2019 has drawn to a close (finally) and it’s time to share all the things I loved. I read slightly fewer books and watched fewer movies in theatres. But I think I watched more television than ever before and I read a lot more non-fiction.
While fewer books and movies made it to The List this year, I still managed to discover new favourites, with some of this year’s picks definitely in the running for spots on my All-Time List. Which I should update at some point. Something for the long, cold month of January.
My goal this year was to read more non-fiction. I regularly collect books I think will be interesting, but have a difficult time staying focused when reading non-fiction. Some of it is probably the book itself. I do love a good story and not all non-fiction is easily digestible. Once again, it was audiobooks to the rescue. Reading with my ears has helped me read more over the past few years and now it’s helping me read more non-fiction.
I read 202 books this year and 30 of those books made it to my Favourite Things list. I’ve further narrowed those 30 books to six categories, which is far fewer than I’ve posted previously, reflecting a slight shift in my reading tastes.
The Ends of the World by Peter Brannen (Non-fiction)
If you’re unaware of my interest in apocalypses, then let me just say that when this book showed up as an Audible Daily Deal with the subtitle Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions, I one-clicked without reading a single review.
The book is fascinating. I loved the story of geological discovery and all of the questions these past apocalypses raise regarding our impact on the word over the past few millennia. The facts are by turns horrifying and interesting. My favourite aspect of the book, however, were the notes of optimism on the part of the author. Read my full review on Goodreads.
Other non-fiction standouts were On Writing by Stephen King, The Cuckoo’s Egg by Clifford Stoll and 10 % Happier by Dan Harris. I also really, really enjoyed the Audible Original Understanding Complexity by Scott E. Page.
The Burning White (Lightbringer #5) by Brent Weeks (Fantasy)
Magnificent. Even if I still rated books, there wouldn’t be enough stars for this one. Every I dotted, every T crossed. Surprises, twists, much laughter (some of it delightfully unexpected), new favourite characters, and oh the tears. All very much worthwhile.
Probably the best series ender I’ve ever read.
I also really enjoyed A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness, #1) by Joe Abercrombie and look forward to where he will take these characters in the next book.
Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin (Science Fiction)
Amazing. I’d say unbelievably good, except for the fact it’s actually quite easy to believe the story is this good because it’s written by N.K. Jemisin. I laughed out loud (while walking through my neighbourhood, thank you very much) and cried surprised tears (still walking, still walking). I got angry and sad. I FELT SO MUCH and this is what Jemisin can do with 33 pages.
Read it, borrow it, listen to it, buy it. Emergency Skin will complete one of the most valuable hours of your life.
Other great listens were: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North and The Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
The Marked Prince (The Darkest Court, #2) by M.A. Grant. (Fantasy Romance)
I often review by picking out my favourite parts of a book, but honestly, there was nothing I didn’t like about The Marked Prince. The best of the best, though, would be how much the plot matters to the relationships M.A. Grant is developing in this series. I love how it’s all so integral. I love the character development.
Waiting for the third and final book in this series has been torture.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (Fiction)
Every year, I hope for one book that will take up residence inside me and never leave. A book I’ll add to the shelves of my library and actually revisit just to remember how it made me feel. This year, that book was The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies gutted me. I cried until I was exhausted. But I loved every word and wouldn’t have changed a single one. Read my full review on Goodreads.
Other notable fiction reads were Solar Bones by Mike McCormack and Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.
The Huntress by Kate Quinn (Historical)
Amazing. One of the most engrossing and fascinating books I’ve ever read. I was glued to the page for days and fully invested in the unfolding events. I loved the adventure, the humour, and the love stories, but mostly, I enjoyed reading about Nina’s journey west, from The Old Man to Boston. She’s an absolutely brilliant character!
I also really enjoyed The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
I kept a movie diary this year using the Letterboxd app which helped me not only track of all the movies I watch but share my thoughts on them, making it easier for me to go back and choose my favourites. I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was by the fact I recorded 107 movies in 2019. I knew I watched a lot but thought I hadn’t been watching as many as usual due to my headlong dive into TV (to be discussed in the next section).
Honestly, while I did find something to love in theatres this year, I was disappointed by a lot of the movies I went to see. Too many lacked the substance I craved or the depth of emotion I wanted. I was also disappointed by lacklustre sequels and retreads.
Out of those 107 movies, I rated eight of them five stars, four in theatres and four on DVD or streaming.
In theatres: Ad Astra
I loved every aspect of this film from the subtle notes to the discordant clashes. It’s the sort of movie I hope to see at least once a year, proving that phenomenal writing, acting, direction, and production are still important and that not all stories need to be loud to be heard.
For an amazing, in-depth review, Indiewire.
To see Brian Cranston and Kevin Hart in the roles you always knew they could play, treat yourself to The Upside. For the story of great friendship, see Ford v Ferrari. Finally, 21 Bridges showcases Chadwich Boseman’s ability to simply look at the camera and make you feel what he’s feeling. Go see it just for that, or for the refreshingly uncomplicated story.
Streaming: Train to Busan
I had been told for years to see this movie so finally, I did. End of story? Ah, no. Now I’m going to keep telling you to see this movie. It’s AMAZING. Horrifying and sad, but also full of human connection and perseverance. The best the zombie genre has to offer.
I also really, really enjoyed The Game Changers, which I’ll talk about more below.
