Monthly Archives: August 2015

Short and Sweet: The Short Story Lists, Redux

During our first dinner out together, over nachos and Dos Equis in a Tex-Mex place, the woman who would soon become my true love and later my wife said two things that made me realize that she was more than just beautiful and easy to talk with.  First, she told me her father was a professor of English literature and that he taught her to love books.  Second, she told me she was enrolled in an adult education course called, “The Short Story.”  While our story, which continues with no signs of stopping 30 years after that meeting, would be better suited to a novel, the short story form continues to intrigue us both.  Unlike the sprawl of the novel, where digressions are expected, and multiple story lines may be risked, the typical short story is single minded.  It is the literary equivalent of Brunelleschi’s single-point perspective, where all lines converge at a point.  Although some writers break the rules and introduce complex structures or reach across months, years or decades to tell their short stories, most confine themselves to a single main character, or a single event, and spend their energies pulling out all the strands of story and character, only to tuck them, albeit transformed, neatly back into place by the end (usually).  After he retired, my father-in-law brought us into his home library and told us he had set aside the books he wanted to keep and we could take anything that remained.  One of the books I took and still treasure is a short story anthology he had used to teach freshman English called The Expanded Moment.  This phrase described so many of my favorite stories, which don’t plumb the depths of an entire life but of one of life’s many crucial instants, like the instant when a man realizes he is eating nachos with the woman he will spend his life with.

The purpose of this post is to introduce my newly-revised short story meta-lists.  One is organized by rank (with the most-listed stories at the top) and the other is by chronology.  (See Links at end of post.)  The revision was sparked by a commenter’s concern that some of the literary works I’ve listed as short stories are actually novels or novellas.  I’ve removed some of the offenders (A Christmas Carol, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde), but kept others (Heart of Darkness, Metamorphosis, The Death of Ivan Ilyich) because they are frequently included on lists of Best Short Stories as well as lists of Best Novellas.  So I apologize to those who feel I’ve not gone far enough in culling the herd. The other reason I decided to revise was my lingering disappointment that the original lists were so heavily weighted towards English-language stories and so lacking in contemporary writers. So I went back to the Internet and found more lists that addressed these two problems somewhat, although the English-language bias is still evident.

In the course of compiling the revised short story lists, I began reminiscing about some of my personal favorites, many of which I first discovered in my wife’s bookshelves.  I found that there were some stories and collections I remembered easily, while in other cases, I have only vague memories of a story that moved me but whose plot and characters are now only hazy ghosts.  I tried to find some of these lost favorites (e.g., a very funny story in an Eastern European sci-fi anthology about a man who runs a red light) by plugging what I remembered of the plot into Google, but the Internet failed to work its magic.  So, I qualify the following lists of favorites as ‘the ones I can remember.’

Some Favorite Short Stories:
The Birthmark, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (US, 1843)
The Nose, by Nikolai Gogol (Russia, 1935-1836)
Bartleby the Scrivener, by Herman Melville (US, 1853)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy (Russia, 1886)
The Open Boat, by Stephen Crane (US, 1897)
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad (Poland/UK, 1899)
The Dead, by James Joyce (Ireland, 1914)
Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka (Austria-Hungary, 1914)
The Doll’s House, by Katherine Mansfield (New Zealand/UK, 1922)
Babylon Revisited, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (US, 1930)
The Jilting of Granny Wetherall, by Katherine Anne Porter (US, 1930)
Silent Snow, Secret Snow, by Conrad Aiken (US, 1934)
Death of a Traveling Salesman, by Eudora Welty (US, 1936)
June Recital, by Eudora Welty (US, 1947)
A Perfect Day for a Bananafish, by J.D. Salinger (US, 1948)
Unready to Wear, by Kurt Vonnegut (US, 1952)
A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor (US, 1953)
Teddy, by J.D. Salinger (US, 1953)
Harrison Bergeron, by Kurt Vonnegut (US, 1961)
Everything That Rises Must Converge, by Flannery O’Connor (US, 1961)
In the Region of Ice, by Joyce Carol Oates (US, 1966)
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, by William Gass (US, 1968)
I Could See the Smallest Things, by Raymond Carver (US, 1980)
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver (US, 1981)
Cathedral, by Raymond Carver (US, 1983)
A Father’s Story, by Andre Dubus (US, 1983)
Ship Fever, by Andrea Barrett (US, 1996)

