movies, Everything Everywhere All At Once was probably the best film of the year, maybe only tied with Wakanda Forever, through which I just sort of quiet-sobbed from start till end. But also, why was Top Gun Maverick so good? And The Lost City! And I’m probably the only Jordan Peele fan who thought Nope was fantastic. Yes to Bullet Train and no to The Northman, Sarah 😛
Laura: I don’t often rewatch TV, especially not in quick succession, but I watched Heartstopper on Netflix at least three times all the way through. A sweet, endlessly delightful tale of two British boys falling in love. Can’t recommend it enough.
Cassandra: I adored the show Bad Sisters, and I very much want all of the sisters to do more bad things. I was also blown away by Mo, a hilarious and heartbreaking Netflix dramedy about a Palestinian man seeking asylum – for years – in Houston. As for movies… I have no idea what I might recommend, as I don’t think I was able to stay awake for a full viewing of anything!
Eileen: A few friends recommended Normal Gossip, and I have never in my life laughed so hard. The entire premise is just getting to hear some anonymous normal gossip—little petty dramas from the neighborhood dog park or some law school friends—and it is perfect.
Vicki: My podcast listening is all over the place this year. I finally listened to Dead Eyes, about actor Connor Ratliff’s rejection from Band of Brothers. What begins as a seemingly silly podcast with a limited premise ends up being a thoughtful meditation on resilience with a perfect ending. I also just got on the bandwagon with If Books Could Kill. I’m a true Michael Hobbes fan (a Hobbesian?) and I love his take-downs of these reads.
Chelsea: My favorite discovery this year is My Gothic Dissertation, a brilliant project from Anna Williams that weaves in her analysis of Gothic literature and her experience navigating the academic world. It’s quit lit with very good sound production. And if you’re not listening to the incredible reporting by Connie Walker in her podcast, Stolen, you’re also missing out.
Sarah: I’ve been listening to some book podcasts this year, and am really enjoying reading along. It’s like having so many book clubs! I discovered Just King Things, in which the two super smart literary critic hosts are working their way through the books of Stephen King in publication order. As a longtime King fan, it’s really fun to revisit some of my favorite books with a bit of critique. I am loving Michael Hobbes’ new series If Books Could Kill – there’s nothing better than Michael going full methodology queen. I also regularly read along with romance novel pods Fated Mates and Learning the Tropes. And another season of Cocaine and Rhinestones! (If you’re planning to watch George & Tammy, you really should listen to season 3 of this fantastic country music podcast first.)
Lizzie: I agree with Eileen’s pick, Normal Gossip. It’s so much fun and easy to listen to. I also liked Welcome to Provincetown. For something completely different, I’m listening to Anderson Cooper’s, All There Is, about grief. I have to be in the right mood for it, but when I am, it gives me a lot to think about.
Emily: I like You Are Good hosted by Sarah Marshall and Alex Steed. It started out under a different name analyzing film representations of fatherhood and masculinities but has expanded to just feelings-forward discussions about movies that old millennials know and love and maybe feel conflicted about. Oh and I just started listening to Drafting the Past hosted by Kate Carpenter and love it, as it interviews historians not just about their books but also about the craft of writing.
Cassandra: As a historian of motherhood, I often find myself listening to The Birth Hour, a podcast in which individuals share their birth stories in great detail. It is both very modern – placenta encapsulation, birthing with Covid, elective C-sections, and more – and also part of a long tradition of birthing people recounting their experiences of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery.
Favorite board, video, or online game:
Vicki: For my birthday this year, my husband bought me Wingspan. It quickly became an obsession! Beautifully-drawn illustrations on the cards, a million different ways to build your habitats, and just enough complexity to keep me focused.
Eileen: This is the year I finally succumbed to a Spelling Bee addiction, and I have no regrets.
Chelsea: If you’re not playing DND by now, you’re missing out.
R.E.: To no one’s surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed Stray.
Kristin: One of our friends introduced us to The Game. Who knew putting numbers in a line could be so addicting??
Emily: Beyond a silly puzzle app on my phone, I don’t play a lot of games, but I just picked up one of those pretty FAO Schwarz versions of Uno at Target and am hoping I can convince someone to play with me over the holiday break.
Averill: I’ve also been playing Wingspan a lot this year (and it’s adapted for BoardGameArena.com, in case you don’t like dealing with all the fiddly bits with a game like that). For lighter games we play So Clover and Pictures a ton in my game groups. For mid-weight games I will always play Flourish (co-op only) and 7 Wonders Architects. For heavier games it’s always Viticulture, Clank! (and I love the new Catacombs edition), or Castles of Tuscany. But let’s be honest… I’ll play anything (except a war game) at least once.
Laura: Our family has gotten into Rummikub at gatherings. First at my mother-in-law’s house, then I bought a set for my own mom, and now we have our own. Easy to learn, quick games, and suddenly you find you’ve played eight rounds in an evening.
Cassandra: I truly despise most games, and they mostly fill me with dread and performance anxiety. That being said, I played a lot of Mermaid Island, a truly no-skills-required board game (with my 5-year-old), as well as the occasional Scrabble with my husband.
