My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2017

Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2017, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2017. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

I saw quite a few movies in the theater this year, probably more than I have in a good long while and I enjoyed a great many of them. There were some really great comic book hero movies (Wonder Woman, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnorak) that seemed to bring something different to the table and kept me entertained without being so smashy smashy, which bores me to tears. I also saw a lot of great smaller movies as well including I am Not Your Negro, Lady Bird, and Call Me By Your Name. I very much want to give this category to The Big Sick, which I actually saw twice in the theater, which is something I haven’t done in at least a decade, probably two. I miss rom-coms and this movie was so sweet and funny. I hope it’s a harbinger of more movies like it. If it weren’t for a little documentary called STEP, The Big Sick would have taken this one.

STEP made me feel all the feelings. At a time when Baltimore feels like it is literally falling apart this movie, which follows a group of girls on a Step team at a Baltimore high school, showed what is good and bad about this city. There was so much joy and so much pain. Kids struggling to overcome hardships that no kids should have to deal with in order to help create better lives for themselves. It’s heartbreaking, delightful, and triumphant all at the same time. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

Movie I Watched at Home

Every year I threaten to get rid of this category because we so rarely watch movies at home. The only movies I can really remember watching are Mudbound, which I didn’t like and Get Out, so Get Out wins. I heard so many people raving about this movie before I saw it that there was no way it was going to be able to live up to my expectations. I did think the premise of it was very clever, but I’m not much of a horror person. I tend to find horror movies silly and boring, and those parts of it felt, well, silly and boring.

Fiction Book

My favorite fiction book of the year was hands down Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied Sing. As usual Ward creates a detailed world in rural Mississippi that draws you in and makes you feel like you are there. The book deals with important themes like race, death, and family but it always feels real (even when delving into the spirit world). It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking book that continues to bolster Ward as one of the great authors of our time.

Non-Fiction Book

Like with my fiction book, there was no contest this year that my non-fiction book choice would be The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. This is the first and only item on the list this year that was not actually released during 2017. However, there could not have been a more perfect book for this  year. I picked it up because it was the first book club selection for the Make Me Smart podcast (see below). Haidt uses moral psychology to discuss people’s views on politics and religion. If anything it made me feel even more hopeless about the current state of our country, but at least it did help shift my perspective to help see where others may be coming from even if I vehemently disagree with them. I guess that’s something. Aside from that I just found it a really fascinating book. As someone with multiple degrees in psychology this book fell perfectly in my sweet spot.

TV Show

Everyone is calling right now the golden age of television where there is so much excellent tv to watch you can’t even keep up. To some degree that’s true if you are into all the prestige television shows. I do enjoy a good number of them, but in some cases I’m getting tired of them. I don’t need all the television I watch to be capital I important. Sometimes I just want to have something that makes me want to invest in characters lives. I want a good family drama or a good teen or even adult drama with some love triangles or a decent will they or won’t they thing. They don’t seem to make those any more. I have tried and tried to like This is Us, but I just don’t even though I’m still watching it because it’s the only thing remotely resembling a family drama on television now. The CW, which used to be the go to for that kind of show has turned into all comic book hero shows all of which I have given up on (Supergirl excepted) as their plots have become convoluted and the character arcs that were driving the stories in their early years have fallen by the wayside. I feel like I’ve even watched my way through every television show that I missed the first time around so there aren’t even any older shows for me to go back to and fill the void at this point.

All that being said the way I choose my favorite show of the year is by thinking of the one I can’t wait to watch when an episode shows up on my DVR or if I’m binging it on a streaming service that all I want to do is stay at home and watch the show. This year the show that came closest to fitting that description was The Bold Type. I will refer you to the full review I wrote about it earlier this year. Happily it did get picked up for another season, though with a new show runner so hopefully it doesn’t change too much. I also want to give an honorable mention to the One Day at a Time reboot on Netflix, which was a sweet, smart, and funny sit-com that brightened my days considerably in the immediate fall out of garbage president taking office. I’m very much looking forward to its second season dropping in January.

TV Episode

Until I looked back at my picks for 2016 in preparation for writing this post I had forgotten that my favorite tv episode from last year was from Halt and Catch Fire, which is appropriate I guess because that show also features my favorite television episode from 2017. As I said last year I am so happy that I gave this show another try or I would have missed out on how wonderful it got. Thank you to every television critic who told me to give it a second chance. My favorite episode this year was Season 4, Episode 8 – “Goodwill”, which I don’t want to say too much about because it does give away a major plot point. It just treats its characters so lovingly and true to who they are. It also uses the Dire Straits’ song “So Far Away” so perfectly that I have a whole new perspective on it. I adore what this show became and I definitely always chose it first to watch when it showed up on my DVR. It’s the loss of another character driven show that I will miss immensely.

Album

No one who has been here long should be at all surprised that my favorite album of the year was Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s The Nashville Sound. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this album when he first announced it. Southeastern and Something More than Free, which were my favorite albums of 2013 and 2015 were both him solo and had a much more folky sound for the most part. When he brought back his band for the whole album this time I was afraid I might not like the rock sound nearly as much. I needn’t have worried one little bit. He’s still an amazing songwriter whose lyrics drill right down into my soul. With songs like “Hope the High Road”, “White Man’s World”, “The Last of My Kind”, “Cumberland Gap”, and “Anxiety” this album was perfectly written for 2017.

Song

There should also be no surprise that my favorite song of 2017 came from my favorite album of 2017. “If We Were Vampires” is the song that everyone talked about off of this album, and rightly so. It is by far the lyrically and creatively superior song from the album, but “Hope the High Road” was my mantra for 2017. If you only knew how many times I sang the lyrics of this song to myself every time something new and terrible happened over the past year. So basically hourly.

“We’ll ride the ship down
Dumping buckets overboard
There can’t be more of them than us
There can’t be more”

Concert

For Christmas last year my husband gifted me with a trip to Nashville to see Dawes play at the Ryman Auditorium. Because I am who I am I have a concert venue bucket list and the Ryman was second on it right behind Red Rocks. I also got to check The Grand Ole Opry off my list on that trip, but seeing Dawes, a band I adore, play in that amazing venue was the highlight of my concert year. For as many concerts as I see every year I just figured out this year that when a concert is listed as “An Evening with …” it means that there is no opening act. This was An Evening with Dawes at the Ryman Auditorium and they played for a good three hours. It was wonderful and everything I hoped it would be.

I also have to say a word about the final Tom Petty concert I will ever see. Tom Petty has meant so much to me over the course of my life. He’s really the first artist whose passing has really felt like the gut punch to me that see other people have for celebrity deaths. I am so happy I got to see him perform one final time in a sing-a-long love fest that seemed like the perfect ending to a 40 year career.

Broadway Theatre Production

I saw a good number of wonderful things on Broadway this year, but my favorite was definitely Come From Away, which is the best thing I’ve seen since Hamilton. Based on the true story of a small town in Newfoundland that took in 6000 displaced airline passengers after 9/11, it mad me laugh, it made me cry, it made me smile with pure joy.

Baltimore Theatre Production

I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to put in this category this year. The Center Stage season was short due to renovations on the theatre, and I wasn’t overly excited about a lot of the things I saw during the parts of the Hippodrome seasons that fell in 2017. It was nothing new and certainly not the best production of Rent I have ever seen by far, especially given that I saw most of the original Broadway cast perform in London, but I’m going with the 20th anniversary tour of Rent because it is still one of my all time favorite shows. Every word is still burned into my brain, and it was fun to revisit it after a good long time away.

Podcast

I have an overabundance of podcasts that I listen to, so I always have a backlog of episodes. Like with television shows I choose my selection for my favorite podcast by thinking about what podcasts I listen to as soon as they drop and which ones I let episodes build up on until I have nothing else to listen to. This year a number of my previous favorite podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour, Invisibilia, and Out of the Blocks have made changes in their formats that I am not a fan of and has made me like them less and/or not even listen to everything they drop. However, a new podcast for 2017 topped my list. Make Me Smart with Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood of Marketplace was by far the podcast I looked forward to listening to the most this year. He’s an economy reporter and she’s a tech reporter so they talk a lot about those topics, but that’s not all they cover. The tagline for the show is “none of us is as smart as all of us”, so they always have guests that they interview about various topics as well as always include feedback from listeners in the form of voice memos that are sent in. When the podcast started out they talked about politics a lot, especially in a segment that often started the show called the news fix. As the podcast went on they got away from doing the news fix, which I do miss sometimes. I don’t know if they’ll bring it back at all in the future now that they’re done with the long series they did on moral capitalism, but that was really great too. They also do book club episodes where listeners vote on a book to read and then they devote an episode to discussing it. My favorite non-fiction book for the year came out of that. It’s also fun to listen to people answer what they call the “Make Me Smart question”, which is what is something you once thought you knew, but then found out you were wrong about? They have a really great rapport and they always make me laugh even while I’m learning a lot. I’m super sad that they’re abandoning me until mid-March when season 2 of the podcast starts up.

Podcast Episode

My favorite episode from a podcast I listened to this year is actually a three part series from NPR’s Code Switch and Education Week called Raising Kings: A Year of Love and Struggle at Ron Brown College Prep. Education Week reporters followed students, parents, teachers, counselors, and other staff at Ron Brown College Prepatory school, a newly opened high school specifically aimed at black boys in Washington, D.C. and staffed almost exclusively by African-American men. It’s a wonderful series full of so much to think on in terms of education, race, and inequality and how even people with the best of intentions can disagree about how to address the systemic issues facing these many of the kids attending this school.

Date with Myself

My husband was up in NYC yesterday for World Makerfaire and visiting his family. I had previously bought tickets for a concert that weekend, so I wasn’t able to join him. In addition to the concert on Saturday night I also made plans to go to the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday afternoon. For various reasons it worked out that the friends that I was going to go to these things with were not able to go with me, so I spent the day having a date with myself. Luckily I’m not someone who cares about doing things alone. I know some people feel self-conscious about it and would choose to stay home rather than doing something by themselves. I’m hear to tell you that you shouldn’t worry about it. It’s much better to do things that you love alone than not do them at all. Plus sometimes it even means really good things will happen to you as it worked out for yesterday.

The Baltimore Book Festival is pretty small and not something I generally get that excited about unless there happens to be a particular author I’m interested in, which there isn’t every year. This year there were two panels I was interested in, but sadly they were not on the same day. My book club conflicted with the Sunday panel, so I decided I would go down on Saturday instead. After a crazy morning dealing with a work issue I almost thought about bailing, but I didn’t and I’m really glad I wound up going because the panel was fantastic.

It was scheduled in the Food for Thought tent, which typically has food authors and cooking demonstrations in it. I don’t know how this panel came to be, but whoever put it together has my whole-hearted thanks. It was Laura Lippman, Michael Ruhlman, and Ann Hood speaking about food and fiction while cooking grilled cheese sandwiches. Laura Lippman’s forthcoming book, Sunburn, which is due out in February 2018 but which I had a galley of and have already read, features a scene where one of the characters cooks the woman he’s trying to impress a really fancy grilled cheese sandwich. Michael Ruhlman is a chef and author who Laura consulted regarding what realistically a person might have on hand in a kitchen in 1995 that they would make into a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. His most recent book, Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, is one of the better books I’ve read in 2017 so I definitely recommend checking it out. His wife Ann Hood joined them. She is apparently also an author, but I’ve never read anything she’s written. They were great together. The panel was really lively and fun. And I have new trick to try next time I’m cooking bacon. If the three of them had a cooking show together I would definitely watch.

The second part of my date I went to see David Gray and Alison Krauss at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The friend I was supposed to go with failed to put it on her calendar when we got tickets months prior and then wound up being out of town this weekend. I tried to find someone else to take the ticket last minute after we realized, but no one wanted it. So I just went by myself. That wound up being a really good thing.

