By Jason Snell
December 31, 2019 1:51 PM PT
My favorite things from 2019
[This post is reprinted from the December issue of the Six Colors Magazine, a monthly newsletter only for supporters of Six Colors. Become a member today.]
As much as I struggle with creating year-end lists, here’s a collection of stuff that I appreciated this year.
In the fall I lost power for three days, which… sucked. But it reminded me of the value of electricity-related devices like an uninterruptable power supply, which can double as a big battery for a floor lamp during an outage. I used portable solar panels to charge external batteries during the day. I also got more benefit than I’d like to admit from this versatile camping lantern.
I gave my daughter my office fan when she went off to college in October. I needed to buy a replacement. I am a person who owns a tea-making robot and a robot vacuum cleaner. So I splurged on the Dyson AM06, which costs way more than a simple replacement would have been. But it has these advantages: It’s cool looking, it is very quiet (good for podcasting), and it has a remote control. I will admit that I used the second fact to justify the first. Don’t tell anyone.
My game of the year is What the Golf on Apple Arcade. It’s not a golf game, it’s a satire of golf games, and of all games, and of our expectations for games. It’s rare that I play a game to completion, let alone attempt to reach 100% by playing every single bonus level. I failed to get to 100% with What The Golf—seriously, some of those levels make no sense—but I got perilously close and loved every minute of it.
I am also seriously getting into Two Spies, a turn-based Spy vs Spy game that has a little bit of a learning curve, but is addictive and fun. You lean by playing against bot opponents, but the game makes it easy to play with friends directly via a local network or even via pass-and-play on a single device.
Apple’s most dramatic new hardware this year was the Magic Keyboard on the 16-inch MacBook Pro, because it replaced the butterfly keyboard. Not to be too harsh, but this was obviously the right choice in 2016, and yet Apple made the wrong one, and users suffered with a lousy and unreliable keyboard for three years. I give Apple credit for finally addressing the problem, but then take back credit for messing this up so badly.
In terms of a specific product you can buy, the Apple product of the year was AirPods Pro. I think AirPods has been one of Apple’s most successful products of the decade. No, it’s not a computing platform, there’s no AirPods app store (yet?), but this is a product that grabbed hold of a category that was on the verge of greatness and transformed it into the mainstream—and took the bulk of the sales in that category as a reward. AirPods Pro goes way beyond the originals, with customizable fits and active noise cancelling. Sure, there are still more lands to be conquered—reduced latency and perhaps a set of Apple-branded over-ear AirPods Studio headphones—but this was a great product that got even better.
This year I constructed a top 10 TV shows list for the TV Talk Machine podcast, but five shows really stood out as the cream of the crop: “Watchmen” (HBO), “Counterpart” (Starz, now available on iTunes), “Chernobyl” (HBO), “Sex Education” (Netflix), and “What We Do in the Shadows” (FX). I give all of them my highest endorsement.
I don’t have a favorite album of 2019, because I spent most of my time digging through curated playlists on Apple Music or listening to SiriusXM in the car. But I did create a favorites of 2019 playlist of my own, made by collecting songs I really liked throughout the year. Apple also went to the effort of creating a collection of my most-played music of 2019, including a bunch of stuff that’s not from 2019. I also attempted to force myself to make a 10 favorite songs of the decade list, but if forced to make it again in a week I might choose an entirely different list. Except for “All This Time” by Jonathan Coulton—that’s on the list in every timeline.
Books I really enjoyed this year: I had to back up and read Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire in order to read her Hugo-nominated follow-up Beneath the Sugar Sky. I’ve hated some of McGuire’s books and liked others, but I was not prepared for how much I loved this series of novellas about what happens when the human children who travel to a fantasy realm are ultimately returned home. (The answer is, they’re really messed up by their experiences and desperate to return to the fantasy world they’ve been ejected from.)
Rebecca Roanhorse’s Trail of Lightning was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards this year, and I really enjoyed it. It’s a bit like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, except the slayer is a Navajo who lives in a post-apocalyptic world where modern civilization has crumbled but the Navajo nation is resurgent—and the old gods and demons have awakened.
Finally, three nonfiction books with your attention if the subject matter interests you: Joe Posnanski’s The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini is a brilliantly written story that is simultaneously about who Harry Houdini really was and the space he continues to reside in our culture. It’s also about immigrants and self-made men and magic and David Copperfield’s unbelievable private museum. Screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski’s Becoming Superman is a harrowing (but ultimately uplifting?) memoir of a person put into the worst possible circumstances finding a way to survive and get out. And Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik’s The MVP Machine is a great look at the revolution that’s happening in baseball today regarding player development. If you read “Moneyball” and think you understand how baseball works in the 21st century, you are wrong and need to read The MVP Machine immediately.
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