This is the fifth year we've compiled Ann Arbor District Library staff picks, featuring tons of recommendations for books, films, TV shows, video games, websites, apps, and more.
The picks are always an epic compilation of good taste, and last year's post was more than 35,000 words—incinerating phone data plans and overheating computers as the massive page loaded.
In a sincere effort to keep your electronics from catching fire, we've split up the hundreds of selections into four categories:
And since we've saved your phones and laptops from the flames, tell us what you enjoyed this past year in the comments section below—doesn't need to be something that came out in 2021, just some kind of art, culture, or entertainment that you experienced over the prior 12 months.
Lisa Barry, the longtime host of WEMU's Art and Soul as well as the local edition of NPR's All Things Considered, passed away unexpectedly on November 30 due to heart complications, according to a blog post by the Ypsilanti radio station's general manager, Molly Motherwell.
She wrote a bit more about Barry today in a post, remembering her as the "heartbeat of WEMU." Mothewell wrote:
Her positive attitude and vibrant personality were her trademark and were well known to all who had the good fortune to cross paths with her. She was a beacon of joy in our community, not only the community of WEMU listeners but the community at large.
All About Ann Arbor compiled numerous social media posts from Barry's colleagues, friends, and associates paying tribute to her, including this one by her fellow WEMU broadcaster Jessica Webster:
Normally, you might come into the library, talk to someone on staff, get some recommendations, perhaps share a few of your own, and we'd go on our merry ways, content we could engage in a positive social interaction while discussing whatever book, movie, TV show, music, or more that came up.
Art is life and life is people.
But we've not seen most of you since March 13, the last time the Ann Arbor District Library was fully open to the public—and to the staff. While many AADL staffers have returned to the buildings to do important behind-the-scenes work since the summer, many others have been working from home since the closure. And we miss being able to share what we're currently loving not just with patrons but also with each other.
So, to staffers and patrons alike, these are the movies, TV shows, music, books, and more that helped the AADL crew get through 2020.
Astronomy at the Beach (AATB) is the Great Lakes Association of Astronomy Clubs (GLAAC)'s signature annual event. Held each year at Island Lake State Park near Brighton, Michigan, and attended by thousands, this year’s two-day event on Friday and Saturday, September 25-26 has been moved online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adrian Bradley is president of GLAAC and an avid amateur astronomer and photographer who especially loves nightscape photography. He is also a member of the University Lowbrow Astronomers, the local astronomy club partnering with AADL to provide and maintain the library's circulating telescope collection.
We chatted with Bradley about this year's Astronomy at the Beach lineup.
It looked bleak in March and April for the fourth edition of Ann Arbor's Rasa Festival. Everything was being canceled, and the annual September celebration of arts and culture from India looked like it was not going to happen either.
"We canceled all our venue bookings at that time, although with a heavy heart," wrote Sreyashi Dey, the president and artistic director of Rasa, in an email to Pulp. "We had some fabulous concerts planned this year, with world-renowned touring artists from India, but had to cancel that as well. It was very depressing."
But as the months dragged on, Dey, who is also a dancer, couldn't contain her desire to create new works, and that spurred her on to reconsidering Rasa.
"As an artist/dancer myself, I was beginning to feel disheartened about my own creative impulses and motivation to create new work," Dey wrote. "So I started thinking about making some new dance works while still in lockdown, but with no real plan for what to do with it. Then I started thinking of doing a video recording to share. And that's how the idea of the festival going virtual was born, and once I started talking to the other artists, everyone was very eager and enthusiastic."
The performance part of the month-long virtual Rasa Festival runs October 3-25, with streams starting at 11 am each Saturday and Sunday throughout the month. The Mandali: India and the World art exhibition, presented in partnership with the Ann Arbor District Library, runs October1-November 12.
Rasa will present its usual assortment of dance, music, written word, film, fashion, travel, social change, and visual art, but there will be no culinary component this year, for obvious reasons—but we got you covered. I talked with Dey over email about the challenges—and opportunities—of presenting the Rasa Festival online and what she food she'd recommend for us to make or buy at home to accompany the 2020 virtual edition of the Rasa Festival.
The Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series has existed since 1998, presenting some of the world's greatest creatives and thinkers. Since 2013, the talks have been recorded and most of them posted to YouTube for those who couldn't attend the free events in person at the Michigan Theater.
