I’m an unabashed fan of end-of-year lists of the best shit of any given year, and of holiday gift guides. As such, I’ve decided to create my own, not because you care (because you definitely don’t), but because I think it’s important to support excellent work.
- This is How You Lose Her - Junot Diaz: A collection of nine short stories (similar to Drown) focused on everyone’s favorite chauvinist, Yunior, whom you should know by now if you’ve ever read anything from Diaz. Also of note, Junot Diaz’ skills in describing the female body are unparalleled.
- Narcopolis – Jeet Thayil: A really beautifully written, and smart, novel about drug addiction, vice and life in Mumbai.
- The Twelve - Justin Cronin: The second book in Cronin’s dystopic The Passage trilogy. It’s just good.
- Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles and the Greatest Basketball Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever - Jack McCallum: Okay, yeah, that’s a really, really long subtitle, but it’s also the definitive book on the greatest collection of stars in the history of professional sports. An absolute must read for any basketball fan.
- Out of My League: A Rookie’s Survival in the Bigs - Dirk Hayhurst: Anyone who follows Hay on Twitter knows that he’s both smart and funny, but anyone who has read his first book The Bullpen Gospels can also tell you that he’s one hell of a writer. While The Bullpen Gospels focuses on life in the minor leagues, its follow-up, Out of My League, shows the struggle of balancing a playing career with a personal life and the difficulties of getting to, and staying in, the Major Leagues.
- The Hall of Nearly Great – eds. Sky Kalkman and Marc Normandin:A collection of essays about your favorite baseball players, by your favorite baseball writers. The essays feature a motley crew of players who have been overlooked by the Hall of Fame, and have retired into relative obscurity, but who were too good to have been forgotten. (Players include: David Cone, Bernie Williams, Don Mattingly, Keith Hernandez, Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Lenny Dykstra, and Dale Murphy, among so many more. Writers include: Joe Posnanski, Will Leitch, Jonah Keri, Jeff Passan, Jay Jaffe, Emma Span, Rob Neyer, Jonathan Bernhardt, Carson Cistulli, Old Hoss Radbourn, and many, many, many more talented individuals. You can also find my name in there as one of Sky and Marc’s original Kickstarter backers.) [e-book only.]
- Paterno - Joe Posnanski: I’m not sure any biographer had a more difficult task than Posnanski as the Sandusky scandal and Paterno’s death occurred as he was writing the book. All things considered, Posnanski still wrote an incredible account of the life of the one time saint, and now controversial figure.
- The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever – Alan Sepinwall: If you’re familiar with the author’s name, then you know he’s one of the best TV writers around right now. His self-published book on the revolution of TV drama (centered around twelve specific dramas, including The Wire, The Sopranos, 24, Lost, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men and Breaking Bad) is an entertaining read. It’s also nice to support someone self-publishing something which is actually good.
- Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace – D.T. Max: Max has written some of the best pieces on David Foster Wallace since his death, so it was only proper that he write the definitive biography on, perhaps, the most tragic figure in modern literature. (You’ll also sense a recurring DFW theme in this section.)
- Mortality – Christopher Hitchens: A brutally honest and incredibly poignant collection of essays (previously published in Vanity Fair) from the late Christopher Hitchens as he was dying of cancer. A short and quick read (only a little over 100 pages), but excellent, nonetheless.
- Farther Away – Jonathan Franzen: Father Away is a collection of essays on a wide range of topics from bird watching in Cyprus, to environmentalism and economics in modern China, to Franzen’s beautiful struggle in accepting his friend David Foster Wallace’s suicide.
- My Heart is an Idiot - Davy Rothbart: Yes, another collection of essays, but, this time, on love. Like Joel in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”), Rothbart consistently finds himself falling helplessly in love, over and over again.
- Paterno - Joe Posnanski: See above.
- Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16 - Moshe Kasher: A fast-paced and well written memoir from comedian (and co-host of the hilarious Champs podcast) Moshe Kasher. As the title would suggest, Kasher lived a more ridiculous life by the age of 16 than anyone could imagine. Just a really good, really funny memoir.
