Genevieve Valentine

This year, we got nature-starved. Pandemic response guidelines tried to keep people close to home. Despite that (likely because of it), national parks reported booming attendance by those so desperate for the wilds they would risk a plague.

At the start of The Mirror & The Light, Thomas Cromwell is a man very much at home. He's spent two books laying foundations both metaphorical and literal, and as his star rises under King Henry VIII, his London house — Austin Friars, close to the Thames — expands practically to a castle keep. As if to spite the landed nobles who look down on him, he builds his own walled estate in the heart of the city, as near to the source of his power as he can get.

The first thing I did after I finished Kristen Richardson's The Season was look up the Texas Dip.

One of the longest-running jokes in The Good Place is about almond milk.

Your brain performs a little trick every time you turn around to look at something. Instead of presenting you with a disorienting blur of ocular input before your eyes can adjust to the new field of vision, it backfills your memory a few seconds using whatever you're looking at now.

When Axton Betz was 12, her father stopped getting his issues of The Brayer.

She and her parents lived on an Indiana farm, distant from almost everything; her mother's passion was the home shopping network, and her father's passion was raising donkeys. Those magazines were his professional favorite. Axton pointed out that her pen-pal letters had also gone astray, and the family agreed how strange it was that someone would take that kind of thing.

But someone had definitely taken them. And for the next 20 years, they didn't stop.

In the 1990 showbiz send-up Soapdish, daytime-soap lifer Celeste Talbert (Sally Field) meets her secret daughter and stumbles through apologies for not raising her, finally sighing, "Hell, I'm not a genius, I'm just a working actress." It's honest, and for a moment, Laurie (Elisabeth Shue) softens. Celeste, sensing her moment, delivers a heart-wrenching speech...that Laurie recognizes from The Sun Also Sets: "It was the Thanksgiving show."

By 1851, the bowhead whales, it seems, had unionized.

To the Iñupiaq, Yupik, and Chukchi people who lived on the land flanking the Bering Strait, the whales were beings with souls who granted their deaths to worthy hunters — not to the wasteful or greedy — and subsistence hunting along the coast killed a hundred or so a year. To the American open-sea vessels that swarmed the waters in the 19th century, the whales were products, killed in the thousands every year for oil and baleen to feed the endless commercial appetites back home.

The recent Dark Phoenix movie offers two familiar narratives. The obvious (from the comics and the first generation of the franchise) has Jean Grey wrestling with new powers that enhance both her abilities and her capacity for destruction.

But this X-generation is younger, which gives Jean's struggle some distinctly adolescent subtext. And it's the reaction of her team members as much as anything that speaks to being a teenage girl: People around you — even if they know you — treat you as inherently unknowable, deeply irrational, and somehow dangerous.

In 1988's Big Business, Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin (twice each) play mismatched twins who converge on the Plaza Hotel for a fateful stockholders' meeting. The bedroom farce unfolds in replicas of the hotel's luxurious suites and plush lobby, amid two equally high-stakes outrages: the corporate espionage; and the $12.50 pancakes.

Sometimes history offers a marker of how far we've come. Sometimes, there's He-Man.

It sounds like propaganda meant to misdirect WWII Germans: a lone foreigner running riot in occupied France, everywhere at once, unrecognizable despite a trademark gait, able to bewitch information out of anyone, single-handedly stirring up resistance — and then vanishing.

The German secret police couldn't even be sure what country she was from. It would be easy to believe the Limping Lady wasn't real.

But she was.