The books, movies, podcasts, music, and more that our editors couldn't stop talking about—all year long
There are a lot of ways to feel overwhelmed this time of year, including the sheer number of Best of 2018 lists being fire-hosed into the great void of the internet. Here we offer yet another list of our favorite things of the year, in hopes that, instead of overstimulation, you’ll find the same joy we did in these media gems (or at least one incredible cat story).
The Best Things We Read
Environmental journalism, while incredibly important, can be difficult to make compelling. We’ve all heard the same story so many times that our eyes glaze when we hear of yet another hubristic industry polluting its surroundings, impacting the environment and residents, and absolving itself of responsibility. Eliza Griswold, however, makes us care in her book Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by going deep into the story of a Pennsylvania family’s experience when the fracking industry comes to town. Her account is nuanced and deeply moving and an example of environmental journalism at its best.
—Luke Whelan, research editor
Thank you to Albert Chu’s (very good) Links newsletter for alerting me to the existence of “Nuance: A Love Story” on Medium. Longtime Los Angeles Times opinion columnist Meghan Daum writes about our desperate need for nuance in the context of two breakups: one with her husband and one with her very smart friends. At least recently, I’ve been wondering how deep of an echo chamber I’m living in. I miss agreeing to disagree and thinking hard after a complicated conversation. This piece has me thinking of ways to truly be more open-minded. And it comforts me to know that someone else has a problem with the self-important tone many of us use when discussing anything political. There should be space to change our minds without getting disowned by the people we love, or even just room to say, “I don’t know what I think yet.”
—Jenny Earnest, social media manager
I mentioned how much I loved I’ll Be Gone in the Dark when I was halfway through it back in March, but since then, I’ve come to love it even more. This is more than your average serial-killer story. In the seventies and eighties, the East Area Rapist and Golden State Killer left a trail of at least 50 sexual assault and 12 murder victims in California. (It was later discovered that these crimes were committed by the same man.) Michelle McNamara, one of the original true crime bloggers who was around long before the genre sprouted a gazillion podcasts, docuseries, and books, spent years working with victims, court records, and law enforcement to help identify the Golden State Killer. When Michelle died in the middle of writing I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, her husband worked with researchers and writers to finish it. Two years after her death, and less than two months after the release of the book, Joseph DeAngelo was arrested. I think many would agree that Michelle’s work had a lot to do with the continued attention placed on the investigation that ultimately led to his arrest. As a longtime Michelle fan, I cried when DeAngelo was taken into custody, thinking about how she’ll never know just how how many victims and victims’ families she helped and how much those long nights spent combing through old police reports paid off.
—Abigail Wise, online managing editor
This isn’t very highbrow, but I think it should be on every single Outside reader’s list. Mrs. Chippy’s Last Great Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton’s Polar-Bound Cat is exactly as it sounds: Shackleton’s famous South Pole expedition as recounted from the perspective of the ship’s pet feline. Written by Caroline Alexander, who also wrote The Endurance, the book is based on real entries from the journals of surviving crew members, many of whom recorded detailed anecdotes of Mrs. Chippy’s goings-on. Humor aside, I like the journal because it’s a refreshing change from the typical adventure narrative and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a quick, light read, and it will make you laugh even if you’re not a cat person.
—Ariella Gintzler, assistant editor
There’s a lot of writing about the West, and a lot of it is bad—egocentric, idealized, and tainted with toxic masculinity, xenophobia, or a misguided idea of wilderness. In The Solace of Open Spaces, Gretel Ehrlich navigates around these pitfalls with lucid, restrained prose about her life in Wyoming. This book was published in 1985, but I read it in early 2018, at just the right time. I had moved across the country twice in three months, landed in the American West, and didn’t know what to do with so much sky. The Solace of Open Spaces helped.
—Abigail Barronian, assistant editor
When I picked up Call Me American, I didn’t register author Abdi Nor Iftin as the Somali refugee whose story I’d once early-morning cried over (never listen to NPR while trying to apply mascara). As I read, I realized we both grew up in Mogadishu at the same time. His descriptions of Mog took me back to memories I didn’t know I had. The similarities between us end there, as Iftin went on to endure the atrocities of famine and constant violence. Ultimately, his survival-against-all-odds story is an inspiring testament to his incredible determination and strength of character. I, for one, am proud to call Iftin an American, and while his story isn’t a light read, it’s a must-read.
