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My Recent Media Diet, the End of 2023 Edition

Over the past few months, I’ve had some time away from the computer and have taken several very long plane trips and some shorter car rides, which means a bit more reading, TV & movie watching, and podcast listening than usual. Oh, and holiday movies.

But the main story is how many things I’m currently in the midst of but haven’t finished: the latest season of the Great British Bake Off, season 3 of The Great, season 4 of For All Mankind, season 2 of Reservation Dogs, season 2 of The Gilded Age, the Big Dig podcast, On the Shortness of Life by Seneca, Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier by Kevin Kelly, and I’ve just dipped a toe into Craig Mod’s Things Become Other Things. That’s five TV shows, one podcast, and three books. I’m looking forward to tackling some of that (and maybe a new Star Trek series) over the upcoming holiday weekend.

Anyway, here’s my recent media diet — a roundup of what I’ve been reading, watching, listening to, and experiencing over the past few months.

The Killer. The excellent Michael Fassbender portrays a solitary, bored, and comfortable killer for hire who has a bit of a midlife crisis in fast forward when a job goes wrong. (A-)

Fortnite OG. I started playing Fortnite in earnest during Chapter 3, so it was fun to go back to Chapter 1 to see how the game worked back then. (B+)

Northern Thailand Walk and Talk. I’m going to write more soon but this was one of the best things I’ve ever done. (A+)

Edge of Tomorrow. Speaking of video games… Still love this under-appreciated film, despite a third act that falls a tiny bit flat. (A)

The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff. I did not enjoy this quite as much as Matrix — especially the last third — but Groff is one hell of a writer. (B+)

New Blue Sun. Good on André 3000 for not doing the expected thing and instead releasing an instrumental album on which he plays the flute. (A-)

Songs of Silence. I can’t remember who clued me into this lovely instrumental album by Vince Clarke (Erasure, Depeche Mode), but it’s been heavily in the rotation lately. (B+)

Trifecta. A.L.I.S.O.N.’s Deep Space Archives is a favorite chill work album for me and this one is nearly as good. (B+)

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Entertaining but lacks the zip and coherence of the first film. (B)

Shoulda Been Dead. I had no idea that Kevin Kelly appeared on an early episode of This American Life until someone mentioned it offhand on our Thailand walk. What a story…listen all the way to the end. (A)

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. Oh the writing here is exquisite. (A)

Avengers: Infinity War & Avengers: Endgame. These are endlessly rewatchable for me. (A)

Elemental. Good but not great Pixar. (B)

The Wrong Trousers. I watched this with my 16-year-old son, who hadn’t seen it in like 9 or 10 years. We both loved it — it still has one of the best action movie sequences ever. (A+)

The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler. Are AGI robots intelligent? Are octopuses? Are humans? This novel plays entertainingly with these ideas. (A-)

Myeongdong Kyoja. I stumbled upon this place, extremely cold and hungry, and after a brief wait in line, I was conducted to an open seat by the no-nonsense hostess running the dining room. The menu only has four items, conveniently pictured on the wall — I got the kalguksu and mandu. The hostess took my order and then, glancing at my frozen hands, reached down and briefly gave one of them a squeeze, accompanied by a concerned look that lasted barely half a second before she returned to bustling around the room. A delicious meal and a welcome moment of humanity in an unfamiliar land. (A)

Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts. This made me want to give notice to my landlord and take off for somewhere else. (A-)

Barbie. Second viewing. Entertaining and funny, but this is a movie that has Something To Say and I still can’t figure out what that is. (B+)

Emily the Criminal. There were a few hiccups here and there, but I largely enjoyed this Aubrey Plaza vehicle. (A-)

Midnight in Paris. Not going to recommend a Woody Allen movie these days, but this is one of my comfort movies — I watch it every few months and love every second of it. (A)

Gran Turismo. Extremely predictable; they could have done more with this. (B)

The Rey/Ren Star Wars trilogy. I have lost any ability to determine if any of these movies are actually good — I just like them. 🤷‍♂️ (B+)

Loki (season two). This was kind of all over the place for me but finished pretty strong. Glorious purpose indeed. (B)

Die Hard. Still great. (A)

Home Alone. First time rewatching this in at least a decade? This movie would have worked just as well if Kevin were 15% less annoying. (B+)

The Grinch. My original review stands: “I wasn’t expecting to sympathize so much with The Grinch here. The social safety net constructed by the upper middle class Whos totally failed the most vulnerable member of their society in a particularly heartless way. Those Whos kinda had it coming.” (B+)

Past installments of my media diet are available here. What good things have you watched, read, or listened to lately?

