It’s the end of the decade. Can you believe it?
The last 10 years have been so full of books, movies, television shows, podcasts, and other widely creative content that it’s a wonder we all haven’t gone comatose from sleep deprivation (though we most certainly are sleep-deprived).
While everyone seems to be doing their “top 10 of the decade” lists, we’ve stuck to just 2019 to save you a few dozen scrolls of the page.
Without further ado, here’s Craft Your Content’s fourth annual roundup of our favorite content from the past year.
Elisa Doucette is the Founder and Managing Editor of Craft Your Content. She also works on all client strategy, writing coaching, and program creation.
Another year, another 350 or so days of me wishing that I had read way more. As someone who used to read 50 to 75 books a year, I’m not sure I’ve knocked out 20 in 2019. Some years are just like that. I’ve had a lot going on, and “Schitt$ Creek” is streaming all five seasons on Netflix. So yes, I’ve fallen off the book bandwagon in 2019. It happens. Fortunately, 2020 is right around the corner; a new year to get back into reading voraciously.
Nonetheless, I do have a few picks for you to take a look at—some books and content I loved this year.
I stumbled onto this book when looking for some new writing process authors on Amazon, and by the time I finished the first chapter, I was irked with mutual friends and peers that no one had turned me onto Anne Janzer’s books before.
Aside from being a top pick for 2019, this book managed to blast its way onto my list of books that anyone who wants to become a (more) professional writer should read. It delves into one of my favorite topics in writing that few people explore, and that is the mindset and act of actual brain processes that fuel the creative process.
Janzer breaks down the swirling scribble of creative thought into two distinct mindsets: The Muse and The Scribe (with a brilliant little classics lesson, for folks unaware of the history and narrative behind these concepts). Throughout the book, she not only teaches readers how to understand and use their Muse or Scribe mindsets, but also explains how the two interact with each other.
And how very vital both are to the writing process.
Writing books focus so much on the how-to and mechanics of writing, when the problem I find with almost every single writer I’ve ever edited or coached is that they are struggling to find a process that brings out their best thoughts while still producing and hitting deadlines.
(As a bonus, I was able to talk about all this with Anne on this episode of the Writers’ Rough Drafts podcast.)
I have loved Stephen Fry’s work since the days of Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster, but many don’t realize he is also an accomplished writer, with volumes of fiction, nonfiction, and scripts to his name. Plus countless articles, columns, and essays.
So, when I heard that he had a book retelling some of the most adored (or feared!) Greek myths, I knew I had to read it.
What I love about this book is that even though I have a background in the myths and classics (you don’t study Latin for eight years and do a thesis on Ovid’s Metamorphoses without picking up some stories), it would still be a fun read for someone without that experience. Fry doesn’t serve a modern retelling as much as he tells the original stories in a modern way … meaning that anyone who communicates with other human beings through speaking or writing will get what he is saying.
He goes off on these hilarious tangents of commentary like “Gaia visited her daughter Mnemosyne, who was busy being unpronounceable.” That’s funny stuff, as we’re all thinking something similar as we read through. Additionally, Fry is a smart guy. He hosted a game show based on completely obscure trivia and information, and brings that knowledge into this hilarious mythological adaptation.
As a bonus, get the Audible version like I did, and you’ll get Fry (a noted audiobook narrator for little titles like the Harry Potter series) performing the book. Yes, I said performing, because he has performed excerpts from this book at various festivals and shows, and listening to him is flat-out delightful.
Honorable Mentions: Narrative Economics: How Stories Go Viral and Drive Major Economic Events by Robert J. Shiller, Why Didn’t Anybody Tell Me This Sh*t Before?: Wit and Wisdom from Women in Business by Marcella Allison and Laura Gale, and Brené Brown: The Call to Courage on Netflix
Erika Rasso is the Director of Development and Production at Craft Your Content. She also works on various executive assistant and marketing projects.
This year, I finished up my Masters of Fine Arts in Screenwriting and started working full-time at a production company in Los Angeles. Stacks of scripts and lists of movies and shows to watch take up most of my free time, so my top two pieces of content are just that: a movie and a show.
If you like watching movies to have a good time and a few laughs, this is not the film for you. Jennifer Kent is best known for writing and directing The Babadook, a horror film about a family’s inner demons personified. The Nightingale is Kent’s second feature, and it’s a little less metaphorical about monsters than The Babadook.
The Nightingale is about a young Irish indentured servant who fights her way through the Tasmanian wilderness to take revenge on a group of British soldiers who brutalized her and her family.
