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fave books of the 00s


Unlike movies, which I follow pretty closely, and the token effort I make to follow what happens in the realms of TV and music, I don’t really pay attention to what’s new in books. I do read a fair bit, but I get most of my books in second-hand bookstores, picked from a lengthy, half-remembered mental list of things I vaguely think I’d like to read. So basically, there are a lot of gaps, even among books that I’m pretty sure I’ll really enjoy when I read them. But hey, maybe in 10 or 15 years, I’ll be able to put together a proper list. Until then, what we got is what we got, and here’s what we got. Feel free to tell me what else I should have read by now.

  1. Nixonland, Rick Perlstein. Covering the rise of the the brilliant and amoral Richard Nixon and the not-unrelated fracturing of American politics and society, this is one of the most fascinating history books I’ve ever read.
  2. Herzog on Herzog, Paul Cronin and Werner Herzog. A series of long interviews with German auteur/professional daydreamer Werner Herzog, in which he talks about his life, films and idiosyncratic philosophy. And chickens.
  3. Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth, Chris Ware. Incredibly dense and painfully sad, even as a lifelong comics reader, this was a real revelation about what a graphic novel could be.
  4. 2666, Roberto Bolaño. A degree in English literature has left me with a distinct distaste for the explicitly “literary”, something this massive novel flirts with, but ultimately leaves behind in favour of pulpy mystery. It’s like walking the streets of a strange city alone late at night.
  5. The Terror, Dan Simmons. Chilling historical horror novel about the doomed 1845 Franklin expedition, which sailed into the arctic aboard the aptly-named HMS Terror and met an ignoble end of madness, starvation and cannibalism. Impossible to read unless buried under warm blankets with a hot mug of tea in hand.
  6. All-Star Superman, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. After a lost decade of continuity obsession and “darker-and-edgier” wanking, superhero comics have been making steps toward readability again, as writers like Morrison, Millar and Bendis have been rebuilding the stories and characters that made superheroes appealing to begin with. This is the best of what I’ve read, a stripped-down and poignant new myth of Superman.
  7. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, Jon Krakauer. Krakauer juxtaposes the story of modern fundamentalist offshoots of Mormonism with the bloody history of the LDS to look at the dark side of religion in America.
  8. Scott Pilgrim, Bryan Lee O’Malley. O’Malley’s brilliant ongoing series of graphic novels uses his obsessions with videogames, manga and Canadian indie pop to inform this unexpectedly moving and original story of a Toronto slacker who must defeat his new girlfriend’s seven evil exes.
  9. Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Suketu Mehta. An Indian-American writer revisited Mumbai after a decades-long absence and sought out the entrepreneurs, gangsters and transvestite dancers that have made the city, and recorded their stories.
  10. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers. Definitely attracted its share of detractors, and a lot of the criticisms are valid, but I still enjoy this book immensely for its wit, humanity and way with language.


young_neil

Do we have honourable mentions? Yes, we have honourable mentions!

World War Z, Max Brooks.
Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, Chester Brown
A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon.
JPod, Douglas Coupland
American Gods, Neil Gaiman.
The Elegant Universe, Brian Greene.
On Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins
Areas of my Expertise, John Hodgman.
Born Standing Up, Steve Martin
Asterios Polyp, David Mazzucchelli
Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami.
The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan
Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser.
Y: The Last Man, Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
Fables, Bill Willingham et al

fave albums of the 00s


Making my TV of the decade list made me realize just how many incredible shows the last decade has produced. The 00s have not been as good for music, though. The decade isn’t a write-off, of course, but I could easily rattle off half a dozen albums from the 90s that I preferred to the best of the 00s. However, there was some brilliant electronica happening from about 2000-2003, a wave of great indie pop/rock/folk (much of it Canadian) in the middle of the decade, and… kind of a holding pattern these days, it seems, though maybe I just don’t have sufficient perspective on 2008-09 yet. (I’m secretly hoping the next decade produces an IDM revival. It could happen!)

Anyway, without further ado, my Top 50 Albums of the 00s. Feel free to post your own list in the comments, but be aware that my list is, oddly enough, completely correct and entirely objective, so there’s not really a lot to be gained by disagreeing with it. I expect it to be taught in music history classes by 2030.

kid_a

moon_antarctica

youarefree

andorra

misery

rounds

  1. The Arcade Fire – Funeral
  2. Low – Things We Lost in the Fire
  3. Boards of Canada – Geogaddi
  4. PJ Harvey – Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
  5. Radiohead – Kid A
  6. Modest Mouse – The Moon and Antarctica
  7. Cat Power – You Are Free
  8. Caribou – Andorra
  9. Blonde Redhead – Misery is a Butterfly
  10. Four Tet – Rounds
  11. The Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
  12. Add N to (X) – Loud Like Nature
  13. Nicola Conte – Bossa Per Due
  14. Mouse on Mars – Niun Niggung
  15. Low – Trust
  16. Amon Tobin – Supermodified
  17. Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
  18. William Shatner – Has Been
  19. Explosions in the Sky – Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever
  20. Sons and Daughters – This Gift
  21. TV On The Radio – Return To Cookie Mountain
  22. The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
  23. The Field – From Here We Go Sublime
  24. The Flashbulb – Kirlian Selections
  25. Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days
  26. The New Pornographers – Mass Romantic
  27. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
  28. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer
  29. Björk – Vespertine
  30. The Knife – Silent Shout
  31. Bonobo – Dial M for Monkey
  32. Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out
  33. Sigur Rós – Ágætis Byrjun
  34. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
  35. Sun Kil Moon – April
  36. Daft Punk – Discovery
  37. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People
  38. Beck – Sea Change
  39. Kid Koala – Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  40. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
  41. Blonde Redhead – 23
  42. Plaid – Double Figure
  43. Manitoba – Up in Flames
  44. Sons and Daughters – The Repulsion Box
  45. Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans
  46. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever to Tell
  47. The Dandy Warhols – Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia
  48. Junior Boys – Last Exit
  49. Holy Fuck – Holy Fuck
  50. Xploding Plastix – Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents

Whew! And here are some more that I really liked but didn’t quite make the cut. You can consider them tied for 51st:

Andrew Bird – Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs
Aphex Twin – Analord, vols 1-11
Autechre – Quarstice
Beirut – The Flying Cup Club
Black Mountain – Black Mountain
Black Mountain – In the Future
Blonde Redhead – Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons
Boards of Canada – The Campfire Headphase
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago
Buck 65 – Talkin’ Honky Blues
Burial – Untrue
Cat Power – The Covers Record
Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
Cul de Sac – Death of the Sun
Deadbeat – New World Observer
The Decemberists – Picaresque
Elliott Smith – Figure 8
Explosions in the Sky – All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
Explosions in the Sky – The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
The Field – Yesterday and Today
The Flashbulb – Soundtrack to a Vacant Life
Four Tet – Pause
Franz Ferdinand – Tonight
Fuck Buttons – Street Horrrsing
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Raise Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Hol Baumann – Human
Iron & Wine – The Creek Drank the Cradle
Junior Boys – So This is Goodbye
Ladytron – 604
Low – The Great Destroyer
Metric – Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?
Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before the Ship Ever Sank
Mouse on Mars – Idiology
Mouse on Mars – Radical Connector
Múm – Finally We Are No One
Neko Case and Her Boyfriends – Furnace Room Lullaby
The New Pornographers – Twin Cinema
The Organ – Grab That Gun
Pole – 3
The Postal Service – Give Up
Prefuse 73 – Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives
RJD2 – Dead Ringer
Radiohead – In Rainbows
The Strokes – Is This It?
Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise
Sunset Rubdown – Random Spirit Lover
Thievery Corporation – The Mirror Conspiracy
Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz
various artists – Clicks + Cuts

Nixonland


nixonland.jpgI know it’s a cliché, but the older I get, the more interested I become in history. I have no romantic view of the past, though — I read history mostly as painfully slow progress punctuated by awful mistakes which cast very long shadows through the decades. And so I was fascinated by Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, Rick Perlstein’s 896-page political history. The eponymous “Nixonland” is the America that created Nixon and that he, better than anyone (except possibly Ronald Reagan), was able to exploit: a country with two visions that are both sincere, deeply held — and utterly incompatible. However, the Nixonland divide isn’t strictly between liberal and conservative, but between the privileged insider “Franklins” and striving outsider “Orthogonions”. The names are from two cultural clubs at Wittier College. When the former rejected Nixon for his poverty and working-class manners, he started the second.

The book is divided into four sections, roughly covering the election cycles of 1966, 1968, 1970, and 1972. Though the bitter and amoral genius Nixon is at the centre of the book, it’s Nixonland itself that the book spends most of its time in. Perlstein does a terrific job of letting us into the minds of the hippies and radicals and concerned middle-class parents and resentful blue-collar workers that live there. The author is, himself, a post-Boomer, and he argues persuasively that the country he grew up in is still Nixonland. Watching George Bush (and Sarah Palin), it’s hard to disagree.

Shantaram and travel plans


It took a few weeks, but I finally got through Gregory David Roberts’ 944-page potboiler Shantaram. It’s the quasi-autobiographical story of an Australian armed robber and anarchist who escapes from prison and flees to Bombay, where he leads an action-filled life as a slum medic, petty criminal, junkie, counterfeiter, gangster, and soldier, with long pauses to reflect on life, love and India. The writing is stilted and pretentious, and many of the characters thinly drawn, but I really enjoyed the characters and situations Roberts was able to get a grip on, and, above all, his obvious love for India and her people. The book was a gift from my Australian friend Janelle, who tells me it’s practically a phenomenon down under, and I can see why: to crib from Tyler Cowan, it is one of the best bad books ever written.

The timing of my much-delayed completion couldn’t be better, because this past week I was also finally able to put aside enough money from my job for my planned post-PhD 2010 trip across Asia, which will certainly include several months in India. In fact, after reading this book, I’m thinking that I may well want to spend more time in there. Not that the book makes India seem glamorous, or that it glosses over the bad stuff — in fact, there’s a hint of wallowing in the poverty, disease and crime. But the one thing that comes through is that for Roberts, India is a country that rewards trying to understand and adapt to her. Actually, to hell with spending more time there — this book makes me want to pick up and go there, learn the language, and live in Bombay for a decade or two.

random nuggets of Eric


So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been devoting my hours to work at Worio, a Yaletown start-up I’ve been associated with essentially from its inception (though other people have done much more work than me). I enjoy the work, and it’s a nice break from grad school. Not only is the pay better, but pretty much every day I can go home feeling like I’ve accomplished something. The PhD program is not like that.

The only downside is the schedule. I work 10 to 12 hours a day, and that’s not counting the 45-minute commute each way. I go to the gym two or three nights a week, and out for dinner, movies or concerts a couple of other nights. I typically leave the house at 8 AM and get home at 10 or 11 at night. Saturday is usually spent running errands, and Sunday is my day of rest.

And so, other things have to fall by the wayside a bit. I don’t think I’ve looked at YouTube in a month! A month! And I’m lucky is I see more than one movie a week (though my commute means that I’m reading a ton of books, which is pretty cool, though I have an iPod Touch to watch videos on now). This blog is another victim. I just don’t feel like I have the time or energy for full, thought-out posts. Not that what I write is usually more than “Here’s a cool link. BLANK is cool! (Insert joke here.)” Even so, I do have opinions and I know how much you care about them. But maybe for now, I’ll just do a bit of a random thought dumpage. Let’s try it, shall we?

andorra.jpgThe new Caribou album, Andorra, is terrific — kind of a wistful sixties psychedelic pop version of Caribou that perfectly fits walking though downtown Vancouver in the fall. I’ve been listening to the entire album pretty much daily. My roommate even liked it so much she blogged about it, too. Actually, 2007 has been a great year for Canadian indie music. Besides Caribou, I’ve been really enjoying the 2007 releases of The New Pornographers, The Arcade Fire, Tegan and Sara, Pink Mountaintops, Champion and You Say Party! We Say Die!. And I’m sure there’s plenty of others I haven’t heard yet.

As I mentioned before, somebody used my credit card to commit several thousand dollars worth of fraud. It’s taken a few calls to the bank, but the damage seems to have been undone — at least the damage against me. I wonder how common this kind of thing is. Somebody is out a lot of money — there’s no way the bank has made anything like the money the lost off my past half-decade of credit-card use.

kyrgzhatsnip.jpgI’m still hugely looking forward to my post-PhD trip across Asia in a couple years, but I haven’t had anything particularly insightful to say lately. The part of the route from India to Turkey will be interesting. I will either have to go through Pakistan and Iran, or through the Central Asian republics and Russia. I’ve been reading a bit about both. On the one hand, Iran has better transportation and I culture I’m very interested in. On the other hand, Central Asia has thrilling headgear. But I think the final decision will depend on the state of the region when I get there, c. 2010.

Can you believe 2010 is now the near future? Like, I’m making plans for that year? The mind boggles. I feel all the time like I live in a William Gibson novel.

facebook-snip.jpgI’m still on Facebook, though all I ever do is update my status message every couple of days, which I see as kind of a creative exercise. I don’t even read the updates of people on my network very often. However, I still find it kind of fascinating — I think its genius is that it’s the first web page on the internet that is explicitly targeted toward the extroverted majority of human beings. The people who (unlike, say, me) honestly want to know what all their friends got up to last weekend, and who (also unlike me) typically do something with their free time that’s more sociable than watching DVDs or reading comics and books about statistics and economics.

Speaking of books about statistics and economics, I recently read and enjoyed Tyler Cowan’s Discover Your Inner Economist and Nassim Nicholas Taleb even more interesting Fooled by Randomness. Each of these looks at how the authors’ fields (economics and financial mathematics) informs their worldview in subtle and unintuitive ways, complete with amusing anecdotes. While I’d recommend these books in general, I think I personally got a lot out of them because while I’m neither an economist nor a statistician (a shocking revelation, I know), my own research owes a lot to these fields, and I increasingly find myself looking at the world through a haze of utilities and variances. Also, Taleb’s book provides some evidence that it is possible to work on interesting problems in finance, be well paid, and not turn into (or start off as) a boring, status-obsessed asshole.

Wednesday night I saw Tokyo Police Club at The Plaza. The band didn’t even come on until midnight (on a Wednesday night!), and then the sound was pretty awful. Tired and bored from standing around waiting for the show, and disappointed by the shitty mix and always too-hot Plaza venue, we left after about five songs. Enough people were bolting that there was already a fairly long queue for the coat check at that point. Nice try, boys. I don’t know whether it’s the Plaza or TPC to blame, so I blame both.