Yes, readers, it is possible to have favorite things in 2020. In fact, this year more than ever has shown me the importance of art during turbulent times. Books, movies, television, podcasts–I’ve found comfort in all of these, especially when anxiety has made my brain feel like this:
Sharing my favorites with friends and family has helped to keep communication open even when we’ve been separated by distances. I’d love to share my 2020 favorites with you, and I hope they bring you the same enjoyment they’ve brought to me.
Ted Lasso (AppleTV)
In a very 2020 turn of events, my phone stopped working a few months ago. The plus of having to buy a new iPhone: I received a free subscription to AppleTV and was able to watch Ted Lasso. The experience of watching Ted Lasso can best be described as “an explosion of joy” (that’s my very technical description).
Jason Sudeikis stars as Ted Lasso, an upbeat and guileless American college football coach hired to lead a British football club–though, as we all know, football in Britain is soccer to us Americans. You will instantly fall in love with Ted, his taciturn assistant coach, and the various teammates and club employees who find it hard to resist Ted’s lovable nature.
My favorite book of the 75 I read this year is a very adult novel that explores the complex relationship between Vanessa Wye and Jacob Strane. It’s a relationship that began when Vanessa was 15 and Strane was her 42-year-old prep school teacher. For years, Vanessa has believed it to be consensual, but when she is in her early 30’s and allegations against Strane are brought to light, she realizes what we the readers have known from the beginning: it was not consensual, but predatory and pedophilic. If you decide to delve into the story–which is admittedly an intense and provocative read–I highly recommend listening to it on audio. It’s narrated by Grace Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep. Gummer perfectly modulates her voice to portray Vanessa at the different stages of her life, from naïve teenager to jaded adult.
Blank Check (podcast)
Movie fans everywhere should give this podcast a listen. It’s hosted by film buffs Griffin Newman (also an actor) and David Sims (also a culture reporter for The Atlantic). And when I say “film buffs,” I really mean “film obsessives,” because the details they know about box office stats, behind the scenes knowledge, and even “fanfare” (i.e. movie studio logos and opening sequences) will astound you. The premise, as recited at the start of each episode, is fairly simple:
Blank Check is a podcast about filmographies, specifically about directors who have had massive success early in their careers and are given a series of “blank checks” to make whatever crazy passion projects they want.
Episodes are grouped in miniseries focusing on a single director, though there are occasionally one-off episodes focusing on big movie releases; for example, 2021 will include episodes about Tenet and Wonder Woman: 1984.
Past series have focused on Tim Burton, George Miller, Jonathan Demme, Nancy Meyers, and more. They’re currently focused on the films of Robert Zemeckis, which means lots of talk about Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Castaway, and earlier (and lesser known) movies like I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars.
My favorite middle grade book of the year is a powerful story of abuse, consent, mental illness, foster care, and sibling relationships. Della, 10, and her sister, Suki, 16, have fled from the home of their defacto stepfather and are now living with a foster mother, while their biological mother is incarcerated in another state. Tough topics are handled with a straightforwardness that respects children, without getting too graphic.
The latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel is a bright, energetic romp, and a great antidote to winter pandemic blues. Anya Taylor-Joy (also incredible in the Netflix series, The Queen’s Gambit, based on the novel by Walter Tevis) stars as the beautiful, wealthy, and opinionated Emma Woodhouse. The always funny Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart play supporting roles and are a delight. The whole film, in fact, is a delight.
With only three seasons and 18 episodes (plus a Christmas special), you can breeze through this lovely British show about eccentric metal detectorists who spend their days walking the fields in search of buried treasure. One of the best surprises about this show is how much better it gets each season as the supporting characters who make up the Danebury Metal Detecting Club are given more screen time and more opportunities to shine.
My favorite picture book of the year is an even more poignant read in the year of COVID. Blackall, already a two-time Caldecott Medal winner, might be in line for a third. In her latest, a child writes a guide to Earth in the hope it will reach life beyond our planet. In doing so, the child reveals the beautiful diversity and heartbreaking reality of life on Earth. The illustrations are gorgeous, with meticulous details. It’s a breathtaking book to read, no matter your age. Reading it will make you appreciate life on this beautiful planet.
Those are just a few of my favorite things from 2020. What are yours?
As I wrote earlier, reading has helped me get through this year more than I could ever explain. Thinking about books, talking about books, and yes, even ranking my books has been a fun distraction. I’ll leave you with my Top 10 List of Favorite Books for 2020–even though I’ll probably go back and change it a dozen times because it’s so hard to rank books, especially when you’ve read a lot of really really good ones!
- My Dark Vanessa-Kate Elizabeth Russell
- One to Watch-Kate Stayman-London
- Fighting Words-Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
- Long Bright River-Liz Moore
- Hyperbole and a Half -Allie Brosh
- Writers & Lovers-Lily King
- Frankly in Love-David Yoon
- In Five Years-Rebecca Serle
- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane-Kate DiCamillo
- The Rural Diaries-Hilarie Burton Morgan
Wishing you a Healthy & Happy New Year
And a better 2021 for us all!