I worked my way through several series including The Sopranos (six seasons over the course of a few months–I can still hear the title music), Into the Badlands, Travelers, and Friday Night Lights. I very much enjoyed Good Omens. I also started several new series, including The Umbrella Academy, Kingdom, Sex Education, Black Summer, Knightfall, Lucifer, The Man in the High Castle, and The Witcher. Finally, I continued watching Queer Eye, Dear White People, The Walking Dead, The Expanse, and This is Us, which continues to make me cry every week. I could list more of the TV I watched, but even I’m sort of astounded at this stage.
Best Complete Series: Friday Night Lights
I’ve wanted to watch this series for a long time and it finally showed up on Amazon Prime. Now that I’ve seen every episode I am not so strangely bereft. This was phenomenal television. I LIVED in Dillon, Texas for the few months it took me to go from the first episode to the last. The characters became my people, living in my town.
I loved so much about this show, from how much football made it onto the screen, to the unflinching look at issues plaguing this town. I loved the cinematography–the way the viewer almost feels as if they’re spying on the private lives of these characters. At times, it made me uncomfortable, but it was supposed to. The acting was superb, throughout. But it was the writing that caught me and kept me every time. The stories. These kids. Dear lord, these kids. Their families, their friends. And Billy Riggins. Who’d have thought he’d become such a central character? I’m so sad it’s done.
Best New Series: The Witcher
As a long time fan of the books and the games, I was scared–really scared–about what they might do with this show. So far, however, I am delighted. The way they’re weaving the separate stories of the two short story collections into the greater narrative is fantastic. Every episode has something new for me to marvel over. My only complaint is that eight episodes are much too few.
I played quite a few excellent games this year, including Soma, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Watch Dogs 2, and most recently STAR WARS Jedi: Fallen Order (which is not what I expected…). My game of the year is:
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
I plan to write a full post about this game because I have a lot more to say than I can share here. Briefly, though, this is the best game of the franchise. It’s not perfect. The happy marriage of past, present, and future stories managed by Assassin’s Creed II (incl. Brotherhood and Revelations) is still missing, but everything else was absolutely fantastic, from the combat mechanics to the immersive story. The best part, hands down, were the playable characters of Kassandra and Alexios and how the story is equally rich, regardless of which one you choose. The voice acting throughout is phenomenal.
I think I’ve hit the age where I don’t understand new music. All of it sounds like so much noise or something I’ve heard before. This might be (probably is) an unfair comment as my only source for new music right now is local radio and we recently lost the station I listened to most. This year I defaulted to listening to my own collection and most often looked for my favourites from the eighties and nineties. Yep, I’m officially old.
Rather than subject you to my top ten list of Led Zeppelin songs, we’ll move right on to:
This was the year I became a vegetarian and it wasn’t a completely conscious choice. My daughter approached me late in May to ask if I could help her prepare several recipes from a site called Forks over Knives. She wanted a few standbys to take away to college with her–easy recipes for food she not only enjoyed but would last for a few meals each.
She has been vegetarian for years and I’ve always tried to cook meals she can eat with us, limiting either the meat portion to a side dish or eliminating it altogether. I always drew the line at complicated recipes that called for too many weird and substitute ingredients, however. I’m tired in the evening and really want something that is fast, easy, nutritious, but also tasty.
So we bookmarked some recipes and gave them a try and I learned that there are plenty of alternatives to complicated vegetarian cooking. What I also loved about the site we were using was the wealth of information to help us make sensible food choices. It wasn’t entirely about eliminating meat but finding ways to enjoy more vegetables.
To my surprise, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve eaten meat over the past six months–and before we started this, I was eating bacon for breakfast nearly every day. How to I feel? Honestly, adopting a plant-based diet hasn’t been a life changer for me. I already had a pretty healthy diet. But I love the food I’m eating. I’m excited about it. I love the fact my grocery bill is half what it was before I made this change. I like what my diet means for the planet and climate change.
Will I ever eat meat again? When I started drafting this post, my answer was maybe. Dining out as a vegetarian is still difficult and I didn’t want to be the one dinner guest who can’t eat anything. But I recently watched The Game Changers and my perspective on diet has been, well, changed. It’s not as if I didn’t already know and appreciate many of the facts in this documentary, but sometimes it just takes a different spin to settle everything in. Now, I’m committed to not only eliminating meat but also dairy from my diet. I look forward to seeing how this improves my health and fitness in 2020.
As I battled mental and physical exhaustion this year, TV became my way to totally disconnect for thirty minutes to an hour. TV time became nap time, or a chance to simply sit still for a while. That I discovered so many worthwhile shows was simply a bonus. (I started and stopped watching a lot of crap, too, but that’s another post.)
The availability of complete seasons and series has changed the way I watch TV, though. The only show I watch close to live is This is Us and I don’t watch it on Tuesday nights. I watch it on Wednesday at lunchtime. I watched the first two seasons the same way I now watch everything else, though: one episode a day from beginning to end.
It’s amazing how a story either comes together or drifts apart when you watch a show this way and it’s interesting to watch how TV writers are adapting to this change–producing fewer episodes and tighter stories.
For 2020, I’d like to add more documentary series to my roster, even though I still have over fifty episodes of Ancient Aliens to go. 😀
And that’s it, another year done. I hope it was a good one for you, and that you were able to enjoy all the activities and hobbies that bring you pleasure. If you have a list of your favourites, I’d love to see it. Post a link below.