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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!).


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

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

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)


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

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

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)


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

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

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)


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

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

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)


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

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

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)


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

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

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)

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

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

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)

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
(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

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


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

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.

Number of Movies Seen in 2016: 64

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
Shoe Shine (Italy, De Sica, 1946)
Anomalisa (US, Johnson & Kaufman, 2015)
Moonlight (US, Jenkins, 2016)

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)

Number of books finished in 2016: 12

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

Some Like It Hot, Others Like It Bound and Paginated – Marilyn’s Book Collection

marilyn monroe reading eve arnold 1955

While drafting an essay for a famous 1955 photograph by Eve Arnold of Marilyn Monroe sitting in a children’s playground in her bathing suit reading James Joyce’s Ulysses (to read the essay, go here), I came across a wonderful list of all the books in Ms. Monroe’s book collection (http://www.openculture.com/2014/10/the-430-books-in-marilyn-monroes-library.html).  Many of the books were auctioned by Christie’s in 1999.  Those who knew her said that Monroe read books whenever she had a spare moment, and Arnold’s is not the only photograph of Marilyn reading.  The list contains quite a few intellectually challenging works, perhaps not surprising for someone once married to playwright and intellectual Arthur Miller, including Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, a history of the American Communist Party and works by Freud, Plato, Aristotle and Spinoza.  There are many plays and poetry collections and, of course, James Joyce (Dubliners and  Ulysses, but not Portrait of the Artist).  Some of the titles remind me of the scene in Annie Hall when Annie easily identifies the books Alvy gave her because “they all have ‘death’ in the title.”  Random titles on the list: Sexual Impotence in the Male, by Leonard Paul Wershub, Pet Turtles, The Little Engine that Could and Baby & Child Care, by Dr. Benjamin Spock, a poignant inclusion given that Marilyn died childless at the age of 36.  Other poignant titles are The Failure of Success, by Esther Milner and How To Travel Incognito, by Ludwig Bemelmans. Overall, one gets the sense of a searching and curious mind. Here is the list, in alphabetical order by book title:

Marilyn Monroe’s Book Collection
100 Modern Poems, edited by Selden Rodman
A Book about Bees by Edwin Way Teale
A Cup of Tea for Mr. Thorgill by Storm Jameson
A Death in the Family by James Agee
A European Education by Romain Gary
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
A Partisan Guide to the Jewish Problem by Milton Steinberg
A Piece of My Mind by Edmund Wilson
A Prison, A Paradise by Loran Hurnscot
A Shropshire Lad by A.E. Houseman
A Socialist’s Faith by Norman Thomas
A Stone, A Leaf, A Door: Poems by Thomas Wolfe
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
A Time in Rome by Elizabeth Bowen
A Train of Powder by Rebecca West
A View of The Nation – An Anthology: 55-59, edited by Henry Christian
Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years by Carl Sandburg
Act One by Moss Hart
Add a Dash of Pity by Peter Ustinov
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass & The Hunting of the Snark, by Lewis Carroll
All The Naked Heroes by Alan Kapener
Almanach: Das 73 Jahr by S. Fischer Verlag
America The Invincible by Emmet John Hughes
American Rights: The Constitution in Action by Walter Gellhorn
An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
An Anthology of American Negro Literature, edited by Sylvestre C. Watkins
An Mands Ansigt by Arthur Miller
And It Was Told of a Certain Potter by Walter C. Lanyon
Anna Christie, The Emperor Jones & The Hairy Ape by Eugene O’Neill
Antigone by Jean Anouilh
Aragon: Poet of the French Resistance by Hannah Josephson & Malcolm Cowley
Baby & Child Care by Dr Benjamin Spock
Background & Foreground – The New York Times Magazine: An Anthology, edited by Lester Markel
Bahai Prayers
Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell
Bedside Book of Famous Short Stories
Beethoven: His Spiritual Development by J.W.N. Sullivan
Bell, Book and Candle by John Van Druten
Bernard Shaw & Mrs Patrick Campbell – Their Correspondence
Best American Plays: Third Series, 45-51
Best Plays of the Modern American Theatre by John Glassner
Best Russian Stories: An Anthology, edited by Thomas Seltzer
Blow Up a Storm by Garson Kanin
Born Yesterday by Garson Kanin
Bound For Glory by Woody Guthrie
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
Camille by Alexander Dumas
Camino Real by Tennessee Williams
Captain Newman, M.D. by Leo Rosten
Catechism for Young Children
Christliches ergissmeinnicht by K. Ehmann
Cities of the Plain by Marcel Proust
Clash by Night by Clifford Odets
Close to Colette by Maurice Goudeket
Codfish, Cats & Civilisation by Gary Webster
Collected Sonnets by Edna St Vincent Millay (2 editions)
Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare by Bertrand Russell
Commonwealth vs. Sacco & Vanzetti by Robert P. Weeks
Conditioned Reflex Therapy by Andrew Salter
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Critics’ Choice by Jack Gaver
Dance to the Piper by Agnes DeMille
Das Kapital by Karl Marx
De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Andreas Vesalius
Death in Venice & Seven Other Stories by Thomas Mann
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
D.H. Lawrence: A Basic Study of His Ideas by Mary Freeman
Doctor Pygmalion by Maxwell Maltz
Don’t Call Me by My Right Name & Other Stories by James Purdy
Dubliners by James Joyce
Elizabethan Plays by Hazelton Spencer
Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw – A Correspondence
Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Etruscan Places by D.H. Lawrence
Evergreen Review, Vol 2, No. 6
Everyman’s Search by Rebecca Beard
Famous European Plays, edited by Bennett Cerf and Van H. Cartmell
Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier
Fever in the Blood by William Pearson
First Degree by William Kunstler
Flower Arranging For Fun by Hazel Peckinpaugh Dunlop
Forever Young, Forever Healthy by Indra Devi
Fowlers End by Gerald Kersh
From Hiroshima to the Moon by Daniel Lang
From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming
Gertrude Lawrence as Mrs. A by Richard Aldrich
Glory Reflected by Martin Freud
God Protect Me from My Friends by Gavin Maxwell
God’s Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell
Golden Boy by Clifford Odets
Goodness Had Nothing to Do with It by Mae West
Goodnight Sweet Prince by Gene Fowler
