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2016: Books

The best books I read this year:

1.  John Williams- Stoner

Quiet perfection.  It seems this book has enjoyed a revival of sorts in recent years, and I’m sure it will continue to endure as a bona fide American classic.  

2. Donna Tartt- The Secret History

This book pulsed with dark, tense energy cover to cover.  It’s a great story with rich character development and a meticulously constructed plot to create an irresistible, intellectually satisfying page turner.

3. Karl Ove Knaussgard- My Struggle 2

Knaussgaard, in all of his unflinching navel gazing, can be an utterly consuming voice to spend so much time with.  I love the description of how he “breaks the sound barrier of the autobiographical novel”.  Sometimes that’s how it feels- bearing witness to a 15 page digression on his yearning for fulfillment and self actualization during the middle of an awkward dinner party, you can almost hear the sonic boom.  

4. Cormac McCarthy- The Road

After sitting on my shelf for years, this book was honestly better than I had hoped.  I’d be lying if I said I slept soundly the night I finished this one.  Can’t wait for my next McCarthy.

5.  Chuck Palahniuk- Rant

A truly bizarre, disorienting story that comes this close to not tripping over itself by the end.  I would often stare at this book wondering how the hell a person came up with this story, and what compelled them to share it with the world (though I later learned that’s pretty much the author’s MO).

6.  George Saunders- Pastoralia

There is something so wonderful in how subtly off these stories feel, yet the warmth and humanity of the characters shine through no matter how absurd their circumstances.

7. George Orwell- Down and Out in Paris and London

Despite the destitute poverty depicted here, this series of mostly humorous episodes delightfully recounted by Orwell seems aimed more to amuse than induce pity.  

8.  Jennifer Egan- Visit From Goon Squad

Emotionally resonant post-modern vignettes with the whole greater than the sum.

9. Jeff VanderMeer- Annihilation

An often maddening book that compensates for its utter lack of compelling characters and satisfying plot development by its sheer atmospherics.  

10.  Nick Hornby- High Fidelity

Hilarious, endearing story of an aimless 90’s guy and his doofus buddies navigating a series of romantic mishaps.  Feels like a precursor to the late 2000s mumblecore boom.   Classic guylit.

 

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2015: Books

Thankfully I had this list drafted up in December, but after renewing this domain for another year, I swung by and realized I had never actually published this post (another strong show of blogging prowess Ben).  I’ve gone back and written up a blurb about each book- in a way I like writing about these books that I read 9+ months ago- certain elements of the reading experience have faded, but I can look at each of these and recall memorable aspects, and usually the feeling, of reading them.

The best books I read in 2015:

1. Ben Lerner- 10:04.  I just happened to start reading this book on an unseasonably warm November day riding the D train over the Manhattan bridge listening to “Everyday it Starts” by Parquet Courts.   As I typed that last sentence in my South Brooklyn apartment, the lightbulb overhead burned out.  This book has a strange power.  This hyper conscious, darkly comic sparkling object of a book worked for me 100 times over (despite/because of the writer writing about writing hook/gimmick).

2.  Adam Johnson- Orphan Masters Son.  I recall being completely absorbed in the dark, disorienting world of this book.  The plot is propulsive, the characters are haunting, and the fact that this whole book, while fictional, occurs in an actual hellscape by all accounts very similar to the one depicted here makes it all the more gut wrenching.

3.  Kaszuo Ishiguro- Never Let Me Go.  Sweet wistfulness slowly gives way to unnerving, strange, tension.  Loved every page.

4.  Adelle Waldman- The Love Affairs of Nathanial P.  As a male who went on dates with females in Brooklyn in 2015, I feel like I was contractually obligated to love this book.  And I did.

5.  Karl Ove Knausgaard- My Struggle Book 1.  “Even when I was bored, I was interested”- James Wood.  I plan to read one KoK MS book per year for the next 5 years.  Preferably in Winter.

6.  Andy Weird- The Martian.  This book accompanied me on the 10 best workday subway commutes ever.  Loved it.

7.  Ta-Nehisi Coates- Between the World and Me.  Utterly transfixing, such a personal and powerful testament to his life experience.  I can’t think of another book which truly made me, even temporarily, feel and understand the pain of the author.

