Learned #40: 2018

In which we read some lists.

Year-end lists have been with us for decades now, going all the way back to the mid-1800s at least. Personally, they're one of my favorite reading tasks of the year; they give me a good way to catch up things I missed or re-visit things I had forgotten about. But, because every magazine, blog, lifestyle site, and social network has its own set of lists, there can be a lot to get through.

So, this week, we're taking a small break from the usual format to take a look at some of the "best of" lists that have caught my attention over the past month or so.

In this issue:

  • What We're Learning: What Was Best This Year?

  • What We're Reading: The Year in Reading, 2018

  • Down the Rabbit Hole: The Year in Music, 2018

Let’s get to it.

Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

What We're Learning:

What Was Best This Year?

2018 marked a few personal anniversaries for me: I turned 43, my wife and I celebrated 13 years of marriage, and my kid turned 3. I also returned to school as a student for the first time in 25 years, got a couple of new gigs, and started a few new projects, like this newsletter. Some parts of this year were good, some parts were bad, most I don't remember all that clearly.

Thus this round-up of all the best-of, worst-of, remember-this, don't-forget-that lists that I've been reading for the past month. Like most people, I imagine, I'm not actually all that fussed that the calendar year is changing, but I do find this to be a good time to reflect and plan and see what we can do differently this next go round. So, here are some interesting things to think about:

52 Things I Learned in 2018

Tom Whitwell's yearly list is always worth reading. It's interesting, covers a wide swathe of technology and science reporting, and generally teaches me something new every year.

99 Good News Stories You Probably Didn't Hear About in 2018

Buried in amongst the political quagmires was a lot of good news regarding conservation efforts, global health, living conditions in poorer countries, and clean energy. Angus Hervey, at Future Crunch, put this list together and it’s worth saving for dark days. Relatedly, Mauro Gatti has begun illustrating some good news stories on his Instagram page.

The Best Things on the Internet in 2018

You’d think that as much time as I spend on the internet, I’d have known all of these. As it is, I knew exactly one of the memes, stories, and general feel-good weirdness that the internet can beget and that the A.V. Club has listed here.

Distiller’s Favorite Whiskeys of 2018

I don’t particularly care for social media, but I do like whiskey. Distiller is a small social network for reviewing and researching booze. The editors combed through user reports and put together a nifty list of whiskeys I’d like to try. I’ll be honest, I usually write this letter with my audience in mind, but this entry is just for me…

Information is Beautiful Award Winners 2018

The things artists can do with large data sets both fascinates and inspires me. Whether it’s redrawing maps to more accurately reflect the way the area is used or just creating an easy way to visualize something as complex as an artist’s mind, the concepts and skills on display here are truly stunning. Many of these works are worthy of display as art in and of themselves; for further reading, check out /r/dataisbeautiful on Reddit.

Everything Else

And then there was everything else. Here are just some of the countless year end posts that I’ve come across and enjoyed.

There are, of course, thousands more. Just check your favorite blog, website, newsletter, or Facebook group. If you find an interesting one, let me know as I’m always willing to expand my reading coverage. In the meantime…

What We're Reading:

The Year in Reading, 2018

Screenshot from NPR’s Book Concierge.

2018 was the year that tsundoku (1) entered our cultural vocabulary. It’s a Japanese word that doesn’t translate cleanly into English but it basically means you buy books and let them pile up unread. The end-of-the-year book lists coming out right now won’t help any of us with our tsundoku problems, but there are worse things in life than having too many books around.

That's Jason, over at Kottke.org, in his preface to his annual round-up of several Best Books of 2018 lists, from such diverse places as The New York Times, NPR, The Guardian, Bloomberg, Buzzfeed, and Slate. I can add The New Yorker and the Atlantic to that list, but if we're being honest, the books on my Tsunodoku list don't overlap much with those best-of lists.

To get to the books and reading I liked this year, it's better to take a look at Goodreads where the readers voted up a list of their favorites from the year. Their list contains one of my favorite books from the year - Charles Stross' The Labyrinth Index, as well as Stephen Hawking's Brief Answers to the Big Questions - but what is far more apparent from all those lists is just how few books from this year I have made time for.

Don't get me wrong, my to-read list is so long it has to be measured in miles, but when it comes to reading, I feel like most of my immediate reading takes place on the web. And I really doubt I'm alone in that. So, turning from books specifically to reading in general, here are a few more lists to add to your tsundoku (2) pile:

A few other thoughts on my reading habits this year:

My reading stats, as collected on Goodreads.

I managed to finish a paltry 21 books this year with 8 marked as "currently reading" as the year closes. That's down from 22 last year and 41 the year before, which, again, speaks to how much of my reading I do online and how much more non-fiction I read than fiction these days.

That said, my absolute favorite book that I read this year was Glen Cook's Port of Shadows. It's not a book that I can recommend easily; it's the 11th book in a series that reaches all the way back to 1984, but having been a reader of the series since I first found it in 1990, I was ecstatic to have a new volume to devour.

  1. You can re-read my own take on the word "tsundoku" here, in Learned Issue #20.

  2. I use and recommend (in Learned Issue #23) Instapaper as a great way to save and organize all this reading.


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Down the Rabbit Hole:

The Year in Music, 2018

I've reached an age where new music doesn't find me quite as easily as it used to. Instead, I've got to go out and find it and that requires time and energy that I don't often have.

That's where these end of the year lists come in handy. They give me avenues of exploration to travel down in search of something new, or, at least, new-to-me. That said, the lists this year have a few favorites and the most listened-to tracks in my library are ones that I found this year appear on none of the lists.

But the two biggest discoveries for me this year were both cover songs - one of a Joy Division classic performed by a raucous brass ensemble, one a Black Sabbath ballad re-done as a soulful R&B tune. Enjoy.

End of the Letter:

The Year in Movies, 2018

I only saw three movies in the theater this year - Avengers: Infinity War (loved it), Solo: A Star Wars Story (thought it was okay), and Bohemian Rhapsody (enjoyed it). But, like with music, these best-of lists give me something to look forward to whenever they hit Netflix…

That’s it. Stay strong, stay healthy. Have a great New Year’s and learn something.