Queen Harvest’s 2019 Reading Recap

For my fifth annual Reading Recap I decided to do something a little special: procrastinate for five months before finishing it. In my defense, I was very busy around New Year’s, and I am very not-busy now.

1. Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman (2017)

I am a sucker for tradition. Even if I don’t follow them myself, I admire their observance. Norse Mythology scratched my tradition itch in two ways.

Firstly, Gaiman follows the tradition of adapting ancient tales into modern tongue. These stories are entertaining by 21st century standards. I respect this retelling from a popular author for its potential to influence a new generation with old myths.

Secondly, I followed the tradition of listening to the stories orally, i.e., as an audiobook. Just like a classic translation of Homer’s epic Greek myths, I can’t be bothered to sit down and read these tales. Norse Mythology was good company for a long drive.

2. Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

Americanah succeeds in being two types of novel at once: both a literary tale of relationships, loves, friendships, and lives lived, and a commentary on dichotomies in society (American vs. Nigerian, European vs. African, “Non-American Black” vs. “American Black,” immigrant vs. native, poor vs. wealthy, probably more).

Adichie describes a discrimination double-whammy: being both an immigrant and black in the United States. The main character, as a black person in the U.S., is subject to the people around her making myriad assumptions based on her skin color, but as an immigrant she doesn’t even know what those assumptions are. As she describes in her blog:

Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care….If you are a woman, please do not speak your mind as you are used to doing in your country. Because in America, strong-minded black women are SCARY. And if you are a man, be hyper-mellow, never get too excited, or somebody will worry that you’re about to pull a gun.

I enjoyed Americanah for its insights into a culture that is not my own, and for the pure enjoyment of the story and writing.

3. 52 Loaves, William Alexander (2010)

I spent 2019 baking artisan bread every week. What splendid luck that William Alexander did the same thing several years ago and documented it in this memoir. 52 Loaves was a perfect companion for my journey; Alexander had roughly the same plans (bake artisan bread each week), goals (improved skills, consistently well-formed and delicious loaves), and desires (quit our old lives and become a baker in a European monastery). Alexander hilariously portrays himself as a manic character, driven by single-minded passion for perfection.

I learned a lot about the practice of baking bread from dedicated cookbooks (see below), but Alexander does the work of historical and scientific investigation into bread baking and condenses it down into the tastiest morsels. He traces the timeline of bread baking from Egypt and Morocco to England and France, and dips into the science of flour, yeast, and heat–all without feeling like a textbook. I gleaned useful tidbits of bread knowledge and felt validated by his experience of the same restrictions and frustrations. Any amateur bread baker should find 52 Loaves informative, engaging, and comforting.

3. The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene (1948)

This book was on my shelf as a gift from my Dad, but I was inspired to finally read it by the many favorable mentions it receives in Americanah. Disparate forces insisted I read it, and now the force is with me: this book is incredible.

Many of the main character Scobie’s emotions, thoughts, and actions are influenced by his Catholic faith; they may be unbelievable or unintelligible to a non-Catholic, but very very real to a lapsed one. Catholic or not, The Heart of the Matter is nothing but clear, perfect prose. Every page glows with powerful sentences that arrest you in the moment, written with the quiet certainty of ancient wisdom. Regardless of its foreign setting and circumstances, the novel is simply human. It is a tale of love and things that look like love and things that are done for what was once love.

4. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara (2015)

a little life

Any initial goodwill was lost when it kicked off with this logic puzzle.

One should never read a book out of obligation. Unfortunately I let obligation drag me through 800+ pages of gratuitous abuse, self harm, and psychological torment. This novel is about one character, but the author couldn’t settle on one way to tell his story. The reader is subjected to jarring changes in narrative voice and meandering back stories of irrelevant characters. The personal stories of intense violence and trauma may be gratifying or affirming to certain readers; I’ll leave A Little Life to them.

5. The World According to Garp, John Irving (1978)

How many times have I read Garp? 4? 6? It’s hard to say. I keep returning to it. I proclaim to the world that it is perfect, that it is one of my favorite books. Then the thought creeps into my head, “You first read Garp as a teenager. There’s no way it’s as good as you remember.”

So I read it again. And it’s as good as I remember. It is perfect. It is one of my favorite books.

6. In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson (2001)

I lifted my moratorium on Bill Bryson’s personal narratives (see: 2015’s Reading Recap on Notes from a Small Island) because a trip to Australia deserved an Australian travelogue. Bryson did what he does best: read a bunch of books about Australia, took a trip around the country, and connected the best bits of history with his lived experience. My trip did not go beyond Sydney, but Bryson took me across the continent. His combination of intelligence, curiosity, and wit make In a Sunburned Country a delight.

7. Postcards from the Edge, Carrie Fisher (1987)

Postcards from the Edge is interesting as a look at the inner thoughts of an addict through the cycles of addition and recovery—while using, deciding to get clean, mid-rehab, post-rehab, relapse. It also explores how a recovering addict returns to their old life (work, family, relationships, self-image, etc.) without their old crutch.

As a piece of literary fiction, PftE leaves a lot to be desired. The narrative structure changes frequently, and there is a lack of fluidity to unify the various formats. Similarly, dialogues between characters are more like alternating monologues. Bon mots should be peppered in like a fine ground spice; these characters shake bon mots out like whole peppercorns that stick in your teeth and detract from the rest of the meal. The novel moves quickly, and it’s fine.

8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1979)

I listened to THGttG in one sitting (driving), having read it over a decade ago. It is everything I remember it being: clever, funny, playful, an entire mythology created from scratch. It felt more like a children’s book than I remember it being (when I was a child), but that doesn’t detract from the delight it imparts.

9. The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding, Robert Hughes (1986)

“Australia started as a penal colony, and its population descended from convicts.” I grew up “knowing” exactly this much about the nation’s history, and I decided to expand my knowledge before visiting last fall. The Fatal Shore introduced the world (including Australians) to the reality of Australia’s origins as a Commonwealth nation. It revolutionized the way I see Australia, its people, and its history.


I couldn’t help taking a photo on the fatal shores of Sydney’s Shelly Beach.

The Fatal Shore follows a complete historical path from the “discovery” of Australia by Europeans, the reasons Britain chose to send convicts overseas, the terrible voyage from England to the South Pacific, the horrifying reality of prisoner life (and death), the inhumane treatment of natives, the eventual abolition of transportation, and finally the reluctance of modern Australians to acknowledge the “convict stain.”


The cruelty of “the system” is breathtaking. Hughes uses contemporary accounts to describe lashings and other gruesome punishments meted out at the whim of whomever happened to govern at any given time. The parallels with the American system of slavery are striking, as are the differences. The effects of European colonialism on Aboriginal people is touched on throughout the book, including one dedicated chapter, though that subject is not the book’s focus. There are consistent references to government policies and social structures that guaranteed cruel treatment of Aborigines for generations.

After reading The Fatal Shore, I cannot laugh at easy jokes about Australians-as-convicts. The truth is ugly and horrifying, and it imbues the Australian people with a complexity and strength that deserves more compassion. Despite my description here, The Fatal Shore is a fantastic read. I was fascinated and engrossed from the first to the last page.

10. You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, Jen Sincero (2013)

Imagine the Works Progress Administration sent researchers door-to-door collecting all the sticky notes posted on Americans’ bathroom mirrors. Then the inspirational quotes written on all those sticky notes were transcribed into a single book. The result would have the tone, coherence, and usefulness of You Are a Badass.

Like many popular self-help books, You Are a Badass is a watered down compilation of better teachers’ advice. It mixes pop psychology, Eastern spirituality, the law of attraction, and whatever else might boost the readers’ self-esteem. Sincero’s dubious claims are delivered in cringe-inducing language that renders the book painful to read. For example, each chapter starts with a quote, and one quote is credited to “Albert Einstein; scientist, awesomist.” The gall.

I’m particularly perturbed by the way Sincero sings the praises of meditation and surrendering, but recommends it in service of a goal and manifestation of your desires (money, love, car, job, etc.). You want X; surrender and X will come to you. I take offense to this order of operations. If you surrender and still expect X, when X does not come you may become frustrated and disillusioned. Maybe you didn’t surrender well enough; maybe surrender is bullshit.

The point of surrender is that X may or may not come to you, but whatever does (whether X or even Y or Z) will be in tune with the universe. If you surrender your expectations, when X, Y, or Z arrives, you can welcome it as natural. Holding on to X is not surrender. *stepping off Tolle soapbox*

11. Do It Now: Essays on Narrative Improv, Parallelogramophonograph (2016)

This brief collection of briefer essays about improv is simple and direct, like the notes a coach might give after a show. I appreciate that the authors don’t pad the pages with theory or anecdotes, which thicken a book but don’t help an improvisor. These essays are geared toward improv forms that tell one continuous narrative over the course of a set. I haven’t performed such a form yet, but I expect to return to these essays if and when I ever do.

12. Poem a Day: Volume 3, Retta Bowen, et al. (2004)

This is the third and final volume of this series. I began each day of 2017-2019 with these poems, and I am a little sad to be left on my own again, without this curated daily selection. After a disappointing Volume 2, Volume 3 returned to what I loved about Volume 1. The selections showcase the English language. The editorial snippets are brief, interesting, and relevant to the poem. The poets’ dates of birth and death are included, and the poem is almost always connected to the specific day of the year (e.g., poet’s birthday, day it was written, day it was inspired). I treasure these volumes and will certainly return to them in time.

Bread Books

As mentioned above, baking bread was a big part of my 2019. I frequently referred to blogs, r/Breadit, and Youtube, but I primarily taught myself from books. The three below taught me almost everything I know.

Full disclosure/not an ad: A baguette class at Zingerman’s Bakehouse taught me how to knead and how to shape baguettes. Worth every penny.

B1. Bread Baking for Beginners: The Essential Guide to Baking Kneaded Breads, No-Knead Breads, and Enriched Breads, Bonnie Ohara (2018)

According to the introduction, Ohara learned to bake bread from many disparate sources of information, and she wants her book to be a single, unified reference of all that knowledge for the benefit and convenience of a beginner baker. As nice as that sounds, I had many questions this book did not answer.

I followed this book for my first loaves and each one flopped. Only very annoying people on the internet make a perfect loaf of bread on their first try, but I had immediate success when I tried a Flour Water Salt Yeast recipe. Is that because I worked out my beginner bread-making kinks with BBfB recipes? Or because Forkish’s methods are easier to follow and more reliable? Who can say.

