NOTE: This post will be continually updated with additional writing (and possibly new contenders to the lists) until the end of the year.
We grow so much each year. It’s a shame to lose that for ourselves, and it’s a shame not to share that growth with others.
Ever since my college days, I’ve found great value and enjoyment in writing a review of books, movies, music, and the like at the close of year. Sometimes it’s been a bit memoiristic as well; one piece I keep coming back to is “The Tree of Life” from 2011. To me, the value of writing an annual review is not narcissistic; rather, I consider it essential for self-reflection, and efficient for packaging valuable experiences for friends and acquaintances.
I recall where I was right at the start of 2015, having just finished an incredible year. In 2014, I spent nine months traveling through 23 countries in Europe on a budget of about $10,000 with my best friend Dylan and a whole cast of interesting characters on the road. The impetus for the trip was an immense feeling of exhaustion after my undergraduate career, as well as some encounters with depression that pushed me to seek refuge from places I called home. Spending winter in central Europe, spring in eastern Europe, and summer in western Europe gave me time to reflect on my adolescence and the life I wanted when I returned to California. The trip was also a refreshing experience of creativity and inspiration. I ended up turning about half of it into a series of short films, writing a novel as a form of therapy, developing a Moral CV, and developing the vision for what is now Cloud Arch Studio, among many other things. So in the end, seeking refuge in the unknown brought me right back to where I was, and closer to the person I had always been.
As for emotions, I have found solace in the idea that happiness is part of a cycle, as are all our experiences. There is no use running away from sadness, because the weight of sadness is what allows us to truly appreciate the lightness of happiness when it arrives.
The cycles of nature and the waves in our lives coexist and propagate through the same narrative. Almost as soon as I settled into grad school, I fell in love again. Once again I found myself cycling between school and outside projects, sometimes in and out of control, but on the whole with renewed purpose. In August, I wrote a blog post about my career plans to move between different part-time jobs and projects, striving each day to perform five basic acts: to Learn, to Teach, to Make, to Give, and to Love. Put another way, the cycle of production and consumption is critical to our daily growth. Neither the couch potato nor the workaholic is as balanced as the person who upcycles meaningful goods and ideas into new creations on a daily basis.
This is why I invest so much time in books, movies, music, podcasts, and the like. Apart from being enjoyable to the artist in me, they truly have inspired my own work in explicit and subtle ways, and as part of our collective consciousness, they are a kind of glue that binds, a kind of thread that weaves our experiences together. I’d now like to highlight those that impacted me the most, so that you may find them equally enriching.
Best books I read in 2015
These were not necessarily published in 2015; alas, one of the greatest sadnesses in life is that the rate at which new books are written far eclipses the rate at which any individual can consume them (the same is true for the upcoming categories as well). Furthermore, I seem to have wasted a great deal of my first twenty years letting important books pass me by. When I was freed from the grasps of college, I renewed a vigor for reading which got me to 24 books in 2013, 26 in 2014, and hopefully 30 this year (22 at the time of writing). I’d like to think that I can keep this trend going for many more years, especially as I have just gotten seriously into nonfiction this year. I once said that my goal in life is to one day be able to just read books for the rest of my life.
My new lifestyle is very conducive to reading because I take the BART and Caltrain regularly around the Bay. In fact one of the biggests benefits of ditching my car for public transportation, in my mind, besides all the various environmental and urbanistic benefits that I preach in class, is that I can read. It’s so wonderful to me that the length of my commute doesn’t bother me at all. (NOTE: When I used to drive a lot, podcasts would be the next best thing to do while driving. Nowadays I switch fluidly between podcasts and books on my commute; basically if I’m ever walking or standing on a bus, I’m listening to podcasts, and as soon as I sit down for at least a half hour stretch of time, I switch to music and pull out a book.)
Before we begin, a quick curation of the best I read from 2014: