A collection of my very favorite media, for your perusal.
Building Stories, by Chris Ware.
A graphic novel in sixteen distinct pieces, delicately expressing the lives that dwell within one small apartment building in Chicago, Illinois. Sprawling and focused, immense and tiny; a stunningly human masterpiece.
The Sunset Tree, by The Mountain Goats.
For years, John Darnielle was tormented by his abusive stepfather. With great boldness and vulnerability, the singer-songwriter uses this heartbreaking sequence of songs to work through his traumatic personal history, and the healing there is to do.
Thirty Flights of Loving, by Blendo Games.
Nearly wordless, a story told entirely through the player’s presence, their powers of inference, and the unspoken language of film. Equal parts audacious and understated. 20 minutes that will change your life.
Lives of Girls and Women, by Alice Munro.
One of Alice Munro’s earliest, most novelistic works describes the arc of an ordinary woman’s life via a series of achingly immediate vignettes encapsulating so much of the mundanity, elation and quiet sorrow that comprise the ineffable business of living.
Little Party and Packing Up the Rest of Your Stuff on the Last Day At Your Old Apartment, by turnfollow.
Two small, unassuming games about small, unassuming things: one, a single mother hosting her teenage daughters’ friends for an all-night art-making sleepover. The other, that moment you move out of a cheap little apartment, maybe the first one you had in the city, maybe as your college years are winding down— an apartment that, despite its ramshackle anonymity, has nevertheless become a home. These are games of knowing quietude and familiarity, interactive memories of moments you’ve almost lived.
S-Town, by Brian Reed, Serial, and This American Life.
One day, John B. McLemore contacts the radio producers of This American Life regarding an alleged murder cover-up happening in his hometown of Woodstock (henceforth, Shit Town), Alabama. What follows is a seven-part audio portrait of a truly unique individual, a man out of place and out of time— an intricate memorial to someone who was loved more than he could have possibly known.
The Apartment, by Billy Wilder.
Near the end of his vaunted career, Billy Wilder produced what has to be my favorite film of all time. This love triangle drama set in 1960 Manhattan centers on the star-crossed relationship between Jack Lemmon, an insurance agent, and Shirley MacLaine, an elevator girl. Heartbreaking, hilarious, and shocking in its tiny twists of the knife, this film is everything.
Kiki's Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.
Kiki is a little witch who has to leave home when she turns 13, to find a town to adopt as her own. Ashitaka is a boy banished from his village when he’s marked by an evil force. Miyazaki’s films are about outcasts— loners who don’t want to be alone, trying their best to connect with others and make it however they can. So many of Ghibli’s films are wonderful, but Kiki’s, for its smallness and empathetic heart, and Mononoke for its sweeping but thoughtful and melancholic journey, are the ones that never leave me.
Cowboy Bebop, by Shinichiro Watanabe and Sunrise.
Cowboy Bebop is a real stand-out: Science fiction set in a world that’s deeply considered, strangely familiar and constantly surprising. An action-adventure story that’s all about what makes its characters who they are. An experience that is by turns completely thrilling, endearingly silly, and incredibly moving. It’s our immense privilege to be gifted just a little bit of time with the crew of the Bebop.
Full Throttle, by Tim Schafer and Lucasarts.
“Whenever I smell asphalt, I think of Maureen.”
A biker noir that ends on such a pitch-perfect note of bittersweet melancholy, it’s stuck with me for 25 years.
Silent Hill 2, by Team Silent and Konami.
”In my restless dreams I see that town, Silent Hill.”
Video games, being simulated experiences you exist within, are suited better than any other medium to convey the disorienting liminality of inhabiting a dream. These are places you are but really aren’t, actions you control but only through their own strange internal logic, events you experience very directly but that never actually happened to you. Silent Hill 2 exemplifies the unease of living on the edge of a dreamworld, expressing a unique brand of psychological horror that is at once unsettlingly surreal and deeply, undeniably human.
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, by Ana Lily Amanpour.
It is ideal to see this film knowing absolutely as little about it as humanly possible, so I won’t go into detail here. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night plays with language, culture, film tropes, gender, and audience expectations with such a sense of quiet purpose that it’s impossible not to get swept away. Beautiful in every sense of the word.
how do you Do It? by Nina Freeman, Emmett Butler, Joni Kittaka, and Decky Coss.
A long-forgotten moment, beautifully presented. A memory that is too childlike, personal, and embarrassing to talk about, but through this tiny, perfect game, we get to re-experience. Nina’s work brings us closer to her, and to ourselves.
Before Sunrise, by Richard Linklater.
Just walking and talking. Two people spending one spontaneous, heartfelt, ordinary, unforgettable night together. Touching and genuine, Before Sunrise is a memory we’re lucky to share.
Butterfly Soup, by Brianna Lei.
I’ve rarely laughed so hard at a video game, or been so unexpectedly moved. Butterfly Soup is exactly what its creator wants it to be— a hilarious document of the friendship between a group of queer young Asian-American girls who share a love of baseball and shenanigans. Vividly observed and transportative; as genuinely romantic as it is incredibly funny. I’m so glad this game exists.
Consider the Lobster, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, and Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace.
I doubt there's much I can add about the work of David Foster Wallace that others haven’t already said. But know that I hold a deep gratitude for the endless curiosity, thoughtfulness, and empathy exhibited in his essays and fiction. Reading David Foster Wallace is a fundamentally eye-opening experience.
Halt and Catch Fire, by Christopher Cantwell, Christopher C. Rogers, and AMC.
I’ll admit that the first season of Halt and Catch Fire isn’t the strongest— and it’s because until season 2, the show is still trying to be something it’s not: a sweeping, award-seeking prestige drama. But seasons 2 through 4 of this sadly underwatched show transform into something else entirely, something more humble and self-assured: an amazingly deft and believable chronicle of five people making their way through the messy intertangling of shared lives and careers over the course of more than a decade. Halt and Catch Fire captures the way that ourselves and the people we know can change so fundamentally while also staying the same, how we walk criss-crossing paths we never could have predicted, and when we look back at where we started it’s impossible to imagine how we ever could have gotten here. But here we are, still, us.
Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson.
I am lucky to have been a child reading comics when Calvin and Hobbes was being published daily in newspapers, and when book collections of the strip were regularly released— books I received year after year for birthdays and holidays. Calvin and Hobbes has the quality that all truly great children’s entertainment shares: it does not, in any way or on any level, talk down to its audience. Bill Watterson believed in kids, believed in their ability to follow the muted irony, moodiness and occasional sorrow of Calvin and Hobbes along with the sight gags and big jokes. I am so grateful for the heart and spirit this comic strip always upheld, and to be able to revisit this touchstone of my childhood to this day.
This American Life, by Ira Glass and WBEZ Chicago.
This American Life has been on the air for almost 25 years, and in that time the show has covered an incredible range of topics. What I value so much across all this breadth of perspective is the personal lens through which each one is expressed. The show wants to help you not just understand, but to feel what each of these stories, big or small, means to the people involved in them— and for them to carry meaning to you, too. If you’re looking for places to start, I’d suggest a story about a group of boys discovering an abandoned house, and then revisiting the mystery of it decades later as adults; an examination of how one single hormone, testosterone, affects our bodies, our minds, and who we are; the time that Toyota offered to teach the American car industry how to modernize and succeed by converting a GM factory to Japanese methods, and the lessons learned and not; or the story of a phone booth where people pick up the receiver to leave a message for their dead loved ones, knowing the line is connected to nothing at all. Or start with host Ira Glass’s picks. There’s so much goodness in This American Life, from the small and heartwarming to the overwhelmingly immense; it reminds us just how much there is to our shared human experience that even a monumental undertaking like this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of who we are. But it’s something.