Results for “my favorite things”
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My favorite things Japan, classical music edition

1. Piano: Mitsuko Uchida is a clear first choice.  Her box of the Mozart sonatas remains the best.  Oddly I don’t like her much in the rest of the classical repertoire, though her Debussy and Webern and Schoenberg are interesting (though not my preferred versions for the latter two, which are the steelier Pollini and Gould).  I also like Aki Takahashi, most of all for Cage and Feldman.

2. Conductor: Seiji Ozawa has remarkable talent and he can conduct almost anything without a score (not easy).  Still, he never really developed his own sound and he has to count as a missed opportunity.  First prize goes to Maasaki Suzuki, who has recorded a remarkable all-Japanese St. Matthew’s Passion and is doing a cycle of the Bach cantatas.

3. String Quartet: Tokyo is first-rate, get their complete box of Beethoven’s String Quartets.

4. Composer: Toru Takemitsu is the obvious choice, though I don’t much come back to his work.

5. Classical guitarist: Kazuhito YamashitaHis transcriptions are mind-blowing, most of all the Stravinsky.  The fascination of the Japanese with transcriptions could command an entire book.

Outside of classical music I’ll recommend Kodo (and indeed all Taiko music, but only live, not on disc), The Brilliant Green’s "The Angel Song," and yes Yoko Ono.  Most of Japanese popular music is a blur to me, though not an unpleasant one.

My favorite things Japan, literature edition

I do not know Japanese literature well but nonetheless I recommend the following:

1. Out: A Novel, by Natsuo Kirino.  Vicious fun.  Dark, violent, etc.

2. Kobo Abe, The Woman in the Dunes.  He has been called the Japanese Stanislaw Lem.  Why do I never hear about this book?  The movie by the same name is good too.

3. Yasunari Kawabata, both The Go Master and The Snow Country.

4. Mishima, Spring Snow, others.

5. Haruki Murakami.  My favorite is Hard-Boiled Wonderland (one of my favorite books period) and then Underground, a modern classic of social science (really).  I like most of them but I feel he is repeating himself as of late.

6. Shusaku Endo, Silence.  Very powerful and I remain fascinated by Japan’s so-called "Christian century."

7. Kenzaburo Oe: I like Teach us to Outgrow Our Madness.

Question: Is Tale of Genji actually fun to read?  I would say about half of it, so yes it is worth the time.  The best parts are very beautiful and mysterious and unlike anything else in literature.  Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon is fun and is a good introduction to the period.

The bottom line: There is lots and lots more that I have never heard of, not to mention manga.

My favorite things Japan, cinema edition

1. Kurosawa movie: Ran is the most impressive on the big screen, but Ikiru is a profound study of the psychology of bureaucracy.  There are many many others, including the noir masterpieces and the criminally underrated late period, most of all Dreams.

2. Gangster movie: Should I go with Sonatine?  I don’t know them all.

4. Sexual perversion movie: Audition has an incredible piano wire scene.

5. Hobbesian movie: It’s Battle Royale, hands down, and yes I taught the film this year in Law and Literature.  One of the students was shocked we would cover something of this nature.

6. Ozu movie: Tokyo Story is the one that sticks with me.

7. Dance movie: Shall We Dance? remains a gem.

8. Anime: Grave of the Fireflies is a knockout, an anime movie for people who hate anime (and war).  Make sure you use the subtitles, not the dub.  I love all Miyazaki, maybe my favorite is Princess Mononoke, just don’t expect a coherent Pigouvian vision from it.  Other times I think Totoro is his supreme masterpiece.  Pom Poko, from Studio Ghibli, is essential viewing as well.

9. Mizoguchi movie: First prize goes to the stunning Ugetsu.

10. Godzilla movie: There is the original Japanese first movie, the cheesy but delectable Godzilla vs. Mothra, the implicit retelling of WWII in King Kong vs. Godzilla, Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster (my personal favorite), one of the MechaGodzilla movies (surprisingly good but don’t ask me which one), and the sadly unheralded Godzilla Final Wars.  I’m not sure any of the others are worth watching.

The bottom line: I’m not sure I’ve ever covered a category with so much quality and depth as this one and I’ve just scratched the surface.  And yes, I like Tampopo too, but not as much as most of these.  Gammera deserves a mention too.