What I love about this story isn’t simply that it’s a female revenge fantasy, but that it doesn’t shy away from extremely difficult topics. Rape, infanticide, slavery, and the horrors of British colonialism on indigenous peoples (in this case, the aboriginal people of Tasmania) are addressed with an unflinching realism that caused walkouts when it premiered and an Italian journalist to shout “whore” when Kent’s name appeared in the credits.
As a young female filmmaker, seeing someone like Jennifer Kent create something so well written, beautifully shot, and wholly personal is the best inspiration I could ever ask for.
As I’m writing this, the first season just ended last Sunday. There are hundreds of articles already out about how brilliant this show is, but I thought I’d highlight it in this roundup because … duh, it’s brilliant.
This series is so well plotted, so unlike anything else, that it served as more than a fitting replacement for the disappointment that was Game of Thrones in the end. The series takes place 34 years after the events of the comic, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and follows a police officer named Angela Abar as she navigates the world of masked vigilantes and masked police.
Except it’s so much more than that. Characters from the original comic show up, and old stories are given new meaning. By now, many shows and films have addressed racial tensions in modern America, but none quite like this. Watchmen doesn’t care about placating its viewers. It’s going to tell you a complete story no matter how controversial or taboo.
I, like many others, was still scarred by what happened to the show Lost and hesitant to trust Damon Lindelof with such a famous piece of intellectual property. But by golly, he did it. He made something that honors the source material and expands on the world in such an important way. While I crave more of this show, Lindelof said this about future seasons, which I can’t help but respect.
So, watch it before you’re spoiled … and savor it.
Honorable Mentions: The Adventure Zone: Amnesty by The McElroys, Jojo Rabbit by Taika Waititi, How to Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t by Lane Moore, What We Do in the Shadows, the series by Taika Waititi
Chris Angelis is a Senior Content Editor at Craft Your Content. He also writes regularly for the CYC site.
I have a confession to make: I’m extremely picky when it comes to reading. I only read a few books in a given year—perhaps fewer than what you’d expect from an English major, author, and editor who keeps telling you about the importance of reading.
But perhaps that’s a stage in our evolutionary scale as producers and consumers of art. With enough experience, we eventually learn to spot the gems hiding in the depressingly large pile of dirt.
And so, let me make use of my experience and expertise (only surpassed by my modesty), and share with you the gems that I discovered in 2019.
How could I explain what Killing Commendatore really is? In terms of genre, the best description is “a Haruki Murakami novel,” which tells readers who are familiar with him all they need to know—and reveals nothing to those who aren’t.
On the surface, Murakami’s novel sounds simple enough: A painter, after his wife suddenly announces she doesn’t love him anymore, moves to a secluded location in a Japanese valley. There, he attempts to rediscover his love for painting. But when a mysterious neighbor asks him to paint his portrait, things begin to get out of control.
In some ways, Murakami’s novel is tinted with detective-fiction hues. There’s a masterfully sustained aura of mystery floating in the crisp air of the Japanese countryside. Past secrets, unknown characters, and puzzling motivations make sure that the reader is always eager to see what it’s all about.
Things get much more complicated (and interesting) once the narrative becomes laced with Gothic tropes. Murakami flirts with the supernatural, but—in typically Gothic fashion—there is no clear separation between reality and illusion. Surely, the reader wonders, there aren’t 3-foot-tall ideas materializing out of thin air to talk to you about relationships, right?
The answer doesn’t really matter. In Killing Commendatore—a novel that, deep down, is about identity, meaning, self-awareness, and repressed desire—answers are far less important than the questions themselves. Ultimately, Murakami’s novel is a highly symbolic, elaborate canvas where each individual reader can place dyes they are interested in.
In a literary landscape polluted by unfathomable mediocrity and painful linearity, such a piece of art definitely has my attention and respect.
The odds were stacked against Stories from the Nation of Wisland: a debut novel by unknown authors, published independently, with barely any reviews, and with a plot reminiscent of fantasy fiction—which I loathe. I took a leap of faith with reading this one, and I was certainly rewarded.
Once again, the plot description doesn’t reveal the incredible depth hidden beneath it. The novel is set in a fictional country (Wisland), a pre-industrial nation on the cusp of change. The story follows a few characters as they experience the passage from an agrarian, superstitious way of life to modernization and reason.
What the description doesn’t reveal, however, is the stunningly original narrative style that, quite frankly, is enough reason to read the book. Descriptions are refreshingly authentic. (To name one example, bells don’t sound like “ding-dong,” but like “time-time” or “come-come”.)