Some Favorite Short Story Collections:
The Collected Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (US, 1832-1849)
The Collected Tales and Sketches of Nathaniel Hawthorne (US, 1832-1853)
The Queen of Spades and Other Stories, by Alexander Pushkin (Russia, c. 1890)
Great Short Works of Herman Melville, by Herman Melville (US, 1853-1891)
Dubliners, by James Joyce (Ireland, 1914)
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson (US, 1919)
Babylon Revisited and Other Stories, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (US, 1920-1937)
Nine Stories, by J.D. Salinger (US, 1953)
A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, by Flannery O’Connor (US, 1955)
First Love and Other Sorrows, by Harold Brodkey (US, 1958)
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (US, 1923-1961; pub. 1987)
Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina, 1962)
The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (US, 1964)
The Past Through Tomorrow, by Robert Heinlein (US, 1967)
Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut (US, 1968)
Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, by Alice Munro (Canada, 1974)
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, by Grace Paley (US, 1974)
Secrets and Surprises, by Ann Beattie (US, 1977)
The Stories of John Cheever, by John Cheever (US, 1978)
Night Shift, by Stephen King (US, 1978)
What We Talk What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver (US, 1981)
Cathedral, by Raymond Carver (US, 1983)
The Elizabeth Stories, by Isabel Huggan (Canada, 1984)
The Old Forest and Other Stories, by Peter Taylor (US, 1985)
Transactions in a Foreign Currency, by Deborah Eisenberg (US, 1986)
Only the Little Bone, by David Huddle (US, 1986)
Rock Springs, by Richard Ford (US, 1987)
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (US, 1941-1988)
Dusk and Other Stories, by James Salter (US, 1988)
The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien (US, 1990)
The Effigy: Stories, by Joan Millman (US, 1990)
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, by Robert Olen Butler (US, 1992)
Runaway, by Alice Munro (Canada, 2004)
The Best American Short Stories (US, annual publication) (especially 1969, 1973, 1978, 1983-1989)
Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards (US, 1987, 1993)

And here are the revised short story meta-lists I mentioned above:

The Best Short Stories of All Time – The Critics’ Picks
The Best Short Stories of All Time – Chronological

Location, Location, Location: A Visual Art GPS

Where do we look at visual art?  In a book? On your computer screen?  In a museum?  On vacation? On the way to work?  More importantly, what is the best way to look at a work of visual art?  You can find high-quality reproductions of every great painting, sculpture or other work of visual art in books or on your smart phone or computer screen, but looking at a 3-, 11-, 14- or 17-inch digitized reproduction of a painting measuring 10 X 12 feet or a life-sized statue cannot really come close to the experience of encountering the original directly. The urban centers that most people in the Western hemisphere live in or near generally offer lots of opportunities to see public sculptures and also diverse examples of the type of visual art we see the most – architecture (although we rarely think of the many buildings we encounter on a daily basis as works of art). Other works of art require long treks into distant lands to see them in person.  For someone in the U.S., this might include the cave paintings of Chauvet, Lascaux and Altamira; the ruins of Petra in Jordan, Persepolis in Iran or Angkor Wat in Cambodia; the mosaics of Hagia Sophia in Turkey; and the frescoes adorning the Christian churches of Italy.

And then there are museums.  I would guess that many of us have had most of our direct exposure to original works of visual art (other than architectural creations) in an art museum.  Such museums range from the tiny to the big to the immense; they may choose to present the work of one artist or many, a specific time period or all human history, a smattering of works from a great many artists, a comprehensive collection of a much more limited set of artists, or a combination of the two approaches.  Some museums only present temporary exhibits but most combine their own special exhibitions and traveling shows with displays from their permanent collections. Museums have worked hard to provide an experience that appeals to the uninitiated as well as the sophisticated – this attempt to please everyone can disappoint those at either end of the spectrum, I suppose, but it is difficult to imagine what other approach the museums could take.  The larger institutions have libraries and research facilities for the experts, and more and more museums are daring to put on special exhibits that are designed to appeal to someone who would not ordinarily visit.

Museums have their critics. Some believe they are elitist bastions of the wealthy and highly educated and that their imposing facades and unspoken assumptions about who ‘belongs’ inside intimidate the diverse masses who were not born into privilege, convincing them to stay away. Others feel that the sanctuary-like atmosphere of a museum is the worst place to look at a work of art.  Art should be integrated into our daily lives, not sequestered in museums that too often become mausoleums for the works of dead white men.  Others worry that the presence of an artwork in a museum tells us that experts have already anointed this an “important” or “high quality” piece – leaving us with a Hobson’s choice: either agree and feel like mindless sheep following the leader or disagree and feel like we’re either too stupid to get it or that the so-called experts are full of it and the whole system is phony.

