LYTA GOLD (AMUSEMENTS AND MANAGING EDITOR): You did get to play Squid Lawyer at the live show, clearly the breakout character of the year. Many critics marveled at your ability to “ad-lib” and “improvise” on stage. The New Yorker gushed, “Abraham’s undulating tentacles embodied both the spirit of a squid and the spirit of a lawyer—even without a script!!!”
NICK SLATER (NEWSLETTER EDITOR): Favorite Nathan J. Robinson non sequitur of the year: “I am a man with pants on!”
NATHAN J. ROBINSON (EDITOR-IN-CHIEF): Do you remember why I chose to say this?
SLATER: I assumed it was just the kind of thing you blurt out all day, like “look at that flower!” or “wow, beetles!”
ABRAHAM: Alternatively we could talk about how fragile every aspect of our lives is and how we live at the whims of random solar storms. But okay fine, to stay on task: I’m reading Zealot by Reza Aslan and so far I really like it please don’t tell me it’s bad. Might be on a Jesus kick since Pete Davis inspired me to read a book about the mercies (The Works of Mercy by James Keenan) and it was lovely. Anyway, I’ve only just started Zealot but it’s about Jesus as an activist in the political context of first century Jerusalem and what that must have been like leaving aside whether he was the messiah or performed miracles. It opens with this very detailed and vivid description of the assassination of the high priest Jonathan in the temple and it’s riveting.
GOLD: Genuinely shocked there’s no high-budget, overlong, oversexualized TV show about the life of Jesus yet.
ABRAHAM: Honestly they could do it about any of the messianic anarcho-communists wandering around the area in that time period and I would eat that shit up.
GOLD: “Best-ofs” the year are hard because I can’t remember what I read/watched this year versus last. I can start with what I’m enjoying right now: binging The Rise of Phoenixes, which is my and Rennix’s beautiful, sometimes incoherent new favorite thing. It’s a court intrigue set in a fictionalized Chinese dynasty (8th century or so I think), and while technically it’s a TV show—70 episodes!!!—it’s really more like a very long movie with arbitrary breaks. The characters are complex and just wonderful—the long season allows for lots of development, and lets you see all these different sides of people, including their explorations of gender (there’s a LOT of cross-dressing). But basically it’s just extremely my shit: I love all cross-dressing court-intrigue costume dramas that look pretty as hell and ask good questions about power.
Otherwise I am loving:
- A book of short stories by Joan Vinge, who is one of these criminally forgotten women scifi writers from the 70s-80s.
- N.K. Jemisin’s short story collection which I mostly think is absolutely brilliant but once in a while I get frustrated by her centrist-liberal politics.
- I am FINALLY reading the graphic novel series Saga, it is so extremely good and beautiful and sexy and funny and thoughtful. There are nine volumes of Saga out now and I am a dumb idiot for not starting it earlier, it’s this incredible, totally original space opera.
Oh, and it’s been a good year for myth adaptations: I read Circe by Madeline Miller and The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley (no, Aisling, it’s not a wife guy book, it’s a Beowulf retelling). Anyway both are gorgeously written and genuinely magical: you kind of sink into the myth as you read. R.O. Kwon’s The Incendiaries is about religion not myth but it has this similar drawing-you-in quality, except the world you fall into is airless and alienating, with all the magic drained out. It’s great.
Movies: Parasite was excellent, really tense and fucked-up and haunting. Knives Out was a joy: I haven’t had that much fun at a movie in a long time.
BRIANNA RENNIX (SENIOR EDITOR): Two of my favorite things from 2019 were both brought into my life by Lyta Gold: the novel The Dead House by Harry Bingham (a murder mystery partially set at a monastery!) and the aforementioned The Rise of Phoenixes (WE ARE ONLY TWO-SEVENTHS OF THE WAY IN, NO ONE TELL US IF IT SUCKS LATER). Also the filmography of the Indian actor Hrithik Roshan, an extremely attractive man with three thumbs and some truly bizarre typecasting.
And although it’s not a 2019 original, every two years I rewatch the first 1 3/4 seasons of The Tudors. It’s a terrible fucking show and I LOVE IT. Let’s count the reasons:
- Better boob-to-rape ratio than Game of Thrones.
- Late medieval/early modern soundtrack means I get to go “oh hey I love that song” more than normal shows.
- Amazing dialogue like Henry VIII going “I HATE TIME ITSELF” and gesturing weakly at an astrolabe.
- Despite showrunners’ best efforts to sexify, significant part of plot still revolves around theological conflicts.
- I too would invent a new religion to seduce Natalie Dormer.
- Rooting hard for Cardinal Wolsey, Anne Boleyn, and Thomas Cromwell, three grifters with spectacular runs.
- Jonathan Rhys Meyers looks slightly like an asshole I used to know and every time he’s disappointed I laugh and laugh.
VANESSA A. BEE (ASSOCIATE EDITOR): My cultural faves:
- Fargo season 2
AISLING MCCREA (CONTRIBUTING EDITOR AND PODMASTER GENERAL): Ok, my list is based on what I liked in 2019, not stuff that necessarily came out in 2019:
- Movies/TV: Difficult to say, since my memory for these things is bad and I only keep track of the books I read, not stuff I watch. Knives Out was fun because it was one of the few movies you could see outside a big city that wasn’t Marvel or a Star War.
- Food: Marcella Hazan’s pasta sauce, bananas fried in rum and sugar, Bon Appetit’s recipe for skillet lasagna, bread with a hole in the middle with a fried egg in it (this is an Oren Nimni original), lentils with sour cream, ham and salt-and-vinegar crisp sandwiches.
CATE ROOT (ADMINISTRATIVE MAVEN): I think my categories are readings on DESIRE, POWER/STRATEGY, and SUBLIMATION.
- Power & strategy:
Someday I really, really want to write about how work talks to other works.
ROBINSON: I would contribute but I genuinely can’t remember anything. I’ve scraped all through my brains and I can’t remember anything I enjoyed, I was writing a book about socialism so I just had to read books about Politics and I hate politics.
GOLD: If you hate politics how come you write about it so much CHECKMATE.
ROOT: You enjoyed making the magazine, especially the utopias.
ROBINSON: There is lots I enjoyed doing! I do not mean that I lived a joyless life but merely that my pleasures were elsewhere. Like Mardi Gras and the Current Affairs retreat.
GOLD: Are we saying that our favorite thing is: each other’s company?
OREN NIMNI (LEGAL EDITOR AND INTERNET HEARTTHROB): Yes. Y’all are the best thing from this decade for me, hands down.