My favorite things Utah

Lately there has been too much travel, yes, but writings these posts is fun.  I am headed toward Sundance.  Here goes:

1. Author: Orson Scott Card’s The Ender Trilogy (start with Ender’s Game) is a modern landmark which will be read for years to come.  Next on my list is Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose.

2. Actor: James Woods, as he plays in Casino and Virgin Suicides, two fine movies.

3. Best Robert Redford movie: Out of Africa, schmaltz yes but I love it.

4. Film, set in: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid comes to mind.

5. Novel, set in: Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song.  The first half in particular is a knockout.

6. Can I have a category for kidnapping victim?  Jeopardy champion?

The bottom line: I love Utah.  I love its baked goods, its Mexican food, its sense of building a new world in the wilderness.  I love that it has a uniquely American religion and I find Salt Lake City to be one of America’s most impressive achievements.  I regard southern Utah as quite possibly the most beautiful part of the United States.  That said, I had a tough time filling out these categories and of course plenty of the usual categories are blank altogether.

My favorite things Arizona

There is Barbara Eden and Linda Ronstadt but what other directions can I find?  I’ll try not to resort to retirees, such as Joe Garagiola.  Here goes:

1. Jazz: Charles Mingus’s Ah Um is one of the ten jazz albums that everyone should own.

2. Country and Western: Marty Robbins is good but otherwise I draw a blank.

3. Movie director: Steven Spielberg.  In case you don’t already know them, Duel and Sugarland Express are two of his best movies.  I’m also an advocate of Artificial Intelligence, a brilliant movie about the moral superficiality of human beings.  E.T. was his nadir.

4. Real business cycle theorist: Ed Prescott teaches at Arizona State (which by the way  was just rated as having the hottest students of any school).  If you think through his oeuvre, Prescott has at least three major contributions: time consistency (1977 with Kydland), real business cycle theory, and his work on the equity premium with Mehra.  That’s impressive.

5. Painter and European emigre: Max Ernst lived for twelve years in Sedona.

6. Textiles: Navajo blankets from the 1880-1910 period rank among America’s greatest artistic contributions.  You can buy a first-rate piece for no more than $60,000.

7. Author: Zane Grey fits the category but he doesn’t count as a favorite.  Am I missing anyone important or is this simply not a literary state?

8. Movie, set in:  You have some real winners, including Psycho, Raising Arizona, and the still underrated Tombstone3:10 to Yuma I haven’t seen yet.

The bottom line: The list is spotty in parts but the peaks are very high.  I’m also of the opinion that the Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon is the single best sight I’ve seen, ever.  I also love The Biltmore Hotel but alas I am not at that particular lodging right now…

My favorite things Spain, literature

Again lots of peaks but lots of patches too; the distribution is uneven.  Here are a few offhand remarks:

1. Cervantes: Book two of Don Quixote is much better than book one, just in case you never got that far.  The Trials of Persiles and Sigismuda is a nice try but ultimately it fails at being the undiscovered classic.

2. Calderon: Life is a Dream.  The piece of Spanish literature you are most likely not to have read that you should read.  Every smart, well-educated person should know this book.

3. Lope de Vega: If not for the commies he wouldn’t be nearly so well-known.  He is still a good dramatist, though.

4. El Cid: More readable than you might think, and it makes you realize how close they came to being an Arabic society.

5. Miguel de Unamuno: I have some sympathies for him, but if someone tried to write this stuff today, could it even get published?  You could say the same about Jose Ortega y Gasset.  Some people say the two are polar opposites, but who outside of Spain really cares?

6. Federico Garcia Lorca: It might be wonderful on stage but I find it unreadable.

7. Javier Cercas: Soldiers of Salamis.  One of the best novels on wartime guilt, collective memory, and the ambiguous role of the author in a narrative.  Recommended, if you are willing to give it a suitably careful read.

8. Pérez-Reverte: It’s fun stuff, but I don’t know if it will draw attention twenty years from now.  Same with Shadow of the Wind.  If anything it is symbolic of the Americanization of European literature and I don’t mean that in a favorable way.

9. Albert Sanchez Piñol: I loved Cold Skin, originally written in Catalan.  His book on the Congo awaits me.

10. Javier Marias is good, especially A Heart so White

The bottom line: Call me provincial, but I see 1660-1980 as a slow patch, at least for a country of Spain’s historic stature. 

