OKAY, now that I’ve finally finished ALL MY REVIEWS of books I read in 2016, I can finally tell you which ones are in my top five! I’m sure you’ve been on TOTAL TENTERHOOKS. I mean, like everyone, I feel partially conflicted about writing about silly, joyful things when it feels like the world is being set freshly aflame every single day, but without joy, what are we fighting for, right? So let’s do this in spite of it all!
5. Julie Murphy, Dumplin’ – Dumplin’ is only the second audiobook I’ve ever listened to (It is exxxxxtremely hard for me to absorb information aurally.) and I loved both the narration (TBH, the way that Eileen Stevens has Bo say “Willowdean” has irreversibly changed my life.) and the story. It’s fun and sweet and smart and funny. Willowdean grows, the secondary and tertiary characters are awesome, and most importantly, WILLOWDEAN IS FAT AND DOESN’T LOSE WEIGHT. There is a secondary character named Millie who is also fat and DOESN’T LOSE WEIGHT. I have read a lot of books about fat characters and even the ones who decide being fat is “okay” usually lose some weight as, like, a magical side effect of being allowed to feel human? I guess. But Willowdean is fat and thinks that’s okay and pushes back against the idea that it isn’t okay and she stays fat! She never even obsesses over food! What a gift.
4. Andrea Portes, Anatomy of a Misfit – Anatomy of a Misfit is a book that frustrated me as I read it because it struck me as so true to the misery of high school, but in a really satisfying way. The writing is very strong and Anika is a really well-rendered teenager with complex feelings about genuinely difficult situations. She’s not particularly likable, which is always unbelievably hard for me to engage with, but she was so fully-fleshed and felt so human. Her narrative voice always felt age-appropriate without ever pandering or falling into that non-young-adults-trying-to-sound-like-young-adults thing that I seemed to encounter a lot in 2016. This is not an easy book and I don’t think it always pulls it’s weight, but it was definitely some of the best reading I did this year.
3. Marie Sexton, Trailer Trash – I think I screamed about Trailer Trash for like, five days straight on twitter after I read it because I was so, so impressed with it. It’s a gay, teenage love story set in the 80s that manages to be sweet, emotional, devastating, and hopeful. The narrative voices feel SO of their time, while also feeling really current. It doesn’t ignore its time period at all — including the AIDS crisis — but manages to stay hopeful in spite of pain, loss, and tragedy. This book is a romance through and through, but it’s cut with real, weighty problems and real, painful experiences and full of real, complicated conversations and relationships. I read it in May and not a week has gone by where I haven’t at least thought about how much I enjoyed it.
2. Sonia Belasco, Speak of Me As I Am – I’ve known Sonia for… more than ten years now, I think, and I have spent nearly all of those years waiting to have one of her books in my hands and man, it was so worth the anticipation. Speak of Me As I Am is beautiful and moving and lyrical and lovely. Melanie and Damon feel like real teenagers, but they’re also smart and sensitive and thoughtful. I love the weight of place in this and the way that characters who are not physically present in the story are so incredibly central and alive. There are also awesome parents in this and good teachers and secondary characters who are lively and fully-formed and worth caring about. I feel like a cheater sharing this one, since you can’t actually read it until April, but I promise it’ll be worth the wait.
1. Stephanie Tromly, Trouble is a Friend of Mine – I LOVED THIS BOOK. I loved it so much. I love-love-loved it. I also listened to the audiobook of this one (the last one I listened to, I think) and Kathleen McInerney is GREAT and kind of sounds like Kristen Bell, which made it all feel very Veronica Mars-y. It was a fun, fast story with great characters. Nobody really sounds like a teenager, but they somehow feel like teenagers anyway. It’s a great caper-y book and it made me laugh a lot. And the end made me squeal in delight with such vigor that I traumatized Crystal while she was driving. It does have some… questionable moments with racial stereotypes and slut-shame-y-I’m-not-like-other-girls type stuff, but the story was worth it for me anyway. Such a fun read!
I’ve been sad and angry and overwhelmed since the night of November 8th. I’ve cried and missed work and alternated between furious and hopeless and been both at once. I’ve even blamed myself for the results of the election because I let myself prematurely write a tweet about electing the first woman president. (My elementary school teachers regularly told me I’d be the first and I wanted to thank Hillary Clinton for making it seem like I failed because I was too young, not because I turned out to be a huge disappointment.)
I’ve been all those things because the 2016 election results are garbage. Because I’m angry that I’ve now lived through the Electoral College taking the presidency from the Popular Vote winner TWICE and this time by a margin so massive it embarrasses the entire institution. Because the election was meddled with by foreign powers and no one cares. Because the man who will be president tomorrow is a bad man, a stupid man, an ignorant, hateful, and petty man. Because misogyny won. Because fake news won. Because women and POCs and the LGBT+ community and disabled people have lost massively. Because people still insist that Bernie would have fared better. Because people are demonizing Clinton for losing, for running, for daring to try to serve her country further in the highest office. Because no one is adequately interrogating what they read and believe. Because the arts are going to suffer. Because the environment is going to suffer. Because real living human beings are going to die.
