In past years I’ve done various “Best of” or “My Favorite” lists of things on different topics. In trying to sort out what I wanted to do this year, I decided the universe (and you readers) really didn’t need five or six separate blog posts with lists of ten items each.

So I’m trying something a bit new, and if it works, I’ll try to standardize on it moving forward. I’m calling it my Favorite 5’s, where I do this one post and talk about five things on each topic. I can shift the topics around year to year as my interests change, but it’ll give this a bit of structure to work with — and limiting it to five items forces me to make choices on what to talk about, and what not to, and I’m really feeling strongly that this kind of curation is a good thing online, and so I’m trying to push myself to make these choices so you don’t have to…

You might also be interested in my complete reading list for 2018, and please, let me know what you think about the format, and we’ll see if reality matches my expectations here.

Without Further Ado, my Favorite 5’s for 2018:

  • Fiction Books
    • Baker, Mishell: Borderline: the Arcadia Project Book 1. Urban Fantasy about the intersection between humanity and faerie where the relationship with your special fairy drives your connectivity. The protagonist is a woman dealing with the injuries from a failed suicide attempt who gets involved in investigating missing beings. This one turns dark in really interesting ways, and builds a lot of tension leading up to a wonderful finale.
    • Cole, Myke: The Armored Saint. What starts out seeming to be a Faux-medieval faux-historical fantasy gets really interesting really fast when it turns out the supernatural elements the evil government is trying to suppress are actually real, and the protagonist finds herself fighting both sides in an attempt to protect those she cares about. Some great characters in this book, and it also tosses in some fascinating thoughts on gender and gender roles while it’s at it.
    • Corey, James S.A.: Caliban’s War (Expanse book 2). I’m late to the game in finally starting to read the Expanse series, and I now wish I’d gotten on board earlier. Really well written classic style space opera interplanetary war fiction. Lots of fun.
    • Kowal, Mary Robinette: The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel. Kowal’s alternate history where a meteor strike on the east coast devastates large parts of the U.S., but could also be big enough to be an extinction event for humanity. Kowal tells the story of the people trying to get humanity into space through the eyes of a woman contributing to the effort in a male-dominated 1950’s culture who fully intends to go to space with the guys. My favorite fiction read of 2018 by far.
    • Sanderson, Brandon: Oathbringer: Book 3 of the Stormlight Archive. Sanderson books frankly shouldn’t work. His Stormlight books are incredibly long, even compared to most epic fantasies today, structured as two novels plus a short story collection weaved together into a single mosaic work. He makes it work, and these are fascinating and complex books that would collapse under their own weight if tried by most writers. Great story, fun and interesting and complex characters, and each one slowly builds to a really intense and powerful finale.
  • Non-Fiction Books
    • Duncan, Mike: The Storm before the Storm. Duncan writes about the period of time as the Roman Republic was failing and turning into the Roman Empire. I found interesting echos of today’s poltical struggle in this book, and not necessarily in a reassuring way.
    • Frankopan, Peter: The Silk Roads: A New History of the World: A fascinating look at the history of the world, trying to open it up beyond a white, western european viewpoint where other cultures — especially the arabic and asian ones — have been traditionally been ignored or minimized.
    • Goldsworthy, Adrian: Caesar: Life of a Colossus. This book takes you through the life of the Emperor Caesar, his military conquests, his political machinations, and ultimately his assassination. It’s a really nice look into how Rome operated, especially in the political sphere, and how Caesar manipulated that to push his own goals forward.
    • Karnow, Stanley: Vietnam: A History. I’m just old enough to remember the Vietnam War on the TV at the dinner table every night, but too young to have worried about being drafted or serving in it. I decided it was time to spend some evenings digging into the war to better understand how it influenced my growing up. the Karnow book is one of the best references to this era and its impact on Americans.
    • Toland, John: The Rising Sun, the Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945: This is an era I’ve read up on before, but what really caught my appreciation of the Toland book was it’s attempt to talk about this era from the Japanese view, bringing forward the politics and society and how that drove some of the decisions made and help us better understand why they did what they did.
  • Photography Books and Resources
    • duChemin, David: The Traveling Lens. I’ve been thinking about taking one of duChemin’s mentor classes for a while, and so when he released The Traveling Lens, I signed up. It involves 20 video lessons with exercises, a suite of supplementary documentation, and access to a post-class mentoring community of discussion that includes alumni from his classes and David. It really helped me rebuild my thinking about some photography techniques I’d been struggling with, and it was more than worth the investment and time to take.
    • Hoddinott, Ross: Masters of Landscape Photography. Hoddinott looks at 16 contemporary landscape photographers, showing off their work, and discussing it in a Q&A with each photographer. A very good peek into what landscape photography is like today and what the leading creators of it think about their craft.
    • Horne, Ben: Portfolio 2018. Ben Horne is a large format film photographer, and every year he issues a portfolio box of his favorite images. That idea attracted me, so I’ve adapted it for my own use and I’m now building a portfolio box of my favorite images for my future reference. His is a very carefully crafted package containing 12 prints, each signed and numbered to the edition, and the images are a fascinating glimpse into his photography style and goals.
    • Neill, William: William Neill, Photographer: A Retrospective. Neill is one of the photographers I’ve long admired and occasionally try to emulate (badly); he’s one of the photographers I have a signed print up on my wall in my office to stare at while pondering why my images don’t look that interesting. This book is a look through his life in photography and a great tutorial on the concept of the intimate landscape. His ability to make light a key part of his composition is one of those things I wish I could do better and plan on working on.
    • Sartore, Joel: Birds of the Photo Ark. Sartore’s ark project has had the National Geographic photographer traveling the globe to photograph the endangered species of the world to allow him to promote awareness of their struggles and advocate for their protection. This book documents many of the birds he’s photographed in this project, and for bird photographers, it’s a fascinating look into technique and composition as he brings forward the personalities of these species and brings them to life within the image.
  • Podcasts
    • Chris Kimball’s Milk Street Radio: A few years ago Kimball left America’s Test Kitchen and ultimately founded Milk Street in Boston and brought his podcast with him. Every week he covers multiple food topics, where “food” is sometimes defined rather loosely, with interviews with authors of cookbooks, recipes, Q&A’s with listeners and more. Kimball is, I think, one of the best interviewers out there, not just within the food world, but in covering any content, and he brings a fun and different take to food, cooking and the restaurant world.
    • The Incomparable: The flagship podcast of the Imcomparable network run by Jason Snell, this is a weekly group discussion of pop culture topics ranging from books and movies and comics to random topics, including in the last year beer and Thanksgiving dinner. Whether they’re covering a current item like the new Doctor Who Season or the latest Marvel movie, or digging into older titles via Old Movie Club or Rocket Surgery, the chemistry and camaraderie of his team is clear and the thing that makes this one of my favorite podcasts, one I always bump to the top of the pile when it’s released.
    • Nerd Therapy: A group of people play Dungeon and Dragons and let us listen in for our amusement. It’s a lot of fun, because sometimes their enthusiasm surpasses their skill, or one of the party decides to bring a burning house down on top of the entire party as an attack against a powerful enemy (and hilarity ensues).
    • Revolutions. Mike Duncan’s (see Storm before the Storm above) weekly podcast going over revolutions through time. He’s recently finished up the French Revolution and as I type this, is carrying listeners through the Mexican revolution. A fascinating and detailed glimpse into this points in time that we all know about generally, but have never really read up on.
    • Total Party Kill. A group of people play Dungeon and Dragons and let us listen in for our amusement. This was my original D&D podcast, and it really hooked back back into D&D, and it’s a lot of fun listening to these groups trying to stay alive (and so far, with one exception, have succeeded). Surprising to me is that the sessions where they spend 45 minutes trying to figure out how to open a door can be some of the most enjoyable discussion.
  • Photographers That Influence me
    • David duChemin: David is the photographer that first made me realize I needed to think less about gear and more about composition and vision. I find after following his writings and videos over the years I’m still learning and gaining insight from him, so he still leads the list of people who influence me as I create images with my camera.
    • Michael Frye: Michael Frye’s Yosemite imagery has always inspired me, and he’s one of the photographers up on the wall in my office. I took a workshop from him in 2014, and I’ve been thinking I want to do so again, but I haven’t been able to make the timing work yet. One thing that really draws me to his work is that unlike many landscape photographers, his strongest work tends to be shot with the 70-200, not ultra-wide lenses, and that is a format I find most attractive for my own work.
