• Liz Breen

Year in Review: 18 Things I Loved in 2018



If you've followed the news at all (or really just logged on to any social media site for even a nanosecond), you know this year was really just one dumpster fire of a headline after another. But I want to take a break from the Panic Machine known as 2018 and talk about some things that helped make this year great. After all, science says a little gratitude can go a long way (and we still believe in science, right?)


BOOKS


This year, I exceeded my reading goal and finished nearly 40 books. These were my top 6 (because it was too hard/I'm too lazy to whittle that down to 5).


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones


My favorite book of 2018, and Oprah loved it, too, so you know I'm not just talking crazy.


This book centers around a wrongful conviction, which has left the main characters — Celeste, Roy and Andre — feeling helpless, confused and indignant. Each of the three is so filled with wanting that it's often palpable, and while you know that each can't ultimately get what they most desire, you find yourself rooting for them all anyway.


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee


This was the biggest surprise of the year for me. Normally, I'm not compelled by the saga structure, where the story spans several generations; I find I'm more drawn to books that follow an individual or a small group of characters over a shorter stretch of time. However, after hearing Min Jin Lee give this inspiring keynote address I wanted to give Pachinko a shot, if only to support such a wonderful person. I'm so glad I did. I was wholly invested in every member of this family, across every generation, while also learning a hell of a lot about the Korean and Japanese histories and cultures.


Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran


I heard somewhere that reading fiction makes you more empathetic, and this novel really demonstrates how that's possible. It was the first book I read in 2018, and I couldn't have asked for anything more timely. The story follows two women — one an undocumented Mexican immigrant, the other a well-to-do young wife struggling with infertility — as they fight for custody of the same child. To quote the book itself, "it's one with no right ending."


Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport


Unusually for me, this was a year of growth-oriented nonfiction reads. Particularly, I've been interested in books pertaining to simplification in its various forms, with all its various benefits. And while most of what I've read on this subject has provided a few good tips or words of inspiration, Deep Work completely changed the way I approach my writing and my relationship with technology — particularly my cell phone — for the better. The latter change (which I wrote about briefly here) has been so beneficial that I've already preordered Cal's next book, Digital Minimalism, with the hopes that it will help me downsize this area of my life even further.


Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee


Oy mama. With vivid portrayals of mental illness, this book is one that's both hard to swallow and hard to put down. Centering around the lives of two sisters, it's also a compelling look at familial bonds and the burdens that come with loving someone unconditionally.


Educated by Tara Westover


I finished this one just last week; my husband got it for me because he said it sounded "kinda cult-y, which I know you like." He's right about that. Cult-y is totally my jam. And while after finishing this memoir, I actually wouldn't categorize the author's upbringing as a cult or cult-adjacent, it's fascinating nonetheless. What I found myself admiring most was the way in which Westover genuinely tried to understand her family members' motivations, even in their worst moments. Did she excuse their behavior? No. But she always treated them like (deeply flawed) humans instead of villains in her personal narrative, which made for a much more interesting read.


TELEVISION


Quite frankly, my husband and I have been consciously limiting our TV consumption as of late, not leaving the TV on in the background or channel surfing until we "find something to watch." Instead, we only turn on the television when we have a specific show in mind and only when we are going to watch it undistracted. And while our current show, Ozark, is looking promising (if not a little anxiety-producing), these are 3 of my other favorites from throughout the year.


Feel Good TV


This isn't one particular show, but rather a new genre that's seemed to emerge which includes Great British Baking Show, Queer Eye and Making It. They're light and fun and, yeah, they just make you feel good. And I think, given the aforementioned perpetual dumpster fire that is this planet, we could all use a little more of that.


America To Me


We watched this on Starz, though I think it's also available on Prime video. The 10-episode docuseries follows a group of students at a high school just outside of Chicago that's hailed for its racial diversity. And while statistically, the school is diverse, that doesn't mean it has race all figured out. From the students to the teachers to the larger administration, the filmmakers come at these issues from all sides in a way that's incredibly informative and thought-provoking.


West Wing


Yeah, like the show that premiered 20 years ago. Technically, my husband and I started watching this in 2017, after he told me he'd never even seen a single episode before. But with 7 seasons and 22 episodes a season, it took us well into 2018 to finish it. Impressively (or should I say sadly?) the issues confronted on the show — from gun control to North Korea — are still amazingly relevant. And in light of the now twice-aforementioned searing hot dumpster fire that is present day Earth, the Bartlett White House provides a nice (if temporary and fictional) political sanctuary.