Even if I’ve never enjoyed a basic loaf of bread from this book, I am indebted to it for one crowd-pleaser I make often: chocolate babka.

B2. Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, Ken Forkish (2012)

I recommend this book to anyone beginning to bake bread. Forkish gradually introduces readers to different elements of bread-baking. First, you work on mixing and shaping dough. Then you add steps to develop more flavor and improve the loaf’s quality. Finally, you create a sourdough starter and work with different variations on naturally leavened breads.

Forkish’s starter feeding method is incredibly wasteful, but I am still using the same starter I birthed fifteen months ago by his recipe. Instead of 400g of flour I only use 20g to feed it, but I don’t dispute that his creation method is effective.

The bacon bread recipe is spectacular. Make it ASAP.

B3. Tartine Bread, Chad Robertson (2010)

The first loaf of Robertson’s Basic Country Bread I made was magical. The oven spring was higher, the crumb was airier, and the crust was crisper than any sourdough I had made before. Similarly, the first sourdough baguettes I made from Tartine were more delicious, crispy, and beautiful than anything else I’ve ever made.


My apprentice poses with our work.

And that’s about it. Tartine Bread goes in depth on one base sourdough method, and expands it with variations. It would have been a mistake to begin with this book, but it was a perfect book to use post-FWSY for sourdough work.

Since I have consistently failed to make a decent pure sourdough loaf from FWSY, the Tartine recipe is the one I return to and experiment with. I have successfully made the recipes for sourdough with walnuts and with sesame seeds, and I frequently experiment with various ratios of different flours.

Closing Thoughts

The three books I loved the most (excepting Garp) were The Fatal Shore, The Heart of the Matter, and 52 Loaves. If you enjoy reading history, fiction, or memoirs, I will recommend these in a heartbeat.

By my calculations I read one book a month last year–a pitiful showing for myself. I ended the year highly motivated to read, and I have already reached a higher total for 2020.

carole king tapestry album cover


For five years I have memorialized the albums that spoke to me in a year-end blog post. The record of 2019 shows that I invested my time into no more than four albums and one EP. That’s it? That’s it.

Out of the five recordings that meant something to me in 2019, here are the top five.

5. Coconut Oil (Lizzo, 2016)

Favorite Song: Good as Hell

coconut oil

Lizzo performed “Good as Hell” on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee the night after DJT was elected. It was a moment of light in a week of heartache.

I returned to this song in the context of Coconut Oil; the EP deserves to be listened to in its entirety. It has all the elements we love from Lizzo. It is empowering, sexy, honest, funny, and heartfelt.

4. The Calendar Album (The Zach and the Jess, 2019)

Favorite Song: Fingers to the Sky

The Calendar Album

Off Book: The Improvised Musical Podcast is auditory magic. Zach and Jess create a musical on the spot, complete with interesting characters, narrative plot, entertaining songs, wordplay, and comedy.

In The Calendar Album, the Zach and the Jess use their talents for creating memorable tunes, playing with language, and heightening comedic premises to create a dozen perfect songs. The songs they improvise are fantastic, but the songs they create, polish, and fine-tune are masterpieces.

3. All Things Must Pass (George Harrison, 1970)

Favorite Song: Beware of Darkness

all things must pass

Let me be crystal clear: All Things Must Pass is my favorite album of all time, and my pick for The Best Album Ever Recorded. I have loved it since my personal Beatlemania branched out into a burning eternal love for George (around eighth grade).

ATMP was not new to me this year, but it consumed me for a large part of it. I could not stop listening to it for weeks, and I wasn’t sure if I ever would. As I have said elsewhere, out of infinite universes, we are lucky to live in one where All Things Must Pass exists and we get to listen to it whenever we want.

2. Cuz I Love You (Lizzo, 2019)

Favorite Song: Soulmate

cuz i love you

I can’t separate Cuz I Love You from three tweets:

Karen Kilgariff posting a link to “Juice” and saying “I simply can’t stop listening to this.”

This introduced me to the lead single from the album. Soon I was listening to it on repeat, and force-feeding it to everyone within earshot. Somehow, the full album was able to live up to this unpunchable jam, loaded to the gills with songs that make me dance, sing, cry, and feel powerful.

Dave Holmes describing the album as “Weapons-grade positivity.

Lizzo’s positivity is most obvious to me when I listen to Cardi B. I still love Invasion of Privacy, but I feel those songs nurture unhealthy impulses toward competition, anger, and dependency. Lizzo empowers through inner strength, without comparison or spite.

Sophia Benoit pointing out that the linchpin of the album is crying.

Crying and behaving “like a girl” are not actions to hide, stifle, or shame; Lizzo reclaims them as feats of strength. We show our gratitude by believing her and following her example.

1. Tapestry (Carole King, 1971)

Favorite Song: So Far Away

cover of Tapestry by Carole King

I listened to Tapestry for the first time this year in an effort to familiarize myself with the full version of the Gilmore Girls theme song. Initially I thought it was a cover album, and I was delighted and amazed to learn what everyone already knew—Carole King is simply a powerhouse songwriter. Every track bleeds honest emotion, be it mental anguish or overflowing affection. Except, perhaps, the baffling title track, which I am content to forget.