Maybe some will call for counting Orwell, Hemingway, and others inspired by Spain.  Will you argue for Pio Baroja?  Or perhaps The Family of Pascal Duarte?  In any case literary culture is strong here and I see the future as bright.  By the way, I’m always looking for recommendations in Spanish contemporary literature.  Is Julian Rios worth reading?

My favorite things Spain, music

I need to do this country in pieces, starting with music:

Classical guitarist: Segovia, starting with his recordings of Bach.  It’s not just amazing technique, these are some of the best musical interpretations of Bach by anyone playing any instrument.  They are what I call lifetime choices for one’s collection.

Spanish pianist, playing Spanish music: Alicia de Larrocha is the obvious choice.  Her Albeniz and Granados recordings remain unsurpassed. 

Composer: Varese sounds much better live than on disc.  I’ve seen Amèriques twice and both were experiences to remember; here is a bit on YouTube.  Chailly and Boulez understand the music very well but the sounds and textures and rhythms simply don’t all come through if you’re not there.  (Addendum: Whoops!  Varese was born in France.)  The number two pick is tough but Rodrigo is underrated by many serious listeners, in part because of his exposure through classical pops.  Try his solo guitar pieces and throughout keep him in mind as a precursor of ambient music.  Tomás Luis de Victoria is an underrated Spanish Renaissance composer.

Cellist: It’s hard not to pick Pablo Casals, who had extraordinary depth in his phrasing.  I still feel duty bound to point out that most of his recordings are unlistenable, if only because of the scratching.  The Bach is of historic importance but for actual pleasure his Schubert is your best bet.  Most of all the recording of the String Quintet.

Album about: Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain.  One of my three or four favorite Miles CDs, so an easy pick.  Admittedly the move toward an "acoustic-electric" sound does not appeal to all jazz fans, so this album remains underappreciated.

Opera singer: Lots of riches.  Placido Domingo is a good pick though you could argue for many other names as well.

Popular music:  Help!

Flamenco: I love it in small clubs but not on disc or even in mid-sized university music halls. 

The bottom line: There are plenty of peaks but overall I am struck by the unbalanced nature of the distribution.

My favorite things Honduran

1. The best known Honduran painter is Jose Antonio Velásquez, here is a typical image.

2. America Ferrara, who plays Betty in Ugly Betty, is of Honduran parents.  I like that show, I don’t love it.

3. This guy did lots of scientific work, including the laying of some foundations for Viagra, and he married a Belgian princess.  I’ve yet to benefit from his existence.

Plus I would cite a few personal acquaintances, past and present, of whom I am very fond.  That’s what I can think of folks, and I wouldn’t have found #3 without Google.  This website assures us "There are famous people from Honduras," although the link to the list of them is broken.

I have also read one short story from Honduras, from an anthology of Latin American short stories; it is entitled "Malaria."

I might add I am very fond of airfares to Honduras; right now the roundtrip is cheaper than the one way shuttle to New York City.  And maybe the flight is quicker too, no holding patterns over LaGuardia!

Most of all I like places where no one else goes, and I expect this short weekend trip to be very worth its while.

My favorite things Georgia

1. Favorite Ray Charles song: "What’d I Say"; it’s heresy to admit this, but overall his stuff leaves me cold.

2. Favorite Jasper Johns series: Lately I often call up the "Decoy" prints in my mind.  But the "Targets" series is my pick, followed by the American flag and "Numbers."

3. Big band arranger: Fletcher Henderson — does he deserve as much credit as Benny Goodman?

4. James Brown song: "Bewildered," and have you ever seen the videos of JB dancing on the T.A.M.I. show?

5. Favorite Otis Redding song: "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)."

6. Best Little Richard cover: "Long Tall Sally," Beatles. 

7. Favorite Gladys Knight song: Tough choice.

8. Fiction: Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Erskine Caldwell, and James Dickey are all candidates but none of them do it for me. 

9. Movie, set in: Duh.  Remember "Dueling Banjos"?

10. Favorite REM song: "Shaking Through," from Murmur, is a good pick.

11. Favorite Leo Kottke album: Six and Twelve String Guitar; this one changed my life.

12. Musician I’m not supposed to like: Tommy Roe; "Sweet Pea" and "Dizzy" still sound pretty good to me.

The bottom line: Awe.  It’s Jasper Johns plus music, music, and more music, and I didn’t even have to think hard about the music.  I’m sure I left plenty out.

