Monday (1/1/18) 8:02pm - ... wherein Peter lists his favorite purchases and media of 2018.
The best things I bought this year were both educational purchases. Wanikani
has been a great system for learning the base set of 2,000 Japanese kanji. (I'm currently nearing 1,500.) But it's also been a great way to learn about memorization itself — how it's less about cramming, or reading things over and over, or even using the SRS flash-card system that wanikani is based on — and it's more the creative art of transforming boring information that your brain doesn't like to hold onto ("猫
") into interesting stories that your brain likes ("twenty animals lurking in a rice field — they are cats!").
Meanwhile, "Home School Piano"
was the online piano course I've been looking for for some time. I went through their three-year program in about five months, as a way to get back up to speed on my dusty old piano knowledge, and to prepare for their sister site, "Piano With Willie"
, which has more advanced courses. Their basic course did a great job of building from absolutely nothing to good, journeyman sight-reading and improvisation, including detours into basic blues, pop, and latin techniques. For what I'm looking to do with piano — to accompany myself competently on pop songs and to be able to solo a bit — that's exactly what I need.
This was also a year of good purchases for the cats. I bought some planters
and used them to plant little crops of wheatgrass, which the cats adore. They both really dig this "Da Bird" wand toy
. And finally, these window feeders
have proved adequately squirrel-proof and gave the cats hours of entertainment. (Now we just need the birds to rediscover them in the new house.)
Another year has brought another batch of kitchen purchases. This giant magnetic fridge whiteboard
is great for listing the current leftovers. This faucet-mounted water filter
was really handy (but, alas, incompatible with our fancy new kitchen). We organized all our *extra* kitchen stuff in the garage via some plastic bins and cool re-usable chalk-marker labels
. I found some big spray bottles
I like for various cleaning solutions. And finally, I bought a decent toaster
. I should have done this a long time ago — I use my toaster all the time, and the one I'd had was old, clunky, and hard to use.
There were a few electronics purchases I was really happy with. I spent $10 or so on bias lighting for my TV set
— it looks very pretty, and works fine with my universal remote. I bought a neat little stand for my work monitors
, putting them comfortably at eye level. I bought a new controller for my desk LEDs
that lets me control them via Alexa ("Alexa, turn my desk red!") And finally, I splurged on some (refurb) fancy noise-cancelling headphones
that are just astonishingly good at blocking out the world. Between that and my favorite white noise app
I can find peace and quiet nearly anywhere.
Finally, there are a couple of bathroom purchases that are perfect examples of "buy the nice version of that cheap thing you use every day". I splurged on some fancy Proraso aftershave
, which was just $14 for a bottle that should last me a year or two, and it smells very very nice. In the move, I lost the little one-minute sand timer I use for dental rinses.
So instead of spending $5 on a cheap plastic one, I spent $15 on this stupidly fancy one
, an "antique maritime replica" sand timer that's very pretty and quite satisfying to flip upside down. Such are the silly things that make me happy.
I didn't read or watch or play nearly enough this year, but I still have some clear favorites.
The best book I read this year was Lovecraft Country
, Matt Ruff's riveting genre novel that parallels Lovecraftian horror with the real-life nightmares of being African-American in the Jim Crow south. I can't wait to see what Jordan Peele does with this in his TV adaptation.
The best comic I read was Star Wars: Lando
, which uses that character to launch into a twisty heist narrative that had me in tears by the end. A close second was the "God-Butcher" run of Thor: God of Thunder
, which follows the Norse god through three different time periods to create an epic, cosmic-scale story of tragedy and redemption. (Also there are space laser sharks.) After those two, the rest of the field lags significantly behind.
Finally, the best audiocourse I listened to was English in America
, which has plenty of fascinating info for even the most dedicated amateur linguist.
My favorite movies for the year were pretty bog-standard. Yes, The Death of Stalin
was hilarious, Black Panther
made half the MCU look like amateur hour, and Lady Bird
made you feel achingly sorry for teenage!you. I just saw Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
, which is a must-see for its unique animation style alone. The Last Jedi
is battling it out with Empire
and New Hope
for best Star Wars
film of all time, but we all know that already. Among movies I finally caught up with, Paprika
is an absolute must-see for any animé fan (and then go watch every other thing Satoshi Kon ever did), John Wick
did a delightful job of knowing exactly what it was about and doing that, and Ex Machina
was a thoughtful, sci-fi chamber piece. They don't make them like that any more, and I guess they never made them like that in the first place.
I have to throw in a couple of recommendations for Kedi
, a documentary about the stray cats of Istanbul (just from that description, you know if you need to see it or not), and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
, which is every bit the light action-comedy it promises, but is great, silly delight to watch.
Television is a bit odd — I saw a lot of objectively good television, and season one of Legion
impressed me mightily in a lot of ways, but far and away my favorites were the first two
seasons of The Good Place
, a comedy about moral philosophy that feels like the truest successor to LOST
I've yet seen.
I saw tons of exceptional scripted theater this year — so much good work that picking favorites feels arbitrary. But I have to recognize these: Little Bird
, a gorgeous, lyrical meditation on the misogyny running under the surface in a Texas bayou town; We Are Proud to Present
, a (scripted) improv riff on an African genocide that goes terrifyingly off the rails; and, among sketch work, UpStaged
, an especially mind-bending comedy from the Back Pack Presents, who I always summarize as "it's like Michel Gondry decided to make live sketch comedy". If you didn't realize that was something you needed in your life, go see their next show.
Finally, video games. Gorogoa
, Gone Home
, and Life is Strange (Season 1)
are among my favorite games I've played in years, with all of them eschewing combat and quick reflexes to tell slow, contemplative stories. Gorogoa
had mind-bending puzzles and evocative, abstract storytelling. Gone Home
is a master class in storytelling via environmental exploration, and both it and Life Is Strange
evoke adolescent awkwardness and OMGEMOTIONS better than anything this side of Freaks and Geeks
. I got addicted to each of these, and loved every minute of gameplay.
_____ My teeth are in awful shape — at this point, if I don't care for them perfectly, things are gonna get real ugly (and expensive) real fast. Kids: FLOSS, FFS.