Moreover, considering how the entire novel is presented as a collection of narratives and viewpoints—Stories from the Nation of Wisland, remember—it’s highly suitable that the reader discovers a wealth of expression modes.
Most chapters contain ordinary prose, but they are supplemented by chapters presented as plays, poems and fables, and even engineering manuals. Even “ordinary” parts sometimes trick you into reading something other than prose:
Alexander Wall is sleeping under dim and heavy dreams. Shapes froth white and stumble, and everything is as it seems. […]Fragrant rosewater. Untended pine. Thin pebble fence. Sundel. Time.
Pair this magnificent narrative style with an exploration of philosophy, economic systems, and cultural identity, and you have a narrative that, although set in an imaginary land reminiscent of the Middle Ages, feels uncannily modern and relevant.
Honorable Mentions: Permanent Record by Edward Snowden, The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce by Paul Torday, and The Lighthouse, by Robert Eggers
Melissa Lewis Grimm is a Senior Copy Editor at Craft Your Content. She also writes for and coordinates our fortnightly email newsletter, The Writing Rundown.
One of my goals for 2020 (which was also a goal for 2019) is to read more. Since I’ve been able to get more of my freelance work done while my son is at preschool, I should have more time at night to get in some great reads. Here are a couple good books I found the time to read this year.
I heart the TV characters Mindy Lahiri and Kelly Kapoor. If you are a fan of The Mindy Project or the American version of The Office (in which Mindy Kaling was a writer and an actress), you’ll dig this book.
Mindy’s writing style is natural, and her words flow quite easily. You feel like you’re chatting with a gal pal as opposed to reading her words on the page. She exudes confidence while also being self-effacing. She is so charming, delightful, and hilarious.
Her stories made me chortle and smile. She covers everything from Hollywood beauty standards, to the time she met President Obama, to waking up at 4 a.m. in a panic with a million questions running through her anxious mind (me about three nights a week).
I love the title of this book, because why not us? Mindy had very little confidence when she first started writing for The Office, but she worked tirelessly at her craft, and look at her now? She has become a wildly successful star.
Success takes a lot of hard work, but you can do anything you want to do if you put in enough time and effort to meet your goals. Don’t let fear or impostor syndrome hold you back. Just as Mindy did, keep putting yourself out there, and just be you.
My 4-year-old son has a great deal of trouble calming his mind and body and managing his emotions. His occupational therapy sessions, along with help from me and my husband, assist him with his struggles, but we are always looking for new ways to make these hard times a bit easier. When I saw this book at the library, I asked him if we should check it out because it might help us calm down. He said, “Yes, that’s a good idea, Mommy. We need that.”
Sometimes, adults and children alike need a reminder to pause and enjoy the world around us a bit more. Life and work are stressful—even the life and work of young children. Our minds our filled with so many thoughts, both good and bad, that we can quickly become overwhelmed.
Wynne Kinder presents different ways to focus your attention, use all your senses (not just sight) to receive information, concentrate on breathing, and take a walk. Some things are mostly for kids, like making a glitter jar, or sending out bubbles of kindness, but many of the suggestions also apply to adults.
The idea of practicing mindfulness might sound a bit woo-woo, but don’t knock it until you try it. It might help you focus enough to find your creativity and hone your writing skills, or help you with anything in life that is troubling you.
So, take a rainbow breath, and give mindfulness a try.
Caroline Johnson is a Content Writer at Craft Your Content.
Art by Marylou Falstreau, “Women and the Hourglass”
Specific Painting: https://mfalstreau.com/product/color-prints-and-cards/
I never considered myself much of an “art” person. I’m more of a “words” person, as evidenced by the fact that I’m a writer! After seeing Marylou Falstreau’s “Women and the Hourglass” collection on display at a store in Sedona, Arizona, I found myself drawn to her words … on art. The collection is inspiration in its finest form. I felt personally drawn to the one that said, “One day she woke up and decided to color outside of the lines … and her heart breathed a sigh of relief.” How beautiful.
Now, I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a sucker for inspiration, but can’t we all agree that this line is a line we should aspire to live up to? What if every day, we woke up and decided to color outside of the lines? What if we threw away the ideals in our head of what we should be or should do and instead became the creative, quirky people we want to be? Maybe it’s the writer in me, but this hit me deeply. We all have the capacity to create things in our own unique way … but often, we hesitate because of fear, worry, or judgment.
Whether this is applicable in your professional life, personal life, life as a writer, or whichever, I think we can all take away something from this art. Your craft and the words you write are yours and yours only. I love the way this piece of art inspires us to embody that and let our hearts breathe a sigh of relief, getting rid of the “should be” and creating words of art that we want to.