Bonus Track: “Heart of the Matter” by Don Henley

While reading Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter, the half-remembered chorus of this classic rock radio staple ran through my head. Listening to it with intention, the earworm became an obsession. My anti-Eagles ethic was overcome, and I’m the better for it.


I spent 2019 distracted. I preferred to listen to podcasters talk than to listen to music. To tip the scales back toward music I have to open my heart to the experience of new art. I will try.

Becoming a Cyclist: My Setup

I picked my bike out of a rewards catalog, so I only had one decision to make: a horizontal top tube (aka a “boy’s bike”), or a sloping top tube (aka a “girl’s bike”). Thank goodness I didn’t have to make any more decisions, because I spent the next three months comparing and considering and stressing over every other accessory a bike might need.

I was terribly afraid of buying The Wrong Thing and regretting it later. While I’m not sure if I bought The Right Thing, I’m satisfied with my choices. In case anyone wants to know what The Satisfactory Thing is for me, here is my setup.

Note: I based a lot of my purchases on what The Wirecutter recommended at the time, and I bought most of it through Amazon. Those two websites run my life, but I don’t blame you if they don’t run yours.

Safety Equipment

Getting a helmet was a non-starter. In the 15 months since I got my bike, I’ve ridden exactly once without my helmet (and that wasn’t by design). I chose the Schwinn Thrasher Lightweight Microshell Bicycle Helmet. It is relatively comfortable, easy to adjust, and visually unassuming. This is probably the first piece that I will replace (or place a request with Santa for an upgrade).

Ever since I read the book Traffic, I have driven my car with the lights on no matter the time or the weather. Headlights are not just so that I can see the road; they are so that other drivers see me. If I’m concerned about the visibility of a 3000lbs car, you better believe I want drivers to see me and my 25lbs bike. For this purpose I have the NiteRider Lumina 1100 Boost Headlight and NiteRider Sentinel 150 Tail Light. They are both easy to turn on and off. They hold a charge for weeks at a time, and they let me know when they are low on battery so I’m never surprised by darkness. The first day I rode my bike with these, a stranger yelled at me to mansplain let me know my light was on. He saw me and noticed me—so I know they are doing their job.

I also have a cheap Schwinn bike floor pump. It measures the PSI and adds air. I don’t have any need for more bells or whistles.

Security Equipment

Living near and working on a college campus, I was convinced that my bike would be stolen. No, not stolen. Disassembled piece by piece. Picked over like a carcass on the savanna. One day I’d leave work to find nothing but a broken U-Lock, a pedal, and a post-it note saying “thanks, sucker.”

I don’t even have a ~*~fancy~*~ bike, but I’ll be damned if the roving gangs of collegiate bike thieves look twice at my bike before moving on to easier prey. In that spirit, I may have gone overboard with my security measures.

Bike cables and ulock

It started with the crowd favorite Kryptonite Evolution U-Lock. Of course, I got the one packaged with a KryptoFlex Double Loop Cable. After experimenting a few months with putting the U-Lock around the tire and the frame (a real pain), I now loop the cable through both tires and secure the U-Lock using the top tube.

But what if someone can cut through the cable? Well, instead of just handing them my tires by leaving the factory quick release skewers on, I upgraded to skewers that require a hex key to remove. That’ll slow them down!

I didn’t need to replace the skewer for the seat, since mine came with a hex key skewer instead of quick release. But any old IKEA-shopping delinquent could carry an allen wrench, so I got a smaller KryptoFlex cable which is permanently looped through the rails under the saddle. I secure this leash to the seat post using a small velcro strap, and the U-Lock loops through it whenever I park.

As a final security measure, I always remove my headlight and tail light before walking away. Take that, criminals!

Storage Equipment

Choosing a storage setup was less about fear, and more about practicality. I never planned to go on arduous trail adventures; I mostly planned to commute to work and occasionally buy groceries. I looked at panniers for weeks, but always returned to a preference for baskets. I first purchased a front basket, but multiple people smirked at this idea, so I returned it.

Bike storageI ended up with an arrangement I’ve only seen a couple times, but I like very much. I have a Planet Bike Eco rear bike rack, with a Wald folding rear bicycle basket on either side. These baskets are perfect for my lunch box, a bag of gear, and/or a standard grocery tote. They are easy to close, which I always do to leave plenty of room at the rack for other bicycles.

My gear bag is just a cheap zip-up bag I got from a work conference. When I’m on the road, it contains my U-Lock and chain. When the bike is parked, it holds my lights and sometimes my helmet. I could have bought a fancy pannier, but the baskets let me use whatever is lying around.

You may be thinking, “She has all these cables and locks and rituals around parking her bike. She must really love doing it.” You would be incorrect. I have made the system as routine as possible, but I truly hate locking up my bike. For that reason (and to minimize exposure to weather and bugs), I always bring my bike inside at home. I mount it on a Racor Solo Vertical Bike Rack, with the rear tire resting in a Delta Da Vinci Bicycle Tire Tray. This rack is sturdy and simple. It’s never been in my way, and I sleep soundly without a care for thieves or spiders.

fullsizeoutput_1a16Occasionally I will take my bike on a non-arduous adventure. For this purpose I have a Saris Bones 2-Bike Trunk Rack. As the bumblebee confounds science by its insistence on flying, this rack appears to be held on by the counter forces of various straps and intense prayer. My bike hasn’t fallen off, so I simply knock wood and keep moving. Never do I ever regret getting the step-through bike frame more than when my bike is on this rack; the rear end of the bike sticks up in the air and it looks dumb as hell.

