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No Country for Old Men a Screenplay by Joel & Ethan Coen

April 22, 2022

I’ve seen this movie maybe two dozen times, read the book a few, and read a handful of essays about the book, including the excellent collection of essays From Novel to Film: No Country For Old Men.

This is one of those rare cases where the book is good, but the movie is amazing. What I like about reading the screenplay of something that I know pretty well at this point, is that I notice the small decisions in the Coen Brothers’ adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel.

They made two significant changes. The first is the omission of Sheriff Bell’s background as a World War II vet, in particular his story about his moment of cowardice (or pragmatism—how we’re to interpret is one of the points of the novel). The other is in Llewelyn Moss’s interactions with the woman at the hotel before his end.

But beyond these plot changes, reading the script makes it easier to notice subtleties that I didn’t catch in the film, even after so many viewings. That Chigurh drinks milk from the carton at Moss’s trailer, but Sheriff Bell pours it into a glass. That when Chigurh returns to the people who hired him and shoots everyone except the man from accounting, one could read that as a sense of camaraderie—they are, in a way, in the same line of work.

It also stood out that, although a number of innocents die because they cross Chigurh’s path, almost as many die because they cross Moss’s path, get pulled into the “jackpot” (as one character calls it, a great word), and Chigurh happens to be following behind. In this reading, Moss is maybe not the Angel of Destruction that Chigurh is, but he’s at least an emissary.

Aside from studying the screenplay as a step in the adaptation, it’s also just a great bit of writing on its own. McCarthy’s novel is sparse to begin with, and much of his writing is carried forward directly into the screenplay. The story moves at an exciting clip, and the dialogue is excellent, smart and surprisingly funny. Worth the read for anyone who enjoys reading screenplays.  

Devil House by John Danielle

April 17, 2022

Darnielle’s second novel* Wolf in White Van proved that his storytelling talents extended beyond The Mountain Goats, the band he’s fronted since the early 90s (and for a long time was the only member of). Here, in case there was any lingering doubt, he takes it one step further.

(*admission: I thought Wolf in White Van was his first novel. Just saw that he actually had one prior to that, Universal Harvester, which I’ll need to check out)

 Devil House is about a successful true crime writer, Gage Chandler, who purchases and then moves into a house where a grisly murder took place years ago. As he reconstructs the interior of the home to match how it looked when the murders took place, the narrative reconstructs the events. From different points of view, with leaps forward and backward in time, into and out of nested stories within the stories, we get a picture of the murder.

More interesting, we get a look at the psyche of Chandler, who has a level of understanding that the work he does has some ethical implications. These are real people he’s writing about, exploiting to some degree. While he doesn’t quite grapple with this, he’s aware of it. Apparently, we’ve come to Gage after he’s already accepted that this line of work requires moral compromise. He’s made a deal with the devil, and he’s comfortable with that choice, even if it makes us somewhat uncomfortable.

There’s a Mountain Goats song, “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” that some of the characters in this book remind me of. They feel like real kids, but on the fringes. Kids who like to draw devils and pentagrams because of the dark aesthetic. Kids with nerdy pursuits like comic books and Dungeons & Dragons and horror books and movies. In the song, they’re punished, the screws tightened and their lives pretty much destroyed.

Devil House goes somewhere else with it. But underlying is a theme about how the dark, seedy underbelly and the real pain that accompanies it is something that mainstream society is partly responsible for, exploits, gawks at, yet at the same time disowns, disavows, punishes and distances itself from.

The house in the book sits in a physical location in Milpitas, CA, just off a highway, in one of those ugly in-between spaces that we’d like to pretend doesn’t exist. The cracks in our landscapes. Devil House examines one of those cracks, and the person whose job is to illuminate those cracks so that readers can be titillated, appalled, then go on pretending the cracks don’t exist.   

Devil House is an ambitious novel that subverts expectation with almost every chapter. It’s a really interesting, unsettling, thought-provoking read.

