Fantastically interesting and smartly plotted New Yorker profile of filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and his new Gerhard Richter-related project.
Following a tradition I’ve held since 2000, I’m pleased to wrap up the year I had, primarily in terms of my favorite cultural experiences. A more personal note is saved for the bottom.
Sight, Jessie Greengrass
Design and Content, Abbott Miller
Reading Between the Wines, Terry Theise
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates
My Struggle: Book 6, Karl Ove Knausgård
The Odyssey, Homer (Emily Wilson, translator)
Paula Scher: Works
Feel Free: Essays, Zadie Smith
Lost Property: Memoirs and Confessions of a Bad Boy, Ben Sonnenberg (repeat)
Medardo Rosso: Experiments in Light and Form (Pulitzer Arts Foundation)
The World As It Is, Ben Rhodes
Obama: An Intimate Portrait, Pete Souza
Architecture's Odd Couple: Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson, Hugh Howard
Yes We (Still) Can, Dan Pfeiffer
Frenemies: The Epic Disruption of the Ad Business, Ken Auletta
Happiness: Ten Years of n+1
Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirma, Michelle White (The Menil Collection)
The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror, Garrett M. Graff
Magnitude: The Scale of the Universe, Kimberly K. Arcand
A Tokyo Romance: A Memoir, Ian Buruma
Saving Central Park: A History and a Memoir, Elizabeth Barlow Rogers
An Equation for Every Occasion, John M. Henshaw
Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, Michael Chabon
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath
Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, Noah J. Goldstein
Books I didn’t connect with: Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility by Patty McCord; Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success by David A. Aaker; Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport (though I enjoyed the author on Ezra Klein’s podcast); and Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgård (I suppose he can do wrong in my book).
The 900-page William H. Gass Reader is not listed in my book list above, since I’ve already read everything in it. But as a new release in 2018 — and a brilliant one — it needs to be called out.
Two of my all-time favorite novels are William Gaddis’s The Recognitions and JR, both giant hills to climb. Throughout 2018, I listened to parts of the complete audio recordings in the car. If you’ve read these novels, you know how difficult narrating them might be. Nick Sullivan does an incredible job, particularly with JR, which is basically non-stop, almost-always-interrupted dialogue for 900 pages.
A Ghost Story
The Death of Stalin
The End of the Tour
The Big Sick
Meh: Baby Driver; Chris Rock: Tamborine
The Americans (Final Season!)
Atlanta, Season 1
Succession, Season 1
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Season 3
Bojack Horseman, Season 1
Silicon Valley, Seasons 1-3
Beyond the many hours of classical music I listened to at work through the headphones, the the albums I most enjoyed this year were Jonny Greenwood’s sublime soundtrack for Phantom Thread (nearly a daily listen for me), as well as new/newish records from Julien Baker, Boygenius, Jeff Tweedy, Pusha T, Earl Sweatshirt, Cat Power, Damien Jurado and Lomelda, whose song “From Here” has a final third that lifts off in a way that always makes me smile and sing along.
Close to home:
Ruth Asawa: Life’s Work at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation (curated by my wife and called “the year’s most beautiful exhibition” by the Washington Post)
Mona Hatoum: Terra Infirma at the Pulitzer
Lola Álvarez Bravo: Picturing Mexico at the Pulitzer
Amy Sherald at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
Kehinde Wiley: Saint Louis at the Saint Louis Art Museum
During a wedding trip to Chicago, I enjoyed diving back into the permanent collection of the Art Institute Chicago and doing quick cruise through the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
While attending and speaking at a conference in D.C., museum highlights included:
Watching “Love Is the Message, The Message Is Death,” an unforgettable, gut-wrenching video work by Arthur Jafa at the Hirshorn
Baselitz: Six Decades at the Hirshorn
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
A trip back to The Phillips Collection
Less happy note: Excitedly took a morning cab to the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, but there were no tickets to be had. Great for the institution, though I was bummed.
During a day-and-a-half trip to NYC, I was able to see a remarkable amount of world-class art, including:
The stunning Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future at the Guggenheim
Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts at MoMA
Charles White: A Retrospective at MoMA
Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980 at MoMA
Delacroix at the Met
Jewelry: The Body Transformed at the Met
Relative Values: The Cost of Art in the Northern Renaissance at the Met
Martha Rosler: Irrespective at The Jewish Museum (plus the permanent collection)
Odds & Ends:
During that same short NYC trip, Tamara and I were able to get rush tickets to Kenneth Lonergan's play “The Waverly Gallery,” starring Lucas Hedges, Michael Cera, Joan Allen and Elaine May. Small theater. What a treat.
