If you’re like us, maybe you dealt with the never-ending spiral of badness that was 2020 by consuming a ridiculous amount of content … or maybe you just doomscrolled Twitter and binged Netflix.
We’re not judging!
As you’ll see, a lot of us didn’t get to do all the reading/listening/watching we thought we would. (Perhaps you find yourself in this vast expanse of people who had lofty plans in early pandemic days that didn’t quite work out how you thought by year-end.)
If you’re looking for recommendations to start 2021 fresh, we’ve got you covered.
Elisa Doucette is the Founder and Managing Editor of Craft Your Content. She also works on all client strategy, writing coaching, and program creation.
Well, 2020. What can I say about this year that hasn’t already been said?
Like many, I had ambitious hopes of reading all the books as quarantine and social distancing pushed us indoors for months on end. I also planned to learn a new language, do intense yoga sessions five days a week, and write a book of my own.
Instead, I binge-watched episodes of British panel and quiz shows like my life depended on it (some nights, my sanity certainly did!).
Still, by the power of Audible and stolen moments of curling up with a book before sleep whisked me away, I managed to find some good reads for you (and one series to watch in Honorable Mentions 📺).)
I had heard about this book from no less than a dozen people on various social media feeds over the past year. Somehow, in a flurry of Audible credit spending, I ended up throwing it into my cart with a slew of other titles.
So happy I did, as many reviews noted that the audiobook is a more engaging experience than reading the physical copy.
I won’t lie, you have to be open to the power of therapy and interested in the shared human experience to really get something from this book. If you are, then you might just have the same experience I did (legit laughing out loud and stopping what I was doing to sit and cry) at various points in the story.
It tells the story of a therapist, who needs to start seeing a therapist for herself when life throws her a major curveball—and how she then weaves her own learning and experiences through the tapestry of four different patients that are all “going through their own stuff.”
The book is a beautiful reminder that while we all have different situations and circumstances we find ourselves in, we really are not all that different. And that’s quite a comforting notion.
This book is a blooming onion or patchwork quilt (depending on which metaphor you want to run with) of layers and interwoven character storylines that somehow all center around one man. It is often marketed as a perfect follow-up for anyone who liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.
Andrew works in a council office in the UK, and his job is to find the next-of-kin for people who die alone.
Consider this book a love story that is surrounded by death. There is Andrew’s job that is literally “about death,” the deaths of family and friends, the death of dreams and relationships, the death of objects, death death death death death.
Sounds uplifting, huh?
Add to it the little white lie Andrew told his boss years ago, that comes to an epic and darkly comedic climax as death comes falling down all around him—and we learn how very important it is to seek out people in our lives to save us from dying alone (even if we aren’t dead yet).
Honorable Mentions: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, “Connected: The Hidden Science of Everything featuring Latif Nasser” on Netflix, “QI: Quite Interesting” British trivia show
Erika Rasso is the Director of Production at Craft Your Content. She also works on various executive assistant and marketing projects.
I wish I could say that I got to read more books this year, but that’s simply not the case. Well, published books. Lots of scripts, some friends’ WIP novels, and a ton of my own rough drafts. Same goes for podcasts. Without my daily commute to an office, I lost a lot of listening time. However, the ones that I did get around to definitely stood out!
It took a global pandemic and quite a lot of boredom to bring the Los Angeles Public Library’s many resources to my attention. Including the fact that you can check out e-books?! I know … duh, Erika. How could you not know this?
A friend of mine at Bad Robot kept hyping up the new TV series they were producing based on this book, and it piqued my interest enough to loan out from the library. As you probably already know, the library gives you a few weeks to read the books you take out. I only needed one to finish. I devoured it like Cthulhu.
Lovecraft Country isn’t about H.P. Lovecraft at all, though. The book actually turns Lovecraft’s style (and his known bigotry) on its head. It’s about the experiences of a Black family in the Jim Crow era. When they get pulled into a world of secret societies, magic, and science fiction, they realize who holds the power and how fragile that hold really is.
What I thought would be a straightforward narrative was actually structured into smaller, shorter stories focused on each member of the family and their personal experiences with the broader world of magic/sci-fi. However, everything led up to an extremely satisfying conclusion.
