How I Track My Reading List

If you just want to get to it and see my reading list, click here.

If you want to sign-up for Notion, feel free to use my referral link here.

More than a few people have asked me how I manage my reading list. First of all, here are a few of the requirements that I want in a solution:

  • Mobile and desktop accessible. I read everywhere. At the coffeeshop, on a plane, in my office, at work, in the bath. I need my reading list where I read, which means everywhere. If I don’t have access to my reading list, then as I’ll certainly forget to update it regularly, which means a nightmare of organization later whenever I get to it.
  • I want a queue system. I not only want to track what I have finished reading, but what I am currently reading, and what I will be reading.
  • Quick entry of new books to add to the queue. In the same way that I want to be able to update my reading progress, I need to be able to add books to the list in real-time as well. You never know when you’ll receive a recommendation from a friend or colleague, when you see a cover in an airport, or when a book you’re reading makes another recommendation. I want to jot those down immediately so I don’t forget them…plus it means I’ll never run out of books to read.
  • Sortability and filtering. I try to be diverse in my reading, which means tracking how much of which genre/author/etc. I’m reading. I also want to see which books I own and which books I should pick up the next time I wander into my local bookstore.
  • Quantifiable tracking. In addition to just having a straight-up list of books that I’ve read, am reading, or want to read, I also want to be able to quantify a few things: how long does it take me to read? How many books have I read? How long does it take me to get to a book once I’ve heard about it? Things like this matter to me so I can hold myself accountable for my reading: I want to feel guilty when I have been pouring time & attention into TV, social media, or video games rather than reading.

I don’t like Goodreads, and not just because of the Amazon affiliation: it’s just a pretty bad interface to keep track of a lot of reading, in my opinion. I’ve also tried a number of off-the-shelf (ha!) solutions that just haven’t worked for me, so I decided to roll my own. Over a year ago, I switched from Evernote to Notion for keeping my life together (travel plans, side hustle ideas, etc.), and it was a logical place for my reading list to live.

Utilizing Notion immediately solves for the mobile/desktop requirement, and my implementation of the reading list also solves for the rest. There are a couple of things I’d really love that would make it perfect, but this is definitely the best solution for me out of everything I’ve tried thus far.

In this post, I’ll walk you through how I’ve setup my reading list using Notion. You’ll find a couple screenshots along with descriptions for how I’ve implemented the table.

Screenshots

Derek Brown Reading List in Notion

Click to see full-size.

Second half of my reading list in Notion.

Click to see full-size.

Various lists in my reading category.

Various lists I have in Notion. The primary is Reading List.

Columns

  • Status: This is a select column in notion, with pre-configured color-coded values. Most books on the list don’t have a status, but those that do fall in one of four categories:
    • Reading: What I’m currently reading. Usually, only one book falls into this status, but occasionally a second will slip-in.
    • On-Deck: These are the books that I want to read after I’m done with what I’m currently reading. It lessens the mental load of picking what’s next as soon as I’m done with a book. I don’t have to comb through my shelves or backlog to figure it out: I’ve already done it.
    • Next?: These are the books that I’d think about reading next (and moving into the On Deck status). It’s the real queue out of all the books on the list.
    • Finished: Once I’m done with a book, it moves to this coveted status. At the end of the year, I move all books with a Finished status to their own table (ie, “2019 Reading”).
  • Own: This is a checkbox column, and simply indicates whether I actually own a book or not. I prefer to own every book I read, and I buy books from local bookstores (McNally Jackson, Greenlight, Strand are some favorites here in NYC).
  • Title: Self-explanatory, hopefully. This is a text column.
  • Author: This is a multi-select column, with each author as it’s own value, set to the default color (although Notion’s current implementation of default coloring is a poor design/product decision…or just a bug). This allows me to easily sort the table or filter by a specific author.
  • Genre: Another select column, with color-coded values. My genres are as follows:
    • Biography
    • SFF (Science Fiction/Fantasy)
    • Tech
    • Science
    • Finance
    • Humanities
    • History
    • Business
    • Literary Fiction
    • Travel
    • Spirituality
  • Priority: This is a column I’m testing out. It’s a select column with Urgent, High, and Normal values, and I use it to further decide what to read or purchase next.
  • Tags: In all sorts of products I’ve worked on, including this reading list, I’ve found a generic tag holder to be useful. I have a couple of tags that I utilize in my reading list:
    • To Buy: This is a super useful tag when I’m standing in a bookstore, and have no idea off the top of my head of which books to pick-up. I filter down to the “To Buy” tag, and see if they’re in stock. Easy!
    • Classic: I want to track which books are considered “Classic” by some standard, and I utilize a tag to do that (for example, Hemingway’s Old Man & The Sea or Asimov’s Foundation).
  • Notes: Random text holder (usually something quirky about the book or a release date).
  • Start: A date in Notion, which indicates the date on which I started reading the book.
  • Finish: The counterpart to Start, which indicates the date which I finished reading the book. In the summary on this column, I count the number of non-null cells, which gives me a total count of books read year to date.
  • Days to Read: A formula in Notion, which calculates the difference between Finish and Start, giving me the number of days that it took me to read the book. In the summary on this column, I calculate the average days to read, which helps me keep pace for my desired book count in a year.
  • Series: For some books (Scalzi, Dark Tower, etc.), I want to tie books to one another in a group. I have a select column here to do just that. Here are the series I’m currently tracking (mainly SFF):
    • VanderMeer’s Southern Reach
    • Scalzi’s Lock In
    • Jemisin’s The Broken Earth
    • Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past
    • Scalzi’s The Interdependency Sequence
    • Scalzi’s Old Man’s War
    • King’s The Dark Tower
    • Le Guin’s The Hainish Cycle
  • Added: This is a fairly new column, which I…ahem…added this year. It’s a date column that helps me track when I added a book to the list. Eventually, I’ll probably track the time it takes for me to get to a book, once I’ve added it to the list.

Some Stats

  • Total Books on the List: 220 right now.
  • Read So Far in 2019: 10 books.
  • Average Days to Read: 4.8 days per book.
  • Fastest Book to Read: Gene Edwards’ A Tale of Three Kings (read in single day)

Conclusion

Hope this helps those of you looking to track your own reading in a serious way! I’ve found Notion to be a great tool for this (among other things), though I definitely have a couple of gripes with them about some of the minor details. Feel free to check out the list yourself at the link above, and feel free to sign-up for a free plan at Notion using my link above as well. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to comment!

Reading Rainbow: March 5, 2019

New pickups for the reading list.

I know some of you have been asking how I manage my reading, and I promise I’m going to get to it (soon!), but in the meantime, here’s a look at what I’ll be reading over the next couple of weeks. Picked these up from my local bookstore (Mcnally Jackson in Williamsburg), and the guy behind the counter mentioned how wide-ranging the selection was. I just kinda shrugged. Guess I’m a well-versed reader? Who knows. In any case, here’s the haul:

  • The Drawing of the Three by Steven King: I recently picked up and devoured The Dark Tower from King, a book that’s been on my list since high school. Well worth the wait, and I’m stoked to sink my teeth into the second book.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin: Ursula is legendary in SF/F circles, but I’ve yet to read one of her novels. I have this one and The Dispossessed in the queue right now, so I’ll at least start the Hainish stories. If they’re as good as people say, then I bet I pick up her entire body of work.
  • Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber: Nadia isn’t from my “brand of Christianity”, but I love what she had to say about grace, the Church, and Jesus in her previous book, Pastrix. I haven’t gotten to read Accidental Saints yet, but this tome on sexuality in the Kingdom of God is at the very least going to be an interesting read.
  • Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman: This one doesn’t need an introduction. I’ve read parts of it prior, and obviously watched the videos, read the Medium notes from the class, and lived in the Hoffman-created world at LinkedIn. I’m sure this one will be a book that I mark-up.
  • Ten Restaurants That Changed America by Paul Freeman: For those that know me, you know I’m a huge foodie, and in love with the hospitality industry. In another life, I would’ve gone to culinary school and opened a restaurant. Who knows what the future holds? In any case, this history lesson should be a good read, though it’s a bit thicker than I expected!

What do you think? Any of these sound interesting to you? What are you reading this week?

