Before we say bye to 2015…

A tram in Lisbon, Portugal

A tram in Lisbon, Portugal.

Happy 2016!

Before 2015 completely fades into the horizon, I wanted to take a moment to appreciate various amazing things I discovered over the year. (Quick note: Some of them were made much earlier, but they took a while to find me.)

1. Books

Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice

How to Get Lucky: 13 techniques for discovering and taking advantage of life’s good breaks, by Max Gunther – I’m an amateur self-help fan, and like how you can pick and choose each author’s advice depending on how it applies to your own life. This book appealed to me especially because Gunther (a one-time journalist) dissects how to make or break your luck in a very rational, straightforward style. So, it’s old but many of the principles hold true. I learned about this on the Farnam Street blog.

I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend (audiobook), by Martin Short – This book has a remarkable amount of depth and humility for a celebrity memoir. My advice: For sure listen to it. Short is a brilliant voice actor and vocally recounting scenes from his life makes the stories still more intimate. It’s cheesy, but by the end you really do feel like one of his best friends.

The Paradox Choice, by Barry Schwartz – Are you a Maximizer or a Satisficer? This book was written in 2004 yet, even today, still spills over with interesting ideas about how the number of options we encounter can overwhelm us. (And perhaps still offer some value.) Regardless of whether you agree with Schwartz’ conclusions, it’s a fascinating way to look at how we make decisions.

2. TV

Friday Night Lights – Honestly, apart from Portugal, this might be my favorite of this whole list. I was late to watch the series, but was in its grips from episode 3 or 4 up until the very end. (That said, feel free to skip Season 2.)

3. Film

Clouds of Sils Maria – When Olivier Assayas does well, he does wonderfully–this movie is a great example. Instead of playing some mysterious European, Juliette Binoche’s character is grappling with very real issues of aging and friendship. Kristen Stewart gives her role complete and utter authenticity.

A Most Violent Year – I’m terrible about watching violence; fortunately this movie doesn’t have much of it. It’s retro and dramatic and thrilling in all the most watchable ways.

Digging for Fire – Having seen a few of Joe Swanberg’s earlier movies, I thought this ran a risk of being too indie and precious. It turned out to be friendly and universal.

4. Travel

Pena Palace, Portugal

Pena Palace, Portugal

Portugal – Somehow everything there managed to be vibrant, historic, and kind. I can’t wait to go back.


5. Wellness & Beauty


Smith’s Rosebud Salve  – Really, truly moisturizes lips. Finally!

Nutribullet – Makes green smoothies so much easier.

Running an ice cube over your face – Love how it smoothes and tightens skin.


Some Saturday notes

The Tailor and the Giant, by James Kruss

The Tailor and the Giant (by James Kruss and Edith Witt) was one of my favorites growing up.

1. Do you find it hard to meditate regularly, or at all? That’s fine, says Adam Grant.

2. The German movie Phoenix is just great–see it if you get the chance. It has a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. (I’m normally a scaredy cat about thrillers, but this one strikes the perfect balance of suspense, melancholy, and history.)

3. This Target boho blouse just nails it–pretty embroidery without being too peasanty. I am wearing it now.

4. During a Q&A at Town Hall the other night, Steven Pinker responded that he’s pro-Oxford Comma and the audience started cheering. (Who can’t love Seattle?)

5. I had no idea Chuck Palahniuk is irrepressibly hilarious until I heard this Live Wire interview.

6. Palace journeys continue: It’s almost time to head over here, hurrah!


Adam Gopnik on language

Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik

A May issue of the New Yorker had been floating around my apartment, purse, and backpack for a while now (let’s not bother to count backward). When I finally did dig into it, though, I was delighted to come across Adam Gopnik’s “Word Magic.” Here are just a couple of my favorite parts:

1. On word use:

In truth, language seems less like a series of cells in which we are imprisoned than like a set of tools that help us escape: some of the files are rusty; some will open any door; and most you have to jiggle around in the lock. But, sooner or later, most words work.

2. An ode to good writing:

If lucid writing is the sign of a moral state, it’s the moral state of hard work, keener effort, acquired craft–a desire to communicate rather than intimidate, to have fun with a fellow-mind rather than bully a disciple. Sane and shapely sentences are good because they’re sane and shapely. There’s no guarantee that they’ll contain the truth: lots of sane and shapely sentence makers have had silly ideas. But, like sane and shapely people and homes, they are nice to have around to look at.

Good quotes from Gary Shtyngart’s Little Failure

Photo by Chester Higgins Jr. for The New York Times.

Gary Shtyngart – photo by Chester Higgins Jr. for The New York Times.

If you’re in the mood for something easy and funny, pick Little Failure up sometime.

1. On publication:

“The early joys of my impending publication, and then the joys of actual publication, are without equal in my life. There’s something outrageously simple about extending yourself toward a goal the way a plant seeks the sun’s rays or a gopher the crunch of easy soil beneath his paws, and then getting exactly what you want, sunshine or some prized tuber.” (p. 317)

2. On psychoanalysis:

“It gets easier.

It gets easier faster.

It is fashionable now to discredit psychoanalysis. The couch. The four or five days a week of narcissistic brooding. The reaching over to pluck Kleenex from the quilted tissue box beneath the African pietà thing. The penis-y Freudianism underlying it all. I have made fun of it myself in a novel called Absurdistan, my hero, the overweight and self-indulgent Misha Vainber, son of Russian oligarch, constantly calling his Park Avenue shrink while the real post-Soviet world disintegrates around him and people die.

The truth of it is that it is not for everyone. It is not for most people. It is difficult, painful, and tedious work. It feels, at first, like a diminution of power rendered upon a person who already feels powerless. It is a drain on the bank account and it takes away at least four hours a week that could be profitably spent looking oneself up on the World Wide Web. And, quite often, there is seeming pointlessness to individual sessions that makes my days studying Talmud or Hebrew school brim with relative insight. But.

It saves my life. What more can I add to that?” (p. 311)

Loved it

Sonia Sotomayor autograph

My Beloved World
by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

A couple weeks ago, my friend Katie and I went to Town Hall and saw Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor talk about her memoir, My Beloved World, with Eric Liu. I only knew the basics before going, but it turns out she is indeed remarkable. (So remarkable, this lawyer-dense audience hung on her every word.) Reading her book afterward–every  audience member was given a free, autographed copy–only reinforced those good vibes and feelings of respect.

What impressed me the most as I learned about Sotomayor’s life was both her humility and passion for learning. No airs, no entitlement–just unrelenting hard work, kindness, and a deep commitment to fairness. Let’s hope she writes another soon, with compelling book tour to go with. : )