Imagine you take a ride on a train. And imagine at the end of that ride, as you step onto the platform say at Grand Central Station or 30th Street Station or Union Station, you turn to the passengers beside you and say, “Hey, where were we?”

Not “where are we?” Not “Is this Manhattan?” Not even “Where’s the men’s room?”

But where were we? How, as the fella says, did I get here?

Your fellow travelers would look at you as if you’d lost your mind, and fair play to them.

And yet, here we are, at the end of another year, and I find myself once again scouring the internet because I can’t remember what happened. I know something happened, and I know that it was exhausting, because, well, I am exhausted. But the end of every year finds me exhausted (hell, the end of every day finds me exhausted. Perhaps I need to call the White House for another batch of home tests). So that’s no reliable indicator. Where were we? How did we get here?

And then … oh yeah…

The Supremes overturned Roe. The Russians invaded Ukraine. Covid surged. Inflation surged. The climate surged. We lost the queen. And the queen. And the queen and the queen, and also the queen. And the king, and the king, and the king, and the king and the king.

And yet, every year seems to end that way, doesn’t it? “Here’s a bunch of people who made the world better who died. How will we survive without them?” And “Here’s a bunch of bad stuff that happened even before those great people died who we relied on to help us – my God, how will we survive without them?” Oh and here are a couple of “feel good stories” which really aren’t “feel-good stories”, they’re really just the “not worst possible outcomes” of some absolute shitshows that happened during the year (Which reminds me; Welcome home, Ms. Griner).

But look. A fella once said that the torch had been passed to a new generation. Today, perhaps that torch needs to be ripped from the hands of a malicious bunch of doddering hooligans to stop them setting themselves and the rest of us on fire. For while the past may be prologue, and may not even be past, it’s time for us to move forward. “Last year’s words belong to last year’s language” as the old tom cat would say. “The future is better than the past,” as a friend of mine likes to remind me. Some of us already are working on making that sentiment a reality. Some of us will in the coming year. Everyone needs to be.

 So get up, stand up, as the fella says. And grab yourself a torch.


Oh yeah. This. I almost forgot.

For those of you new here (and if you are new here, thanks from coming by, and welcome!) – every year, we ask a bunch of smart people three simple questions:

What was the book you loved this year?

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?, and

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

And we also asked a bunch of smart people who told us what they read last year, to nominate some of the smart people they know to share what they’d read, wanted to read, hoped someone would write.

And miraculously, people obliged. So we bring you Pulitzer Prize winners. Cannes Lion winners. People fighting to keep your climate from imploding. People fighting to keep your brain from imploding. Artists and movers and shakers of every stripe from three continents. And, yeah, a few morons because, you know, the law of averages.

(No, not morons. Wonderful people. The only moron here is the guy writing this introduction.)

All for your enjoyment – so we thank them for doing it. You can thank them by buying their books, following them on social media, and generally treating them with respect and appreciation when you see them on the street.

In the meantime, thank you for showing up to take it all in. Today and every day.

Okay, on with the show…


Jamall A. Calloway

Dr. Jamall A. Calloway is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and an Affiliated Faculty member in the Africana Studies Program at the University of San Diego. He is also an honorary research lecturer in the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg Campus, South Africa

What was the book you loved this year?

There are quite a few books that I loved this year but the first one that comes immediately to mind is C.A. Davids’ How to Be A Revolutionary: A Novel. I met a colleague in Cape Town who recommended it to me and I started it as soon as I had it in my possession. What I didn’t know is that I wouldn’t be able to put it back down. Overall, the intertwining stories are complicated without being convoluted. And the story itself is moving but it’s not sentimental. I loved it. And though the story is occupied by figures across continents and, even across time, it helped display a sort of common desire we all share — and that is to experience genuine dignity, love, and political safety. Secondly, I want to also add Marjan Kamali’s The Stationery Shop. It’s a bookish romantic story. It’s also quite suspenseful – I wanted to know what happened! Why didn’t things pan out well? It’s a poetic story and it deserves all the awards and nominations it’s received. It’s one of those books I catch myself thinking about unexpectedly.