I managed to snag myself a spot at the front of the lawn even though I got there an hour after the doors opened. The concert was not anywhere close to sold out, which helped. Plus I didn’t bring a chair, so I could sit where the lawn had a steeper slope. Being in that spot made it easy to meet up with one of my librarian friends who lives in Northern Virginia and was also at the concert with her sister. They had pavilion seats, but stopped out on the lawn to say hi to me for a few minutes. So it was fun to see her.

The concert was basically two sets with the artists co-headlining. During the set change some guy came up to me on the lawn and asked me if I was alone and if so did I want to upgrade my seat. I said yes, and sure. Then he gave me his ticket inside the pavilion. Not only that, but it turned out it was in row D down in the pit. I have no idea what his deal was, but I’m super grateful to him. At first I figured he had come to the concert to see David Gray and wasn’t interested in sticking around to see Alison Krauss, but when I got down to the seat the guy next to me told me that no one had been sitting there during David Gray’s set so I’m not sure what the guy who gave me the ticket was doing. Not only did I get to move way down front, I wound up in the best row ever. Right next to me were an older gay couple who were plying me chocolates and who were super excited about Alison Krauss. They kept shaking each other in giddy excitement whenever there were some particularly great harmonies. I loved it. And then on the other side of them was a woman who was probably in her 70s who was really getting her chair dancing groove on. Hashtag life goals. So it turns out I should be thankful that my friend screwed up and couldn’t go with me or I never would have wound up there.

The concert itself was full of a lot of really great music. David Gray and Alison Krauss sure can sing. Alison Krauss’s melodic voice is pretty much what imagine angels singing must sound like. All the music was amazing and I can’t complain about that at all. I was very happy to sit outside on a beautiful night and listen to it.

All in all it was not my idea of a great show though. It pretty much was all about the music. For some people that’s great. I know there is a rift between people who would prefer for artists to get up stage and use pretty much all their time playing versus people who enjoy the stage banter and other things that can happen during concerts. I fall firmly on the side of preferring stage banter and storytelling along with the music. There wasn’t really any of that last night from either artist. This is the second time I’ve seen David Gray and he really hasn’t said much of anything either time, so I imagine that’s just his m.o. I’ve seen Alison Krauss before and she has talked more between songs than she did last night. It’s how I know that she’s always cold. My husband even asked if she was wearing a winter coat last night even though it was like 70 degrees because of that whole thing the first time we saw her. The answer to that question by the way was yes. I also would have liked it if they had sung at least one song together, but alas it was very much like we were at two completely different shows. It was still a lovely evening with two artists whose music I love, and who I would see again, but it’s never going to be a concert I rave to anyone about how amazing it was.

It was a really fun day all around. I’m a pretty good date. I’d definitely go out with me again.

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2016

Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2016, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2016. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

I’m pretty sure I saw more movies in the theatre in 2016 than I have in a long time. I’ve seen 4 movies since Thanksgiving alone, which is very unusual for my life these days. I enjoyed most of the movies I saw, but I’m giving this category to La La Land. It was the one movie I saw this year that I almost immediately wanted to see again. It wasn’t a perfect movie. It didn’t quite live up to its promise as a movie musical. It started out with a bunch of musical numbers and then almost completely dropped them until the end. It was a little uneven, but I still loved it. It’s a beautiful to look at, and I really could just watch Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling interact forever. Their relationship seemed so real. At the time I saw it I was a little disappointed that they didn’t end up together even though realistically that’s what should have happened. Usually I would have enjoyed that ending, but wasn’t in the mood for at the time. In retrospect though I can appreciate it, and whatever my feelings about it were they did not detract from my love of the movie as a whole.

Movie I Watched at Home

Last year I said I should probably retire this category because I don’t watch that many movies at home, and I had a hard time thinking of any. I’m still singing that tune this year, but I’m apparently not quite yet ready to let it go because it’s still here. In doing a review I discovered I actually watched a lot more movies at home than I thought, but I literally had to go back and look because I couldn’t remember any of them. Once I did though the obvious choice was Sing Street. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a sweet little film that takes place in 1980’s Dublin about a teenage boy who starts a band to impress a girl. The songs in it were all written for the movie, but definitely evoke the sounds of 80s music. It’s a delightful little film.

 

Fiction Book

Alas my great streak with books I loved last year did not continue into this year. I did manage to meet my reading goal of 100 books for the year, but there were very few I rated above 3 stars on Goodreads. This category like several other ones exemplified how out of sync I was with pop culture this year. Almost every best of book list I saw had Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad as it’s top pick. I did not care for that book. The fiction book I most enjoyed did show up on most lists as well, so I guess I wasn’t completely off. It was Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Essentially its a series of connected short stories, which makes it unusual that I would like it that much since I generally don’t care for short stories. The thread that connects them though is following two lines of a family through two sisters on the Gold Coast of Africa, one who is sold into slavery and the other who becomes a slave traders wife from their lives in the 1600s up through present day. Each story is essentially a new generation. It was a wonderful and heartbreaking book that really demonstrates how the sins of the past continue to haunt the present even hundreds of years later.

Non-Fiction Book

I had much better luck with non-fiction books this year than fiction ones. Most of the books I rated over 3 stars on Goodreads were non-fiction. My favorite non-fiction book of the year was another book that was not very uplifting, but was extremely interesting. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond explores poverty and housing through the lens of the city of Milwaukee. Desmond explores the intricacies of housing and the tenant/landlord relationship especially when dealing with people living in poverty. Many books like this seem to take sides, but Desmond does a really good job in following a couple of landlords and their tenants at showing how complicated the relationship and that there are failings on both sides.

TV Show

With as much good scripted television as there is these days I feel like I’m going a little off book in declaring my favorite tv show of the year as Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. It was the biggest surprise to me because I was never the hugest fan of Samantha Bee when she was a Daily Show correspondent, especially towards the end of Jon Stewart’s run when she really seemed to be going off the rails a little bit. I didn’t even plan on watching Full Frontal because I figured it was just going to be more of the same stuff I wasn’t enjoying on The Daily Show, but my husband insisted that we at least try it out and I’m very glad he did. Full Frontal is really smart, and I appreciate having a woman’s voice in the late night world, especially one who will focus on woman’s issues in a way that no one else is. I’m definitely going to need Sam Bee’s outrage to help keep me sane as we move into the horrors of whatever this Trump presidency is about to bring us.

