Some favorite albums, books, TV shows, movies, and in-depth stories from 2013

Here’s a look back at some of my favorites from last year.


My pick: “Modern Vampires of the City,” by Vampire Weekend.

Here’s “Obvious Bicycle“:

And “Diane Young“:

Runner-up album:

Beta Love,” by Ra Ra Riot. Here’s the title track.

Honorable mentions: Sky Ferreira’s “Night Time, My Time,” Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories,” and Lorde’s “Pure Heroine.”


Of the books I read last year, two stand out, not least because they were written by pals.

First: Matt Gross’s “The Turk Who Loved Apples: And Other Tales of Losing My Way Around the World.”

2014 01 08 turk who loved apples

This may not come as a surprise, since I’ve written about Matt’s work before.

The New York Times called the book “a joyful meditation on the spontaneity and unpredictability of the traveling life,” and said:

Gross ruminates on the loneliness of the road, the evanescent friendships that occasionally blossom into something deeper, the pleasures of wandering through cities without a map. Now settled in Brooklyn with his wife and daughters, he leaves little doubt that all his years of near-constant travel have only whetted his appetite for more. “The world,” he writes, has become “a massively expanding network of tiny points where anything at all could happen, and within each point another infinite web of possibilities.”

Worth checking out.

And second: “The Accidental Playground: Brooklyn Waterfront Narratives of the Undesigned and Unplanned,” by Dan Campo.

2014 01 08 accidental playground

The Times included the book in a piece called “Suggested Reading for de Blasio,” and wrote:

Daniel Campo, a former New York City planner, considers the serendipitous development of Williamsburg and concludes: “In contrast to urban space produced through conventional planning and design, the accidental playground that evolved on the North Brooklyn waterfront generated vitality through immediate and largely unmeditated action. The waterfront was there for the claiming, and people went out and did just that without asking for permission, holding meetings or making plans.”

Indeed, it’s worth a read.

TV shows

2014 01 09 breaking bad

There can be only one.


I haven’t yet seen many of the year’s most talked-about films, but I liked “Gravity” and “This is the End.” 2013 films I still intend to watch: “12 Years a Slave,” “The Act of Killing,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and “Computer Chess.”


And finally, here are some in-depth stories, blog posts, reviews, and other pieces of writing I liked this year:

    Books Tech

    There’s No E-Book Version of Nicholas Negroponte’s ‘Being Digital’?

    Being digital no ebook

    More later on this topic, perhaps, but I wanted to post this for now.

    Is there truly no e-book version of Nicholas Negroponte’s 1995 book Being Digital?

    What’s wrong with this picture?

    The text I’ve circled in the image above is Amazon’s standard “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this book on Kindle.”*

    Is this situation ironic? (It would seem so. It depends on your perspective on technology and traditional media, I suppose.)

    Is it telling? (Perhaps.)

    *My initial searching reveals there isn’t an e-book version available elsewhere, via any other retailers.

    UPDATE: Here’s a new post — there’s an ebook available now!


    Off Topic: An Excellent Book about Nutrition

    2012 08 10 why calories count

    I’m read several books, over the years, about food and nutrition. I’ve tackled Gary Taubes’s popular books “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “Why We Get Fat,” as well as “In Defense of Food”, the hit book by Michael Pollan.

    I’ve also done some reading on “paleo nutrition,” which is popular in Crossfit circles.

    Perhaps the most compelling nutrition book I’ve read so far, though, is one I recently completed called “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics.”

    Written by the nutrition scholars Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim, the book is — as you would expect — rooted in science and references hard data. And that approach appeals to me.

    The book focuses on topics like the scientific history of our understanding of calories; how our bodies use calories; how calories are measured; how our metabolism works; what happens when we consume too few and too many calories; and — perhaps most interesting — the modern food environment and public policies surrounding food.

    Here are some of the points that stood out for me:

    1. The authors say that when it comes to gaining or losing weight, the quantity of what you eat is generally more important than the macronutrients in your food. As the title says, calories do count. So while diets that restrict carbohydrates — the kind of diet that seems to be especially popular now (see this earlier post) — work well for some people, science dictates that when you restrict calories, you lose weight. Generally, it doesn’t matter if you cut back on carbs, fat, or protein — it’s the overall calories that have been shown to matter. (Of course, long-term strategies for weight maintenance are a different story.)
    2. The human body has a tremendous capacity to deal with severely restricted calories, but we are horrible at dealing with calories in great excess. Once you’re obese, your metabolism actually fights to keep you overweight.
    3. Our physical surroundings matter: The authors talk about the U.S.’s “eat-more” environment, with its prevalent advertisements for calorically dense food. This seems to contribute to overeating, especially among children.
    4. Body weight is thought to be about 60 to 70 percent genetically determined.
    5. Many people over-emphasize the importance of exercise in weight loss. The best way to lose weight, or to maintain a healthy weight, is not to overeat. Yes, exercise is important because it keeps our bodies functioning optimally, and it provides psychological benefits. But to maintain your weight, just as we’ve heard through the years, its best to consume fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, etc. Yes: this is common sense.
    6. Interestingly, one reason, the authors say, that weight loss strategies in the U.S. so often focus heavily on exercise — think about the workout scenes in “The Biggest Loser” — is that exercise doesn’t threaten the food industry or policymakers. If you tell people to eat less, then the question becomes: Eat less of what? And that raises problems for, say, companies that derive their revenues from packaged food products. (As the saying goes, you can only squeeze so much profit out of broccoli.)

    7 Books

    2012 04 27 books
    Some books and long-form works I’ve downloaded, bought in physical form, am reading, or have recently finished:

    1. The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, by David Goldblatt
    2. Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945, by Max Hastings
    3. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande
    4. The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will(Eventually) Feel Better, by Tyler Cowen
    5. The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust, by Diana B. Henriques
    6. Soccer Men: Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World’s Most Popular Sport, by Simon Kuper
    7. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg

    (Cartoon via.)


    Now on Bizarre Thailand

    2011 07 21 bizarre thailand

    A quick note to point out that Bizarre Thailand: Tales of Crime, Sex and Black Magic, a book by old Thailand hand and all around good guy Jim Algie, is now available on

    The book’s official site has info on its contents and details on Jim’s interesting background.

    I understand that the book’s first print run has sold out, but that it can now be purchased from all of Amazon’s many country-specific sites.

    I haven’t had a chance to read the entire book yet, but I’ve seen a copy. My impression is that it captures, as the official site says, not just the country’s many delightful peculiarities, but “how the profound, profane and frankly quite odd intertwine with the rhythms and flows of everyday Thai life…”

    UPDATE July 22: Jim tells me another print run is in the works, so the book will continue to be available in bookstores, as well.