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink

April 17, 2022

I picked up this book because I was interested in better timing my daily schedule. Specific types of work like writing, creative thinking and giving feedback on ideas come much easier at certain times of the day. Namely in the morning, especially after a workout, and late at night when it’s quiet. This is true with most types of desk and creative jobs. Our most important tasks are the ones that usually require the most focus and a certain kind of thinking. But often those times get crowded with other, more menial tasks answering emails, meetings, and administration. I’ve been thinking about how to structure my day to get the most out of my best times. The answer, according to Pink, is that everyone is different. The key is understanding what kind of thinking fits best at what time, which is affected by our natural daily cycles, our biology and our personal habits.  

When is also about how timing plays into motivational psychology in other interesting, possibly useful ways. The power of beginnings, like the “fresh starts” we get at the beginning of a year, week, day, anniversary, or other significant moment. The power of endings, when we know a deadline is coming, can be motivating. And even the middle has power, when we have an opportunity to stop, reassess, and know that we are halfway to where we need to be. All of these moments can be leveraged to goose our motivation if we know how to use them.

I’m wary of books about “the secrets,” especially if they pertain to productivity. But I liked Pink’s A Whole New Mind and his TED talk about motivation. Likewise, When is an interesting, hopefully helpful read (or listen—I did the audiobook). Thanks to the Slate Political Gabfest for the reco.  

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

April 1, 2022

“Time’s a goon, right? You gonna let that goon push you around?” one character asks another toward the end of this remarkable novel.

Time is indeed a goon, inflicting relentless, harsh, but ordinary punishment on characters in this collection of interconnected short stories. Bennie Salazar and his trajectory from teen punk rocker to burned out record label exec, the members of Bennie’s high school band, his assistant and kleptomaniac Sasha, the uncle who tries to track her down when she runs away to Italy, a PowerPoint presentation by her daughter many years later. There are other stories, a safari in Africa, a past-her-prime American actress sent to meet an African dictator, the return of one of the teen band members, now clearly with some kind of mental illness as a Daniel Johnston-esque musician. A boy obsessed with songs with extended pauses. A jenga tower of interdependent lives.

But as much as time does a number on these characters before our eyes, Egan bends time to her will. She pops us masterfully from one story to the next, around the globe, decades forward and decades back. In the most impactful moment, she slides us forward twenty years in the middle of a sentence and gives us a devastating glimpse at the future of a young boy.   

A Visit from the Goon Squad won the Pulitzer in 2011. Reading it now, I wonder what took me so long. The writing is fantastic, the characters compelling, and the overall vibe—a blend of humor, satire, nostalgia and existential dread—is so unique. Egan’s new book, The Candy House, a sequel to Goon Squad will be released Tuesday, April 5. I’m looking forward to it.  

The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane

March 28, 2022

Along with Mountains of the Mind and The Old Ways, The Wild Places makes MacFarlane’s trilogy “of books about landscape and the human heart.” Which sounds a bit sappier than it is in any of these books. They’re about our psychological connection to different landscapes—mountains, roads, waterways and, in this book, the wild places that fit between.

MacFarlane examines the history, the symbolism, the physical and spiritual connection we have to these landscapes. What they represent in our mythologies and how we relate to them in our everyday lives. An avid outdoorsman, he weaves this together with his personal experiences with these places.

We most associate “wild” with forests (the words “woods” and “wild” are believed to have shared ancestors).   And the inclination of western civilization is to clear the wild to make room for the spaces in which we live and work. The Roman Empire destroyed many of the ancient forests across Europe, and settlers in America cleared much of the continent for agriculture. Some cultures show more reverence toward the cleared wilderness than others. A thousand years ago, in line with Taoist beliefs, A Chinese woodsman might bow to felled trees and promise to use the wood in a way that dignified the life of the tree.  