Greek Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson
Hawaii by James Michener
His Brother’s Keeper by Milton Gross (from Readers’ Digest)
Horizon, a Magazine of the Arts (Nov 1959, Jan. 1960, Mar. 1960)
How Stanislavsky Directs by Mikhail Gorchakov
How to Do It, or, the Art of Lively Entertaining by Elsa Maxwell
How to Talk At Gin by Ernie Kovacs
Hugo’s Pocket Dictionary: French-English and English-French
Hurricane Season by Ralph Winnett
Hypnotism Today by Leslie Lecron & Jean Bordeaux
I Knock at the Door by Sean O’Casey
I Married Adventure by Olso Johnson
In Defense of Harriet Shelley & Other Essays by Mark Twain
Independent People by Halldor Laxness
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Jean Dubuffet by Daniel Cordier
Jean of Lorraine by Maxwell Anderson
Jeremy Todd by Hamilton Maule
Jesus by Kahlil Gilbran
Jonathan by Russell O’Neill
Journey to the Beginning by Edgar Snow
Jungle Lore by Jim Corbett
Justine by Lawrence Durrell (2 editions)
Kingdom of the Rocks by Consuelo De Saint-Exupery
Landscaping Your Own Home by Alice Dustan
Last Essays by Thomas Mann
Let’s Make Love by Matthew Andrews
How to Travel Incognito by Ludwig Bemelmans
Letters of Sigmund Freud, edited by Ernest L. Freud
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Lidice by Eleanor Wheeler
Lie Down in Darkness by William Styron
London by Jacques Boussard
Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill (2 copies)
Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe
Love Poems & Love Letters for All The Year
Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather
Lust for Life by Irving Stone
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (2 copies)
Malcolm by James Purdy
Man Against Himself by Karl A. Menninger
Man Alive by Daniel Colin Munro
Man’s Supreme Inheritance by Alexander F. Matthias
Man-Eaters of India by Jim Corbett
Marilyn Monroe by George Carpozi
Max by Pericle Luigi Giovannetti
Max Weber (art book)
Medea by Jeffers Robinson
Memories of a Catholic Girlhood by Mary McCarthy
Men and Atoms by William Laurence
Men of Music by Wallace Brockaway and Herbert Weinstock
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year by Phyllis McGinley
Metaphysics by Aristotle
Minister of Death: The Adolf Eichmann Story by Quentin Reynolds, Ephraim Katz and Zwy Aldouby
Miracle in The Rain by Ben Hecht
Mischief by Charlotte Armstrong
Miss America by Daniel Stren
Modern American Dramas, edited by Harlan Hatcher
More by Corwin by Norman Corwin
Moses and Monotheism by Sigmund Freud
Mr. Roberts by Joyce Cary
Mujer by Lina Rolan
Music for the Millions by David Ewen
My Antonia by Willa Cather
My India by Jim Corbett
Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Nana by Emile Zola
Napoleon by Emil Ludwig
New York State Vacationlands
Night by Francis Pollini
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
Three Famous French Romances by Antoine Francois Prevost, Proper Merimee & Alphonse Daudet
Of Stars and Men by Harlow Shapley
Of the Nature of Things by Lucretius
Oh Careless Love by Maurice Zolotow
On Such a Night by Anthony Quayle
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Once There Was a War by John Steinbeck
Our Knowledge of the External World, by Bertrand Russell
Out of My Later Years by Albert Einstein
Outpost Nurseries (brochure)
Panorama: A New Review, edited by R.F. Tannenbaum
Paris Blues by Harold Flender
Part of a Long Story: Eugene O’Neill as a Young Man in Love by Agnes Boulton
Peace of Mind by Joshua Loth Liebman
Pet Turtles by Julien Bronson
Plays by Moliere
Plutarch’s Lives, Vols. 3-6, edited by William and John Langhorne
Poe: Complete Poems, edited by Richard Wilbur
Poems by John Tagliabue
Poems of Robert Burns, edited by Henry Meikle & William Beattie
Poems of W.B. Yeats
Poems, including Christ and Christmas by Mary Baker Eddy
Poet in New York by Federico Garcia Lorca
Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Vol. 70, no. 6
Politics in The American Drama by Caspar Nannes
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog by Dylan Thomas
Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place, by Malcolm Lowry
Prayer Changes Things
Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud
Red Mirage by John O’Kearney
Red Roses for Me by Sean O’Casey
Rededication to Freedom by Benjamin Ginzburg (2 copies)