Before the building of the great museums in Europe beginning around the time of the French Revolution, most non-architectural art was found in one of three places: religious sites and buildings, public spaces and buildings, or in the homes of the rich and famous, where only other rich and famous people (and their servants) could see them.  Even today, many masterpieces are hidden from the public eye because they reside in the private collections of wealthy collectors who may only occasionally loan them to museums.  Some museums have tried to recreate this earlier style of art appreciation by creating galleries where period furniture and other decorative art accompany the paintings and sculptures. Others, like the Frick Collection in New York City, display the art inside the mansion of the collector himself, with many of his furnishings still intact.  Is this a better way to look at the art than the standard museum paradigm: paintings hung on bare walls in sparsely-decorated rooms, sculptures resting on pedestals a safe distance from each other?

Perhaps the most common criticism of museums, especially the behemoths that top the list of ‘Most Attended’ each year, is the physical and mental exhaustion brought on by looking at so many works of art during a typical visit.  Most of us are not used to taking the time to stare intently at one object, not to mention doing it over and over for many different objects in many different rooms with few breaks and a drive to see everything you came to see – or at least all the famous pieces.  The effort involved in truly seeing what we’re looking at eventually induces a combination of annoyed agitation and zombie-like lethargy, often accompanied by a headache, known to travelers as ‘museum fatigue’ or ‘museumitis.’ I have learned from personal experience that the urge to see ‘just one more masterpiece’ must often succumb to the need for a nap and that two hours is usually my limit, no matter how much there is left to see.

Despite all the criticisms, art museums offer an opportunity for the public to see many works of art in safe, clean, climate-controlled environments, where curator-produced writings and audio guides can provide useful and intelligent interpretation, context and background. Those museums with permanent collections on display provide the chance for folks who live nearby to encounter the same works of art multiple times, allowing them to reveal themselves layer by layer.  Those that present temporary exhibits give us a chance to see works on loan from around the world, explore a subject or artist in depth, or investigate the edges of the world of art, or its intersection with other fields.

Given that there are some good reasons to see art in museums, another set of questions arises: What makes a great art museum? and Which are the best art museums?  In doing some research on these questions, I was surprised to discover that museums are often rated by size and popularity (measured by annual attendance figures).  This seems unfair to me, since visiting a small, well-curated museum can be a transcendent experience, while some of the larger museums can get so crowded that the average attendee ends up feeling hassled, claustrophobic, and stressed out.  On the other hand, the larger museums tend to be wealthier and more able to acquire highly-sought-after artworks and put on the most impressive temporary exhibits.  In making my meta-list of “Best Art Museums” (see below), I tried to avoid lists that were based on annual attendance alone, but looked instead for lists that focused on the quality of the art in the permanent collection and the quality of the permanent and temporary exhibits. Notwithstanding my attempt to focus on quality over size, the final result, a meta-list combining 25 separate lists of ‘Best Museums” and “Best Art Museums”, appears to confirm that bigger is also better.

BEST ART MUSEUMS OF ALL TIME – The Experts’ Picks

22 Lists
Vatican Museums. Vatican City (established 1506)
Musée du Louvre. Paris, France (est. 1792)
Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York City, US (est. 1870)

17
British Museum. London, UK (est. 1753)
Museo del Prado. Madrid, Spain (est. 1819)

15
State Hermitage Museum. St. Petersburg, Russia (est. 1764)

14
Uffizi Gallery. Florence, Italy (est. 1581)

13
Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, The Netherlands (est. 1800)
Tate Modern. London, UK (est. 2000)

11
National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., US (est. 1937)

9
Museum of Modern Art. New York City, US (est. 1929)
Musée d’Orsay. Paris, France (est. 1986)

7
National Gallery. London, UK (est. 1824)
National Palace Museum. Taipei, Taiwan (est. 1965)

6
Tate Britain. London, UK (est. 1897)
Musée National d’Art Moderne. Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France (est. 1947)

5
Victoria and Albert Museum. London, UK (est. 1852)
Smithsonian Institution (multiple museums). Washington D.C., US (est. c. 1855)
Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, Illinois, US (est. 1879)
J. Paul Getty Museum. Getty Center, Los Angeles, California, US (est. 1974)