My Favorite Things Maine

I don’t know this state very well, so I fear that this list is not, in fact, my favorite things from Maine.  It is what I think are my favorite things from Maine:

1. Writer: The first five volumes of The Dark Tower are amazing plus I love The Stand and Misery and The Dead Zone.  He’s not as good as Melville or Faulkner but few other American writers beat him.

2. Painter of seascapes: He’s not from Maine, but surely he counts because he painted there.  Try this one, or this one.

3. Painter: Marsden Hartley, this one is atypical.  There is also Andrew Wyeth, do you know the old saying "As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between"?

4. Poets: There is Longfellow, E.A. Robinson, and Edna St. Vincent-Millay, none of whom I much relate to but nonetheless I am impressed in the aggregate.

5. Best writer about spiders and swans: Duh.

6. Movie director: John Ford, with Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as the classics.

7. Composer: Walter Piston is the only one I can think of, try this disc.

8. Beautiful woman: Liv Tyler.  Wasn’t she beautiful?  But when?  I can’t find any picture on Google to prove it…

The bottom line: For an isolated, underpopulated state, this is a pretty awesome line-up.  But hey, it’s cold up here!

My favorite things London

No, I am not there, but this was a request from a loyal MR reader.  Here goes:

1. Mystery writer: Eric Ambler, most of all A Coffin for Dimitrios; the villain is pathetic, not fearful, and this is most of all a study in collective mythmaking.

2. Philosopher: Francis Bacon.  I’m not a Straussian but he really does have hidden and deep meanings.  Read Perez Zagorin on Bacon for a guide to the complexity of it all.

Honorary mention goes to Jeremy Bentham, whose proposal for interest-bearing currency, ideas on animal welfare, and Auto-Icon (most of all the text, not just the body) still stand ahead of their time.  He was a subtle thinker, not a one-dimensional simpleton.

3. Favorite song off London Calling: "Jimmy Jazz" remains dearest to my heart.

4. Favorite Alfred Hitchcock movie: Vertigo may be the most complete masterwork, but the best segments of The Birds, Psycho, and Marnie (all inconsistent movies) stick most deeply in my mind.

5. Favorite Henry Purcell recording: The Complete Odes and Welcome Songs, and no, eight discs of this music is not overkill.

6. 17th century economics pamphlet: Nicholas Barbon’s Apology for the Builder.  Barbon to Dudley North is a wonderful period in the history of political economy, spend a few weeks reading that stuff sometime.  This short pamphlet has increasing returns, aggregate demand management, urban economics, and the invisible hand, all well before Adam Smith.

7. Favorite neighborhood to stay in: Kensington, it is leafy green and away from both the monarchy and the hideous theatre district.

8. Favorite painting in: The National Gallery offers stiff competition, but how about this Gauguin, in the Courtauld?  As for carpets, here is the Ardebil, in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

9. Pianist: The elegant Clifford Curzon remains underrated.  He produced a lyrical account of Liszt’s B Minor Sonata plus try his Schubert B flat sonata and his Mozart.

Other stuff: Do I really have anything to add about Chaucer, Blake, Defoe, Forster, Keats, Milton, Samuel Johnson, Dickens, Orwell, Turner, Turing, Mick Jagger, Tim Harford, Stephen Jen, and The Economist?  Maybe, but not today.

My Favorite Things Vermont

1. Calypso song about a Vermont native: "Guests of Rudy Vallee", and of course Vallee was a central figure behind the popularization of calypso in the United States.

2. Philosopher: John Dewey.  I can’t actually stand to read him, but if you recast everything he said, you can come up with some profound positions.

3. Undeserving Nobel Laureate: Pearl Buck.

4. Man with an iron rail through his brain: Phineas Gage.

5. Composer: Carl Ruggles – his 16-minute Sun Treader is one of the most underappreciated pieces of great American music.

That’s all I can think of right now.  I’m headed up to Middlebury for a day and a bit, as guest of David Colander.

My favorite things Pennsylvania

Growing up, I regarded Pennsylvania as the most typical and most American part of the country; I loved it.  I loved the mid-sized towns with old industrial and domestic architecture, I loved the museums of Philadelphia, and I loved the bridges of Pittsburgh.  Of course this was before America moved South and I gave the honor of most American place to Knoxville, Tennessee. 