    • Thomas Heaton. One of the Youtube channels I follow, I think Heaton is doing the best job of discussion and showing off composition as part of his discussions about photography.
    • Ben Horne. Ben Horne is a film photographer who shoots large format 8×10 cameras. This may sound really retro, and in ways it is, but as a landscape photographer he, like Heaton, is one of the best of those discussing compositional technique and decisions that went into the creation of his work.
    • William Neill: William Neill is another photographer beast known for his Yosemite photography, but where Frye’s work leans more towards the traditional styles of landscape photography, Neill’s work involves a lot of use of innovative light to bring an almost mystical look to his work, as well as a lot of detail work, “intimate” style of landscape work and abstraction in his images. All stuff I find endlessly fascinating and rarely seem to be able to innovate. Yet.
  • Photography Youtube Channels
    • Art of Photography (Ted Forbes). This channel has what I feel is the best general discussion of photography on Youtube these days, with Forbes doing both gear discussion and the more creative aspects of the craft like composition. He also dives into a wide range of other topics, from printing to drones to interviews with other photographers in the field.
    • Thomas Heaton. Heaton’s my favorite of the landscape photographers, and he takes care to talk us through his compositions and explain what works and what isn’t working for him, in a nice conversational style I really enjoy.
    • Ben Horne. I discussed Horne above, but his is a favorite of mine, even though I have no interest in ever shooting film again. He does daily videos of his photography trips, which are in places like Zion, where he backpacks into the back country and where shooting three or four sheets of film in one day is a great day. He does a nice job of explaining his thinking behind his composition, and in his image reviews, what works and what doesn’t for him.
    • Landscape Photography IQ (Tom Mackie). This channel’s relatively new to me but quickly became a favorite. Tom Mackie is a british landscape photographer who travels widely and does videos about his work and about various photographic topics. it’s not one of the 500 “let’s do introductory content because it’s easy” channels — do we really need another person explaining shutter speed or what an aperture number means? — and his videos dig deeper than that, discussing compositional techniques like use of reflections in an image, technique topics like using ND filters, or dicsussions about the life of a photographer, from bad weather to post processing. A very interesting and low-key channel.
    • Brian Matiash. Matiash is a Portland-based photographer who discusses both fieldwork and digital darkroom work with various tools including Adobe and OnONE. As someone who’s used Lightroom for a long time, he recently showed me some techniques with the tone curve that’s changed how I process my images for the better, and I really enjoyed his series on older images that he reprocessed using current tools to his current view of what a “good” image means.
  • Non-Photography Youtube Channels
    • 512 Pixels: Stephen Hackett, co-founder of the Relay.FM podcast network, is also a historian of Apple and Macs, and he does a series of videos about the past days of Mama Fruit. They’re all well-researched and interesting to watch, and help put in context the company we interact with today and how it got that way through views back into its past.
    • Binging with Babish: Weekly short cooking tutorials on various topics, as well as an ongoing series of re-creations of meals from various movies or TV shows that are sometimes amazing, and sometimes… well, amazing.
    • Epicurious. Another foodie channel. They have a couple of ongoing series I find fascinating, one where they bring in 50 people and have them accomplish some cooking task and show the results, from abject failure to professional results. The other has them bringing in an expert on some foodstuff, and they are given blind samples to taste and evaluate which of the products are more expensive. This is fascinating mostly because the commentary is about what makes good products in some detail, leading to a much deeper understanding of these various ingredients.
    • Vector by Rene Ritchie. Rene, editor in chief of iMore, the Apple tech site, has started a new video series. Once or twice a week Rene editorializes on something going on in the Apple world. Bonuses are occasional extended discussion/interviews with people in the field.
    • Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Nature Notes, produced by videographer Steven M. Bumgardner, these are occasional glimpses into various topics of interest about the park. To me, these videos define what this kind of documentary ought to look like.

Hope you find things you can add to your interest list here. Enjoy!