The Satisfactory Thing

Looking back on my first year of riding, I wouldn’t have chosen anything differently. I might upgrade my helmet and add a noisemaker (just to feel powerful), but I am content in knowing that bike bandits cry into their pillows, lamenting they will never have what’s mine.

Becoming a Cyclist: Learning to Ride

The phrase “just like riding a bike” gets thrown around pretty freely in conversation and pop culture, carrying the implication that “riding a bike” is a simple task, taught once to children who never lose the skill. 

Growing up (sidenote–I carry more emotional bike baggage than I ever knew), there were two types of bicycles: bikes and mountain bikes. “Bikes” were gadget-free fixed-gear street-ready vehicles. To brake you simply pedaled backward; to ride uphill you simply hopped off and walked beside it. “Mountain bikes” had gears and knobby tires. I never owned a mountain bike ergo I never learned how to operate bike gears.

Above all else, learning to use the gears has been the most stressful part of my new life as a bicyclist. Asking experienced bike-riders for advice on how to learn, I regularly hit a wall: people do not understand the question. They’ve been doing it so long that shifting comes naturally, like correct subject-verb agreement, just like riding a bike.

Some compare it to driving a manual transmission car. I’ve driven stick since I was 15, and I even rode a 5-speed motorcycle for a time, but those experiences do not translate into understanding bicycle gears for me. When I think of downshifting a car into 1st gear, I think of the transmission working harder to go up hills. When others talk about downshifting on a bike, the word they use is “easier”–easier for the rider, not for the bike. All car gears are equally easy on the driver, so this terminology throws me off balance a dangerous proposition when on a bicycle). 

The Internet had me covered, of course, and after reading a couple posts and watching a couple videos, I got the gist of my 21-speed (really more like 14-speed) bike. Now I’ve been riding almost daily (during the good weather months) for over a year. I get from A to B without falling off, but I’m still not convinced I’m doing it right–I hear noises and feel the chain behave in ways that surely can’t be good. Even as a cyclist I have impostor syndrome; the sensation comes naturally to me. Just like riding a bike.

Queen Harvest’s Top Five (5) Albums of 2018

By January of 2018, I was burned out. I had spent each of the previous 52 weeks identifying, listening to, and evaluating a new album. Though I got a lot out of my 2017 music mission, I did not have the energy or interest to invest in a lot of new music. As a result, my 2018 listening list is meager. Even so, the magic of music is such that you fall in love with whatever you give your time to. I only invested in a few albums in 2018, but those albums provided me with hefty returns.

5. Sure Sure (Sure Sure, 2018)

Favorite Song: “Koreatown”


This eponymous debut album is like an ice cold Sprite: bright and airy, flavorful and poppy, and uncaffeinated. The back half of the album is not as strong as the first (with the exception of “Hands Up Head Down”), but when it’s good it’s good. Sure Sure uses their punchy, unique sound to create truly remarkable songs. Every time I hear “Friends” or “New Biome,” it feels like I’m hearing it for the first time.

4. Marry Me (St. Vincent, 2007)

Favorite Song: “Paris is Burning”


I listened to Marry Me as the methodical first step toward Getting Into St. Vincent. I’d never heard her music, but second-hand descriptions indicated that she and I would get along. Experience confirms my initial hypothesis.

Marry Me allows me to flex my superpower, which is the ability to point out when a song sounds like The Beatles; I detect a strong whiff of Revolver in “Now Now” and “Your Lips Are Red.” In an additional favorable comparison, the piano in “All My Stars Aligned” could be a B-side of Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane.” “Paris is Burning” is a semi-timeless anthem for a city with a tendency for revolution. The title track is a deliberate march toward an unhappy romance.

Reflecting on this album, I’m surprised to realize that the music stands out to me more than the lyrics. This is normal for many, but highly unusual for a lyric-hound like me. St. Vincent’s lyrics perfectly complement the music, and perhaps that is why the sound cuts through so clearly.

3. Worry. (Jeff Rosenstock, 2016)

Favorite Song: “Staring Out the Window At Your Old Apartment”


Worry. is terrible on paper. Rosenstock doesn’t have a great singing voice. The lyrics are often incomprehensible, and most of the time the songs aren’t even finished. In action, Worry. is wondrous. It is not a collection of singles, but a unified album. It is symphonic in the way songs flow one into the other, the energy rising and falling and crescendoing and collapsing, echos and reflections of words and messages reappearing throughout. Worry. is full of earworms that stick around for weeks–all the more dangerous because they are short and unable to be resolved.

2. The Immaculate Collection (Madonna, 1990)

Favorite Song: “Into the Groove”


Before 2018, I could list half a dozen Madonna singles, but I couldn’t sing you more than two. (“Holiday” is played in pop culture pretty regularly, and I knew “Lucky Star” from a scene in Snatch.) “Material Girl,” “Like a Virgin,” and “Papa Don’t Preach” were just titles to me. Now that I’ve listened to The Immaculate Collection roughly six hundred times, I have what may be a shocking, fresh perspective on Madonna. It is my personal opinion that she makes catchy, delightful, perfect pop songs. Hell, I’d consider her pop royalty. A duchess, perhaps? I may be inviting conflict by saying so, but I stand by it.