Redemption & Other Plays by Leo Tolstoy
Relax and Live by Joseph A. Kennedy
Renoir by Albert Skira
Report from Palermo by Danilo Dolci
Robert Frost’s Poems, edited by Louis Untermeyer
Roget’s Pocket Thesaurus, by C.O. Mawson & K.A. Whiting
Roughing It by Mark Twain
Russian Journey by William O. Douglas
Say You Never Saw Me by Arthur Nesbitt
Schubert by Ralph Bates
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy
Selected Plays by Sean O’Casey
Selected Plays of George Bernard Shaw
Selected Poems by D.H. Lawrence
Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson
Selected Poems by Rafael Alberti
Selected Poems by Rainer Maria Rilke
Selected Poetry by Robinson Jeffers
Selected Works by Alexander Pope
Sephath Emeth: Order of Prayers For The Wholes Year in Jewish and English
Set This House on Fire by William Styron
Sexual Impotence in the Male, by Leonard Paul Wershub
Short Novels of Colette
Short Story Masterpieces
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
Six O’Clock Casual by Henry W. Cune
Six Plays of Clifford Odets
Smoke by Ivan Turgenev
Snobs by Russell Lynes
Some Characteristics of Today by Rudolph Steiner
Something to Live By by Dorothea S. Kopplin
Songs for Patricia by Norman Rosten
Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence (2 editions)
Sons of Men by Herschel Steinhardt
Spartacus by Howard Fast
Spoken French for Travellers and Tourists, by Charles Kany & Mathurin Dondo
Star Crossed by Margaret Tilden
Stoned Like A Statue: A Complete Survey of Drinking Cliches, Primitive, Classical & Modern by Howard Kandel & Don Safran
Strike for a Kingdom by Menna Gallie
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The 7th Cross by Anna Seghers
The Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavsky
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Album of the Cambridge Garrick Club
The Alienation of Modern Man by Fritz Pappenheim
The American Claimant & Other Stories & Sketches by Mark Twain
The American Puritans: Their Prose & Poetry, by Perry Miller
The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm
The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers
The Short Novels of Colette
The Best of All Worlds, or, What Voltaire Never Knew by Hans Jorgen Lembourn
The Bible
The Biography of Eleanora Duse, by William Weaver
The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt-Farmer
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Building by Peter Martin
The Call Girl by Harold Greenwald
The Captive by Marcel Proust
The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins
The Cat with 2 Faces by Gordon Young
The Collected Short Stories by Dorothy Parker
The Complete Plays of Henry James
The Contenders by John Wain
The Country Girl by Clifford Odets
The Dancing Bear by Edzard Schaper
The Day the Money Stopped by Brendan Gill
The Dead Sea Scrolls by Millar Burrows
The Deer Park by Norman Mailer
The Devil’s Advocate by Morris L. West
The Rebel by Albert Camus
The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion Starkey
The Failure of Success by Esther Milner
The Fall by Albert Camus
The Family of Man by Carl Sandburg
The Flower in Drama and Glamour by Stark Young
The Forest and the Sea by Marston Bates
The Form of Daily Prayers
The Gingko Tree by Sheelagh Burns
The Golden Bough by James G. Frazer
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Green Crow by Sean O’Casey
The Guermantes Way by Marcel Proust
The Guide by R.K. Narayan
The Havamal, edited by D.E. Martin Clarke
The Heart of India by Alexander Campbell
The Hero Maker by Akbar Del Piombo & Norman Rubington
The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text
The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Ignorant Armies by E.M. Halliday
The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang
The Jury Is Still Out by Irwin Davidson and Richard Gehman
The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis
The Law by Roger Vailland
The Life and Times of Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis
The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud by Ernest Jones
The Life of Michelangelo by John Addington
The Little Disturbances of Man by Grace Paley
The Little Engine That Could by Piper Watty
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud
The Magic Christian by Terry Southern
The Magic of Believing by Claude M. Bristol
The Magic Word L.I.D.G.T.T.F.T.A.T.I.M. by Robert Collier
The Mark of the Warrior by Paul Scott
The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, by Joseph Campbell
The Medal & Other Stories by Luigi Pirandello
The Mermaids by Boros
The Miracles of Your Mind by Joseph Murphy
The Mountain Road by Theodore H. White
The New Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer & Marion Rombauer-Becker
The Open Mind by J. Robert Oppenheimer
The Open Self by Charles Morris
The Passionate Playgoer by George Oppenheimer
The Penguin Book of English Verse, edited by John Hayward
The Philosophy of Plato
The Philosophy of Schopenhauer by Irwin Edman
The Philosophy of Spinoza by Joseph Ratner
The Plays of Anton Chekhov
The Pocketbook of Modern Verse by Oscar Williams
The Poems and Fairy-Tales by Oscar Wilde
The Poems, Prose & Plays of Alexander Pushkin
The Poetical Works of John Milton, edited by H.C. Beeching
The Poetical Works of Robert Browning
The Poetical Works of Shelley
The Poetry & Prose of Heinrich Heine, edited by Frederich Ewen
The Portable Blake
The Portable Anton Chekhov
The Portable D.H. Lawrence
The Portable Dorothy Parker
The Portable Irish Reader
The Portable Poe
The Portable Walt Whitman
The Potting Shed by Graham Greene
The Power Within You by Claude M. Bristol
The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (4 copies)
The Rains Came by Louis Broomfield
The Red and the Black by Stendhal
The Right of the People by William Douglas
The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone by Tennessee Williams
The Roots of American Communism by Theodore Draper
The Saviours of God: Spiritual Exercises, by Nikos Kazantzakis
The Sawbwa and his Secretary by C.Y. Lee
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad
The Secret Books of The Egyptian Gnostics, by Jean Doresse
The Shook-Up Generation by Harrison E. Salisbury
The Short Reign of Pippin IV by John Steinbeck
The Slide Area by Gavin Lambert
The Sound and the Fury & As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
The Story of a Novel by Thomas Wolfe
The Story of Esther Costello by Nicholas Montsarrat
The Study of History by Arnold Toynbee
The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Support of the Mysteries by Paul Breslow
The Sweeniad, by Myra Buttle
The Sweet Cheat Gone by Marcel Proust
The Tales of Rabbi Nachman, by Martin Buber
The Thinking Body by Mabel Elsworth Todd
The Thomas Mann Reader
The Tower and The Abyss by Erich Kahler
The Truth about the Munich Crisis by Viscount Maugham
The Twain Shall Meet by Christopher Rand
The Un-Americans by Alvah Bessie
The Unfinished Country by Max Lerner
The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett
The Use of the Self by Alexander F. Matthias
The Vapor Trail by Ivan Lawrence Becker
The Wall Between by Anne Braden
The War Lover by John Hersey
The Wisdom of the Sands by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Wise Garden Encyclopedia, edited by E.L.D. Seymour (2 editions)
The Woman Who Was Poor by Leon Bloy
The Women by Clare Boothe
The Works of Rabelais
Theatre ’52 by John Chapman
Theory of Poetry and Fine Art by Aristotle
They Came to Cordura by Glendon Swarthout
Thirteen By Corwin, by Norman Corwin
This Demi-Paradise by Margaret Halsey
This Week’s Short Stories
Thomas Wolfe’s Letters to His Mother, edited by John Skally Terry
Three Circles of Light by Pietro Di Donato
Thurber Country by James Thurber
To The Actor by Michael Chekhov
To the One I Love Best by Ludwig Bemelmans
Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
Troubled Women by Lucy Freeman
Two Plays: Peace and Lysistrata by Aristophanes
Ulysses by James Joyce
Untitled & Other Radio Drams by Norman Corwin
Venetian Red by L.M. Pasinetti
VIP Tosses a Party, by Virgil Partch
Wake Up, Stupid by Mark Harris
What Is A Jew? by Morris Kertzer
Who Blowed Up the House & Other Ozark Folk Tales, edited by Randolph Vance
Why I Am Not a Christian, by Bertrand Russell
William Shakespeare: Sonnets, edited by Mary Jane Gorton
Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Within a Budding Grove by Marcel Proust
Wordsworth by Richard Wilbur
World Underworld by Andrew Varna
Yuan Mei: 18th Century Chinese Poet by Arthur Waley

