Chad Comello

libraries, culture, typewriters

Tag: lists (page 1 of 2)

Revisiting my top films of 2008

Ten years ago I ranked my top 10 films of 2008. (I also started filmlogging.) Since last year’s revisit of my top films of 2007 was so fun, I thought I’d make this an annual tradition.

Here’s my original 2008 list:

  1. WALL-E
  2. Happy-Go-Lucky
  3. Man on Wire
  4. In Bruges
  5. Rachel Getting Married
  6. Shotgun Stories
  7. The Dark Knight ­­
  8. Tell No One
  9. Encounters at the End of the World
  10. Milk

Lots of interesting choices here. Kinda shocked Happy-Go-Lucky was so high and that Milk made the list. Also surprised I was so into Man on Wire and Rachel Getting Married. That year in general was a time with an odd mix of hope (Obama elected) and darkness (the world economy). The tenor of these picks falls all along that spectrum, as I suppose any year with a properly diverse array of films should.

Ten years out, that hope-despair spectrum remains but my taste has changed, if only slightly. As always, without rewatching all the candidates it’s hard to make a totally fair and accurate list, but here’s where my gut goes:

  1. Summer Hours
  2. WALL-E
  3. Goodbye Solo
  4. In Bruges
  5. Shotgun Stories
  6. Tell No One
  7. Man on Wire
  8. The Dark Knight
  9. Rachel Getting Married
  10. Encounters at the End of the World

With honorable mention to Rachel Getting Married, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Iron Man, Burn After Reading, The Wrestler, W., Happy-Go-Lucky, and Milk.

The precipitous drop of Happy-Go-Lucky, which went from #2 to honorable mention, was surprising. Perhaps a rewatch would put it back on the list. But I had to crown a new champion in Summer Hours, the Olivier Assayas family drama, and bump Milk for Goodbye Solo.

I fondly recall watching all of these during college, when I was also discovering so many old and new films in the cinephile canon. My college library and the public library were go-to sources. Some things never change.

Code of Ethics for engineers (and everyone)

Not sure where I found this on the interwebs, but I immediately fell in love with it—not for the engineering and robotics aspect, but for how it can be used for any creative work:

Let’s call these the 10 Commandments of Creative Work. Just replace “robot” with your art of choice:

1. Be industrious. Build, test, repeat.

2. Follow Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

3. Ask questions. Always.

4. Try things you’ve never tried before. There are many solutions to one problem.

5. Don’t fall apart if your robot does. It’s a chance to begin again.

6. Keep tinkering even if you’ve run out of ideas. Building will bring you more ideas.

7. Save your best ideas in secret notebooks.

8. Read lots of books about other things. Things that are not robots.

9. Pay attention to dreams.

10. Remember: the best robots are the ones you haven’t thought of yet.

Music of the moment, ctd

An ongoing series on music I’ve encountered recently.

“Strange American Dream” by Rayland Baxter, Wide Awake
Recently I decided I wanted to find a way to regularly hear new music. If only there were a podcast, I thought, from a renowned media company that featured new music every week. Then I realized that was NPR’s All Songs Considered, a podcast I’ve known about for years but never listened to. The first episode I heard featured this song. I was hooked right away, dove into his back catalog, and then found out he was playing in Chicago exactly when I could make it. It was a great show: he’s like the lovechild of Tom Petty and Steve Miller Band, with a dash of U2.

“Waiting on a Song” by Dan Auerbach, Waiting on a Song
I was on a Black Keys-adjacent kick and realized I hadn’t listened to Auerbach’s solo stuff. I didn’t care for Keep It Hid, but Waiting on a Song is a sparkling mix of pop, rock, and soul.

“To the Great Unknown” by Cloud Cult, The Seeker
A buddy of mine told me about Cloud Cult in the midst of a deep conversation about the mysteries of the universe. Turns out Cloud Cult is a great guide in that journey. I can’t decide if I actually like Minowa’s voice or not, but the combination of stargazing lyrics and indie rock just does something for me.