Song by Song: Maggie Rogers’ Heard It In A Past Life

I was first exposed to Maggie Rogers in the same way that most people were: that adorable video of Pharrell Williams reacting to her pre-mastered cut of Alaska. I immediately fell in love with her brand of folk-driven pop, and began following her on all the appropriate channels, wondering if she was going to be a one-hit wonder or if there was real talent that would produce additional gems. Over the last two years or so, I’ve been pleased to find that the latter is true: I don’t believe Maggie has yet to produce a truly bad song. Seriously.

This hasn’t been more evident than in her 2019 debut album, Heard It In A Past Life. The first full-length album contains that first breakout single Alaska, as well as the few singles she’s released over the past two years in a drip campaign. Additionally and thankfully, there are a few songs on the album that haven’t been released prior, making the album both a journey back in time and a look forward as to where the young artist may be headed with her music.

Overall, I give Heard It In a Past Life 9/10. Had there been a cohesive narrative throughout the album, I think the debut would be perfect. We’ll have to deal with consistent themes of coming-of-age pop instead: relationship ups & downs, discovering one’s self, etc. There are certainly themes, but no top-to-bottom story. We get themes on a track-by-track basis. No worries, though: the album is still phenomenal, and will be on repeat for some time to come. Below, a song-by-song breakdown:

Give a Little: This anthem for the national gun walk-out is also an anthem for compromise and empathy. It accomplishes this without compromising on production quality, however, with background vocals beautifully haunting the entire song and a bridge that outshines the chorus. For all of the the sonic strength in the song, it’s one of the weaker tracks on the album due to the oversimplified lyricism that we don’t find on some of the subsequent works. 6/10

Overnight: Maggie’s favorite song from the album is pretty close to my own (though not it). She’s probably very personally attached to it, being a letter from pre-Pharrell Maggie to post-Pharrell Maggie. The dangers of fame (or any other sudden life-altering change) are real, and Maggie addresses them clearly but also is honest in her assessment: she appreciates the new her (“don’t say you miss me”), while recognizing that the old Maggie is vital to her identity as well. All of this introspection is wrapped with synth-led packaging which includes samples from frogs and glaciers as her signature inclusion of natural sounds. Catchy and stunning. 9/10

The Knife: While the previous Overnight seems to be Maggie’s favorite, this track is my favorite song from the album. Meant to be a song about “dancing it all off with your friends”, I’ve found myself moving with the track regardless of how full the room is. As seducing as the melody is, the real star on the track is Maggie’s vocals. Her voice moves between falsetto punctuations and sultry phrases flawlessly, and the emotional effect is real. 10/10

Alaska: The one that started it all, and a true highlight of Maggie’s brand of music. The most impressive part of the song for me? The fact that somehow Alaska seems to have so much space in it while simultaneously being lush. I think this is a direct result of including natural samples alongside Maggie’s vocals. At times full and other times breathy, her vocals move the song along the percussion river that also keeps the head nodding. It was a hit for a reason, mastered or otherwise. 10/10

Light On: Intended as a “song of gratitude” towards her fanbase, this is one of those songs that strikes me initially as an upbeat, hope-filled tune…but upon further listening is a bit more melancholic than that. I know it has that whole “I’m feeding off your vibes when I’m down” thing going for it, but it’s low-key a downer. I don’t connect with it emotionally like I do some of the other songs. That said, musically speaking, the song is a solid middle track with a catchy and singalongable chorus. The 80s-esque synth loop provides a great layering until it drops out, focusing on the last vocalization from Maggie which brings the song to a sharp resolution. Side note: the music video is really fun. 5/10

Past Life: And now, for something a bit different. This track which according to Maggie herself “ends Side A” is a slow one, supposedly written at her grandmother’s piano. Not sure if it’s just me, but I totally get a Stevie Nicks vibe from the track, with the simplified arrangement highlighting Ms. Rogers’ vocals. Not my favorite song on the album, but that’s more a personal preference than actual song construction. 6/10

Say It: We go from the 80s vibe of Light On to the Stevie Nicks tribute song in Past Life and with Say It, we’re finally to the TLC era of 90s R&B. Maggie is just showing off at this point. Lyrically one of the simpler songs on the album (shout out to the word “swelter”, though), you really do get the sparkly feeling of having a crush from the airy vocals and giddy cadence of the chorus. Highlight on this track? The percussion, hands down. Listen to that hi-hat! 8/10