 

TV Episode

I stopped watching Halt and Catch Fire a few episodes into its first season, but decided to get caught up this summer after hearing so many people talk about how much better the second season was. So in a way it’s a little surprising to me that my favorite episode of the year was from the third season of this show. Season 3, Episode 7 – The Threshold is a great hour of television. Donna and Cameron’s relationship and their building of Mutiny together was the heart of season 2 and what turned this show into something worth watching. Watching it fall apart in this episode was sad but wonderfully acted and excellent to watch.

Album

Music is where my tastes really did not converge with critics or other music listeners as my favorite songs and albums really didn’t show up on any best of 2016 lists. My favorite album of the year was Joseph’s I’m Alone, No You’re Not. Joseph is a group of three sisters who have wonderful harmonies but some of their songs also have a great pop sensibility. I love this whole album, and I hope to be able to see them play more of the album live in 2017.

 

 

Song

I suspect the song I’m putting in this category has a bit of recency bias. I suspect that if I first fell in love with this song say back in March instead of November that I’d probably be sick of it and wouldn’t be including it here, but Wrabel’s 11 Blocks was the song that I loved to sing along to in the car more than any other song this year and the one I always hoped I would hear on the radio when I was driving which is what it earns it this spot. Realistically my choice here should have been Joseph’s SOS (Overboard), which I love and is probably the song I listened to most this year.

 

Concert

Every year my real favorite concert experience is going to the Newport Folk Festival. This year that was no exception. I was already beat down my 2016 at the end of July and that weekend was such a balm for my soul, but I always like to pick another show from the year for this category since Newport being a festival isn’t really a single concert. This year my favorite concert was Garth Brooks. I never got to see him back in the 90s, so I’m glad I finally got the chance. He is an amazing performer and manages to make an arena show feel intimate and so fun. It was so fun to sing along to all those songs of his I loved and also to see Trisha Yearwood perform some of her songs. They are some of the first country artists I ever fell in love with and it was great to finally get a chance to see them live.

 

Broadway Theatre Production

In last year’s post I named Hamilton my favorite theatre production of the year and said I’m going again in April of 2016 so maybe it will be my favorite show of 2016 too. Let’s be realistic. It was. But I also saw other great Broadway shows this year. So even though the best show I saw was Hamilton again, I’m going to put She Loves Me in this category. The production starred Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi and it was delightful. I even paid to re-watch it online when they broadcast a recording of it later in the year.

Baltimore Theatre Production

My favorite theatre production that I saw in Baltimore snuck in at the last moment. It was the touring production of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. The Broadway production won the Tony for Best New Musical in 2014 and I’ve wanted to see it for years. It was never something that I felt that I needed to see on Broadway though given the limited number of shows I get to see there each year. I always knew I was going to wait until it toured to see it, so I was happy that it finally came around as part of our season tickets to the Hippodrome this year. It was a great show and well worth the wait. It was extremely smart and clever and a show the likes of which I haven’t seen in a long time.

Podcast

I already gave away in a post a few weeks ago that my favorite pocast this year was Out of the Blocks, a local Baltimore podcast from Aaron Henkin and Wendel Patrick. Their tag line One City Block, One Hour of Radio, Everybody’s Story pretty much describes what the podcast is about. It’s a fascinating look at the city and in the human condition. I highly recommend it to everyone not just people from Baltimore.

Podcast Episode

If Out of the Blocks didn’t exist Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs would have gotten my vote in the previous category. Instead they’ll get the mention in favorite podcast episode. I of course had to pick the episode where they discuss the song I requested, Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”.

The Baltimore Book Thing

Baltimore has many great things and one of those is the Book Thing. They are literally just a giant book exchange open on weekends. People can donate books and then anyone can go in and take as many books as they want. I know a number of teachers who go in and cull their shelves to fill bookshelves in their classrooms. Honestly I always have more books than I need in my house so I’ve never actually brought anything home, but I have certainly donated trunk loads full of books. The piles of books I bring home from librarian conferences always eventually make their way there. I’m always seeing people wondering where they can donate used books, and I always feel a little sad that wherever they live doesn’t have the Book Thing.

Sadly this past week there was a fire at the Book Thing. Needless to say fire, smoke, and water don’t mix with books or buildings for that matter. They opened up this weekend to help clean out some of the books that were salvageable, but after that they’ll be closed for the foreseeable future as they work on rebuilding. I’m really happy to hear that they plan on rebuilding as something like this could very easily just feel like they need to pack it in. I donated some money to their PayPal account to help out. If you’re in Baltimore (or even if you’re not) I encourage you to help them out. I look forward to their eventual return.

My Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2015

Once again it’s time for my post on what was the most memorable pop culture of the year to me. It’s pop culture I consumed in 2015, not necessarily things that were exclusively released in 2015. And once again I point out that this is the stuff that made the greatest impact on me. It’s not a list of the top anything. Even I acknowledge that there are things on this list that I would not put in a top 10 or even top 20 list. They’re not necessarily the best of anything, just the stuff that I enjoyed the most or which had some special meaning to me.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

I jokingly want to say Aloha for this category because I insisted I was going to see that movie in the theatre no matter how bad the reviews were because I miss romantic comedies. I wanted to tell Hollywood hey I miss these please make more. Well the joke was on me because the reviews were uniformly awful. I kept my word though and although I admit the movie was a hot mess I didn’t hate it. I enjoyed it much more than the reviews led me to believe I would. Hopefully Hollywood will get its act together and make more movies aimed at women. It’s not only the romantic comedies that are missing, but more dramatic stuff the likes of Beaches and Steel Magnolias back in the day.

