Tag Archives: books

My Year in Books – 2022

In 2022, I continued to go through my Greatest Works of Literature list, a project I began back in 2011.  I’m now up to the mid-19th Century.  A big part of the year was spent reading four of the six books in the Barsetshire Chronicles, by Anthony Trollope. I had never read anything of his before, and he is now one of my favorite 19th Century authors. I occasionally detoured to the 21st Century to read books on nature and art, and one recent novel.  I was excited to read the book Loving Orphaned Space by my college friend Mrill Ingram (see my review HERE).

Here are the 21 books I finished in 2022, in order of publication date, with my 1-5 star rating.  Thanks to Goodreads for providing a space to keep track of my reading.

  1. The Betrothed – Alessandro Manzoni (1827) (4/5)
  2. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – Victor Hugo (1831) (4/5)
  3. Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse – Alexander Pushkin (1833) (4/5)
  4. Père Goriot – Honoré de Balzac (1835) (5/5)
  5. The Charterhouse of Parma – Stendhal (1839) (4/5)
  6. Democracy in America – Alexis de Tocqueville (1835, 1840) (5/5)
  7. Dead Souls – Nikolai Gogol (1842) (4/5)
  8. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket – Edgar Allan Poe (1844) (4/5)
  9. Walden – Henry David Thoreau (1849) (5/5)
  10. The Prelude – William Wordsworth (1850) (5/5)
  11. The Warden – Anthony Trollope (1855) (4/5)
  12. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert (1856) (4/5)
  13. Barchester Towers – Anthony Trollope (1857) (4/5)
  14. The Origin of Species – Charles Darwin (1859) (5/5)
  15. The Small House at Allington – Anthony Trollope (1864) (4/5)
  16. The Last Chronicle of Barset – Anthony Trollope (1867) (5/5)
  17. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting – Syd Field (1979) (4/5)
  18. What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World – Jon Young (2012) (4/5)
  19. The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben (2015) (4/5)
  20. Utopia Avenue – David Mitchell (2020) (3/5)
  21. Loving Orphaned Space: The Art and Science of Belonging to Earth – Mrill Ingram (2022) (5/5)

The Best of 2022: The End-of-Year Lists

I have compiled meta-lists of the best movies, TV shows, music, and books of 2022 by combining multiple end-of-year lists published in magazines, newspapers, and websites.  These lists provide a critical consensus of the year’s best.

Here are links to the lists:

Best Films of 2022
Best TV Shows of 2022
Best Music of 2022
Best Books of 2022

As a sneak preview, here are the most-listed items in each category:

Film: Aftersun
TV: Better Call Saul
Music: (tie): BeyoncéRenaissance and RosalíaMotomami 
Book: The Candy House. By Jennifer Egan

My Year in Books: 2021

In 2021, I continued to work my way through the chronological “greatest books of all time” list, focusing primarily on books I already own (with occasional trips to the library).  I finished the 18th Century and moved into the 19th Century.  One of the highlights was the four volume Dream of the Red Chamber (also know as Story of the Stone), one of the four classic Chinese novels.  (I had previously read The Water Margin and Journey to the West/Monkey, two of the other classics.)  But I veered off the greatest booklist path a few times.  I read two books on recent biological discoveries – I like to keep up-to-date with science. I read some art books, as part of my recent obsession with art. And I read some history/biography.  My niece gave me a 2018 Frederick Douglass bio as a gift, so I read that and then of course I needed to read Douglass’s autobiography. And a friend raved about the first volume of Rick Atkinson’s American Revolution trilogy, so I checked that out as well.  Another friend loaned me The Pueblo Revolt, which helped provide historical context for our vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico in September/October.