1. Invasion of Privacy (Cardi B, 2018)

Favorite Song: “Bickenhead”


As so often precedes my forays into current music, I just wanted to understand what all the fuss was about. And once again, I was infected by the fuss. Cardi B’s take-no-prisoners, give-no-fucks attitude is empowering as hell, and came to me at the moment I needed to feel strong. She is everything I want in a songwriter–her lyrics are funny, playful, and nonstop. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone through this thought cycle: “I love this song! I should sing it at karaoke.” *actually listens to song* “Whoops! Can’t say that word, won’t say that word, that entire verse is off limits. Never mind.” (But I still haven’t ruled out karaoke for good.)

Honorable Mentions

I’ll Be Your Girl (The Decemberists, 2018) Certainly not the strongest Decemberists album, but it definitely grew on me. The band knows it–they didn’t even play the title track during their promotional tour. Superpower at it again: “Rusalka, Rusalka” opens similarly to The Smiths’ “Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me.”

CLPPING (clipping., 2014) Daveed Diggs and company play with sound, words, rhythm, rhyme, meter, and anything else they can get their hands on. “Taking Off” is a mathematical masterpiece, and “Work Work” without fail makes me move.

Looking Toward the Future

Still somewhat reacting to 2017, I am not putting minimums on my music intake for 2019. One guiding principle that has naturally taken shape is this: I don’t have the energy to listen to men sing about women they don’t care about. I’ve heard enough of that point of view. Otherwise, I will take music as it finds me.

Queen Harvest’s Top Ten (10) Movies of 2018

  1. The One that Holds Everything (The Romanoffs Episode 8)

  2. The Violet Hour (The Romanoffs Episode 1)

  3. End of the Line (The Romanoffs Episode 7)

  4. House of Special Purpose (The Romanoffs Episode 3)

  5. The Royal We (The Romanoffs Episode 2)

  6. Bright and High Circle (The Romanoffs Episode 5)

  7. Expectations (The Romanoffs Episode 4)

  8. Panorama (The Romanoffs Episode 6)


I had one goal for reading in 2018: enjoy it. I forced myself to read too many educational books in 2017 for no reason other than I should, and I did not want to wear myself down that way again.

I believe I succeeded.  I still read a fair number of educational books, but they did not need forcing. There are a few books on this list that captured my mind and fired up my soul and filled me with the wonder that is literature’s unique drug.

1. The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck (1931)

I listened to The Good Earth as an audiobook, something I recommend everyone do for books they should read but haven’t gotten around to reading. It’s a book full of shrewd women and weak men, the idle rich and the overworked poor, and the way needs and wants change when the poor gain wealth and the rich become poor. The simple prose and clear storytelling reflect the simplicity of the protagonist’s drive for survival and the lengths to which he goes to stay alive. I expected the novel to end with a revolution of the poor against the protagonist, but prefer the subtle return to a man attached to his land.

2. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov (1962)

If Misery‘s Annie Wilkes and the title character from What About Bob? had a baby who pale firebecame a literary critic, he might have written Pale Fire. It is frequently spoken of in hallowed terms, as a difficult novel, due to its central structural device: the novel takes the form of the annotation of a long poem. My mission in life is to spread the word: Do not fear! The poem is not difficult! The annotations are hilarious! Nabokov reveals the characters (the narrator, the poet, the poet’s wife, the narrator again) with such sly slight-of-hand, you don’t realize how insane the narrator is–even when you’re convinced the narrator is insane. I will reread Pale Fire for two reasons: 1) There are a hundred clues to a mystery you don’t realize you need to solve, and 2) it is a hilarious, beautiful joy to read.

3. Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris (2000)

The first time I remember registering David Sedaris in my mind, he was promoting this book on David Letterman. I was a little put off by the title, since it sounds like the words of a child or a cave man or someone of below average intelligence. I was delighted to learn (in reading) that “Me talk pretty one day” are in fact the words of an adult doing his best. Like so much of Sedaris’s writing, it has a sweetness you can forget lies beneath his outer curmudgeonly attitude.

Sedaris’s essays spin threads of his life, which when woven together result in a truly bizarre tapestry. Here is young/OCD/tic David; here is meth-head performance artist David; here is cat-owner David–they are all the same, multitude-containing David. If he tried to write them all at once, as a long-form autobiography, we probably wouldn’t believe him. His essay work, revealing himself in discrete layers, let us take in his many mannerisms and the lives he has led without ever doubting him.

None of the many Davids revealed unto us seem like the kind of guy who would listen to NPR. Young David always desires fame and adulation; I wonder what he’d think of older David’s devoted public radio fanbase.

4. Vacationland, John Hodgman (2017)

This is the polished version of sets I’d seen Hodgman perform in Birmingham and Atlanta, with new stories and fresh punchlines. Hodgman’s sense of humor directly aligns with mine in just about every way.

Hodgman has accepted the judgment of his style as “white privilege morality comedy.” He is acutely aware of the implications of white privilege, and makes a serious effort to communicate that he knows how his race, sex, and class have affected the life he’s living. I appreciated one detail in particular: when describing a white person in a story, he describes them as “white.” Writers frequently only mention an actor’s race if they are not white, implying whiteness by omission. Just as the “generic he” is on the way out, the “default white” should also be a thing of the past.