4
Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. Cairo, Egypt (est. 1835)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. New York City, US (est. 1939)
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Bilbao, Spain (est. 1997)
Acropolis Museum. Athens, Greece (est. 2009)

This focus on museums is prelude to the unveiling of three new lists. I have taken every painting, sculpture and work of architecture from the other visual arts lists (except those in private collections) and organized them by geographic location. Most of the paintings are located in museums, although a fair number can be found in churches and other religious sites and a few in government buildings.  Although museums house most of the sculptures, a fair number are located in public places, where people can see them without paying admission.  Architectural works, by their nature, are also found outside museum walls, although the general public does not have access to many of them.  Due to the Western bias of so many of the original lists and the acquisitive nature of many former colonial empires, the majority of the works of art are located in Western Europe and the United States. Despite this imbalance, the lists include significant art works from nearly every region of the world.

These three new lists expand upon and replace a prior geography-based list that contained many fewer works of art and no works of architecture.  The primary goal of the list is to let people know where they can see the works of art from the lists, but I have also decided to identify the former locations of artworks you cannot see, because they were destroyed, lost or removed.  One caveat: although a work of art may be in the collection of a particular museum, that is no guarantee that the artwork will be on display when you visit.  In fact, I left most photographs off the list because most art museums have very few photos on display, even if they have huge numbers of them in their collections, so the chances you’ll be able to see any particular photograph from the museum’s collection on your visit may be very small.

Here, then, are the new lists.  I’ve organized the artworks by location and illustrated the list with lotss of pictures of the artwork in context, including interior photos of exhibit halls in the museums from the “Best Museums” list above.  Finally, I added maps with virtual stick pins for each of the three Geographic Location lists, thanks to the templates provided by ZeeMaps.com.

Best Works of Art & Architecture by Geographic Location I: Africa, Asia & Australia
Best Works of Art & Architecture by Geographic Location II: North & South America 
Best Works of Art & Architecture by Geographic Location III: Europe

Too Soon? The 21st Century Movie List

We’re only 14 1/2 years into the 21st Century (technically only 13 1/2, since there was no Year Zero, but I’m going to go ahead and include the year 2000 anyway), but that hasn’t stopped listers from publishing their lists of best movies of the 21st Century, best movies since 2000, best movies of the New Millennium, etc.  And it is my job as meta-lister to put these lists together and see what, if anything, they have to offer.  I found 10 lists fitting the description – here are the films that made it onto at least two of the “Best of the 21st Century” lists.  For those movies I have seen, I have provided my personal rating on a 1-10 scale.  I expect many updates as the century continues.

NOTE:  If you want more comprehensive “Best Movies” lists, click on the hyperlinks to my recently updated Best Films of All Time – The Critics’ Picks and Best Films of All Time – Chronological lists.

7
Mulholland Dr.
(2001) Dir: David Lynch (US) 10

6
City of God
(Cidade de Deus) (2002) Dir: Fernando Meirelles (Brazil) 9
No Country for Old Men (2007) Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen (US) 10

5
In the Mood for Love
(2000) Dir: Wong Kar-Wai (China) 10
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) Dir: Peter Jackson (New Zealand/US) 10
Caché (Hidden) (2005) Dir: Michael Haneke (France) 9
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (2006) Dir: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (Germany) 10
There Will Be Blood (2007) Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson (US) 9
The White Ribbon (Das weiße Band, Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte) (2009) Dir: Michael Haneke (Germany) 10

4
Amélie
(2001) Dir: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (France) 9
Spirited Away (2001) Dir: Hayao Miyazaki (Japan) 9
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) Dir: Peter Jackson (New Zealand/US) 9
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) Dir: Peter Jackson (New Zealand/US) 10
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Dir: Michel Gondry (US) 10
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Dir: Guillermo del Toro (Mexico/Spain)
Zodiac (2007) Dir: David Fincher (US) 8
Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) (2008) Dir: Tomas Alfredson (Sweden) 8
The Dark Knight (2008) Dir: Christopher Nolan (US)
The Tree of Life (2011) Dir: Terence Malick (US) 10

3
Memento (2000) Dir: Christopher Nolan (US) 9
Yi Yi (2000) Dir: Edward Yang (Taiwan) 10
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Dir: Wes Anderson (US) 10
Talk to Her (Hable con Ella) (2002) Dir: Pedro Almodóvar (Spain) 9
Punch-Drunk Love (2002) Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson (US) 8
Oldboy (2003) Dir: Park Chan-Wook (South Korea)
Elephant (2003) Dir: Gus Van Sant (US) 8
The Incredibles (2004) Dir: Brad Bird (US) 8
Children of Men (2006) Dir: Alfonso Cuarón (US/UK) 9
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) Dir: Cristian Mungiu (Romania) 10
12 Years A Slave (2013) Dir: Steve McQueen (UK/US)
Boyhood (2014) Dir: Richard Linklater (US) 10

2
Requiem for a Dream (2000) Dir: Darren Aronofsky (US) 10
Werckmeister Harmonies (2000) Dir: Béla Tarr (Hungary)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) Dir: Ang Lee (Taiwan/US/Hong Kong/China) 8
Dancer in the Dark (2000) Dir: Lars von Trier (Denmark) 8
American Psycho (2000) Dir: Mary Harron (US)
Ghost World (2001) Dir: Terry Zwigoff (US) 9
Fat Girl (À ma sœur!) (2001) Dir: Catherine Breillat (France) 10
Donnie Darko (2001) Dir: Richard Kelly (US) 8
The Piano Teacher (2001) Dir: Michael Haneke (France/Austria) 9
A.I. – Artificial Intelligence (2001) Dir: Steven Spielberg (US)
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) Dir: Joel & Ethan Coen (US) 7
Moulin Rouge! (2001) Dir: Baz Luhrmann (Australia/US) 10
Far From Heaven (2002) Dir: Todd Haynes (US)
The Son (2002) Dir: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne (France/Belgium)
Adaptation (2002) Dir: Spike Jonze (US) 8
Finding Nemo (2003) Dir: Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich (US) 7
Capturing the Friedmans (2003) Dir: Andrew Jarecki (US) 10
Lost In Translation (2003) Dir: Sofia Coppola (US) 8
Dogville (2003) Dir: Lars Von Trier (Denmark) 10
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003) Dir: Quentin Tarantino (US) 7
Shaun of the Dead (2004) Dir: Edgar Wright (UK) 7
Tropical Malady (2004) Dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand)
Before Sunset (2004) Dir: Richard Linklater (US) 9
Grizzly Man (2005) Dir: Werner Herzog (US) 10
A History of Violence (2005) Dir: David Cronenberg (US/Canada) 9
Brokeback Mountain (2005) Dir: Ang Lee (US/Canada) 7
The Squid and the Whale (2005) Dir: Noah Baumbach (US) 9
The Departed (2006) Dir: Martin Scorsese (US) 8
Once (2007) Dir: John Carney (Ireland) 10
Encounters at the End of the World (2007) Dir: Werner Herzog (US) 10
Juno (2007) Dir: Jason Reitman (US) 10
Superbad (2007) Dir: Greg Mottola (US) 7
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) Dir: Andrew Dominik (US) 8
Slumdog Millionaire (2008) Dir: Danny Boyle (UK) 10
In Bruges (2008) Dir: Martin McDonagh (UK)
The Hurt Locker (2008) Dir: Kathryn Bigelow (US) 8
The Headless Woman (2008) Dir: Lucrecia Martel (Argentina)
Synecdoche, New York (2008) Dir: Charlie Kaufman (US)
Adventureland (2009) Dir: Greg Mottola (US)
Inglourious Basterds (2009) Dir: Quentin Tarantino (US/Germany) 7
The Social Network (2010) Dir: David Fincher (US)
A Separation (2011) Dir: Asghar Farhadi (Iran) 9
Melancholia (2011) Dir: Lars von Trier (Denmark) 8
Margaret (2011) Dir: Kenneth Lonergan (US)
The Act of Killing (2012) Dir: Joshua Oppenheimer (Denmark/Norway/UK) 10
Moonrise Kingdom (2012) Dir: Wes Anderson (US) 10
The Great Beauty
(2013) Dir: Paolo Sorrentino (Italy) 9

GENERAL NOTE:  Some readers assume that the lists on this site contain my personal opinions about my favorite movies, books, music, etc.  This assumption is FALSE.  The list above and most of the other lists on Make Lists, Not War do not represent my personal opinion of what is best – they contain the combined wisdom (such as it is) of multiple listers – often critics, academics and other experts – whose lists I have combined.  I have found over many years of collecting lists that combining the opinions of multiple experts provides much more useful information than the personal views of any individual.  While the website does contain some lists of my personal favorites, they are few in number and clearly marked as such.