Now, in terms of non-fiction, Farah J. Griffin’s Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature is also a page turner. The text is hard to describe. It’s a lot of things. It’s stimulating. It’s personal. But it’s really a journey where we, as readers, are not only listening to a professor describe the treasure that is black literature; but, more than that, we are welcomed into the space of a daughter who is explaining not only why her father wrote a precious note, but a daughter explaining just how correct he was. 

Before I switch genres allow me to first say that, I’m not the best poetry reader. I have to read stanzas several times before I know what I think. However, this year I re-read, repeatedly, both Alexis V. Jackson’s My Sisters’ Country and Joshua Bennett’s The Study of Human Life. Jackson’s poetry is musical, and agile, and really, aesthetically, black. She knows form well. And she also knows when to stretch it and make it work for her and not the other way around. Her first poem in the text “My Sisters’ Country,” sets the stage and I’m not sure there’s a week that goes by where I don’t think about it. Bennett’s poetry is sharp, elegant, philosophical, and acute. And for what it’s worth, the anchoring novella, “The Book of Mycah,” is striking. Not to mention those “Dad poems” are unbelievably moving. I also want to admit that I never took W.S. Merwin’s Garden Time out of my bag. 

As a theologian, one of my favorite books that I read this year was Christopher Carter’s The Spirit of Soul Food: Race, Faith, and Food Justice. I argued with it a lot this year. I still do. So I suppose it did its job. It offers lots of food for thought, no pun intended. Also, I might’ve underlined every sentence in Zakiyyah Iman Jackson’s Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World. What an exceptionally brilliant text. And lastly, words can’t describe how much I learned from and was inspired by Biko Mandela Gray’s Black Life Matter: Blackness, Religion, and the Subject. The way he connected black critical theory and black religious theory was kind of groundbreaking to me.

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

Next year, I need to sit down and read Gayl JonesPalmares, I’ve been meaning to get to it. Otis Miss III’s Dancing in the Darkness: Spiritual Lessons for Thriving in Turbulent Times comes out at the top of the year. As does Joshua Bennett’s Spoken Word: A Cultural History in March. However, if I look at my desk, I have The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow staring at me

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

I really need a biography of Benjamin F Chavis, who I find really fascinating. And I think we all need a biography or autobiography of Sonia Sanchez 

Phillip Clayton:

Phillip Clayton has been told that he “founded something” and “co-founded” another thing, and that he is also a Creative Director – “but titles mean nothing. What I have done and who I am is simple – for over 20 years I have been focused on building strategic relationships aimed at developing quality business solutions that impact brand design and development. As a practice and not as an off-the-shelf service.

“My focus is centered around Art & Design, Brand Design & Development, Packaging Design, Business, and Product Development, Advertising, and Marketing. I am inspired by people, passionate about teamwork, and I practice a holistic approach to delivering excellent solutions that drive business results.

“Fine art was my foundation, design became my purpose. I am a hybrid consultant and strategic advisor as well as a writer, and a member of the PAC Global Leadership Awards International Judging Commission, and the PAC IOU (Inclusive Opportunities & Universal Design).”

What was the book you loved this year?

As a child, I despised reading, because I was horribly dyslexic. I still am, perhaps without the horrible bit. But with age and effort comes knowledge and the ability to learn and manage challenges. From my perspective, and the tools my parents afforded me, my survival was dependent on learning to read and understanding what I was reading. And in time I discovered a joy for reading.

There are books that will make you appear smart just for reading them, just by mentioning their titles. You think, “that’s a smart individual.” Some books confirm things I already practice, others reveal secrets, and the rest engage the imagination.

Some time ago, I kept hearing about a book, then I found that book, then followed the author on Twitter, and then I was impressed by everything he says. He is considered one of the greats in advertising and was around for many who we read about today – the agencies and people that changed the advertising industry (notwithstanding a possible change needed today). I am not the most avid reader, but when I find a book I have a high desire to read, it’s like winning money.

What I often look for in books is great thinking. Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott is a book written about a prolific industry that aims to solve business problems by people who are not necessarily business minds. It’s about solving problems by turning problems into challenges you can solve. It is not an advertising, marketing, or industry book. It’s a book about life, creatively written like fiction though it is non-fiction, and if that does not appeal to you, then understand that everything written in Predatory Thinking is applicable to advertising. And then some. “As Albert Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

As if it was not difficult enough to write about a book I loved reading, I am not sure what I will be reading next year, but just as the many books I loved reading, I have so many I look forward to reading. I suppose I will most likely be beginning 2023 with Go Luck Yourself: 40 Ways to Stack the Odds in Your Brand’s Favour by Andy Nairn. The title has a nice pun, I am intrigued by it, and what better way to begin the new year than with a little luck.