8.  Haruki Murakami- Colorless Tsukuru Tsari and His Years of Pilgrimage.  This was the first Murakami book I had read in over a year (after inhaling 6 in 8 months), and it reminded me of what I love about him.  This falls into the “realist” camp of HM books (with Norwegian Wood and South of the Border).  Simple, mellow, sad.

9.  Charles Bukowski- Post Office. Not an edifying reading experience, but a damn good book.

10.  Atul Gawande- Being Mortal.  This was a moving read over the holidays while seeing generations of family.  I felt such affection and reverence for towards Gawande by the end of this book.

2015: Music

Moreso than the previous years I’ve written these up, it feels like there are a handful of consensus AOTYs bouncing around the internet.  Rather than making me feel like I’m simply losing my edge, it comforts me that a handful of artists who delivered truly engrossing albums received the acclaim they deserved.  Though I tried to throw in a few dark horses, it is clear to me now that I more or less settled on the consensus picks. For good reason; these are some incredible albums.

20. Youth Lagoon– Savage Hills Ballroom
19. Panda Bear– Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper
18. My Morning Jacket– The Waterfall
17. The Weeknd– Beauty Behind the Madness
16. Kurt Vile– b’lieve i’m goin down
15. Vince Staples– Summertime ’06
14. Tame Impala– Currents
13. Protomartyr– The Agent Intellect
12. Beirut– No, No, No
11. Beach House– Depression Cherry

10. Future– DS2. It feels weird to “love” this music, but I think I really do. It’s claustrophobic and depressing and deranged and full of mostly disgusting, scuzzy songs that make no cursory nods to hooks or melody. The whole thing weighs pretty heavy.  And its awesome.

9. Wilco– Star Wars.  The most fun and playful record in Wilco’s discography, I love every song in all of their fuzzy, angular glory. Sometimes I wonder what we did to be so lucky as to have Wilco in our lives.

8. Floating Points– Elaenia. Not at all what I had expected given his steady drip of singles the past few years, and the first few listens didn’t leave me with much of an impression. Yet I grew to love this album on its own terms, and trust it will continue to reveal itself and earn a reputation as some kind of classic.

7. Majical Cloudz– Are You Alone?  I almost feel embarrassed for the guy for just how much of himself he puts out there, but man if this isn’t filled front to back with stop dead in your tracks level great songs.  “Heavy” in particular.

6. Deerhunter– Fading Frontier.  Didn’t quite live up to the billing of “an album full of Desire Lines” that I had heard, but easily the most pleasant, appealing record Deerhunter have ever recorded.  “Ad Astra” joins “Helicopter” on the very short list of Deerhunter songs you might actually want to cuddle to.

5. Sufjan Stevens– Carrie and Lowell.  This will age just as well as the best of Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, or Elliot Smith.

4. Viet Cong– Viet Cong.  An instant classic of abrasive post-punk. The Pitchfork metaphor of “like watching a bloodied hand sink into a bucket of ice” perfectly evokes the sound and atmosphere.  Death leaves me drooling each time.

3. Grimes– Art Angels.  This album is utterly impossible to resist, a fact eminently clear to me after about a month of nonstop listening. I’m a sucker for back loaded albums, and to end this with “Butterfly” is almost devastatingly perfect.

2. Kendrick Lamar– To Pimp a Butterfly.  Kendrick follows a masterpiece with a masterpiece that captured the zeitgeist like nothing else this year. Still a little bit in awe of and intimidated by all that’s here.

1. Jamie XX– In Colour. Following years of singles and remixes, this completely surpasses the promise of what his debut LP could deliver. Intensely vivid, these songs evoke such a wide range of feelings that it’s a major trip to get through at first, but the genius of the pacing reveals itself over repeated listens.

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2014: Music

Well darn it.  Well here I am in December 2015 drafting up my ’15 list, go to check back what I wrote up last year, and find this sitting in my drafts!

I’m so good at blogging.

Here is what I had written up just about exactly a year ago:

20 favorite albums of 2014! Woohoo!

