I will freely admit that I spend too much time watching television. I should probably figure out something better to do with my time, but since I watched it, I’m going to review it. Here are the Top 5 things I watched this year, including both movies and television shows.
#1 – The Expanse
Have I gushed about The Expanse yet? Oh, that’s right, I have. I watched the first season twice this year, once on my own, and once with friends. I absolutely love it. The characters, the visuals, and above all, the story are wonderful in their own rights.
I will often gush about this absolutely gorgeous scene from the middle of the season with Chrisjen Avasarala walking through snow in Montana in her sari that is just so visually stunning and so in character than it blows me away every time I see it.
Not what you would expect from a space opera, is it? But there you have it.
#2 – Stranger Things
Did you see it yet? Because you totally should. This quirky startling Netflix show draws heavily on ’80s nostalgia, but also weaves a spooky scary story that comes together with a satisfying conclusion. #TeamBarbForever
#3 – Arrival
I honestly heard almost nothing about Arrival before it was released, but then I started seeing reviews saying it was the best sci-fi movie of the year, and strongly implying that I would be a fool to miss it. And I am not a fool.
Arrival is a wonderful first encounter story with a lot of twists and turns (and strangely also set in Montana…) and I really don’t want to give away anything that might spoil it. If you have seen it, I’d love to discuss. If you loved Interstellar, Arrival should be at the top of your list.
#4 – Supergirl / The Flash
You didn’t think I wouldn’t try to sneak in something extra to my top 5 list, did you? But look at these two cinnamon rolls who are too good, too pure for this world.
It is no secret that I have a secret crush on The Flash is my favorite superhero. I didn’t know what to make of Supergirl, until they did a crossover episode last season. I loved it, and as soon as I had access to the full season, I crushed it. Supergirl is a wonderful story about finding one’s place in the world, and making a difference. I love the scenes when Callista Flockhart’s character, Cat Grant, takes either Supergirl or her alter-ego Kara Danvers under her wing to mentor and explain how things work in a woman’s world. There has been a coming-out story in this season that has been absolutely heart wrenching and heartwarming at the same time.
And, I mean, the Flash. Just look at him. 😀 Both of these shows are on my “can’t miss it” list.
#5 – The Great British Bake Off
It should come as no surprise that The Great British Bake Off makes my list. The show is just so British, and baking. My heart breaks that it is leaving the BBC, and losing 3 of its 4 hosts. If you aren’t in the know, it is a baking competition that happens in a tent in the English countryside. There are no contrivances, no voting off your enemies and saving your friends. You continue onward only on the basis of your skill baking. It is heartwarming and hilarious and very very British.
I’ve been looking for a picture for the last 10 minutes, and I just can’t stop looking. 😀 Here’s one from the No Context Bake Off twitter feed, and it is just perfect. I can’t really describe the show any better.
I just watched this one last week, and I’m not sure I’m ready to add it officially to my top 5 for the year. But you should watch it. It didn’t really stay around in the theaters long enough, but this stop-motion animation was strikingly gorgeous and told a fantastic story of love, loss, and redemption. Check it out.
So those are my favs for the year. What did you watch and love this year? What did I miss?
Affirmation is literally a life saver. It has literally saved my life. In my darkest times as I have struggled with the complexities and disappointments of being a gay Mormon, Affirmation has been a shining star. Knowing that there are others like me who have come through the dark times has gone a long way towards keeping me moving forward.
Recently, Affirmation has been expanding its work in Central and South America, where the need is even greater than it is here in the USA. Donating to Affirmation will help move forward this important work.
Liahona Children’s Foundation focuses on alleviating malnutrition in LDS families in third-world countries. Most recently, the foundation is serving in 17 countries around the world, helping ensure that the most vulnerable children and familes receive the nutrition and education that will enable them to thrive.
Oxfam is a global organization focusing on alleviating poverty and injustice. Oxfam is often on the ground after natural disasters and has been fighting for refugees and other displaced persons. After the horrific images coming out of Syria and Turkey over the last few years, I have been motivated to do something to help. Oxfam has been my charity of choice for disaster relief and immediate relief of poverty on a global scale.
