Our Editors’ 2021 Picks

Our favorite books, movies, podcasts and more

As the year comes to an end, our editors are reflecting back on the media—books, music, movies, podcasts and more—that have shaped the last 12 months for each of us—especially as we spent more time indoors. Here are our editors’ top recommendations for media to read, watch and listen to—we hope they bring you as much joy and satisfy your global curiosity as they have ours.


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Silverview by John le Carré

“It is no surprise (to me) that the final, posthumous outing by my favorite author has proven to be my top book of the year. Le Carré has more than matched his grand reputation with this sleek novel about a bookseller in East Anglia who finds himself embroiled in the shadowy world of the old eastern bloc. Checks all the boxes of my espionage-loving heart.”

—Anushree Kaushal, Senior Editor

Blizzard Party by Jack Livings

“As the elevator goes up and down, delivering more partygoers to the eponymous shindig in Jack Livings’s Blizzard Party, so does history run forward and back through this ambitious novel, moving from the winter storm of 1978, to World War II and into a post-9/11 New York. It may not sound so original for a New Yorker to suggest a resoundingly New York novel, but this one transports even the most jaded citydweller into a new landscape—one in which sounds are dampened, traffic all but stops, and the residents of one building, so used to passing each other with a New Yorker’s rushed nod, are suddenly and inextricably thrown together. As Livings so expertly demonstrates, during a snowstorm everyone goes just a little bit crazy with wonder, gaping at this new and frozen world.”

—Emily Nemens, Senior Editor

Machinehood by S.B. Divya

“This science fiction novel is a terrifying glimpse of the gig economy run amok and a philosophical inquiry into what constitutes personhood, with a dash of ‘never trust the government’ intrigue.”

—Emily Skaftun, Creative Content Editor

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein

“This book details one case after another how the US’s neighborhoods and cities became so racially segregated and the intentional role that our government played in this segregation. I love this book because Rothstein is so clear in his writing and lays everything out in a way that is comprehensive yet still easy to understand.”

—Ambia Elias, Associate Publisher

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

“This book creates incredible imagery and displays the tension between nature and the inhabitants surrounding it. It portrays the heartbreak of familial relations and the love experienced at a young age, and how long lasting those effects are.”

—Annie Estes, Editorial Assistant

Algériennes: The Forgotten Women of the Algerian Revolution by Swann Meralli and Deloupy

“In the spirit of other historical graphic novels like Perspepolis and Maus, Algériennes follows the story of Beatrice, the fictional daughter of a French-Algerian War veteran trying to piece together what her father won’t tell her about his experience fighting in the war. In the process, Beatrice travels between France and Algiers, meeting women who were displaced by, fought in and continue to find their lives shaped by the war. In gorgeous illustrations, authors Swann Meralli and Deloupy weave together the women’s stories in subtle, but powerful, ways.”

—Cecilia Nowell, Associate Editor


Amazon.com: Minari [DVD] [2020] : Movies & TV


“Lee Isaac Chung’s well-acclaimed look at identity, migration, and rural U.S. spaces is at once critical of the myth of American reinvention and almost sweet in its hope for those who suffer under that illusion. What might read as caricature in someone else’s hands is, in fact, based in Chung’s family history — a fact that still creeps back into mind every once and a while.” —Mike Kanin, Business Director

The French Dispatch (2021) - IMDb

The French Dispatch

“As a magazine editor, I must say thanks to Wes Anderson for making The French Dispatch. The movie is assembled like a magazine—longform stories told in manifold visual styles, meant to mirror the writing chops of an ensemble of writers—and while it might have been primarily fangirling to some iteration of the New Yorker of last century, it also managed to shine a kind (and playful, and artful) light on the futile and fabulous enterprise of making periodicals.” —Emily Nemens, Senior Editor

Midnight Mass (TV Mini Series 2021) - IMDb

Midnight Mass

“There were so many terrific TV shows this year that really made an impact, including Ted Lasso, The Chair, the latest seasons of Sex Education, Succession and Lupin, but I’m giving the coveted spot to Midnight Mass, and I’m not exactly sure why. It’s ‘religious horror,’ trying to answer complicated questions surrounding morality and the cruelty people can be capable of, with more monologues than I usually care for, and yet it stood it out for me. Possibly because of the care and incisiveness with which these subjects are dealt with, excellent performances by Rahul Kohli, Hamish Linklater and Kate Siegel.” —Anushree Kaushal, Senior Editor

WandaVision - Music from the Disney+ Original Series - Piano/Vocal/Guitar Songbook | Hal Leonard Online


“WandaVision is a campy romp through American sit-com history and a heartbreaking love story. Marvel took a real risk with this unusual format, and it’s worth a look.” —Emily Skaftun, Creative Content Editor

100 Foot Wave (TV Series 2021– ) - IMDb

100 Foot Wave

“When self-described extreme surf hunter Garrett McNamara decamps (in all ways) to the coast of Portugal in an Ahab-ian quest for his brand of sea monster, the consequences range from the physical and emotional to the generally consumptive. In the end you’re left pondering a thought from early in this documentary series: In a place where giant waves proved to be the end of the line for many sea-going laborers who most certainly (seemingly, anyway) did not look for that kind of danger, is there something awkward about finding an economy in hunting those same swells?” —Mike Kanin, Business Director

Money Heist (TV Series 2017–2021) - IMDb

Money Heist (La Casa del Papel)

“A thrilling Spanish show about an elaborately planned heist. This show makes your heart race and I always end up peeking from behind the covers. This show is incredibly exciting and I love it because it helps me work on my Spanish!” —Ambia Elias, Associate Publisher

Fleabag (TV Series 2016–2019) - IMDb


“Fleabag, based on the one-woman show by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, follows a free-spirited yet angry and confused woman in her everyday life in London. Filmed with the protagonist constantly breaking the fourth wall, her dry humour about strained interpersonal and familial relationships create a relatable and loveable character.” —Annie Estes, Editorial Assistant


Witnessed: Borderlands from Apple Podcasts

“For fans of Stranger’s Guide‘s Texas issue, here’s a tale of a charismatic outlaw and a small-town sheriff, both of whom were targeted in a huge drug bust on the Texas border. Written and hosted by journalist Rob D’Amico, think classic Western in podcast form — that is as much about the mysterious backdrop of West Texas as it is about the characters that people it.” —Alex Hannaford, Senior Editor

Pharoah Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra Floating Points - Promises - Amazon.com Music

Promises by Floating Points, London Symphony Orchestra and Pharoah Sanders

“This is a stunning collaboration between legendary U.S. musician Pharoah Sanders and U.K. producer and DJ Sam Shepherd that also employs the heft of the London Symphony Orchestra. The work, laid out over the course of nine movements, rests on Shepherd’s minimalist compositions. But the star is undeniably Sanders, whose tenor saxophone playing remains as vibrant and brilliant as ever.” —Mike Kanin, Business Director

VS | Poetry Foundation

The VS Podcast by the Poetry Foundation

“The reign of Franny Choi and Danez Smith on the Poetry Foundation’s Vs. may be coming to close, but what a wonderful ride it was: here are two poets, two friends, chopping up the writing life with poets they admire. Their enthusiasm for the craft of making poems, their fondness for each other, and even their candor about the wartyness of the writing life: that they have let us listen along, for several years now, has been a gift.” —Emily Nemens, Senior Editor

Throughline - Wikipedia

Throughline by NPR

“Did you know that the myth of the zombie originated in Haiti as a response to the horrors of slavery? Or that the book (and movie) Dune has deep roots in Islam? In NPR’s Throughline, hosts Rund Abdelfatah and Ramtin Arablouei travel around the world and through time to pull out the historical throughlines that shape our modern understandings of politics, race, religion and identity.” —Cecilia Nowell, Associate Editor

Stranger Sounds from Stranger’s Guide

This year, we’ve published five of our own playlists, corresponding with our Tehran, Colombia, Scandinavia, Lagos and National Parks guides. Take a listen on Spotify—and stay tuned for more in the coming year.


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