The real movie I’m putting in this category is of course Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I really didn’t expect this movie to affect me as much as it did. I’ve seen the original trilogy a number of times and due diligently saw the prequels in the theatre not really enjoying any of them. I’m not any huge Star Wars nerd though. I didn’t have high hopes for this movie and had it lived down to my expectations I wouldn’t really have cared all that much.

I really loved this movie though. The fight scenes even kept me engaged and I could give a flying flip about movie fight scenes. Mostly though I adored the whole storyline with Rey. I never even knew how much I longed for a female lead in the Star Wars universe that actually did something until I saw this. It made me so happy that young girls like my 5 year old niece who is already into Star Wars will have a character to look up to when she’s old enough to see it. I’m actually looking forward to the next one in the series. Well done J. J. Abrams.

Movie I Watched at Home

I should really retitle this category movie I watched on a plane because I’m not even sure I watched any movies at home this year. I’m sure I did, but I can’t think of any off of the top of my head. I really prefer tv shows so much more than movies now that we’re in this golden age of television. Generally the only time I wind up watching movies unless I go to see something in the theatre is on long airplane flights.

I think of the few movies I viewed on planes this year Whiplash is the one I enjoyed the most. It’s nothing I’d ever want to watch again because it’s super intense and not really anything I’d want to sit through again. Still I thought it was a well done movie, and it kept me interested despite the description not at all appealing to me.

Fiction Book

I read a lot of really good books this year, so it’s hard to decide in both this category and the non-fiction category. If you want a full accounting of the books I’ve read visit my book reviews blog. Ultimately I’m choosing The Royal We for this category because it is the one book I remember reading this year that I couldn’t put down. There were a number of others that I also really enjoyed and gave the same rating to, but this is the book that I couldn’t stop reading.

Non-Fiction Book

For my non-fiction book I’m choosing Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA by Roberta Kaplan. I feel like it deserves the nod given the historic ruling on same sex marriage that happened this year and which seems like one of the few bright spots in the blight of a year that was 2015. Also I really appreciated the fact that even though I knew the outcome the case the book was written so well I was kept on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happened.

TV Show

I watch a ridiculous amount of tv, so this is a hard category for me. I binge watched all the seasons of Gossip Girl early in the year. I really enjoyed it and feel like it’s the last of the television shows of its ilk that I have to go through, which makes me a little sad. I love a good teen drama, which Gossip Girl definitely was.

Deutschland 83 was my favorite show of the summer. As I mentioned in my post dedicated to it I think one of the reasons is that the fact that it’s in German with English subtitles forced me to pay attention to it in ways that I don’t with most tv shows I watch these days. I suspect I might enjoy some other shows more if I dedicated more attention to them. That of course isn’t the only thing that makes this good though. It’s a great spy drama on it’s own and I hope it gets a second season.

This was a fairly weak class of new fall tv shows this year. My favorite of what we’ve been given is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I was a little worried that this show would lose it’s way quickly, but so far it has been delightful every week. The songs are still great and the fact that Rebecca seems self aware to a degree that her actions are insane make it not as uncomfortable to watch as one would thing. Trust me I hate watching people embarrass themselves in tv and movies. I seriously have to watch it through my fingers. I was worried that this show would force me to do that all the time, but it really hasn’t even though Rebecca is constantly doing embarrassing stuff.

TV Episode

Last year I named a Parenthood episode as my favorite episode of television from 2014 and I think I’m going to repeat that this year. Parenthood ended its run early in 2015, so I’m going way back here, but the Parenthood finale is the one that really sticks out in my mind. I still miss that show and wonder what the Bravermans are up to. The finale was everything I would have wanted it to be and featured some stellar music. So here’s one last shout out to an excellent show that I wish I were still on my tv.

Album

Last year I was almost at a loss as to what to put in this category because I felt like 2014 was such a pitiful year in music. 2015 however has been an embarrassment of riches, which almost makes it harder. Last year I just wound up choosing the album I listened to most over the course of the year. This year there’s been so much that even though I liked the music more I haven’t listened to any single album as much as I listened to the few from last year.

I mean if we’re going to talk about which album I listened to the most this year it actually has to be the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording. I definitely listened to that more than anything else and that’s saying something seeing as how it wasn’t released until September.

Probably though I’m really trying to decide between Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free and Brandi Carlile’s Firewatcher’s Daughter. I was very much looking forward to Something More Than Free since I adored Southeastern so much, but I was also scared that there was no way it was going to live up to my expectations. I didn’t need to worry because it far surpassed them. It’s a gorgeous album full of songs that paint pictures that just kill me. I remember people talking so much about beautiful, painful realism of small town life created in Friday Night Lights and Isbell’s lyrics on this album evoke that same exact feeling in me.

Brandi Carlile is one artist who I never worry about if I’m going to like her next album because so far I’ve liked every single one better than the last. Firewatcher’s Daughter is no exception. I did keep forgetting that it came out in 2015 though because somehow it seems like it’s been with me forever. The songs are beautiful pictures of what home and family mean and this album really seems to elevate her to a place she wasn’t before. I adore it.

Song

Ok guys stay with me here. I can’t believe this myself, but the song I have to write about here is Justin Beiber’s “What Do You Mean”. That’s part of the reason I have to write about it. Remember this is the most memorable song not the best song of the year we’re talking about here. I would never claim that this song was the best song of 2015, but it’s certainly memorable in that it’s the first Justin Beiber song I have actively liked and looked forward to hearing on the radio. I know I’ve heard other Justin Beiber songs, but I honestly couldn’t name you one and am not confident I could tell you I was listening to a Beiber song if you played one for me without me knowing what it was. I was shocked how much I loved and still like this song. So way to go Justin Beiber you’ve apparently graduated beyond attracting the tween /teen set.

Artist

Ok so there no way this category wasn’t going to be Jason Isbell. I was sitting here thinking whether there was someone else should go here when I saw him tweet that 2015 was the best year of his life and then I thought who am I kidding of course it’s Jason Isbell. I assume the birth of his daughter by far beats out anything else to make this the best year of his life, but the incredible success of his album Something More Than Free I’m sure also factors in. It debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at number 6 and the Country and Rock album charts at number 1. It’s quite an accomplishment and it’s of course what is partly making me choose him as my artist of the year.