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

Fiction engages the imagination; non-fiction (when not written for academics) teaches us how to engage the imagination. But there seems to be something missing.

I think a book on what I call the schematics of life would be a great book. We have so many books about work, design, advertising, marketing, brands, art. And so many more focus on how to navigate the professional world. And yes, there are books that also teach us about life. But I have at best written articles about the non-quantifiable bits – the human condition, the things we often take for granted, the mundane things in our day to day, and how we perceive the world around us. These things often lead to the type of relationships we build, who we attract, what we attract, to ourselves.

There is something uniquely special about our existence and how we respond to our individual experiences, whether it’s pleasure or pain, that dictates what we do next and what success means in the end. It is no secret that we don’t always find passion; it finds us. Likewise, the road to success is not necessarily doing what we love; but is success limited to professional achievements? Pain is a great motivator, it changes you, it often dictates what kind of life we desire to live, which ultimately dictates the type or work we desire to do.

Of course, this is just one man’s opinion, and that book could already be out there, but I think that would be an interesting book. 

Anthony Giaccone: 

Anthony Giaccone is an award-winning executive creative director, concept director, writer, speaker, artist, and creative consultant. “Ant” as he’s affectionately known, is a successful and highly sought-after omni-channel creative professional and has led creative departments at prestigious agencies such as Mosaic, The Integer Group, TracyLocke, Ryan Partnership, and Arc Worldwide. A graduate of The School Of Visual Arts with an MBA from NYU, and occasional guest lecturer at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, Anthony (briefly) played semi-pro baseball, remembers most of his Eagle Scout training, and is slowly teaching himself astrophysics in his spare time – when he’s not looking for the perfect prohibition-era cocktail

What was the book you loved this year?

As an avid history, art, and science nerd, I prefer non-fiction books. The book I loved the most this year was Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davis. I have seen the painting “Madame X” probably over 1000 times since I was first a student at The School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. I only knew very little about the painting and who painted it by the simple placard description on the wall next to it. It was only until I read this amazing account of Virginie Gautreau, a New Orleans creole who met John Singer Sargent in Paris that I truly understood the painting and its mystique. This novel is not just an in-depth study of one of the most famous paintings in the world, but a study of ambition – both professional and social, of the late 1800’s Paris art world, and how fame and fortune can both rise and fall as quick as a brushstroke. 

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin

If you could convince Johnny Cash at the age of 70 to cover a Nine Inch Nails song, you are not only a creative thinker, you are a creative genius. That creative genius is Rick Rubin. From what I have read, The Creative Act is a course of study that illuminates the path of the artist as a road we can all follow. This is a book that I hope will provide me with boundless inspiration and a fresh way to find meaning and direction in a modern world.

What is a book you wish someone would write because you would read in a heartbeat?

As a die-hard Beatles fan, I wish that Mal Evans could come back from the dead to write a thoroughly comprehensive autobiography. He was employed by The Beatles from 1963 until their breakup in 1970. Along the way, he was their bodyguard, road manager, and personal assistant. He was with them on every tour, spent every day at the recording studio with them, and even traveled with The Beatles to India.  Sadly, Evans was killed by police in a misunderstanding and died at age 40 in 1976. If anyone, ANYONE, other than John, Paul, George, and Ringo actually truly knew what Beatlemania was like from the inside-out, it was Mal Evans. …it would make an incredible Oscar-worthy bio-pic too! 