—Nicole Barker, marketing manager
Lots of authors have written about alcohol, or about quitting it, or about trying to quit and failing and trying again.... So Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath joins a stuffed library, but it really stuck with me. She shares her own journey to sobriety with characteristic thoughtfulness but gives equal page time to artists who struggled with alcohol in the past century and explores how addicts continue to be let down by society. If you’ve followed Jamison’s work over the years, one bonus is seeing her well-known books and essays—like the time she observed the grueling Barkley Marathons, which her brother ran—make cameos throughout.
—Erin Berger, senior editor
The Best Things We Listened To
A Collection of Fleeting Moments and Daydreams is the first full-length album from Orion Sun, the one-woman project of Philadelphia native Tiffany Majette. It’s mellow, sweet, and soulful and has carried me through the whole year. A little groovy, a little synthy, and a little poppy, it’s the kind of music I want to listen to with morning coffee and on long solo drives—but it makes me want to dance, too.
The Cut on Tuesdays is definitely the best new podcast I listened to this year. It’s a podcast from the editors at New York magazine’s The Cut, and the subjects have varied widely so far, including politics (analyzing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s win), literature (revisiting Elena Ferrante’s novels), and culture (a deep dive into the state of pubic hair). They’ve also launched a How I Get It Done series where they interview ambitious women about their lives. The show is smart, funny, and well-rounded, and it often leaves me bugging my friends to download the episode I just listened to.
—Molly Mirhashem, associate editor
Meet the Creatives has been my go-to podcast all year. Although it’s geared toward designers, I think anyone can find interest in knowing how the design lead at Google Creative Lab came to acquire his position or the advice the global marketing manager at Facebook has to give. It’s inspiring to hear the voices behind the design and a great way to get the day moving.
—Petra Zeiler, art director
This year, The New Yorker Radio Hour featured David Remnick’s usual interviews with luminaries and celebrities that appear in his magazine’s pages. But sometimes Remnick handed over the mic, and that’s when things got really good. I loved Thomas McGuane interviewing Callan Wink while fishing on the Yellowstone River and listening to Daniel Radcliffe conduct a fact-check call in preparation for his musical The Lifespan of a Fact. But my favorite episode was Scott Carrier’s story about the controversy surrounding the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail, which runs east to west from Glacier National Park to the Pacific Ocean. One of its stops is Montana’s Yaak Valley, where some locals advocated for the trail and the access it brought to one the most beautiful places in the world. But others think the area should be left alone to avoid disrupting the pristine ecosystem. Carrier empathetically shows both sides of an age-old conservation debate and makes it fresh again.
The 1975 released its third album, A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, on November 30, and as a die-hard fan of the band, I’ve been listening to it religiously. Is it my favorite album of theirs? Impossible to decide. The thing about these guys is that they don’t adhere to genre: they entered the limelight situated solidly in British alternative pop-rock back in 2013, their second album featured a lot of gospel sounds, and this third album has a song that’s just a male Siri voice talking. Standout songs like “Love It If We Made It,” “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” “Sincerity Is Scary,” and “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)” will probably air on the radio, but take some time to listen to the group’s tinier works of art, like “Give Yourself a Try” and “How To Draw/Petrichor.” I could write a million more things about this band and this album, but I’ll leave it at this: if you need more consistency in your life, it’s not for you.
—Madeleine LaPlante-Dube, editorial production fellow
Please never stop making podcasts, Nora McInerny. Terrible, Thanks for Asking is the most inspiring, depressing, hopeful, educational, love-filled, gut-wrenching, and relatable podcast I have ever listened to.
—Katie Cruickshank, digital marketing manager
The Best Things We Watched and Otherwise Experienced
I loved Free Solo not just for Alex Honnold’s daring but for the details it offered about the climber’s life (like the fact he’d never been hugged growing up). And honestly, it made me proud that Outside has evolved to honor and worship an athlete as humble as he is hardworking—we’ve come a long way since Lance.
—Tasha Zemke, copy editor
If you haven’t watched To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before yet, get on it. It’s a purely escapist high-school romance, the kind I would have watched over and over again in my teens (and the kind I watched twice in my twenties). The leads—Lana Condor and Noah Centineo—are likable and talented, and for the span of an hour and a half, they had me believing that teen romance could involve something other than awkward prom dates and tangled braces.
As we wrote in our review, Andy Irons: Kissed by God was not a perfect film. It glossed over the role that the surf industry played in the death of the larger-than-life surfer. But it was also a compelling portrait of one of the most talented athletes in the world, who brought his sport to incredible highs while struggling with the fame that came with it and the lack of resources around him to to take care of his mental health.