The Best of 2014: Your Meta-Lists Have Arrived

When historians look back on 2014, they will probably remember it for one event: Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea.  Putin’s action hearkened back to a long line of precedent of unilateral annexation by such power-mongers and empire builders as Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Tughril Beg, Ivan the Terrible, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and so many more. But for those who follow pop culture, the highlights of the year involved names like: FKA Twigs, Taylor Swift, Perfume Genius, Flying Lotus, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Anthony Doerr, Leslie Jamison and Marilynne Robinson.

Here are the meta-lists of the best movies, music and books of 2014, as determined by a critical consensus.

Best Films of 2014
Best Books of 2014
Best Music of 2014


My Favorite Books and Films Read or Seen in 2013


The obsessive-compulsive folks (and their algorithms) at Goodreads.com tell me that I completed 24 books in 2013.  My stats page helpfully points out that the longest book I read this year was The Visual Arts: A History, by Hugh Honour, at 992 pages.  (Curiously, no ‘shortest book’ stat is provided.)  Most of the books I read this year come from two meta-lists I created: (1) Best Fiction Since 1900; and (2) Best Literature of All Time – Chronological.  Of the 24 books I read in 2013, I gave the following seven a five-star rating:

Great Dialogues of Plato (c. 400 BCE).  By Plato.  Translated by W.H.D. Rouse.
I’m cheating a little here – I only read the Apology, the Symposium and the Crito.  I read The Republic, too, but in a different translation (Grube).  But I did read several of the other dialogues in a philosophy course in 1979, if that helps any.  It is interesting to watch Plato go from Socrates’ chronicler to a philosopher with his own ideas (which he nevertheless continues to attribute to Socrates – an early example of branding?).

The Book of Disquiet (1935). By Fernando Pessoa.  Translated by Richard Zenith.
I read this book from my Best Literature list out of chronological order because of our April 2013 trip to Portugal.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Pessoa’s narrator (Bernardo Soares, one of his many avatars)  is an early existentialist (whole passages of Sartre’s Nausea appear to be cribbed from Disquiet) or perhaps undiagnosed depressive whose thoughts and emotions impart a dark-flavored energy onto everything in his exterior and interior world.  He seems to find comfort in describing the minute details of the view from his office window or the surface of his desk.  I can see why bookstores in the university towns of Portugal sell Pessoa t-shirts, even now, 75 years after his death.

Memoirs of Hadrian (1951).  By Marguerite Yourcenar.  Translated by Grace Frick.
A Roman emperor looks back on his life with a well-developed sense of himself and his opinions, a remarkable recall for names, places and events, and an uncanny ability to objectively assess both his strengths and weaknesses.  Hadrian was a real emperor and this narrative is steeped in the facts of his life and times as they have survived.  And yet while there is little (perhaps no) dialogue in Hadrian’s recitation, there is no question that it is a work of fiction and not history.  Changing from the third person to the first person is not merely a grammatical change – we hear a historical character speaking to us through time.

Molloy; Molone Dies; The Unnameable (1951-1953). By Samuel Beckett.
It may be some kind of aesthetic crime to try and describe Beckett’s trilogy in my lazy prose.  Each of Beckett’s sentences seems hewn in stone – it is impossible to imagine them any other way.  He is postmodern in the sense that he doesn’t believe you can read a novel without knowing that it is a fiction, created by an author, for a reader, and therefore all these concepts – “fact” “fiction” “character” “author” “reader” “novel” – are subject to change without notice.  Is the protagonist of all three novels the same character?  Is there a protagonist or character, in any previously-understood sense, in the third novel at all?  And, finally, how many stones does it have in its pocketses?  This is one of those rare books, like Moby Dick, Ulysses, and Gravity’s Rainbow, that I look forward to re-reading, and re-re-reading, and so on, for there seem to be endless depths to plumb.

A Death in the Family (1957). By James Agee.
With its shifting narrative perspectives, carefully-drawn scenes; and an ability to convey powerful emotions without manipulation or sentimentality, this story is at its heart a simple story about a boy and his father.

Invisible Cities (1972).  By Italo Calvino.  Translated by Willliam Weaver.
Marco Polo describes to Genghis Khan the amazing places he has seen on his travels.  One is more fantastic than the next.  Each description is a little prose poem.  Borges comes to mind.  But if the cities aren’t ‘real’, are they nevertheless real in some other sense?  And what do these conversations mean to Polo and Khan?

Conversations with Scorcese (Paperback edition, 2013). By Richard Schickel.
In the old days, directors denied that they had any agenda, any intellectual underpinnings or philosophical outlook.  John Ford and Howard Hawks would tell you they just want to tell a story – point the camera and turn it on.  Of course, these were deceptions, but while reading reviewer/documentarian Richard Schickel’s conversations with Martin Scorcese on life, the universe and Goodfellas. I wondered if there can be deception in a wall of words, a mask hidden behind the appearance of revealing secrets, telling all.  Here we learn details about Scorcese’s childhood and life as a director, as well as stories about each of his movies, and his thoughts on more technical aspects of moviemaking.  I raced through it and wished for more.


I didn’t see any five-star movies in 2013 (excluding David Lean’s Great Expectations, which I’d seen before), but I did see quite a few movies that rated 4.5, which is often as good as it gets these days.

Pickup on South Street (Fuller, 1953)
San Soleil (Marker, 1983)
I Shot Andy Warhol (Harron, 1996)
The Piano Teacher (Haneke, 2001)
Ten (Kiarostomi, 2002)
Dogtooth (Lanthimos, 2009)
Marwencol (Malmberg, 2010)
Amour (Haneke, 2012)
Frances Ha (Baumbach, 2012)
Before Midnight (Linklater, 2013)
Blue Jasmine (Allen, 2013)
Nebraska (Payne, 2013)

It’s the Most Wonderful Time – For Listers

The month of December is high season for listers and those who love lists.  Because December is the time that arts critics in every newspaper, magazine, website, blog, TV or radio station look back over the past year and make lists (usually Top Ten lists, but not always) of the best accomplishments from the past 12 months.  I’ve been collecting these lists – specifically for films, music and books – since 2002, and collating them to find out which items are on the most lists, and then making my own meta-lists.  Why do I do this?  One (somewhat inexplicable) reason is that I enjoy the process.  But a better reason is that I believe it exposes me to the best of these three arts.  Each list becomes a set of recommendations that I trust and that pushes me beyond my comfort zone.  I know that some folks don’t trust critics and reviewers to guide their choices of what to see, what to read and what to listen to, but to me the critics’ lists are the best option available, given that you can’t read/watch/listen to everything and must make choices.

What  are the other options for choosing what movies to see, books to read, music to listen to: (1) recommendations of friends and family; (2) following one particular expert, critic or reviewer; (3) critics’ reviews in newspapers, magazines and websites, or on radio or TV; (4) recommendations of people who sell movies or CDs or books, like Amazon; (5) trailers or other types of ads; (6) crowd-sourced websites like Goodreads or reviews on Amazon or other sites by ‘regular people’; or (7) meta-data sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes that collect critics’ reviews and assign ratings.  I have tried most of these methods myself, and I find that – except for (7), which is very similar to what I do – they all leave me disappointed.  I end up feeling like I have either adopted someone else’s tastes; sold out to The Man; ended up in a solipsistic spiral of stuff I know already, or that I’m just being exposed to the winners of various popularity contests judged by people completely unlike me who can’t spell and seem to base their opinions on completely irrational criteria.  So instead I rely on the critics and reviewers – people who analyze works of art for a living and may know more than I do about their subject.  While I may not agree with the tastes and judgment of each one, there is a pretty good chance that if several of them (or 10, 20 or 30 of them!) agree that a book is worth reading, a film is worth seeing, or an album is worth listening to, they are right.  Plus, when you pool the lists of many critics, you get a much wider variety than under most of the other available methods.  Taking this approach has led me to find masterpieces of artistic expression – from low to highbrow – that I would never have found had I just listened to what my friends’ recommended.  And while the critics’ top ten isn’t always my top ten, I have never regretted a choice I’ve made based on these lists.  (Even in the rare case that I don’t ‘like’ a highly rated book, recording or movie, I can appreciate the artistic qualities that led to its high rating and thus I benefit from it.  I just won’t be watching/reading/listening to it again any time soon.)

Here are the 2013 lists and Happy New Year:

Best Films of 2013
Best Books of 2013
Best Music of 2013


Too Big to Fail: The Best of 2008

A global financial crisis in the middle of a U.S. presidential election toppled financial institutions and triggered government bail-outs.  In the midst of it all, Americans elected their first African-American President, Barack Obama.  In other news, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan and the Olympics were held in Beijing.  Take a trip back to 2008 – the year that was too big to fail.  I’ve compiled lists of the best films, music and books of 2008, according to the critics and bloggers who make those “Best of the Year” lists every December.

