My Favorite Art of February 2021
These are my thoughts and recommendations for my favorite art — books, shows, films, and albums — that I consumed in February 2021 (no spoilers). These are not art that came out in the aforementioned timeframe, but just art of any time period I consumed during the month.
Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data by Charles Wheelan (2013)
I have always really enjoyed mathematics and statistics, and I read this book to get an introductory refresher of the statistics concepts I had learned in undergrad. It reinvigorated my enjoyment for the material, and inspired me to understand statistics further. Wheelan has a unique voice by taking possibly intimating statistical formulas, terms, and processes and breaking it down into real-world understanding. Throughout the book, he applies the abstract material to illustrate how this knowledge drives human progress, decisions, and mindsets. Essentially, he wonderfully explains the big “why” behind statistics in such a way that anyone could benefit from his teachings.
Thrive: How Better Mental Health Care Transforms Lives and Saves Money by David Clark & Richard Layard (2015)
I read this book for the first time a couple years back when I started my job at Lyra Health — a tech company focused on improving mental healthcare. The book was provided to every employee to help us better understand the mission of the company. I decided to re-read it last month after I had gained more hands-on experience with the industry. Through the book, Clark & Layard highlight the research conducted around the prevalence of mental health issues and how these issues hurt individuals and the general community at large in a myriad of ways. They go on to describe the solutions that can be utilized to reduce human suffering, increase community productivity, and generate healthier societies. As I read the book, I felt deeply moved by the fact that Lyra Health has made huge strides to create the human progress illustrated in the book, and optimistic about the impact we will continue to make. I know it will be a book on my regular rotation as I continue to make contributions to mental healthcare technology.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (2020)
I have recently been drawn toward novels with humanistic themes, and so Haig’s newest novel was really interesting to me. It ended up being a really wonderful read, and I was moved by the way Haig imbues his characters and story with a great deal of heart. The story revolves around a mid-30s woman Nora Seed who dies in the beginning of the story filled with regrets, but instead of fully dying, she has the cosmic opportunity to try out every possible life she could have lived instead. This fantastical story about the multiverse ends up becoming a very grounded journey about opportunities, regrets, acceptance, and what it means to live a meaningful life. While the prose isn’t necessarily profound and parts of the novel are somewhat predictable, I was continuously hooked because of the basic empathy I had for the main character. By the novel’s end, I felt a sense of gratitude for all the things that exist in my reality. If you’d like to feel more zen about life, this is a good read.
Parks and Recreation S4-S5 by Michael Schur (2011–2013)
My TV watching was pretty light this last month, but I have continued my Parks and Recreation rewatch, and am loving every minute of it. It still amazes me how pretty much every episode of this show can make me break my ribs with laughter while also making me genuinely inspired about community service. Season 4 was my favorite of the show because of it’s season-long storyline of Leslie’s councilwoman campaign. It brought a surprisingly amount of drama to an otherwise comedic show. The characters and storyline only continue to get developed in Season 5 as the characters mature and complete bigger ambitions (like meeting then-VP Joe Biden!). This show just simply makes me a happier person. I am excited (and a little sad) to watch the final seasons of the show.
Dark Knight Trilogy by Christopher Nolan (2005–2012)
Every time I have watched this trilogy, my conclusion was that The Dark Knight overshadowed both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises by a large margin. And while The Dark Knight is still my favorite of the three, this last rewatch really made me appreciate the other two films. Each film essentially functions as its own genre — I began to view Batman Begins as a coming-of-age film, The Dark Knight as a crime film, and The Dark Knight Rises as a war film. Each film functions as an essential part of this trilogy that tackles themes of fear, justice, and morality. It transcends the superhero genre to a work of art that can genuinely make us understand the world better.
Mad Max: Fury Road by George Miller (2015)
This movie was one of the most adrenaline-pumping films I have ever witnessed. It totally changed my perception of what an action film can do, with practical stunts, transformative set pieces, and creative mind-bending blocking. To add, the story had fascinating apocalyptic themes and understated characters — wonderfully played by Tom Hardy & Charlize Theron. This is one of the few films I have seen that really feels like an experience. That feeling alone is a profound accomplishment.
Sound of Metal by Darius Marder (2019)
One of the side-effects of consuming a lot of art is that it can sometimes become rare for a film to really surprise and move you. This film was one of the recent ones where I was genuinely emotionally moved, and really shifted my perspective on many things. The story follows a heavy metal drummer — played by Riz Ahmed — who suddenly goes deaf. His world is totally turned over, and the film is his personal journey of finding peace with the situation. The film avoids melodrama, thanks to Riz Ahmed & Paul Raci’s grounded performances, Marder’s nuanced direction, and Nicholas Becker’s sound design. After watching the film, I began to embrace more stillness in my life in tangible ways and have found myself feeling significantly more peaceful.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West (2010)
This album came out 11 years ago, and I am still blown away every single time I listen to this masterpiece. While there are other albums I may connect with more on a thematic and emotional level, this is my favorite ever album from a pure artistic standpoint. No other album in my mind has been so artistically groundbreaking, ambitious, and absolutely earth-shattering. There is a reason it was ranked #19 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (and I only expect that ranking to rise in the future). Kanye West combines his traditional hip-hop style with a myriad of other genres — soul, RnB, baroque, pop, classical, rock, gospel, and many more — to deliver an epic journey through the themes of American culture, self-actualization, fame, consumerism, and the human condition. This is the album that made me see music as not just a passive activity, but a transcendent piece of art.
Heavy is the Head by Stormzy (2019)
I have recently been getting more into the UK Grime sub-genre of hip-hop, and this album has been my favorite so far. I was really impressed by Stormzy’s versatility — his ability to make both hard-hitting bangers and emotionally endearing ballads. Even more-so, the album is tied by a consistent through-line of dealing with the consequences of success — both the euphoric highs and the stressful lows. This theme elevates the album from being a playlist of songs to a cohesive idea that is engaging from front to back. I am really excited to see what Stormzy comes out with next, and to continuing exploring the UK grime sub-genre.
Man on the Moon III: The Chosen by Kid Cudi (2020)
This album’s release was definitely a surprise, given that it has been 10 years since the last Man on the Moon series. While Kid Cudi was never my favorite artist, the first two Man on the Moon series have definitely been semi-regularly on my rotation for the last decade; a few of the songs are some of my all-time favorites. Man on the Moon III did what a musical sequel should — it built on the themes and sounds of the previous albums, but also expanded it into something new. I loved the way the album presented both a personal and musical journey, with the first half having a more trap-heavy sound and the second half having a psychedelic rock type sound. It’s an album that grows on me the more I listen, and am really happy that Kid Cudi succeeded in making an outstanding musical trilogy.