The year, run down
The last newsletter of 2023 + favorites worth sharing
“The year had run down and nobody was quite ready to start the grind again.”
—Charles Portis, Gringos
I hope “dead week” is treating you well. Here’s a list of some of my favorite things from 2023:
The best book I read: I peaked in the summer and read Don Quixote right around the solstice. Everyone will tell you to get the Edith Grossman translation, but what brought me the most joy was listening to David Case’s reading — his voices for the knight errant and his sidekick made me laugh and laugh. Instantly became one of my favorite books, one I will read again and again, I’m sure.
More novels (and novellas): Frank Herbert’s Dune was perfect for August in Texas. I loved Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake, as I do most of his books. Larry McMurtry’s All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers was bawdy and fun. Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These packed a punch in a tight, short book. I re-read 3 Charles Portis novels for the third time because I can’t seem to stop reading him — Donna Tartt’s audiobook of True Grit was sublime. I read two hardboiled classics: James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. I read Matilda and several Harry Potter books and Grimm Fairy Tales to my kids. Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese was a perfect graphic novel.
Non-fiction: I turned 40, so the work of James Hollis came to me at just the right time. I found The Middle Passage and Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life particularly helpful — no real answers, just good questions. I enjoyed Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Skin in the Game and Antifragile. Annie Murphy Paul’s The Extended Mind gave me a really wonderful framework for thinking about my creative practices. I liked Seneca’s wisdom and occasional bitchiness in Letters from a Stoic. Melanie Mitchell’s Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans is just that. Geezer Butler’s Into The Void and Werner Herzog’s Every Man for Himself and God Against All were worth listening to just to hear them read. Will Hermes’ biography, Lou Reed: The King of New York, was pretty much exactly the book I wanted it to be. A delightful year-end surprise was Dwight Garner’s The Upstairs Delicatessen. Box Brown’s The He-Man Effect: How American Toymakers Sold You Your Childhood and Bill Griffith’s Three Rocks: The Story of Ernie Bushmiller: The Man Who Created Nancy are about as good as non-fiction comics get.
Great pizza night movies with the kids: Lilo & Stitch, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Matilda (1996), Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, Frankenstein (1931), Treasure Island (1950), Robin Hood (Disney), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder), Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, School of Rock, Up, The Addams Family (1991), Gremlins, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.
Movies we watched after the kids went to bed: I loved Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City and his short films of Roald Dahl stories on Netflix, The Banshees of Inisherin, Robert Eggers’ The Northman and The Witch, and Martin Scorsese’s Italianamerican. If you like Succession and Arrested Development, as I do, you should watch The Lion in Winter. I liked minor-ish movies by great directors, like David Fincher’s The Killer, Ben Affleck’s Air, and Kenneth Branagh’s A Haunting in Venice. Exceptional rewatches: Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail and Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing on a plane.
Documentaries and stand-up specials: I despise animated re-enactments and other modern documentary shenanigans, so I liked the unity of the archival footage and voiceover of Wham! and the straightforward goodness of Turn Every Page. Jim Gaffigan’s Dark Pale was great and Shang Wang’s Sweet and Juicy had me rolling.
Video games: Honestly, if I could name one piece of media (other than Don Quixote) that gave me the most joy this year it was The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on the Nintendo Switch.
Newsletters: I have a lot of old favorites (see #9 last year) but ones that stood out for me this year are: Tom Hodgkinson’s weekly letters from the editor for The Idler, Oliver Burkeman’s The Imperfectionist, Jillian Hess’s Noted, the daily Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jessa Crispin’s posts on The Culture We Deserve, and John Warner’s The Biblioracle Recommends. (I’m leaving out a ton, but I’m running out of steam here!)
Finally, here is a batch of my favorite paid Tuesday newsletters I sent out this year, de-paywalled so everyone can read: writing prompts for the new year, a roundup of notebooks in movies, my discovery of Roget’s Thesaurus, a look inside my commonplace diary, thoughts on nostalgia, a video of art advice with coach Beth Pickens, and how to make time and space for your art this season.
If you liked those, I hope you’ll consider becoming a paid subscriber and joining our merry crew (our discussion on Tuesday of what we want to learn was delightful):
Okay, that’s it. The last newsletter of 2023. Thank you all so much for reading and for your support of my work. Hope you have a wonderful new year and I’ll see you in 2024.
PS. I forgot to list favorite TV! Which is funny, because I watch way too much TV. Somebody Somewhere, Reservation Dogs, Our Flag Means Death, The Righteous Gemstones, What We Do in The Shadows, Deadloch, Shrinking, the “Forks” episode of The Bear, the “Sunflowers” episode of Ted Lasso, The Other Two, How To With John Wilson, Slow Horses, Reacher, Fargo…