For our living room we bought a used piano from the wonderful folks at STL’s Jackson Pianos. Leo’s starting lessons in 2019, and I hope to get back to it after several decades away.
Amid lots of technology, Mac OS Mojave’s new screenshot feature — where you can drag a just-taken shot into use without it being saved to your computer — is something I’m grateful for daily.
While I still read Twitter, I didn’t post much this year, particularly the last six months. I tried to spend a bit more time posting what I would have shared there on my website, which had previously grown very quiet.
Speaking of web publishing, I spent a few months trying Micro.blog, which I found to be a wonderful, light-weight micro-blogging service. I was tempted to move entirely to the system, since so many of my posts are short links to content of note, but I’m going to stay with the system I have. I’m not much interested in the social/timeline aspect. But I’m keeping an eye on it.
It’s been inspiring and humbling to be part of the 2018-19 Leadership St. Louis class, the 43rd since this program began. I hope to post some reflections on the program when it ends this coming spring.
For whatever goodness 2018 brought, it’s been a sad year for our family. This summer, my father-in-law, Omer Huremović, died after battling cancer for several years.
Tajkic, as I called him, was perhaps the bravest, most resourceful and resilient man I’ll know.
He was also an artist. Little made him happier than hand-making and shipping off one of his wire-tree sculptures — some massive, others that could lay in the palm of your hand — to buyers around the country, improving their lives one sculpture at a time.
We miss him daily. We live with his art, and all that he taught us.
“A man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.”
Hadn’t seen this Camus quote before. (It appropriately closed a new profile on Sam Mendes in TNY.)
Wonderful. Need to rewatch Moonlight.
Continuing for month two of this recent effort to note the cultural intake of the prior month:
- Medardo Rosso: Experiments in Light and Form, Pulitzer Arts Foundation — (Disclosure: Married to a contributor) (A)
- Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert Cialdini — Recommended by someone high-wattage bright in conversation, who was advising on how to nudge. (B)
- Magnitude: The Scale of the Universe, Kimberly K. Arcand (B+)
- The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror, Garrett M. Graff — An older book with Mueller at the core (B)
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath — I can still recall being taken by this cover in the Borders I frequented more than a decade ago. Finally read it. (B+)
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport — Enjoyed Newport's interview with Ezra Klein. Found the book just so-so, but the reminder is valuable. (B-)
- "The White Darkness: A Journey Across the Antarctic," David Grann — Another incredible novella-length gem from David Grann. After reading, don't miss an audio segment with voices from the piece. (A+)
- Get Out (A+)
- Room (B+)
- Phantom Thread (A-)
- 45 Years (A-)
With a nod to Kottke's monthly "Media Diet" posts, I'm experimenting this year with short monthly recaps of interesting things I've read, watched or listened to. (This is as much for myself, as noting what I took in can help me better recall it.)
- Paula Scher: Works — Terrific, from the opening essay and interview to the work itself. (A)
- Abbott Miller: Design & Content — Intelligent and beautiful. Especially loved reading about Miller's co-founding of a "content-based studio" years before 'content strategy' became a thing. (A+)
- We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates — I'd read most of these essays when they were published in The Atlantic, but they were even more powerful here as a package. I liked Coates' brief introductions to each one, noting any changes (to what happened in the world, to how he thought about the issues) since original publication. (A)
- Obama: An Intimate Portrait, by Pete Souza (A)
- "Old Woods and Deep: Traces of Cormac McCarthy's Knoxville" — A rare deep dive into McCarthy and in particular Suttree, my favorite novel of his.
- The Big Sick (B+)
- Columbus (A) — Unique and sensitive debut with such lovely and surprising architecture.
- The Sopranos, Final Season (A)
- Lomelda, "From Here," — Stumbled on her via Spotify Discover. The last-third build-up gets me singing.
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on "Discovering America" — On this recent New Yorker Radio Hour interview with David Remnick, Adichie was incisive and funny. Moved me to pick up Americanah, which I'm reading now.
- Slow Burn — Binged-listened to this podcast about Watergate. Hard to believe.
