I’ve seen a lot of top ten lists out there this year, but I haven’t seen one yet that is a top ten list of things I liked and did in 2012. Well that’s ‘bout to change! (Unfortunately my tumblr template turns numbers into letters, so please excuse that). Anyway, here we go!
- Best book I read this year Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. This was actually a re-read, but as happens with many books I haven’t read since high school, this one took on a more personal meaning this time around. In his quest to be a social force on behalf of his race, the narrator finds that he has been trying all along to be what other people wanted him to be at the expense of figuring out what it is he wants. I can’t really describe what I love about this book without sounding like an episode of a kids show that tells you to “Be yourself,” but this book is more than that because it is also about what it means to be a member of a group (blacks) whose destiny is determined by another group (whites) and how much that takes a toll on one’s individual life. Better to quote one of my favorite passages from Ellison himself. A couple of other great books I read this year: Toward a New Psychology of Women, and The Drama of the Gifted Child, both books I found to be very personally relevant and revealing.
- Best album listened to for the first time this year Since I Left You by the Avalanches. I was introduced to this album through a wonderful musical listserve of sorts that my brother Arthur has organized called the Donald P. McMahon Project. He has gotten close to 200 of his friends, family, and acquaintances to each submit a favorite album and every week sends it out. A gastrointerologist on the list chose Since I Left You, and I just took a real liking to it, especially the opening track, also titled “Since I Left You.”
- Best fortune of this year Adversity is the first path toward truth. I don’t remember which Chinese restaurant I was at when I got this fortune. All I know is that it I found it in my wallet and then put it up on my bulletin board at work. As someone who used to avoid conflict and adversity, or to push it out of my mind when I experienced it, I have found new value in dealing with and growing from difficult experiences. They are really the stuff of life. You gotta feel pain before you feel gain, is another, worse way to say it, perhaps.
- Best movie Lincoln. I didn’t see a ton of great movies this year, and part of it is my fault. I just don’t watch that many movies these days. But this movie just drew me in. Much of it was Daniel Day Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln. He truly brought to life this wise, quirky, funny, brilliant character and showed how important the personality and strategy of a political leader is in making positive change. The film also brought a humorous portrayal of the sausage making that went into passing the Thirteenth Amendment and that even the most progressive pieces of legislation are advanced through political deals. And I might be really flattering myself, but it also made me think that I would get along really well with Abraham Lincoln if he were alive today or if I were alive back then.
- Best restaurant
Joe’s ShanghaiI mean Shanghai Cafe in Chinatown. I thought it appropriate to choose a Chinese restaurant for my best of 2012 because I ate at many great Chinese restaurants this year, including Fu Run in Flushing (REALLY good), X'ian’s Famous Food in Chinatown, Mission Chinese (takeout), Golden Unicorn dim sum, and others. But Shanghai Cafe takes the cake for me because they do the Chinese that Americans like well (fried rice, etc.), they have good non-American Chinese dishes, and they have amazing soup dumplings.
- Best class Upright Citizens Brigade Theater Sketch 201 class. My teacher was great, and the people in the class were funny and fun to do writers’ room with. I got better at overcoming writers’ block and not thinking too hard about sketch ideas, and it may direct me toward applying to be on a Maude team at the UCB in 2013.
- Best volunteer experience Election Day. I’ve never had such an easy time telling people to support a candidate than I did on Election Day, when I knocked on doors with fellow enthusiastic volunteers in West Philadelphia. Almost everyone I talked to had either voted for Barack Obama or was going to later. And even though the president won Pennsylvania handily, it still felt great to be a part of the campaign, even if only for one day (and a few donations). Granted I didn’t do too much volunteering in 2012, though a close runner up was helping to clean Prospect Park after Hurricane Sandy.
- Best television show Key & Peele. As with movies, I did not watch a whole lot of new tv shows this past year, so I can narrow this down pretty easily to “Girls,” “Louie,” and “Key & Peele.” I’m going to go with “Key & Peele” because I just really like it. From Obama the College Years to Post-Apocalyptic Hunt to Obama Anger Translator to East/West Bowl, this show almost consistently makes me laugh. It’s a combination of great ideas, smart humor, skilled comedians, and fun.
- Best clothes store Two Lovers. Along with sister store Pony Shop on the same stretch of Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, Two Lovers is maybe the most awesome second-hand store I know of. Unlike Beacon’s Closest and Buffalo Exchange where you have to mine the racks for a decent shirt or dress, Two Lovers “curates” their stuff so that only the best is on display. (Nothing against Beacon’s and Buffalo. I love 'em too). I bought Marc Jacobs flats that probably ran past $200 for $89 and plan to go back for more in 2012. Other great stores for me this year were Eric on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, vendor of stylish and durable boots, Goldy Mac, Joe Fresh, and unexpectedly Banana Republic. This year I bought a lot more from Banana Republic than I have in past years. I don’t know if this means I’m getting older, if their clothes are getting better, or if they just have great work clothes at a time when I needed to buy more work clothes.
- Best exhibit The Greatest Grid at the Museum of the City of New York. The Greatest Grid “celebrates the 200th anniversary of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, the foundational document that established Manhattan’s famous street grid." This was a fascinating exhibit, both because of the subject matter and the presentation, which included original maps plotted by the ambitious city planners who carried out this audacious project to photos of the city before and after it was leveled to make the grids.