Now we have parks and national forests to contain the wild. But there is also much wild around us, in spaces between, and MacFarlane makes the point that wilderness need not be vast. It can be a space near a highway entrance ramp, a tangle of briars near a backyard creek, even an abandoned place reclaimed by nature.

He writes of the significance of these places, however formal their designation, the “drawing of happiness from landscapes large and small…”

Every day, millions of people found themselves deepened and dignified by their encounters with particular places. Most of these places, however, were not marked as special on any map, but they became special by personal acquaintance. A bend in a river, the junction of four fields, a climbing tree, a stretch of old hedgerow, or a fragment of woodland glimpsed from a road regularly driven along… Daily, people were brought to sudden states of awe by encounters such as these. Encounters whose power to move us was beyond expression but also beyond denial.

To read a MacFarlane book is to feel like you’ve gone on a hike with him. I was curious, listening to this book, about his methodology. He describes the land and the details of what he encounters with such detail that I wondered if he is constantly stopping to jot down notes, or if he just remembers things so vividly.

These treks are peppered with nuggets about nature. The reason leaves change color. The hare that runs a daily, nine-mile circuit of one hilly landscape, only to return to the exact spot it started. Bleak stories of families suffering, some dying, in some of these wild places during hard times.

The wild is so tied to our conceptions of the lands beyond, the dark, uncharted lands, beyond the frontier. That representation is well examined in literature and non-fiction alike. What I appreciated about MacFarlane’s take is his focus on “ordinary” places. It made me think of places I’ve had a connection with. The bank we pulled onto for lunch on a half-day canoe trip with high school friends (then spent an hour skipping rocks). The old van and cabin way back in the woods behind our home in California, both which fascinated my daughters. The creek we played in as kids, probably insignificant in all regards but ours. For us, the creek contained a whole world.

All of the MacFarlane books I’ve read are worth the read. They educate, transport, and have a little of the transformative effect you might experience if you actually go to these wild places.

Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit

March 20, 2022

“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind. And walking travels both terrains,” Solnit writes in this exploration of the physical, philosophical, political and sociological significance of walking. She warns that it is an “idiosyncratic path…with much doubling back and looking around.” It is a meander, but she stitches together varied and interesting stories and ideas from literature, history and her own personal experience, such that the reader always feels in the hands of a seasoned tour guide, never lost.  

Walking has a special connection to the mind which differentiates it from other mode of travel. The physical, repetitive motion and the slower pace compels observation, contemplation and reflection. A walk is an external as well as an internal activity, resembling stream-of-consciousness thinking and writing. Walking has long been linked to the creative process, or problem solving. One goes for a walk when they need a break from work, but it is often on the walk when a solution presents itself.

To walk through a physical environment, we become a part of that environment. We are exposed and vulnerable. In The Old Ways, Robert MacFarlane observes that we don’t walk onto a mountain but into the mountains, as if the sky and the valleys—the absence of mountains—are a part of the terrain. Likewise, Solnit writes of her experience walking into a desert as a reminder that that “the earth was large and we are not.”

I have always thought that the best way to experience a city is to just walk around, and I’m inclined to choose a walk over a cab or train—weather, time and city planning permitting. Most great cities are walking cities, but some are not. And how a place is designed for walking greatly defines the kind of place it is. A city center in which cars are banned changes everything. Likewise, the condition of sidewalks, the existence of crosswalks, the distance between landmarks. These all define a city’s walkability, and thus defines a central aspect of that city’s vibe.

In my own suburban neighborhood, we’re fortunate to have wide roads with marked bike/walking lanes, and there is a veritable parade of neighbors walking, jogging and moseying (as we are in Texas) by my window as I write this. Leftover cart paths from a defunct golf course invite walkers to enjoy a nearby field, and a newly constructed sidewalk now allows for a safe walk down to the bookstore and burger joint. This all, as much as anything else, defines the neighborhood, our interactions, our sense of connectedness to each other and to the local businesses.

