I can pretty much condense my general interests into four basic categories: Writing, movies, books and sports. I like food and drink, too so throw that in there. But outside of those things, I’m not much for hobbies. I don’t build stuff or tinker around on computers. I’m not in to gardening or keeping a yard in perfect condition. Cars are utilities that have to be tolerated. Shopping? Forget about it.
Books were my first true love outside of family members, of course. And I have remained true over the last 50-plus years. I love my wife and family more than books but that’s about it. Movies gained a purchase in my life sometime in my early teens and never let go. I was, in fact, a broadcasting and cinema major in college. It remains a significant interest even though I seldom enter a movie theater these days. Too few movies that interest me get to Burlington so mainly I read about films and occasionally track down whatever I want to check out via TV. A poor substitute for the theater experience, I know.
All of this is preface to an exercise today sparked by social media engagement. I joined Facebook in late 2007. Over that time there is an almost annual succession of lists, questions or games intended to spark discussion among friends or acquaintances (many of the latter in my case). The idea is to have a friend generate a list of favorite movies, TV shows, books, bands, songs, sports teams, foods, vacation spots, etc. There is a tagging process that accompanies this so more people will be involved and play.
I jumped in willingly for the first few years — outside of movies. Then I began to notice the repetitive nature of the lists and discussions. And I stayed away from movies because I could never harness that list down to anything remotely near 10 favorites. I could do 10 favorite horror films, 10 favorite science fiction films, 10 favorite Alfred Hitchcock films, 10 favorite dramas — the categories go on and on.
Over the last year or more I have avoided the lists — and a lot of other ongoing and never-ending Facebook discussions (insert politics here) — because I wanted to provide fresh content. Sometimes nothing more can be stated about a particular subject. But I can also say that when I’m tagged, particularly by people who are longtime friends, I feel an obligation not to let them down. I do have one rule, I won’t tag some else to play.
A couple of weeks ago my friend from Little League baseball days, Jay Wood tagged me in a favorite movie post. I didn’t respond but decided last night as I watched the latest film by Joel and Ethan Coen, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” that I would — but maybe with a twist. So instead of listing my 10 favorite films all time, I will supply a list of my 10 favorite films by the Coen Brothers. They are my favorite filmmakers and writers over the last three decades. Before producing the images below I admit going into this without seeing “Inside Llewyn Davis” or “Hail Caesar.”
These are in no particular order but I start with their first film, “Blood Simple.” It let the film world know that a quirky, literate and creative tandem was now on the scene. They have seldom disappointed.
Before moving on, one word about “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” which is streaming now on Netflix. The film is multiple and seemingly unconnected stories centered in the old post Civil War west. It’s uneven, as most anthologies are, but the great moments are outstanding and the lesser moments still memorable. At least two of the stories will haunt me forever.
For part two of this exercise, I was called upon by my friend Eric Ross to list my 10 favorite books. I’ve known Eric since he was a White Oak High School student in Jacksonville and he worked part-time for the Jacksonville Daily News where I was the managing editor. Eric has grown into a fine young man with a wife and children. Hard to fathom the passage of time.
I decided to take Eric up on his request, too. But also with a slight twist. This will not be my favorite books of all time because at age 59 I can honestly say that different books were important to me at varying times in my life. Growing up I read sports biographies. As a teen I shifted into the classics mandated by school teachers (“To Kill a Mockingbird”). When reading on my own into my 20s I was profoundly impacted by Kurt Vonnegut (“Breakfast of Champions”), Jack Kerouac (“On the Road”), John Updike (“Rabbit Run”). I would read a book by Updike then read everything else by Updike. I went through a non-fiction period in my 30s reading everything by David Hallberstam.
So what I decided to do for Eric’s request is list my favorite reading over the past 20 years or so. Some older books are here and one or two require some explanation. So here goes.
In the late 1990s I did a lot of reading about political history. I had read Hunter S. Thompson before but never had matched his work on the 1972 presidential campaign with other books about that highly interesting time in American politics. It was instructive and eye-opening and still relevant today. You can’t miss with these three.
This book made me laugh harder than almost anything else over the last 20 years. It was my introduction to David Sedaris and I then proceeded to read anything he’s written before or since.
This is my favorite non-fiction book about sports over the last 20 years. I can also recommend Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken.”
I have two favorite works of fiction involving sports — but not really. First the one with baseball as a theme.
And this one has a football theme.
Two books hit close to home regarding the post 9/11 war cycle for the U.S. military. One has several references to Camp Lejeune and Jacksonville. “Redeployment” is among the best books I’ve ever read. These two are well worth the time.
This one is among the more important books to me over the past five years. I was surprised by every page.
And I’ll wrap up with these two selections — yes, I know this is more than 10 but folks need options. Among the best written books I’ve ever read.
And I promise to keep my word and tag no one.
To read more of the posts I’ve written about books go to the Book Shelf section.