20. Future Islands– Singles
19. Ryan Adams– S/T
18. Real Estate– Atlas
17. How to Dress Well– What is This Heart?
16. The Antlers– The Familiars
15. TV on the Radio– Seeds
14. Andy Stott– Faith in Strangers
13. Tobacco– Ultima II Massage
12. Aphex Twin– Syro
11. Parquet Courts/Parkey Quartz– Sunbathing Animal/Content Nausea. Both

10. Run the Jewels -RTJ2. F yes, that is all.

9. Tweedy– Sukierae. Ignore the easy jokes about this album being, very literally, dad rock, and let’s bask in this beautiful, oddly overlooked, collection of classic Jeff Tweedy songs. Low Key, Slow Love, I’ll Sing It, among others, would all fit seamlessly in a top tier Wilco release.

8. Liars– Mess. An interestingly paced album, with huge pummelling zombie techno up front tempered by downbeat, dread soaked electro soundscapes on the back half. Is there a more menacing song this year than “Pro Anti Anti”?

7. Beck– Morning Phase. Came as close as could be reasonably hoped in living up to the hype as the “Sea Change part II” billing. Soundtracked many weekend mornings this year.

6. Sun Kil Moon– Benji. Depressingly morbid, uncomfortably personal, groggily paced, this one reaches new levels of sad. As far as I can recall, there is a death in literally every song. Not a recommended listen if you are enjoying, or hope to enjoy, your day.

5. Caribou– Our Love. The spiritual opposite of Sun Kil Moon, this one is lighter, brighter, and dancier than anything Caribou has done before.

4. Spoon– They Want My Soul. I honestly didn’t think they had this album in them at this point in their career, but here it is- Spoon’s best album.

3. Lykke Li– I never Learn. Go Lykke (whoever you are).

2. War on Drugs– Lost in The Dream. An improvement by every measure on what came before, WOD stepped it up big time on this album. A handful of truly epic, Springsteen- scope anthemic hooks included here.

1. Ty Segall– Manipulator. Given his prolific, varied output over the past 5 years, it’s hardly a surprise a Ty Segall double album in 2014 smokes starts to finish. Manipulator completely realizes the potential of the format, and is a relentless, glorious, enduring monument built for all things rock. Any time I spend typing this and you spend reading this is time not spent listening to Ty Segall, so lets go fix that.

 

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2014: Books

Just came across this unpublished draft from December, and I am inspired to publish before it gets absurdly late.

I read some great books last year, the below 10 being my favorites:

1- Infinite Jest- David Foster Wallace

This consumed my spring. I cannot imagine anybody immersing his or herself in this book and not emerging with some type of love for this book, the author, and the entire experience of reading it.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be now, but I urge everyone to make time for this book’s universe.

2- Jitterbug Perfume- Tom Robbins

A joyful romp across centuries and around the world with delightful characters on the simple mission to live forever.  I read most of this book with a bemused grin on my face, and was actually sad for a few days when it was over.

3- Let the Great World Spin- Colum McCann

A delicate, intricately constructed portrait of a city and a few of its individuals.  I completely fell for the spell this book cast.

4- White Noise- Don Delillo

This book really only has one “note” it hits throughout, but to me it completely succeeded as a (disturbingly prescient) social satire.

5- Remains of the Day- Kazuo Ishiguro

A sweet, sad book which lingered with me.  I read this during the summer, and still frequently think of the last scene.

6- Dataclysm- Christina Rudder

The online dating and consumer internet usage insights range from amusingly trivial to actually profound, but this book deserves to be the Freakonomics for Big Data.

7- Libra- Don Delillo

This was my first Delilo, and it took a bit to warm up to use his trademark suspenseful paranoid atmospherics and distant characters, but I really enjoyed this book.

8- Zeitoon- Dave Eggars

Read this in one sitting.  It is an alarming, enraging account written with lucidity, tension, and precision.

9- The Alliance- Reid Hoffman

Presents a useful framework for reconsidering the employee-employer relationship.  I found it very helpful in my various career conversations and negotiations this year.

10- Financial Lives of Poets- Jess Walter

Not exactly the deep or even particularly unique take on the financial crisis as experienced by average joe it was sold to me as,  but an entertaining enough book about a relatable guy in desperate circumstances with spots of serious hilarity (treehouse anyone?).