On + Off: Unlike the previous two tracks, this one is a previously released single (appearing on Now That The Light Is Fading, Maggie’s 2017 EP), and remains one of my favorite Maggie songs to date. The pendulum nature woven throughout the song (staccato verses, swinging chorus, steady bass layer) drives home the emotional impact of the lyrics: puppy love isn’t everything; relationships are also about consistency & stability. I think it could’ve been shortened a tad, as the ending seems extended past its expiration. 9/10

Fallingwater: Maggie’s song dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright shows her utter devotion to architecture and….I’m kidding. It’s another song about the roller coaster ride that Maggie’s been on over the last couple of years. The biggest thing about this song to me is not what it contains, but rather what it doesn’t. Throughout Fallingwater, it becomes very obvious that Maggie has pipes. Like real pipes. Classic pipes. Like Sister-Act-Mary-Robert-singing-Salve-Regina pipes. But they’re never unleashed, always restrained. Sure, you get glimpses of it toward the end, but only just so. We never get the full picture of Maggie’s vocals. Hoping to get to hear them soon, but in the meantime, they’re still enjoyable on this solid, but not extraordinary, track. 7/10

Retrograde: Another fun track, and another one where we get a real glimpse at Maggie’s vocal range. I think Retrograde is actually one of the most sonically interesting songs on the album, the meat of the song is a different topic than one that’s been covered, and the track itself is one of those belt-out-when-alone-in-the-house type songs. Particularly love the guitar on this one, and hope to be able to see it performed live, considering it’s one of Maggie’s favorites to perform. Bonus points for using the word retrograde as a title. 10/10

Burning: A song for summer in NYC. Headphones in, sunshine out, enjoying life, so you blast it and sing in your head along the sidewalks of West Village. That’s this song. It also helps that it brings the aural whitespace of Alaska back in full-force, to the point where I’d consider them the fraternal twins in Maggie’s family of songs. Maggie is also obviously joy-filled in the booth singing this song; you can sense the smile on her face while she sings “I’m in love; I’m alive, oh, I’m burning”. 9/10

Back In My Body: The ending to the “other side” and the album altogether, this song is the final song along the theme of self-discovery. Despite the resemblance to a Florence & The Machine track, I didn’t connect with this one as much. Maybe it’s the theme, maybe it’s the composition, I don’t know. I still think it’s a decent track, but one that I’ll likely skip a bit more often than the others. 5/10

Rewind 2018: Tastes & Travel

Like many people, one of my favorite things to do is travel. And eat great food. Drink great drinks. Travel and taste. Eat and explore. It’s one of my core basic instincts, up there with rooting for the Eagles and enjoying hip hop. Here’s a look at some of the best places I visited in 2018, along with some of the best food that I had, since they are so often related.

MÉRIDA, MEXICO

For our 10th anniversary, the missus and I headed to Mexico for over a week and half. Her highlight was the all-inclusive beachfront resort (Beloved Playa Mujeres) on the Riviera Maya, which was obviously wonderful, but I was pleasantly surprised by our time in Mérida. Here are some favorites from the capital of the Yucatan:

  • Casa Lecanda: This boutique bed & breakfast was nearly perfect. Had a great bedroom space that was super comfortable, a spacious indoor bathtub for two, and an outdoor lounge area complete with a pool & hammocks that was extraordinarily relaxing. The staff was very accommodating, and the little things here and there did not go unnoticed. If you want to visit Merida, stay here.
  • Kuuk: When we first walked into Kuuk, we were a bit taken aback. It was nearly empty at dinner time, and supposedly one of the best restaurants in the area. We didn’t quite know what to expect. Turns out we were just early. By the end of our hours-long experience, more people had come to fill out the space, and we quickly saw why. The food was amazingly creative (and tasty!), the service impeccable, and we walked away with an unforgettable experience. The staff welcomed us with open arms into the kitchen, taking pictures with us and giving us a tour of their facilities. The research into heirloom varieties and Mayan traditions is paleoculinary science at its peak, and the tasting menu is a wonderful exploration of Kuuk’s learnings. Definitely a must-visit if you’re in the area.
  • Apoala & Malahat: In what become a trend of acts of hospitality towards us during our time in Mexico, we had a great time at Apoala. We first hit it off with the host who sat us, who turned out to be the owner/manager. As someone who was back and forth from the States, he made us feel right at home without sacrificing the truly Mexican roots of Apoala. After our delicious meal on Apoala’s patio, he asked us if we wanted to see something special. Never one to turn down an offer like that (and honestly expecting something like a scoop of their signature ice cream), he walked us around back of the restaurant. Nodding to a chef in the alley, I wasn’t sure if we were going to see something special or become a headline. In short order, I found out it was definitely the former. We had stumbled upon a true speakeasy. Word of mouth only, forbidden cocktails, the whole nine yards. It was fantastic. The fact that members of Mexico’s National Orchestra were playing live jazz in the space was icing on the proverbial cake. What a memory!
  • Latte Quatro Sette: Perhaps not so coincidentally, one of Merida’s best coffeehouses sits right beside Casa Lecanda. We visited the clean & well-decorated space frequently. Check LQS out, or visit the equally delicious Dilan across the street. Both are worth multiple visits.
  • Tags: We don’t just eat and drink coffee during our travels…we also happened to shop local. Tags Alpargatas are Toms-esque shoes constructed in conjunction with Mayan craftspeople. Not only are they a great, affordable product (super comfy!), they’re also a wonderful way to support the local economy. The conversation was great too while we decided on which pair to take home (spoiler alert, we couldn’t decide on one so we brought home four!).

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO

While Mérida and Playa Mujeres were certainly our highlights, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a couple of spots that we visited in our 3-day detour to Mexico City as well!

  • Quintonil: We had lunch here, one of the top 20 restaurants in the world. Jorge Vallejo is not only the culinary talent behind Quintonil, he’s also a super nice guy. Having a conversation with him in his own kitchen after serving us an incredible meal was an experience I won’t soon forget. His culinary reputation is stellar, with stints at Noma and Pujol(!), but it’s awesome that he’s on his own. In my opinion, if you have to pick one of the Mexico City stalwarts, it should be Quintonil. Skip Pujol if you must. But only if you must.
  • Pujol: From the man who is behind New York’s own Cosme & Atla, Pujol is a fantastic culinary experience….in addition to also being one of the top 20 restaurants in the world. While the missus and I both preferred Quintonil, though the service left a bit to be desired, and even if we were super tired during our dinner at Pujol, the ambiance and culinary care taken at Pujol was something spectacular. In particular, the aged mole dish. It deserves every single ounce of credit it receives in the reviews. Simply divine. Like I stated above, if you have to pick one, pick Quintonil. But don’t pick just one.
  • National Museum of Anthropology: The hype is real. This place is impressive in every sense of the word. First, it’s a massive space. We spent more than half a day here and didn’t see close to everything. Secondly, the exhibits themselves are super unique, including everything from an aromatics exhibit about ancient botany to a VR exhibit about the ancient underworld. Simply stunning. Third, the architecture itself leaves an impression. The massive courtyard and cantilevered overhang are awe-inspiring in themselves, before you learn a single thing about Mexico’s past. If you find yourself in Mexico City, definitely check this spot out.
  • Quentin Cafe: Super hipster cafe with fantastic coffee straddling Mexico City’s Condesa & Roma neighborhoods. The epitome of Mexico City cool. We brought home some beans and some art work, and suggest you do the same.

NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES

Home sweet home…and a city that I can’t seem to keep up with! There are always new spots to explore, restaurants to visit, and neighborhoods to spend a day in. Here are some of my favorites from this past year:

  • The Finch: This is the restaurant that I wish I could afford to visit weekly. It’s become one of our Brooklyn favorites. The seasonal food is awesome, the wine & cocktail selections are spot on, the service is attentive without being stuffy, and the atmosphere is both homey and boutique. We feel like it’s ours, even though it’s far from it. Seriously, we have yet to have a bad dish here. The execution is flawless even while retaining a true neighborhood feel. I expect this restaurant to have a bright future for hopefully some time. It’s one of those places that you want the word to get out about….but not really.
  • Legacy Records: There are very, very, very few reasons to visit the West Side of Manhattan. Legacy Records is one of them. The interior is retro in a cool way (not an ironic, kitschy way), the menu is one of the best in the city, and the dishes themselves are delectable (albeit a bit on the small side). Definitely worth multiple trips just to continue to dive into the well-executed Italian-American dishes.
  • Devoción: Best coffee in the city. Love the people that make up this business, love the product that they sling, and love what they bring to the otherwise very crowded third-wave coffee space. They place a lot of emphasis on environment and product, and it shows. Excited to watch them continue to grow throughout 2019.