But now that nobody can attend any events, the Penny Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series is cutting to the chase and broadcasting its events live in partnership with Detroit Public Television and PBS Books.
The fall 2020 series kicks off Friday, Sept. 18 and continues through Dec. 4. All the talks begin at 8 pm and can be viewed on dptv.org and Penny Stamps Series' Facebook page. The talks will continue to be put on YouTube as long as the speaker as given permission.
The fall 2020 season includes:
A2SF's "The Future of the Arts Must Be Antiracist" explores the pitfalls P.O.C. face in creative communities
As a finale to its virtual Top of the Park series, the Ann Arbor Summer Fest (A2SF) had a vital discussion called "The Future of the Arts Must Be Antiracist" on July 7 about racism in the arts, streamed live on YouTube and other platforms.
While we’ve seen many discussions on race as of late, this one was particularly interesting because it addresses an issue that has been looming for a long time in Washtenaw County: the lack of racial diversity inside the local arts scene.
As a Black classically trained musician, I’ve had my fair share of feeling like an outsider in musical circles so I was delighted by this discussion. Lack of diversity is not unique to Washtenaw County, of course; it plagues all of society. But it was refreshing to hear the topic addressed in a city like Ann Arbor where there is such an influential arts festival like A2SF.
A2SF Programming and Operations Manager James Carter invited several prominent Washtenaw County Black artists and executives to describe their experiences working in the arts here. The panel consisted of Jamall Bufford, Omari Rush, Jenny Jones, and facilitator Yodit Mesfin Johnson, who talked about their backgrounds and described why it’s important to create a more inclusive environment for African-Americans in the arts.
For many Washtenaw County residents, one of the great joys of living in the area is the easy access to a plethora of hiking trails and nature preserves. Just moments from downtown Ann Arbor are areas where one can find peace and tranquility, look for birds and wildlife, and enjoy beautiful spring wildflowers and vibrant fall colors. Some of the larger and more well-known preserves are fairly popular -- you’re almost guaranteed to encounter runners, dog-walkers, and explorers in Bird Hills or at Argo Nature Area at any time of year. But, many of the smaller preserves in Washtenaw County are less trafficked and are the perfect place to find some moments of solitude and natural beauty, especially during times when gathering in crowded areas isn’t recommended. Unsure where to begin? Here are a few of the more remote preserves in the area that might be new to you.
There are infinite ways we’re coping with the global pandemic -- forcing our bodies and brains to do the things we want them to (or think they should do), or giving in to surprising and unexpected forces with predictable or weird or wonderful results.
For me, some of these things include:
Social media -- and a few physical letters -- showing me what’s outside my six-foot radius. A lot of bread. Some smoked meats. Walks and nature. More bread. Needlepoint, knitting, running, lifting heavy things, a few bike rides, pets. Light drinking, heavy drinking, loud music, total silence.
You know what your body and brain have asked for in the past and what you’ve given into and given it. Pre-pandemic, my body frequently wanted tasty treats and caffeine -- and frequently got it, so why would I curb those habits now?
But my brain was also asking for something unexpected to fill the downtime between working from home, parenting some kids, staying six feet away from other breathing things I’m not directly responsible for, and eating bags of chips:
The roll call of cell-phone games I’ve played in the past dates back to Snake on my old flip phone -- but it’s a short list. Some Angry Birds. Some poker app I downloaded after reading a Colson Whitehead poker book. Desert Golfing (recommend!).
That’s it. Cell phone games aren’t in my DNA the way regular video games are, so why is it that my brain waited eight days into quarantine to get me clicking and downloading and clicking some more?
I have learned some things about myself during this whole COVID-19, stay-at-home time. Time will only tell what I will do with this new information in the aftertimes -- a looming question we all share.
1. I am the type of person who will totally get dressed from the waist up for a Zoom meeting, and wear pajamas from the waist down.
This was a surprise. You see, in my mind, I have what I describe as the Head-Hands Theorum. Among your co-workers, I believe that it is best practice to pretend that their bodies consist of their heads and their hands. You know, the work parts. This is not to say you shouldn’t have compassion for the things that are going on in their lives. This is to say that many, many people would have found/caused less trouble if they were subscribing to the Head-Hands Theorum. I thought that one would need to have on real pants (or other downstairs clothing) to properly observe Head-Hands. But, alas, now I don’t know who I am anymore.
2. I am angered every time I see one of those “check on your extroverts” tweets.