For our last edition of 2019, Inland 360 staff and contributors look back at some of the entertainment, events and things that shaped our year.
Novel: “The Princess Beard,” a hilarious, satirical fantasy-adventure that makes fun of just about everything.
Nonfiction: “The Secret History of Wonder Woman,” a fascinating read that not only reveals Wonder Woman’s origins but is based on the feminist and suffrage of movement of the early 1900s, so it provides a good general history lesson.
Food: Extra Toasty Cheez-its. The most amazing cheese snack I have discovered. I would describe it but it is really just extra toasty Cheez-its, like the name suggests.
App: I started Instagram this year (a little behind, I know). Following the National Park Service is the best decision I have ever made, it’s informative, funny and heart-warming.
Worst movie: “Dark Phoenix.” Slamming my fingers in a car door was less painful and was a better story than this mess of a movie.
Jeanne M. DePaul
Favorite meme: It’s probably recency bias (I don’t really remember January or February anyway) but my favorite meme of 2019 has been everything revolving around what the Internet has named Baby Yoda, the as-yet-unnamed character in Disney’s “The Mandalorian” which premiered in mid-November. Almost immediately Ice2Ice created “Dear Baby Yoda,” a song sung to the tune of “Dear Theodosia” from the musical “Hamilton” and a brilliant video, which may be found at theringer.com. Search “Dear Baby Yoda.”
2017’s “Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate, a novel inspired by the real-life story of a black-market adoption ring in Memphis, Tenn.
“Inheritance: A Memoir of Geneaology, Paternity and Love” by Dani Shapiro, a memoir about how results of a ubiquitous mail-in DNA test upended everything she thought she knew about her life.
Elton John’s autobiography, titled “Me.” I listened to the audiobook, read mostly by Taron Edgerton (John read chapters at the beginning and end) and I was exhausted by the English accent by the end of it, but it was fascinating. I’ve been an E.J. fan since the early 1970s, so I knew a lot of the general stuff, but I learned a lot of surprising details. Shortly after finishing it, I watched “Rocket Man,” the autobiographical fantastical movie made about John, which starred Edgerton. It was a great combination.
“White Lies” by NPR, the seven-part series focusing on the murder of a white minister during the racial unrest in Selma, Ala., for which no person was ever held to account. Most chilling was hearing a woman laugh as she bragged about knowing all along who had killed him but she had kept it quiet to protect the murderer.
“Dolly Parton’s America,” with Jad Abumrad as host, is a multi-part series digging deep into the legacy of the country singer with visits to Dollywood, her Tennessee mountain home and even a personal connection.
“Heavyweight” by Jonathan Goldstein, which just completed its third season, tackles a different, interesting topic or person each episode. Many of the first episodes were from Goldstein’s own life. One of my favorites is episode No. 16, “Rob.”
“30 for 30” podcasts episodes all are interesting but this year I especially was gripped by the five-part “The Sterling Affairs” about former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The series is reported by Ramona Shelburne, who also is host.
“Unbelievable” is a made-for-Netflix miniseries about a series of rapes in Washington and Colorado, focusing on both the incompetence and doggedness of various police officers, and the bravery of the victims. Based on an excellent investigative story (well worth reading) released online via the Marshall Project and ProPublica in late 2015 by reporters Ken Armstrong and T. Christian Miller.
“The Crown” and “The Windsors,” both available on Netflix. “The Crown” is a Netflix original series focusing on the events of and surrounding the reign of Queen Elizabeth II of England. It’s a fascinating look at historical events. On the other end of the spectrum, “The Windsors,” a British sitcom, is a bawdy parody of the extended royal family. It’s so broad and over the top, no one would mistake it for truth, and since it’s based on real people, I feel a bit guilty watching it. But still I laugh.
“The Good Place” is set to conclude its three-season run on NBC in the spring, so there’s plenty of time to catch up online. This series is marked by a cast of both veterans and relative newcomers, all excellent. While the philosophy lessons are, at times, too long and dense, the twists and turns, and entire “Jeremy Berimy” (look it up) take on time threatens to blow my mind. It never gets old, and I can’t wait to see how it ends.
After getting tired of fighting with wires that were constantly pulling the music, book or podcast out of my ears while on my walks, I finally splurged (a local purchase, not online) on some Samsung Bluetooth earbuds and it easily was my best purchase of the year. The buds automatically pause your listen when you remove them from your ears and pop easily into a case that doubles as a wireless charger.
Nonfiction: For all the goal-getters out there, Rachel Hollis has done it again. In 2019, she released her second motivational, kick-in-the-behind, book, “Girl, stop apologizing: A shame-free plan for embracing and achieving your goals.” I prefer the audio version, which Hollis reads herself, and allows listeners to hear and feel all of the fire of a coach helping women to believe in themselves and change their lives.
Clothing: Fabletics exercise leggings are everything. As a VIP member, you can wait until one of the big flash sales that Fabletics will inevitably promote and snag a pair for huge discounts. Leggings with pockets — enough said.
Most anticipated movie: “The Rise of Skywalker.” OK, so this nine-segment story is limping to the finish line. And yes, since the “Star Wars” universe was acquired by Disney in 2012, we have seen, and will continue to see, a complete saturation of stories. But this is the last chapter of the original story … a story that began in 1977, when we stood in a line that wrapped all the way around the block to get into the single screen cinema. Even if the final chapter can’t possibly measure up to expectations, how can you not watch it?
Meme: “Look for something positive in each day, even if some days you have to look a little harder.” And there are some days where you have to get out a microscope to find it. Or be comfortable with a very wiggly definition of “positive.”