PODCASTS


Years ago, I inhaled Season 1 of Serial like everyone else, but it wasn't until this past year that I've really started to explore the greater podcast sphere, and I'm happy to report there's so much more to the medium than true crime podcasts and This American Life.


Criminal


Okay, okay. I know what I just said about true crime podcasts. And Criminal is technically a true crime podcast. But it's not just another true crime podcast. Every episode has a different topic, and while some cover crimes like murder, most cover crime-adjacent topics, like police dogs and the origin of the phrase "420." My absolute favorite episode is called "He's Neutral." It's about how the installation of a random buddha statue in Oakland, CA reduced neighborhood crime by something like 80% (don't quote me on that figure; listen to the episode for yourself).


Launch


I'm not really sure how I stumbled across this one, and frankly, I've never talked to anyone else who has listened to it. But similar to Great British Baking Show and Queer Eye, I love Launch because listening to it just makes you feel happy. It's a one-and-done kind of podcast with only 9 episodes. It follows the journey of a YA novel from its ideation through its publication and subsequent book tour, covering topics from font selection to cover art. Writer of the book and host of the podcast John August is so enthusiastic and curious about every stage of the process, and as a listener, that attitude is infectious.


The Minimalists Podcast


Like I said earlier, this has been a year of simplification for me — reading about it, implementing it — and you can't really get too far into that field without stumbling across The Minimalists. The duo has been around for 10-ish years and have 3 books and a documentary on Netflix, but I've definitely found the most value from their weekly podcast. Now, I will admit that they talk about David Foster Wallace more than I feel any white man should, and the earlier episodes of the podcast feel very repetitive. However, I think they've hit their stride in later episodes, particularly guest episodes. While I don't always agree with everything they say, it's a nice way to add some perspective to my morning commute, and I've appreciated the people they've introduced me to, like Cal Newport (of my beloved Deep Work) and TK Coleman.


PROFESSIONAL


This year was my first full year working as Creative Director at Viewpoint Creative here in Boston, which means I made a living making cool things. Which makes me pretty damn lucky. But out of all the cool things, I think these two were the absolute coolest.


NBC10 Boston Image Spot



At my company, we get the chance to work with clients like HBO, Showtime and National Geographic. So by comparison, creating an image spot for a local news station might not seem as exciting. But I'm not even gonna be shy in saying I'm pretty in love with this. Definitely one of the most fun shoots I've ever had the chance to be on (how often do you get to take a construction elevator 60 stories into the air?!), and I feel like we avoided the cliches and were able to truly capture the spirit of this city I call home.


The Agency Playset



Every year, Viewpoint goes a little nuts making their annual holiday greeting. But this year we went a whole lot nuts making videos for a fake toy company. The main spot — The Agency Playset — was featured on The CW's Greatest Holiday Videos, but we made plenty (plenty) more. You can check out the rest here.


PERSONAL


Last but certainly not least, here's to people and events that made my little slice of the world that much better in 2018.


This Publication


My story, "The Woman on the Roof," was published in the Kenyon Review back in March. Nine months later, I still can't quite wrap my head around it. My story. In the Kenyon Freaking Review. (I just checked the hyperlink to make sure it still actually works, and they didn't take it down due to reader complaints or anything.)


This Day


If I had to pick a favorite day, it would be this one from July — driving and hiking along Iceland's Golden Circle, being dazzled by the landscape, getting soaked in the rain and drying off inside a tomato greenhouse turned restaurant.


This Human


My husband, who has always been the best of partners and supportive of all my craziest, most impulsive ideas. However, he really deserves an award for all he has done in 2018. While this pregnancy has not included many hormonal episodes (IT HASN'T, OKAY?!), it has come with some crippling back pain in this last trimester, and this guy has shuttled me to doctors appointments as well as handled 80% of all the cooking and cleaning without complaint.


This Unborn Human



I promised my husband if he did a maternity shoot with me, the photos would be for private viewing only. And here I am, posting a photo from that maternity shoot online. But like I said, he's incredibly supportive, so he won't mind. Plus he probably knew I was lying when I told him that anyway. Anywho, what I'm trying to say is, I'm very excited to meet our son in just a few weeks, and I'd like to apologize to him publicly in advance for having absolutely no idea what I'm doing.