It’s best-of season. Let’s dig in.
Dec. 17, 2022
When I conjure the pop culture of my childhood, I am sitting in the back seat of my father’s car. He’s driving, his arm stretched long across the top of the leather bench seat, his hand tapping along with “The Long Run,” by the Eagles, which is playing on the cassette deck. I’m watching the scenery through the rear windshield, highway signs passing in almost perfect time with the downbeat.
I’ve described this scene to friends my age, and, while their memories aren’t identical, we all share that experience of being happily captive in the back seat, nodding along to whatever music our parents were into at the time. Inevitably, the soundtrack derives from a limited hit parade: the songs in heavy rotation in the 1970s and ’80s.
Technology has made it so that all of the passengers in a car in 2022 can listen to whatever music they like, or talk on the phone or watch their own movies with their own headphones and their own screens. We could all listen to “The Long Run” on the stereo, but we could just as easily retreat to the bespoke specificity of our Spotify Wrapped playlists.
The best of 2022
We’re in the heart of best-of season right now, the time of year when critics release their lists of their favorite films and songs and podcasts and books from the past 12 months. The atomization of mainstream culture means that it’s possible that my pop cultural peregrinations won’t intersect with a particular critic’s, that I might not have read any of the books or heard any of the songs on a particular list.
This is why I love this time of year.
It’s queue-building season. It’s a playlist-creating, Libby-reserving, recipe-box-stuffing cultural potluck, a time to depart from your peculiar media diet and sample others’ dishes. Jon Pareles’s favorite albums. Eric Asimov’s most memorable wines. The performances that made an impression on Maya Phillips. I’ve been off on my own cultural frolic for the past year, so it’s probable many of these critics’ choices will be new to me.
Better best-of lists
I wrote last year about how I wish that I could get annual best-of lists from everyone I know, and that those lists would not be limited to the usual genres of things that can be listened to or watched or read. I want people’s highly subjective and specific lists: the best advice they received and the best ideas they had. The best seltzers they tried or walks they took, the best changes they made to their morning routines. I want ideas for better living across the spectrum of existence; no category is too idiosyncratic.
I asked some people close to me what extremely specific things or experiences or notions would make their best-of lists. My editor Amy Fiscus’s best vacation moment was seeing the sunset over Lake Michigan. “Americans don’t have to travel to the West Coast to see the sun slip over the horizon of endless water,” she said.
My friend Ali’s best-of-everything list includes changing her grocery shopping routine, picking up just what she needs from the market instead of loading up the pantry as she did during the height of the pandemic. And she listed the video game Perfect Tides, a coming-of-age story set in 2000. “The story is so sweet — I cried, I loved it,” she said.
The best thing I baked was these crispy chocolate-chip cookies; they’re like Tate’s, but even better. The best piece of advice I got this year came from a story a friend told me about what she would say to herself when her three kids were very young and she felt overwhelmed, as if there weren’t enough hours in the day: “You’re doing great,” she would say. “Keep going.” I’ve found these simple words deeply inspiring at tough moments. The best seltzer I tried was Wegman’s ginger flavor — it’s like an unsweetened ginger ale. The best gardening tip I received was to water my plants less. The best change I made to my routine is wearing my dentist-issued night guard at least 75 percent of the time. I sleep better and worry less that I’m grinding my teeth to dust. And, because I can’t stop thinking about it, the best movie I saw was the documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.”
What are your highly specific and personal bests of 2022? Best advice? Best decision? Best new dance move? Heck, best toothpaste? Tell me. Skip the usual categories and create your own. Include your full name and city, and I may include your response in next week’s newsletter.
For more information
- All of The Times’s best of 2022
- More best-of lists, from all corners of the internet.
- “Once upon a time, only a couple of decades ago, there really was such a thing as mainstream culture.” From TechCrunch in 2014 (but still relevant), “The Great Fragmentation: We Are All Weirdos Now.”