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The Best Opening Title Sequences of 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2023

The Art of the Title, Print magazine, Slashfilm, and Salon have each compiled their picks for the best film and TV opening title sequences for 2022. There’s quite a bit of overlap, with the opening titles for Severance (which I added to the Unskippable Intros Hall of Fame earlier this year), The White Lotus, Peacemaker, and Pachinko making multiple lists. I haven’t seen After Yang yet, but I love that title sequence. Always a fan of lots of creativity and expression packed into small times and spaces.

The 25 Best Films of 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 09, 2023

It’s here, it’s here! David Erhlich’s annual 25 best films of the year video for 2022 is here. Every year around this time, I get a little down about the movies. There’s nothing to seeeeee… And then I watch Erhlich’s 17-minute love letter to cinema and I want to see ever-ry-thing. The only complaint I have is that Everything Everywhere All at Once is not rated highly enough (a respectable #3 but not #1).

Erhlich has been doing these recaps since 2012 — you can find them all here or almost all of them at kottke.org with my commentary.

The Best Movie Posters of 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2023

movie poster for Everything Everywhere All at Once

movie poster for Fire of Love

movie poster for White Noise

movie poster for The Act of Coming Out

movie poster for Pinocchio

movie poster for Tár

movie poster for Everything Everywhere All at Once

movie poster for Corsage

movie poster for White Noise

It feels weird to admit this, even to myself, but maybe I love movie poster design even more than I love book cover design. After running across Daniel Benneworth-Gray’s list of his favorite movie posters of 2022 (via his newsletter), I found some more best-of lists — Mubi, Indiewire, Collider, The Playlist, First Showing, The Film Stage — and selected a few of my favorites to include here. I couldn’t decide between the different versions of the posters for White Noise and Everything Everywhere All at Once, so I included both of each. *shrug*

Some Wonderful Things From 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 30, 2022

looking out over the Atlantic Ocean

As 2022 recedes into the rearview mirror, I took some time to go back over my media diet posts to pick out some books, movies, TV shows, and experiences from the past year that were especially wonderful. Enjoy.

Everything Everywhere All at Once. I’ve seen this a few times now and I still don’t know how the filmmakers pulled this off. A chaotic martial arts action comedy romance multiverse movie with heart? It is a miracle of a film. Definitely my favorite movie of the year and probably in the past 2-3 years.

Glass Onion. I don’t know, maybe this shouldn’t be here because I just watched it the other day, but whatever. This movie is fun. Janelle Monáe and Blanc’s bathing costume were the highlights for me.

Fortnite. The one thing I worked on more than almost anything else during my sabbatical was my Fortnite skills. My kids play and I wanted to join them, so that we could have an activity to do as a family, one that was on their turf and not mine. I’m still not great at it, but I’m more than competent now and it’s been a great addition to our routine.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. Seeing this painting in person is a whole other deal. I think I stood in front of it for a good 10 minutes and then circled back later for another look.

Station Eleven. You can see the ending of this coming a mile away and it still caught me by surprise when it happened. I didn’t think I wanted to watch a TV show about a flu pandemic causing the end of civilization, but it was actually perfect.

Severance. It’s comforting to know that TV shows on these massive streaming services can still be weird. I didn’t love this as much as many other people did, Severance did keep popping up in my thoughts in the months after I watched it.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. If you’ve ever worked on a creative project with someone and that collaborative frisson felt like the highlight of your life, this book might be right up your alley.

Tár. Cate Blanchett is just ridiculously good in this.

My Brilliant Friend. The most underrated show on television? This was so much better than a lot of other shows I kept seeing praised but not a lot of people seem to be talking about it.

Kimi. Soderbergh does Rear Window + The Conversation. The direction is always tight and Zoë Kravitz is great in this.

Middlemarch by George Eliot. By far the best thing I read during my sabbatical and an instant addition to my all-time favorites list. For whatever reason, I thought this was going to be stuffy liht-tra-chure but it turns out it’s hilarious? Almost every page had me laughing out loud. The writing is exquisite and Eliot’s observations about human behavior are still, 150 years on, remarkably astute. And there’s a scene near the end of the book that is almost cinematic — she painted such a vivid picture that it took my breath away (like, literally I was holding my breath).

Her Place. This Philly spot is getting a ton of attention and end-of-the-year kudos; it’s well-deserved. The food is great but it’s the casual family-style dinner-party vibe that really makes this place special. People will try to copy this concept — it’ll be interesting to see if they can do it as well.

The Lost Daughter. Based on an Elena Ferrante book and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, the acting and cinematography are the central strengths of this film. Olivia Colman & Jessie Buckley shine as an ambivalent mother at two different points in her life and the tight shots keep them smoldering the entire time.

Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman. Correctly lauded as a masterpiece.

Top Gun: Maverick. I was shocked at how much I liked this movie — a Top Gun sequel didn’t have any right to be this entertaining. Straight-up no-frills thrill ride that’s best on a big screen. Loved Val Kilmer’s scenes.

Matrix by Lauren Groff. I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what I liked so much about this book, but it has something to do with its surprising entrepreneurial bent, its feminist startup vibe. Groff’s Marie de France is one of my favorite characters of the year.

Bar Kismet. The type of place where you instantly feel like a regular. And with the ever-changing food and cocktail menus, you’ll want to become one.

Schitt’s Creek. I was worried that I wouldn’t jibe with the show’s humor — nothing worse than a comedy that isn’t funny — but it delivered so many laugh-out-loud moments that I lost count. The show really hits its stride after the first season or two when it makes you start caring about what happens to these annoying weirdos. I would have watched 10 seasons of this.

The Bear. Again, I didn’t love this as much as some others did, but my thoughts kept returning to it often.

Saap. When someone says a restaurant in Vermont is “good”, you always have to ask: “Is it actually good or just Vermont good?” Saap is great, period.

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. I don’t know how to think about the kind of stories that Chiang writes — they are simple and complex and deep and fantastical and familiar all at the same time. It’s the perfect kind of sci-fi for me.

The US and the Holocaust. Essential six-hour documentary series about how the United States responded (and failed to respond) to Nazi Germany’s persecution and murder of European Jews in the years before, during and after WWII. Another banger from Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. I can’t say that this book made me want to become obsessed with surfing, but maybe it made me want to become obsessed with something again. Beautifully written and personally resonant.

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe. All nonfiction books should aspire to be this compelling.

Mercado Little Spain. José Andrés’ Spanish version of Eataly. I’ve only been there a couple of times, but omg the food. The pan con tomate is the simplest imaginable dish — bread, tomato, olive oil, garlic, salt — but I could easily eat it every day.

Photo of the Atlantic Ocean taken by me on my trip to Portugal this summer.

36 Things I Learned in 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 29, 2022

Inspired by Tom Whitwell’s annual list (here is 2022’s), I kept a list of interesting things I learned this year. There are supposed to be 52 things but I took much of the year off so you’ll have to manage with only 36. Enjoy!