I also chose him because even 2 years after falling in love with his Southeastern album my love has not abated. I waited patiently as Newport rolled out their lineup this year and was never as excited as the day they announced he would be playing a set there. His lyrics cut me to my soul with their beauty and realism. He’s the artist I talked about the most and recommended the most in 2015 so of course this category belongs to him.

Concert

I went to so many good concerts this year that it’s really hard to choose which one I want to write about here so I’ll probably write about a few that stand out to me. Obviously the Newport Folk Festival as an entire experience wins hands down every year, but I like to think about that more in terms of sets in order to be fair to every other concert I see throughout the year. The Consequence of Sound named Newport their top festival pick of the year and in this great article that really expresses my feelings about the festival Jay Sweet says he worries about people’s expectations and no longer being able to beat them every year. I am over here telling him he has absolutely nothing to worry about as long as he keeps bringing in good music. I don’t need any big headliners or crazy surprise guests. Those are all fun, but the best sets I’ve seen in each of the past three years have all been from bands I only knew about because they were playing Newport. This year was Christopher Paul Stelling whose whole set was revelation. Mostly just him up there on his guitar and he had the audience eating out of his hand. I didn’t know him before I chose to sit in on that set, but I do now. His set was amazing and ended with this awesome moment of him proposing to his girlfriend and backup singer as they were walking off stage.

I also have to mention Brandi Carlile’s set at Newport this year because she is never not amazing. I never leave one of her shows without immediately wanting to see her again as soon as possible. NPR had a recording of the entire set up on their website and I have listened to it countless times because it is so wonderful.

There was also the great first concert in the BSO Pulse series featuring Dawes in which the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra collaborates with an indie band. I love musical collaboration and this one was fantastic. I loved how the BSO is using these collaborations to help introduce new audiences to classical music and I guess maybe some classical music lovers to some new indie bands. I look forward to seeing more of the concerts in this series in the future.

Finally I have to give a shout out to Florence + the Machine. She’s been fantastic every time I’ve seen her and this year’s concert at Merriweather was no exception. I was on my feet dancing the whole time and it was definitely again one of those shows where I left and immediately wanted to see her again.

Broadway Theatre Production

Well this one is a no-brainer. I was fortunate to see Hamilton right after it moved from Off-Broadway to it’s Broadway run. Now you can maybe get tickets a year out. I’m actually going again in April, so maybe it will be my favorite show of 2016 too. For now it’s definitely my favorite show of 2015 and one of the best shows I’ve seen in a very long time. The hype is not overblown. One of the things I love about it too is that it has people I never see talking about theatre talking about theatre. Most of the time when I talk about theatre most of my friends eyes glaze over and they have no idea what I’m talking about. This show has managed to permeate the culture enough that even my friends who don’t follow theatre know what I’m talking about. It was also one of the few things that made Twitter a delightful place to be this year instead of all doom and gloom and yelling at each other. The day it was announced that Lin Manuel Miranda wrote the song for the cantina scene in the new Star Wars resulting in the Star Wars/Hamilton mashups was one of the best days.

Baltimore Theatre Production

My favorite local theatre production was Centerstage’s Marley written and directed by their Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah. It was a musical based on the life of Bob Marley. It was a jukebox musical, which I typically don’t care for. However I liked the way the songs were incorporated into the show in this case as if for the most part they were naturally being sung instead of being shoehorned into telling the story. It was a really fun show and a great way to end the 2014/2015 season.

Podcast Episode

I am really choosing this particular podcast episode because I decided I really wanted this category to be about my favorite new podcast of the year which is Switched on Pop. I adore the way they break down pop songs and really get to what makes a pop song and how they’re related musicologically to music back through history including Classical music. I’m choosing to highlight Episode 14: The Final Dropout in which they discuss how it’s become very popular for pop music to end with a sort of sudden quiet moment. It’s a great and fun look at a current musical trend in pop music and is very representative of the podcast as a whole.

Americanah Book Club

I hosted one of my book clubs this weekend. For this book club we always meet at someone’s house and the host prepares food that is somehow thematically tied to the book. Sometimes that is easier than others depending on how often food is talked about in the particular book you’re reading. My pick for book club was Americanah by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

This particular book club does thematic choices. Each person hosts once under a particular theme and then we pick a new one. This book was our first read for our current theme of non-American authors. The book is about a Nigerian woman who emigrates to the United States and then chooses to return to Nigeria after 15 years. It’s a really excellent book. I highly recommend it. I’ll eventually have a fuller review of the book on my book reviews blog once I catch up over there.

Anyway, most of the food the author mentions is the character’s experience eating American foods like hot dogs and McDonalds, none of which I was going to feed my book club. She did have one scene set around making coconut rice and chicken. I made the coconut rice from this recipe, which was delicious though I would skip the parboiling step as I thought the rice got too mushy though the flavors were great.

I used this recipe for the chicken. I’m sure I would have figured it out on my own, but the comments were super helpful to remind me use a splatter screen in all the steps. I’m sure it saved me a huge mess. That was a nice change from usual recipe comments which normally wind up being hundreds of people saying all the ways they changed the recipe such that it no longer resembles the initial recipe and is impossible to tell if that recipe is actually any good.

I was going to make fried plantains because she does mention plantains in the book, but I didn’t plan far enough ahead and all the plantains at the store were super green. I stumbled across bags of plantain chips in the international aisle though, so I was lazy and just got those. It wasn’t mentioned in the book at all, but I found a recipe for a Nigerian dessert called shuku shuku, and I made those. I also through together a salad that was in no related to Nigerian food nor the book, but I thought it might be nice to have something in the meal that wasn’t beige.

I think everything turned out pretty well, and we had a very lively discussion surrounding the book even though I’m the only one who wound up having enough time to finish it after we decided on the date fairly close to our actual meeting.