Gerry Graf:

Gerry Graf is one of the most awarded, respected, and frankly polarizing people in advertising today. People love him or hate him, often at the same time. But no one denies that he’s a god damned rocket scientist. His meteoric rise from BBDO NY (Campaign of the Year (Adweek) and Commercial of the Year (AdAge)) to Goodby Silverstein & Partners (top 5 Super Bowl Ads of All Time) to TBWA\Chiat\Day\NY (“50 most influential, and creative thinkers and doers” in 2008, 2009 & 2013) to Saatchi & Saatchi NY (Cannes Gold Lion) culminated in the launching of his own shop – Barton F. Graf 9000 – in 2010. Named Mid-Size Agency of the Year by the 4As in 2014, one of the 14 most influential agencies in America by Forbes, and 5th Most innovative agency by Fast Company, BFG9000 (a reference to both Graf’s father and “Doom”) did standout work for Diageo, Fox, Little Caesar’s and more before closing its doors in 2019. Graf currently runs SlapGlobal which he cofounded with Maxi Itzkoff and is doing paradigm-breaking work for UnderArmour, Dove, Doritos and other clients. He lives in Manhattan with his wife, three kids, a dog he likes and a cat he doesn’t.

What was the book you loved this year?

I guess I’ll go with How Jesus Became God by Bart D. Ehrman. I love learning where stories originated. I believe in the power of story and the greatest proof of that is the story of Jesus. It has changed the course of history. I’m agnostic, I don’t believe in any of the miracles or the resurrection, but the scholars I read are all in agreement that he was a historical figure. This book starts with what we know of the man and takes you through the steps of him being seen as the Messiah (the Christ), and the development of the gospels and the hundreds of different Christian religions. (Spoiler alert: Bart Ehrman is a former evangelical who is now an atheist.)

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

I know this is wishful thinking, but maybe The Winds of Winter by George RR Martin will come out next year. Can it live up to the hype generated by all the waiting? I don’t know. I saw George RR speak at Symphony Space with Neil Gaiman last month. One reason he said it’s taking so long is that the TV writers went to places he wanted to go but they really fucked it up so he has to start over. Once a year, I go to Wikipedia and read the plot synopsis of all the other books so I’m ready for when this comes out. I really believe he will take the characters in directions we never thought of, I can’t, but will, wait.

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

I hope Gary Vaynerchuck will write a book, or publish something about building his empire. I know he’s kind of like our JD Salinger, but there’s a lot of people who would love to someday hear from him

Sig Gross

Sig Gross is an Executive Creative Director who recently got his feet wet in the pharma marketing space leading two global blockbuster drugs at DiD Agency. His award-winning creative has driven success on everything from cars, beer, and airlines to stretch marks, lip fillers, and irritable bowel syndrome. Most recently Sig led a team at 160over90 revamping university brands from small elite schools to large state universities. He finds the most satisfaction when his team’s creative work addresses genuine emotional insights to help ignite behavioral change, especially when developing the story of a higher-ed institution that’s relatable and valuable to a high school student.

What was the book you loved this year?

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

One of my all-time favorite films is Joel and Ethan Coen’s adaptation of this novel. Recently I watched it again and decided to pick up the book. What was revealing to me is that the script remained faithful to McCarthy’s novel almost scene for scene, translating his descriptions into breathtaking images. McCarthy’s style juxtaposes very long and bluntly short sentences with no quotation marks and randomly omits apostrophes from contractions. There’s no pattern. For me the effect depicts the lazy laid-back nature of the West even when the main character is running for his life. Stunning and ruthless. (For what it’s worth, right after I finished this one, I read his post-apocalyptic The Road and am currently in the middle of Blood Meridian.)

A word to the wise, however: While I thoroughly admire McCarthy’s literary craft, his books can be a chore to read – sometimes he even makes up words. I find them rewarding, however, as long as I have my dictionary app open.

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré

I’ve never read Le Carré so I’m looking forward to a good spy novel. I’ve been gravitating to great books from the past. I’m not sure if it’s due to the pandemic we’ve endured or working from home on pharma ad campaigns for far too long but I’m in search of good craft in any form.

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

I’m currently struggling with how to continue leading a healthy and happy life while being fed messages for drugs that address every disease, disorder and affliction juxtaposed with a mountain of evidence that a strict diet of clean, whole plant-based foods does the trick. I want a book to help me live like Stanley Tucci without the worries of soaring triglycerides or high blood pressure!