I’m sad to say, after reading the book and watching the series as it aired earlier this year … the book is leaps and bounds better than the series. I feel like such a snob saying that, but it’s not coming from a cruel place. The thing is, some of the metaphors and themes just didn’t translate well to the screen, and those were the themes I most connected to.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to get adaptations right. I think both the book and the series exist in their own spaces and thrive separately. So whether you’ve already seen the series or haven’t yet delved into this world, I’d definitely recommend both.
Dissect is a podcast hosted on Spotify in which the hosts pick an album each season to … well, dissect. Each episode of the season takes a song off the album and discusses its lyrics, stylistic influences, music samples it uses, references it makes, and how it relates to the artist and the album as a whole.
For the past five or more years, Spotify has been collecting my data and recognizing that I am 100% a Beyonce stan. Actually, I have an unhealthy listening obsession. Top .5% of listeners for 2020.
So naturally, they knew that recommending Season 6 of their Dissect Podcast, where the hosts dissect Lemonade, would be a slam dunk right into my earholes. Lemonade is Beyonce’s Rumours. It’s deeply personal, it’s timely, it’s beautiful, it’s like nothing Beyonce has ever done.
Combined with its visual album and poetry, Lemonade is both a singular and artistically collaborative masterpiece. Listening to Cole Cuchna and Titi Shodiya peel back the layers of Lemonade, while digging into the symbolism and reflecting on its historical significance (especially during a summer of monumental importance) was an absolute pleasure of my daily quarantine walks.
There are several seasons of this show, so if Beyonce isn’t your jam, maybe you’ll find another album you’d like to hear dissected.
Honorable Mentions: Sawbones (podcast) with Justin and Dr. Sydnee McElroy, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, I Would Leave Me if I Could by Halsey, “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+, “The Boys” on Amazon, “What We Do In the Shadows” on FX
Chris Angelis is a Senior Content Editor at Craft Your Content. He also writes regularly for the CYC site.
I know many people like to set reading goals—having an X number of books they “must” read in a month or a year—but I like to focus on quality, rather than quantity. And so, perhaps surprisingly for a writer, editor, and overall someone dealing with texts, I don’t read a lot.
Having said that, I can be a voracious reader and, once I begin, it can be hard to stop. It’s not unusual to discover a new author and then go on a binge and read all of their books in a matter of days.
And so, allow me to share with you two of the books that satisfied my literary hunger in 2020.
Anything featuring a cat—be it a pillow, a coffee mug, or a meme—has my attention, and a book couldn’t be an exception.
The Traveling Cat Chronicles, by Hiro Arikawa, is one of those books that shatter every rule describing how to write a novel. Having an animal as a protagonist—and narrator!—is not unheard of, and that includes animals that think, theorize, and philosophize. And yet, Arikawa’s novel appears refreshingly unique and original.
Satoru, a young man, travels around Japan with his cat, Nana. The goal of this road trip is to find a new owner for Nana, as compelling circumstances make it impossible for the two of them to continue living together.
But this is only the beginning, as there is a fairly intricate web of connections involving places, people, events, and memories that come together to form a narrative that is much more nuanced and complex than what its simple premise reveals.
In the end, The Traveling Cat Chronicles is a story about self, identity, our relationship with other people, and all the little regrets of our personal histories. Although replete with feline humor, the story does have its dark moments, though not without meaning and a bigger-picture element.
All in all, you can’t go wrong, especially if you like cats!
Another book by a Japanese author. I’m a great fan of Japanese literature, because it oftens combines minimalist aesthetics with deep introspection. Confessions of a Mask is such a novel, and more. I’d call it a fine example of a book that puts introspection and affect first, with plot being more of a necessary evil.
Mishima’s book is not new; heck, it’s not even recent. I don’t know why it took me so long to discover Yukio Mishima, whose life—taken by his own hand in 1970—could be (and in a way is) the subject of many stories.
Confessions of a Mask describes the futile attempts of Kochan, a young man, to understand his own place in the world. Put somewhat simplistically, Kochan realizes he’s attracted to men, rather than women.