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Most Memorable Pop Culture of 2014

It’s time once again for my annual round up of the pop culture that I have found the most memorable over the past year. As I point out every year this is not a best of list. I don’t necessarily think any of these things are the top in their categories. Instead this is a compilation of the things I most enjoyed this year and that meant the most to me in 2014.

This list was actually little harder than usual for me to put together this year because in many ways it felt like a very meh year in pop culture to me. Not in every category, but particularly in music and books there weren’t any real standouts to me. I definitely am not the only one who felt that way about music. I’ve heard a lot of professional music critics saying the same thing, so I feel justified in that. I’m not sure everyone else felt the same about books. Perhaps I just wasn’t reading the right things, but out out of the 125 books I read in 2014 I only rated 4 of them 5 stars on Goodreads. I felt like I had way more than usual that I gave 2 or 3 stars to. Hopefully 2015 will be a better year for me in these areas.

Movie I Saw in a Theatre

Last year in this category I talked about Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. This year he gets another mention with his film Boyhood, which was filmed over a period of 12 years following the life of a young boy with all of the actors returning periodically to film scenes so that as the actors aged the characters did as well. It was an impressive piece of filmmaking and deserves every lovely thing that has been said about it. With a project like this it can sometimes feel like you’re supposed to love it because it’s like nothing that has ever been done before, but in this case the movie itself and the story it tells are wonderful and it’s not just the gimmick that is deserving of praise.

I would also be remiss not to mention the Veronica Mars movie in this category. I guess like Boyhood it also has some historic value as the first crowdsourced movie to be released in movie theatres. I loved the show and this movie was everything I hoped it would be. I certainly don’t think every canceled television show should have a movie made from it. In most cases I think it would only result in diminished returns, but in this case I supported it and think it really worked.

Movie I Watched at Home

I so rarely watch movies at home, I almost thought I didn’t have anything to put into this category this year. Then I remembered that we recently rented Chef with some free credits we had from Amazon from deferring 2 day shipping on our Prime account. I had heard lovely things about this movie when it was in theatres, but it just didn’t work out for us to see it at that time. I remember it being out when we were vacationing in Key West last May. There was a little theatre a couple blocks from the place we were staying that was advertising it. Had it actually been playing while we were there we probably would have gone to see it one night, but it didn’t start until the night before we left. When we were looking for something use our credit on, I remembered this movie and decided it’s what we should rent.

It’s a great little movie written by, directed by, and starring Jon Favreau. His character, as the title suggests, is a chef who falls down on his luck and loses his job. In trying to figure out what to do from there and really use his culinary skills in the way he wants to he connects with his young son who he has grown distant from since his divorce from his son’s mother. If you haven’t seen it I definitely recommend checking it out.

Fiction Book

As I was mentioning above I didn’t really feel like a read a whole lot of books this year that I really loved. I definitely had to look through my Goodreads list to see what I actually even gave a good rating to because there wasn’t anything that was jumping to the top of my memory. I rated 3 fiction books with five stars and of those the one I feel like I should write about here is the book Someone by Alice McDermott. This was my pick for one of my book clubs this past year. I don’t think everyone enjoyed it as much as I did, but that’s okay because I thought it was beautiful. It’s a simple book that just follows Marie, an Irish-American living in Brooklyn, throughout her life. The story itself isn’t particularly compelling. There’s not much of a plot to speak of, but McDermott has such a way with words that reading the way she describes things is a great treat. There were so many wonderful little morsels in this book that I loved, so it’s the book I’m going to go with in this category.

Non-Fiction Book

Looking back at the non-fiction books I read over the past year listed in Goodreads there was only one that I gave five stars to, and it’s actually not the one I want to write about in this category. For the record that book was You Are the Music: How Music Reveals What It Means to Be Human by Victoria Williamson. I still think that was a great book, and as someone who loves music it really resonated with me. However the one book both fiction and non-fiction that has really stuck with me from this year is The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs. For some reason I only gave it 4 stars when I rated it, but it’s the one book I really haven’t stopped thinking about since I read it. It’s the true story of a brilliant boy who grew up in a horrible neighborhood in Newark. He was surrounded by violence and drugs, his father was in prison for murder, and yet he managed to make it out for awhile. He attended Yale and had a bright future ahead of him before he wound up pulled back into his old life in Newark. The book is written by his friend and former roommate at Yale, who unapologetically recounts Robert Peace’s life and examines the reasons that his life was cut short and why it isn’t as simple to walk away from what you know for a supposedly better life.

TV Show

There is a lot of good television these days. Between what I watch on network television, cable tv, pay cable like HBO and Showtime, and then what Amazon and Netflix are now putting out I can barely keep up with what I’ve chosen to watch and I still feel like there is a ton that I’m missing. There is just no way to keep up with all of the excellent television shows that are being made these days. However, the television show that I’m most interested in right now is probably not one that is making any television critic’s best of list. Over the summer my friend Sarah convinced me that we should both start watching Arrow. It was something that I had heard good things about and did have interest in watching at some point, so it didn’t take much arm twisting. She never wound up watching it all, which I say is her loss because I plowed through the first two seasons and was anxiously awaiting the third when it started this fall. I don’t think the third season has actually been as good, but I’m still enjoying it and it’s probably currently the television show I most look forward to getting to watch every week. There’s probably a bit of a recency bias with this choice as well, but I only get to pick one show so this is the one I’m going with.

TV Episode

Luckily for me I also given myself the TV episode category, so I can talk about more than one tv show. Parenthood is now in it’s final season and we’re getting ready to hit the last four episodes. This show has been wildly uneven over it’s six years, but when it is firing on all cylinders it will gut you. That is why this show is the perfect fit for this category. Many storylines the show chooses concentrate on just don’t work and when you hit episodes that strongly focus on those plots it’s not great, though the love of the characters often pulls it through in those cases. However, when this show focuses on the smaller, more realistic moments it is amazing. Season 5, Episode 19 “Fraud Alert” was one of those episodes that just about killed me. It was especially heart wrenching with two stories going with the younger kids. It was the episode where kids peed in Max’s canteen on a field trip and Sydney and Victor are having a really hard time with their Julia and Joel splitting up. Both Max and Victor have very understandable breakdowns during this episode and they broke my heart. It was so good. I am really going to miss this show when it is gone. I will be sad to no longer be sharing life with the Braverman family when it ends.

Album

As I have already mentioned there wasn’t really a whole lot that stood out to me in music this year. Honestly if I could I would like to write about Jason Isbell’s Southeastern again as that album from last year still resonates with me more than any new album I’ve listened to this year. Looking through the albums I bought this past year I want to give special mention to Nickel Creek’s A Dotted Line because I do love them, I do like this album, and I love that they got back together to put this out for the 25th anniversary of them playing together. I also thought about Jessie Ware’s Tough Love because I listened it on repeat a ton of times. However, ultimately decided to go with Ryan Adams’ self titled album. I have probably listened to it more times than any other album I bought this year, and it was one of those albums where when I was listening to it I would think this is my favorite song on this album, then the next one would come on and I would think no this is actually my favorite song from this album all the way through. This album came out three years after his last release, which is unprecedented for him. He usually turns out material crazy fast, which can sometimes show. In this case the extra time was well worth it and resulted in a fantastic album.

Song

In some ways I want to spread the love around a little and pick a song by a different artist, but if I’m being honest with myself here I really have to go with Ryan Adams again and the song “Gimme Something Good”, which I obviously listened to a lot on the album, but was also very happy to hear every time it came on the radio and of course was very happy to hear him play live at the Newport Folk Festival this past summer.

Artist

You would think having given Ryan Adams both the song and album categories that he would be the only choice for artist, but you would be wrong. Thanks to the way I put this together I can actually pick a musical group that actually didn’t put anything out in 2014, but 2014 is the year I became aware of their existence so I get to write about them now. That honor goes to The Oh Hellos. They were one of the first artists that The Newport Folk Festival announced for their 2014 lineup. I immediately fell in love with their music. It is so joyful it makes my heart swell with happiness every time I listen to it. They have a short 4 song Christmas album that I listened to on repeat at work one day during December, and it made me so happy.

Even better than just the music itself is their stage presence. They are a large band. I think there’s something like 12 of them and they just get up there and play their hearts out. I got to see them twice this year, once at Newport and then opening for needtobreathe at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Both times the audience was composed largely of people who had never heard of them before and both times I got to watch as they completely bowled everyone there over and made them instant fans. It’s been a few years since they’ve put out any new music and I hope that 2015 will provide some.

Concert

Obviously The Oh Hellos are at the top of my list as far as the best concerts I saw this year. I also have a special love for Jason Isbell concert at the 9:30 Club this past January with Holly Williams opening for him. They put out two of my favorite albums from 2013, so getting to see them play together at the beginning of 2014 was a real treat. Holly Williams playing “Waiting on June” was the first time I have ever been at a concert where everyone around me was in tears, which was a very special moment. My biggest regret of 2015 so far is that I won’t be seeing Jason Isbell when he comes back to DC to play the Lincoln Theatre in a few weeks. I don’t know anyone who wanted to go with me, so I didn’t buy tickets but then once they sold out I really regretted not getting any.

The concert I’m actually going with here though is Mavis Staples at 2014’s Newport Folk Festival. This year’s festival was a celebration of her 75th birthday. She was obviously the closing headliner, but she also popped up throughout the weekend to sing songs with during other artist’s sets. It was so awesome to hear her singing with so many other great musicians. Her set was amazing. It was so great to be able to see a musical legend like Mavis Staples sing live and because of the venue to be able to have so many other artists I love join her on stage to sing with and celebrate her.

Broadway Theatre Production

Of the four Broadway shows I saw this year it’s really hard to choose which one I should write about here. I loved seeing Sutton Foster live again in the beautiful show Violet. Seeing Neil Patrick Harris as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch was an amazing experience. Aladdin was everything I had hoped it would be and more. Ultimately though I’m going with Cabaret starring Emma Stone and Alan Cumming. I have always loved Cabaret. I love the show itself and the music. Finally getting to see Alan Cumming as the Emcee after all these years was fantastic, and I really thought Emma Stone was great as Sally Bowles. I’m very happy I got to see her in her Broadway debut.

Baltimore Theatre Production

This year I’m going to go with one of the touring Broadway shows at the Hippodrome for my choice of most memorable Baltimore Theatre Production. I’m picking Sister Act because I really enjoyed the show a lot, but more so because it surpassed my expectations exponentially. I was not really looking forward to the show very much and figured it was going to be yet another awful musical stage adaptation of a movie. I was kind of blown away by how much I liked it. It was a lot of fun, and was probably my favorite show of our season last year. I definitely wasn’t expecting that at all.

Podcast Episode

I often wind up picking one of the Nerdist podcast episodes for this category because of the podcasts I listen to it is the only one that features guests in almost every episode making it very easy to remember them. The other podcasts I listen to are just the hosts talking about things, so it is often hard for me to distinguish one episode from another at the end of the year. This year though I specifically remember the Extra Hot Great episode that Alan Sepinwall guest hosted on. With Joe Reid leaving as one of the regular podcast hosts at the end of 2013, they decided to continue with 4 hosts every week but with the fourth chair being filled by a guest host every week. Alan Sepinwall is my favorite television writer. We agree on a lot of, though not all, television shows. If I’m watching a new show you can usually bet it’s because Alan told me to. If I’m wondering if I should try out a new show that’s coming on he is the first person I turn to in order to find out. Thus I was very excited to see that he was going to be appearing on one of my favorite podcasts. As expected his episode was a lot of fun. In one of their segments they talked about The Knick, which I never watched, but was amused by Alan’s constant rubbing in that he had received more screeners than Tara, Sarah, and Dave had. The Game Time was one of the television theme song ones, and I remember laughing out loud at the gym while listening to them have so much fun playing it. It was an excellently fun episode. I demand more episodes with Alan Sepinwall!