In 2016, I read 80 books, including graphic novels and comics, and watched 40 movies and TV series, combined. I’d say those are good even numbers, even if I didn’t hit my targets. And after all, it’s about quality, not quantity, right? And I read and watched some great stuff this year. Here are my top picks for 2016!
Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes, 1958
I picked this up out of a pile of books going into a yard sale. Maybe it was my lack of expectations, but this book just floored me. It happened to contain some of my favorite elements in a novel — an unreliable narrator, psychological twists, unconventional storytelling (it’s written as a journal), and an openness for interpretation. Amazing.
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides, 2002
Epic story and glorious, glorious narration. Damn. This novel was perfect to me, and for me this year, particularly. Its hefty scope kept me from tackling it for awhile, but it was well worth my patience. A book about personal history, identity and transition — with the level of strangeness I adore.
Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Legs McNeil, Gillian McCain, 1996
I’m no punk rock connoisseur, or even much of music history buff, but this book was downright fascinating. I couldn’t put it down. It’s a compilation of interviews with folks who lived the borderline-unbelievable history. Even if it weren’t all true, it would still be an engaging story.
Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown, 1973
The tagline — “A novel about being different and loving it” — didn’t exactly sell me (feel-good stories don’t seem to do it for me). So I was relieved to discover that this coming-out classic is the right, refreshing balance of pessimism and confidence for me. The positive, negative.
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015
This should be required reading for everyone. Period.
TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS & COMICS
The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen
For the second year in a row, WicDiv continues to be my favorite. The colors! The characters! Ahh so delicious I just want to eat the pages. Nom.
Saga, Brian K. Vaughan
This is another continued favorite. Always inventive and unexpected. Truly a “saga” I can’t get sick of.
Paper Girls, Brian K. Vaughan, 2016
Dang, is there any series I don’t like Brian K. Vaughan? He’s the comic storytelling master, though I have to say the art really hooked me here. Plus, the writing is just a little too adult for kids, a little to kiddish for adults, which is exactly my sweet spot.
Ghost World, Daniel Clowes, 1998
I read this because it’s the basis of the best movie I watched this year (spoiler alert for section below). The graphic novel was different from the movie in many ways, but I still loved it on its own.
TOP MOVIES & TV
Transparent (S1 – 3)
It’s like this show was made for me, so much so, that it’s a little disturbing. Not only is it my favorite show of this year, it’s my favorite show of all-time. I’m not much a TV-watcher or a binge-water, but I binged-watched Transparent with no regrets. Beautiful.
I put this movie on just to test out my Amazon Kindle Fire Stick, and it wound up being the best movie I saw in 2016. It was odd in all the right ways, featuring underrepresented female friendships and unlikely relationships.
Timeless. The ending scene of runaway Ben and Elaine in the bus, their smiles turning solemn, must be one of the greatest all-time movie moments. (Side note: this film kicked off a Simon & Garfunkle listening binge that I still can’t totally explain).
Come on, it’s a given. Stranger Things basically defined my summer of 2016, as it did for many. It was the reason I finally got Netflix. Just fantastic.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Another given. Do I even need to explain why this is on my list?
Why does this podcast about human behavior resonate with me so strongly? I bet there could be a whole Invisibilia episode dedicated to the psychological forces that drive me to be in love with this show. Maybe that’ll be in the next season, which I can’t wait for.
Pop Culture Happy Hour
One of my goals this year was to be more in-tune with current popular media, and this podcast helped me do just that, while also entertaining me and giving me leads to shows, movies, and other media I might like.
TED Radio Hour
This podcast just fills my emptiness between Invisbilia seasons, to be honest. But it’s fascinating nonetheless. I actually prefer it to traditional TED Talks, because the episodes string together multiple ideas around a single topic.
2016 IN SUMMARY
2016 was the year I embraced television beyond cartoons, watching shows like Transparent, Stranger Things, and even Breaking Bad (like, 8 years behind, I know). This filled a hole in my movie-watching pursuits, which have fallen to the wayside a bit, in part because of the unanticipated lack of good movie theaters near my town.
In terms of books, I tackled some hefty classics — like One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Sound and the Fury. Some were more rewarding than others. I also intentionally tried to read more books from diverse authors, and also incorporated more nonfiction and poetry into my reading.
This was the first year in awhile that I was unable to find a completed comic series to dive into and devour start-to-finish. Last year was Y: The Last Man, which I think may have just set the bar too high. Also, most of the graphic novels I read were just mediocre. So I’m concluding 2016 being a bit discouraged about my graphic novels and comics, but that’s okay.
In conclusion, I used this year to reconnect with the current media landscape, consuming more new releases in books, comics, movies, and TV than I normally do. The hipster in me rolls her eyes at staying current, but the practical me appreciates the value more than ever. Watching the latest shows with others and being able to talk about new books and movies is important, because media is connective. As corny as it sounds, media consumption isn’t just personal, it’s interpersonal. And that’s my grand media lesson for 2016.
Onward to 2017!