Today I am all those things, but I am mostly sad. I am enormously sad. Because, while President Obama’s politics do not align with mine perfectly and while I disagree massively with many decisions made while he held the office, I never once doubted that he had the best interests of the American people in his heart. Obama is educated and smart and supremely well-spoken*. He reads for fun and because he believes it helps him better himself. He’s a phenomenal writer. He loves his wife and his kids and his dogs. And he has always, always struck me as kind.
I just keep thinking about what the last eight years have looked like with the Obamas in the White House. How proud they have made me feel just by doing the best that they can with what they have. Eight years of congressional obstruction and we still got the ACA that saved my life. Marriage equality. A stronger economy and corporate regulation. Environmental protections. A record number of clemencies.
And it makes me happy and proud and miserable. Because our future looks nothing like the last eight years and the people I live and work with are responsible for it. I hope that we’re overreacting. I hope that it isn’t as bad as it seems. I hope and I hope and I hope. But I also #resist. I refuse to normalize. He wasn’t popular, he isn’t qualified, and he doesn’t have a mandate. And I will take whatever action I can for as long as I can to try to prevent him and those who have put him in power from destroying an America that functions for all the people who live in it.
After eight years, I am still surprised frequently that I lived to see the first black president. I lived to see the first black president. I lived to help elect the first black president. I lived to re-elect the first black president. I lived to see the first black president.
And I hope I live to see the second.
*I know that isn’t a compliment white people should direct at black people and I keep Googling, trying to figure out if it’s ever okay to say, but I would feel like I was leaving out one of the things I have loved most about him if I didn’t. Obama’s speeches have always been phenomenal, his off-the-cuff answers are sharp and thoughtful, and his actual speech-making is stunning, elevated without ever sounding pompous. I’ve never heard a president more skilled.
This list was really hard this year! Because for the first time in a couple years, I actually spent a lot of time listening to new music and successfully sought out new-to-me stuff that I ended up loving! I don’t want to love Spotify as much as I do, but without it I would be much less musically educated.
5. Clara Rockmore, “Air”
This is probably the weirdest song that will ever make it on a Totally Top Five list from me, but if you can’t be weird on the internet, what the hell is the internet for?! I knew about the theremin prior to Google’s Clara Rockmore doodle, but I hadn’t heard of her. And like a lot of people, I ended up listening to the Lost Theremin Album on repeat for weeks afterward. It’s so beautiful and so unsettling and other-worldly and weirdly vocal without having vocals. It was great music for the office not only because it wasn’t distracting, but because it would freak people out a little bit and make them leave me alone.
4. A Tribe Called Red, “Sisters (featuring Northern Voice)”
I LOVE A TRIBE CALLED RED. And this song is so so so sooooooo good. And the video is so fun and charming and TO BE FRANK, if it were full of white people, it would have been HUGELY popular which is some bullshit. The beat is so good and so danceable and I have yet to ever skip it when it has come up on shuffle. If you don’t know A Tribe Called Red, remedy that immediately. I’m particularly fond of “Electric Pow Wow Drum” and “Suplex” and “Burn Your Village to the Ground” which has been my Thanksgiving anthem for the last two years.
3. AWOLNATION, “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)”
Like everyone else on the planet, I was extremely obsessed with “Sail” waybackwhen and was bummed when the rest of the album didn’t at all live up to the single, but I feel like “Hollow Moon” and the rest of Run was worth waiting for. I have scream-sung “Motherfucker, I’ll be back from the dead soon” far more often and far more passionately than I should probably admit to, but it’s, like, strangely empowering? It’s also just a really solid song from beginning to end. I also love “Run” aka that song everyone was using to make Vines for like a long time and “Woman Woman” and “Fat Face” and “Like People, Like Plastic” and “I Am” and “Drinking Lightning” and “Jailbreak”. SOLID ALBUM.
2. CL x Diplo x Riff Raff x OG Maco, “Doctor Pepper
THIS SONG IS SO DUMB AND SO GOOD. I don’t know how to explain my attraction and devotion to this song, but it is very much this year’s “Hood Go Crazy” because I could NOT stop listening to it and all I wanted to do was blare it in the car with my windows down as loudly and as often as possible. It has also frequently made me “dance” uncontrollably. This is the purest, most wonderful kind of jam because I can’t explain what the hell is going on in it and I don’t care AT ALL. It’s just GOOD.