Discussion  15 comments


Reacher season 1 is pretty good, bolstered by an amazing supporting cast (Malcolm Goodwin and Willa Fitzgerald). Visually, it reminds me of Pokerface. Movie recs: Scrapper, The Three Musketeers : D'Artagnan.

Sarah M

Just finished the currently released books in the Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas and eagerly awaiting book 8 next year... I think it was worth breaking my rule to never start a series that isn't finished!

Rick S

I have been reading You Are What You Watch by Walt Hickey, and it might be my favorite book ever. Every third page is a new in-depth chart or graph of deep-dive research into film or television. The page I’m on currently is a timeline of mid-century polls asking if Americans believed a moon landing was possible, matched with influential magazine articles and television programs set in space. It’s astounding.

Jacob Rogers

It's always so confusing how the 'excellent' Michael Fassbender never gets the same kind of caveat as Woody Allen got above ('not going to recommend').

Jason KottkeMOD

I'd never heard of the Fassbender allegations before — that sounds awful. But the confusion is explained by the link you shared: Fassbender's alleged acts haven't been widely reported. And Woody Allen's have been very widely reported.

Jacob Rogers

But I think that coverage gap is the confusing part? Or let's just compare Fassbender to something more recent like Jonathan Majors, which was major news from day one. Like, it feels like there's even a meta-narrative at this point about how we keep forgetting about Fassbender's past - e.g., this one from a few months ago:

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Scott Welty

I think you'd like this addition to your media diet. Joel Styzens is a Chicago musician and composer. His recent album, Resonance, has received rave reviews and top 10 for 2023 in the Guardian.

Scott Welty

Tra H

Christopher Buehlman became one of my favorite authors this year after reading Between Two Fires and The Blacktongue Thief back to back. Between Two Fires is a really good horror book about the world during one of the bubonic plague outbreaks. The Blacktongue Thief is in a completely different style, it's a fantasy novel that captures that "we're going on an adventure" vibe perfectly with tons of humor.

Scott Hawkins The Library at Mount Char is.. a lot of things. But mainly it's a mindf**k. Just be warned it is very adult.

Meghan O'Gieblyn God, Human, Animal, Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning a solid critique on the thinking of Silicon Valley tech-bro manifesto types and I think a lot of recent framing in the reporting around things like "effective altruism" and AI sprung from ideas in her book.

The audiobook for The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell is just A+ sound design and story-telling. I can't even say I was that interested in the subject but I learned a lot and was completely enthralled.

Martin Luther King Jr Where Do we Go From Here because we really should all be reading more of MLK's writing in general.

Paolo Palombo

I watched many more movies than usual in the last week, some good (Reptile, Tetris), some great (re-watched Oppenheimer and Knives Out), some less so (The Outfit, Leave the world behind).
'Slow horses' S1 has been a pleasant surprise. Really enjoyed Gary Oldman's performance, as well as the plot and the writing.

Scott Lynch

Really enjoying the non-fiction Raw Dog by Jamie Loftus, about her travels across America eating hot dogs during the pre-vax pandemic era. Sharp, funny, and told with the appropriate amount of anti-capitalism. Also recently caved and rented Past Lives on Prime and loved it. Greta Lee has a tough role and she plays it perfectly.

S. Ben Melhuish

I almost ended up mad at _The Vaster Wilds_ — beautifully written, and I just couldn’t figure out why Groff decided to effectively torture this character for a couple hundred pages. To tell us that Europeans didn’t belong in the Americas? (It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve missed something big.)

S. Ben Melhuish

More constructively, I think my favorite new book that I read this year was Colson Whitehead’s Crook Manifesto — but if you haven’t read his Harlem Shuffle from a couple years ago, read that first.

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2023 has been watching and loving Slow Horses, Lessons in Chemistry, Barbie, The Bear, listening to Khruangbin, and playing Connections on NYT games and comparing scores with friends. (Hey, if Jason can add a game to his media diet, so can I!)

Larry Garretson

The Wrong Trousers is the Citizen Kane of claymation. It was on endless repeat around here when the kids were little. Haven't seen it in years. Thanks for the reminder. Next year I think I'll institute a family re-watch of the original 3 W & G shorts when everyone's home for the holidays.


Movies. Irati. Triangle of Sadness.
Series. The Drops of God. One Piece.
Music. The Scope by Manu Katché.
Books. Minds Make Societies by P. Boyer.

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