  1. For the first time in history in 2020, the weight of things produced by humans (concrete, metals, plastic) was greater than the weight of the global living biomass.
  2. “It is physically impossible to exceed the 70-pound domestic weight limit for a USPS small flat rate box.”
  3. There is a species of fish called “boops boops”.
  4. In a recent experiment by a Turkish farmer, outfitting his cows with VR goggles that simulate being in a pasture upped milk production by 2 gallons per cow per day.
  5. It’s “just deserts”, not “just desserts”.
  6. The Sun has only rotated approximately 20 times around the galactic center.
  7. Of the estimated 1,300,000 to 1,750,000 people sent to the death camps of Sobibór, Bełżec, and Treblinka by the Nazis, “perhaps not more than 150” of them ended up surviving the war. 150. Not 150,000. 150. (From The Holocaust: A New History by Laurence Rees)
  8. A new streaming version of Fight Club released in China changed the ending from Tyler successfully bombing a large city to him being caught by the authorities.
  9. An astounding statistic: approximately 1 out of every 70 Americans 65 years and older has died of Covid-19 in the past three years.
  10. You might be surprised to learn that the crossword puzzle wasn’t invented until 1913. I was even more shocked to learn that the word search puzzle first appeared in 1968.
  11. The burpee exercise was invented by Royal Huddleston Burpee Sr.
  12. The Mediterranean Sea mostly dried up for over 600,000 years but took less than 2 years to completely refill, often at rates of 30 feet per day, by a river moving 1000 times more water per day than the Amazon.
  13. “15% of the searches we see every day have never been Googled before.”
  14. The word “bear” is actually derived from a euphemism for the animal…we don’t know what the original name was.
  15. QR codes “sprang from a lunchtime game of Go more than a quarter of a century ago”.
  16. Abraham Lincoln is the only US president to hold a patent.
  17. Due to the chaotic nature of weather, accurate forecasts of more than 2 weeks are impossible.
  18. Cosmic latte is the average color of the universe.
  19. The silk of Darwin’s bark spiders is ten times stronger than kevlar.
  20. Because of the climate crisis (melting glaciers). Switzerland’s cartographers are having to redraw the country’s topological maps. “Only three cartographers at the agency [are] allowed to tinker with the Swiss Alps.”
  21. Warmlines are telephone/chat hotlines for people who aren’t in crisis but just need to vent or talk to someone.
  22. “Planning the Holocaust took all of 90 minutes.”
  23. “With the exception of a few native species that live in rotting logs and around wetlands, there are not supposed to be any earthworms east of the Great Plains and north of the Mason-Dixon Line.”
  24. A final score never seen before in NFL history is called a scorigami. There were 6 scorigamis in the 2021 season and a total of 1047 unique scores ever.
  25. Actually, it’s “E.E. Cummings” and not “e.e. cummings”.
  26. In a small 5-year study of basic income in Hudson, NY, “employment among the participants went from 29% to 63%” and they reported better health and personal relationships with others.
  27. In the 90s, Meat Loaf coached a JV girls softball team in a small Connecticut town. “To the scrappy group of girls he was trying to mold into softball players, he was Coach Meat.”
  28. The world’s coldest marathon is held in Yakutia, Siberia. 2022’s winner ran it in 3h 22m; the temperature was -53°C.
  29. In January 2022 in Norway, about 84% of new cars sold were EVs. That compares to 53% in Jan 2021.
  30. A 70s board game called The Campaign for North Africa takes around 1500 hours (~62 days) to complete.
  31. Saturn’s rings are disappearing. We only have another 300 million years to enjoy them.
  32. Wisconsin is home to a local delicacy called the cannibal sandwich (raw ground beef and raw onions, sandwiched between two pieces of bread).
  33. There are now 8 billion people in the world.
  34. Due to the lull in human activity, some birds changed their birdsong during the pandemic.
  35. The Pointer Sisters sang Sesame Street’s “Pinball Countdown” song. “One two three four five…six seven eight nine ten…eleven twelve.”
  36. Gun violence recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for American children. We’re now living in the era of the gun.”

You can check out last year’s list here.

The Best Headlines of 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 22, 2022

Paul Fairie has compiled a list of contenders for the best headline of 2022. They include:

‘How to Murder Your Husband’ writer guilty of murdering her husband

Started Out as a Fish. How Did It End Up Like This?

Monkey that was flushed down toilet, fed cocaine now has a boyfriend

The City of Ottawa wants to hear your garbage opinions

You can click through to see the rest and vote for the winners.

Life Lessons for 2023

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 21, 2022

Lessons from 2022 to bring into 2023

I liked Yung Pueblo’s list of life lessons from 2022 that he’s bringing into the new year. Pueblo’s bestselling Lighter: Let Go of the Past, Connect with the Present, and Expand the Future came out back in October.

P.S. Uhhh, why doesn’t Pueblo (aka Diego Perez) have a Wikipedia page? He’s written three bestselling books and has 2.4 million followers on Instagram.

The Best Book Covers of 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 16, 2022

cover for The Rabbit Hutch

cover for Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

cover for No Land in Sight

cover for Constructing a Nervous System

cover for Shit Cassandra Saw

cover for The Status Game

cover for Kiki Man Ray

cover for Cold Enough for Snow

cover for Pure Colour

The book cover is one of my all-time favorite design objects and a big part of the reason I love going to bookstores is to visually feast on new covers. I don’t keep an explicit list of my favorites from those trips, but there are definitely those that stick in my mind, covers that I’ll instantly recognize from across the room on subsequent trips.

I’ve spent the last few days rediscovering some of them (and finding new ones) on the end-of-the-year lists of the best covers of 2022. You can find some of 2022’s most wonderfully designed covers above; from top to bottom:

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty, designed by Linda Huang.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, designed by John Gall.
No Land in Sight by Charles Simic, designed by John Gall.
Constructing a Nervous System by Margo Jefferson, designed by Kelly Blair.
Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby, designed by Lydia Ortiz.
The Status Game by Will Storr, designed by Steve Leard.
Kiki Man Ray by Mark Braude, designed by Jaya Miceli.
Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au, designed by Janet Hansen.
Pure Colour by Sheila Heti, designed by Na Kim.

I’ve linked to each designer’s website above; I urge you to click through and check out some of their other work. You can find many more wonderful covers in the following places: The 103 Best Book Covers of 2022 (Literary Hub), The Best Book Covers of 2022 (NY Times), The Best Book Covers of 2022 (Fast Company), and Best Book Covers 2022 (Chicago Public Library). Literary Hub’s list is particularly good because the best covers are selected by other cover designers and presented with their commentary.

See also The Best Books of 2022 and my lists from past years: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

Note: When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. This year, I’m linking to Bookshop.org when I can but if you read on the Kindle or Bookshop is out of stock, you can try Amazon. Thanks for supporting the site!

The Best Books of 2022

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 09, 2022

Oh man, I read so many books during my time away from the site this summer — but barely made a dent in the towering pile of books I desired to read.1 Even so, I am excited to dig into the various end-of-year book lists to see what everyone else has been reading — and what I might add to my own pile for 2023.

As I’ve done for several years now, I went through many of these best-of lists and compiled a list of reads that appeared often or just looked interesting. And since I’m not doing a gift guide this year (sorry!), I will just note that great books make great holiday gifts. So here they are: (some of) the best books of the year.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (ebook) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

Sea of Tranquility

Sea of Tranquility (ebook) by Emily St. John Mandel.

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time travel, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

The Wok

The Wok: Recipes and Techniques (ebook) by J. Kenji López-Alt.

