Tag Archives: books

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

My Favorites By Decade: Music, Books and Movies

I made a list of my favorite books, movies and albums from each decade since the 1950s. I chose to begin with the 1950s, as that was the decade that the long-playing record album was introduced. I limited my picks to 12 or fewer in each category.

NOTE: To be clear, these are works of music, literature and film that were produced during the decades listed – it doesn’t mean I read, saw or listened to them during that particular decade (which would be particularly difficult for the 1950s, since I wasn’t born then!).

1950s

Albums
Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! (1956) – Frank Sinatra
Jazz at Massey Hall (1956) – The Quintet (Parker, Gillespie, Powell, Roach, Mingus)
After Midnight (1957) – Nat “King” Cole
West Side Story (1957) – Original Broadway Cast
Birth of the Cool (1957) – Miles Davis
Brilliant Corners (1957) – Thelonious Monk
Saxophone Colossus (1957) – Sonny Rollins
At the Opera House (1958) – Stan Getz & J.J. Johnson
Somethin’ Else (1958) – Cannonball Adderley
Blues from the Gutter (1959) – Champion Jack Dupree
Kind of Blue (1959) – Miles Davis
The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959) – Ornette Coleman

Books
Memoirs of Hadrian (1951) – Marguerite Yourcenar
Invisible Man (1952) – Ralph Ellison
Henry James: A Life (1953) – Leon Edel
Nine Stories (1953) – J.D. Salinger
The Foundation Trilogy (1953) – Isaac Asimov
Lucky Jim (1954) – Kingsley Amis
The Inheritors (1955) – William Golding
Lolita (1955) – Vladimir Nabokov
The Lord of the Rings (1956) – J.R.R. Tolkien
A Death in the Family (1957) – James Agee
Molloy; Malone Dies; The Unnameable (1958) – Samuel Beckett
The Tin Drum (1969) – Günter Grass

Movies
Sunset Blvd. (Wilder, 1950)
Ikiru (Kurosawa, 1952)
Singin’ in the Rain (Kelly & Donen, 1952)
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (Tati, 1953)
Tokyo Story (Ozu, 1953)
The Apu Trilogy (Ray, 1955-1959)
The Searchers (Ford, 1956)
Wild Strawberries (Bergman, 1957)
Nights of Cabiria (Fellini, 1957)
Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958)
The 400 Blows (Truffaut, 1959)

1960s

Albums
The Incredible Jazz Guitar (1960) – Wes Montgomery
Sunday at the Village Vanguard & Waltz for Debby (1962) – Bill Evans
Live at the Regal (1965) – B.B. King
A Love Supreme (1965) – John Coltrane
Highway 61 Revisited (1965) – Bob Dylan
Tristan und Isolde (1966) – Richard Wagner (Bayreuther Festspiele, Karl Böhm)
Chicago/The Blues/Today! (1966) – Various Artists
Blonde on Blonde (1966) – Bob Dylan
Revolver (1966) – The Beatles
The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) – The Velvet Underground
The Beatles [White Album] – The Beatles
Tommy (1969) – The Who

Books
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960) – William L. Shirer
Franny and Zooey (1961) – J.D. Salinger
The Golden Notebook (1962) – Doris Lessing
A Clockwork Orange (1962) – Anthony Burgess
Labyrinths (1962) – Jorge Luis Borges
Cat’s Cradle (1963) – Kurt Vonnegut
V. (1963) – Thoman Pynchon
Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village (1966) – William Hinton
Giles Goat-Boy (1966) – John Barth
One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) – Gabriel García Márquez
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) – Tom Wolfe
The Double Helix (1968) – James D. Watson

Movies
La Dolce Vita (Fellini, 1960)
L’Avventura (Antonioni, 1960)
The Exterminating Angel (Buñuel, 1962)
Vivre Sa Vie (Godard, 1962)
La Jetée (Marker, 1962)
Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962)
8 ½ (Fellini, 1963)
The Servant (Losey, 1963)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Kubrick, 1964)
Repulsion (Polanski, 1965)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)
Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger, 1969)