On the opposite end of the scale from Oxfam, Growing Hope is a local charity focusing on food security in Ypsilanti and neighboring areas. They help food-insecure families learn about gardening by building out raised bed gardens and providing seedlings. They also run several farmers markets in the Ypsilanti area, making fresh vegetables and fruits more accessible to local residents.
Again, I’m really bad at keeping to only five on my list. I donate to local organizations fighting for equality for LGBT people. The Great Trans Bathroom Panic of 2016 only highlighted for me the need for more people on the ground advocating for compassion and equality on a local level.
Those are my top 5 charitable organizations. Looking over them for patterns, it seems I support organizations that focus on food security, poverty relief, and advocacy for marginalized and LGBT people.
What causes do you support? I’ve got an extra $100 that I will split between the first 5 charities you mention here or on my Facebook page.
My absolute favorite for the year is The Expanse series by James SA Corey (who is actually two people, neither named James. The more you know…) The first book is Leviathan Wakes.
If I’ve talked to you about books this year, I have gushed about The Expanse. At last count, there are 6 novels and something like 3 novellas. (The novellas aren’t particularly worth it, in my opinion, but do add something to the background of the series.) There is a fantastic show on SyFy adapted from the novels, season 2 starts in February.
The Expanse is a fantastic addition to the Space Opera subgenre. The characters are real and believable, and the series delves deep into the moral quandaries of otherness and belonging, of created families, of the consequences (often unintentional) of telling what one believes to be the truth.
It has been a long while since I have found a series where I have to pick up the next book as soon as I am finished with the last. After I finish Babylon’s Ashes, I am going to be in a sad place while I wait for the next book.
From this point on, I’m not ranking the books, because there is foolishness in that, but these are my favorites.
Locke and Key by Joe Hill is actually a series of graphic novels, but I listened to the Audible adaptation, and ZOMG was it amazing. Not only was it a full cast reading, the sound effects and music were amazing too. I ended up checking out some of the books from the library to just look at the art and see how it was translated to audio. Locke and Key tells a spooky coming of age story of a family that moves into a family mansion filled with keys that don’t just unlock doors. An evil spirit wants to be released and will do anything to manipulate the kids in the family to discover the keys that will enable it to escape the underworld.
Both the graphic novels and the Audible adaptation are top notch. You will not be disappointed.
The Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie was another favorite this year. I ended up re-reading Ancillary Justice with my SpecFic bookclub because I enjoyed it so much, and I purchased both hard copies and Audible versions.
Ancillary Justice and its sequels could almost be classified as Space Opera, but they are far more human than just space battles and such (and when you read the books you’ll understand the irony of that statement). In fact, they have elements of first contact, classism, and a strong undercurrent of what it means to be human. Also, lots and lots of discussions about tea.
Lest you think I only enjoyed SciFi, and dark fantasy this year, I also really enjoyed David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers. I thought I knew something about the story of the first flights, but I realized my (admittedly basic) understanding more or less ended at Kitty Hawk in 1903.
There is a whole lot more to it than that, as it turns out. From the absolutely critical involvement of their sister, to the time spent trying to convince governments at home and abroad that their flying machine was not some crackpot inventor’s fever dream, there was a lot of the story I was missing. And McCullough masterfully pulls it together, as he always does.
I was doubly lucky that The Henry Ford museum has two replicas of the Wright Flyer and I was able to stop by after work one day while I was listening to the book to more closely examine the genius work of those two bicycle builders from Ohio.
I didn’t know going into the year that I needed to read the story of a crew team from Washington working towards a gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. And yet somehow I did need exactly that. In The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown tells a fascinating story of everything that came together to bring home the gold medals, from a very talented boat builder, the dedication of both the crew and its coaches, to its rivals, to the production of the Berlin Olympics themselves.
I think there is no more quintessentially American story than this one.
Because my top 5 list already has 12 books in it, why don’t I just throw in a 13th for good measure (Although technically, Locke and Key is collected in 5 or 6 volumes, so, you know, I’m really bad at top 5 lists.)
