This is one of my favorite posts of the year, wherein I tell you all about my favorite things of the year, whether they came out in or I simply discovered them the previous year. Without further ado and in no particular order, here we go:
I am an intermittent podcast listener. Every now and again I’ll find the occasion and an interesting show or topic. Early this spring the occasion was walking the dog, and the show was Mom & Dad are Fighting. I found it on Slate’s website, as Slate.com is where I spend most of my internet time that is not wasted on social media. The hosts of the show, Dan Kois and Allison Benedikt (not actually married to each other), have kids, most of whom are older than Sonja. But the topics they discuss range from potty training to school lunches to college prep. It doesn’t matter that Sonja’s not in that stage now, it’s thoughtful discussion about thoughtful parenting and it is interesting to me as a person who tries to be a thoughtful parent. It’s like having that in-depth discussion about parenting that you’d like to have with other parents, but you can’t because you’re both busy with your kids. Every time I listen to this podcast I think I should do my own version with my own topics with my own parent friends. See previous sentence for why I don’t. However, I have new appreciation for the podcast medium and while I will probably still be an intermittent listener of everything else, Mom & Dad means more walks for the dog.
This was the best book I read all year. Actually I’m not as voracious a reader as I’d like to be, so maybe I need to expand that and say it’s the best book I read all decade, just to give you the appropriate sense of how much I loved it.
The book provides a detailed history of the evolution of the liberal arts college education, which started out in a very different place from where it ended up. It was all information that was unknown to me and that is not – but should be – standard discussion in a college classroom. Though the author of the book was a professor at Yale and offers many insights into the failings of Ivy League universities, the focus of the book really is on academia in general. Deresiewicz shares my viewpoints on the meaning of education and what, at its best, it should be, but he expressed it in ways I never could and left me feeling even better about my views. Here’s a quote:
Teaching, said Socrates, is the reeducation of desire. If that sounds paternalistic, it is. Professors should be mentors, not commodities or clerks. Education isn’t something you consume; it’s an experience that you have to give yourself over to.
I recommend this to anyone interested in education, and especially to anyone in college.
In Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe
I love me a good non-fiction essay compilation, and when I say “good, non-fiction essay compilation,” this is exactly what I mean. This one has essays about the author’s own messy life as a single mom, and analyses of pop culture phenomenons to boot. The title itself is an homage to Mad Men. So if any of that sound interesting to you, go read this book.
Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelson
This is a massive and detailed tome on housekeeping. I checked it out from the library after hearing it recommended on a podcast (not Mom & Dad.) I actually read most of this book as there is enough of a narrative to do that. I picked up many practical tips along the way. There was a section on the many types of materials used to make pots and pans, and what kind works best in what scenarios. It helped me decide what to buy to replace the pans my new gas stove scorched, and I’m quite happy with hard-anodized aluminum. It was a good choice. And if you want to know what the symbols on clothing tags mean or how to make a bed with hospital corners, that’s in there too. Mostly though, I appreciated the author’s reverence for and emphasis on creating a comfortable home the way you see fit. I decided to buy this one to keep as a reference.
Mad Men Season 7, Part 1
I wish that AMC hadn’t split up the final season like it did on Breaking Bad, but there’s nothing I can do about that. The seven episodes we did get were very good, as usual. Not season 4 good, but Mad Men good, and really there’s nothing better than Mad Men. I particularly enjoyed the scene in which Roger and Mona try to get their daughter to come home from a hippie commune and look after her own child, and the scene in which Sally and Don bond in a restaurant after Don comes clean about being unemployed. It just doesn’t get any better than this..
I think this was the only new series I binge watched this year. New to me, that is. The series itself is 10 years old. I watched all three seasons in a row. I loved all of it, but none more than season 1. I watched this after The Wire ,which is a good series but it’s all plot with too many underdeveloped characters. (All due respect to The Wire, which tried and succeeded to do very different things than Deadwood.) All the characters on Deadwood are so well defined and so interesting, it hooks you immediately. Like Boardwalk Empire, this series marries fictional events and characters with real ones, and like all good Americans, I learned my history by researching what was real and what wasn’t. I won’t watch The Wire or Boardwalk Empire again because I got everything out of those series I could, but I can see returning to Deadwood every so often, just to hear that sweet, smart, curse-laden dialogue again. Just writing this makes me want to go watch it right now.
The Colbert Report
I loved the Colbert Report every year it was on for nine years, but as this was the final year, I have to give it one final shout out, particularly for introducing me to…
It is so rare for me to find a new artist with whom I’m simply obsessed. Lake Street Dive (forgive the pun) hits all the right notes. They’re excellent musicians and excellent singers and the jazz/pop fusion is exactly my kind of music and they have great lyrics that include words like reticent and condone and “with whom.” Right on.
Homemade Chicken Stock/Homemade Salsa
Towards the end of last year, I tried my hand at making chicken stock and now I can’t go back to store bought. Homemade is so good. It makes phenomenal soup and it really improves the flavor of other recipes. Prior to homemade stock, I could not get a consistency to my Mexican rice and I never liked it much. Now it comes out perfect every time, I devour it, and nobody else’s compares. And speaking of Mexican, after our favorite hole-in-the-wall Mexican place closed down, we went on a mad search for a salsa we liked as much, but to no avail. I toyed with many homemade recipes too, getting very discouraged. Lo and behold, I found a very simple recipe that used all fresh ingredients and bingo! It’s not the same as the restaurant salsa but it’s damn good and now store bought just won’t cut it.