Jerry Judge

Jerry Judge’s career reads like a who’s who of British Advertising. He was TBWA London’s 11th employee. Which he left with John Bartle, Nigel Bogle and John Hegarty when they started BBH – a firm he was eventually named Chairman of. Eight years later, he was invited to become CEO of Y&R London and a part of their European Management board, which led to Frank Lowe asking him to become CEO of Lowe Howard Spink in 1994. Which resulted in, among other things, back-to-back Grand Prix wins at Cannes.

Along the way, Jerry has worked on everything from Ovaltine to Pirelli, from American Express to Singapore Airlines, and has led acquisition and merger initiatives in Japan, China, India, Australia and North America – culminating in leading the team organizing the largest merger of two operating companies in advertising history, APL and Lowe – of which Jerry was ultimately CEO.

Mr. Judge currently resides in New York City where he is a Partner at the Fearless Group.

What was the book you loved this year? 

There’s a great observation by the British comedian Stephen Fry: “American bookshops are full of ‘how to’ books” and it’s true. From home surgery to tantric sex. I’m sure some are brilliant but I prefer history and biography. (Though any year would be incomplete without a Donna Leon Commissario Brunetti mystery)

So this year it was a reread of (amongst many others) Bill Bryson One Summer: America, 1927. It was published in 2013. A fantastic, thoughtful, evocative history. I loved it and continue to “dip” into it.  1927 was the year of the first “Talkie”, The Jazz Singer. (that’s a medium that has come on a bit, eh?) Oh, and if I had been born in 1927 I’d have arrived the day that man first crossed the Atlantic non-stop. “Mr. Lindbergh, do you have a vaccination certificate?”

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year? 

I have it in my i pad. Homo Deus: A Brief History Of Tomorrow By Yuval Noah Harari. I have already “dipped” into it and it feels great.

What will happen when tech kicks humans out of the job market? Will there be a Useless class for some of us? Will Islam accept genetic engineering? Will Silicon Valley stop producing gadgets and start making religion?

These and many more questions…….

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

The End Of Polarised Thinking And Behaviour: Listening to Each Other. It’s how humanity got this far.

Christopher Keatinge

Christopher Keatinge is a Creative Director at Uncommon London, where he has worked on a variety of paying clients including ITV, The Guardian, Pinterest, Method, Ecover, and most recently British Airways, as well as charity projects such as Scents of Normality and The Big Gay “Donation”. Before joining Uncommon he worked at Grey, BBH, VCCP & BMB, though not in that order. His work has been awarded at Cannes, D&AD, Creative Circle and the One Show

What was the book you loved this year?

This year I haven’t read nearly as much as I should or usually do, but a couple of books stand out to me: Bushido by Inazo Nitobe, which is all about the ethical codes of samurai and how it relates to Japanese culture, and Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf

Bushido was a gift from my fiancé and while it wasn’t intended to be, it became a very lucid sort of self-help book with all kinds of clear and level-headed advice on life and leadership. Highly recommended. 

Until last year, Jacob’s Room was the only Virginia Woolf novel I hadn’t read (I’m still ploughing through her collected diaries, little by little) and while it wasn’t my favourite of hers, it brought me what her writing always brings me – a huge amount of inspiration, and a huge amount of comfort – her writing is still so vivid and alive and intelligent after 100 years, it gives me faith in the intelligence of our big dumb species which this year has seemed bigger and dumber than ever before. To me, she’s the literary equivalent of a nightlight in a dark hallway. 

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

Herding Tigers by Todd Henry, stolen from my partner’s bedside table. Great title. Great cover. And great advice, apparently.

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

Have you guys ever read The Do It Yourself Lobotomy by Tom Monahan? It’s really stuck with me ever since I read it as an ad student. All kinds of thinking tools and silly games you can play when you get stuck. Way less textbook than De Bono, but just as useful. If they ever publish a follow up to DIY Lobotomy, I will definitely be pre-ordering. 

John W. Manley

John Manley is an independent brand strategy consultant. Over his 20 years of agency experience, Manley has cultivated expertise in the art and science of modern strategic planning at notable shops: Martin, Ogilvy, DDBGeometry, and Starcom. More recently, he built out the Strategy & Innovation department at Mosaic across the US and Canada, helping the experiential agency pivot to being an end-to-end integrated marketing shop. 