But I need to emphasize that this description doesn’t do justice to the novel, the core of which is rather the immense difficulty we face in establishing our own identity. Kochan’s predicament isn’t about being gay in a world where that meant “happy.” Rather, it’s about how each trip of discovery and understanding is followed by ever-deeper realizations of his failure to comprehend anything at all.
The more we know, the less we understand.
The main character’s despair and failure to establish the border between (self-)deception and reality are heartbreaking. When all is said and done, Confessions of a Mask poses a question most of us are too afraid to ask: What if I am only a mask?
D.T. Yates (Doug) is a Content Editor at Craft Your Content. He also works on the Writer’s Rough Drafts podcast and various marketing initiatives.
While this has certainly been the year to catch up on the ever-growing list of books, movies, and TV shows I’ve needed to consume since, well … birth, looking back, I didn’t get as much reading done as I would have liked.
Sure I watched Netflix, HBO, and if you haven’t been following “The Mandalorian” on Disney+ then you need to do so immediately! But most of my reading has been completely work-related.
So instead of sharing something for you to read, I’m going to go the other way and offer some content I consumed through different means.
2020 was the year I really started listening to podcasts. I’m not sure why I never felt the desire to start them in the past, but now I can’t go a day without listening to one.
Marketing Over Coffee is one of those podcasts I now have on most days when I’m doing chores or just relaxing for a bit. It combines two of my favorite topics: marketing and coffee, and it allows me to learn something new about marketing when away from the keyboard.
Hosted by John J. Wall and Christopher S. Penn, Marketing Over Coffee features interviews with the likes of Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, Mitch Joel, and many more to discuss the newest trends and technologies within the marketing industry.
It’s a goldmine of knowledge for anyone interested or currently working in marketing, all with the feel of a casual conversation happening over a cup of joe.
Flipping through the numerous shows in Netflix’s library, I clicked on this for two reasons and two reasons alone:
I was pleasantly surprised when I found out this was not a show based on a boat in the DC Universe, but on a move in the game of chess (one of my favorite pastimes) and Walter Tevis’s novel of the same name.
The story follows the life and development of a young girl struggling to find her place in society. Along this journey, she discovers the game of chess and instantly picks up the game, obsessing over it and creating a life for herself centered around the game. It’s not the chess playing that makes this such a fun watch, but the situations the main character finds herself in (or, better yet, creates for herself).
Not at all a wholesome, family show, the series deals with major adult themes like drug addiction, sex, and death to name a few. But all of that and more is what makes this story a thrilling and honest piece of art.
I highly recommend you take some time to watch this seven-episode series. You won’t be disappointed.
Julia Hess is the Podcast Editor at Craft Your Content.
In previous years, I’ve experienced moments of lacking motivation to read, or just not feeling interested in picking up a book. This year, however, I experienced something new: I could not read a sentence in a book without losing my focus.
Here’s how it would go: I’d sit down with a nice book and a cup of coffee, ready to settle in for a quiet hour or two of reading. Then, I’d open the book, read a sentence or two, not understand what I had just read, and then re-read the sentences until they made sense.
This lengthened my reading time by probably double or triple the amount of time it would take me to get through a book for fun, and I would find myself feeling less relaxed than I did before I sat down to read. Since this made the act of reading generally more laborious and unenjoyable, I stopped reading for a bit.
It’s funny what the stress of a pandemic can do to you without your realizing it, huh?
With some time and reflection, I got my focus back and started to enjoy reading again the moment I began engaging with the text, something I hadn’t done since grad school. I started to read while holding a pencil, using it to “underline” what I was reading without marking the page. I also started taking notes in the margins or on a Post-It or notebook. These strategies have made me look forward to my hour or two of reading per day!
And with that, these are the books that stand out to me as my favorites from this year.
This was the first book I read for the year (pre-pandemic!), and I still think about it quite often. I love when books continue to follow me long after I’ve finished them.
The Ensemble is a novel of multiple stories and perspectives, which is a format I am partial to. It follows four friends who play different instruments in the Van Ness String Quartet. Jana, Henry, Brit, and Daniel play concerts, travel to new universities and places to teach and play, and live in accordance with each others’ lives.
