It’s the end of the year, and I’ve once again taken a long hard look at my media diet to come up with the books, movies, games and songs that meant the most to me this year.
As in previous years, I’ll note that I don’t restrict my media diet to the stuff that is released in a given year, so my lists won’t look like the end-of-year lists of professional reviewers. This list is very personal, and simply reflects what mattered to and had an impact on me.
Let’s dive in!
Books I loved
Pure Invention, by Matt Alt
Pure Invention tracks the genesis of some of Japan’s most iconic export products, and their impact on both Japanese and Western culture. Alt deftly weaves together in-depth examinations of products like the walkman and Pokemon with socio-cultural commentary about broader shifts in our global mindset. If you have any fondness for Japan or its cultural export products, you’ll like this.
Four Thousand Weeks, by Oliver Burkeman
This is the productivity book for the reader who’s sick of productivity books. Rather than preaching yet more ways to cram unlimited work into limited time, Burkeman makes the case that our (very) limited time should force us to ruthlessly prioritize that which matters most. Yes, that means other things will fall by the wayside – which is exactly the point.
The Great CEO Within, by Matt Mochary
A coach to the very best tech companies, Mochary here presents a tactical guide to running a great company. Much of his advice can be implemented straight away, presenting clear-cut solutions to common problems. It’s also one of the very few management books that explicitly advocates mental health and mindfulness. I’ll be implementing big chunks of this book into my own consulting.
The Minimalist Entrepreneur, by Sahil Lavingia
Lavingia is the founder of Gumroad, and has distilled his own journey and approach into a lovely playbook for entrepreneurs that want to do a lot with a little. Core to the book is a focus on product/market fit, and Gumroad presents an interesting case study for remote-first companies. Like The Great CEO Within, Lavingia reminds us to consider our broader wants and needs so that we may bring our best selves to our companies.
A Psalm For The Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers
Becky Chambers is known for writing wholesome sci-fi novels, and this book delivers on that promise in spades. The book centers on the developing relationship between a tea service monk and a robot, exploring both the history of the world around them as well as its philosophical underpinnings. Just lovely.
Games I loved
Total games played: 23
Elden Ring completely consumed my life while I was playing it, topping out my Playstation year-in-review list at 81 hours on the clock. With its beautiful and dark open world, rife with hidden mysteries both large and small, it’s the epitome of FromSoftware’s craft. I made it a point to collect the platinum trophy, and I still haven’t experienced everything the game has to offer.
God of War Ragnarok
This game packs a punch. It’s more of the same bone crunching action we got in 2018’s instalment, but the mood here is more contemplative, and there’s an overall theme of atonement, of taking charge of one’s fate and taking accountability for past wrongs. The star of the game is undoubtedly the relationship between Kratos and Atreus, which develops alongside the maturing Atreus. I’m really impressed with the story they have told, and that they have managed to make the emotional beats feel as earned as they did.
It Takes Two
I played this game with my brother, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the most fun we’ve had in a multiplayer game in a long time. The sheer amount of gameplay they managed to cram in is mindblowing, and the humor mostly sticks the landing. I will say that the voice acting wasn’t all great, but if you can see past that you’re in for a great co-op adventure.
Paradise Killer is an open-ended, closed-room detective game where you wander an island full of larger-than-life characters who may or may not have had a part in the murder you’re trying to solve. I loved the fact that you’re not railroaded anywhere. You can just explore and interrogate at will, slowly figuring out what happened and how everyone figures into the crime, before you are asked to make your final accusation. I’ve never felt more like a detective. And speaking of detectives…
Lost Judgment, of Yakuza pedigree, has you playing a lawyer-turned-detective trying to solve a gruesome murder that somehow ties into a local school. As you might expect from the studio behind the Yakuza games, there’s a thrilling story with a cast of colorful characters and plenty of thugs to beat up. The story is great in its own right, but I probably spent most of my time moonlighting as a councillor for the high school’s various activity clubs.
Movies and shows I loved
Movies/tv seasons watched: 77
Schitt’s Creek follows a recently bankrupted family as they try to rebuild a life in a small-town motel, with none of the luxuries they had grown accustomed to. It starts out funny enough, but after a few episodes it quickly turns into one of the most wholesome shows I’ve ever watched. Each character is as lovable as they are flawed, and at the end of six seasons you really feel like they have all grown as a person, and as a family.
The White Lotus (S1 and S2)
The first season was a wonderfully dark examination of the privilege of the rich, and the second season ratchets this up a couple notches further. Jennifer Coolidge steals the show as bumbling heiress Tanya, who somehow manages to be simultaneously completely over-the-top and wholly believable. Very much looking forward to seeing what season 3 brings.
Everything Everywhere All At Once
My favorite multiverse movie of the year, by a distance. EEAAO is an absurdist, philosophical examination of the choices we make in life and love, seen through the lens of a multiverse-travelling family of Chinese-American immigrants. It’s a bold, crazy and emotional rollercoaster ride that had me both crying and laughing out loud.
There’s an addictive masochism to watching Michelin star chef Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto try (and fail) to get his inherited shitshow of a restaurant in working order. Strong performances all around, with special kudos going to Ebon Moss-Bachrach for his most punchable role yet.
Giri/Haji, which translates to Duty/Shame, is a moody mix of a yakuza flick and a British crime show. The show is supremely confident in itself, effortlessly weaving a diverse cast and even multiple genres together, with the memorable rooftop finale leaving me literally speechless. It was sadly not renewed for a second season (thanks, Netflix), but as it stands it is a perfectly contained story that is well worth experiencing.
Songs I loved
Minutes of Spotify listened: 26,573
Leave The Door Open – Bruno Mars
I came across this song trough Charles Cornell’s breakdown of the song on Youtube, and it’s been on repeat ever since. It’s a glorious callback to the jazzy R&B of the 70s, and something about the composition just works for me.
Mixed Nuts – Official HIGE DANdism
Alright, this is the band I listened to the most this year. Think: immaculately produced, jazzy, competent J-pop, and you’re in the right ball park. What I love about this song in particular is how much is going on at any one time, and the feeling of contained chaos it creates.
all my ghosts – Lizzy McAlpine
McAlpine’s second album, five seconds flat, is full of great songs, the sum of which is greater than its parts. I love the warm guitar sound here, and something about the drum track and chord progression reminds me of either early Death Cab For Cutie or Rilo Kiley – I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it feels good.
Meiji-Jingumae ‘Harajuku’ – SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS
SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS is probably my favorite band ever. This year they released an album that is a love letter to Tokyo, one of my favorite places in the world. This is my favorite song off the album, as well as a reference to the Meiji-Jingu shrine and park, which is one of my favorite spots in Tokyo.
Comedy (feat. DJ Jazzy Jeff & Kaidi Tatham) – Gen Hoshino
I first found Gen Hoshino through Death Stranding’s soundtrack, for which he provided the song Pop Virus. This year his song Comedy popped up in my Spotify recommendations, drawing me into his broader discography. Hoshino has been a regular part of my music diet since, but the laid-back, jazzy vibe keeps me coming back to Comedy.
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