Best Films of 2008
Best Books of 2008
Best Music of 2008

Not Averse to Verse – The Best Poetry Ever

I’ve compiled a new list – The Best Poetry of All Time – The Critics’ Picks.  It includes the best poems by dozens (hundreds?  I didn’t count) of poets, both named and anonymous.  I organized it by poet, chronologically by date of birth.  Because that seemed like the thing to do.

To give you a sampling of what’s in store when you peruse the list, I’ve created two mini-lists from it: Best Epic Poems and Best Lyric Poems.  The numbers in bold indicate how many of the original lists the poem was on.

Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2000-1200 BCE) – Anonymous
The Iliad (c. 750-650 BCE) – Homer
The Odyssey (c. 750-650 BCE) – Homer
The Aeneid (29-19 BCE) – Virgil
Ramayana  (c. 500 BCE – 100 CE) – Valmiki (attrib.)
Mahabarata (c. 800 BCE – 300 CE) – Vyasa (attrib.)
The Book of Kings (Shanameh) (1010) – Ferdowsi
Beowulf (c. 700-1025) – Anonymous
The Divine Comedy  (1265-1321) – Dante Alighieri
The Canterbury Tales (1343-1400) – Geoffrey Chaucer
Paradise Lost (1667) – John Milton


The Tyger (1794) – William Blake

My Love is Like A Red, Red Rose (1794)Robert Burns
A Noiseless Patient Spider (1882) – Walt Whitman
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (1951) – Dylan Thomas

A Poison Tree (1794) – William Blake
Ozymandias (1818) – Percy Bysshe Shelley
The Canti (1835) – Giacomo Leopardi
O Captain! My Captain! (1865) – Walt Whitman
Dover Beach (1867) – Matthew Arnold
Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening (1923) – Robert Frost

Holy Sonnet 10: “Death Be Not Proud” (1609) – John Donne
Jerusalem (1804-1810) – William Blake
The Raven (1845) – Edgar Allan Poe
When I Heard The Learn’d Astronomer (1867) – Walt Whitman
I Hear America Singing
(1867) – Walt Whitman
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers (c. 1850-1886) – Emily Dickinson
The Road Not Taken (1916) – Robert Frost
The Waste Land (1922) – T.S. Eliot

Daffodils (I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud) (1807) – William Wordsworth
How Do I Love Thee? (1845) – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Jabberwocky (1871) – Lewis Carroll
The Listeners (1912) – Walter de la Mare
When You Are Old (1892) – William Butler Yeats
The Darkling Thrush (1901) – Thomas Hardy
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915) – T.S. Eliot
Dulce et Decorum Est  (1917) – Wilfred Owen

Sonnet 18 “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” (1609) – William Shakespeare
Sonnet 30 “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought” (1609) – William Shakespeare
Sonnet 65 “Since neither brass nor stone”  (1609) – William Shakespeare
Sonnet 73 “That Time of year thou mayst in me behold” (1609) – William Shakespeare
To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough (1785) – Robert Burns
The Garden Of Love (1794) – William Blake
The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (1798) –  Samuel Taylor Coleridge
She Walks In Beauty (1814) – Lord Byron
Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819) – John Keats
Ode on Melancholy (1819) – John Keats
Ode to a Nightingale (1819) – John Keats
Two in the Campagna (1855) – Robert Browning
Remember (1862) – Christina Rossetti
Because I could not stop for death (c. 1850-1886) – Emily Dickinson
Anthem For Doomed Youth (1917) – Wilfred Owen
The Bridge (1930) – Hart Crane
Lullaby (1940) – W.H. Auden
Death Fugue (1948) – Paul Celan
We Real Cool (1959) – Gwendolyn Brooks
Those Winter Sundays (1962) – Robert Hayden
Daddy (1962) – Sylvia Plath
The Cantos (1917-1969) – Ezra Pound

Since this original post, I have arranged the poetry list in chronological order: Best Poems of All Time – Chronological.