1970s

Albums
Moondance (1970) – Van Morrison
Plastic Ono Band (1970) – John Lennon
Blue (1971) – Joni Mitchell
The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) – Pink Floyd
There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973) – Paul Simon
Quadrophenia (1973) – The Who
Blood on the Tracks (1975) – Bob Dylan
Born to Run (1975) – Bruce Springsteen
Music of the Gothic Era (1976) – Early Music Consort of London (David Munrow)
Ice Pickin’ (1978) – Albert Collins
This Year’s Model (1978) – Elvis Costello
The Roches (1979) – The Roches

Books
A Theory of Justice (1971) – John Rawls
Invisible Cities (1972) – Italo Calvino
The Gulag Archipelago (1973) – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Breakfast of Champions (1973) – Kurt Vonnegut
Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) – Thomas Pynchon
All the President’s Men (1974) – Carl Bernstein and Robert Woodward
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) – Robert Pirsig
Ragtime (1975) – E.L. Doctorow
Song of Solomon (1977) – Toni Morrison
The Family Crucible (1977) – Augustus Napier
The Stories of John Cheever (1978) – John Cheever
On Human Nature (1978) – E.O. Wilson

Movies
Five Easy Pieces (Rafelson, 1970)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Buñuel, 1972)
Cries and Whispers (Bergman, 1972)
Aguirre: The Wrath of God (Herzog, 1972)
Badlands (Malick, 1973)
Chinatown (Polanski, 1974)
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Herzog, 1974)
A Woman Under the Influence (Cassavetes, 1974)
The Godfather: Part II (Coppola, 1974)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Forman, 1975)
3 Women (Altman, 1977)
Apocalypse Now (Coppola, 1979)

1980s

Albums
Remain in Light (1980) – Talking Heads
Making Movies (1980) – Dire Straits
Pirates Choice (1982) – Orchestra Baobab
Imperial Bedroom (1982) – Elvis Costello
Legend (1984) – Bob Marley
Rain Dogs (1985) – Tom Waits
King of America (1986) – Elvis Costello
So (1986) – Peter Gabriel
The Joshua Tree (1987) – U2
Shadowland (1988) – k.d. lang

Books
A People’s History of the United States (1980) – Howard Zinn
The White Hotel (1981) – D.M. Thomas
Midnight’s Children (1981) – Salman Rushdie
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981) – Raymond Carver
The Growth of Biological Thought (1982) – Ernst Mayr
White Noise (1984) – Don DeLillo
Money: A Suicide Note (1984) – Martin Amis
Common Ground (1985) – J. Anthony Lukas
World’s End (1987) – T.C. Boyle
And the Band Played On (1987) – Randy Shilts
Battle Cry of Freedom (1988) – James M. McPherson
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years (1988) – Taylor Branch

Movies
Stardust Memories (Allen, 1980)
Raging Bull (Scorcese, 1980)
My Dinner With Andre
 (Malle, 1981)
The King of Comedy (Scorcese, 1982)
Fanny and Alexander (Bergman, 1982)
Local Hero (Forsyth, 1983)
Brazil (Gilliam, 1985)
Blue Velvet (Lynch, 1986)
The Sacrifice (Tarkovsky, 1986)
Wings of Desire (Wenders, 1987)
Raising Arizona (Coen & Coen, 1987)
Do the Right Thing (Lee, 1989)

1990s

Albums
Goodbye Jumbo (1990) – World Party
Out of Time (1991) – R.E.M.
Aurora Gory Alice (1993) – Letters to Cleo
Whatever (1993) – Aimee Mann
Exile in Guyville (1993) – Liz Phair
To Bring You My Love (1995) – PJ Harvey
Garbage (1995) – Garbage
Odelay! (1996) – Beck
OK Computer (1997) – Radiohead
A Go Go (1998) – John Scofield
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998) – Lucinda Williams
69 Love Songs (1999) – The Magnetic Fields

Books
The Things They Carried (1990) – Tim O’Brien
Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos (1991) – Dennis Overbye
Consciousness Explained (1991) – Daniel C. Dennett
Mating (1991) – Norman Rush
Hard Rain: A Dylan Commentary (1992) – Tim Riley
Charles Darwin: Voyaging (1995) – Janet Browne
Ship Fever (1996) – Andrea Barrett
Infinite Jest (1996) – David Foster Wallace
Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth (1997) – Richard Fortey
The God of Small Things (1997) – Arundhati Roy
Annals of the Former World (1998) – John McPhee
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families (1998) – Philip Gourevich

