Our year in culture: Books, movies, and music of 2009, part 1

This is the first of a series of posts from all three of this site’s current contributors, about our favorite books, music, and movies of 2009—not necessarily made in 2009, but consumed, pondered, enjoyed and treasured by each of us during the past year. Tomorrow we’ll hear from Christy Tennant, with Andy Crouch rounding out the series on Wednesday.

Movies (well, DVDs): Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven; Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven, Chang-dong Lee’s Oasis, and Akira Kurosawa’s Red Beard. 3/4 of the top tier have heaven-ish titles; all are about refuge in one way or another.

Honorable mention to Bette Davis in The Letter, the beautiful Apollo mission footage of For All Mankind, the sublime Flamenco of Carlos Saura’s Bodas de Sangre, and the quasi-New England cookiness of The Devil and Daniel Webster. I’ve also been trying to increase my Bollywood literacy, enjoying some 70s classics like Deewaar as well as, most recently, the hyperactive neon camp of Kutch Kutch Hota Hai, which is a bit like watching a revival of Grease in a gumdrop factory.

In my reading, the stand-out was Dave Eggers’ autobiography of a Sudanese ‘lost boy’, What Is the What. I also dug Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger on the levels of both story and history, as well as Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and the first half of John Barth’s The Sot-Weed Factor.

Rachel Cohen’s A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854–1967 was sublime and led me along all sorts of 19th-century-American-literary trails. Ted Gioia’s history, Delta Blues, got me thinking about music and filling out my playlists with Charley Patton and Skip James.

For a long time I’d been meaning to read Mungo Park’s 18th century Travels in the Interior of Africa, and now I have, and it was good. Ditto, except for the being-good part, for Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi. The hypothetical version I’d carried around in my head was so much better.

I could read nothing but Lawrence Weschler and be quite content. Somehow I didn’t get around to Vermeer in Bosnia till a few months ago. Well worth the wait, if that’s what it was.

Finally, a few of my favorite tracks that found their way into my music library in 2009. Coming up with the list, I was struck by how much more personal all the associations were for songs as compared to music or books that captured, in terms of focussed minutes, far less of my attention than most books or movies. The blessing and the curse of songs is that they’re generally what’s playing while other things and thoughts are happening. We invite them into our world; more often, books and movies invite us into theirs.

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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