I just finished All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, and if it isn’t in all of the year end round ups of best SciFi and Fantasy novels of 2016, someone is doing it wrong. Simply put, this book should win all of the awards next year. It tells the story of two people whose lives keep intersecting at critical and sometimes awkward points. One is a modern witch, the other a techno wunderkind. They are best friends, enemies, lovers, and more, but more than anything they are, they are there for each other when no one else is. Also, their middle school guidance councilor is a trained assassin. So there’s that.
These were some of my favorites this year. What did you read this year that you loved? Couldn’t put down? Kept you thinking?
So there is a meme going around Facebook, asking you to list out 10 books that have had an impact on your life. My cousin tagged me, and I think someone tagged me last year. I honestly have struggled both times with this question, mostly because I read so many books that it is hard to choose 10. Thinking about it, I came up with 5 books fairly easily. I’m not sure about the other 5, so we’ll do this in phases.
Here are the five that I came up with quickly:
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin: The book helped me think about setting specific goals to be manage my own happiness and also to think about what happiness means.
Start with Why, by Simon Sinek: This book is one of my favorites and has greatly influenced the way I think about communication and leadership. My Affirmation talk was largely based on this one.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card: As a kid, this was probably one of my favorite books, and one of the books that got me into Sci-Fi. I think it speaks to smart kids a lot.
The Dark is Rising series, by Susan Cooper: Another one of those series that I read as a kid, and I loved, and probably got me into epic fantasy. It is Arthurian legend tied up with good vs evil. You should never ever ever watch the movie that was based on this book.
The Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling: I started reading the series in a three day jag, right after I came back from my mission, and it really defined the next 6-7 years of my life. I was obsessed with theories and websites, and everything to do with Harry Potter.
Those were the 5 that I immediately thought of.
While I was writing up the list, I remembered one more.
The Oz series, by L. Frank Baum: My hometown library had a fantastic old set of the Oz series, and I read every single one of them. It was a great series for a kid.
I’m really struggling to pick others, so I think I’m just going to pick some of my favorite books from the last several years.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline: I picked this one up after my local library sponsored a game based on the same concept. Anyone who grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s would absolutely love it. It is replete with references to the pop culture of the time, and it is a pretty snappy read.
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, by Kate Wilhelm: Have I raved about this book on my blog yet? Maybe? I don’t know. I picked it up at random while choosing audiobooks at the library. Didn’t know what I was getting into, but it wowed me. I made my book club read it the next month, to some degree of controversy. (It features some odd discussions of cloning and casual clone sex, so you are warned.) It was one of the first sci-fi books to deal with manmade environmental disaster, and raised some really interesting moral questions.
Anathem by Neal Stephenson: A really strange, kind of dense, have to learn a new language kind of book, but it was oddly satisfying and gripping. It’s gonna take some time to read, but in my opinion is worth the payout.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan: A koala only has one choice for what it eats: bamboo leaves. But we humans are omnivores, so almost everything is open to us. If we have all of that choice, how do we use it? What should we eat? Per Pollan: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Got me thinking about how the way eat interacts with the environment, our health, and etc.
So, fairly successful listing, I guess. The last 4 are good ones, but I could have listed 6 or 7 other unique sets of 4 too. It’s hard to choose.
So, wrap-up time. My 2013 resolutions were a thing. Given the nature of my goals, some of which were more of a becoming thing than a doing thing, it’s kind of hard to know exactly how I did. I’ll try to give my thoughts about how they went, and some thoughts about how I want to proceed in 2014. Look for a new post with those as I finalize them (still considering how I want to approach them. I’m thinking of doing an RPG style game/goal this year.)
[ ] Create more – I’m gonna give this a Fail. I don’t really think that I specifically created more this year. Although I tried a little, it wasn’t as much of a focus as I wanted it to be. I did work on a model airplane for a while at the beginning of the year, I never really finished it. I had wanted to do some video blogs, but never really got anywhere with that.
[ ] Be kinder – With a few notable exceptions, I think I was a little kinder this year. I have to continue to work on it. I’m not very patient sometimes, and that leads me to do things that are unkind. Pass, with continuing efforts.
[ ] Be more active – I’m going to say I achieved this goal. It probably could have been more measurable. I can use my step count as a fairly good surrogate for my activity level. In 2012, I recorded 1,880,902 steps. In 2013, I recorded 2,198,161, a 16% increase. On average, I took 6211 steps per day in 2013, compared to my long term average of about 5499 steps.
Here’s my step Beeminder goal this year.
[ ] Row the length of the Huron – Nailed it. This was a symbolic goal (I did very little on the actual Huron this year, I think one float on Labor Day…), so it was really to pull 21,000 strokes on my rowing machine. Going into this, I wasn’t sure if I could do this. In the end, I probably could have doubled it, if I had really tried. I finished up at the end of November. I had a few eep! days, but I never fell off the road. Here’s my Beeminder graph:
[ ] Cook more – I don’t have a baseline to compare to, but I think I did do a better job after I got several talkings to by my doctor. Vegtember helped a lot, since it is very difficult to find vegetarian meals in the frozen food aisle. I’ll give it a win.
[ ] Spend out – This one was one of those becoming goals. I defined it as a reminder to not hoard, to use, to be willing to spend on quality. It’s one that I need to continue to work on, but I feel like I’m remembering to spend out. (Now if I could just convince myself to replace my ragged work shoes with quality!)
[ ] Take a real vacation – I’m going to give this a double win. The purpose was to take a vacation to a place I wanted to go and see things that I wanted to see on my own. In April, I visited Washington DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival and in October I headed down to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Both were incredibly cool. (I was playing with the idea of Costa Rica or Orlando for the October trip, but I delayed planning too long for both of those. Maybe this year!)
[ ] Plan better – I’m going to give this a Fail. I was terrible at it this year. I think I did ok with the planning for our Family Reunion in December, but that was about the only thing. Both of my vacations were fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants experiences, and I missed out on a conference I wanted to attend because I didn’t plan far enough in advance. Could use some better planning at work too, although for routine things, it went alright.
[ ] Plant a garden – Winner. I planted a great garden. I struggled to keep up with it, my squash failed to thrive, and I regretted not planting green beans, but it was a resounding success. This year, I plan to expand my raised beds (I converted my non-raised bed into a bulb flower garden), and do a better job of eating what I grow!
[ ] Be ok- This one is a hard one to measure. I’m going to give it a pass though, based on one experience. In the late summer/early fall, I could tell I was slipping back into depression (stupid brain not doing what it is supposed to!). My sleep was disordered and I was finding little joy in life. I asked for help, and got it, and am doing much much better now. That qualifies as being ok, I think.
[ ] Be braver – Again, a hard one to measure. I’m going to mark this goal as one to keep working on. I can’t think of anything that says I failed, but I can’t think of anything that says I didn’t fail, either.
[ ] Be believing – This is one of my major struggles. I’ll keep working on it.
[ ] Deliberate practices – I struggled here too. I’ve got a few ideas for deliberate practices for the new year including keeping a diary and possibly folding paper cranes for the sake of folding paper cranes. Possibly some meditation.
[ ] Host more dinners – I hosted a few, including my first Thanksgiving at my new house. I don’t know if I hosted more or less than in prior years. I don’t feel like I hosted enough dinners specifically, plenty of parties and get-togethers (and Rob did a lot of the planning for those…). I have a specific goal to host 12 dinners (at least 1 a month) in 2014. That way I will know if I accomplished it or not.
[ ] Invest in relationships – I did alright with this one. I’m doing better with my family relationships, especially now that most of my immediate family have begun to text more frequently. (Got to maintain favorite uncle status! I have a nefarious plan for that in 2014! Watch out, other contenders!) I’d like to do better outside of my family. I’m considering The Friends Game to help myself in 2014.
[ ] Dress better, take better care of my appearances – I’m going to give this a win. I bought (and used!) a can of spray starch, I made certain to iron my shirts, I invested in higher quality clothes, especially dress shirts. (I have one with a monogram on the sleeve now! How fancy is that?)
[ ] Take a class – A win, but kind of a combined win-slash-maybe I’m cheating. I took a yoga class… See next goal.
[ ] Do more yoga – Yep, Winner. I took a yoga class, which I really enjoyed. I should have re-enrolled, but I didn’t. Guess there’s always this year. Also, Yoga X from P90X is intense. I can making it through the dynamic standing poses, but by about 45 minutes in, when it gets to static poses, I die, every single time.
[ ] Shave with a razor – Winner. I don’t think I used my electric razor more than once or twice while traveling this year. I don’t know why I never went with a regular razor before. I can get away with only shaving every other day, and my side burns have never looked better. Also, so much smoother!
[ ] Do things I’m not good at – I’m going to go with Fail on this one. I think it slid off my radar, and I continue to avoid doing the things that I’m not good at. I’ll have to try again.
In addition to these resolutions, I also did a series of monthly challenges, although not every month got one. I for sure won February, March and Vegtember.
So, mostly successful in 2013. I’ve got some things to continue to work on. I’ve got some goals for 2014, which I am still mulling over.
I love me some Speculative Fiction. Since I last posted about it, I’ve added at least 5 books from the NPR list to my have-read or am-reading lists. I expect to finish Slaughterhouse-Five (#19) on my commute home tonight, and then I will finish a re-read of Hitchhiker’s Guide (#2) and finish up Watchmen (#15). That’ll
I’m struggling to pick the next book for our Speculative Fiction book club. It’s my turn again, and I’ve got so many I want to read. I considered Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, but found it wanting. I originally thought about Watchmen, but it is really disturbing, enjoyable, but disturbing. I ruled out Slaughterhouse-Five for language. I’m playing with the idea of Cormac McCarthey’s The Road (#63).
But how can I leave out?
– Ready, Player One!
– The Warded Man
– Cold Magic
and tons of other books that I would love to read and discuss?
In other news, I’m going to be very indecisive until Thursday.
Ok, It’s the 6th and I’m still doing Best of 2008 lists. This one should be my last. This is the one that was the hardest for me, because I couldn’t make up my mind, so every time I decided to do one of my blogs this one got pushed back. Originally, it was a top 10 list, but I decided that I probably could never make up my mind on 10 books, and so 5 books was easier. My biggest problem was trying to figure out which books I’d read this year. I kept an ok record over at GoodReads.com, but I know that I missed quite a few in the last several months of 2008.
I found the concept of this one both intriguing and compelling. The main character is afflicted with “Chrono Displacement Disorder.” He often and involuntarily will be displaced in time, although his time walks mostly seem to center on people and places that are important to him. The story focuses on him and his wife, who obviously are living in different time lines. She first meets him when she is a young girl, he first meets her when he is 28 or so. The story jumps around a lot, giving hints and whispering secrets, all the way through. It’s a very interesting read.
I became obsessed with the Appalachian Trail at some point in 2007. I was, in part, feeding my obsession by reading this book. Bryson tells of his experience hiking the AT with his friend Katz as Bryson became reacquainted with America. His story is both funny and poignant. The two parts that stick out most in my mind is the story about Katz flinging his food from his pack because it weighs too much, and the tragic story of the American Chestnut, once prevalent in American forests, but decimated by blight. Of course, I wanted to hike the AT even more after reading this. Maybe 2009 is the year for it.
It’s really hard to explain why I liked The Name of the Wind. Perhaps the best way is to drop a quote from the main character, and let him speak for himself :
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.
The story dragged me in, without me even realizing that I was being dragged in.
I’ve blogged about this one before. I picked up Sanderson’s first book, Elantris, to see if he would make a good substitute for Robert Jordan. I’m glad I did. It lead me to this one. Of the three in the series, this was by far the best. It really comes off as a caper story (Think Ocean’s 11) dressed as a Fantasy novel.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma is one of the books that most influenced me this year. I plucked it from Amy’s bookshelf and read it. I’ve been having an internal conversation about food all year. (You’d never guess that, coming from the guy who obsessively blogged his vegetables… 😉 ) Pollan investigated the origins of his food chains. He followed four meals from four distinct food chains from beginning to end. In doing so, he described America’s unhealthy relationship with food. I think I’ve changed the way I eat (fresher, more diverse food) and the way I think about food (closer to home) because of it.
So there you have it. My top 5 books from 2008. What are yours?
It’s not really a book, it’s more of a webcomic, but I spent a lot of time reading it in 2008. The story is great, the characters even better, and I’m still only part way through 2006. Go figure. I’ll get all caught up one of these days.