- Saint Louis Symphony Concert Family Concert — First time taking Leo, who looked up with wide eyes at Powell Hall's magnificent ceiling. It was a treat that the special guest was the 442s, friends and collaborators on this Forest Park Forever project. A week since going, Leo's been loudly 'conducting' in the kitchen.
Continuing a 17-year tradition, I'm happy to share my Annual Favorites list for the year 2017:
Let's start with the best thing that happened to my family this year, which is the arrival of Sylvia Huremović Schenkenberg in late April. We're still smiling at her the way Leo was above, just a few days in.
My Struggle: Book 5, Karl Ove Knausgård
Blind Spot, Teju Cole
Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine
Exit West, Mohsin Hamid
Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
Swing Time, Zadie Smith
Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches, John Hodgman
Now You See It and Other Essays on Design, Michael Bierut
Home and Away: Writing the Beautiful Game, Karl Ove Knausgård and Fredrik Ekelund
Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah
Obama: The Call of History, Peter Baker
Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure, Bianca Bosker
A Separation, Katie Kitamura
Paul Rand: A Designer's Art
More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers, Jonathan Lethem
Powers of Ten, Philip Morrison
Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind, Peter D. Kramer
Under the Skin
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Clouds of Sils Maria
Better Call Saul, Season 3
The Americans, Seasons 4-5
OJ: Made in America
Master of None, Season 2
I'm going to skip making a long list of favorite albums and podcasts, and instead note a discovery in each, respectively: Phoebe Bridgers (watch her Tiny Desk Concert here), and S-Town. They each feel a bit haunted, and they share, in parts, a gothic sensibility. (Also: I can't not mention Black Thought's instantly classic 11-minute freestyle video, which c'mon.)
Our SONOS Play: 1 is used every evening for listening to music as we get ready for dinner or just goof around with the kids. Things 3 finally launched, and it's attractive and enjoyable to use. It's only been a month or so, but I've been enjoying trying out Ulysses as a writing environment (despite having no interest in using Markdown.) I've been impressed with Airtable as a flexible, humane alternative to Excel, when you need a database of some kind but have zero needs for financial calculations. (I'd seen the fancy Sandwich video when it launched, but didn't realize it could fit my needs until the co-founder's segment on Track Changes.)
As noted on this website earlier this month, I was sad to see an end to the remarkable life of William H. Gass, who I was lucky enough to get to know over the past decade-plus. Bill lived a long and productive life, dying at 93, and working through his final year. I was honored to write briefly about him for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and speak about his life and work on St. Louis Public Radio. I continue posting notes from readers and admirers at ReadingGass.org.
Highlights from a very fun year at Forest Park Forever include engaging the public in the final year of Forever: The Campaign for Forest Park's Future, speaking at the international City Parks Alliance conference in the Twin Cities, launching a 2.0 version of ForestParkMap.org, and publishing Forest Park: Snapshots of a St. Louis Gem.
To close, a November 2017 photo of Sylvia and Leo reveling in the new hotel bed during a quick family trip to Kansas City...
A Happy Fathers Day nod to a dad who passed down his now-40-year tradition of logging the culture he took in each year. He turned 75 today, and said he’s going to go back through his decades of notes and see what’s risen to the top.
Our conversation moved me to page through my own logbook. Here, a few pics of pages covering books, films and concerts during the late 90s/early 2000s, a few years before my process went digital.
Wonderful, highly New Yorker-ish Tad Friend profile of Mike Mills.
Continuing a 15-year tradition (though one that’s gotten briefer with age and fatherhood), here’s a roundup of some of my favorite things experienced during the past 12 months:
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante
The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante
The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante
Lila, Marilyn Robinson
My Struggle: Book 2, Karl Ove Knausgård
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
The Balloonists, Eula Biss
Being Mortal, Atul Gawande
Becoming Steve Jobs, Brent Schlender
Stress Tests, Timothy F. Geithner
Van Gogh: A Power Seething, Julian Bell
Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo, Nicholas Carlson
Bark, Lorrie Moore
Girl In a Band, Kim Gordon
So-so: Grace: A Memoir; I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel
While We’re Young
Magic in the Moonlight
So-so: Spectre; Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Borgen: Season 3
Mad Men: Final Season
An Honorable Woman
Black Mirror: Season 1
Master of None: Season 1
Veep: All Seasons
The Good Wife: Seasons 1-6
The Entrepreneurs (Monocle)
Section D (Monocle)
The Foreign Desk (Monocle)
I used to make long lists of specific albums purchased and enjoyed, but since I’ve gone to paid streaming (and, maybe, since I’ve become a committed podcast listener), it’s harder for me to point to specific recordings at a year’s end. This is especially the case since Rdio shut down, and I’m now starting fresh with Spotify — my digital records are kind of a mess. While I listen to hours of classical and ambient/lush music through the headphones during work, a few specific artists I spent more time with in 2015 include Angel Olsen, Youth Lagoon, Sun Kil Moon, Sharon Van Etten, My Bubba, Jennifer O’Connor, Girlpool, Atlas Sound, Earl Sweatshirt, J Cole, Common, Pusha T, A$AP Rocky, Villagers, Natalie Prass, and Perfume Genius.
NYC + D.C.
I had the good fortune of accompanying my wife on a work trip she had to NYC, and it was incredibly culture-rich. Highlights included the new Whitney, MoMA (Yoko Ono and Bjork special exhibitions), The Drawing Center, David Zwirner Gallery (Serra show), Neue Galerie (sensational collection), the Cooper Hewitt, and “Drifting in Daylight” in Central Park (where I shot this short phone video). We also enjoyed a long weekend in D.C. with family, with pleasant dips into the National Gallery (terrific Caillebotte show) and The Phillips Collection (first time, great time).
I’m fortunate to have a great job at Forest Park Forever, and 2015 saw a few especially fun projects ship. This includes the introduction of our new brand platform, our launch of Forestparkmap.org and the formal introduction of Forever: The Campaign for Forest Park’s Future, with a new website that features a beautiful campaign video we made with the team at Once Films.
As referenced appropriately at top, so much of this year — and so much of every day — has been about Tamara and I raising our son. I’d been told that right around 2 is a fun age, and it’s true. This year had a ton of special moments, including — just to pick one, which we happened to catch on film — Leo’s changing expression during his first ride on a carousel at the Saint Louis Zoo.
Late to this, but “Ida” was extraordinary, shot after shot. Streaming on Netflix. So worth your time.
Back before Tamara and I had our son in the summer of 2013, I used to keep regular lists of my “Annual Favorites” of the year — the best books, movies, TV shows, podcasts, exhibitions and so on that I’d consumed that year.
To say my rate of cultural digestion changed with fatherhood would be an understatement; that said, I still have an interest in logging the great stuff (if only for myself). So while I skipped 2013 entirely, here’s a go at some highlights from 2014:
In May, I published a project I’d been working on for some time: The Ear’s Mouth Must Move: Essential Interviews with William H. Gass. I chose to publish this on Medium at no cost to the reader, and included a range of footnotes, photos and videos. Thanks to all the contributors who made this possible.
On Immunity: An Inoculation, Eula Biss
My Struggle, Book One: Karl Ove Knausgård
Little Failure, Gary Shteyngart
Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays, Eula Biss
What We See When We Read, Peter Mendelsund
Inferno (The Divine Comedy, #1), Dante Alighieri (Mary Jo Bang, Translator)
Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst, Adam Phillips
Like Someone In Love
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jane Eyre (2011)
A Most Wanted Man
Take This Waltz
The One I Love
Your Sister’s Sister
Slate Culture Gabfest
The Monocle Weekly
In Our Time With Melvyn Bragg
The Entrepreneurs (Monocle)
The Stack (Monocle)
The Political Scene (The New Yorker)
New Yorker: Out Loud
Articles & Essays
If you follow me on Twitter, you have likely already seen links to the best articles and essays I read in 2014. I use it mainly as a way to praise and recommend.
I listen to Rdio every day of the week — on my Mac, iPad and iPhone. A great deal of what I stream is classical, since I listen while I work. And on that front I do a poor job of logging what I like, as I hop quickly from label to composer, from soloist to trio. So for this post I’ll skip classical (and hip-hop, where I also jump around) and point simply to a handful of indie albums I enjoyed this year:
Beck, Morning Phase
Low, The Invisible Way
Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fires For No Witness
Sun Kil Moon, Benji
What a year it’s been for seeing artist documentaries — first the Richter, then the Abramović, and now, tonight, the Ai Weiwei. The third is not quite as well crafted and structurally mature as the others, but what an utterly fascinating and brave subject. And how incredibly that this young American just showed up in China and ended up documenting this incredible life. Recommended.
A slideshow at Slate of the movie’s Wes Andersonness.