“The Last Goodbye” by Uncle Earl, Waterloo, Tennessee
Pretty sure I have Abigail Washburn’s Wikipedia page to thank for stumbling upon this band she was in before her solo work. Combining her voice and banjo-fueled folk music can never go wrong.

“Steamboat Whistle Blues” by John Hartford, Aereo-Plain
Without realizing it, the first Hartford song I heard was Sara Watkins’ cover of “Long Hot Summer Days” almost a decade ago. It took until recently to look into his stuff, and the banjo-heavy “newgrass” of Aereo-Plain emerged as the favorite. It has several straight-up weird songs, but this one ain’t one of them:

‘Remember what’s important’ and other principles of the modern hunter-gatherer

Humans are not hunter-gatherers anymore, but we were for a long time. Nicholas Bate has a list of 50 skills we collectively gained from that era can go to waste in our modern existence, unless we realize how useful they still are. I like the list because it combines small practicalities with big-picture stuff. For example:

Tell stories that fire the imagination.

Use eyes for distances beyond the screen: look long, look up.

Remember what’s important.

Stare at night skies unpolluted by light.

Establish rituals: writing, building & crafting, reflecting

No elevators. No escalators. No PPT. No Facebook after the sun sets.

Be self-reliant: learn how it works, from pensions to mowers.

Believe in magic.

Scan the horizon.

Evolve, change and learn from the masters.

Never let the fire go out.

How to have better conversations

Via Kottke, here are radio interviewer Celeste Headlee’s 10 tips for better conversations:

  1. Don’t multitask.
  2. Don’t pontificate.
  3. Use open-ended questions.
  4. Go with the flow.
  5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs.
  7. Try not to repeat yourself.
  8. Stay out of the weeds.
  9. Listen.
  10. Be brief.

I’m better at some of these than others. I think about #6 a lot because it’s so easy to do, and I think about #5 a lot because, for me at least, it’s so hard to do.

Additionally, WSJ’s “Save Yourself From Tedious Small Talk” offers some conversation-openers that spark pleasure and deeper thinking beyond today’s weather and the traffic you hit on your way here:

  • Have you been working on anything exciting recently?
  • What was the highlight of your day?
  • Any exciting plans this summer?
  • What do you do to relax?
  • What’s keeping you awake at night?

Favorite Books of 2017

Goodreads tells me I read one less book this year than last. Though always tempted to read ever more and more, I’ve become less concerned about hitting arbitrary reading quotas, so I’m able to better enjoy the books I do read. Here are the 2017 books I enjoyed the most, with links to reviews I wrote when I read them:

  1. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper (review)

  2. Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler (review)

  3. High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel

  4. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

  5. The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World by Damon Krukowski (review)

  6. Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks (review)

  7. How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds by Alan Jacobs (review)

  8. Movies are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings by Josh Larsen (review)

  9. The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek by Howard Markel (review)

  10. The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse (review)


Honorable mentions:

The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures by the Library of Congress

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

The Book Thieves: The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries by Anders Rydell (review)

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

Rainy Lake House: Twilight of Empire on the Northern Frontier by Theodore Catton

2017 in review

NYE2017-windows

This is the view from my New Year’s Eve. Since I can count the number of degrees it is outside on one hand, I decided to stay in this morning to look back at my 2017 calendar and remember the notable events, trips, and people that made up my year. In chronological order:

  1. The Packers beating the Giants and the Cowboys in the playoffs.

  2. Going down to Florida for my cousin’s funeral was the definition of bittersweet: horrible reason for being there, but good opportunity to see family we don’t see very often.

  3. Sold two typewriters for more than I bought them for. It’s a seller’s market out there.

  4. Went to Ann Arbor, MI, for the first time for a baby shower and hung out with far flung friends.

  5. Starting a two-person book club with my friend Josh, where we get together to eat and discuss the book, along with politics, religion, and everything under the sun. I call them our “save the world” sessions because we sort through the miasma of current events and decide on the proper way to fix them. If only D.C. would listen in!