Joaquin Roman is a Copy Editor at Craft Your Content.
I tend to focus on readings that are more in line with the editing business we’re all involved in, so I’ve picked two books that are easy to read and informative at the same time. I pick up the first one all the time whenever I’m in doubt about punctuation.
This is one book I depend on whenever I’m having trouble editing something (like whether to use a comma before quoted text or when not to use a question mark following text that is phrased as a question). It covers everything from apostrophes and commas, to numbers and addresses, all in an easy-to-follow and understandable style.
The book covers accepted and suggested punctuation guidelines based on the writing style (book editing, news and business, science, and academic) that a writer might use, but with a difference: In cases where the different styles disagree, she turns to a panel of experts for their opinions.
Sometimes the panel members agree on how to punctuate something, and sometimes they don’t, a reminder that there are no hard and fast rules in writing. Many times, it’s a matter of preference or intent.
Here’s an example from the book. Which of these is correct?:
- “a young single person”
- “a young, single person”
Answer: Both. It depends on the intent of the writer. Phrase a) refers to a single person who happens to be young. Phrase b) refers to a person who is both young and single.
This is a useful and easy-to-read book for anyone who has punctuation questions or just needs a refresher on good punctuation habits.
The book also contains a handy list of spelling suggestions based on book, news, scientific, and academic styles.
In this book, Casagrande focuses on how to put sentences together based on usage rather than a prescribed set of “grammar rules,” something I need to keep in mind when proofreading.
Part I is a useful review of grammar and the elements that make up grammar: nouns, verbs, adverbs, etc. But the author doesn’t make any judgment regarding what is good or what is bad grammar. She highlights the fact that grammar is based on common usage and practices rather than rules dictated by some body of experts.
In part II, she goes over common issues we all face when writing or speaking.
For instance, Casagrande explains when to use “less” versus “fewer,” “who” versus “whom,” and more.
Here’s one that always trips me up:
“It is I who is getting a pay raise.” (incorrect)
“It is I who am getting a pay raise.” (correct)
The second sentence is correct because “who” is referring to its antecedent “I.”
She makes it clear that as words and expressions are introduced into the language, become common, and eventually make their way into the “dictionary,” they become part of standard, or accepted, English. In other words, if a word makes its way into the dictionary, it’s part of the language, like it or not.
Julia Hess is the Podcast Editor at Craft Your Content.
While I started the year with the intention of reading a lot more fiction, I ended up listening to a ton of nonfiction books and reading only a couple works of fiction. In February, I found myself drawn to the world of audiobooks as a way of engaging my mind during my long, boring daily commute. If you haven’t tried listening to an audiobook yet, you have to try it at least once. And you can listen for free! I downloaded the Libby app, which allows me to borrow audiobooks from my local library, and I listened to 26 audiobooks over the course of the year. FOR FREE! Yes, dreams do come true.
After all that listening, and a bit of reading, I’ve narrowed down my favorite pieces from the year.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I finished read Americanah at the very beginning of the year, but it was one of those books that I had been trying to read for a while. It probably took me about a year of picking it up, reading a little, then reading more a few months later, until I finally finished it in January. One of my favorite TED Talks ever is Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story,” and while reading the novel, I found myself reminded of it again and again.
Americanah tells the stories of Ifemelu, Obinze, Aunty Uju, and Aisha, with a major focus on Ifemelu and Obinze’s paths. Their experiences showcase how there is no single story about what it means to feel like or be an immigrant in the United States, or to live in Nigeria, or to identify with a specific community, which is what Adichie also hopes people take away from her TED Talk. Americanah deals with many conversations on race, and the unnecessarily complicated and arduous immigration process both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, challenging you as the reader to face your own biases and assumptions. I especially connected with Ifemelu’s nostalgia and sadness for a place she wishes to return to, but isn’t the same as before she left.
While it’s a long novel, it was definitely worth every minute of reading. As writers, we can strive to ensure we’re avoiding the dangers of a single story by making sure we capture a multitude of perspectives, especially when sharing a story that portrays a community or a person in a particular way.
This audiobook kicked off my listening habit (*cough* obsession *cough*) and inspired me to listen to more memoirs by other female actors and comedians for a little while. I still think about what Mindy said on how to break into an industry full of people not like you: “… write your own part. It is the only way I’ve gotten anywhere. It is much harder work, but sometimes you have to take destiny into your own hands.”
