Annual Best Of

A few notable diversions from the past year that provided provocation or enjoyment.

Annual Best Of

2020

Books
Barry Lopez, Horizon (2019)
James Nestor, Breath  (2020)
Khyentse Norbu, What Makes You Not a Buddhist  (2007)
Carlo Rovelli, Reality Is Not What It Seems  (2014)
Bill Browder, Red Notice  (2015)

Movies
My Octopus Teacher (2020)
The Outpost (2019)
On the Rocks (2020)
The Gentleman (2019)
Contratiempo / The Invisible Guest (2015)

Series
Giri / Haji (2020)
Zero Zero Zero (2019)
The Undoing (2020)
Barry (2018)
Money Heist – Season 1  (2017) (in Spanish)

Music
Mac Miller, Circles  (2020)
Taylor Swift, folklore: the long pond sessions  (2020)
Tom Misch, What Kinda Music  (2020)
Caribou, Suddenly  (2020)
MorMor, Some Place Else  (2019)

Articles
Jon Sindreu. “Don’t Try to Prepare for the Next Black Swan. You Can’t,” Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2020 (“The nature of uncertainty is that investors will never know ahead of time whether they should hedge more. Nor will companies. Global airlines had enough cash to survive three months without income, which would have been enough to navigate most crises that didn’t involve an unprecedented 70% fall in air traffic. Even if their buffers were multiplied by 10 it might not be enough for the next pandemic. So how should investors and officials take uncertainty into account? Individually, weak companies should indeed be encouraged to hold more cash. For industries as a whole, however, the strength of public institutions is what matters.’)

James Wood, “Creating God,” The New Yorker, November 9, 2020 (“What was unsettling to the child, in other words, was probably what was so exciting to the adult convert: the drama of transferred authority. The believing adult, pulled toward the commanding Christ, felt the divine power of God’s call, and the divinely inspired power of the pastors and the elders who voiced that call: You must change your life. But the unbelieving or skeptical child, with no great desire to change his life, felt abandoned by those who should have been in charge, and wondered furtively at the authority of that divine command. Who was this God, this Jesus, this Holy Spirit? If he didn’t exist, then Sunday morning was a mass sickness, nothing more than the contagion of hallucination.”)

Adam Gopnik, “Coming Home,” The New Yorker, November 16, 2020 (“‘You know, I just want to come back to something that the brother was saying before,” he said. “About how you have to hit bottom to come back up. Now, I don’t believe that’s true. What’s bottom? Where’s bottom? How do you know you’ve hit bottom? There may be a bottom below the bottom you’ve hit already! There may be a thousand bottoms you could hit if you let yourself. So—say that this, wherever you are, is your bottom. You’re going to declare that it’s as low as you’re going to let yourself go. Then come back up. Don’t wait to hit bottom before you start working your way back up. Call this bottom the bottom.’”)

Joshua Rothman, “In Another Life,” The New Yorker, December 21, 2020 (“It’s likely, Miller thinks, that capitalism, “with its isolation of individuals and its accelerating generation of choices and chances,” has increased the number of our unlived lives. “The elevation of choice as an absolute good, the experience of chance as a strange affront, the increasing number of exciting, stultifying decisions we must make, the review of the past to improve future outcomes”—all these “feed the people we’re not.”…The nature of work deepens the problem. “Unlike the agricultural and industrial societies that preceded it,” Miller writes, our “professional society” is “made up of specialized careers, ladders of achievement.” You make your choice, forgoing others: year by year, you “clamber up into your future,” thinking back on the ladders unclimbed.”)

Anna Weiner, “Is Substack the Media Future We Want?,” New Yorker, December 28, 2020 (“The great journalistic totems of the last century are dying. News organizations—and other entities that masquerade as them—are turning to increasingly desperate measures for survival. And so we have content farms, clickbait, listicles, inane but viral debates over optical illusions, and a “fake news” epidemic. Just as damaging is that, in the eyes of consumers, journalistic content has lost much of its perceived value—especially as measured in dollars…The subscription-based news industry, the founders speculated, could someday ‘be much larger than the newspaper business ever was, much like the ride-hailing industry in San Francisco is bigger than the taxi industry was before Lyft and Uber.’”)

Quotes:
Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses. —Alphonse Karr

The challenge in addressing the utility of our dreams is not whether to reject them outright in an effort to privilege the sort of logical truth the rational mind offers us. It’s to picture a conversation between imagination and intellect, one that might produce an advantageous vision, one the intellect itself cannot discern and which the imagination alone is not able to create. —Barry H. Lopez, Horizon

Einstein said the arrow of time flies in only one direction. Faulkner, being from Mississippi, understood the matter differently. He said the past is never dead; it’s not even past. All of us labor in webs spun long before we were born, webs of heredity and environment, of desire and consequence, of history and eternity. Haunted by wrong turns and roads not taken, we pursue images perceived as new but whose provenance dates to the dim dramas of childhood, which are themselves but ripples of consequence echoing down the generations. The quotidian demands of life distract from this resonance of images and events, but some of us feel it always. And who among us, offered the chance, would not relive the day or hour in which we first knew love, or ecstasy, or made a choice that forever altered our future, negating a life we might have had?  Such chances are rarely granted.  Memory and grief prove Faulkner right enough, but Einstein knew the finality of action.  If I cannot change what I had for lunch yesterday, I certainly cannot unmake a marriage, erase the betrayal of a friend, or board a ship that left port twenty years ago.  And yet… today I am granted such a chance
—Greg Iles, The Quiet Game (quoting William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun)