My 2011 Utterly Arbitrary Best in Reads, Reels and Records

Well, it’s another year gone. Another list of January goals reduced to a heaping pile of ha-has, mixed in with some victories big and small and, in retrospect, 12 solid, satisfying months. Yes, as Old Blue Eyes once sang so sweetly, it was a very good year.

The end of December is when I skim through my book journal (Yes, I have one. Shut up), scroll through iTunes and – new this year – pull up our house’s Netflix catalog for the reads, listens and movies that meant the most to me in 2011. Most were not, in fact, released in 2011.

Onward!

All things being said of a great 2011, it was a bad year for reading. Not nearly as much time to read this year and the majority of books I did manage to finish were merely so-so or, in the case of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”, about as enjoyable as passing Skittle-sized kidney stones. (As for the lone “new” book: allow me to state for the record that, despite receiving literary fellatio from countless periodicals — except from the NYT’s Book Review, strangely — Murakami’s “1Q84” is so incredibly, tragically, epically dull.)

On to the books:

#1                          #2                       #3                         #4                      #5

“Atlas Shrugged” is the hands-down winner. Epic, philosophical, poignant, eye-opening, wrist-splitting, all of those things. This was my second read through “Underworld” and enjoyed it more so the second time around. Delillo still occupies the top spot as my favorite author, and his 1998 novel, walking through 50 years of Cold-War era America, is simply put a staggering piece of art. “Malcolm X: Life of Reinvention” provides insight into the complexity and brilliance of a man most know through his seminal autobiography. A hard look – flaws and all – at an influential American orator, writer and leader. “The Imperfectionists”, a book for any print journalist, a novel consisting of 10 or so newspaper men and women of varying levels of proficiency and tact, struggling to find their way at a fading newspaper. “Homer and Langley”, a short book about two reclusive brothers living in downtown NYC, who try their best to shut out a changing America and fail.

Films. We’ll keep this brief.

     #1                          #2                         #3                          #4                       #5

1. Sarah’s Key 2. The King’s Speech 3. Social Network 4. Get Low 5. Biutiful

Music. It’s always a good year for tune-age. With so many bands hawking records, it’s never been easier for the casual music fan to sit back and let the best records float to the surface.

I remember as a teenager scouring mp3.com (anybody remember those days?) for unknown pop-punk bands. Those days are long gone. Technology changed, and so did my priorities. Today, I do little searching; great records – and the buzz that precedes them – find me. A couple of the newer records on this list, for instance, were placed in my hands by friends who insisted that I give it a listen. Bon Iver, Joy Formidable, Justin Townes Earle, M83 were records that friends (sometimes persistently) threw into my lap.

1. Bon Iver s/t – beautifully done. “Perth” is song of the year. 2. Refused “The Shape of Punk to Come” – Bratty, pissed-off hardcore. Timeless. 3. Justin Townes Earle “Harlem River Blues” – simple songs with strong melodies. The title track is classic. 4. The National “Alligator” – Gave this record some serious time this year. This band’s catalog is just stellar. 5. John Coltrane “Blue Train” – great dinner-making music, and the lady and I made plenty of dinners. Also made for smooth, trying-to-meet-deadline-on-this-f@%ing-school-board story. 6. M83 “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” – epic Euro electro-pop. This was my “I Wouldn’t Have Enjoyed This 5 Years Ago” Record of the Year. 7. Ryan Adams “Easy Tiger” – this was Year 2 of delving deeper into Adams’s stuff. At this rate, I should get to his newest record sometime in 2025. 8. Joy Formidable “The Big Roar” – I was hooked after “Whirring”. Loud guitar rock that’s not afraid to get a little shoe-gazy. Enjoyed this immensely. 9. Fleet Foxes “Helplessness Blues” – for a record that sounds so beautiful, it just doesn’t grab me. I’m baffled by this. Still, a few phenomenal songs on here. 10. Wu-Tang Clan “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)” – I listened to Wu’s debut for six months while applying for jobs. I owe them.

Honorable mentions: Miles Davis “Birth of the Cool”, Radiohead “Hail to the Thief”, Sam Cooke “Definitive Collection”.

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