I like a good story. I am always on the lookout for it. It doesn’t matter what genre or form it takes. I want to be swept off my feet. I want to be transported to a different world. I want to love like a crazy person, be addicted to work, cheat, make mistakes, and mourn the death of people that are not real. I want to be so into it that I want to cry just because it ended.
Fortunately, 2019 was a year I found great stories in the form of books and TV shows and I want to share them with everyone.
Mad men is the sexiest show I have ever seen. Did I say sexiest? I meant sexist. Set in the 60s, it showcases some of the most cringe-worthy opinions that Americans used to have and openly talked about. I specifically say American because it is an American show through and through. Whether it is the sexism or the racism or the workplace culture or the enlightenment, it is so rooted in the 60s of the US. I mean, India was still so new at being a country that some states were only formed in the 60s!
At the heart of Mad Men is a mad man called Don Draper. He is a bag of contradictions. He is smart but arrogant. He is handsome but sleazy. He has compassion but treats his employees poorly. He is vengeful and petty but he is always looking to improve. He is interesting enough to make the show compelling but he is also so messed up that I was completely repulsed by him at times. Under the contradictions is a man who does not know who he is. He is one of the best-written characters on TV and he is excellently portrayed by Jon Hamm.
I’ll be honest, Jon Hamm’s hotness was the reason I continued watching the show after the slightly slow pilot episode. But the clever writing and the amazing performance by all the actors took me to the finish line. The fact that the show happens in a marketing agency was just a cherry on top for me.
Even as I listened to The Three-Body Problem, I was looking forward to reading its sequel, The Dark Forest because Reddit told me that it’s so much better. And it didn’t lie.
The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, of which both books are a part, is an alien invasion story spread across multiple generations. Though the first book was gimmicky, the unique way in which the aliens’ world is explained (through a game), really appealed to me. However, the second book was so much deeper and poignant that I had trouble believing that it came from the same author.
The Dark Forest is an amazing blend of a survivalist drama, science, and philosophy. I guess they always go together. The survivalist drama is the humankind preparing to take on the all-seeing, all-knowing alien race by tasking four men to come up with ideas to save the world, separately. The science part is what the four men (called Wallfacers) come up with and the eponymous theory which is an effective counterpoint to Fermi paradox (Where are the aliens?).
For me, the philosophy part was the most intriguing. You are invited to see the side of the aliens too. It pits the technologically superior aliens about to invade earth as both humanity’s enemy and its reflection, albeit a much smarter one.
P.S. I listened to the audiobook version of this series and a handful of other books. This is my first foray into audiobooks and I am really enjoying it. If you want to try it too but are worried that it won’t really feel like reading, here’s my advice — yes, it is different than reading and I for one can only listen to it when I am doing other things (like cooking). But the end result is more or less the same. You will truly enjoy listening to a good book just like you would reading it. Find out what genre audiobooks work for you though. You might have a very different taste for books while listening to them.
After Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings, this is the first fantasy series I read with a unique, well thought out magic system that got to me. Unlike Harry Potter and LOTR, when the series begins, the dark lord is not plotting his comeback. He is already ruling over an empire where the sun and sky are red, vegetation is brown, and the ground is constantly being covered under black volcanic ashfalls. In this bleak scenario, the people who are affected the most are, you guessed it, the working class. The series is about the working class, called skaa, overthrowing the nobles and the dark lord (called the Lord Ruler in this case).
What I greatly appreciate in this series is it’s ending. Funnily enough, I read this around the same time Game of Thrones was wrapping up and there are a lot of similarities in the themes between the two endings. Except, the ending of Mistborn series didn’t make me wanna fling my shoe at it.
Circe is one of the most powerful female characters I have ever read. But the character and the story only come secondary to the writing that flows like a river. It feels like a sweet story someone’s telling you just as you are falling asleep.
The thing is, the prose might be beautiful but Circe’s life story isn’t. Circe is about struggle. The struggle of being an unimportant daughter to a powerful father. The struggle of being empathetic in a selfish world. The struggle of a single woman, even a god, living alone. The struggle of being singled out for thinking differently than the herd.
I don’t usually like to read anything related to Greek Mythology. I don’t find them entertaining at all. But Circe, that has so many characters from Greek Mythology, is very close to my heart. I am not familiar with a single myth, but I enjoyed the book.
If you want to educate yourself on caste-based oppression, you should start here. This book is a powerhouse. Sujatha Gidla, the author who was born in an untouchable family in Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, writes about her incredible family. Incredible because of the strength and their hope for a better tomorrow no matter what life throws at them.
The author focuses mainly on stories about her mother and her uncle. Not only will you learn about the plight of untouchables in India but you will also see how the experience differs for a man and a woman. They are diametrically opposite. Her uncle goes on to become a poet, a voice for the downtrodden, and a revolutionary. While her mother struggles to keep down a job, enters a loveless marriage, and undergoes domestic abuse.
There is a blunt and resigned quality to the narration of the struggles this family faces that made my stomach turn. It’s the most straightforward horror story ever told.
Somewhere Only We Know
It was a Friday evening and I was trying to watch something warm, fuzzy, and nice on Netflix. I skipped the autoplay trailers of shows I never want to watch. I was digging deeper and deeper across genres, across languages. After a while, Netflix started throwing adult content at me assuming that was what I was subtly searching for.
I was so desperate that I decided to watch one of the Korean shows that were all the rage when I was in college. So I went into the Asian TV shows section and found a Chinese show called Somewhere only we know. I’ll be honest, the only reason I clicked on this show was that the poster was pretty and because I haven’t watched a Chinese TV show before. I started watching.
I am recounting so many details about how I found it because it could have been so easy to not find it at all! That thought itself saddens me. The story is that of four roommates in college and their lives separately and together. It has such a lived-in quality to it that it is hard to believe that they were actors acting in front of the camera, that their room was a deliberately decorated set, and that the dialogues were written and not just said from the heart. This show is hands down the most beautiful portrayal of love and friendship I have ever seen.
I recommend this show to anyone who wants to watch a genuine relationship drama. The fact that it’s so cute is just a bonus.
So, these are my favourite things from 2019. You might have noticed, maybe with disappointment, that it’s not just books and shows released this year. I am not that great at keeping up with these things. However, isn’t it great that they are standing the test of time?