5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1962)


Who wouldn’t be enchanted by Maggie Smith?

Perhaps I expected something maudlin or idyllic, like Goodbye Mr. Chips or Mary Poppins, but The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie surprised me by being neither. Far from a stodgy prose narrative, Sparks flows between past and present as easily as Gabriel García Márquez. The title teacher tricks her pupils and the reader into initially believing that she is in Her Prime. Upon reflection, she is not as strong as she projects herself to be; she lives a life of nostalgia, paranoia, and insecurity. Yes, she is an independent woman in a world that somewhat rejects her; yes, the men in her life are fascinated by her; yes, her students remember her long after she is gone, but we never see her through any lens but teacher. We never know her inner life or how she is at home, alone.


6. The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1868-9)

My annual Dosty took me months to finish. I’d like to think I was recreating the original experience of reading it in monthly installments, but honestly it’s another book that takes quite a while to heat up. By Part IV, the narrative voice shifts to a more present, active personality. At the same time, a wave of premonitions, visions, and themes come to fruition in a variety of awful ways, bringing the novel to an exciting, terrible close.

7. The Everything Learning German Book (2d), Edward Swick (2009)

Man cannot live on Duolingo alone. This book was my first German instructor, and reading it straight through gave me an overview of the rules of basic grammar, syntax, vocabulary, conjugations, etc. I will return to this book as needed in the future as I continue learning the language. I didn’t become fluent from reading it, but the explanations and examples were klar as Tag.

8. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)

A Prayer for Owen Meany excerpt

Irving describes his own flowing style in the voice of his narrator.

A few major plot points in Owen Meany are cribbed from my favorite novel Fifth Business; I was inordinately proud of myself for picking up on them and relieved to read that Irving acknowledges the influence. Though I think there are a few too many similarities between the two novels, the relief let me enjoy falling back into Irving’s writing. The way he triangulates seamlessly from topic to topic reminds me of the ease with which Woolf moves among consciousnesses in Mrs. Dalloway. It’s a wonder to behold.

Even so, by drawing so explicitly from Fifth Business, Irving invites comparison. John does not grow and change like Dunstan Ramsay; other characters change too much to be believable. What’s worse, the entire plot wraps up too tightly; perfect puzzles are more appropriate for Agatha Christie mysteries than ambitious literary novels. An opening epigraphs states, “…I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a genuine, self-authenticating religious experience would be…how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt?” Irving goes on to create such an experience, which leaves no room for doubt. Unfortunately, the reason the author of that quote could not imagine such an experience is because cut-and-dry miracles are the stuff of legend. When Irving veers into that territory, the novel lost me.

9. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Kind (and Keep) Love, Amir Levine & Rachel S.F. Heller (2010)

The title is heavy-handed, but the content rings true. Of course there is more to learn and this book won’t solve the world’s problems, but it taught me a tremendous amount about myself and those I am close to. I appreciate this new way of understanding my own (and others’) behavior. Additionally, this book is well-written; it doesn’t fall into that pop-psychology ditch of being overly repetitive or feeling like a sales pitch.

10. The Cow in the Parking Lot: A Zen Approach to Overcoming Anger, Leonard Scheff & Susan Edmiston (2010)

Scheff learned Zen Buddhism from many teachers and created a workshop to share what he learned with others; this is more or less the written version of that workshop. It is little more than a compilation of others’ words, with little insight. It probably works better as a workshop.

11. The Seventh of Joyce, Bernard Benstock, ed. (1982)

This conference monograph was often too dense for me to understand, particularly the bits explicitly about hard science or Finnegans Wake. Nevertheless, there were always little tidbits to pick up and carry along on my next trip to Dublin.

12. I’ll Be Gone In the Dark, Michelle McNamara (2018)

I read this book shortly after the Golden State Killer was arrested, so that I would be understand all the news, rumors, and juicy details in context. Published posthumously, you can tell that certain sections are unfinished or cobbled together from the author’s notes. In addition to being a well-written, fascinating, terrifying book, it carries complex baggage for the modern reader: one is satisfied that the crimes have been solved, but one is woeful that the author–who dedicated so much of her life to unmasking the GSK–did not live to learn his name.

13. The Girls, Emma Cline (2016)

A cautionary tale: the story of how an awkward girlhood, a bad homelife, and an unexpected relationship could lead to joining the Manson Family.

14. Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh (2015)

eileenEileen is my new favorite obsession; it is the rare book I could not believe existed as I was reading it. Strangely, it is very similar to The Girls; though I didn’t intentionally read them in succession, Eileen is the book I had hoped The Girls would be.

The novel is an incredible portrayal of the isolated inner life of an unhappy, intelligent young woman and the light that begins to shine when she meets someone who breaks her icy shell. Moshfegh’s narrator Eileen looks back on a pivotal moment in her life while moving fluidly into reminiscences, explanations, and reflections. She never goes too far off-track, and the reader never forgets where she is. Masterfully written, remarkably dark, hilarious, and thrilling.

15. Dubliners, James Joyce (1912)

Reading Dubliners with a solid foundation of Ulysses allowed me to realize just how intertwined the stories are with the lives of Stephen and Bloom in the Ulyssniverse1. And after years of reading and study, I can finally start to see how they are not just a collection of short stories; the simplicity of Dubliners belies a beauty and complexity on par with any other Joyce work.