The unexpected little thing that brought you the most joy:
Vicki: I had a big group of family come to visit for Thanksgiving. My niece Sophia brought a bunch of very small, plastic ducks and secretly hid them all over the house. It took me a few days to start noticing them and now I’m still finding them in all the nooks and crannies! I loved the pure surprise of it and realized how much joy something small and silly could produce.
Sarah: I’m not typically a sports watcher, but my family has started religiously watching Buffalo Bills games, and I have grown to love sharing in the joy of a win and devastation of a loss along with my city. Sure, my husband and daughter have to explain all the lingo to me – I’m still not exactly sure what punting does? – but I’m really enjoying it. (Go Bills!)
Eileen: These tiny little egg cups, which have allowed me to relive one of my favorite childhood breakfasts (eggs and soldiers!). My husband and kid were initially skeptical, but now they are 100% on board and we use them once a week.
Kristin: While doing research in Cape Town this spring, I went on early-morning hikes every Wednesday morning. My heart absolutely leapt every time I saw a flock of wild guinea-fowl pass by. Some people think their chirping is annoying and harsh, but I found it adorable to listen to as they gathered together and ran down paved streets and sandy paths with their little fluffed-out bodies. I have one of their beautiful spotted feathers in the pencil cup on my desk as a reminder.
Chelsea: We discovered this year that our cat, Mira, lives and dies for autumn leaves. She waits patiently for us to bring one in for her every time we arrive home.
Emily: I became my university’s faculty in residence in June, so it’s brought me lots of unexpected little joys, along with some not-joys, but maybe those should’ve been expected…
Averill: I started a new job this fall and moved to MN without my partner or dog as I feel out the new region and gig, and two colleagues have quickly become wonderful friends. Tuesday evenings watching Interview with a Vampire, Friendsgiving, movie nights, yelling at college-aged trick-or-treaters from the front porch while we sip hot cider and eat pizza fries . . . it has made a hard semester a lot easier. Oh, and I’ve continued (though more sporadically now) my Zoom paint nights with friends and has made moving away a little better.
Anna: I got sucked back into watching competitive figure skating this year for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. I’ve been a fan since the 90s but hadn’t really followed the sport closely in the past two Olympic cycles. It’s been such a fun distraction to catch up on the currently-competing athletes and cheer for them!
Laura: As part of a childless couple, I’m not around kids very much, especially during an ongoing pandemic when most of my family/friends with kids live out of state. But we have a weekly Dungeons & Dragons game which meets both online and in person with friends who have a toddler. Getting to watch him develop this year – as he became more mobile, added sounds and words to his vocabulary, and began expressing his likes and dislikes – has been a delight.
R.E.: We moved to a new apartment at the start of the year, which was neither unexpected nor small (but has brought us a lot of joy). What we didn’t expect when we moved was to see our very shy cat Honey blossom and relax in his new larger digs. He particularly loves to roll around on our big new living room rug while we sit around in the evening.
Cassandra: I’ve finally started going to an in-person yoga class again, and I hadn’t realized quite how much I’d missed moving my body and being with others, in silence.
Lizzie: I know this won’t be for everyone, but my gym got a Hydrow rower, and I’m addicted! It’s a little like Peloton but it’s rowing instead of biking, and the athletes row on the water (not on the machine), all over the world. They are based in Cambridge, Mass., and so many of the workouts are on the Charles River, but they take trips everywhere. So I’ve recently seen Prague, Norway, and Alaska, all the while learning how to improve my rowing. It’s surprisingly fun!
The charity or philanthropic organization you’re supporting this year:
Eileen: I spent this year working with the faculty unionization campaign on my campus and in the process, got to know some incredible labor organizers in the Amazon and Starbucks campaign movements. You can support Starbucks Workers United and The Amazon Labor Union by buying merch, donating to their funds, and by letting those workers know that you see the hard work they’re doing.
Vicki: There are so many places to give but I support Planned Parenthood, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, and ProPublica.
Chelsea: It’s always The Phelps Mansion Museum in Binghamton, NY. We need a new roof 🙂
R.E.: Local mutual aid groups and DonorsChoose.
Sarah: Lots of podcasts and independent artists on Patreon, and Planned ParenthoodPlanned Parenthood, now more than ever.
Kristin: Seconding Eileen’s unionization aid pitch! In addition to the more national movements, look up and support your local unionization efforts, and shop at unionized stores when possible.
Emily: Since our pup Raven was a rescue, we support a couple of animal charities, making a donation in February on her adoption day.
Averill: I have my Planned Parenthood monthly contributions, of course, and I’ve been trying to find local organizations that need more support, so I usually click around the Abortion Fund Network and donate at random.
Cassandra: Public radio, public schools, and organizations working against gun violence (like Everytown for Gun Safety).
Laura: Alongside some others already mentioned, the Nursing Clio Patreon, of course!
Lizzie: My favorites are interACT (intersex advocacy), Talia’s Voice: Projects for Patient Safety, and Pregnancy Justice (formerly National Advocates for Pregnant Women).