TV: “Living with Yourself.” This Netflix original series takes an interesting look at the battle within yourself to find the best you. Paul Rudd plays the main character(s), as both the normal and new-and-improved version of himself due to accidentally being cloned under the guise of getting a spa treatment. It’s not the normal slapstick comedy type of clone situation you might expect to find, however. You still see the dark humor you’d expect from Rudd but there’s also a real sense of purpose. He (they) are trying to find what we’re all trying to find … even if we have it but can’t see it.
In Memoriam: The concept of fake news. In order for there to be fake news, there has to be real news. In order for there to be real news, there has to be agreed upon facts. Sadly, we do not appear to be living by those guidelines any longer, at least when it comes to politics. In this new political world that many are comparing to George Orwell’s “1984,” including Lewiston Tribune guest commentator Thomas Hennigan (Dec. 15), perhaps it’s time to start labeling all of this pre-spun information we are being bombarded by as Leftspeak and Rightspeak.
Jennifer K. Bauer
Favorite podcast: “The Gateway.” In this six-part series, a journalist goes behind-the-scenes to investigate controversial spiritual teacher and YouTube personality Teal Swan who has amassed thousands of followers who call themselves the Teal Tribe. To them, she’s a savior. Detractors call her a cult leader. The 35-year-old, born Mary Teal Bosworth, was raised in Utah and claims to have been a childhood victim of satanic ritual abuse. She also says she can see inside people, heal them and is part alien. Her teachings about suicide and mental health have drawn criticism from professionals. Besides painting a bizarre portrait of the power of a social media influencer, the podcast provides a fascinating look at how a new generation of gurus is using videos, posts and algorithms to draw people in. One of the experts interviewed describes how Swan’s transfixing YouTube videos could be hypnotizing viewers.
Memorable meme: What would 2019 have been without the “woman yelling at cat” meme? It juxtaposed an enraged, finger-pointing woman (“Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” cast member Taylor Armstrong) with a snarling white cat sitting, inexplicably, before a salad plate at a dinner table. It’s inspired countless memes, spin-offs and clothing designs. The question is, will Baby Yoda memes outrank it in popularity by the time 2019 is over?
Unforgettable TV moment: Watching the final season of “Game of Thrones” as it happened was a highlight of the year. While it provided some of the most stunning battle scenes ever shot, many were displeased by the ending, especially people who named their daughters Khaleesi or Daenerys between the time the show premiered (way back in 2011) and last May. Outrage over the conclusion was so great that nearly 2 million people signed a petition demanding HBO hire new writers for a season 8 do-over. HBO has said it has no intention of caving into demands.
Favorite New TV Show: I was reluctant to jump on the Disney Plus streaming bandwagon but “The Mandalorian” was worth it. I’m all for the ever-evolving expansion of the “Star Wars” universe story. I’ll never understand those people who want the tale to begin and end with Luke, Leia and Han. If anyone can successfully continue this legacy it’s Disney and “The Mandalorian” is proof, combining the tradition of the American western with futuristic visions of diverse cultures and technologies. Best of all, it’s a show our whole family can watch together.
Book that stuck with me: “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche made me see the world through different eyes — in this case, the eyes of a black woman who immigrates from Africa and must navigate issues of race in the US. I’ve learned more about racism in recent years and read stories about it, but I haven’t always seen how I fit into the story. But I saw myself in this story. I could recognize ways I’ve inadvertently “othered” people along the lines of race and saw what it can be like to be treated differently because you’re not-white. And somehow this happened in a way that was entertaining and engaging instead of heavy and moralistic.
Fun, light read: “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman is a fun novel that takes you into the life and mind of Eleanor Oliphant, an odd British woman who lives alone and works in an office. I felt like I knew her — we’ve all known people who are beyond quirky and don’t seem anything like the rest of us. And I felt like I was her — because she finds so many social conventions to be odd and pointless. As Eleanor transforms over the course of the story, you come to learn a deep, dark secret that is behind her eccentricity. It’s a story that made me empathize with all of the characters involved.
Book that sparked the most conversations: “The Second Mountain” by David Brooks takes on the age-old issue of finding fulfillment in life. Brooks believes fulfilled people have moved on from pursuing “success” and a self-oriented life, what he calls the “first mountain,” to living an others-centered life on the “second mountain.” Finding meaning in life, he says, requires a commitment to a vocation, family, community and/or faith or philosophy. I do not now suddenly have a life of deep meaning, but the book got me thinking and articulated some insights about our current culture.
Favorite new drink: At the risk of losing all my friends, I will confess that my favorite drink discovery of the year was roasted dandelion root tea. It’s nothing new, but it’s new to me. It tastes kind of like coffee, though probably not to people who actually drink coffee — I just like that it’s warm and strong and roasted-tasting without the caffeine. It’s supposed to have some health benefits, though I haven’t noticed any improvements other than being slightly more awesome than I was before I started drinking it. But that could just be from aging.
Best waste of money: I bought an inflatable T-rex costume on impulse this spring so that I could start a “Sisterhood of the Traveling T-Rex Costume” with a few friends. It’s great for picking your kids up from school and is a valuable prop when you challenge your kids to write and produce a music video while on vacation. It’s not great for walking through doorways though.
Best interaction tool for teenagers: This summer I talked my kids into inviting their friends over for pizza and swimming and got Table Topics, a conversation starter game, to foster group conversation around the table. It’s just a collection of random questions like, “Where would you live if you couldn’t live in this country?” or “If you could do something dangerous just once with no risk what would you do?” They all went along with it, even the quiet ones.