16. Suspicious Readings of Joyce’s Dubliners, Margot Norris (2003)

After I read Dubliners the first time, I knew I missed a world of depth. This book revealed that world to me. With an essay corresponding to each short story, Suspicious Readings is a perfect companion piece to the original. I alternated reading a story with its critical essay, and my world expanded with each new perspective and revelation. Written with the benefit of nearly a century of Joyce scholarship and a woman’s perspective, Norris questions the motives and decisions of each story’s narrator. She dives into how the style, voice, and other details work to manipulate the reader, and a bit into how individual stories contribute to the whole.

17. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce (1916)

I was alarmed and confused to realize that I had not read Portrait since 2015, before I ever read Ulysses. I am hungry to dive into the criticism on Portrait–there is so much to learn! The sermon on Hell doesn’t scare me as much as it did before; now I just have The Good Place to keep the fear of eternal damnation alive in my soul.

18. The Story of Art (16th) E.H. Gombrich (1995)

Rather than a textbook history of art, with names and dates never veering from fact, this sistine-chapel-ceiling-flattened-1is a story of art, with an engaging narrative style that pretty cleanly connects people and movements to one another. It is exciting to read, and every concept is illustrated with large, colorful images.

The Story of Art retains many of the problematic elements typical of a work originally published in 1950. The author is fairly patronizing toward primitive peoples and their art, and he completely dismisses the role of Middle Eastern culture in preserving science and techniques that allowed the Renaissance to even occur. An honest title would identify this as the story of Western art. Nevertheless it is a well-told and beautiful story.

19. Homesick for Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh (2017)

Riding the high from Eileen, I was initially concerned by the cynicism of this collection of short stories by the same author. I felt drained and overwhelmed at first, but the energy builds and builds with each story. Moshfegh can make my jaw drop.

20. How to Read Poetry Like a Professor: A Quippy and Sonorous Guide to Verse, Thomas Foster (2018)

This slim volume starts with many of the basics I’ve learned and forgotten about poetry–trochees and dactyls, sonnets and villanelles. This book was truly valuable because of three points Foster makes about literally reading poetry. Two points resolved uncertainties I’d been wrestling with, and the third enhances the experience still more.

  1. Ignore line breaks, and read according to the punctuation.
  2. Ignore the lilt of the meter, and read like a normal human.
  3. Read poems out loud, not silently in your head.

My daily morning poem is all the more enjoyable thanks to these tips.

21. How to Be the Greatest Improviser on Earth, Will Hines (2016)

In 2018 I accidentally got into improv comedy. This is the first book on improv I read to supplement my classes and other practices. Hines expounds on improv maxims (e.g., yes-and) and adds and emphasizes as his experience moves him (e.g., know care say). Among the very useful mini lessons is one big lesson: Each mantra may only be helpful to an individual for a short while. That means I can use a line as guidance for now, and be OK if I need something different later. I wrote out a list of such lines from this book for future (and current) reference.

Another plus of Hines’ book is it is laugh-out-loud funny–as in, I laughed out loud while trying to read quietly at work.

22. Ulysses, James Joyce (1922)

This was the third June in a row that I thought, “I should be reading Ulysses right now.” I had not read the Ullyssniverse trilogy in order since the first time I read them in 2015-2016. I was able to remember the backstories of many of the folks who appear in Dubliners, enriching my and Bloom’s experience. I would like to dig into the criticism on the episodes Nausicaa and Oxen of the Sun.

23. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

I’d read it long ago, but after countless hours listening to My Favorite Murder and consuming similar shows, Lolita strikes me as a fictional true crime novel. As a people, we are more comfortable reading about murderers than child molesters, and Nabokov is better with the English language than pretty much anyone, so typically Lolita is not grouped with the rest of the genre.

Though our narrator Humbert thinks it is romantic, Lolita does not romanticize his relationship with Lolita.The ugliness and violence are out in the open. The child’s voice is almost unspoken, but her misery is clear. The entire novel is the raving of a maniac.

24. All the Light You Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (2014)

I have a laundry list of problems with this book, but I couldn’t put it down. Perhaps I just wish it met its full potential.

25. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf (1922)

To the Lighthouse is a wonderful depiction of the oceans of feeling, emotion, thought, memory, etc., that roll beneath each person’s external presence, actions, and words. I knew nothing of this novel, and was surprised and intrigued by the structure of two single days, separated by ten years.

26. Poem a Day, Vol. 2, Laurie Sheck ed. (2003)

I was disappointed in Volume 2 of this series. The author of Volume 1 took great care in linking the day of the year to a day in the poet’s life. Volume 2 doesn’t even list the poets’ dates of birth and death. Instead, each poem is accompanied by a long and uninteresting biography of the poet. This collection also includes a fair number of translations and recently published poems, which tend to be less desirable to me.

I look forward to Volume 3 each day of 2019.

In Conclusion

My numbers went down a bit in 2018, but the quality went up. The books I got the most out of or will certainly return to are as follows:

  1. Pale Fire
  2. Eileen
  3. The Story of Art
  4. Suspicious Readings of Joyce’s Dubliners

In 2019 I hope to continue seeking out novels that put a fire in my belly, and disregard books that feel like a chore.

1. Trademark 2019 Kate E. Britt