The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2019
by Erin K. Wagner
Each year, it seems like I have less and less time to read and watch texts—and yet, each year, it seems more and more important to do so. The moments of elation or heartbreak, amusement or anger, feel like important catharsis, feel like a magic unparalleled by many of the gifts I receive over the winter holidays. So, here are some of the texts that meant the most to me this last year!
--LaValle, Victor. The Changeling. Spiegel & Grau, 2018.
This was a heartbreaking and challenging novel that recycled traditional changeling narratives in some really inspired ways, tackling issues of race and nationalism.
--Le Guin, Ursula. A Wizard of Earthsea. Harcourt, 1968.
So I’m a little behind on the classics, and I read this for the first time this year, thanks to the beautifully illustrated edition my husband gifted me. It was lovely and quiet and stirring all at the same time. It also reinvents how the fantasy epic can be told.
--Martine, Arkady. A Memory Called Empire. Tor, 2019.
I’m only about half-way through this novel at the time of writing this list, but it’s one of those novels that makes me excited about settling into my pre-bedtime reading. Detailed and meticulous—with plenty of political intrigue—it’s a novel I’m happy is so long so I’m not in danger of finishing it too soon.
--Palmer, Ada. Too Like the Lightning. Tor, 2016.
Another novel that was incredibly complex, a unique blend of fantasy and science-fiction against a backdrop of an older culture come again. The book is very intertextual and is almost educational at the same time that it is entertaining.
--Jemisin, N. K. “The Ones Who Stay and Fight.” How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? Orbit, 2018.
This is a story I taught in combination with Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” primarily because it is the text with which Jemisin directly dialogues. Jemisin challenges her readers, via sharp, direct prose, to consider their own responsibility to fight the evil they see in society.
--Liu, Ken. “Paper Menagerie.” Fantasy &Science Fiction, Mar/Apr. 2011.
I’ve taught this story two times now. The first time I read it, in preparation for a class in the spring 2019 semester, I was almost moved to tears. I’ve had students share similar experiences with me. The story is not high fantasy but it is high art, family and identity explored through magical realism.
TV & Movies
There’s a lot of TV on the list this year—because sometimes you just need to unwind from the reading and writing of your day job with a well-crafted visual narrative. Or you sit at the edge of your seat in horror or anticipation. Either way.
--Di Martino, Michael Dante and Bryan Konietzko. Avatar: The Last Airbender. Nickelodeon, 2005-2008.
I’ve watched this before, but my husband and I finished a rewatch this year. The ending is inspirational to me as a writer, as it manages to be both epic and engagingly intimate at the same time.
--Duffer, Matt, and Ross Duffer. Stranger Things. Season 3. Netflix, 2019.
This one you’ve probably heard of. Though I didn’t feel season 2 or 3 quite matched up to the blockbuster that was season 1, this send-up of summer nostalgia hit a lot of the right notes and explored what it means to grow up in the face of overwhelming trials.
--Favreau, Jon. The Mandalorian. Disney +, 2019.
Yep. Yes. I can’t resist Baby Yoda. Also, the music for this show, though markedly different than standard Star Wars fare, is awesome.
--Johnson, Rian. Knives Out. Lionsgate, 2019.
I only just watched this. It was one of my most anticipated films of the year, and it did not disappoint. A mystery film that is both an homage to standard detective fare and thoroughly disruptive to anti-immigration narratives. A nuanced metaphor and funny to boot.
--Lee, Chang-dong. Burning. Pine House Film, 2018.
Quiet and breathtaking. And creepy. An exploration of toxic masculinity.
--Levy, Dan and Eugene Levy. Schitt’s Creek. CBC, 2015-present.
This is one of the more perfect sitcoms I’ve watched. The family ensemble is both charming and appalling. Ew, David.
--Mazin, Craig. Chernobyl. HBO, 2019.
There is something about bureaucratic cruelty and inefficiency that makes me incredibly angry. Though there is little optimism in this show, it is acclaimed for a reason. It is a horrific reminder of how the petty and the catastrophic can go hand-in-hand.
--Waititi, Taika. Jojo Rabbit. TSG Entertainment, 2019.
Another movie I was excited to see in November—and it did not disappoint. In fact, I went in expecting a satire and instead received a gently comedic, incredibly moving, and heartbreakingly profound examination of how minds become warped and how good can triumph over evil.
--Fujibayashi, Hidemaro and Hiroki Hirano. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo, 2017.
I grew up as an N64 kid. My favorite videogame was The Ocarina of Time. Though very different in tone and style (with a steampunk-esque aesthetic), Breath of the Wild satisfied a lot of my childhood nostalgia while providing a spare but moving narrative. Also, the graphics were gorgeous.
Looking Forward to Reading or Viewing in 2020!
--Clarke, Susanna. Piranesi. Bloomsbury, 2020.
Very few books have inspired or impacted me as much as Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Those glorious footnotes. I am over the moon that Clarke is now coming out with a new novel. In preparation for it, I’m blogging my re-read of Jonathan Strange over at my Luna Station Quarterly column.
--Ehasz, Aaron and Justin Richmond. The Dragon Prince. Netflix, 2018-present.
The show shares writers with Avatar: The Last Airbender, so I am excited to start this well-reviewed series.
Erin K. Wagner is a speculative fiction writer, interested in
examining how the human responds to the inhuman. She grew up in
southeast Ohio on the border of Appalachia, but now lives in central
New York, where she hikes in the Catskills and listens for ghostly
games of nine-pins.She splits her time
between academic research, investigating how medieval English writers
navigated their own religious identities, and creative writing. Aqueduct published her novella, The Green and Growing, as a volume in the Conversation Pieces series earlier this year. Her
stories have appeared in a variety of publications, from Apex to Luna
Station Quarterly, and her short story "Running Straight" was a
finalist in the 2015 Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction Chapbook contest. You
can visit her website at https://erinkwagner.com/.