And yet, many locales are not so welcoming of walkers, by design or culture. I am reminded of a quote I snagged from George Eliot’s Silas Marner while backpacking through New Zealand in 2000: “The shepherd’s dog barked fiercely when one of these alienlooking men appeared on the uplands, dark against the early winter sunset; for what dog likes a figure bent under a heavy bag?” That passage must have struck me at the time because of the heavy bag; New Zealand is one of the most welcoming countries I can imagine for trekkers and backpackers.

But it is true that a walker can be seen as an outsider if they are walking in a place not designed for it. The German writer Karl Moritz wrote about one of his journeys: “A traveler on foot in this country seems to be considered as a sort of wild man, or an out-of-the-way being who is stared at, suspected, pitied and shunned by everybody that meets him.”

I was reminded of the scene in Mad Men, when the suburban ladies wonder what the heck the character Helen Bishop is doing just out walking along the roads, with seemingly nowhere to go. They are suspicious of her. It is the 1960s, and walking is not yet a recognized form of recreation in suburban America.

Walking is freedom. And Solnit, who writes often of politics, makes some of her most insightful points when she examines how our ability to walk—or not walk—is intertwined with our personal liberties. To “take to the streets” is to celebrate or, more often, make a display of opposition. We march in protest. Similar to pilgrimages, we walk to demonstrate a devotion to a cause. We hold parades to celebrate holidays and victories, and to display our military might.

The public street is a representation of our freedom and equality. Anyone, supposedly, can walk through our public spaces.

It feels anti-democratic, then, to have “free speech zones,” where this kind of public expression is limited in order to limit the level of disruption protesters can cause (which seems antithetical to the whole notion of a protest). And it says something about society and the limitations of freedom when, as Solnit recounts from her own experience, certain streets are unsafe to be walked—or even perceived unsafe—particularly by women. As usual, the symbol of freedom can also be a reminder of society’s inequities.

Wanderlust is a tramp in its own right. A hike, a ramble, a wander, a saunter, an amble, a stroll, a walk of the mind through an endlessly interesting topic, with many side alleys and connections to other works. In my 2018 review of her A Field Guide to Getting Lost, I wrote: “This intellectual wandering, searching, is maybe the thing that most ties Solnit’s writing together. There are common themes of nature, politics, social justice, memoir, but it’s the ease with which she slides from one topic to the next and stitches together provocative tapestries that makes her writing unique.” The same is true here, the threaded connection to other ideas is the most delightful part of this sojourn. 

Wanderlust would pair well with Timothy Egan’s Pilgrimage to Eternity, and with the aforementioned The Old Ways. But like the best books do, Wanderlust also pointed me forward to other books. Solnit writes of the German philosopher Walter Benjamin. Among many things, Benjamin revived the concept of the flâneur, typically an aristocrat who strolls, philosophizes, walks as a means of privileged, intellectual recreation. A character central to the ideals of Nineteenth Century Parisian literature. In this discussion of Benjamin, she alludes to a Larry McMurtry’ Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, which I just finished and loved. It is, likewise, a stroll of the mind through many semi-related topics. A review to come shortly on that one.

To stick with the metaphor, this book is not a walk from Point A to Point B. It is not a destination walk. But if you are up for a thought-provoking stroll about strolling, here you go.  

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

February 5, 2022

This was the first Stegner novel I’ve read, and possibly an odd place to start. Stegner was both a great writer and a great shaper of writers. He taught at Wisconsin and Harvard, but was mostly known for his founding of the creative writing program at Stanford in 1946, only the second of its kind at the time. His students include Larry McMurtry, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Thomas McGuane and Sandra Day O’Connor.

Stegner won the Pulitzer in 1972 for his novel Angle of Repose, which is on the Modern Library’s list of top 100 novels of the 20th Century. The Spectator Bird won the National Book Award in 1977, and Crossing to Safety (1987) was widely acclaimed. In all, he wrote fourteen novels over 50 years, many of them semi-autobiographical. There are many good entry points into Stegner.

