Thoughts on life after the PhD
Yeah, I’m way late with my “best of” list, but I’m usually reading these well into February. Incidentally, I think my favorite “best and worst of” list so far is this wonderfully random film one from Reverse Shot (with categories like “Worst Dissertation in a Film” and “Worst Font”).
As usual, some of these are old, but they were new to me.
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga. Herzog’s look at Siberian trappers who live a life mostly unchanged from a hundred years ago. I think I would have enjoyed it even if there’d been no speaking, because the visuals are so beautiful, but the quiet little stories from all the trappers make it extra special.
The Heat. I was iffy on Bridesmaids, Paul Feig’s other foul-mouthed-as-the-boys comedy, mostly because I’m tired of movies about women who constantly fight and compete with each other. But The Heat was just hilarious. Sure, Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy are at odds for about five minutes, but then they quickly become friends and feed beautifully off of each other’s very different comic energy. I just laughed and laughed.
Gravity. Enough’s been said about this one. I loved it. Admittedly I could have done without the “I’m gonna rise up and meet the challenge!” speechifying at the end, but even that didn’t spoil it for me.
Kaze tachinu. Not a perfect Miyazaki film, but complicated and beautiful to look at, with plenty of prickly questions that stay with you.
Before Midnight. Like its predecessor, this one was a gut-punch. It’s remarkable how much we care about these two characters, and how much (for me, at least) they seem to reflect certain phases of our own lives.
Lelo and Stitch. Why hadn’t I ever watched this? It was adorable, and not in that cloying, manipulative way that old-style Disney films can be. Funny, smart, pretty to look at, and a great sense of place (Hawaii).
Star Trek: Into Darkness. Hey, I thoroughly enjoyed this, ridiculous as it was. Maybe it’s Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice. I could seriously listen to him read the ingredients on a cereal box.
Stoker. Say what you will about Stoker–and there’s plenty negative that could be said–I thought it did an amazing job of achieving a very specific, deliciously chilling tone. From the cinematography to the music to the very similar styles of not-quite-realistic acting, it was never less than true to its vision. That’s rare these days, when more than a few movies can’t resist giving in to cliches or gimmicks.
The Steel Remains & The Cold Commands, Richard K. Morgan. For pure fantasy / sci-fi, these were fabulous, with the added bonus that they subvert sci-fi norms by featuring gay characters. Not for the squeamish–the sex and the violence are pretty graphic–but I adored them.
Seraphina, Rachel Hartman. Another beautiful work of fantasy that features a delightfully prickly and realistic female heroine. The formula might seem old–dragons, princes, court intrigue–but it feels very new.
Kindred, Octavia Butler. Octavia Butler’s story of a black woman who is forcibly transported back in time every few hours / days / weeks to a plantation in the 19th century is a harrowing look at slavery.
A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn. Admittedly I still haven’t finished this one, it’s taken me like six months to read. But it’s not the sort of thing you flip through. One of those books that I’d been promising to read for a long time, and that really everyone should read. It’ll probably get its own post eventually.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. As I wrote before, it reads like great science fiction. It makes you kind of queasy to realize that it’s not.
The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing, Taylor Larimor, Mel Lindauer, Michael LeBoeuf, and John C. Bogle. If you’re thinking about saving for that (maybe not so) distant day when you’re old and feeble, or if you just want to re-think your relationship with money, spending, and saving, this no-nonsense book is great. There are no gimmicks, no get-rich-quick schemes, no selling of particular brands, just simple advice.
Colin Dickey’s Zone of Wasteage: An Arctic Journal, June 2013. Sorry, not available to the general public, only to those who funded the Kickstarter project–which is a shame, because it’s great!
Jerusalem. This cookbook made my year and made me re-discover why cookbooks (over online recipes) can be a wonderful thing. Fattoush is probably still my favorite go-to recipe, but I also love the lamb meatballs with figs, zucchini burgers with yogurt-sumac sauce, and lamb stew with white beans.
Beijing food. If I go back to Beijing anytime soon it’ll be for two things: the Great Wall and the food. Peking duck, loofah leaves, giant fifty-cent steamed pork buns, sweet and savory pastries from Uighur food stalls…I want more now.
Rainbow burritos. Oh thank heaven for this little piece of California in Shinjuku-nichome.
This time-lapse map of every nuclear explosion since 1945. This one is really haunting.
The 17 best failed tv shows of the 80s. It’s kind of embarrassing how much I loved this.
The Village Voice’s chilling story of how R Kelly is essentially a serial sexual predator who’s never been punished…and nobody seems to care.
Retro Report–fascinating new perspectives on old news stories.
The Extroardinary Science of Addictive Junk Food You will never look at Lunchables the same way again.
There was a bunch of other stuff I wanted to include–scary animals, positive news events–but this thing’s already pretty long, so I’ll just leave it there. Happy 2014!
writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)
tales of travel, research, and life
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