At Years End: Our 2020 Favorites

The criteria for our 2020 favorites is simple.

What media did we revisit multiple times in 2020?

Let’s find out.


Art of Manliness podcast #587:

How to Get More Pleasure and Fulfillment Out of Your Reading with Professor Alan Jacob and Brett Mckay.

This interview rejuvenated my reading life.

Here Professor Jacobs presents reading on a Whim. The idea that one should read what interests them, rather than what “you’re supposed to”.

Professor Jacobs argues reading shouldn’t be a chore, but rather a pleasurable experience.

You don’t have to read according to an assignment or according to a list of approved texts. Enjoy your freedom. Go out there and follow your whim. And by that, I mean follow that which really draws your spirit and your soul and see where that takes you. If it turns out that you spend a year reading Stephen King novels or something like that, that’s totally fine. That’s not a problem. Read your Stephen King novels, but there are also really good novels.

But whatever it happens to be, if you’re reading young adult fiction for a year, read young adult fiction for a year. After a while, you probably got to have enough of that. But don’t go around making your reading life a kind of means of authenticating yourself as a serious person. It’s just no way to live. So, I would always tell them, “Give yourself a break. Don’t make a list. See where Whim takes you.”

Professor Jacob’s reading advice to his students

YouTube Video:

Kevin Kelly’s 68 Bits of Unsolicited advice

Kevin wrote this as a letter on his 68th birthday as a gift to his son (He practices the Hobbit tradition of birthdays).

Thankfully, he recorded and shared the advice on his YouTube channel. It is a word of encouragement for us all:

There is no limit on better. Talent is distributed unfairly, but there is no limit on how much we can improve what we start with.

– Kevin Kelly


On the Move: A Life By Oliver Sacks.

This book took 5 years to finish, not because Sacks’ memoir isn’t compulsively readable, but because there were other books I thought I should read instead.

Sack’s life is one to emulate. Not by becoming a neurologist and cultivating a British Accent. But rather by seeing life, all of life – love, career, hobbies travel, failure, success, as an adventure to pursue.

At one time, my father had thought of a career in neurology but then decided that general practice would be “more real,” “more fun,” because it would bring him into deeper contact with people and their lives.

This intense human interest he preserved to the last: when he reached the age of ninety, David and I entreated him to retire-or at least, to stop his house calls. He replied that home visits were “the heart” of medical practice and that he would sooner stop anything else. From the age of ninety to almost ninety-four, he would charter a mini-cap for the day to continue house calls.

Dr. Sack’s on his father’s career


The life of Philip Glass, by Dan Wang

Dan Wang’s article on Philip Glass’ memoir –Words Without Music was inspiring.

Learning that Glass drove taxis, and was a self-taught plumber proves there’s no shame in taking day jobs to support one’s calling.

Learning that Glass didn’t succeed as a full time composer until his forties served as a reminder.

Stamina can take one to the impossible.

Glass didn’t work just as a taxi driver and as a (self-taught) plumber. He also worked in a steel factory, as a gallery assistant, and as a furniture mover. He continued doing these jobs until the age of 41, when a commission from the Netherlands Opera decisively freed him from having to drive taxis. Just in time, too, as he describes an instance when he came worryingly close to being murdered in his own cab.


Paterson: written and directed by Jim Jarmusch

Kylo Ren’s new life as a bus driver poet?


I’m more and more captivated by movies where the stakes aren’t the end of civilization. Paterson is a entertaining example of this idea.

Paterson was also a gateway to the poet William Carlos Williams. Who somehow I’d never heard of before 2020.

Twitter Feed:

Ted Gioia, @tedgioia.

Who else can recommend 4 books they “consult often” on Duke Ellington? Next level stuff, that.

Gioia’s Annual 100 favorite albums list is a must read. Here’s 2020’s:

ideas interviews Thinkers writer's inspiration

Kevin Kelly’s 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice, with context.

When Kevin Kelly posted 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice for his 68th birthday, I was like worrrrrdddd.

But I was also left wanting more.

I needed context.

What do you mean Trust me: There is no “them” ?

How likely am I to get in a land war in Asia?

Are you sure the universe is conspiring behind my back to make me a success? I’m not sure I believe in pronoia Mr. Kelly.

