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My 2019 Recommendations

2019 has been a very different year of likes from 2018. In 2018, I had a pile of video and tabletop games that I had to debate amongst to fit in. This year, I’m grasping at games. In 2018, I wasn’t totally happy with my book choices. Yes I liked Crucial Conversations, but it isn’t really a good fit for a list like this. This year, I genuinely found two books that I loved.

Let’s get started with a book that I can’t guarantee that everyone will love but has probably become my favorite book of all time.

Book: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Recommended by the Mountain View Public Library sci-fi reading list

It’s really hard to follow-up on a masterpiece. I read Doomsday Book over the summer, loved it, and thought I had found Connie Willis’s best work.

And then I read To Say Nothing of the Dog.

In it, a time traveler goes on Victorian vacation after a previous job to find a bird stump. If you are skeptical how that premise takes 500 pages to resolve, then believe the Hugo and Nebula voters that it is worth it.

Where Doomsday Book (not required reading) was dark, this book is silly: I laughed out loud several times. The supporting characters are delightfully one dimensional. It has deep historical and literary references. And there is indeed a very prominent dog.

It is 500 pages, but it keeps building momentum up until an stunning payoff at the end. I thought I had figured it out, but I apparently only got the outer layer on this incredibly deep plot.

Video Game: Jackbox Party Pack

Played at my friend Scott’s party

Growing up, I played a lot of the trivia video game You Don’t Know Jack. As a kid, I didn’t know much trivia (especially pop culture), but it was goofy, clever, and mildly offensive.

The last version I played came out in 1999, so I assumed that the developers had gone under. Then, I went to a friend’s birthday party where we played the The Jackbox Party Pack 2, including my favorite, Fibbage.

The setup for Jackbox games is clever: the gaming console is the hub with the main action on the TV screen. All of the 2 to 8 players access a website on their phones to connect and use as their controllers. From there, you can play a wide variety of party and trivia games.

Jackbox is as quirky, offensive, and thoughtful as ever. In Fibbage, you are asked a difficult and weird trivia question, and everyone enters their guesses. All of these potential responses are put on the screen, and you have to figure out which one is real. Like Cards Against Humanity, you get a dark look into your friends’ minds, but at least you will learn a fun fact along the way.

Dish: Hainan Chicken

From the Phoenix Cafe in Toronto

When my family went to nice Chinese restaurants, we often had “yellow chicken.” The chicken was served cold with thin strips of meat on big bones, and you could see the bumps on the skin where I assume the feathers were plucked out. The chicken itself didn’t have much flavor, but when paired with this sauce made of ginger or garlic or scallions or whatever it was, it was delicious.

Recently, similar poached chicken dishes have become quite popular around the Bay Area, such as Hainan Chicken at Chicken Meets Rice and Khao Mun Gai at Rooster & Rice. The premise is the same: poach a chicken in a salted, lightly seasoned bath, cook rice using the resulting broth and chicken fat, and serve with sauce. It uses the entire chicken in a delicious meal, and although it takes some time and Asian ingredients, it’s totally doable at home.

I unfortunately don’t have any pictures, but I cooked it two or three times this past year. I took inspiration from these three recipes and have slowly adapted the technique to my kitchen and preferences.

Video Game: Katamari Damacy

First played in 2005 on my (now) brother-in-law’s PS2 in Austin while evacuating Houston for Hurricane Rita

Alright, this is the third recommendation in a row tinged with nostalgia. I guess some things age well, such as this hard-to-explain video game better left to a video.

This game is so weird: what sort of game has an upbeat theme song with swans just repeating the name of the game over and over? And the core gameplay is rolling a ball around to pick stuff up around town until you get big enough to pick up, uh, bigger stuff.

When I heard this game was re-released on Switch, I knew I had to get it. Although Julie and I usually play co-op games together, we played this single-player game together because it’s delightful to watch, too.

Web Series: Stuntmen React

I had never heard of the Corridor Crew before and honestly haven’t watched much of their other stuff. However, this series of videos, where they break down how stunts are done, is fascinating for any action movie fan.

They’re 15 minute YouTube videos, and the title is self-explanatory, so I’m not sure what else to say about it. It’s fun to see how stuntmen are walking away from some insane fights and falls. It’s impressive to see what crazy, real stuff stuntmen actually, really do. Julie and I are hooked.

Book: Factfulness

Read for Book Club on recommendation by President Obama and Bill Gates

By reading the news and social media, you might get a very scary impression about the state of the world. Well, Rosling has some pictures and data for you to recalibrate your worldview and think more factually going forward.

When I finished this book the first time, I liked it but only gave it 4 stars on Goodreads. Then I noticed the ideas rattling around in my mind. I cited birth rates in Iran to a friend. I noticed when I applied the Blame Instinct to find a scapegoat rather than understand the underlying causes for problems. It really stuck with me.

Even if you decide not to read this book, I highly recommend that you visit the corresponding Gapminder website that covers much of the same content. In fact, since this is the end of this blog post, do it right now and pretend like this post continues on their website.

Take the quiz. Play around with Dollar Street. Watch the TED Talk.

Final Thoughts

In reviewing my final choices, I really enjoyed nostalgia this year. I don’t think I specifically sought out the familiar, but maybe I’ll strive to find more novel experiences next year and see what I come back with in 2020.

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