I loved The Dawn Wall, the documentary about Tommy Caldwell’s obsession to free-climb this impossibly difficult 3,000-foot rock face on El Capitan. While the climbing footage is incredible, what fascinated me more is Caldwell’s psychological journey, from an awkward young boy who turned to climbing to impress his father and feel confident, to narrowly surviving a kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan and how he had to risk killing a man to escape, to the pain he felt in the aftermath of his divorce from climber Beth Rodden. Then there’s the climbing itself: the way Caldwell makes his way up the wall is mind-blowing to see, finding holds in the tiniest of cracks. I also really admired how he handled the incredible media firestorm that the Dawn Wall attempt generated while he was on it, and how he took care of his climbing partner, Kevin Jorgeson, along the way. There’s way more depth to this film than your average climbing movie.
—Mary Turner, deputy editor
Mid90s is a coming-of-age story directed by Jonah Hill that follows a 13-year-old boy, Stevie (Sunny Suljic), as he tries to fit in with a new group of friends he meets at a skate shop. He has his first cigarette and his first kiss, and he works so hard to fit in with his new crew. The raw dialogue, cinematography shot on 16-millimeter film, and nostalgic soundtrack with songs from the likes of Morrissey and A Tribe Called Quest all made this the best movie. I was hesitant to bring my mom along, but out of the whole theater she was the one laughing the loudest and crying the hardest.
I don’t know if it’s just because it is the time of year for ski movies, but Matchstick Productions’ film for 2019, All In, makes me giddy. Watching the shredders (of all genders—there isn’t a token female and this isn’t a chick-only flick either) in their element is inspiring, heartwarming, and so motivating.
I’m not much of a cook, and cooking shows almost never appeal to me. But the Netflix documentary series Salt Fat Acid Heat is so captivating that it almost inspired me to up my own cooking game. (Regardless, it definitely changed the way I think about food.) The show follows author and chef Samin Nosrat to various countries as she explores the four fundamentals of good cooking. She visits a Parmesan cheese factory in Italy and observes the art of miso-making in Japan, revealing the fascinating behind-the-scenes processes that go into perfecting foundational ingredients. It’s a compelling window into the cultures she spotlights, but the best part of the show is Nosrat: she’s charming and hilarious, and she simultaneously makes you marvel at what she can do with food while also making you (almost) believe you could try it yourself.
I’m going to tell you why you should watch a Japanese reality show even though you may hate reality shows and may not speak Japanese. The new-to-American Netflix series Terrace House: Opening New Doors features snowboarding, a cozy cabin, mild-mannered drama, and one hockey player with the greatest, most emotional backstory of all time—all in the recreation-friendly town of Karuizawa, Japan. It’s the most therapeutic way you could possibly spend your accursed screen time.
I’ve got to give a little shout-out to the series I have been following since 2017, Return of the Turn. To say I’m obsessed may be an understatement. I have so much appreciation for this series—it has started a movement in skiing to make the simple turn cool again. Slaying groomers and bump runs, Marcus Caston is skiing’s new hero.
I just saw Springsteen on Broadway at New York City’s Walter Kerr Theater in its last week of the show, and it’s now on Netflix. I loved every boot-tapping, heart-pulling, tear-jerking, hilarious, moving, honest second of it. Bruce for president!
—Hannah McCaughey, design and photography director
This year my deep love for Sandra Oh (Cristina Yang forever) multiplied after watching the TV show Killing Eve. Oh plays an MI6 investigator tracking down the skilled female assassin Villanelle, played with an expert mix of cutesy and creepy by Jodie Comier. Every episode is a perfect blend of comedy, suspense, and action—no surprise, as it was created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, creator, writer, and star of another great multifaceted series, Fleabag.
—Kelsey Lindsey, assistant editor
Call Me By Your Name was a heady rush of beauty from start to finish. I know everyone raves about the performance of Timothée Chalamet, but the most honest, captivating moment in the film is the heartfelt talk that his father (Michael Stuhlbarg) gives him at the end. That, too, was true love.
If I were a judge for the Oscars, Three Identical Strangers would be my pick for best documentary. It’s about three identical triplets who were separated at birth. After reuniting, they dig into their past and discover an unimaginable and disturbing secret that will, no joke, have your jaw on the floor in disbelief. There is way too much I could spoil, so all I’m going to tell you is that if you have not seen it, please do.