In no particular order, these are some favorite things that I watched, ate, saw, attended, etc. during the year 2001:
1. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware. I know I said these were in no particular order, but Jimmy Corrigan was my absolute favorite thing from the past year, deserving of Nobel Prizes, Pulitzers, and any other literary prizes people bestow upon things these days. Moving, meticulous, graphically rich, exacting, retrospective; it hit all of my buttons three or four times, right in the middle.
2. Radiohead concert, Oxford, UK, July 7. Through a series of happy coincidences, I got to see Radiohead in a rare hometown show *and* then got to hang out at the band’s afterparty. The concert was awesome; they even played Creep for the first time in years as a third encore in the pouring rain for 40,000 screaming fans. On the 4am bus ride back to London to catch my 8am flight at Heathrow, I sat staring out the window at the English countryside, smiling and tired, that sort of smiling and tired you only feel after you’ve experienced once-in-a-lifetime experiences because you’re so glad and thankful not to have missed it.
3. Letters to Wendy’s by Joe Wenderoth. A friend of mine showed me some excerpts from this book in Harper’s magazine, figuring (correctly) that I would be into it. I purchased the book pretty much right away after that, and read it on the way to/from work over the course of a few days. Laugh, turn the page. Laugh even harder, turn the page. Put book down cause I’m laughing so hard that I physically cannot read anymore. Repeat.
4. Machu Picchu, Minneapolis, MN, July 28. Machu Picchu is this little Peruvian restaurant in Minneapolis that no one really knows about but is my favorite restaurant of all time. When I went back to Mpls. to visit some friends and family last summer, a few of us went there for dinner. I don’t know what it was exactly, but the food was better than ever that night. I had dinner at a lot of nice restaurants in 2001, but that meal beat them all soundly.
5. The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory by Brian Greene. I read a lot of great science books this year, and The Elegant Universe sticks out as the best. The first half of the book explains the principles of modern physics and quantum mechanics so clearly that just about anyone can understand them, which, having read many books and textbooks on the subject, is no small feat. I hope Greene continues to write such clearly written books about science.
6. David Foster Wallace. 2001 was my year to discover David Foster Wallace. He was probably old hat to many of you, but he was brand spanking new to me. In making this list, I couldn’t decide on a favorite piece of his: A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, Infinite Jest, his Tense Present from Harper’s, or his 9/11 article The View from Mrs. Thompson’s in Rolling Stone magazine. Infinite Jest was probably the best of the bunch since I didn’t understand a lot of it, but my favorite was A Supposedly Fun Thing…; it made me laugh and think at the same time.
7. Iron Chef. As with DFW, I was relatively late in discovering Iron Chef, but it quickly became one of my favorite things to watch on TV. I’m not exactly sure what it is about the program that I like so much, but it’s been months since I first watched it, and there are no signs of my enjoyment of it letting up anytime soon.
8. Vanilla ice cream with aged balsamic vinegar, Acquerello, San Francisco, CA, June 20. Aged balsamic vinegar is amazing. It’s one of those foods you never see because it’s somewhat expensive, like the more well-known foie gras, truffles, or caviar. It also tastes a lot like concentrated maple syrup, as if the potency of unconcentrated maple syrup isn’t enough to melt your teeth. Best. Dessert. Ever.
9. Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software by Steven Johnson. Johnson’s book doesn’t cover a whole lot of new ground (what does these days?), but it ties several things together and gives the reader plenty to chew on. The most thought-provoking book I read all year.
10. The Louvre. There’s not a whole lot I can say about the Louvre; it’s all been said already elsewhere by many more articulate than I (or is it “me”?). Almost more impressive than the collection is the building itself. Almost.
Tied for 11th: List magazine, Charles Rogier XI B&B in Antwerp, the whole Las Vegas experience, Absolute Powerpoint by Ian Parker, Fast Food Nation, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, first class to/from Paris on American Airlines, Peopleware, Amnesiac by Radiohead, The Mythical Man Month, The Great Bear, Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, The Best American Science Writing 2001, Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey at the Castro, Agaetis Byrjun by Sigur Ros, and The Social Life of Information.
There are no first-run movies on list…nothing I saw last year was that good or seat-shakingly entertaining. The list contains nothing from the Web either, which is odd considering I spend about 1/2 of my waking life glued to my computer. No individual thing on the Web grabbed me as that significant or interesting; the Web is more of a slow burn for me, I guess. Either that or I don’t consider it to be media…something more useful maybe (whatever that means).
Note: The definition I’m using for “media” is quite loose and basically includes anything that was prepared or manufactured for an audience (movies, books, magazines, restaurants, concerts, museums, theatre, Web sites, music, &c.). Some of the items on the list were not published or produced in 2001, but I really don’t care.
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