  6. Bar trivia with Jenny and her cousins. Weren’t close to winning, but reminded me I should do bar trivia more.

  7. Had neighbors over for dinner, which reminded me we should have neighbors over for dinner more.

  8. Saw my grandma the day before she died. Though by that time she was unresponsive, the timing was fortuitous.

  9. Long weekend trip to the Twin Cities to visit friends. Hung out with their awesome kids and gallivanted around town.

  10. Hosted a marriage proposal in our apartment by people who used to live in it.

  11. Saw Sandra McCracken at The Union with Jenny, three of my favorite things.

  12. Got quoted in Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, then hosted a discussion about the book at a local potluck.

  13. Went to Durham, NC, for a wedding and loved it.

  14. Continued playing ultimate frisbee Sunday afternoons when I was able, and loving the feeling of a perfectly thrown touchdown.

  15. Got to facilitate two dozen very cute interviews between 3rd graders for a local history project at my library.

  16. Saw the Cubs lose to the Brewers at Wrigley Field on a cold and rainy day. Highlights within that include seeing two of Jenny’s cousins there, and Nick Offerman walking directly past us after singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.

  17. Went to my first local ward meeting, in a post-election effort to become more civically engaged.

  18. Had a quick and haphazard solo recording session of some of my songs. Won’t be able to use most of it, but it reminded me of the agony and ecstasy of recording.

  19. Took several quick trips to Jenny’s family cottage in Michigan, including over Independence Day weekend.

  20. Celebrated two years of marriage to my bride, who supports my weird hobbies and makes me want to be a better person.

  21. Went to ALA 2017 in Chicago. Seeing the Librarian of Congress was a highlight.

  22. Called or hung out with several friends, new and old, to catch up and get to know each other, all of which I appreciate.

  23. Drove to Toronto for a family wedding. The 8-hour drive wasn’t so great, but being there for the first time was.

  24. Convened with family in Cape May, NJ, for a reunion of sorts, then caravanned to Elkins, WV, for grandma’s memorial service. Saw lots of extended family for the first time and got to hang with my cousins’ kids, who grow too fast.

  25. Played golf for the first time in at least 15 years in Elkins the morning of the memorial. Grateful for my cousin’s husband’s caddying and encouragement the whole rushed 9. Sank one sweet putt and had one great approach shot, otherwise: A for effort.

  26. My sister visited to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field. We were planning to just listen from outside the ballpark as I did years ago with a friend for Paul McCartney, but on a whim we checked the box office for tickets and decided to jump on them as an early birthday present to me. Awesome show.

  27. Saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, California Typewriter, and Columbus at the Music Box.

  28. Hosted several friends and family overnight on our pullout couch-bed, having each of them leave a note in our guest book.

  29. Went to college homecoming for the first time since graduating, and got an alumni discount on a t-shirt as a reward.

  30. Got an advance copy of Tom Hanks’ typewriter book, which I reviewed, then photographed with one of my typers, which got on the news. Then got a letter from the man himself.

  31. Met up with friends in Asheville, NC, which was gorgeous and fun.

  32. Wrote a post a day for #Novemblog2017 instead of trying and failing to write a novel I wouldn’t enjoy doing anyway. Some favorites: This is my alarm clockWant to Read (∞): on becoming a good reader, Google Past, and In praise of wedding reception air drumming.

  33. Got invited to a Friendsgiving and tried to build a gingerbread house with a kid who was super stoked about it.

  34. Welcomed long-awaited nephew Olin Charles into the world, and began taking pictures of him immediately.

  35. Got some books, a Merriam-Webster t-shirt, a banjo capo, and other fun little things for Christmas.

  36. Encountered lots of great books, movies, and music, and wrote more entries in Cool Civil War Names and Refer Madness.

2017: Not Bad!

Highlights from #XmasMusicBinge2017

As I near the end of my annual Christmas music binge, a few songs have stuck out. Check them out while the mood is right and the spirit’s up:

“Mvmt II: Begin and Never Cease” by The Oh Hellos, The Oh Hellos Family Christmas Album. You really ought to listen through the whole (short) album in one go, which is like one long medley, but the second movement’s ecstatic exuberance echoes Mumford & Sons mixed with Anathallo.