- Both Flesh and Not - David Foster Wallace: A posthumous collection of previously published DFW essays on topics ranging from tennis, to writing, to Terminator 2. It’s safe to say it’s not the greatest collection of his works, but Wallace on his worst day is better than 99.99% of the world.
- Diaries - George Orwell:A publication of George Orwell’s personal diaries. Maybe not the most fascinating thing you’ll read all year (he really, really loved gardening), but if you believe that Orwell was ahead of his time, quotes such the following will provide you with confirmation: “Apparently nothing will ever teach these people [the rich] that the other 99 percent of the population exist.”
- Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity - Katherine Boo: A tragic and affecting, and beautifully written, story about the families struggling in the slums of Mumbai. It was easily my favorite book of the year, and is a must read for everyone, but especially for Indian-Americans.
- Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy - Chris Hayes: Much like his Saturday/Sunday morning show, Up with Chris Hayes, is the smartest show on television, this is probably the smartest book you’ll read all year. Hayes provides an interesting, thought provoking takedown of the American meritocratic structure, and how we can fix it.
- The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity – Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy: A fascinating history of the relationships forged between American presidents – past, present, and (sometimes) future – and the support they provided one another through decades of American crises.
- The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t – Nate Silver: Nobody had a better election night than Nate Silver. This is why. Silver’s manifesto doesn’t just analyze politics and baseball, but also economics, natural disasters, poker and other institutions in which proper predictive and projective abilities could have significant consequences.
- Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power – Rachel Maddow: A smart and detailed review of the expansion of the American Military Industrial Complex, and how the American people – aided by their growing distance from the front lines of war – have become somewhat anesthetized to our state of perpetual war.
- 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars – Kurt Eichenwald: A well researched, well written account of the failures, lies, and deceptions of the Bush administration in the first 18 months of the post-9/11 era.
- Why Romney Lost (And What the GOP Can Do About It)- David Frum: Somehow published just two days after the election (which makes you wonder how early he actually started writing it). Frum remains one of the few conservative talking heads with a shred a credibility, and provides and interesting read if you’re curious as to what lies ahead for the Republican Party (and you should be). [e-book only.]
- Channel Orange – Frank Ocean
- Good Kid, M.A.A.D City – Kendrick Lamar
- Celebration Rock - Japandroids
- Kaleidoscope Dream – Miguel
- The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do – Fiona Apple
- Gossamer – Passion Pit
- Interstellar - Frankie Rose
- Shields – Grizzly Bear
- Echoes of Silence - The Weeknd
- Until the Quiet Comes - Flying Lotus
- Coexist – The xx
- The Man with the Iron Fists Original Soundtrack - RZA
Honorable Mention: Cruel Summer – G.O.O.D. Music; A Dream Deferred – Skyzoo; Live from the Underground – Big K.R.I.T; Cancer4Cure – El-P; R.A.P. Music – Killer Mike; TNGHT – TNGHT; Life is Good – Nas; Food & Liquor II – Lupe Fiasco; Wrecking Ball – Bruce Springsteen; Reign of Terror – Sleigh Bells; Total Loss - How to Dress Well; Centipede Hz – Animal Collective; Sun - Cat Power; Rich Forever, The Black Bar Mitzvah, and God Forgives, I Don’t – Rick Ross; Habits & Contradictions - Schoolboy Q; Control System - Ab-Soul.
(Full disclosure: I didn’t see many movies, or watch much TV, this year. Also, TV shows are new TV shows, so shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Louie or Homeland won’t show up here.)
- Argo - If Ben Affleck isn’t one of the five or ten best directors alive, I’m not sure who is. If I had one issue with Argo it was the stupid voice-over introduction about the history of Iran, it just felt dumbed-down: either place words on a black screen, or assume your target-audience is smart enough to know the basics surrounding the 1979 Revolution and hostage crisis.
- Lincoln- The first Spielberg movie I’ve loved in a long time. Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible as Abraham Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens is superb. (Related: if you enjoyed the movie [or just really like Abraham Lincoln], Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s incredible book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, remains one of my favorites. It also happens to be one of the main reasons why President Obama nominated Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.)
- The Master- If Paul Thomas Anderson directs a movie, you watch it. End of story.
- The Dark Knight Rises - Maybe it wasn’t as great as The Dark Knight, but it was still pretty damn good.
