My Favorites of 2020 🥂

Detectives, underdogs, bad vs. good art, & the one wild place

It’s easy and lazy of me to wave off 2020 in a dumpster-fire style *gestures broadly* but in reality, there were some lovely things about this year. I won’t spend too much time in introduction. Here, for your enjoyment, is my collection of favorites from the year. And if you’re a Books & Crannies subscriber, I’d love to hear in the comments one of your favorites from at least one of these categories as well.

(Note: These are things I enjoyed in 2020, not necessarily things that were released for the first time in 2020. I’m a contented unapologetic troglodyte.)

Book, Fiction

• The entire Inspector Gamache series, by Louise Penny (also at Bookshop)

This was the year I caught up on this series. Well, I say that — I’m about halfway through the most recent book, All the Devils are Here, that released this fall. I read books 4 through 15, mostly via audiobook while gardening, and it will forever be seared in my brain as my pandemic escape. I felt like I mentally quarantined in Three Pines, which could be worse. I definitely loved some more than others — I think my favorite is the storyline crossover in The Brutal Telling and Bury Your Dead.

• Runner up: The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig (also at Bookshop)

I just finished this yesterday and it was a lovely way to end the year. It’s not highbrow literature or anything, but it’s a lovely reminder that our lives are what we make of them.


Book, Nonfiction

• Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper (also at Bookshop)

This classic book broke my brain but in a good way. It’d been on my TBR list for a while, and 2020 was the right year for me to read it. First written in 1952, the German philosopher explains the true definition of leisure, and why it really should be the end purpose of how we spend our time and structure our societies (because the true definition of ‘leisure’ is not how we define it today — weirdly, we derive our word ‘school’ from the original Greek word for leisure 🤯). So. Very. Good.

• Runner up: An Immovable Feast, by Tyler Blanski (also at Bookshop)

I read a lot in this genre in 2020, but this was the best — his backstory is nearly identical to mine, and he thinks kinda like me. I felt less alone in my spiritual journey.


Podcast

• Dear Hank & John

This wins as favorite of 2020 because our entire family enjoyed it together, and that’s increasingly rare for our wide ages and stages. We’d listen to it in the car on the way home from school and laugh, then have lovely follow-up conversations after. I love brothers Hank and John Green.

• Runner up: Pantsuit Politics

I mean… These ladies killed it in 2020. Talk about keeping us all sane. 💪


Movie

• A Hidden Life

This film by Terrence Malick released in 2019 but we finally watched it when the kids were away for a few days and we adults had sole control of the television. It’s hauntingly beautiful, slow (in a good, needful way), and thought-provoking. Gorgeous cinematography. Just right for 2020.

• Runner up: Soul

I’ll be honest — I had a hard time coming up with a runner up because not that many movies stood out to me this year. But we watched this a few days ago and I found it charming and meaningful, and this year could take as much of those two things available for the taking. My favorite Pixar films (Ratatouille, Up, Inside Out) are the ones that both make me think and warm my heart, and this one did it.


TV Series

• Father Brown

Like the podcast category, this one takes the main prize because of its family-bonding side effects. I’d already watched most of these episodes, but we rewatched the entire series this year with the kids (skipping a few episodes), and they adored it. It’s only loosely based on the beloved Chesterton character, but Mark Williams (aka Arthur Weasley) is so charming as the priest-detective it doesn’t matter. I’d move to Kembleford if it weren’t for all the murders. The opening tune of the show will forever take me back to spring 2020 when we couldn’t leave, so we traveled to the English countryside via screen.

• Runner up: Three-way tie between The Crown, The Great British Bake-Off, and The English Game

Season four of The Crown was dynamite (HOLY COW) and I binged it in a few days by myself. This wasn’t my favorite season of GBBO, but it never fails to charm and the whole family gets into it. The English Game was another crowd favorite around here; I wanted more but left fully satisfied.


YouTube Channel

• Stephen Colbert

Yes, this is a total cheater answer because he’s not a YouTuber and it’s not a YouTube show. But it’s where I watch clips of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert the day after it airs on regular TV, and he’s kept me sane in 2020. I love his humor, intellect, and relationship with his wife. The show only got better in lockdown.

• Runner up: Yoga With Kassandra

For the third year in a row, I’ve spent many a morning with Kassandra. I’ve grown to love yin yoga, and her 10-minute sessions are a great way to start the day.


Album

• Taylor Swift, Folklore

It’s such a basic, unoriginal, everyone’s-saying-this answer, but there it is. I’m digging a matured, more grown-up Taylor.

• Runner up: The Gray Havens, Instrumentals vol. 1

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of listening to this married folk duo, make haste to rectify the situation. They’re a delight.


Newsletter

• James Clear’s 3-2-1

Succinct yet packs a punch with its brevity, if you like my 5 Quick Things you’ll like Clear’s weekly letter. It’s one of my few must-opens in my inbox, and I’m always glad I did. Can be read in just a few minutes (which, as you know, is a welcome quality for me).

• Runner up: Brian Clark’s Further

This fits a niche I didn’t know I needed fitting: 40 to 50-year-old Gen Xers who still feel young. I don’t read everything here, but it’s worth a weekly skim for me.


