I like to dive into nonfiction the way I dive into TV series. That is to say I let others test the water first and look for recommendations from a number of sources. I went through several nonfiction best of the year lists for 2021 and came up with the following books I plan to read at the beginning of this year. I have finished the first two and if they sound interesting to you, I recommend them.
A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life by George Saunders. Saunders reviews seven short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, examining both the writing craft and the deeper meaning of each piece. Saunders is the author of Lincoln in the Bardo and this book was developed from a class on Russian short stories he teaches at Syracuse University.
Enemy of All Mankind: A True Story of Piracy, Power, and History's First Global Manhunt by Steven Johnson. The true story of seventeenth century pirate Henry Every and the global repercussions of his attack on an Indian treasure ship. It’s both a history lesson and an adventure tale in one and would make a great movie.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner, who had a big year. As the lede singer for Japanese Breakfast her 2021 album was on most “best of” lists and her autobiography topped the New York Times best sellers list.
Taste, by Stanley Tucci is a “memoir of life in and out of the kitchen.”
The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson. A biography of an innovator of gene editing and the developer of CRISPR.
The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times by Jane Goodall and Douglas Carlton Abrams. “In The Book of Hope, Jane focuses on her ‘Four Reasons for Hope’: The Amazing Human Intellect, The Resilience of Nature, The Power of Young People, and The Indomitable Human Spirit.”
The Boys : A Memoir of Hollywood and Family, by Ron Howard, Clint Howard and Bryce Dallas Howard. Ron and Clint Howard examine their lives in show business.
Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach examines “the curious science of human-wildlife conflict, a discipline at the crossroads of human behavior and wildlife biology.”
The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town by Brian Alexander takes a look at the American medical industry by “following the struggle for survival of one small-town hospital.”
The Sound of the Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans by Cynthia Barnett is a “history of seashells and the animals that make them, revealing what they have to tell us about nature, our changing oceans, and ourselves.”
The Horde: How the Mongols Changed the World by Marie Favereau is a well-reviewed history of the Mongols.
The Genome Odyssey: Medical Mysteries and the Incredible Quest to Solve Them by Euan Angus Ashley. “For the first time we have within our grasp the ability to predict our genetic future, to diagnose and prevent disease before it begins, and to decode what it really means to be human.”
Fifty-four albums appear on more than one list. But only five albums appeared on all of the lists. They are, in alphabetical order:
Japanese Breakfast , Jubilee
Jazmine Sullivan, Heaux Tales
Little Simz, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Turnstile, Glow On
Tyler, the Creator, Call Me If You Get Lost
Four albums appear on four of the lists, while 18 albums appear on three of the lists. Jazmine Sullivan's Heaux Tales and Olivia Rodrigo's Sour were each the top picks on two of the lists. But while Heaux Tales appears somewhere on all five lists, Sour doesn't appear at all on two of the lists.
All of this to say there is a great deal of variety about what people (even professional reviewers) consider the best albums of 2021. There is some limited consensus about a few albums, but not very much. Which is fine. I never much cared for music as a contest. Some albums I like very much appear at the bottom of these lists and the albums I most enjoyed this year aren't on any of the lists. So who is the winner here? You, the music listener, because these lists are great discovery tools for dipping into some albums you might have overlooked.
I've put a full breakdown of the album rankings as well as each top-50 lists into a spreadsheet you can browse yourself:
A while back I posted a recipe for ginger simple syrup. This simple recipe for a ginger old fashioned uses that syrup and has a tangy flavor, making a nice holiday cocktail.
2 oz rye whiskey
1/4 oz ginger simple syrup
2 dashes orange bitters
2 maraschino cherries
Add simple syrup, bitters and maraschino cherries to cocktail glass and lightly muddle cherries. Add a few cubes of ice and stir about 30 seconds or until cold. Top glass with ice and enjoy.
Note: The fruitiness of the cherries pairs well with the spiciness of the ginger syrup. For a step up use Luxardo cherries.
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