One thing leads to another
10 things worth sharing: my favorite books of 2021, John Berger’s Ways of Seeing at 50, ear and eye candy, and more...
Here are 10 things I thought were sharing on the first Friday of 2022:
A list of 21 favorite books I read in 2021, plus 10 great ideas from books that didn’t crack the list.
Last week I posted my annual 100 things that made my year, which several people told me has inspired them to keep their own lists. No greater compliment! Other year-end lists I enjoyed this week: every book Elisa Gabbert read in 2021 (with commentary), director Steven Soderbergh’s “Seen, Read 2021” list, and David Epstein’s best opening lines. (If you like that last one, you’ll like My Year in 101 Quotes.)
The first good book I read this year was Gareth Brookes’ graphic novel, The Dancing Plague, which was made with multiple methods, including burning with a soldering iron and embroidery. (There’s a nice interview with Brookes over at The Comics Journal.) I’m also reading Nigel Warburton’s A Little History of Philosophy, one of the books in the Little Histories series I discovered after loving E.M. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World. (This episode of Warburton’s podcast Philosophy Bites is a good short introduction to the book. I was tickled to learn that the philosopher he most regretted leaving out was my favorite, Diogenes.)
It’s been 50 years since the broadcast of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, which then became one of my very favorite books. Damon Krukowski wrote about its influence on his wonderful podcast series, Ways of Hearing. A listen that might connect Ways of Hearing with Ways of Seeing is this radio feature of Berger on song and laughter. (The two pieces Berger reads from can be found in his last collection, Confabulations.) If you need a laugh, here’s Ways of Seeing… With Penguins.
Playlist: For the past decade, I’ve made a fresh playlist on Jan. 1 and added songs I like to it as the year progresses. I collected some highlights in this 2011-2021 playlist.
This week was the late singer/songwriter David Berman’s birthday, and I celebrated by listening to Purple Mountains, which I think is a masterpiece. It seems to me a plague album the way Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a 9/11 album: both feel like prophesies, when really, like many works of science fiction, they were the products of sensitive souls describing our pre-existing conditions. Here’s a great line from his poetry collection, Actual Air: “There were no new ways to understand the world, only new days to set our understanding against.”
RIP to the great Betty White, who wrote, “If one has no sense of humor, one is in trouble.” (I concur.) RIP Mr. Thomas, the legendary source of my friend Matt Thomas’s “my dad” tweets. RIP director Peter Bogdanovich, who at the age of 12, started keeping a card file of his opinions on movies he’d seen. He said, “There are no ‘old’ movies, only movies you have already seen and ones you haven’t.”
I wrote about my method of “chain smoking” — sparking the beginning of a new piece with the end of another — and how that plays out when I make my collages.
Thank you for reading. Check out what’s coming in two months!