Movies
Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992)
Short Cuts (Altman, 1993)
Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1994)
Before Sunrise (Linklater, 1995)
Lone Star (Sayles, 1996)
Secrets & Lies (Leigh, 1996)
Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (Morris, 1997)
The Sweet Hereafter (Egoyan, 1997)
Happiness (Solondz, 1998)
The Celebration (Vinterberg, 1998)
Being John Malkovich (Jonze, 1999)
Magnolia (P.T. Anderson, 1999)
All About My Mother (Almodóvar, 1999)

2000s

Albums
Fado em Mim (2000) – Mariza
I Am Shelby Lynne (2000) – Shelby Lynne
Strories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000) – PJ Harvey
Sweet Tea (2001) – Buddy Guy
The Id (2001) – Macy Gray
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) – Wilco
Fever to Tell (2003) – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Electric Version (2003) – The New Pornographers
Funeral (2004) – Arcade Fire
Shostakovich: String Quartets (2006) – Emerson String Quartet
Boys and Girls in America (2006) – The Hold Steady
Bird-Brains (2009) – Tune-Yards

Books
White Teeth (2000) – Zadie Smith
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) – Dave Eggers
Atonement (2001) – Ian McEwan
Austerlitz (2001) – W.G. Sebald
Middlesex (2002)  – Jeffrey Eugenides
Europe Central (2005) – William T. Vollmann
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2005) – Charles C. Mann
Never Let Me Go (2005) – Kazuo Ishiguro
The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) – Michael Pollan
The Inheritance of Loss (2006) – Kiran Desai
The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007) – Alex Ross
The Hemingses of Monticello (2008) – Annette Gordon-Reed

Movies
Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Yang, 2000)
In the Mood for Love (Wong, 2000)
Requiem for a Dream (Aronofsky, 2000)
Mulholland Dr. (Lynch, 2001)
Waking Life (Linklater, 2001)
The Royal Tenenbaums (Anderson, 2001)
Talk to Her (Almodóvar, 2002)
Dogville (von Trier, 2003)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry, 2004)
Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Mungiu, 2007)
No Country for Old Men (Coen, 2007)

2010s (so far)

Albums
The Suburbs (2010) – Arcade Fire
The King Is Dead (2011) – The Decemberists
Let England Shake (2011) – PJ Harvey
Yuck (2011) – Yuck
Four Sonatas by Charles Ives (2011) – Hilary Hahn & Valentina Lisitsa
Bad As Me (2011) – Tom Waits
Visions (2012) – Grimes
Pedestrian Verse (2013) – Frightened Rabbit
Brill Bruisers (2014) – The New Pornographers
Monteverdi (2016) – Magdalena Kožená
My Woman (2016) – Angel Olsen
Antisocialites (2017) – Alvvays

Books
Cleopatra: A Life (2010) – Stacy Schiff
Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music (2010) – Tim Riley
There But For the (2011) – Ali Smith
Tenth of December (2013) – George Saunders
The Riddle of the Labyrinth (2013) – Margalit Fox
Lawrence in Arabia (2013) – Scott Anderson
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2013) – Elena Ferrante

Movies
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog, 2010)
The Tree of Life (Malick, 2011)
Moonrise Kingdom (Anderson, 2012)
The Act of Killing (Oppenheimer, 2012)
Boyhood (Linklater, 2014)
Anomalisa (Kaufman & Johnson, 2015)
Moonlight (Jenkins, 2016)
The Florida Project (Baker, 2017)

 

Best Books of the 21st Century (So Far)

I’m completing a mini-series of “Best of the 21st Century (So Far)” meta-lists with a list of the best books.  I collected over 7 lists of best books of the 21st Century and combined them into two lists: fiction and non-fiction.  I’ve also included my personal five-star-rated (out of five) books since 2000.