J. Kenji López-Alt’s debut cookbook, The Food Lab, revolutionized home cooking, selling more than half a million copies with its science-based approach to everyday foods. And for fast, fresh cooking for his family, there’s one pan López-Alt reaches for more than any other: the wok.

Whether stir-frying, deep frying, steaming, simmering, or braising, the wok is the most versatile pan in the kitchen. Once you master the basics — the mechanics of a stir-fry, and how to get smoky wok hei at home — you’re ready to cook home-style and restaurant-style dishes from across Asia and the United States, including Kung Pao Chicken, Pad Thai, and San Francisco-Style Garlic Noodles. López-Alt also breaks down the science behind beloved Beef Chow Fun, fried rice, dumplings, tempura vegetables or seafood, and dashi-simmered dishes.

The Candy House

The Candy House (ebook) by Jennifer Egan.

The Candy House opens with the staggeringly brilliant Bix Bouton, whose company, Mandala, is so successful that he is “one of those tech demi-gods with whom we’re all on a first name basis.” Bix is forty, with four kids, restless, and desperate for a new idea, when he stumbles into a conversation group, mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or “externalizing” memory. Within a decade, Bix’s new technology, “Own Your Unconscious” — which allows you access to every memory you’ve ever had, and to share your memories in exchange for access to the memories of others — has seduced multitudes.

Dilla Time

Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, the Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm (ebook) by Dan Charnas.

He wasn’t known to mainstream audiences, even though he worked with renowned acts like D’Angelo and Erykah Badu and influenced the music of superstars like Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. He died at the age of thirty-two, and in his lifetime he never had a pop hit. Yet since his death, J Dilla has become a demigod: revered by jazz musicians and rap icons from Robert Glasper to Kendrick Lamar; memorialized in symphonies and taught at universities. And at the core of this adulation is innovation: a new kind of musical time-feel that he created on a drum machine, but one that changed the way “traditional” musicians play.

Either/Or

Either/Or (ebook) by Elif Batuman.

Unfolding with the propulsive logic and intensity of youth, Either/Or is a landmark novel by one of our most brilliant writers. Hilarious, revelatory, and unforgettable, its gripping narrative will confront you with searching questions that persist long after the last page.

The Nineties

The Nineties (ebook) by Chuck Klosterman.

It was long ago, but not as long as it seems: The Berlin Wall fell and the Twin Towers collapsed. In between, one presidential election was allegedly decided by Ross Perot while another was plausibly decided by Ralph Nader. In the beginning, almost every name and address was listed in a phone book, and everyone answered their landlines because you didn’t know who it was. By the end, exposing someone’s address was an act of emotional violence, and nobody picked up their new cell phone if they didn’t know who it was. The 90s brought about a revolution in the human condition we’re still groping to understand. Happily, Chuck Klosterman is more than up to the job.

An Immense World

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us (ebook) by Ed Yong.

In An Immense World, Ed Yong coaxes us beyond the confines of our own senses, allowing us to perceive the skeins of scent, waves of electromagnetism, and pulses of pressure that surround us. We encounter beetles that are drawn to fires, turtles that can track the Earth’s magnetic fields, fish that fill rivers with electrical messages, and even humans who wield sonar like bats. We discover that a crocodile’s scaly face is as sensitive as a lover’s fingertips, that the eyes of a giant squid evolved to see sparkling whales, that plants thrum with the inaudible songs of courting bugs, and that even simple scallops have complex vision. We learn what bees see in flowers, what songbirds hear in their tunes, and what dogs smell on the street. We listen to stories of pivotal discoveries in the field, while looking ahead at the many mysteries that remain unsolved.

Checkout 19

Checkout 19 (ebook) by Claire-Louise Bennett.

In a working-class town in a county west of London, a schoolgirl scribbles stories in the back pages of her exercise book, intoxicated by the first sparks of her imagination. As she grows, everything and everyone she encounters become fuel for a burning talent. The large Russian man in the ancient maroon car who careens around the grocery store where she works as a checkout clerk, and slips her a copy of Beyond Good and Evil. The growing heaps of other books in which she loses — and finds — herself. Even the derailing of a friendship, in a devastating violation. The thrill of learning to conjure characters and scenarios in her head is matched by the exhilaration of forging her own way in the world, the two kinds of ingenuity kindling to a brilliant conflagration.

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams (ebook) by Stacy Schiff.

In The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, Schiff brings her masterful skills to Adams’s improbable life, illuminating his transformation from aimless son of a well-off family to tireless, beguiling radical who mobilized the colonies. Arresting, original, and deliriously dramatic, this is a long-overdue chapter in the history of our nation.

The Song of the Cell

The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human (ebook) by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

In The Song of the Cell, Mukherjee tells the story of how scientists discovered cells, began to understand them, and are now using that knowledge to create new humans. He seduces you with writing so vivid, lucid, and suspenseful that complex science becomes thrilling. Told in six parts, laced with Mukherjee’s own experience as a researcher, a doctor, and a prolific reader, The Song of the Cell is both panoramic and intimate — a masterpiece.

Strangers to Ourselves

Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us (ebook) by Rachel Aviv.

In Strangers to Ourselves, a powerful and gripping debut, Rachel Aviv raises fundamental questions about how we understand ourselves in periods of crisis and distress. Drawing on deep, original reporting as well as unpublished journals and memoirs, Aviv writes about people who have come up against the limits of psychiatric explanations for who they are. She follows an Indian woman, celebrated as a saint, who lives in healing temples in Kerala; an incarcerated mother vying for her children’s forgiveness after recovering from psychosis; a man who devotes his life to seeking revenge upon his psychoanalysts; and an affluent young woman who, after a decade of defining herself through her diagnosis, decides to go off her meds because she doesn’t know who she is without them. Animated by a profound sense of empathy, Aviv’s exploration is refracted through her own account of living in a hospital ward at the age of six and meeting a fellow patient with whom her life runs parallel — until it no longer does.

The Book of Goose

The Book of Goose (ebook) by Yiyun Li.

A magnificent, beguiling tale winding from the postwar rural provinces to Paris, from an English boarding school to the quiet Pennsylvania home where a woman can live without her past, The Book of Goose is a story of disturbing intimacy and obsession, of exploitation and strength of will, by the celebrated author Yiyun Li.

The World We Make

The World We Make (ebook) by N.K. Jemisin.

All is not well in the city that never sleeps. Even though the avatars of New York City have temporarily managed to stop the Woman in White from invading — and destroying the entire universe in the process — the mysterious capital “E” Enemy has more subtle powers at her disposal. A new candidate for mayor wielding the populist rhetoric of gentrification, xenophobia, and “law and order” may have what it takes to change the very nature of New York itself and take it down from the inside.

The Last White Man

The Last White Man (ebook) by Mohsin Hamid.

One morning, a man wakes up to find himself transformed. Overnight, Anders’s skin has turned dark, and the reflection in the mirror seems a stranger to him. At first he shares his secret only with Oona, an old friend turned new lover. Soon, reports of similar events begin to surface. Across the land, people are awakening in new incarnations, uncertain how their neighbors, friends, and family will greet them. Some see the transformations as the long-dreaded overturning of the established order that must be resisted to a bitter end. In many, like Anders’s father and Oona’s mother, a sense of profound loss and unease wars with profound love. As the bond between Anders and Oona deepens, change takes on a different shading: a chance at a kind of rebirth — an opportunity to see ourselves, face to face, anew.

