A Year in Reading: Thomas Beckwith

December 19, 2020 | 1 3 min read

Like everyone, I had a rough year, a Sartrean nightmare of overwork, loneliness and dread, but I did get through it with no real catastrophes, and that (in 2020) is a blessing. Unfortunately, my coping strategies did not include “tons of reading,” which means I now know I will not self-actualize through the apocalypse. In light of this failing, I don’t feel qualified to stick to recommending books, so I’m invoking a COVID Exception and listing certain things that got me through this, ranging from types of content to products that helped me stay healthy. I recommend them wholeheartedly if you need to stave off a psychic break!

Kenji’s Cooking Show (with J. Kenji López-Alt)

I’ve always been a huge sucker for food TV. Way back in the 2000s, I fought depression by mainlining reruns of Good Eats, which foreshadowed my eventual addiction to the stars of Food Youtube. Now, I survive by watching episodes of Kenji’s Cooking Show, the quarantine brainchild of food genius J. Kenji López-Alt, who strapped on a Go-Pro and started filming his home cooking in response to the lockdowns in March. Whenever I was having a bad day at work, or simply remembering that Trump had not died of Covid, I’d play his recipes for Oyakadon or Swedish Meatballs and sink into the depths of my easy chair. 

Cocktail Instruction Videos

Look, I drank too much this year. I’ve always loved cocktails, particularly elaborate ones that grow their own handlebar mustaches, which is why Cocktail Youtube was undoubtedly bad for my health. But it was great for my happiness, so I’m shouting out the stalwarts of my rotation, among them (in no particular order) “Behind the Bar,” “The Educated Barfly,” “How to Drink,” and “Steve the Bartender.” I’ll be in dire straits if I’m watching them this avidly a year from now, but in the meantime, let’s toast the bar nerds who made this year go down smoothly.

The Best of Internet Literature

Despite the pompous title above, this is not an actual anthology. This is a Twitter thread, sparked by Defector Media co-owner Patrick Redford, that chronicles the best of what could be called Internet Writing. After reading through all the replies, I spent a week assailing my family with quotes, particularly lines from the ur-cringe classic “Negroni Season” and Tim Faust’s Heart of Darkness-like masterpiece “I Played ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ on a Bar Jukebox Until I Got Kicked Out.” (My only real quibble with the thread is it’s missing this great by Danny Lavery.)

Adjustable Dumbbells

There’s a reason these sold out immediately in March–not only are they easy to use, they’re tough to manufacture in a way that makes them difficult to scale. This forced a half-assed gym rat like me to wait months for prices to go down, and it pains my cardigan-wearing soul to report they were totally worth it. (I’m not even sure if I’ll go back to the gym, in the After Times!)

Rocket League

Speaking of physical activity, did you know there’s a video game in which people play soccer with cars? I knew this game existed for years—a pair of FIFA-loving friends of mine tried to shame me into getting it, repeatedly—but the ides of 2020 are what drove me to take the plunge. Like all great video games, it awakens some part of me that hasn’t evolved since I was nine, and that part wants nothing more than to gun it in a virtual Lamborghini. 

Comfort Reading

I did read some fiction this year, mostly in the form of short stories I read a long time ago and loved. I can’t list them all here because I don’t remember them in detail, but I do know that “Chablis” by Donald Barthelme, “Brownies” by Z.Z. Packer, “The Entire Northern Side was Covered with Fire” by Rivka Galchen, “Axolotl” by Julio Cortázar, “Wild Swans” by Alice Munro and “Fragments” by Joshua Ferris all got a reread at some point. Each of these stories gave me strength in low moments, and I trust they’ll keep doing so until I’m dead.

More from A Year in Reading 2020

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Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 20192018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

is a staff writer for The Millions. He lives in New York.

One comment:

  1. The late, lamented Toast! Your piece made me laugh — something to be desired until we get to the After Times. Thanks!

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