I started reading The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943) in grad school, but didn’t get very far in the novel. Wrong time, not enough time to focus. In 2006, I read his nonfiction guide, On Teaching and Writing Fiction, and I loved it.

Stegner is a favorite of my book-review-sharing friend, Greg, who wrote in his 2021 review of The Spectator Bird, “I’ve never read a Wallace Stegner book I didn’t love.” That prompted me to give it a go.

The Spectator Bird has a fairly complex narrative structure. Joe Allston, a retired literary agent in his 70s, receives a postcard from a Danish countess, who he and his wife, Ruth, met on a trip to Denmark twenty years earlier. They had taken the trip shortly after the death of their son. This leads to him revealing to Ruth that he kept a journal of their trip, which she convinces him to read aloud to her.

The novel jumps back and forth between these two times. The trip narrative uncovers dark themes of post-war Europe, ideas rooted in race and purity of bloodlines, as well as a kind of fascination with the countess and her family’s strange, aristocratic life. Because it is a journal entry, we also get Joe’s introspective POV from twenty years earlier, when the loss of his son is a very raw wound, but one we sense he’s trying to ignore.

Retreading the trip stirs up a complicated mix of emotions and dynamics between Joe and Ruth in the present. He is grappling with his age, regrets about his relationship with his son, and together they are navigating through the petty but real jealousies stirred by the beautiful countess.

As I made my way through The Spectator Bird, I kept wondering, “What the heck is this about?” There are so many themes woven throughout, with such an autobiographical feel (apparently many of Stegner’s novels do), that at times it seems like we slip into a Wallace Stegner journal entry, as he works through issues in his own life.

The confluence of narrative themes that makes The Spectator Bird hard to pin down, but also makes it interesting. At times it’s a Gothic novel, at others a memoir, at others a portrait of a tender moment in a couple’s long-standing marriage. The novel that kept coming to mind as a reference point, though, was Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier, because at the center of this novel is the complicated dynamic underlying Joe and Ruth’s outwardly simple relationship. Probably something true of all of our close relationships.

Throughout it all, Stegner’s writing is excellent, his keen eye for detail matched by his sharp observations about humanity. He’s at his best when he does both at once, as in this description, where Joe is contemplating losing his teeth: “There will be a morning when I look in the mirror and see an old sunken-cheek stranger with scared eyes and a mouth like a sea urchin’s.”

I also, coincidentally, was in the middle of Ryan Holiday’s book about Stoicism when I came to a passage in which Joe brings it up. He is familiar with the straight-faced philosophy, has considered it—perhaps even embraced it earlier in life—but then casually cuts it down with the observation that “it doesn’t work indefinitely.” “Crucifixion can be discussed philosophically, until they start driving the nails.” It’s all well and good to contemplate pain from behind the desk or from the safety of young age. Real pain is different. This, I think, is key to that question of what this novel is about. The old wound, the real pain, from losing his son, is the kind of thing to perhaps make an older man chuckle to a young Stoic, “Nice idea. Just wait. You’ll see.”

Stegner was in his mid-60s when he published The Spectator Bird. As the title suggests, it is a book about observation, about introspection. It has the feel of an older, wise spectator, contemplating things from altitude. A great reco by my friend, Greg, as usual. I’ll need to get into some more Stegner.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

January 22, 2022

I’m a fan of Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, and Stoicism in general, as a practical and ethically sound philosophy. Here, Holiday repackages the teachings of the Stoics using historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Churchill, Ulysses S. Grant, Steve Jobs, etc. (notably, and problematic, no women).

Stoicism is a philosophy grounded in a practical, calm understanding of your situation, an assessment of what you can control and what you can’t, an acceptance of the things you cannot control, and a mustering of will to overcome the obstacles in front of you. Not by going headlong at them, but by allowing them to guide your way forward.