This list didn’t require much thought, and the candidates poured out right away:

1. Eugene Ormandy recording: He introduced me to so much in classic music and somehow I felt he would never let me down; I’ll pick either his Beethoven 5th and 6th or his Shostakovich 10th.

2. Painting: The Gross Clinic, by Thomas Eakins. and my second choice would be the Andy Warhol car crash or electric chair paintings.  Mary Cassatt, George Catlin, Andrew Wyeth, John Sloan, Stuart Davis, and Keith Haring all deserve honorary mention.  And I’m sure there are others.  Wow.

3. Sculptor: Alexander Calder, but only the little ones, the more delicate the better.  The big ones in plazas are garish and misplaced.

4. Book on free trade: Henry George’s Protection or Free Trade remains a wonderful introduction to economics.

5. Writer: John Updike, or Benjamin Franklin.  John O’Hara never clicked with me, though he was my grandmother’s favorite after Shakespeare.  I’ll pick The Coup as my favorite Updike; I don’t think he’s written a good novel in a while.

6. Popular music: Todd Rundgren was remarkably talented, never quite fulfilled his promise, but Something/Anything remains a wonderful double album.

7. Jazz: Art Blakey, Keith Jarrett (The Koln Concert, or his Shostakovich), Erroll Garner, Earl Hines, and George Benston was good at the very beginning.  Stanley Clarke is amazing to hear live.  Wow.  And that’s not even counting jazzmen who played long stints in Philly, such as John Coltrane and Sun Ra.

8. Rap music: Schooly D, The Adventures of Schooly D, remains one of my favorite rap albums.

9. Stepdaughter: Yana (it feels funny to list her as a thing, but in the metaphysical sense yes indeed she is), who as of today is moved in at Franklin and Marshall.  Boo hoo!

Note we haven’t even touched the Amish quilts, Fraktur drawings, mighty rivers, the Barnes collection, fall foliage, sports, Reading, or philanthropy.  Harrisburg, however, is a blight.

The bottom line: Almost certainly, Pennsylvania is better than your state.  If you are a foreigner, and want to understand what made America great, study and visit Pennsylvania.

My favorite things Colorado

These do not spring easily to mind:

1. Public building: The new Denver art museum, by Daniel Liebeskind.

2. Fiction: I reject Kesey and Michener, so I’ll go with Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book, an excellent piece of fantasy/science fiction.

4. Movie, set in: The Shining comes to mind. 

5. Music: I can’t pick John Denver and while I enjoy big band, I think that Glenn Miller, once you get past a few tunes, is overrated.  Jello Biafra, of The Dead Kennedys, is an obvious pick here; don’t forget "Holiday in Cambodia." 

6. Wild card: Ted Mack, remember his amateur hour?  It was a favorite show of my father’s.

The bottom line: Eh.  Toss in Lon Chaney and Douglas Fairbanks and it is still Eh.  I hope the green chili is good.

My favorite things Quebecois

No, I am not there, but I am catching up on requests from loyal MR readers.  Today I will set this one right:

Pianist: Oscar Peterson.  His best albums are The Trio and the set with Joe Pass at Salle Pleyel.  For all his talent, many of his CDs are quite boring.  On another front, I usually don’t like Marc-Andre Hamelin.  Despite the critical raves, I find him icy cold, enjoying only his rendition of the Scriabin sonatas.

William Shatner performance: I will opt for "City on the Edge of Forever."  (NB: I haven’t yet seen "Incubus".)

Actress:  Genevieve Bujold, most of all in Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers.

Popular music: I don’t much like Leonard Cohen or Celine Dion.  Rufus Wainwright is OK.  Arcade Fire is OK.  Help me out here people…

Author: Saul Bellow wins hands down, though he is not a personal favorite.

Philosopher: Charles Taylor.  There is also G.A Cohen, though I have to put him on my "totally wrong about everything" list.

Linguist: Steven Pinker.

Movie Director: Mack Sennett, and yes I used Google/Wikipedia to find that one.

Painter: This guy would be the mainstream pick.  I’m holding out for one of the strange naives, but the name escapes me.

The bottom line: I must be linguistically limited, because most of these names come from English-speaking families.  It is also striking how many thorough web sites exist, dedicated to nothing but listing the many famous and meritorious Quebecois.