The Sunday Magazine: My Favorite Non-Perfume Things of 2020

I’ll be spending the next week going into all the good smelling reasons 2020 didn’t entirely stink. But for the readers of this column I also like doing a list of my favorite non-perfume things of the year. This year the list is heavy on that which helped me deal with my quarantine more enjoyably.

Favorite Book: Long Bright River by Liz Moore– I read a lot this year but this was the first new book I finished in 2020. It still resonates with me emotionally. The story of two sisters whose paths have diverged and the Philadelphia neighborhood they grew up in is amazing. It isn’t an easy read, but it is an honest one with a mystery which drives the narrative.

Favorite Comic Book: Swords of X– I used to spend too many summers tied up in a months-long story across all the X-Men titles thirty years ago. I didn’t realize how much I missed that until Jonathan Hickman followed up his reboot of the franchise last year with Swords of X. An old-fashioned throw down as the mutants must battle for the fate of the earth with their own special swords. Great escapist fun.

Favorite Album: Women in Music Part III by Haim– The sisters gave me an album I’ve listened to a lot. They are continually evolving their sound and subject. This album seemed more personal than the previous ones. That’s from a band that didn’t shy away from that in the past. Here it felt like we reached the soul of the matter.

Favorite Single: Rain on Me by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande– When I needed to dance it out this year it was this track I queued up. When pop divas are confident enough to give each other the room to do what they do best you get a single like this.

Co-Favorite TV Show of the Year: The Queen’s Gambit– I didn’t sit in a movie theatre this entire year. What it meant was the streaming networks gave me the main source of my visual entertainment. The Queen’s Gambit followed the trend of unlikeable protagonists who seek redemption. Actor Anya Taylor-Joy sells the story of a chess prodigy’s climb up the ladder in the 1960’s. This has incredible acting, authentic chess, and the best fashion of any show on television.

Co-Favorite TV Show of the Year: The Mandalorian– I already wrote about what a perfect piece of Star Wars the first season was. Inexplicably Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni oversaw an even more meaningful and better second season. Each episode fed into the next one with no slow teases or slow fuses to what we knew had to happen. They knew a better story was to be had when you just go to the punchlines quickly. This series is becoming the hub which unites every Star Wars fan across generations. I can’t overstate what a gift that is.

I’m going to touch on this when I get down to the perfume things of 2020. This blog and the readers of it also kept me going this year. Especially the small group of readers I think only visit to read this specific column. I just like to write about the things I enjoy. That there is an audience who also enjoys it makes it satisfying. Thank you for reading.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Long Bright River by Liz Moore

Not often, there are times where I finish a book where I am shaken and stirred emotionally. I close my iPad down and think “Wow! What did I just read?” The first book I read in 2020 did that to me; “Long Bright River” by Liz Moore.

Liz Moore has been an author I have followed since her debut novel “The Words of Every Song” in 2007. She is part of that damningly inexact genre known as “literary fiction”. I’m not fond of the term because I don’t know what it stands for. Novels written on a higher plane? Or to a higher purpose? Or to do something different with a known genre? It seems critical and praising in the same two words. For perhaps the first time Ms. Moore makes it seem praiseworthy by answering yes to my questions above.

Liz Moore

Long Bright River tells the story of two sisters, Mickey and Kacey, from Philadelphia. Mickey has grown up to become a cop. Kacey has become an addict. Mickey is the narrator of the story. The book moves like a police procedural as Mickey is drawn back to the Kensington neighborhood, she and Kacey grew up in. By moving back and forth in time Mickey tells of their childhood and how they ended up on two different paths. In the current day Kensington there is a serial killer preying on the addict community living in the abandoned buildings of their old neighborhood. Mickey pursues the case because she is worried Kacey could be in danger. As these two divergent paths find their way to intersection is what drives the plot.

Ms. Moore writes a novel which poignantly describes the loss of middle-class urban neighborhoods. Kensington is its own character as you see it in happier days before its tragic present. She writes a novel of the damage of addiction. Mickey and Kacey end up in Kensington under the care of their grandmother because their mother overdosed. In reaction you either become an addict or push it away vehemently. Mickey and Kacey represent that. Finally this is a police procedural. Mickey is following the clues to uncover the serial killer. Just as with any mystery novel I’m trying to figure it out, too. Most times a novel of three such disparate tracks would fall apart under its pretensions. Ms. Moore keeps it all together each piece growing in an unforced way from the other.

By the end Ms. Moore has asked tough questions which have revealing answers. The joy of reading this novel lies in the surprising resolutions of everything.

Mark Behnke