He has helped position brands and products for Jeep, Google, General Mills, BP, Coca-ColaProcter & Gamble, and Kimberly-Clark. He has helped launch significant marketing platforms for McDonald’s, State Farm, Alfa Romeo, Miller Lite, Jim Beam, Nike, Pizza Hut, and Gillette. Some of this work even won awards, bringing home LionsEffiesClios, and Chiats.

He does not typically refer to himself in the 3rd person, except when writing a bio like this.

What was the book you loved this year?

One book I enjoyed this past year was Sutton by J.R. Moehringer. While not new, published in 2012, it is set in a time that feels eerily similar to modern times in that the widening chasm between rich and poor in our society. And how one man made robbing banks seem like the work of a rogue gentleman who chose to take control of his station in a cold, heartless world.

From Goodreads: “Willie Sutton was born in the squalid Irish slums of Brooklyn, in the first year of the twentieth century, and came of age at a time when banks were out of control. If they weren’t failing outright, causing countless Americans to lose their jobs and homes, they were being propped up with emergency bailouts. Trapped in a cycle of panics, depressions and soaring unemployment, Sutton saw only one way out, only one way to win the girl of his dreams.”

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

One book I want to read is Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks by Patrick Radden Keefe

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

One book I wish would be written is something about how the mores around sports gambling have dramatically and hypocritically shifted seemingly overnight after it became legal in many states. And what happens now with a growing number of people seeking quick fixes to financial woes will lead to a new generation of people in debt and despair. And how the rich will get richer and the poor get more desperate.

Sebastián Meirovich

Sebastián Meirovich is a Creative from Chile, with more than 10 years of agency experience. He has worked with big brands such as McDonald’s, Samsung, Alfa Romeo, Volkswagen, Skoda, Mazda (yeah, he likes cars) and many others. In all these years, he has made good friends in BBDO, Publicis, McCann, and Wunderman Thompson, among others. 

What was the book you loved this year?

Even though I’m a football (soccer) fan, I have never read a book about sports. So I decided to give it a shot and I really enjoyed Leading by Alex Ferguson with Michael Moritz.

This could be the typical cliché of leadership (as the title says). But for me, it was a very fun book, with a really good series of anecdotes, stories and inputs about football and life. Well, at least that’s how I see it.

Also, a great aspect of this book is the “match” or connection between things that happen in a stadium full of fans, with things that can happen to anyone at the office, with clients, colleagues, etc. So you can definitely relate with some insights and stories written here.

Also, it’s great that you don’t have to be a sports fan to connect with this reading!

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

Continuing this interesting and iconic path of big stars, I would love to read Mick Jagger by Philip Norman. I can really imagine all the fun stories of this guy and the Rolling Stones! I mean, anyone being on top of the World for so many years, must have some good and interesting stuff to tell. Pure rock ’n’ roll!

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

I’d love to read something new and different, maybe a book written by common people. Like the guy you see in your local store, your neighbor, the delivery guy, a math teacher, someone walking with his dog in the park, you get the point. No great artists or writers for this time. Just real insights and thoughts of real people, with total freedom to express themselves. l think that could be kinda fun, full madness!

KC Norman

KC Norman is one half of the celebrated brother directing team, Norman Brothers (the other half is Kipp – hello, Kipp). KC and Kipp grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, where an early love of movies like Raising Arizona, The Terminator, and The Goonies drove them to spend all of their nights and weekends staring at the television. Others, however, thought they were just lazy bums. Couch potatoes. Their mother, for example, was ashamed. 

KC (the one who contributed to this piece, not Kipp) was the rebel; he left high school a year early, and then bounced from school to school and region to region before finally getting a degree in fine arts from Arizona State University.

Kipp (who was too busy I guess to contribute) was the good kid – both an accomplished student and athlete. He went to the University of Wisconsin, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in creative writing. But most importantly, he became great friends with Peter B. Williams, now affectionally known as “the third Norman brother” (also, not a contributor to this piece, in case you were wondering).

During the dawn of the digital filmmaking era, the brothers (KC, Kipp, and yes, Pete) began collaborating on short films and music videos. These early projects were, um, failures; labors of love, that no one, well, loved. Their mothers (now including Pete’s mom – who also did not have anything to do with this piece) were ashamed. But the team had found something they loved, so they kept at it.