THE SOUTH, UNITED STATES

Apologies to my Southern friends for lumping the following under a single heading, but I wanted to highlight pieces of our Savannah/Charleston trip as well as my Nashville trip.

  • Andaz Savannah: For our pre-Turkey Day trip this year, the ladies and I headed to Savannah for a couple of days. It was great, partly due to the staff at Andaz Savannah. They had made a significant error in our booking, and instead of forcing us to deal with it, they made it right, going above and beyond in order to do so. Will absolutely remember that, and my loyalty will show it. Plus the rooms are spacious, the beds comfy, and the location perfect for exploring what Savannah has to offer.
  • Folk: Along with a trip to Minneapolis, I visited Nashville solo this past year just to clear my head and get away for a bit….and to tack on some much needed loyalty miles. One of the highlights in NYC’s “6th borough” was Folk, a pizza-forward haunt in one of Nashville’s cool neighborhoods, East Nashville. From the same people as Germantown’s Rolf & Daughters (also a great spot!), Folk was a neighborhood locale where I sat between a couple on their first date and a local elderly couple simply wanting some pizza! In addition to thoroughly enjoying the wood-fired dishes, I also brought home one of Folk’s sick lilac-colored hats.
  • Five Loaves Cafe: No Thanksgiving is complete without a visit to Charleston, and no Charleston visit is complete without a visit to Second State (formerly Black Tap Coffee) and the fantastic American cafe, Five Loaves. Breakfast, soups, salads, sandwiches. It’s simple but delicious. Seriously, it’s one of the first places we go to immediately after stepping off the plane. The food is so clean, the service is great, and we’re even starting to be recognized though we only visit annually. Well done, Five Loaves team! See you in 10 months or so.

PENNSYLVANIA, UNITED STATES

Again, forgive me for painting an entire state with a broad brush here, but I really wanted to quickly highlight a couple of places in Pennsylvania that the family and I really enjoyed this year.

  • Philadelphia: From browsing the Franklin Institute to enjoying City Hall in the days leading up to the Eagles‘ victorious Super Bowl (#FlyEaglesFly) to downing a cheesesteak or nine (Tony Luke’s – any other option and you’re wrong), I really enjoyed Philly this year. It’s quickly become my favorite day trip when I need to see something other than the mean streets of Brooklyn.
  • Great Wolf Lodge: Yes, this place reminds me of a place that Clark Griswold would bring his clan and have some hijinks at. Yes, it’s corny and kitschy and feels like a minor-league Disney water park. Yes, the surrounding area leaves a lot to be desired. Yes, the food was over-priced and the accommodations themselves mediocre. Yes, the animatronic entertainment was simultaneously creepy and cringe-worthy. But man, we had fun. And fundamentally, that’s what family trips are supposed to be about. We’ll definitely be going back.

Rewind 2018: Visual Entertainment

I’m not a huge TV or movie buff, I’m a fairly casual gamer, but I do have a couple consoles and watch more YouTube than I care to admit. Instead of breaking out TV, movies, and games into separate posts for my Rewind 2018, I figured that I’d combine it all into what I’m calling “visual entertainment”. If you know me at all, you probably trust my book or music recommendations and not my TV or movie taste. Let’s keep it that way. The lists below are in no particular order.