Keep calm and carry on. You get what you get and you don’t complain. Appreciate what you have. Learn from your mistakes. Remember life is finite. These ideas are all central to Stoicism.

The major Stoic thinkers—Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Seneca—all lived in the centuries around the life of Jesus Christ. One criticism of this book is that it’s just a repackaging of that ancient philosophy. Holiday might agree. But this book takes that philosophy and applies it to modern life. It’s written in bite-size chunks around themes—the importance of calm, being predisposed to action, the importance of understanding what you can control.

The historical parables feel Malcolm Gladwell-esque. History cherry-picked to support the point at hand. Nonetheless, most of it still feels like really good advice.

Holiday has been criticized for his own past work. Before he was the expert on Stoicism, invited to speak to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, music moguls and NFL teams, he was a PR and marketing strategist. The New York Times ran a piece that criticized him for his skeevy PR work with American Apparel, for employing deceptive marketing tactics, and for recasting Stoicism’s “ancient maxims about the pitfalls of pride into breathless clickbait.”

I’m less concerned about his allegedly sketchy background. As Holiday himself points out in his interview with Shane Parrish on The Knowledge Project podcast, we can learn from bad people too. “I shall never be ashamed of citing a bad author if the line is good,” as Seneca wrote.  

There is also no question as to whether the underlying philosophy here is good or not. I think it’s excellent, level-headed and practical.  

The question for me is more whether or not the repackaging is done well. In that regard, it’s a little hit-and-miss. The stories are good. And when Holiday is boiling down Stoicism to its essential lessons, the writing is very quotable, underlinable, highlightable. But toward the end, when he’s trying to sum it all up and put a bow on it, it feels hacky and self-help-y (to be clear, this book definitely belongs in the self-help section next to Tony Robbins and Eckhart Tolle more than it belongs next to Epictetus, Socrates and John Locke).

And some of it is just confusing. “Perceive things as they are, leave no option unexplored, then stand strong and transform whatever can’t be changed,” he writes in the final thoughts. That’s just word soup, such a contrast to some of the clear and useful advice earlier in the book.

The other question that occurred to me when I listened to Holiday extoll Stoicism as a philosophy practiced not just by philosophers sitting in the round, but by successful leaders, business people and politicians, is whether it’s a philosophy best suited for the privileged.

I happened to be reading Wallace Stegner’s The Spectator Bird at the same time as this book, and he writes that Stoicism is good and all, but that it doesn’t work indefinitely. “Crucifixion can be discussed philosophically, until they start driving the nails,” Stegner writes.

In other words, to advise that we clear-headedly separate that which matters from that which is just emotional chaff, to ignore discomfort, to persevere—these are easy things to recommend when we’re seated dispassionately at our desks. It’s a different matter when real pain and loss happen.   

Still, I think Stoicism is a philosophy that suits our modern world well. Which is probably more the reason for its re-emergence than the makeover Holiday has given it. In a world where everything is available to us, and overblown outrage is the default reaction to pretty much anything, a philosophy that espouses calm, logical assessment of our situation and perseverance against our troubles is welcome. If anything, Stoicism is good for asking the question, What really matters here?

Whether one should read this pithy reinterpretation of Stoicism, or go read Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, I guess that’s a matter of preference. If you’re going to read both, I’d recommend starting with Meditations.

My 2021 Movie List

January 2, 2022

Here’s what I watched in 2021. Not as in-depth as my annual book list. No reviews. But I bolded the ones I really enjoyed.

I started to sneak out to the theater again, usually after everyone went to bed. That felt so good. Dune on the big screen was amazing.

I also read a book on director/writer Paul Thomas Anderson, so watched all of his movies. I’m currently reading one on the Coen Brothers and am halfway through theirs.

We do family movie night almost every week, rotating which one of us gets to select the movie. A little hit-and-miss with some of those.