Here are the books I finished in 2021 (in chronological order by publication date), with my 1-5 star rating:

  1. The Social Contract (1762). By Jean-Jacques Rousseau (4/5)
  2. The Vicar of Wakefield (1766). By Oliver Goldsmith (4/5)
  3. The Sorrows of Young Werther and Selected Writings (1774). By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (4/5)
  4. Dangerous Liaisons (1782) By Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (4/5)
  5. Confessions (1782). By Jean-Jacques Rousseau (4/5)
  6. Dream of the Red Chamber (Story of the Stone) (1791). By Cao Xeuqin (and Gao E) (5/5)
  7. Autobiography and Selected Writings (1791). By Benjamin Franklin (4/5)
  8. Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794). By William Blake (4/5)
  9. Kant: Selections (1770-1797). By Immanuel Kant. Edited by Theodore M. Greene (4/5)
  10. Faust: A Tragedy, Part One (1808). By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (4/5)
  11. Persuasion (1817). By Jane Austen (4/5)
  12. Faust, Part Two (1832). By Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (4/5)
  13. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845). By Frederick Douglass (4/5)
  14. Art: A History of Painting, Sculpture, Architecture (1976). By Frederick Hartt (5/5)
  15. The Pueblo Revolt (1994). By Robert Silverberg (5/5)
  16. Modern Art in the U.S.A.: Issues and Controversies of the 20th Century (2000). By Patricia Hills (4/5)
  17. Why Evolution Is True (2008). By Jerry A. Coyne (4/5)
  18. Speaking of Art: Four Decades of Art in Conversation (2010). By William Furlong (4/5)
  19. A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth (2015). By Peter D. Ward (3/5)
  20. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (2018). By David W. Blight (5/5)
  21. The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777 (2019). By Rick Atkinson (4/5)

Thank You, Next: The Best of 2021

I’ve published meta-lists of the best films, albums, TV shows, and books of 2021.  I made these lists by combining numerous “best of” lists I found online.  Here are the links:

Best Films of 2021
Best TV Shows of 2021
Best Music of 2021
Best Books of 2021

The most popular and the most critically-acclaimed rarely line up and 2021 was no exception.  There was very little overlap between the bestselling films, books and music and the critics’ favorites.  An exception was television, where the critics and audiences seemed to appreciate the same shows.

For example, the top grossing movies globally were:

  1. Spider-Man: No Way Home (US, Jon Watts)
  2. The Battle at Lake Changjin (China, Chen Kaige, Tsui Hark & Dante Lam)
  3. Hi, Mom (China, Jia Ling)
  4. No Time to Die (UK/US, Cary Joji Fukunaga)
  5. F9 (US, Justin Lin)
  6. Detective Chinatown 3 (China, Chen Sicheng)
  7. Venom: Let There Be Carnage (US, Andy Serkis)
  8. Godzilla vs. Kong (US, Adam Wingard)
  9. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (US, Destin Daniel Cretton)
  10. Eternals (US, Chloé Zhao)

But the top critically-acclaimed films were:

1. Licorice Pizza (US, Paul Thomas Anderson)
2. Drive My Car
(Japan, Hamaguchi Ryūsuke)
3. The Power of the Dog (UK/US/New Zealand, Jane Campion)
4. Dune (US, Denis Villeneuve)
5. The Souvenir Part II (UK, Joanna Hogg)
6. The French Dispatch
(US, Wes Anderson)
7. Summer of Soul (US, Ahmir Khalib Thompson)
8. The Worst Person in the World (Norway, Joachim Trier)
9. Petite Maman (France, Céline Sciamma)
10. The Velvet Underground
(US, Todd Haynes)
11. The Card Counter (US, Paul Schrader)
12. Annette (France, Leos Carax)
13. The Green Knight (US/Canada, David Lowery)
14. The Lost Daughter (US, Maggie Gyllenhaal)

The most popular songs of the year were:

  1. Save Your TearsThe Weeknd ft. Ariana Grande
  2. MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)Lil Nas X
  3. LevitatingDua Lipa feat. Da Baby
  4. Blinding LightsThe Weeknd 
  5. drivers license Olivia Rodrigo
  6. good 4 uOlivia Rodrigo
  7. Kiss Me MoreDoja Cat ft. Sza 
  8. StayThe Kid Laroi ft. Justin Bieber
  9. PositionsAriana Grande
  10. PeachesJustin Bieber ft. Daniel Caesar & Giveon

But the most critically-acclaimed albums were:

  1. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony OrchestraPromises
  2. Tyler, the CreatorCall Me if You Get Lost
  3. Dry CleaningNew Long Leg
  4. LowHey What
  5. Little SimzSometimes I Might Be Introvert
  6. Arlo ParksCollapsed in Sunbeams
  7. Olivia RodrigoSour
  8. The Weather StationIgnorance
  9. Japanese BreakfastJubilee
  10. TurnstileGlow On