Over time, we begin to learn how they have each sacrificed a piece of their individual goals and dreams to make the quartet work. Marriages, children, and new job opportunities cause rifts in the group as they get older, but despite it all, they find their ways back to each other.
I love how Gabel incorporates musical terms into descriptions of each characters’ movements, voices, and thoughts. I found myself particularly struck by the authenticity of the portrayal of platonic love and even of agape love. It made me think of how groups of friends who have been through major life experiences together are almost like a string quartet, even if they don’t play an instrument. It’s each individual person’s unique contribution, working in unison with the group, that keeps a group of friends together as time passes.
This essay collection is the first piece I read after I started using my active reading strategies to engage with a text. I read this piece in conjunction with a book club of friends from grad school (we all met via Zoom to talk about it), and it sparked some very deep conversations about race, politics, policing, and religion. The topics in these two essays have deepened my need to understand more about systemic racism in the United States and the Western world.
Consisting of two nonfiction essays, “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation” and “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region of My Mind,” The Fire Next Time is about Baldwin’s experiences as a Black man as well as his experiences with religion and life in Harlem, New York.
He touches on topics such as anger, experiencing racism, Christianity and Islam, and segregation/integration. While the essays were published in 1963, so much of what Baldwin describes (such as how police treated Black men) is still happening today, as seen with the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Baldwin masterfully describes both his personal feelings and the feelings of Blacks and African Americans in his community without overgeneralizing. His thoughts meander at times, yet always come back to the original idea or point he was trying to make. Reading his work was almost like hearing him speak; his writing conveys a sense of urgency, of passion and feeling, and of seriousness for the topics at hand.
Baldwin’s essays were an integral part of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. With the current climate in the United States and the necessity for stating Black Lives Matter, I felt it integral to return to the voices of the 1960s civil rights era and gain a deeper understanding of systemic racism.
Honorable mentions: Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks (audiobook version), Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, and Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Nathan Winfrey is a Copy Editor and Content Writer at CYC. He also collaborates weekly on The Writing Rundown newsletter for CYC readers.
In the bright, relatively carefree days of early March, I was probably not the only writer looking forward to a couple weeks of lockdown in my apartment. Finally, I had an excuse to ignore my extraverted side, which constantly nags me to get out and surround myself with humans in tightly packed venues.
Laid out before me was uninterrupted days working through a stack of novels and getting back into some partial manuscripts of my own.
Well, as you know, weeks turned into—well, the pandemic is worse than ever. And here’s the thing about life during an unprecedented global crisis: it’s hard on your mental health, your productivity, and your will to do anything. So, I logged quite a few hours on the PlayStation. I binged Netflix. I read some, but not enough. I more than caught up on sleep.
I also revived my old writing club, wrote a novella, got a kitten, and started weekly virtual movie nights and get-togethers with friends scattered all over the country.
Then America was gripped by a long-overdue racial reckoning and a bitter deepening of partisan divides. I live in downtown Atlanta, and everything else seemed trivial next to the circling helicopters, swarming military vehicles, and brave protesters.
As a White man, there’s plenty I’ll never understand about the events of this year, but here’s some media that’s helped me gain a little bit of perspective.
Frederick Douglass revised and updated his autobiography a few times throughout his life, but I chose the original 1845 edition. It was published about 20 years before abolition, so it isn’t a retrospective on slavery but the thoughts of a formerly enslaved man while there was no end to the institution in sight.
It’s beautifully written but packed with ugly truths. It’s a contemporary account, and the people and situations are honest retellings of events that were still fresh in the author’s mind.
The depiction of otherwise “good” people who became twisted and corrupted by the belief that they were superior to other human beings is disturbingly familiar.
Despite this, Douglass’s faith is inspiring, and his writing is captivating. As he recounts learning to read and write—at first being taught by one of his enslavers, then by sneaking newspapers, and finally by tricking the neighborhood White kids into tutoring him—it reads like a superhero gaining his powers.
It’s a short read, about 100 pages, and it’s wholly relevant in 2020.
I’d been waiting impatiently for this book since I finished his novel Mongrels (werewolves as social commentary!) a couple years ago. The title plays on a famous and deeply racist quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “The only good Indians are the dead Indians.”
This novel examines modern life on “the rez” with an eye to thousands of years of Native history. Because author Stephen Graham Jones is a master of irreverent horror stories that are somehow both pulp and literature, he accomplishes all of this within the framework of a supernatural slasher. A group of middle-aged friends are stalked by an entity a decade after they all participated in a misdeed. Gruesome death and intense one-on-one basketball ensues.
Jones, a Blackfeet Native, tells darkly funny, gory tales that are also intelligent, creative, and deeply sad stories that ruminate on race in America and Native identity. This one might be his best yet.
Honorable mentions: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; 1619, a podcast examining 400 years of violence against Black people in America; The No Sleep Podcast, horror fiction that ironically is good to fall asleep to; “The Last of Us Part II” (PlayStation); and “Schitt$ Creek,” the final season of which is now streaming, because we all need to laugh
Rodrigo Chichierchio is a Graphic Designer at CYC. He also helps out with various marketing campaigns and products/programs.
The Invisible Man is an Australian-American science-fiction horror film starring the one and only Elisabeth Moss, who also plays the lead role on “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
The movie mixes up elements both from science-fiction and horror, coming up with unique elements that will make you feel tense from beginning to end.
One of the most important and key things about this movie is its plot: it turns a woman’s often silenced and common trauma into something shockingly tangible.
The Invisible Man was one of the most powerful movies I have watched in 2020. Being a big fan of horror movies, this managed to surprise me by not only building the standard horror atmosphere but also by giving it a big twist, which is critical for this type of genre.
His House is another psychological thriller movie, and this one tells the story of a couple that decided to flee from South Sudan’s civil war to take the chance of starting a new life in London.
Right after being formalized as refugees in this new country, they’re assigned a home to live in. However, this house will end up becoming the place where they will have to face a lot of adversities, especially some impactful events from their past.
This is another horror story with a great anthropological twist to it. If you’re into different horror movies with an innovative spin on haunted houses, His House is definitely a great pick.
Sarah Ramsey is a Content Editor and Content Writer at Craft Your Content. She also works on various sales materials and internal documentation for clients.
I don’t know about you all, but it’s been so hard to stay focused on anything this year. It’s been hard to create, but it’s also been hard to read or watch. Even old favorites just haven’t resonated this year. Fortunately, there have been a couple of bright spots.
One book I’ve found helpful to the creative process is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression.
The book outlines 130 emotions and gives you phrases to describe physical and mental behaviors and responses. It also shows how a character suppressing this emotion would act, and gives you verbs that connect to the emotion. Plus, the authors include helpful tips for how to write the emotion.
In a year where frustration (stiff posture, an inability to sleep, and jaw clenching) has been more common than inspiration (highly energized) or elation (a grin that can’t be contained), a little help describing emotions is useful in writing.
Honestly, I almost didn’t finish this book. Not because it wasn’t good—I mean, it’s three-time Hugo winner N.K. Jemisin. This story is a master work of craft and a damn good tale.
I almost couldn’t finish it because it evoked a New York City so vivid and so visceral that it hurt to read in a year that started off with a New York City filled with sirens and overflowing morgues and empty streets. It made me miss the city I called home for a short time.
But what kept me reading was the same thing that’s kept most of us going this year: hope. The story is hopeful, in all the ways that a big city and the people who move there can be hopeful. Even in the face of danger and certain doom, New York City rolls up ready to do what it takes to survive.
Side note: Maybe you’ve seen this video of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge from earlier in December? No spoilers, but the video takes on a whole new meaning after you read The City We Became.
We hope at least one of our recommendations makes your list for 2021 and helps you figuratively escape quarantine (not literally though, please only leave with your imagination).
But, if we haven’t mentioned one of your favorites, check out our previous lists from 2019, 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.
Until next time, hope your holiday is kinder, brighter, and full of hope for a better 2021.
Erika Rasso graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.A. in English and marketing and the University of California, Los Angeles with an MFA in Screenwriting. She has worked as a writing consultant, an editor for literary and academic journals, and as an assistant to film and TV producers. In her free time, Erika enjoys playing games and writing screenplays (though mostly she just watches WAY too many shows on Netflix). She is the Director of Production for Craft Your Content.