Top 2021 films

  1. Dune
  2. The Power of the Dog
  3. The Green Knight
  4. The Card Counter
  5. If I Leave Here Tomorrow
  6. Titane
  7. Ghostbusters: Afterlife
  8. The Guilty
  9. The Dig

PT Anderson (ranked)

  1. There Will Be Blood 
  2. Boogie Nights 
  3. Phantom Thread 
  4. The Master 
  5. Punch-Drunk Love 
  6. Hard Eight
  7. Magnolia 
  8. Inherent Vice 

Coen Brothers (ranked, so far)

  1. No Country for Old Men
  2. Fargo
  3. The Big Lebowski
  4. Miller’s Crossing
  5. O Brother Where Art Thou
  6. Barton Fink
  7. The Hudsucker Proxy
  8. Raising Arizona
  9. Blood Simple

Non-2021 Films, watched this year

Nomadland
A Ghost Story
The Florida Project
Night Moves (1972)
Prisoners
The Road
Mank
Flirting With Disaster
Hunt for the Wilder People
The Nice Guys
Heat
The Departed
Ghostbusters (2x)
The Fellowship of the Ring
Total Recall (1990)
Terminator 2
Spaceballs (2x)
Galaxy Quest
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Chinatown
Pacific Rim
The Sound of Metal
The Fountain
Operation Finale
All the Pretty Horses
Tommy Boy
Rad
UHF
Dumb and Dumber

Documentary

Memory: The Making of Alien
Hemmingway
Flannery: The Storied Life of the Writer from Georgia
Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free
Count Me In

Hannibal Lecter Series

Manhunter
Red Dragon
Silence of the Lambs
Hannibal
Hannibal Rising

Family Movie Night

Jungle Cruise
Pick of the Litter
Freaky Friday
The Addams Family
Raya and the Last Dragon
Luca
Babe
Brave
The Simpsons Movie
Book of Life
Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Tarzan
Karate Kid
Karate Kid 2
Goonies
Fantastic Mr Fox
Moana
High school musical
Pick of the Litter
100% Wolf
Wolfwalkers
Minions
Zombies II
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
We Could Be Heroes
Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The Descendants
The Descendants  2
The Descendants 3
Jumanji
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

My 2021 Book List

January 1, 2022

This is my book list from 2021—what I read and what I thought of it. [see the full list]

They don’t pretend to be book reviews in any official sense. Just me following my curiosities, wherever they lead, and trying to capture what I learn, think and feel along the way.

2021 was a good reading year. I read a lot of fiction. More horror than usual (I went into a Hannibal Lecter cave mid-year, and was introduced to the work of Stephen Graham Jones). More new releases than usual (twelve books from 2021, give or take). A number of books about why we believe the what we do—in politics, history, spirituality and otherwise.

I usually rank my favorite fiction and nonfiction in my end-of-year list. It’s hard this year. I read a lot of great books, but a lot of them are so different from each other, it’s like comparing apples to onions. So rather than my typical ranked list, below are my favorites from different categories. Some of the books I read were classics (e.g. Dune, The Shining) and others will make all the “Best of 2021” lists (Harlem Shuffle, Matrix), but I really focused on my favorites. You can fight me.

Western: Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams

Classic: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Horror: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Postmodern Fiction: The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata

Crime Fiction: Green Sun by Kent Anderson

Funny Fiction: The Dog of the South by Charles Portis

Poignant: Bewilderment by Richard Powers

Poetry: Goldenrod by Maggie Smith

History: Forget the Alamo by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Sanford

Personal Essay: This One Will Hurt You by Paul Crenshaw

Humor: A Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris

Journalism: Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Politics & Society: The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols

Thanks to my friend Greg, who started me doing this 21 years ago. And to my mom, who works as my editor for very little pay. If you ever have questions about proper comma usage or parallel sentence construction, she’s a good person to ask.  

All reviews are posted on this blog throughout the year.

Let me know what you read, what you enjoyed.

Happy reading in 2022!