For books, the story was similar.  Here are the year’s bestsellers (book published in 2021):

  1. Dog Man: Mothering Heights. By Dav Pilkey
  2. The Four Winds. By Kristin Hannah
  3. American Marxism. By Mark R. Levin
  4. The Last Thing He Told Me. By Laura Dave
  5. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. By Charlie Mackesy
  6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Big Shot. By Jeff Kinney
  7. A Court of Silver Flames. By Sarah J. Maas
  8. The Judge’s List. By John Grisham
  9. Twelve and a Half. By Gary Vaynerchuk
  10. The Real Anthony Fauci. By Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

The list of top critically-acclaimed books is very different:

1, Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty.  By Patrick Radden Keefe
2. Harlem Shuffle. By Colson Whitehead
3. Detransition, Baby. By Torrey Peters
4. Great Circle. By Maggie Shipstead
5. Crying in H Mart: A Memoir.  By Michelle Zauner
6. How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America.  By Clint Smith
7. A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance.  By Hanif Abdurraqib
8. Crossroads.  By Jonathan Franzen  
9. Hell of a Book. By Jason Mott
10. Cloud Cuckoo Land. By Anthony Doerr
11. No One Is Talking About This. By Patricia Lockwood
12. The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois.  By Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
13. Klara and the Sun.  By Kazuo Ishiguro
14. The Prophets.  By Robert Jones Jr.
15. Afterparties: Stories. By Anthony Veasna So

The Best of 2020: Films, TV, Music & Books

I’ve published the year-end meta lists for movies, TV, books and music. Here are the links:

Best Films of 2020
Best TV Shows of 2020
Best Music of 2020
Best Books of 2020

If you’re interested in my personal favorites from the year, I’ve set them out below. As you can see, I don’t normally focus on the most recent releases, but tend to watch, read, and listen to items from various time periods.

Favorite films watched in 2020:

Rated 10/10
The Life of Oharu (Japan, 1954) Dir: Kenji Mizoguchi
Cleo from 5 to 7 (France, 1962) Dir: Agnes Varda
Night of the Living Dead (US, 1968) Dir: George Romero
Songs from the Second Floor (Sweden, 2000) Dir: Roy Andersson
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (US, 2020) Dir: Charlie Kaufman

Rated 9/10
Au hasard Balthazar (France, 1966) Dir: Robert Bresson
Z (France, 1969) Dir: Costa-Gavras
W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism (Yugoslavia, 1971) Dir: Dusan Makavejev
The Passenger (Italy/France, 1975) Dir: Michelangelo Antonioni
Stalker (USSR, 1979) Dir: Andrei Tarkovsky
Paris, Texas (Germany/US, 1984) Dir: Wim Wenders
Come and See (USSR, 1985) Dir: Elem Klimov
Uncut Gems (US, 2019) Dir: Joshua & Ben Safdie
American Factory (US, 2019) Dir: Julia Reichert & Steven Bognar

Favorite books read in 2020:

The Faerie Queen (UK, 1590, 1596). By Edmund Spenser
King Lear (UK, 1605). By William Shakespeare
Tartuffe (France, 1664). By Moliere
Paradise Lost (UK, 1667). By John Milton
Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration (UK, 1669). By John Locke
The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches (Japan, 1702). By Matsuo Basho
The Genius of the Later English Theater (UK, 1962). Edited by Sylvan Barnet
A Thousand Acres (US, 1991). By Jane Smiley.
Time’s Arrow (UK, 1991). By Martin Amis
Jazz (US, 1992). By Toni Morrison
Operation Shylock (US, 1993). By Philip Roth

Favorite TV shows watched in 2020:

The Queen’s Gambit
Unorthodox
Shtisel
Atypical
Call My Agent
Lovesick


Albums listened to most frequently in 2020

Father John Misty Pure Comedy (2017)
Bob DylanNo Direction Home: Bootleg Series Vol. 7
WaxahatcheeOut in the Storm (2017)
Charlie Musselwhite Sanctuary (2004)
Blind Lemon Jefferson Blind Lemon Jefferson (1925-1929)
David Bowie The Singles 1969-1993
PJ HarveyLet England Shake (2011)
St. Vincent Masseduction (2017)
Big Thief U.F.O.F. (2019)
KhruangbinCon Todo El Mundo (2018)
Steely DanCan’t Buy A Thrill (1972)
T-Bone WalkerThe Complete Imperial Recordings (1950-1954)
The New PornographersTwin Cinema (2005)
Brittany Howard Jaime (2019)
John Dowland Farewell, Unkind – Songs and Dances (2007) (Joel Cohen & Boston Camerata)
Count BasieComplete Decca Recordings (1937-1939)

