Favorite Discoveries of 2018: Books, Music, Podcasts, Food, Places, Work, and Family

As 2018 closes, I’m grateful for another year of good health, fulfilling work, and the best family anyone could ask for. I’ve shared below a few of my favorite discoveries over the course of the year. Would look forward to hearing about yours if you’d care to share.

Note: Items are boldfaced if newly created or arrived in 2018. Others have been around longer, but were new to me.


  1. , by W.G. Sebald. First book I read this year. One of the strangest I’ve ever read, but a beautiful one. A meditation on decay and the passage of time, anchored by the author’s wanderings in England, crisscrossed with extraordinary tangents on history, philosophy, and science, among other topics.
  2. , by David Christian. A remarkable history of everything, from the birth of the universe to now, with prognostications for the future. Sparked my interest in astrophysics, about which I know preciously little, which led me to…
  3. , by Carlo Rovelli. Who knew that physics could be so poetic and beautiful? Well, I’m guessing physicists did. A wonderful glimpse into the world that they are so excited about.
  4. , by Stephen Covey. I’d heard so much about this book. It lived up to the hype. Caused me to reexamine how I approach numerous aspects of daily life, especially goalsetting and prioritization.
  5. , by Kate Bowler. Wrestles with the big questions of meaning and mortality — and laugh out loud funny (laughter mixed with tears, that is). Deeply affecting.
  6. , by Charles Frazier. Richly evocative civil war epic. A great summer read.
  7. , by Kai-Fu Lee. Expected to learn a lot from this treatise on the defining technology of our time, and I did. Didn’t expect to be moved by it, but I was.


  1. , by Janelle Monáe. What a talent. The clever, introspective lyrics, infectious beats, and versatility of styles make for a tour de force.
  2. , by The Beatles. Have loved this album since childhood, but this new mix spearheaded by George Martin’s son Giles is a revelation. Had listened to this album hundreds of times but the remix revealed so many sounds I’d never heard before — and it has never sounded better. Outtakes fascinating, too.
  3. , by Rafik Bhatia. Jazz, traditional Indian string music, and electronica are all mashed together to make an extraordinary and unique work of sonic art.
  4. Hamilton at the Kennedy Center. What a treat to take in the exhilarating choreography, music and inspiring story of Alexander Hamilton live at this special venue.
Photo courtesy of Matthew Reisman

5. , by Gustav Mahler. Greatest symphony ever? Has of course been around a long time but had never heard it in its entirety until this year. Some of the most beautiful music ever written.

6. , by Brandi Carlisle. Deeply moving song, one of a number of gems on a terrific album. (“The Mother” is also great)

7. , by Waxahatchee. The spare arrangements — just Katie Crutchfield and her piano — are a striking contrast to the big rock sounds of her last record. Haunting and beautiful.

*Honorable mentions: new records by Mitski, Kacey Musgraves, Rosalia, and Ashley McBride; back catalogs of Best Coast, First Aid Kit, greatest hits of John Denver.


  1. , by the Union for Reform Judaism. Love the thoughtful linkages that URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs makes between Torah and the challenges of our contemporary world.
  2. , by NPR. Became my daily required listening for catching up on the news.
  3. , by NPR. The NPR music critics are fearless musical adventurers. So much fun to tag along and discover great new music with them.
  4. . Have really enjoyed listening to physicist Sean Carroll’s accessible and entertaining deep-dives into the frontiers of science, philosophy, and more. Favorite episode so far was an interview with astronomer Mike Brown, the self-described “man who killed Pluto.”


A. Local treasures:

  1. Occoquan Regional Park, Virginia (reopened to public after prolonged closure for rehabilitation)
Occoquan Regional Park. Photo by Kathy Tran

2. Fountainhead Regional Park, Virginia. Peaceful, bucolic spot on the water and so close to home.

3. Mason Neck State Park, Virginia. Our family has loved this park for a long time, but explored new corners of it in new ways this year, including a night walk and a clean-up hike. A hidden gem and one of my favorite places in the world.

Mason Neck State Park. Photo by Matthew Reisman

4. Wolf Trap, Virginia. Kathy and I saw our first ever concert here — a splendid show by Alanis Morissette.

B. Family Travel

  1. Disneyland, California. So much fun to experience Disney magic through our kids’ eyes for the first time.
Disneyland. Photo courtesy of Matthew Reisman

2. Blue Mountain Beach, Florida. Perhaps my new favorite beach anywhere. Serene surroundings, blue waves, warm water, and soft, white sand. And great times with the grandparents yielded so many smiles.

Blue Mountain Beach, FL. Photo courtesy of Matthew Reisman

3. Seattle, Washington. I am fortunate to have frequent opportunities to travel to the Seattle area for work, but this year was the first time we traveled there as a family to explore the city proper. And what a city it is — we especially enjoyed good eats and sights at Pike Place Market and Mariners Opening Night at Safeco Field.

Safeco Field. Photo by Kathy Tran.

C. Work adventures

  1. Geneva, Switzerland. Fulfilled a career-long dream to visit the World Trade Organization, and discovered an arrestingly beautiful city in the process.
Geneva. Photo by Matthew Reisman

2. Taipei, Taiwan. Loved the energy in this bustling city’s night markets. And the food, oh, the food!


  1. , Springfield, Virginia. So nice to discover a deliciously authentic Mexican restaurant near our home.
  2. K’s Hanukkah latkes. Knew they were good but this year, it became clear that they are the best anywhere.
Latkes. Photos by Matthew Reisman
  1. The new office espresso machine brought me small but intense doses of daily joy.
  2. Night market treats in Taipei. Beef noodle soup, meat buns, sausages…
Night market, Taipei. Photo by Matthew Reisman.

Work and Family

  1. Seeing our kids grow and develop in so many ways: first steps and many new words for N., U. blossoming into a great reader, E. exploding with creativity in art and writing, HD picking up the cello.
Family. Photos courtesy of Matthew Reisman.

2. Watching K , from inspiring and engaging with her constituents to representing their interests and legislating in Richmond. (photo credit for swearing in: Washington Post)

Photos courtesy of Kathy Tran.

3. Learning how to teach better. I love teaching at but I found myself struggling a bit toward the end of last school year with classroom management and also feeling a need to make the material more engaging. In the fall semester, tried some new approaches on setting and sticking to ground rules — and a refresh to the curriculum — and felt the semester was more successful as a result.

Sunday school. Photo by Matthew Reisman

4. Enjoying the support and camaraderie of great colleagues and managers at my working on international trade policy at Microsoft. More than ever in my five-plus years at there, I feel empowered to find the best ways to be impactful in my work and to follow through on those approaches. (Photos: Team volunteering at Martha’s Table in DC; CSI Global Services Summit)

Volunteering at Martha’s Table in DC. Photo from Microsoft US Government Affairs Team.
Global Services Summit 2018. Photo by Coalition of Services Industries.

5. Discovering the joys of volunteer canvassing for terrific Congressional candidates. I felt, and continue to feel, a tremendous amount of anxiety about the state of our country, but it was so helpful to find a constructive channel for that energy.

Canvassing. Photo by Matthew Reisman

Wishing one and all a happy and healthy 2019, full of discoveries!



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