For the other “Best of the 21st Century” meta-lists, go to:
Best Albums of the 21st Century (So Far)
Best Films of the 21st Century (So Far)

FICTION
On 7 Lists
The Corrections (2001). By Jonathan Franzen

On 6 Lists
White Teeth (2000). By Zadie Smith
Atonement (2001). By Ian McEwan
Middlesex (2002). By Jeffrey Eugenides
The Road (2006). By Cormac McCarthy
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). By Junot Díaz

5 Lists
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). By Michael Chabon
Kafka on the Shore (2002). By Haruki Murakami
The Namesake (2003). By Jhumpa Lahiri
Oryx and Crake (2003). By Margaret Atwood
Gilead (2004). By Marilynne Robinson
Cloud Atlas (2004). By David Mitchell

4 Lists
Austerlitz
(2001). By W. G. Sebald
American Gods (2001). By Neil Gaiman
Bel Canto (2001). By Ann Patchett
The Kite Runner (2003). By Khaled Hosseini
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003). By Mark Haddon
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004). By Susanna Clarke
2666 (2004). By Roberto Bolaño
Never Let Me Go (2005). By Kazuo Ishiguro
No Country for Old Men (2005). By Cormac McCarthy
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (2007). By J. K. Rowling
The Art of Fielding (2011). By Chad Harbach

3 Lists
The Secret Life of Bees (2001). By Sue Monk Kidd
The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003). By Audrey Niffenegger
The Line of Beauty (2004). By Alan Hollinghurst
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2005). By Stieg Larsson
The Book Thief (2005). By Markus Zusak
The Thirteenth Tale (2006). By Diane Setterfield
The Name of the Wind (2007). By Patrick Rothfuss
The Hunger Games (2008). By Suzanne Collins
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008). By Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
The Help (2009). By Kathryn Stockett
Wolf Hall (2009). By Hilary Mantel
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (2010). By David Mitchell
The Night Circus (2011). By Erin Morgenstern
The Fault in Our Stars (2012). By John Green
Gone Girl (2012). By Gillian Flynn

NON-FICTION
On 5 Lists
Persepolis (2000). By Marjane Satrapi

4 Lists
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America (2003). By Erik Larson
The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). By Joan Didion

3 Lists
Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000). By David Sedaris
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000). By Dave Eggers
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (2003). By Lynne Truss
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (2005). By Steven D. Levitt
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006). By Michael Pollan
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time
(2007). By Greg Mortenson

2 Lists
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000). By Malcolm Gladwell
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000). By Stephen King
London: The Biography (2000). By Peter Ackroyd
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001). By Barbara Ehrenreich.
John Adams (2001). By David McCullough
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005). By Malcolm Gladwell
The Glass Castle (2005). By Jeannette Wells
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia (2006). By Elizabeth Gilbert
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006). By Alison Bechdel
Enrique’s Journey (2006). By Sonia Nazario
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007). By Naomi Klein
The Hemingses of Monticello (2008). By Annette Gordon-Reed
Zeitoun (2009). By Dave Eggers
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (2009). By Chris McDougall
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (2011). By Stephen Greenblatt
Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011). By Daniel Kahneman
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012). By Susan Cain
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012). By Cheryl Strayed

MY FIVE-STAR BOOKS OF THE 21ST CENTURY

Fiction
Peace Like a River (2001). By Leif Enger
Atonement (2001). By Ian McEwan
Austerlitz (2001). By W.G. Sebald
Middlesex (2002). By Jeffrey Eugenides
The Known World (2003). By Edward P. Jones
Never Let Me Go (2005). By Kazuo Ishiguro
Europe Central (2005). By William T. Vollmann

Non-fiction
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000). By Dave Eggers
John Adams (2001). By David McCullough
Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (2002). By Janet E. Browne
A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003). By Bill Bryson
They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967 (2003). By David Maraniss
The Stories of English (2004). By David Crystal
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004). By Steve Coll
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2005). By Charles C. Mann
The Rough Guide To Classical Music (2005). By Duncan Clark
The Year of Magical Thinking (2005). By Joan Didion
James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (2006). By Julie Phillips
American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now (2006). By Philip Lopate, ed.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006). By Michael Pollan
Cleopatra: A Life (2006). By Stacy Schiff
The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2007). By Alex Ross
The Hemingses of Monticello (2008). By Annette Gordon-Reed
Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (2008). By Mark Harris
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2010). By Isabel Wilkerson
Lennon: The Man, the Myth, the Music – The Definitive Life (2011). By Tim Riley
Conversations with Scorcese (2011). By Richard Schickel
The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code (2013). By Margalit Fox
Lawrence in Arabia; War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2013). By Scott Anderson

Reading Lists

Although I love lists, I don’t like to make my own Top 10, Top 25 or Top 100 lists. I usually have many more than 10, 25 or 100 favorites in any category, and so the supposedly fun process of making the list becomes the intensely painful process of cutting items from the list. I love more than 100 movies, 100 books, 100 musical recordings, etc. – what is the point of putting myself through the unpleasantness of culling the sum total of favorites just to meet some arbitrary cut-off number? My preferred method is to rate items on a scale (1-5 or 1-10 usually) and then list all the top-rated items (those with 5 out of 5 or 10 out of 10 stars) as my “best of” list. Some may find this disconcerting, because there is no easy round number of items – both my best movies and best books lists have somewhere between 200 and 300 listed items – but I find this listing method much less arbitrary and more fulfilling, because it is comprehensive.