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (ebook) by Kate Beaton.

Before there was Kate Beaton, New York Times bestselling cartoonist of Hark! A Vagrant, there was Katie Beaton of the Cape Breton Beaton, specifically Mabou, a tight-knit seaside community where the lobster is as abundant as beaches, fiddles, and Gaelic folk songs. With the singular goal of paying off her student loans, Katie heads out west to take advantage of Alberta’s oil rush — part of the long tradition of East Coasters who seek gainful employment elsewhere when they can’t find it in the homeland they love so much. Katie encounters the harsh reality of life in the oil sands, where trauma is an everyday occurrence yet is never discussed.

I was particularly excited to see books by Stacy Schiff and Siddhartha Mukherjee in several lists. I read Schiff’s Cleopatra and Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies right around the same time and I remember being blown away by both of them. I recommend those two books to others all the time.

Here are some of the lists I used to assemble this collection:

Note: When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. This year, I’m linking to Bookshop.org when I can but if you read on the Kindle or Bookshop is out of stock, you can try Amazon. Thanks for supporting the site!

  1. The Japanese have a word for the bedside stack of books that pile up unread: tsundoku.

The Greatest Films of All Time

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2022

Since 1952, Sight and Sound has been asking critics and other folks in the film world what the greatest films of all time are. For decades, Citizen Kane was in the top slot and therefore occupied this seemingly unassailable position in western culture as the greatest film ever made. Then in 2012, Kane was unseated by Vertigo. This year, Sight and Sound polled more than 1600 academics, curators, critics, archivists, and programmers to determine the current list of The Greatest Films of All Time. Here’s the top 10:

1. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
2. Vertigo
3. Citizen Kane
4. Tokyo Story
5. In the Mood for Love
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey
7. Beau Travail
8. Mulholland Drive
9. Man with a Movie Camera
10. Singin’ in the Rain

I have to confess, I’d never heard of the top pick before today (which appears to be 3 hours and 21 minutes long and on HBO Max if you’re interested.). The most recent film that’s highest on the list is the excellent Portrait of a Lady on Fire, coming it at #30. (And boy some folks on social media are big mad about it!) A second poll was taken among directors and their top 10 was slightly different:

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. Citizen Kane
3. The Godfather
4. Tokyo Story
4. Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
6. Vertigo
6. 8 1/2
8. Mirror
9. Persona
9. In the Mood for Love
9. Close-Up

Always Interesting: “52 Things I Learned in 2022”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2022

Something I look forward to at the end of each year is Tom Whitwell’s list of 52 things I learned in 20221 because I know I’m about to read about a bunch of interesting things. As always, here are a few of my favorite items from the list:

6. Heavenbanning is a hypothetical way to moderate social networks. Instead of being thrown off the platform, bad actors have all their followers replaced with sycophantic AI models that constantly agree and praise them. Real humans never interact with them. [Asara Near]

13. Older travellers use airport toilets to hear flight announcements, because acoustics are much clearer. [Christopher DeWolf via Ben Terrett]

22. Applicants are 1.5% more likely to be granted asylum by a US judge the day after their city’s NFL team won. [Daniel L. Chen]

32. Before the industrial revolution, silver didn’t need to be polished, because there was less sulfur in the atmosphere (unless you lived near a volcano). [Michael Briggs]

52. During a French Navy exercise, a frigate was (virtually) destroyed despite radio silence. The (virtual) enemy was able to roughly locate the ship via an (real) active Snapchat account from one of the sailors. [Arthur Laudrain]

I did my own list of these last year and have been keeping sporadic track of interesting morsels I’ve come across this year, so hopefully I can pull a post together in the next few weeks. (thx, john)

  1. Ok, I do not specifically look forward to 2022’s specific list each year, but you know, unless you want to take the awkwardly long way ‘round, sometimes English makes you take the L. AKA, you know what I mean.

Kevin Kelly: 103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2022

On the occasion of his 70th birthday (happy birthday!), Kevin Kelly shares 103 bits of wisdom he wished he had known when he was younger. Here are a few of my favorites:

Cultivate 12 people who love you, because they are worth more than 12 million people who like you.

Anything you say before the word “but” does not count.

When you forgive others, they may not notice, but you will heal. Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is a gift to ourselves.

Efficiency is highly overrated; Goofing off is highly underrated. Regularly scheduled sabbaths, sabbaticals, vacations, breaks, aimless walks and time off are essential for top performance of any kind. The best work ethic requires a good rest ethic.

If winning becomes too important in a game, change the rules to make it more fun. Changing rules can become the new game.

The best way to get a correct answer on the internet is to post an obviously wrong answer and wait for someone to correct you.

Don’t wait for the storm to pass; dance in the rain.

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a day, and underestimate what we can achieve in a decade. Miraculous things can be accomplished if you give it ten years. A long game will compound small gains to overcome even big mistakes.

A wise man said, “Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates. At the first gate, ask yourself, “Is it true?” At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary?” At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”

To rapidly reveal the true character of a person you just met, move them onto an abysmally slow internet connection. Observe.

Take note if you find yourself wondering “Where is my good knife? Or, where is my good pen?” That means you have bad ones. Get rid of those.

If you loan someone $20 and you never see them again because they are avoiding paying you back, that makes it worth $20.

Copying others is a good way to start. Copying yourself is a disappointing way to end.

The chief prevention against getting old is to remain astonished.

Ok that got out of hand…there’s a lot of good stuff on that list! I am definitely in receiving mode these days for wisdom.

Ten Ways to Confront the Climate Crisis Without Losing Hope

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2022

If we’re going to address the climate crisis, we need to fight despair and keep hope alive. Rebecca Solnit wrote a piece for The Guardian about 10 ways we can guard against our feelings of dread and fear.

2. Pay attention to what’s already happening

Another oft-heard complaint is “nobody is doing anything about this”. But this is said by people who are not looking at what so many others are doing so passionately and often effectively. The climate movement has grown in power, sophistication and inclusiveness, and has won many battles. I have been around long enough to remember when the movement against what was then called “global warming” was small and mild-mannered, preaching the gospel of Priuses and compact fluorescent lightbulbs, and mostly being ignored.

One of the victories of climate activism — and consequences of dire climate events — is that a lot more people are concerned about climate than they were even a few years years ago, from ordinary citizens to powerful politicians. The climate movement — which is really thousands of movements with thousands of campaigns around the world - has had enormous impact.

See also We Have the Tools to Fix the Climate. We Just Need to Use Them. (via life is so beautiful)

Toni Morrison’s Ten Steps Towards Fascism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2022

In a convocation address delivered at Howard University in March 1995, Toni Morrison noted that before fascist movements arrive at a “final solution” (the euphemism used by Nazi leaders to refer to the mass murder of Jews), there are preceding steps that they use to advance their agenda. From an excerpt of that speech published in The Journal of Negro Education:

Let us be reminded that before there is a final solution, there must be a first solution, a second one, even a third. The move toward a final solution is not a jump. It takes one step, then another, then another.

Morrison then continued, listing the pathway to fascism in ten steps:

  1. Construct an internal enemy, as both focus and diversion.
  2. Isolate and demonize that enemy by unleashing and protecting the utterance of overt and coded name-calling and verbal abuse. Employ ad hominem attacks as legitimate charges against that enemy.
  3. Enlist and create sources and distributors of information who are willing to reinforce the demonizing process because it is profitable, because it grants power and because it works.
  4. Palisade all art forms; monitor, discredit or expel those that challenge or destabilize processes of demonization and deification.
  5. Subvert and malign all representatives of and sympathizers with this constructed enemy.
  6. Solicit, from among the enemy, collaborators who agree with and can sanitize the dispossession process.
  7. Pathologize the enemy in scholarly and popular mediums; recycle, for example, scientific racism and the myths of racial superiority in order to naturalize the pathology.
  8. Criminalize the enemy. Then prepare, budget for and rationalize the building of holding arenas for the enemy — especially its males and absolutely its children.
  9. Reward mindlessness and apathy with monumentalized entertainments and with little pleasures, tiny seductions, a few minutes on television, a few lines in the press, a little pseudo-success, the illusion of power and influence, a little fun, a little style, a little consequence.
  10. Maintain, at all costs, silence.

As I have said before, you can see many of these steps playing out right now in America, orchestrated by a revitalized and emboldened right-wing movement that has captured the Republican Party. Jason Stanley, a scholar of fascism, recently wrote of Morrison’s speech:

Morrison’s interest was not in fascist demagogues or fascist regimes. It was rather in “forces interested in fascist solutions to national problems”. The procedures she described were methods to normalize such solutions, to “construct an internal enemy”, isolate, demonize and criminalize it and sympathizers to its ideology and their allies, and, using the media, provide the illusion of power and influence to one’s supporters.

Morrison saw, in the history of US racism, fascist practices — ones that could enable a fascist social and political movement in the United States.

Writing in the era of the “super-predator” myth (a Newsweek headline the next year read, “Superpredators: Should we cage the new breed of vicious kids?”), Morrison unflinchingly read fascism into the practices of US racism. Twenty-five years later, those “forces interested in fascist solutions to national problems” are closer than ever to winning a multi-decade national fight.

See also Umberto Eco’s 14 Features of Eternal Fascism and Fighting Authoritarianism: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century. (via jason stanley)

A Video Countdown of the 25 Best Films of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2022

I look forward to this every year: David Ehrlich’s video countdown of the 25 best films of 2021. It’s like a trailer for an entire year’s worth of movies, lovingly constructed by a movie fan, critic, and editor, chock full of vivid imagery, memorable moments, and homages to great films of the past. I want to take the rest of the day off and just watch all of these…

The Best Book Covers of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2022

book cover of Outlawed by Anna North

book cover of Dead Souls by Sam Riviere

book cover of Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryzinski

book cover of Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit

book cover of Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin

book cover of Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh

book cover of Nectarine by Chad Campbell

I only read ebooks these days and don’t make it to the one decent bookstore within a 60-minute drive from my house that often, but I still love love book covers. As I do every year, I’ve perused the end-of-year lists of the best covers and pulled out some favorites, which I’ve embedded above.

From top to bottom: Outlawed by Anna North, designed by Rachel Willey; Dead Souls by Sam Riviere, designed by Jamie Keenan; Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryzinski, designed by Daniel Benneworth-Gray; Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit, designed by Gray318; Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin, designed by Tamara Shopsin;1Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh, designed by Jack Smyth; and Nectarine by Chad Campbell, designed by by Dave Drummond.

You can find many more great covers in these lists: The 50 Best Book Covers of 2021 (Print), The Best Book Covers of 2021 (NY Times), The 101 Best Book Covers of 2021 (Literary Hub), Notable Book Covers of 2021 (The Casual Optimist), 8 of the Best Book Covers of 2021 (AIGA Eye on Design), The best book covers of the year 2021 (Creative Review), and The Best Book Covers of 2021 (Book Riot).

See also my lists from past years: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

  1. This is awesome. If I ever write a book with a traditional publisher, I’m going to fight (probably unsuccessfully) to design the cover.

100 Ways to Slightly Improve Your Life Without Really Trying

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2022

From The Guardian, a list of 100 ways to slightly improve your life without really trying. Some notables:

12. Sharpen your knives.

15. Keep your children’s drawings and paintings. Put the best ones in frames.

25. Look closely.

27. If possible, take the stairs.

35. Eat salted butter (life’s too short for unsalted).

47. Take out your headphones when walking — listen to the world.

75. Keep your keys in the same place.

89. Politely decline invitations if you don’t want to go.

As usual, the last item on any such list should be “Don’t listen to any of this.”

52 Things I Learned in 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 03, 2022

For the last few years, I’ve been a fan of Tom Whitwell’s annual list of 52 things he learned during the past year — here’s his list for 2021. This year, I kept track of my own list, presented here in no particular order:

  1. “In Fargo, Carl says ‘30 minutes, Jerry, we wrap this thing up’ when there are exactly 30 minutes of the movie remaining.”
  2. There’s a Boeing 727 cargo plane that’s used exclusively for horse transportation nicknamed Air Horse One.
  3. In March 2020, the Covid-19 testing capacity for all of NYC was 120 tests per day.
  4. “The last time ships got stuck in the Suez Canal [in 1967], they were there for eight years and developed a separate society with its own Olympic Games.”
  5. The pronunciation of the last name of the man who lent his name to Mount Everest (over his objections) is different than the pronunciation of the mountain.
  6. While recording the audiobook version of Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White needed 17 takes to read Charlotte’s death scene because he kept crying.
  7. America’s anti-democratic Senate, in one number. “Once Warnock and Ossoff take their seats, the Democratic half of the Senate will represent 41,549,808 more people than the Republican half.”
  8. The first rap video shown on MTV was Rapture by Blondie.
  9. As of 2019, only 54% of Americans accept the theory of evolution.
  10. When CBD is taken orally (as in a pill, food, or beverage), as little as 5% of it enters your bloodstream. “If you’re at the coffee shop and like ‘oh, yeah, give me a CBD,’ you’re just wasting $3.”
  11. The size of FedEx boxes is proprietary. “The size of an official FedEx box, not just its design, is proprietary; it is a volume of space which is a property exclusive to FedEx.”
  12. In golf, finishing four strokes under par on a single hole is called a condor.
  13. A commemorative press plate is given to authors and photographers who have made the front page of the NY Times for the first time.
  14. A button installed at the behest of the previous President summoned a Diet Coke to the Oval Office when pressed.
  15. The number of people born in Antarctica (11) is fewer than the number of people who have walked on the Moon (12).
  16. The market for table saws is $200-400 million but they cause almost $4 billion in damage annually. Power tools companies aren’t liable for the damage, which is borne by individual users, workers comp, and the health system.
  17. Disney animators occasionally “recycle” scenes from older films, keeping the motion and choreography while redrawing the characters.
  18. In the past 45 years, the top 1% of Americans have taken $50 trillion from the bottom 90%.
  19. People age at different speeds. “People varied widely in biological aging: The slowest ager gained only 0.4 ‘biological years’ for each chronological year in age; in contrast, the fastest-aging participant gained nearly 2.5 biological years for every chronological year.”
  20. The Six Flags amusement parks were named after the flags of the six countries that represented Texas throughout its history, including the Confederacy. The last Confederate flags flying outside Six Flags’ locations were removed only in 2017.
  21. Humans have evolved to out-drink other mammals. “Many species have enzymes that break alcohol down and allow the body to excrete it, avoiding death by poisoning. But about 10 million years ago, a genetic mutation left our ancestors with a souped-up enzyme that increased alcohol metabolism 40-fold.”
  22. “It takes about 200 hours of investment in the space of a few months to move a stranger into being a good friend.”
  23. There are only 25 blimps in the whole world.
  24. In 2016, a fourth division Spanish football club renamed itself Flat Earth FC.
  25. “What exactly is meant by the term ‘Holocaust’? It means that the global Jewish population in 2019 (~15 million) is still lower than it was in 1939 (16.6 million). So many Jews were murdered that we still haven’t recovered demographically after 80 years.”
  26. Cannabis delivery isn’t legal in Maine, so this enterprising online shop employs “psychics” to “find a wide selection of your lost weed and drop it off at your home”.
  27. How algorithms radicalize the users of social media platforms. “Facebook’s own research revealed that 64 percent of the time a person joins an extremist Facebook Group, they do so because the platform recommended it.”
  28. Andre Agassi learned to break Boris Becker’s fierce serve by noting the position of Becker’s tongue right before he served.
  29. In emergencies, mammals can breathe through their anus.
  30. There are chess positions that humans players can understand easily that the most powerful chess engines can’t.
  31. As of May 2021, “Republicans and white people have actually become less supportive of Black Lives Matter than they were before the death of George Floyd.”
  32. Build-A-Bear over-purchased yellow fabric to make Minions plushies, so the company released a number of yellow stuffed animals made of the surplus “minion skin”.
  33. Scientists didn’t discover that the cause of the 1918 influenza pandemic was a virus until 1933. “At the time most microbiologists believed that influenza was caused by a bacteria.”
  34. Skinny bike tires are not faster than wider tires. “The increased vibrations of the narrower tires caused energy losses that canceled out the gains from the reduced flex.”
  35. The first RV was made out of a fallen redwood tree and was called “Travel Log”.
  36. “In the last four years, Costa Rica has generated 98.53% of its electricity from renewable sources.”
  37. Disney Imagineers use smaller bricks at the top of buildings to make them seem bigger and taller than they are.
  38. “Dogs tend to poop aligned north-south.”
  39. There are three different types of fun. “Type 2 fun is miserable while it’s happening, but fun in retrospect.”
  40. Babylonians were using Pythagorean calculations for the dimensions of right triangles 1000 years before Pythagoras was born.
  41. Galileo didn’t invent the telescope and wasn’t even the first to use it for astronomical purposes.
  42. By counting excess deaths from Jan 2020 to Sept 2021, the Economist estimates that more than 15 million people have died of Covid-19 worldwide, more than 3 times the official death toll of ~4.6 million.
  43. Michael K. Williams choreographed the dancing in the music video for Crystal Waters’ 100% Pure Love.
  44. Gas stations don’t make much money selling gasoline. The goods inside gas station stores “only account for ~30% of the average gas station’s revenue, yet bring in 70% of the profit”.
  45. Solastalgia “is the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault” (e.g. by climate change).
  46. The Beishan Broadcasting Wall in Kinmen, Taiwan was a massive three-story speaker system built in 1967 to broadcast anti-Communist messages to China.
  47. Before he became a famous actor, Timothée Chalamet had a small YouTube channel where he showed off his custom-painted Xbox 360 controllers.
  48. “China is planning at least 150 new [nuclear] reactors in the next 15 years, more than the rest of the world has built in the past 35.”
  49. Earlier this fall, a bar-tailed godwit set the world record for the longest continual flight by a land bird: about 8100 miles and “flapping its wings for 239 hours without rest”.
  50. “About one in five health-care workers [in the US] has left medicine since the pandemic started.”
  51. The Chevy Suburban has been in production under that same name since 1935, “making it the longest continuously used automobile nameplate in production”.
  52. The ubiquitous Chinese food takeout container was originally invented for carrying oysters.

The Best Books of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2021

The Best Books of 2021

Like last year, I had a lot of trouble reading this year and even more difficulty regularly visiting good book stores, with months-long stretches without both. So, I went into compiling this post with a (fairly) clean slate and it was exciting to learn about what’s been good this year.

I consulted a number of best-of lists (fiction, nonfiction, kids, poetry, audiobooks, food/cooking, art) and here’s what popped out at me. [All source lists are included at the bottom of the post. ** denotes books I have read or am currently reading.]

Beautiful World, Where Are You (ebook) by Sally Rooney.**

Alice, a novelist, meets Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend, Eileen, is getting over a break-up, and slips back into flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.

Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon are still young — but life is catching up with them. They desire each other, they delude each other, they get together, they break apart. They have sex, they worry about sex, they worry about their friendships and the world they live in. Are they standing in the last lighted room before the darkness, bearing witness to something? Will they find a way to believe in a beautiful world?

When We Cease to Understand the World (ebook) by Benjamín Labatut.

When We Cease to Understand the World is a book about the complicated links between scientific and mathematical discovery, madness, and destruction.

Fritz Haber, Alexander Grothendieck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger—these are some of luminaries into whose troubled lives Benjamín Labatut thrusts the reader, showing us how they grappled with the most profound questions of existence. They have strokes of unparalleled genius, alienate friends and lovers, descend into isolation and insanity. Some of their discoveries reshape human life for the better; others pave the way to chaos and unimaginable suffering. The lines are never clear.

Crying in H Mart (ebook) by Michelle Zauner.

In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.

Klara and the Sun (ebook) by Kazuo Ishiguro.**

Here is the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her. Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir (ebook) by Ashley C. Ford.

Through poverty, adolescence, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley C. Ford wishes she could turn to her father for hope and encouragement. There are just a few problems: he’s in prison, and she doesn’t know what he did to end up there. She doesn’t know how to deal with the incessant worries that keep her up at night, or how to handle the changes in her body that draw unwanted attention from men. In her search for unconditional love, Ashley begins dating a boy her mother hates. When the relationship turns sour, he assaults her. Still reeling from the rape, which she keeps secret from her family, Ashley desperately searches for meaning in the chaos. Then, her grandmother reveals the truth about her father’s incarceration… and Ashley’s entire world is turned upside down.

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty (ebook) by Patrick Radden Keefe.

A grand, devastating portrait of three generations of the Sackler family, famed for their philanthropy, whose fortune was built by Valium and whose reputation was destroyed by OxyContin. From the prize-winning and bestselling author of Say Nothing, as featured in the HBO documentary Crime of the Century.

The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions — Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing a blockbuster painkiller that was the catalyst for the opioid crisis.

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (ebook) by Clint Smith.

Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks — those that are honest about the past and those that are not — that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history, and ourselves.

No One Is Talking About This (ebook) by Patricia Lockwood.**

As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms the portal, where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats — from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness — begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal’s void.

Cloud Cuckoo Land (ebook) by Anthony Doerr.

Set in Constantinople in the fifteenth century, in a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now, Anthony Doerr’s gorgeous third novel is a triumph of imagination and compassion, a soaring story about children on the cusp of adulthood in worlds in peril, who find resilience, hope — and a book.

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story (ebook) edited by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

The New York Times Magazine’s award-winning “1619 Project” issue reframed our understanding of American history by placing slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. This new book substantially expands on that work, weaving together eighteen essays that explore the legacy of slavery in present-day America with thirty-six poems and works of fiction that illuminate key moments of oppression, struggle, and resistance. The essays show how the inheritance of 1619 reaches into every part of contemporary American society, from politics, music, diet, traffic, and citizenship to capitalism, religion, and our democracy itself.

Matrix (ebook) by Lauren Groff.

One of our best American writers, Lauren Groff returns with her exhilarating first new novel since the groundbreaking Fates and Furies.

Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease.

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals (ebook) by Oliver Burkeman.

Drawing on the insights of both ancient and contemporary philosophers, psychologists, and spiritual teachers, Oliver Burkeman delivers an entertaining, humorous, practical, and ultimately profound guide to time and time management. Rejecting the futile modern fixation on “getting everything done,” Four Thousand Weeks introduces readers to tools for constructing a meaningful life by embracing finitude, showing how many of the unhelpful ways we’ve come to think about time aren’t inescapable, unchanging truths, but choices we’ve made as individuals and as a society — and that we could do things differently.

Harlem Shuffle (ebook) by Colson Whitehead.

Harlem Shuffle’s ingenious story plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. It’s a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.

Yolk (ebook) by Mary H.K. Choi.

From New York Times bestselling author Mary H.K. Choi comes a funny and emotional story about two estranged sisters and how far they’ll go to save one of their lives — even if it means swapping identities.

The Lincoln Highway (ebook) by Amor Towles.

The bestselling author of A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility and master of absorbing, sophisticated fiction returns with a stylish and propulsive novel set in 1950s America.

I’m all jazzed up about reading now…I love books and I need to figure out how to read more of them in the upcoming year. Here are some of the lists I used to assemble this collection:

Note: When you buy through links on kottke.org, I may earn an affiliate commission. This year, I’m linking mostly to Bookshop.org but if you read on the Kindle or Bookshop is out of stock, you can try Amazon. Thanks for supporting the site!

Get Back: Creativity Lessons from The Beatles

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2021

the Beatles asking for some toast and tea during a practice session

I haven’t had a chance to watch Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary yet, but I really enjoyed reading Tom Whitwell’s 10 lessons in productivity and brainstorming from The Beatles gleaned from the series.

1. The ‘yes… and’ rule

The first rule of improvisation (and brainstorming) is “yes… and”. When someone suggests an idea, plays a note, says a line, you accept it completely, then build on it. That’s how improvisational comedy or music flows. The moment someone says ‘no’, the flow is broken. It’s part of deferring judgement, where you strictly separate idea generation from idea selection.

As they slog through Don’t Let Me Down, George breaks the spell. Instead of building and accepting he leaps to judgement, saying “I think it’s awful.” Immediately, John and Paul lay down the rules: “Well, have you got anything?” “you’ve gotta come up with something better”.

Don’t judge, build.

I worked on a secret project recently (shhh…) where I really wanted to just say no but chose to do “yes… and” instead, which led my collaborator and I to a better solution. I love the improv rule, but it’s so hard for me to follow sometimes because my job is basically saying no to things all day.

6. One conversation at a time

One of the striking thing about the sessions is how polite everyone is. Perhaps it’s editing, but nobody speaks over anyone else. Everyone has a chance to be heard, which means people spend most of the time listening, rather than talking (apart from Paul, perhaps).

This is another lesson from musical and theatrical improvisation. The difference between a creative environment and a bunch of people shouting out ideas is the listening.

You can read all ten lessons here.

“52 Things I Learned in 2021”

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2021

Tom Whitwell’s list of 52 things he learned during the past year is always worth a read. Here are some of my favorites from the list:

4. 10% of US electricity is generated from old Russian nuclear warheads. [Geoff Brumfiel]

10. Short afternoon naps at the workplace lead to significant increases in productivity, psychological well-being and cognition. In contrast, an extra 30 minutes sleep at night shows no similar improvements. [Pedro Bessone]

21. Women’s relative earnings increase 4% when their manager becomes the father of a daughter, rather than a son. This daughter effect was found in 25 years of Danish small-business data. [Maddalena Ronchi]

35. Clean rooms used to make semiconductors have to be 1,000x cleaner than a surgical operating theatre, because a single transistor is now much smaller than a virus. [Ian King]

37. The notion of a personal ‘Carbon Footprint’ was invented by Ogilvy & Mather for BP in the early 2000s. [Mark Kaufman]

47. The entire global cosmetic Botox industry is supported by an annual production of just a few milligrams of botulism toxin. Pure toxin would cost ~$100 trillion per kilogram. [Anthony Warner]

Inspired by Whitwell, I have been sporadically compiling my own list throughout the year. I’m going to review it soon and see if there’s anything in there worth publishing. Of course, the 1300+ Quick Links I’ve posted in 2021 work as their own giant list of things I’ve learned this year.

The Ten Rules of Golden Age Detective Fiction

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 23, 2021

The Golden Age of Detective Fiction describes a period between the world wars in which a certain style of murder mystery novel took hold, led by the prolific and talented Agatha Christie. Scott Stedman explains about the rise and fall of the genre in today’s issue of Why is this interesting?

It wasn’t until Agatha Christie introduced the world to Poirot that the genre shifted into its strictest and most enduring form: the garden variety murder mystery.

“I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest.” —Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie is the most popular modern writer to ever live (outmatched in sales by only Shakespeare and the Bible). Christie is unrelenting in her ability to surprise — she killed children, popularized the unreliable narrator, introduced serial killers. Still, she was a fiercely disciplined adherent to a form created by her community of fellow writers, developed in the legendary Detection Club (including Dorothy Sayers, Ronald Knox, and the remarkable GK Chesterton). In an age sandwiched between two world wars — her stories brim with pride for a stiff British moral certitude that was impervious to the most heinous acts against it.

A central feature of many of these whodunits was that the reader had access to all the same information as the detective and could, in theory, figure things out before they did. In 1929, Ronald Knox wrote down 10 rules that made this possible:

1. The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

5. No racial stereotypes.1

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

It’s interesting to see how these rules are applied and broken in TV and films these days. I feel like “hitherto undiscovered poisons” and “appliances which will need a long scientific explanation” (not to mention the “unaccountable intuition” of characters) are now regularly deployed, which can lead to feelings of being cheating as a viewer if it’s not done well. (via why is this interesting?)

  1. I follow Stedman here in restating this point…Knox’s original text used a derogatory term.

The Ten Contradictory Traits of Creative People

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 02, 2021

The late psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identified and popularized the concept of flow and also did research around the linked ideas of creativity and happiness. In his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, he listed 10 pairs of contradictory traits that creative people tend to have.

1. Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they are also often quiet and at rest.

2. Creative individuals tend to be smart, yet also naive at the same time.

3. A third paradoxical trait refers to the related combination of playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.

4. Creative individuals alternate between imagination and fantasy at one end, and a rooted sense of reality at the other.

5. Creative people seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion.

6. Creative individuals are also remarkably humble and proud at the same time.

7. Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this rigid gender role stereotyping [of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’].

8. Creative people are both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.

9. Creative persons are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.

10. The openness and sensitivity of creative individuals often exposes them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment.

(via open culture & austin kleon)

The Most Iconic Book Covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2021

book cover for A Clockwork Orange

book cover for The Great Gatsby

book cover for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

From Literary Hub, The 25 Most Iconic Book Covers in History. Some good ones shared in the comments as well. (thx, serge)

Black Film Archive

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2021

Black Film Archive

Black Film Archive is a collection of links to films made by Black filmmakers & actors from 1915 to 1979 that are available to stream online. Maya Cade writes about why she created this archive.

The films collected on Black Film Archive have something significant to say about the Black experience; speak to Black audiences; and/or have a Black star, writer, producer, or director. This criterion for selection is as broad and inclusive as possible, allowing the site to cover the widest range of what a Black film can be.

The films listed here should be considered in conversation with each other, as visions of Black being on film across time. They express what only film can: social, anthropological, and aesthetic looks at the changing face of Black expression (or white attitudes about Black expression, which are inescapable given the whiteness of decision-makers in the film industry).

Films, by their very nature, require a connection between creator and audience. This relationship provides a common thread that is understood through conventional and lived knowledge to form thought and to consider. Not every filmmaker is speaking directly to Blackness or Black people or has the intention to. Some films listed carry a Black face to get their message across. But presented here, these films offer a full look into the Black experience, inferred or real, on-screen.

What a great open resource — exactly what the internet is for. You can read more about the archive on Vulture and NPR.

41 Questions We Should Ask Ourselves About the Technology We Use

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2021

In an issue of his newsletter, The Convivial Society, L.M. Sacasas posed 41 questions that we should ask ourselves about technologies to help us “draw out the moral or ethical implications of our tools”. Here are a few of the questions:

3. How will the use of this technology affect my experience of time?
12. What was required of other creatures so that I might be able to use this technology?
16. How does this technology empower me? At whose expense?
22. What desires does the use of this technology generate?
35. Does my use of this technology encourage me to view others as a means to an end?

Sacasas recently joined Ezra Klein on his podcast to talk through some of the answers to these questions for certain technologies.

EZRA KLEIN: I’m gonna group the next set together. So what was required of other human beings, of other creatures, of the earth, so that I might be able to use this technology? When you ask that, when you think of that, what comes to mind?

MICHAEL SACASAS: So I recently wrote a piece, and its premise was that sometimes we think of the internet, of digital life, as being immaterial, existing somewhere out in the ether, in the cloud, with these metaphors that kind of suggest that it doesn’t really have a material footprint. But the reality of course — I think as most of us are becoming very aware — is that it very much has a material reality that may begin in a mine where rare earth metals are being extracted in inhumane working conditions at great cost to the local environment.

But that’s very far removed from my comfortable experience of the tablet on my couch in the living room. And so with regards to the earth, the digital realm depends upon material resources that need to be collected. It depends on the energy grid. It leaves a footprint on the environment.

And so we tend not to think about that by the time that it gets to us and looks so shiny and clean and new, and connects us to this world that isn’t physically necessarily located anywhere in our experience. And so I think it is important for us to think about the labor, the extraction cost on the environment, that go into providing us with the kind of world that we find so amusing and interesting and comfortable.

The Five Dimensions of Curiosity and the Four Types of Curious People

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 11, 2021

In a paper published in 2017, Todd Kashdan and his colleagues identified five distinct dimensions of curiosity. Here are the first three:

1. Joyous Exploration. This is the prototype of curiosity — the recognition and desire to seek out new knowledge and information, and the subsequent joy of learning and growing.

2. Deprivation Sensitivity. This dimension has a distinct emotional tone, with anxiety and tension being more prominent than joy — pondering abstract or complex ideas, trying to solve problems, and seeking to reduce gaps in knowledge.

3. Stress Tolerance. This dimension is about the willingness to embrace the doubt, confusion, anxiety, and other forms of distress that arise from exploring new, unexpected, complex, mysterious, or obscure events.

They also identified four types of curious people: The Fascinated, Problem Solvers, Empathizers, and Avoiders. (via the art of noticing)

11 Reasons to Keep Wearing a Mask After You’re Vaccinated and the Pandemic is “Over”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2021

two people wearing face masks

  1. You 100% do not want to get Covid-19.
  2. You are immunocompromised. Millions of people have immune conditions that make contracting Covid-19 much more dangerous for them.
  3. You’re traumatized from “the mental and emotional toll of the last year”.
  4. Because you need to be around people you suspect may not be vaccinated or taking Covid-19 seriously (e.g. as part of your job).
  5. You’re not feeling well and want to make sure to protect others around you.
  6. Because you want to signal to others that you are being safe and thinking of the health and wellness of those around you.
  7. You live in a household with unvaccinated people (kids, for example) and want to make sure to protect them.
  8. Because your personal risk tolerance is lower than other people’s.
  9. You need some time to feel comfortable enough taking your mask off around others after more than a year of that very behavior being dangerous.
  10. Because you want to.
  11. But mostly because it is NONE OF ANYONE’S GODDAMN CONCERN if you choose to keep wearing a mask. Fuck off! Mind your own business!

Where Do Company Names Come From?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2021

The Wikipedia page listing company name etymologies is a good place to spend some time.

7-Eleven - convenience stores; renamed from “Tote’m” in 1946 to reflect their newly extended hours, 7:00 am until 11:00 pm.

Samsung - meaning “three stars” in Korean

Coca-Cola - derived from the coca leaves and kola nuts used as flavoring. Coca-Cola creator John S. Pemberton changed the ‘K’ of kola to ‘C’ to make the name look better.

Pepsi - named from the digestive enzyme pepsin

Jordache - from the first names of the Nakash brothers who founded the company: Joe, Ralph, David (Ralph’s first son), Avi, plus che, after the second syllable of “Nakash”

GEICO - from Government Employees Insurance Company

Häagen-Dazs - name was invented in 1961 by ice-cream makers Reuben and Rose Mattus of the Bronx “to convey an aura of the old-world traditions and craftsmanship”. The name has no meaning.

Hotmail - founder Jack Smith got the idea of accessing e-mail via the web from a computer anywhere in the world. When Sabeer Bhatia came up with the business plan for the mail service he tried all kinds of names ending in ‘mail’ and finally settled for Hotmail as it included the letters “HTML” - the markup language used to write web pages. It was initially referred to as HoTMaiL with selective upper casing.

Mozilla Foundation - from the name of the web browser that preceded Netscape Navigator. When Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Netscape, created a browser to replace the Mosaic browser, it was internally named Mozilla (Mosaic-Killer, Godzilla) by Jamie Zawinski.

(via sam potts)

The Bookshop: One of John Cleese’s Favorite Comedy Sketches

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2021

In 2014, John Cleese listed five of his favorite comedy sketches that he had written over the course of his career. Among them was one I’d never seen before but soon had me in stitches: The Bookshop.

I also watched another of the sketches he mentioned (The Cheese Shop) and it fell totally flat — Monty Python-style humor is very much a hit-or-miss thing for me, so YMMV. (via open culture)