December 31, 2015

December 31, 2015

My Best Podcasts of 2015: A Threeve

It’s been a long time since I last wrote about podcasts. The number of good ones has increased (though a few have stopped publishing—RIP Firewall & Iceberg) while the amount of time in a day remains constant. Thanks for nothing, physics.

As we plan to flip our calendars from Year of the Sheep to Year of the Monkey, I’d like to take a minute to note that Gimlet Media completely changed my podcast routine in 2015.

My point of entry was Reply All, specifically an episode about online dating for Asian women featuring This American Life contributor Stephanie Foo. I believe the show was plugged on TAL, and the internet and Asians are two of my Favorite Things, so I checked it out. It was, in a word, fantastic. As every episode has been. While answering a seemingly simple tech question (“Who wrote this hold music?” “Why is it so hard to cancel auto delivery?” “What happens when you email a generic address like”), Reply All’s two co-hosts find all sorts of layers to the internet onion.

Reply All was promising—quality, longform audio narrative—so I decided to add Mystery Show to the mix. It’s hosted by This American Life contributor and pixie-in-a-good-way Starlee Kine. Starlee solves a mystery in each episode, and my favorite thus far has been “How tall is Jake Gyllenhaal?” The answer is far more complicated than you’d expect.

My final Gimlet show (thus far) is Startup, in which each season follows the start of a company. Season one focused on Gimlet itself. Season two focused on a website called Dating Ring. Season three’s subject is TBD, but this Shark Tank fan will definitely be there with Bluetooth earbuds on.

I’m still listening to my old standbys, of course: WTF, Wait Wait, Good Job, Brain, and the like. But few shows have made me think and laugh more this year than Gimlet’s. Thank you, Ira Glass, for being the Lorne Michaels of public radio.

December 22, 2015

December 22, 2015

My Best Books of 2015: A Threeve

2015 was the year I stopped slacking off and started multitasking in earnest. There’s just too much good TV, film, literature, and podcast media out there. I used to have down time while (for example) walking from the train to the office, but this year I realized that life is too short not to listen to podcasts while (for example) walking from the train to the office. Result: my Gimlet media consumption is up 1000% percent, though I still don’t understand the draw of Serial.

But that is for another day. The day I write about my best podcasts of 2015. Stay tuned.

I feel like I read less than I should have this year. (Probably because I was spending so much time listening to podcasts.) I didn’t start tracking myself on Goodreads until the middle of the year, but my cuff records indicate I read between 140 and 150 books this year. Frankly, that is not enough. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.

I’d like to do something a little different with my Best Books this year. Rather than focusing on flash-in-the-pan Best Books—for which my love burned hot but short—let me talk about some books that will stick with me. Spoiler alert: None of them are Go Set a Watchman or Grey. Because…yikes.

2nd Runner Up: The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips.

Part allegory, part commentary, part dystopia. Short enough to read in a longish single sitting. Reviews compare it to Murakami and Atwood. I’d throw in Orwell, too. Granted: this is right in my female-bureaucrat-who-loves-dystopian-fiction sweetspot, but still.

1st Runner Up: Miss Colombia*

Winner: The Last Hundred Years trilogy by Jane Smiley

Look. It’s my list, and I’ll name a trilogy as top book if I want to. It’s called the Tolkien defense. Look it up.** The Last Hundred Years trilogy is comprised of consists of Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age. Each chapter in these books covers a year in the life of the Langdon family. Book 1, Some Luck, starts in 1920. Book 3, Golden Age, ends in 2019. We follow one Iowa farm family through the generations, and the great events of history—wars, economic boom and bust, Jonestown, 9/11—are filtered through their experiences. Not every character gets fully-formed, but I’d say there are 15 or so “main” characters covering 4 generations by the end of the trilogy. And the thing is, 100 chapters (100 years) is plenty of time to get to know these people. Since the whole trilogy is rooted in history (except the prospective 2016-2019 chapters, of course), you know what’s around the corner and get to anticipate how the various characters will be affected by it. Dramatic irony FTW.

As with any recommendation, your mileage will vary. These are simply some of my takeaways from a very good year of very good books. (But do remember that one of my recommendations from last year was turned into a movie that basically the entire universe loved.)

* This reference won’t make sense for much longer, so please allow it.
** Don’t look it up. I haven’t looked it up, so it’s probably some weird sex act on Urban Dictionary.