TV

  • Super Bowl LII. Yeah, I’m cheating. I just want to brag a bit. After decades of waiting, the Philadelphia Eagles won it all on the back of Nick Foles. It was fantastic to watch, and not just because I’m a long time Birds fan (and Tom Brady hater). It was actually an interesting and high-scoring game, complete with fourth down hijinks, a near comeback by New England, and end of game drama. In addition to watching the Eagles avenge Super Bowl XXXIX, we got a Justin Timberlake halftime show (and the meme kid). So fun to watch as a football fan.
  • Westworld. I loved the multiple storylines happening this season, and even more so the different “worlds” being introduced. Not so sure about the union between it all, and I’d love for Season 3 to tie it altogether with some more origin story and then end it there.
  • Jack Ryan. I’ve been a Tom Clancy fan since childhood. Seriously. Rainbow Six was one of the first “adult” books I ever read, and I subsequently read the rest of Jack Ryan’s saga. On screen, however, Jack Ryan has been less impressive to me. Don’t get me wrong, the Jack Ryan movies have been good…but they certainly haven’t fit the bill as far as Jack’s character goes, much less the actual storyline. As much as it pains me to give Bezos’ world credit, Amazon’s Jack Ryan is spot-on, and Krasinski is a fantastic Ryan. Hope to see more in the future.
  • South Park. For every compliment I give Bezos, I have to watch more South Park episodes ridiculing him and the Amazon empire. Seriously, “Unfulfilled” is one of the best South Park episodes in recent memory, and the underlying commentary is simultaneously hilarious and saddening. In any case, Parker & Stone still have it, as evidenced by this year’s season. Season 23, here we come!
  • House of Cards. No comment on Spacey, but I absolutely love what Robin Wright is doing with Mrs. Underwood. It’s vicious, cerebral, and downright haunting. Having Doug break the fourth wall is a new twist on an old trick, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Movies

This list would probably be more interesting if it was a list of movies I want to get to rather than movies that I’ve actually watched. But in any case, here you go.

  • Black Panther. Certainly one of the most influential movies of the year, if not the best. The setting was spectacular, the storyline interesting, the acting spot-on, and I’m thankful for a villain that can be identified with. For large swaths of the movie, I was thinking “you know, he’s kinda right”. Pair all of that with the fact that it was scored by Kendrick, and you’ve got a slam dunk on your hands. Wakanda forever.
  • Into the Spider-Verse. Hands down the best animated movie I’ve seen in a while. Fast-paced, engaging, artistically brilliant. Also scored well. I see you Post Malone. Also doesn’t help that I was looking for NYC landmarks throughout the movie, considering Spidey’s from one of the five boroughs.
  • Solo. This is here namely because I’m a fanboy, not because it was an astounding movie. That said, I had heard that it was awful before seeing it, so I feared the worst. It wasn’t. I thought Ehrenreich’s Solo was a perfect portrayal of a young Han and echoed Harrison Ford’s original portrayal well. I, for one, look forward to the other spin-off movies. Here’s to hoping that Rogue Squadron and/or Jedi Academy make the cut.
  • Sorry To Bother You. This movie was a blatant critique of everything in our society, and fulfilled that role better than even Black Panther. It was weird, cultish, and downright absurd, echoing A Clockwork Orange at times and Brazil at others. And I loved it. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but you should watch it.

Games

Again, just like movies, I haven’t gotten to Red Dead Redemption or Spider-Man yet, but certainly want to. I put most of my “spare time” into reading and relaxing, but maybe I’ll have time in 2019 to get to those. In any case, here is the best of what I did play this year (provided they were released in 2018):

  • Celeste. Game of the Year for me. Not close. A story-driven platformer with distinctive game mechanics, Celeste is to 2018 what Golf Story was in 2017: a pleasant surprise. The soundtrack from Lena Raine is addictive and the art direction is stellar, with bright colors offsetting the game’s very serious subject matter: mental health.
  • Super Mario Party. Sure, it’s not the greatest game in the world. There’s not a lot of boards or mini-games or whatever. But what is there is super fun. Stealing people stars still starts fights between loved ones, the different dice create a new element to the game, and the cooperative elements ease the tension a bit. Well done party game overall, and one of the best out there. Particularly if you’re like me and just not that into Smash. Yeah, I said it.
  • Octopath Traveler. I’d love to see a trailer for this video game that had the “in a world” guy doing it 8 different times. LOL. This Japanese-style turn-based RPG has 8 storylines that weave into a cohesive game. Coming from Square, it scratches that Final Fantasy itch for me, and is absolutely gorgeous to boot.