Before writing my new recommendations, I reviewed my past recommendations and noticed mostly games and long-form content. I usually like those, but that’s not what I found this year. This year, it was mostly shorter, non-interactive online content.
That fits with my 2020. I also have written about several of these recommendations already, so I will include a short recap and then link to my other blog post.
Video Game: Getting Over It (with Bennett Foddy)
This game is intentionally, stupidly frustrating and finicky. It is blatantly pointless, and the game creator narrates about failure while you play. I can’t really explain why I enjoyed it, but I think it just felt like the ultimate game. Games are valuable in their own right without further purpose and require mastering some specific skills often through repetition. Getting Over It crushes on both of those measures.
See my previous blog post for more.
Online Class: nand2tetris
I have struggled to learn much with online classes in the past. However, nand2tetris is so well-designed that it doesn’t need the offline reinforcement. And it taught me how computers and programming languages actually work, which seems pretty important since I make a living as a software engineer.
See my previous blog post for more.
TV Show: Galavant
Fantasy musical comedy? Yes please. Julie found a recommendation on reddit for D&D players, and we finished it on Netflix in about a week. Alan Menken, the composer for many 90s Disney movies, does the music for this show, too. The soundtrack is just as catchy but with lyrics swapped out for pure hilarity.
Galavant is a tough recommendation because I think it is a niche interest. I’m not surprised that it only lasted 2 half-seasons, but especially this year, I loved how silly it was.
Book: Know My Name
During this year, I really preferred happy, optimistic entertainment. This book, written by “Jane Doe” the Buzzfeed rape victim statement, is not that. It’s a painful retelling of her experience for the years after her rape. However, it really struck me because although her life is completely unlike mine in many ways, it also felt close to home because it all happened with a few miles of where I live.
See my Goodreads review for deeper thoughts on that.
Video Series: Fundamentals of Small Arms
I’m not at all a gun person. However, I do enjoy old-school, black-and-white, educational videos where the narrator starts with “hey you down there!” and breaks down concepts into basic parts with clever models.
This series goes through the construction of guns and how different mechanisms evolved to address various problems. Ignoring the fact that it’s about guns, it’s just good engineering.
I love cherries. I buy pounds and pounds of them during the few weeks while they’re fresh because I know they will be gone soon. However, I had no idea what it takes to get not just me cherries for $3 per pound, but to supply an entire nation.
I have occasionally heard stories about how difficult the life of farmworkers is, and this story really packs that altogether into the entire system. It both feels close to home being about cherries but also deeply insightful into a life I feel blessed to not be concerned with.
And I will never complain about the price of cherries again.
A few months ago, I was on my phone in bed and stumbled across Nussbaum’s blog. Soon, I had looked through 10 years of her archives and bookmarked a dozen posts to read.
Nussbaum reviews all sorts of sci-fi and fantasy books, movies, and TV shows, from mainstreams movies like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to so many things I never heard of. However, she doesn’t just “review” them like movie ratings in the newspaper: she does deep critical analysis about the ideas, themes, and structure of these stories.
I actually often disagree with her analysis and recommendations. However, her posts are always incredibly thoughtful and a great way to engage with media more deeply.
TV Show: The Good Place
This show was actually an Abigail Nussbaum recommendation. Earlier this year, I had binged and loved Michael Schur’s Parks and Recreation, so it was easy to jump into another sitcom.
I think this show jumped out at me for two reasons. First, I loved the use of moral philosophy. Like much of philosophy, the show doesn’t necessarily give explanations, but it uses the concepts as compelling premises to explore in each exercise. Also I felt smart when I was familiar with a reference.
Second, the show is generally quite optimistic. When everything is bleak, it was nice to want to root for every character and for the twists to be new challenges, not gut punches.
Of course, I enjoyed Black Panther even before watching this video. It’s not just a fun Marvel movie: it’s a good movie. However, I had always criticized the premise of Black Panther and Wakanda: how can the most advanced civilization on the planet be ruled by a hereditary monarchy validated by ritual combat?
Well, Colville completely refutes that argument and tells us what Black Panther really has to say about power.
This classic book a veterinarian in early 20th century rural England dealing with calls at all hours for local farmers. Not only was the setting and experience entirely new to me, it’s again just an optimistic book. Herriot has a seemingly difficult and stressful job, but he comes at it with a good sense of humor.
See my Goodreads review for more.
Board Game: Terra Mystica
Terra Mystica is a worker placement game where you compete with other players to build out your faction on a hexagonal map. I haven’t thought this hard about a game since Agricola, and I loved it.
I played it turn-based on Board Game Arena, and I wonder whether it could be frustratingly slow in real-time. However, I welcome all those interested to an asynchronous game online where you can take as long as you like for each turn.
This year’s recommendations were definitely quantity over quality: I think only Getting Over It solidly gets 5/5 stars from me. Maybe all of my emotions are a little dampened this year. There were enough striking and transformational things happening this year that I’m glad I had even these positive experiences to enjoy.