Whether it’s writing or establishing yourself in a new profession, there comes a point where you have to break off from the path and do your own thing. Similar to when I read Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please a few years ago, I think I needed to hear a lot of Mindy’s advice at this moment in my life. It was comforting to hear that things take a lot of hard work before you get to exactly where you want to be—it feels like the hard work I’m doing now to figure out what I want to do as a career isn’t for nothing. Mindy’s talent and enthusiasm for writing is contagious. If you’re feeling like you’re in a creative rut, listen to an audiobook by a comedian. There are dozens of them, but I recommend listening to a comedian who’s also a writer—like Phoebe Robinson, Abbi Jacobson, Issa Rae, Lindy West, or Amy Schumer. Mindy’s break into the writing world is inspiring, and it definitely sparked some creativity-seeking in my own life after listening to it.
Honorable mentions (all audiobooks read by the author!): Becoming by Michelle Obama, Shrill by Lindy West, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish, Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg, and A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren
Nick Labonté is a Content Writer at Craft Your Content.
I have something of a love/hate relationship with fantasy. I grew up on stories of knights and dragons, so the genre definitely has its appeal for me. But there’s just so much bad fantasy out there, the kind of stuff that, when you read it, makes you throw up your hands and go “oh, come on!”
Kings of the Wyld was easily my top read of the year. I’ve recommended it to friends constantly, describing it as “sort of like if a Rolling Stones biopic got mashed up with an Expendables movie and a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual.” It’s got heart, humor, and massive stakes.
More importantly, at a time when I’m ping-ponging between genres, and constantly asking myself “can I do this? Can I write novels?,” books like Kings of the Wyld remind me that, yes, there is stuff out there like what I enjoy writing, and maybe my little novels have a shot at getting out there, too.
If we’re counting the audiobook—which I am—I’ve read this book twice. If you’re a writer (especially if you write fiction), you’ve heard about this book. If you read it, you probably have your own opinions about it. If you haven’t read it, you should.
Having read this book twice over three years means I’ve experienced it at very different points in my writing journey. The first time I read it, I believed that natural talent was all it took to be a writer. I was coasting on memories of teachers and family members telling me “oh, you’re such a good writer,” and just writing when I felt like it.
Then I read the book.
And I started taking my craft much more seriously.
Yes, I had to absolutely learn the grammar, syntax, and all the little rules I’d been glossing over my whole life. No, I couldn’t just read casually. I had to read as much as I could. And I had to read outside my comfort zone. Reading this book when I did put me on the path of taking this craft seriously. It got me writing every day, and it got me to read things I never would have otherwise.
I read it again earlier this year. It served as a kind of validation of how far I’d come already, and how far I still have to go.
I’m probably going to read it again sometime soon. I’ve still got questions I need answered.
D.T. Yates (Doug) is a Content Editor at Craft Your Content.
Choosing a top pick for 2019 was hard for me. As a lover of classic works, I tend not to read much new content and like to stick with and analyze old works of literary art. So, instead of picking something that came out this year, I decided to choose something I read this year only for the first time.
Betrayal by Harold Pinter
Having just recently graduated with a degree in Theater, I can definitely say I’ve read plenty of play scripts over the past few years. This year, the one I found most intriguing was Betrayal by Harold Pinter.
Pinter plays are normally known to have their own unique abstractness about them, modeling after the works of both Samuel Beckett and Anton Chekhov. Each one focuses on its own theme surrounding how life works, its purpose, and our meaning in life. More specifically, how we act in the world around us. Betrayal’s focus, while revolving around a love triangle between three friends, seems fixated on the never-changing motives of people and how, even though time may pass, our wants and desires relatively stay the same.
From a writer’s perspective, analyzing Pinter forces its reader to not only question the motives of the characters within the play, but the motives of themselves as well, and what that means about our own self-development. It certainly can help teach a valuable lesson about character creation and how to keep consistency throughout an entire work.
You can always read Betrayal by picking up a copy at your local bookshop or library, or if you’d rather, you can opt for the movie version starring Jeremy Irons. Personally, I’d recommend reading it first, drawing your own opinions of what each moment means, and then watching the movie to see how in touch you really are with abstract works. You’d be amazed at what you can learn from studying a play script!
What’s on your list?
What’s the piece of content that made you most excited or inspired this year? What about this decade?
We hope at least one of these recommendations makes your list. Or maybe it’ll make the list next decade. But, if we haven’t mentioned one of your favorites, check out our previous lists from 2018, 2017, and 2016 to see if we mentioned it there! Or, head on over to Facebook or Twitter to share your recommendations with future readers. We’ve got a whole new year to fill up!
Until next time, hope your holiday is merry, bright, and full of inspiration.