Here are eleven cultural artifacts I’m happy to endorse here at the end of 2015. I’ve got four books, five records, one movie, and one Netflix show to share, with minimal commentary.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This is not for the faint-at-heart; a friend of mine told me “Be warned. It will shatter you.” And I’ve lately spent a lot of late nights crying and reading and reading and crying. The only reason to set this compulsively readable book down is to contemplate some of Yanagihara’s more beautiful passages. It’s certainly the best book I’ve read in a while, probably since Wolf Hall.
Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt
This book is funny, yes, and talks a lot about a lot of great movies, yes. But really he’s taking a stab (multiple stabs) and what art is for and why anyone would bother and some of the darker corners of the psyche that lead to this dilemma in the first place.
Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
I’m not sure I’m the intended audience for this book, but boy did I learn a lot. Lena’s troublesome in some of her actions and statements, but she’s also deeply thoughtful and watching her process and struggle is entertaining and often enlightening.
The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber
The saddest science-fiction book I’ve read. It’s about a pastor sent into space to minister to a newly encountered race of beings (AKA “aliens.”) Like some of my favorite sci-fi books, the genre trappings are the setting but not the point. This is a meditation on faith and love, deeply mysterious and moving.
Kamasi Washington – The Epic
It’s almost unfair; this is a TRIPLE album of jazz augmented by a blistering imagination. The first track is called “Change of the Guard” and that’s what this is. Whatever modern jazz you’ve been listening to for the last 10 years, forget it. This is a line in the sand and Kamasi has left everyone in the dust.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit
Lou Reed came back as a 28-year-old from Australia with a wicked sense of humor and a killer back-up group.
Four Tet – Morning/Evening
Two tracks: “Morning Side” and “Evening Side.” Use as directed.
Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf
It’s kinda-sorta the new Chance the Rapper album, but he’s just part of the band. This is optimistic hip-hop-funk-gospel-new-jack-southside experimentation and celebration music. Don’t sleep.
Hamilton – Original Cast Recording
Yes, the hip-hop-n-history musical that Mom & Dad know about from “60 Minutes.” That fact that this exists is no surprise. The fact that it’s taken the world by storm like nothing since RENT is astonishing. The music is fantastic, the concepts it’s bringing to the main-stream are even more significant. You can’t afford to see it, so get the record and rap along until it tours the world.
Maybe the most fun night of my year was when Acacia and I ran in to see this at the last minute in a tiny, old theater (Thank you, Barneses.) in Chapel Hill, NC. We laughed like little kids attacked by the Tickle Monster.
Master of None
Aziz can be pretty annoying, but he’s decided to using his modest fame to question everything, and I really respect that. It helps that the show bears more resemblance to an old Woody Allen film than to anything on broadcast TV.