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My Top Ten Media List for 2001

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.

Reader comments

Mike DavisJan 07, 2002 at 2:42AM

Given #9, I highly suggest Creation: Life and How to Make It by Steve Grand, who started the Creatures alife game series. It covers some interesting ground, and really provides a decent starting point for experimenting with alife.

grabbingsandJan 07, 2002 at 8:55AM

a day or two after i compiled my top ten movies of 2001 (not an easy task, considering all), i remembered another film from last year that struck me sweeter than the rest.

happy accidents. no release dates for VHS or DVD, but when it resurfaces, if it resurfaces, find it. a beautiful little story that testifies to the power of love in a way that the sap of k-pax and the bad physics of kate & leopold couldn't.

bruceJan 07, 2002 at 11:41AM

Too much of a good thing - Aged Balsamic Vinegar:
In one of my former lives, I was a buyer at a free-spending dot-com that sold gourmet foods. When it went down the tubes, I managed to "sample" about six bottles of aged balsamic. With only one left now, having used them on just about everything imaginable...foie gras, strawberries, BBQ's peaches, poached chicken. There is hope though - just purchase some inexpensive run-of-the-mill balsamic vinegar. Pour the entire bottle into a sauce pan, set the heat to low, and let it simmer and reduce by half. You end up with a thick, unctuous sauce that is almost as good as the real thing. Bon Appetit!

BenJan 07, 2002 at 11:45AM

"Let's Bowl" isn't on the list? Burn.

mozJan 07, 2002 at 12:09PM

the royal tenenbaums deserved a spot, if only for the adidas jumpsuits.

smartJan 07, 2002 at 1:49PM

This isn't really about today's post, but the one on Jan. 4th -- I too would like to pronounced plaid "played." I hate when people correct me, it's so annoying.

dlsJan 07, 2002 at 2:52PM

Fast Food Nation is all the way down at number 11? Shame on you, Mr. Kottke.

jkottkeJan 07, 2002 at 3:30PM

I wish I could give a spot to The Royal Tenenbaums, but I haven't seen it yet.

Two more tied for 11ths: Let's Bowl and Monster's Inc. I enjoyed Monster's Inc. more than any other movie last year, I think. Good fun and less in-jokey than Shrek.

psispazJan 07, 2002 at 5:25PM

You mean the Cinnamon Challenge 2001 didn't make even spot 11? That was some quality stuff!

MarkJan 07, 2002 at 6:48PM

Is Let's Bowl canceled? I haven't seen it on lately.

Insomniac with Dave Atel is another new Comedy Central show that's hilarious. It just got moved up to primetime.

AmyJan 07, 2002 at 7:17PM

I'd add the release of the Godfather on DVD -- finally! And Ryan Adams's CD Gold. But mostly the Godfather on DVD, mainly for hearing Coppola prattle on in the director's commentary.

Royal Tenenbaums: Kicked. Ass. Hard.

jkottkeJan 07, 2002 at 7:31PM

You're right, Amy...the Godfather DVDs should be on the list. Another tied for 11th entry: the director's cut of Das Boot.

Ani MollerJan 07, 2002 at 9:22PM

I saw The Royal Tenenbaums last night and I enjoyed it very much. Yep.

JacobJan 07, 2002 at 10:07PM

If you like David Foster Wallace, you should try reading _Brief Interviews With Hidious Men_ - it's a collection of short stories which is, in a word, genius.

(On the list of top ten moments in my life is when Wallace came to my 18-person fiction writing class to read and discuss portions of that book)

christopherJan 08, 2002 at 11:52AM

Love the site. Been reading you for the last couple years. I bought Jimmy Corrigan on your recommendation (even through your Amazon link, I believe). While I found the work to be extraordinarily crafted, the pervasive sense of despair led me to put it down about halfway through. I'm not too much of a weenie film-wise or reading-wise, but something about this book really unnerves me. Of course, that thing may be the very reason others are intrigued by it. I'll have to pick it up again after I finish The Anubis Gates.

sarahJan 09, 2002 at 6:52PM

Re: D. F. Wallace
I agree with Jacob in recommending his short stories, especially Girl With Curious Hair. Regarding Infinite Jest, just because it's difficult to read doesn't make it better. As I heard someone say about P. T. Anderson, pseudo-complexity does not equal brilliance. I prefer Wallace's short works.

chrisJan 10, 2002 at 4:06PM

You haven't seen Amelie? Best movie of the year, in my book...

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.