I recently updated my list of best/favorite books – you can find every book I’ve rated 5 out of 5 stars HERE. In going over the list, I noticed that I read a number of the books before high school. I rated them as an adult based on how I remembered feeling about the book way back when. This is a risky technique, I suppose, since I don’t know if I would give the book five stars if I read it as an adult. The list I’ve set out below shows the 16 books on my “Five-Star Books” list that I read before entering high school (1st through 8th grade), organized chronologically by date of publication:

  1. The Voyage of the Beagle. Charles Darwin (1839)
  2. On the Origin of Species. Charles Darwin (1859)
  3. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Jules Verne (1869)
  4. Kidnapped. Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
  5. Dracula. Bram Stoker (1897)
  6. The Bounty Trilogy: Mutiny on the Bounty; Men Against the Sea; Pitcairn’s Island. Charles Nordhoff & James Hall (1932-1934)
  7. Life Long Ago: The Story of Fossils. Carroll Lane Fenton (1937)
  8. The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkein (1937)
  9. The Catcher in the Rye. J.D. Salinger (1951)
  10. The Foundation Trilogy: Foundation; Foundation & Empire; Second Foundation. Isaac Asimov (1951-1953)
  11. Nine Stories. J.D. Salinger (1953)
  12. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters & Seymour: An Introduction. J.D. Salinger (1955)
  13. The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien (1956)
  14. Franny and Zooey. J.D. Salinger (1961)
  15. The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1973)
  16. All the President’s Men. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (1974)

Books (or movies, or music, or other works of art) come into our lives at different points in our development and we respond to them as the people we are then. What books were right for that moment but would not translate well to this moment we are living in now? What books did we just not appreciate at the time we read them that we would see today totally differently? Feel free to let me know what you think.

FYI, here are links to all my five-star lists:
My Five-Star Books
My Five-Star Films
My Five-Star Albums

My Personal Year-End Round Up: Books and Movies

It’s not quite the end of 2016, but like many of you out there, I am in a rush for the year to be over, so I’m publishing my end of year summary a few days early.  Here are some of the highlights of my year in movie-watching and book-reading.

MOVIES
Number of Movies Seen in 2016: 64

Category
Feature Films: 37
Short Films: 17
Documentaries: 10

Date of Movie
1920-1930: 12
1930-1959: 10
1960-1979: 4
1980-1999: 3
2000-2014: 16
2015: 9
2016: 9

Highest Rated Movies
10/10
Shoe Shine (Italy, De Sica, 1946)
Anomalisa (US, Johnson & Kaufman, 2015)
Moonlight (US, Jenkins, 2016)

9/10
Ballet mécanique (France, Léger & Murphy, 1924)
The Freshman (US, Newmeyer & Taylor, 1925)
Ghosts Before Breakfast (Germany, Richter, 1928)
Lot in Sodom (US. Webber & Watson, 1933)
Meshes of the Afternoon (US, Deren & Hammid, 1943)
21-87 (US, Lipsett, 1964)
Land of Silence and Darkness (West Germany, Herzog, 1971)
The Cruise (US, Miller, 1998)
The Secret in their Eyes (Argentina, Campanella, 2009)
The Big Short (US, McKay, 2015)
45 Years (UK, Haigh, 2015)
Tangerine (US, Baker, 2015)
Son of Saul (Hungary, Jeles, 2015)

BOOKS
Number of books finished in 2016: 12

Category
Fiction: 4
Non-Fiction: 4
Epic Poems: 4

Date Published
1000-1299: 5
1300-1799: 0
1800-1999: 1
2000-2016: 6

Highest Rated Books
FIve Stars

The Tale of Genji (Japan, 1021). By Shikibu Murasaki
Europe Central (US, 2005). By William T. Vollmann
Lawrence in Arabia (UK, 2013). By Scott Anderson