Article

• Bad Art Warps our Vision, by Leah Libresco

Libresco is one of my favorite writers these days because she helps me corral and frame what I’m already thinking but with accessible vocabulary. “We should object to prurient songs and stories not because they made our cultural landscape too narrow, but because they are fundamentally untruthful—and thus bad art.” Fantastic thoughts here on why good art matters.

• Runner up: Sitting Till Bedtime, by Blake Mayes

Written in late spring, this succinct essay was a refreshing take on not going anywhere, and it came at just the right time for me.


Habit

• Subscribing to things that matter to me

I’d already done this for a few years, but I felt compelled to up my game during lockdown out of appreciation for so many independent creators who make my life better. 2020 was the year I finally put more of my money where my mouth is and subscribed with my cash-money to a variety of Substack newsletters (like the one you’re reading right now!), Patreon accounts, and news outlets. If you’re a fan of a democratic internet, might I encourage you to do the same? Remember, if you don’t pay for it you’re the product, not the customer.

• Runner up: CrossFit

I went to my first CrossFit at 7 am on January 6, and it was me and four insanely fit guys. I was nervous as hell and sore for days afterward, but I kept coming back. I showed up at this box (gym) two to three times a week until lockdown when they gave us daily at-home workouts that still kicked my butt. Tate joined me halfway through, and we kept at it. The box relocated 20 minutes away near the start of the school year so we paused our membership, and we miss it. I’ve taken up running and kept up my yoga, but it’s not the same. 2020 will forever be for me the year I finally tried something I thought would kill me. And it didn’t.


Quote

• I reread this one several times during lockdown:

"Of all modern notions, the worst is this: that domesticity is dull. …Inside the home, they say, is dead decorum and routine; outside is adventure and variety. But the truth is that the home is the only place of liberty, the only spot on earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. The home is not the one tame place in a world of adventure; it is the one wild place in a world of rules and set tasks." - GK Chesterton

• Runner up: "Do few things, but do them well. Simple joys are holy." - St. Francis


Tool, Analog

• Instant Pot

I’ve had this for a few years, but boy howdy did I use it a lot in the Year of our Lord 2020. I didn’t keep track, but I’d safely wager a third of our at-home meals were made in this beloved machine. In fact, I bought myself a larger one during a Black Friday sale and I’m still enamored.

• Runner up: Chirp

Yeah, I caved and bought this from Instagram but it’s admittedly fantastic. My back is stronger and hurts much less. 👵🏼


Tool, Digital

• Pocket

I’ve used Pocket for years, but I really appreciated its ability to help me concentrate during this year of low concentration and short attention spans. I made a habit of opening Pocket before any social media app, and I’d read a long-form article I already bookmarked before scrolling mindlessly through headlines and 240-word count tweets.

• Runner up: Libby

Audiobooks were a saving grace this year, and so was our library card. Libby helped keep the audiobooks at a steady flow in our household.


Specific-to-Lockdown Purchase

• Inflatable Pool

It was late March when I thought, “Hmm…. I wonder if a backyard pool might help this year?” It’s impossible to survive a Texas summer with any semblance of outside time without swimming, and I had an inkling public pools and swimming holes might be closed. So, I bought a large inflatable pool on a whim, and I am so glad I did. It was tacky, it got dirty, and it killed our grass underneath, but it was worth every penny — especially because it skyrocketed in price mere weeks after I bought it. Money very well spent.

• Runner up: BritBox

We finally admitted to our Anglophile ways and subscribed to BritBox so we could fully nerd out on British television. Hasn’t done us wrong.


Event / Moment

• Creating our backyard garden

Years from now when I think of the coronavirus pandemic, I have a feeling I’ll think of our first truly successful backyard garden. We were home, and we had time to cultivate our land. Tate and I bonded over countless gardening how-to videos, long afternoons working the soil, and tending an insane bounty of cucumbers, peppers, and basil (with a so-so yield of tomatoes, squash, strawberries, and watermelon). I learned so much about gardening this year, and I’m eager for spring 2021 to start again.

• Runner up: Getting chickens

We’re still a few weeks away from getting our first eggs, but 2020 pushed us to finally building a chicken coop and buying our first brood of hens. Of course, one turned out to be a rooster that is now crowing loudly (anyone want a rooster?) and two poor girls were eaten by a raccoon. I’m no Ma Ingalls is what I’m saying here. Yet we’re giving it a go, and so far it’s fun. (But I’m also ready for some eggs.)


Tweet

• Runner up:


Alright, that’s my wrap for 2020 — begone and don’t come back (the year, not you, Dear Reader).

For my penultimate post on AoS I’ve dusted off and republished one of your favorites — 20 questions for a New Year’s Eve reflection — and check there tomorrow for the for-real final, last post of AoS. After 12 years, it’s a bittersweet thing, but it’s time and I’m more than ready.

To those who subscribe to Books & Crannies, thank you. You make my work possible. I’m grateful. And I hope you enjoyed your coffee last week! I’d love to hear in the comments: what’s (at least) one of your favorite things from the categories above? I’m sure I’ve forgotten something and your answers will make me slap my forehead.

Happy New Year, all! 🍾

xoxo, Tsh