1. The 1975, “Love Me”
This was by far my most listened-to song this year and I still think it’s as good as I did the very first time I heard it after Sonia put it on a playlist and changed my life forever. There is Bowie in this song. There is great 80s synth in this. There is Steven Tyler in this song. There is Talking Heads in this song. There is “Love Stinks” in this song! This is one of those songs that immediately makes you go and dig through the artist’s entire library, but there isn’t anything in The 1975’s catalog that comes anywhere NEAR this one. Bands with amazing one-offs are LIFE-RUINERS, but what a great way to go.
Not to be a HUGE DOWNER, but 2016 was kind of a shitshow, yeah? Everything is kind of terrible! If you had told me in January that my neighbors would successfully elect Donald Trump to the United States Presidency, I would have laughed. A lot.
Anyway, in the spirit of my Twitter declaration to try to share good things in the face of the dumpster fire burning eternally around us, it’s time for TOTALLY TOP FIVE 2K16! Because the year didn’t really fall totally apart until the end and I managed to like a lot of stuff before I got too depressed and hopeless to function like a normal person!
5.4th Man Out – This movie was so much more charming than I expected it to be. And it did such a good job of dealing with straight-guy-gay-panic in a way that felt more true to 2016 than a lot of contemporary stories have. It had a realistic level of angst without ever veering near tragedy porn — something that a LOT of LGBT stories still do — and most of all, it was funny and kind and about FRIENDSHIP. Really good friendship! It was super duuuuuper white, but I did appreciate that they were regular working class people in ordinary jobs and lives. Lots of good parental stuff too. It’s nice to see a coming out story where no one is irreversibly miserable and everything just sort of goes okay-enough. That’s what I think (and hope) it’s like for most people and it’s nice to see that translated on screen.
4.Ghostbusters – The original Ghostbusters is one of my favorite childhood movies and I was amped to see it with women and I just got more and more amped with each announcement. I really loved it. I thought it was funny and good-looking and charming and had really, really great action scenes. I LOVED that women were smart, complex, and ATE FOOD WITHOUT BEING WEIRD ABOUT IT! I love that Holtzman was coded so clearly as queer and that she was so incredibly hot and that it wasn’t intended for men! It subverted so much of what people have come to expect from action-comedy and media in general and it did it while making a really fun, watchable movie. My only disappointment is that I know there is another version of this movie that is funnier and sharper and a little bit darker that was supposed to exist and I know that it was strangled by studio dudes who wanted to make something really marketable and family-friendly. That sucks for everyone who made the movie and it sucks so so much for everyone who didn’t get to watch the movie they really wanted to make.
3.Captain America: Civil War – Crystal and I saw Captain America: Civil War twice in two days, one of which was in these goofy things and both times I mostly just quietly cried to myself while murmuring, “Bucky… Buckyyyyy…” over and over again. Good action, good story, good pacing for the most part, super funny, and extremely re-watchable. I was surprised to really L-O-V-E every new character and how well they folded into the existing universe. I am disappointed that the comic didn’t get translated as directly as I’d hoped (SAD TROMBONE, WHAT A UNIQUE COMPLAINT) and I am STILL frustrated about the lack of development/transparency about the content and political impact of the Sokovia Accords because I’m a nerd and the details of that document are VERY IMPORTANT. Without them, choosing Team Cap or Team Iron Man is MEANINGLESS given the limited information given. Sorry I’m going to be an angry nerd forever.
2.Crashing – Crystal picked this on Netflix on a whim one night while I was working in the other room and watched the first episode and then came in yelling at me, “YOU HAVE TO COME WATCH THIS SHOW.” And so I did and then we watched it all in a night because it was so charming. It’s not groundbreaking comedy, but it is a really unusual living situation populated with interesting people, funny, awkward conversations, and super weird stuff. Not all of the characters are likable which was VERY HARD for me, but I still wished there were way more than six episodes to watch. I mean, I often argue that TV shows need to know when to end and that we should move toward the British model of short, unpredictably aired seasons, but there’s something to be said for having 22 episodes to watch each season.
1.Stranger Things – Maaaaaaaaan was this an easy #1 to choose this year. Stranger Things is a giant, fun, moving, awesome homage to everything I grew up loving. I didn’t really expect to love it that much because I’m not really a scifi or fantasy person — I’m a horror movie nerd! — but MAN did I love it. Winona Ryder is so, so good and every teen, tween, and child actor in this is UNBELIEVABLY good. It’s beautifully shot and set-designed, the creature design and world-building are amazing, and it’s fantastic that it manages to tell a complete and satisfying story in just eight episodes. I was really hoping that it would end up being an anthology series, whether that was with the same actors in a new situation/era or with new actors in an expansion of the existing universe, so I am a little bummed that it’s coming back as a regular second season, but also pretty excited about it because it was great, obviously. VERY EXCITED.
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