Then Freakonomics dropped podcast episode #419: 68 Ways to Be Better at Life. Stephen Dubner had Mr. Kelly expand on his timeless list of wisdom biscuits.

Listen below:

amreading Commonplace Book writer's inspiration

How to Read a Book. Turns out, I had no idea.

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. By Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.

It’s a book I hesitated to buy. A book on how to read a book? Come on. I got this.

But people far smarter than I recommended it.

Kevin Kelly mentions it on his selections for the Manual for Civilization. Maria Popova has it listed on her Brain Pickings piece – 9 Books on Reading and Writing.

I clicked BUY NOW.

Structurally I thought it would be a step-by-step guide.

Step 1 – Open the book. Step 2 – Don’t use a highlighter. That sort of thing. Instead it’s broken into topics. Essays on how to read specific topics and genres.

Examples include:

How to Read History

How to Read Philosophy

And the chapter I started with: Suggestions for Reading Stories, Plays, and Poems

Adler and Van Doren’s argument for reading quickly surprised me.

The first piece of advice we would like to give you for reading a story is this: Read it quickly and with total immersion. Ideally, a story should be read at one sitting, although this is rarely possible for busy people with long novels. Nevertheless, the ideal should be approximated by compressing the reading of a good story into as short a time as feasible. Otherwise you will forget what happened, the unity of the plot will escape you and you will be lost.

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. By: Mortimer J. Adler, Charles Van Doren, pgs 212,213

I’m a slow reader. I’m looking to absorb every character in detail. Adler and Van Doren suggest we’ll remember who’s important:

We should not expect to remember every character; many of them are merely background persons, who are there only to set off the actions of the main characters. However, by the time we have finished War and Peace or any big novel, we know who is important, and we do not forget. Pierre, Andrew, Natasha, Princess Mary, Nicholas- the names are likely to come immediately to memory, although it may have been years since we read Tolstoy’s book.

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. By: Mortimer J. Adler, Charles Van Doren, pg 213

They argue this is also true for incidents. We should trust the author to flag what’s important:

We also, despite the plethora of incidents, soon learn what is important. Authors generally give a good deal of help in this respect; they do not want the reader to miss what is essential to the unfolding of the plot, so they flag it in various ways. But our point is that you should not be anxious if all is not clear from the beginning. Actually, it should not be clear then. A story is like life itself; in life, we do not expect to understand events as they occur, at least with total clarity, but looking back on them, we do understand. So the reader of a story, looking back on it after he has finished it, understand the relation of events and the order of actions.

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. By: Mortimer J. Adler, Charles Van Doren, pg 213

A book can lose your attention because it’s not clear in the beginning. I fumbled through the first chapter of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, not sure what was happening. I kept on though. It turned out to be one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Adler and Van Doren on the importance of finishing a book:

All of this comes down to the same point: you must finish a story in order to be able to say that you have read it well.

How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. By: Mortimer J. Adler, Charles Van Doren, pg 213

With that, I’m going to give this reading quicker idea a go. Starting with Patrick Rothfuss‘s Name of the Wind.

I’ll report back.

Keep reading.

amreading writer's inspiration

The Manual for Civilization: a curation of books for our future

The Long Now Foundation has scrambled up the the idea of a reading list.

Instead of the typical what we’re reading now list. Or, our favorite summer reads list. They’ve asked us to imagine reading beyond our lifetimes by posing the question:

What Books Would You Choose to Restart Civilization?

With the the goal of:

Gathering essential books and democratizing human knowledge for future generations.

It’s ambitious. It’s thoughtful. It’s called:

The Manual For Civilization.

There have been 11 contributors to date, but Kevin Kelly’s list via Medium introduced me to the project.

Kevin, the author of the Inevitable, and host of the stupid-dope-fresh podcast Cool Tools, assembled a list of nearly 200 tomes.

Below are three titles from Kevin’s list that piqued my immediate interest.

The Manual for Civilization has me meditating on this idea of a reading list for the future. I’m asking myself:

What books would I select, and why? 
Which books would a scholar or intellectual from an eastern culture select?
Which books would you select?

Check out Kevin’s list in full here, and the rest of the contributors here.