If you’re looking for something to light your fire, here’s a decent place to start.
I used to spend a ton of time making big, long lists of my favorite everything – books, music, movies, etc. – and I took great joy in keeping those lists up-to-date. If you poke around on this site, you can find remnants of all that.
Anyway, in 2011, I was passionate about a few things. Here are some of them.
Newbury’s 1969 album, Looks Like Rain is what I listened to more often than not all year. An American Trilogy is actually a set of 3 albums (with a bonus disk) reissued together. I got them on vinyl and they rarely left my turntable. You won’t find much of this on Spotify, otherwise I’d include a link. Here it is at iTunes, though. Get the first track (“Wrote A Song A Song/Angeline”) and if you like that, keep going.
Miles Davis Quintet – Live in Europe 1967: The Bootleg Series Vol. 1
This was the greatest band of all time. These live tracks are amazing. I don’t know if this is the record that could convert someone to Miles Davis-ism, (Try In a Silent Way or Files de Kilimanjaro for that.) but it’s one more reason my son would be named Miles Matthew.
James Blake put out a handful of EPs and his self-titled LP came out right at the beginning of the year. Of everything that seemed really new to me this year, Blake’s music is what stuck. Some call it dubstep, I call it gospel for the internet generation. (Dude puts on a shockingly good live show, too.)
How to Dress Well continued to amaze me, even after I found out he’s a goofy, Robert Crumb-looking mo/fo. Heck, that might make me respect him even more. You’d be hard pressed to find something more arresting than “Suicide Dream 2 (Orchestral Version).”
Cities Aviv is the best hip-hop music I heard this year, by a long shot. Here’s a link.
I wrote about some other music I liked in 2011 for The Agit Reader.
I do a poor job keeping up with it, but I do update my Goodreads profile on occasion.
I read the Steve Jobs biography really quickly and liked it. It’s not brilliant writing, but Isaacson had an amazing subject.
I loveloveloved Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, one of the longer entries in the 33 1/3 series. I learned a lot from it about how taste and our measures of high, low, good, and bad culture came about. It’s one of those rare books that had me questioning myself a lot as I read. I love those. Here’s a paragraph – about one of the problems with critiquing music – that I highlighted:
In daily life, music is usually part of other activities, from dancing to housework to sex to gossip to dinner. In critical discourse it’s as if the only action going on when music is playing is the activity of evaluation music. The question becomes, “Is this good music to listen to while you’re making aesthetic judgements?” … Part of the reason for the recent backlash against indie rock, I suspect, is a weariness with how much of it seems to be mainly music to judge music by. Celine Dion, on the other hand, is lousy music to make aesthetic judgements to, but might be excellent for having a first kiss, or burying your grandma, or breaking down in tears.
In case you didn’t get it from the title, this book is about Celine Dion. And it’s brilliant.
Steven Pressfield (“The War of Art”) out out another great, little book. It’s called Do the Work and you shouldn’t read it if you’ve been satisfied with sitting on your ass thus far.
The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach, was the most fun I had reading fiction, I think. It’s about baseball and college and stuff.
I think I have to agree with Esquire, though, that The Submission, by Amy Waldman, was the best piece of fiction I read this year. It was satisfying in every way. It had a ton of moments that were inevitable but wholly surprising. That’s about the best thing I can say about a book. (If you’re gonna go look for it on Amazon, I apologize for all the smutty pictures you’re about to see. Kinda funny, though, right?)
Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express cookbook came out this year, too, didn’t it? That’s about the best cookbook ever. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s fun, encourages creativity (and actual cooking) and is full of stuff I love to eat.
I read a lot of Manga in the middle of the year. My favorites were Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, by Fumi Yoshinaga (a woman, FYI) and Bakuman, from the people who brought you the world-wide smash Death Note.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Stephen Sondheim’s collections of lyrics (as well as “comments, principles, heresies, grudges, whines, and anecdotes.) This may be the closest we get to a memoir from The Man, and if you’re involved in any sort of writing I bet you’d really enjoy these. And if you’re involved in any sort of theatre-making, you’d best not to admit to me that you’re not going to read these books. They are AMAZING.
Movies? I didn’t really go to the movies this year. I did get the Criterion Collection release of In the Night of the Hunter, and that’s really worthwhile tribute to a great true classic.
Other that, let me just mention a few other random things: Tomas Transtromer, CM Punk, Shadow of the Colossus, Vanilla Cedarwood, Rajon Rondo, and A Few Acres of Snow.