- 21 Jump Street - Easily the funniest movie of the year, in what has actually been a weak year for comedies.
- The Other Dream Team: This summer everyone in basketball focused on the 20th anniversary of the Dream Team, but the 1992 Lithuanian national team, in the wake of their independence from Soviet rule, was an incredible story.
- Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory: The third installment in the Paradise Lost series of documentaries on the West Memphis Three. If you don’t know who they are, then I suggest you start from the beginning.
- Tahrir: Liberation Square: An excellent chronicle of the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
- Up with Chris Hayes: Okay, so I’m cheating a little bit here since it first aired in late-2011, but this is easily the smartest four hours of television each week.
- Girls: Is it me, or is Lena Dunham’s show the Louie of a different generation?
- The Newsroom: Sure, it’s incredibly corny and idealistic at times (okay, all the time), but I’m a sucker for Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue.
- Tig Notaro: Live (that’s a verb, not an adjective): Recorded just days after being diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer, Notaro performs one of the most legendary 30-minute sets in stand-up history.
- My Samsung Chromebook: 90% of the MacBook Air for 25% of the price. I’ll never understand why average people – folks who don’t do any movie, photo or sound editing – spend thousands of dollars on MacBooks when you can buy both a Chromebook and a tablet to do the same job, with greater versatility, for a fraction of the cost.
- Pocket app for iOS and Chrome: Saves webpages, articles, videos, pictures and everything else on the Internet so you can view them at your own leisure. It’s Instapaper, but more functional, and it has, honestly, changed the way I use the web. For the better.
- Sports on Earth: Between Joe Posnanski’s writing and Will Leitch’s column on sports media (along with so many other great writers) SoE has become an instant must-read during my daily Internet routines.
- The Louie/Lincoln sketch:
- Cold Pastoral and The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan (R.I.P.).
- Drew Magary’s hilarious profile of Justin Bieber for GQ.
- Jeremy Lin.
- Roger Sterling Dropping Acid with Timothy Leary:
- Oral Histories: The Malice at the Palace, The Wire, Friends, The Sopranos, the Dream Team, WFAN, the 1980′s Houston Rockets, Freaks and Geeks.
- The really schizophrenic Olympics opening ceremony directed by Danny Boyle: this was a really, really fun night to be on Twitter.
- The day the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act was announced: you could practically hear Aaron Sorkin typing this episode of Newsroom frantically.
- LeBron’s first championship, and the new golden era of the NBA: have there ever been this many Hall-of-Fame-caliber talents in the league at one time? Ten years ago I preferred the college game to the NBA, but now it’s not even close.
- Hot Cheetos and Takis:
- The crazy adventures of Cory Booker: he saved a woman from a fire and had to be treated at the hospital, he invited Newarkers without power into his home after Sandy, and now he’s living off of food stamps for one week. He’s like the political version of David Blaine.
- “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” as performed by DMX.
- Mike Trout and Bryce Harper: If they can stay healthy, we’re going to be watching these two for the next 15 years, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. A lot of people are calling them baseball’s Magic and Larry, I’d rather say they’re the new Jeter and A-Rod: one’s a little cocky and polarizing, the other just plays.
- The Verge: Quickly becoming one of the best, if not the best, tech site on the web. If you’re ever looking for a review of a new gadget, this should be your first stop.
- The Disappeared - Salman Rushdie: I never got around to reading Salman Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton, but I did read the abridged version which was published in The New Yorker and thought it was amazing.
- Obama’s Way - Michael Lewis: Probably the best, most extensive, longform piece on Barack Obama since he’s become the president.
- Unmasking Reddit’s Violentacrez, the Biggest Troll on the Web – Adrian Chen: The Internet, more than anything else in this world, is the perfect representation of the human race. For the most part, it provides a sense of community and everyone plays nice, then there are scumbags like Violentacrez.
- Frank Ocean’s open letter.
- First responders: after Sandy, and Newtown, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and everywhere affected by tragedies and atrocities this year.
- The re-election of President Barack Obama.
- And finally: Everyone who has read or supported my shitty blog this year: friends, family and complete strangers. Your kind words, and constructive criticisms inspire me every day.