I’ve railed against lists for years and years. Ranking art is is troubling for many reasons and all we’re usually left with after is inflated egos and hurt feelings. Comparing things people make is often pointless because nobody starts out with the same intent or arrives at anything resembling a similar result. That said, sharing the things one has enjoyed in the hope that others might also enjoy it can be worthwhile. Here are a few of mine. Some of them were made this year, others earlier. The only thing they have in common is that I happened on them in 2014.
I picked up a paperback of Martin Amis’s Experience at a local Powell’s that was closing. I’d read a novel or two of his years ago but had no distinct memory of them but his name was familiar and the price couldn’t be beat, so why not add another book to the teetering stack waiting by the bedside?
Everybody and their mother’s written a memoir or three at this point—I should know—but I didn’t want this one to end. The hulking figure at the center of Amis’s story is his father, Kingsley, a monumental literary, as well as personal presence in Martin’s life. The book is full of excerpts of Kingsley’s prose and poems. Other writers like Philip Larkin, Saul Bellow, and Christopher Hitchens make regular appearances as well. All the while Amis comes up with one beautiful sentence after another after another. This is the rare book in which I wasn’t irritated by frequent footnotes because each opened another rabbit-hole or side-path to another angle on the story he was recounting.
It doesn’t hurt that one’s biography is filled with noted and accomplished cultural figures but bookstores the world over are filled with half-literate tomes written (or more often, ghost-written) by the famous. Amis does much more than name-drop here. His accounts of the epic battle with his teeth and the haunting memory of his cousin Lucy Partington’s murder at the hands of serial killer Frederick West are worth the cover price in and of themselves. But even if Amis hadn’t lead a remarkable life, I’d recommend this book for the joy and mastery with which he handles the English language. What he does best here is to show what it actually is to take in the world through words.
I picked up this book on somebody’s recommendation and it knocked me for a loop. It’s one of the funniest and truest evocations of the Soviet emigre experience I’ve ever read. Akhtiorskaya just writes beautiful sentences, even if the subject-matter was of no interest to me. I look forward to seeing what she does for an encore.
I wouldn’t have found out about this book if I hadn’t signed to have my own book published by Curbside Splendor. If all I got from getting involved with them was reading William’s amazing book, it will have been worth it. What he has to say about authenticity, America, and fame will resonate around the corners of my mind for years to come.
Wendy MacNaughton is an inspiration both as an artist and as a person and this book is a beautiful evocation of a city she knows like few others. I feel lucky to’ve crossed paths with her and always look forward to what she does next.
This is cosmic wingnut Alejandro Jodorowsky’s most straightforward and autobiographical film. But there are still no shortage of surreal and out-and-out questionable moments here to keep longtime acolytes sated. I watched this thing with a smile on my face for its entire running time.
I could’ve continued Frederick Wiseman’s 3-hour verité visit to a museum for another 3 or 4 hours. Brilliantly shows the many ways in which visual art can grab and hold us.
Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickendon’s 8-years-in-the-making portrait of outsider artist Peter Anton is the kind of warts-and-all documentary that we could use a lot more of. It has much to say about failure, the industrial decline of the Midwest, and what happens to some of us creative types when we’re left to our own devices.
I saw Iñarritu’s film twice and it gutted me both times. Maybe it’s got to do with being a middle-aged man full of regrets but few movies have hit me as hard as this one in recent memory.
I’ve loved the Handsome Family’s dark, funny tunes forever. Driving 4 hours to Iowa City to hear them play to a 100 of us seated on the stage of the Englert Theater was one of the more memorable concert experiences I can recall.
Richard Buckner’s unbilled opening set was a revelation as well.
A few days ago Jim DeRogatis mentioned Shellac’s 2014 record on Sound Opinions and played a track. I spent the rest of that day playing the songs that were on YouTube, then went and bought the record and have listened to almost no other music since. I even texted Bob Weston to ask what I could do to stop. He suggested the Foo Fighters. I’m not ready for that kind of Clockwork Orange-style aversion therapy. I told him I’d just keep listening.
Dmitry Samarov was born in Moscow, USSR in 1970. He immigrated to the US with his family in 1978. He got in trouble in 1st grade for doodling on his Lenin Red Star pin and hasn’t stopped doodling since. After a false start at Parsons School of Design in New York, he graduated with a BFA in painting and printmaking from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993.Upon graduation he promptly began driving a cab—first in Boston, then after a time, in Chicago—which eventually led to the publication of his illustrated work memoir Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab by University of Chicago Press in 2011 and Where To? A Hack Memoir from Curbside Splendor. He has exhibited his work in all manner of bars, coffeeshops, libraries, and even the odd gallery (when he’s really hard up ). He paints and writes in Chicago, Illinois. He no longer drives a cab.
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I agree that National Gallery was an engrossing documentary. Great to see so many different aspects and perspectives on the museum. I’m also really looking forward to seeing Birdman.