The Best of the 2010s: A Decade in Review

As 2019 comes to a close, various publications and critics have put out their Best of the Decade lists in film, music and literature. As is my wont, I have collected these lists and compiled them into meta-lists for your convenience. Here are the links to the meta-lists for best movies, best books and best music (albums and songs) of the 2010s:

Best Films of the 2010s
Best Books of the 2010s
Best Music of the 2010s – Albums
Best Songs of the 2010s

Too busy to click on the links? Need some information right away? Here are some sneak peeks at the top items on the lists:

FILMS
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Moonlight (2016)
Get Out (2017)
The Social Network (2010)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
Lady Bird (2017)
Under the Skin (2013)
Inception (2010)
Boyhood (2014)
Parasite (2019)

BOOKS
Fiction
THE NEAPOLITAN NOVELS (2011-2014). By Elena Ferrante. Translated by Ann Goldstein  
AMERICANAH (2013). By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
THE GOLDFINCH (2013). By Donna Tartt 
THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (2016). By Colson Whitehead
A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD
 (2010). By Jennifer Egan 
STATION ELEVEN (2014). By Emily St. John Mandel   
THE SYMPATHIZER (2015). By Viet Thanh Nguyen 
HOMEGOING (2016). By Yaa Gyasi

Nonfiction
BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME (2015). By Ta Nehisi Coates
THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS (2010). By Rebecca Skloot 
JUST KIDS (2010). By Patti Smith 
THE ARGONAUTS (2015). By Maggie Nelson 
THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES: A Biography of Cancer (2010). By Siddhartha Mukherjee 
THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2010). By Isabel Wilkerson
WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012). By Cheryl Strayed 
BAD FEMINIST: Essays (2014). By Roxane Gay 
H IS FOR HAWK (2015). By Helen MacDonald    

MUSIC
Albums
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
Beyoncé
 – Lemonade (2016)
Solange – A Seat at the Table (2016)
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Robyn
 – Body Talk (2010)
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (2012)
David Bowie – Blackstar (2016)
Rihanna – ANTI (2016)
Arcade Fire
 – The Suburbs (2010)
Frank Ocean – Blonde (2016)
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (2017)
Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour (2018)

Songs
Dancing on My Own – Robyn (2010)
Royals – Lorde (2012)
Formation – Beyoncé (2016)
Hotline Bling – Drake (2015)
Alright – Kendrick Lamar (2015)
Runaway – Kanye West (ft. Pusha T) (2010)
We Found Love – Rihanna (ft. Calvin Harris) (2011)
Rolling in the Deep – Adele (2011)
Video Games – Lana Del Rey (2011)
Everything Is Embarrassing – Sky Ferreira (2012)
Oblivion – Grimes (2012)
Old Town Road (Billy Ray Cyrus remix) – Lil Nas X (2019)




The Best of 2019: Books, Music, Movies & TV

Every year in December, various publications and websites announce their best of the year lists in various categories, and every December I collect those lists and combine them into meta-lists.  Usually I make lists of best books, movies and music (albums), but this year I added TV shows, in acknowledgement that we are in a period of unprecedented quality in television.  Here are the meta-lists for 2019:

Best Films of 2019
Best Books of 2019
Best Music of 2019
Best TV Shows of 2019

Story of My Life: Introducing the Best Memoirs Lists

The New York Times has just published a list of the best 50 memoirs of the past 50 years, and this inspired me to make a meta-list of the best memoirs and autobiographies of all time.  I started with the Times list, then I found about a dozen additional lists of best memoirs/autobiographies on the Internet.  I combined all the lists into a single meta-list.  You can look at the list in rank order (that is, with the books on the most lists at the top) or chronological order.

Here are the lists:
Best Memoirs and Autobiographies of All Time – Ranked
Best Memoirs and Autobiographies of All Time – Chronological

What’s the difference between an autobiography and a memoir?  Here’s how I understand it: an autobiography usually tells the story of a significant portion of the author’s life.  A memoir can tell the story of one incident, a series of events, or a period in a person’s life.  These categories overlap quite a bit.  I think every autobiography is a memoir, but not every memoir is an autobiography.

As you can see from the meta-list, many of the memoirs are quite recent and there are very few from before the 20th Century.  I was particularly disappointed to see that Augustine’s Confessions (c. 400 CE) and Rousseau’s Confessions (1782, 1789) didn’t make the list.  I would also have loved to have seen more books from non-English speaking countries.  (There are a few, but they are mostly older: Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, and Elie Weisel’s Night, for example.)

2018: The Year in Review in Books, Music and Movies

Finally, some good news: the annual meta-lists of best books, music, and movies have arrived!  As always, I need to remind everyone that these are not my personal opinions – they are compilations of multiple lists published in newspapers, magazines and websites. I have not read all these books, listened to all this music or seen all these movies.

Here they are:

Best Books of 2018
Best Music of 2018
Best Films of 2018

Some random observations:

Every year, the “best of the year” lists seem to come earlier and earlier, just like Christmas music in the stores.  I’m guessing this has to do with the retailers’ desire to use these lists to inspire holiday gift givers to make purchases (of books and music) and get folks out to see the movies on the lists.  I just hope that movies, books and albums released in late December get considered for next year’s lists.

Another thing that is changing (i.e., expanding) is the length of nonfiction book subtitles (the stuff after the colon).  The publishing industry needs to take a chill pill on this – pretty soon, the entire first chapter is going to be on the cover of the book.  Maybe the worst offender this year is: BOOM TOWN: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its
Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming
a World-Class Metropolis.  

The Wikipedia genre descriptions for musical acts (which I include in the Best Music lists) make me laugh.  Like one band that is described as both “punk” and “post-punk” – how is that logically possible?  (And how is “post-punk” different from “post-punk revival”? Is post-punk already dead such that someone had to revive it? And if so, why are some bands still referred to as “post-punk”?)  Also, the proliferation of “cores.” I assume that “hardcore” was the first one, but now there are “grindcore”, “slowcore” and “sadcore” (I’m sure I’m missing some). Not to mention “shoegaze.”

 

Reading in the Rearview Mirror: Best Books of the 1980s and 1990s

Why is it that sometimes we love the old and other times we love the new?  When it comes to the arts, my sense is that many people appreciate old paintings, sculpture and architecture, even to the exclusion of modern examples, but when it comes to movies, books and music, they only like what’s new.  (In the case of music, I find many people get stuck listening to the music they liked in their teens and 20s for the rest of their lives, as if music that happened before they were born or after they turned 30 holds no possible interest.)

I find these attitudes perplexing, but I am not going to try to argue folks out of their particular tastes when it comes to art.  I will say that my life has been enriched immeasurably by opening myself up to works of art from all time periods.  (It is no coincidence that most of the meta-lists on the Make Lists, Not War website include the phrase “of all time” in the title.) This includes paintings, sculptures, mixed media and architecture, on the one hand, but also music, literature, photography and film.  Watching Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante or Carl Theodor Dryer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc is just as thrilling to me as watching the latest art film playing at the local theater.  Reading literature from Ancient Greece and Rome, or from the Middle Ages, or even the mid-20th Century has provided me with artistic experiences that are equal to and in some cases better than from reading current books. Similarly, with music, I find recordings from the 1920s, 1930s and later to be as fulfilling to listen to as the latest albums from contemporary musicians, and music composed in the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods does not disappoint merely because it is hundreds of years old.

I’ve been doing “best of the year” lists since 2000, but there is no reason to stop there. Although getting information for specific years prior to 2000 is difficult, there are plenty of “best of the decade” lists available.  With these thoughts in mind, I decided to go back just a little bit and find lists of the best literature of the 1980s and 1990s.  These lists are interesting because in addition to literary fiction and important works of nonfiction, there is quite a bit of genre fiction on the lists: sci-fi, fantasy, horror, young adult, children’s literature. In the past, the experts, academics and critics haven’t always been kind to genre fiction, but it seems to be getting more respect in recent years.  In the future, I plan to collect lists from even earlier decades. 

Here are the new lists:

Best Books of the 1980s
Best Books of the 1990s