“Snow” by Sleeping At Last, Christmas Collection. O’Neal explains on a recent episodes of his podcast that it’s heavily inspired by It’s A Wonderful Life but also about the concept of home during the holidays.

“Silent Night” by Rosie Thomas, A Very Rosie Christmas. Rosie’s bouncy original “Why Can’t It Be Christmastime All Year” is always a fun listen, but don’t sleep on the rest of the album’s dreamy, riverine covers like this one. Great for a cozy nights staring at a twinkling Christmas tree.

“All I Need Is Love” by CeeLo Green & The Muppets. For successfully turning “Mahna Mahna” into a Christmas song.

“First Snowfall” by Over the Rhine, Blood Oranges in the Snow. Leave it to OTR to capture a different kind of Christmas, ramshackle and real, far from the Norman Rockwell scenes traditional Christmas songs paint.

“12 Days of Christmas” by Relient K, Let It Snow, Baby… Let It Reindeer. There aren’t a lot of great versions of this song because it’s such a pain to make 12 repetitive verses interesting. But Relient K pulls it off with verve.

Top films of 2007: will ‘There Will Be Blood’ be there?

Filmspotting’s recent Sacred Cow review of There Will Be Blood inspired me to rewatch it for the first time since seeing it in theaters, and go back and look at my top films of 2007. They were:

1) The Lives of Others (technically 2006, but released in the U.S. in 2007)
2) Once
3) Waitress
4) Zodiac
5) Michael Clayton
6) No Country for Old Men
7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
8) Ratatouille
9) Juno
10) 3:10 to Yuma

As you can see, There Will Be Blood did not make the list. I remember in the theater being impressed but bored, which was not the case for its Oscar “rival” that year, No Country for Old Men. Because of that I predicted Blood wouldn’t win Best Picture; compared to the tight plotting and propulsive thrills of No Country, its sprawling scope and tonal opacity would be a tough sell in a popularity contest.

I’d still give Best Picture to No Country. But a second viewing of Blood brought it way up in my estimation. What P.T. Anderson’s films lack in scrutability they more than make up for in production design, soundtrack, and acting prowess. What superlative could I use for Daniel Day-Lewis that hasn’t already been beaten to death with a bowling pin? The man is mesmerizing. In a 158-minute movie, I couldn’t take my eyes off him for one of them. He shares MVP with the cinematographer Robert Elswit, who similarly has earned the hyperbole around his work.

So where would I rank There Will Be Blood now? Making a new list without rewatching all the films I rated highly but haven’t seen since then, like Waitress and Michael Clayton, is a bit of a fool’s errand. But as it stands now, including the 2007 films I’ve seen since making the list, here’s what it looks like:

1) The Lives of Others
2) Once
3) Zodiac
4) No Country for Old Men
5) Waitress
6) Munyurangabo
7) There Will Be Blood
8) Michael Clayton
9) Ratatouille
10) Into the Wild

Sorry, Juno, 3:10 to Yuma, and Sweeney Todd, but I had to make room for There Will Be Blood, Into the Wild, and Munyurangabo. Honorable mention goes to The Diving Bell and the ButterflyHairspray, and Enchanted. Pretty great year overall!

The Christmas Songs

It’s that time of year
When the world falls in love
Every song you hear seems to say
Merry Christmas
May your new year’s dreams come true

— “The Christmas Waltz”

For a while I only listened to Christmas music in December. This rule kept that music fresh, even sacred (something I like to do), and tethered to the season it’s meant for. But as a compromise to my wife—a Yuletide hedonist if there ever was one—a few years ago I bumped up the unleashing of my Christmas collection to the day after Thanksgiving. This allowed me to enjoy Thanksgiving before switching gears to the Christmas season.

This year we kicked things off, as I always do, with Christmas With the Rat Pack, followed by She & Him’s Christmas Party. It’s not even December and I’ve already listened to the Christmas albums of Nat King Cole, Relient K, Perry Como, Hanson, The Oh Hellos (quickly becoming my favorite), Count Basie, Marty Robbins, and the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. But I’ve got plenty of stuff left to accompany me to the end of the year, when I send them back into digital storage to await their annual calling.

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