And then, in 2012, after years of honing their craft, the brothers (KC, the other one and the other other one) opened Norman Brothers Productions. Since then, they’ve delivered exceptional work for State Farm, ABInBev, KraftHeinz, Nintendo, Porsche, Subway, Floor & Decor, and literally hundreds of other happy clients. Their work is celebrated for its rich characterization, stand-out casting, striking production design, and unique point of view. And while that’s nice, the most important thing is that finally their mothers are proud. Ish. 

What was the book you loved this year?

There are two books I read this year that jump to mind. One is pretty specific to making commercials – If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die . The author, Patti Bellantoni, was a professor at SVA in New York, and the book explores the way color affects behavior and emotions, and the impact color choices can have in film. In a lot of ways, this book confirms intuitions that sit right below the surface of awareness and makes them easier to identify or talk about. And many of the insights are surprising or counterintuitive. The text is organized according to color and uses examples from popular films to unpack the way color can work as an element within storytelling. Kipp and I already had a strong intention to use color in our set and wardrobe choices, but this book is helping us develop a stronger vocabulary and instinct for how to make our selections more interesting or impactful.

The other book that leapt to mind was I Paint What I Want to See which is a collection of writings and interviews with the painter Philip Guston. More than anything, what interests me here is getting inside of someone else’s process. Reading, (or hearing, as it were) the different intellectual and emotional dialogues that sort of unfold as one is engaging with the creative process. Mileage will vary here… I think you have to be a painter or really enjoy visual art to sustain interest in what’s here.  

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

I’m actually just now cracking open Sanford Meisner on Acting (as I write it’s four days until the new year).  Mostly, this is just part of professional development, a desire to grow in the way I think about telling stories and how I relate to the script and actors. But honestly, so far, there are some really interesting observations about how human behavior happens that feel almost like the practice of mindfulness, or other approaches to meditation. The idea of presence, without expectation or a need to control. Really listening. Really watching… to both the outside world and your inner impulse.  

I’m probably most looking forward to Rick Rubin’s forthcoming book on creativity – The Creative Act: A Way of Being. I really admire him as a creator and a teacher, and based on what I’ve heard him say about the creative process in interviews I expect this book to be really exciting.

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

I’d love to read something on the ways in which data-driven, analytics or algorithmic approaches to decision making intersect with the personal, idiosyncratic and mysterious.  Like, it makes perfect sense to me that getting a brand name or product shot in the first six seconds of a spot makes it more effective as a piece of advertising. I embrace that. But I have always wondered how to measure the balance between commercially sleek appeal, versus stand out, break-through choices ­– whether they’re the core conceit of a spot, or simply the tone with which they are executed. I’d love to educate myself on how and when to embrace one discipline or the other with more than a gut reaction.    

Alix Schroeder

Alix Schroder is a climate and sustainability professional passionate about educating the next generation of leaders. She works in academic affairs at the newly established Columbia Climate School, after spending years at an environmental non-profit. She is also a lecturer in sustainability management at Columbia University. She recently moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey to experience the luxury of in-home laundry and dishwasher, where she now lives in a lovely house with her husband, new baby, and mini-Australian Shepherd. Her hobbies include reading on NJ Transit, running with her husband, and watching Elmo on YouTube with her 7-month-old.

What was the book you loved this year?

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

The less you know going in, the more enjoyable this book is, so I’ll keep the review purposely fuzzy on the details and plot. The bare bones gist is that earth, and life as we know it, is being threatened by an unknown entity in space, and our protagonist is sent out as a last-ditch effort to save it all.

As a science-fiction afficionado, and a fan of Andy Weir’s earlier hit novel, The Martian, I was excited to finally pick up Project Hail Mary. And it did not disappoint! While it was similar to his earlier work in a few ways – namely, the focus on a solitary protagonist in space, trying to beat the odds – it is also a fundamentally different type of story, which I appreciated. Without giving too much away, what surprised me the most is that, at its core, Project Hail Mary is a story of friendship. The writing is superb; Weir seamlessly combines dense science with both humor and emotion and makes them inextricable from one another. The ending is both satisfying and deeply moving.

Given my profession, I am naturally attracted to stories exploring inhospitable climate futures, and I found this to be incredibly plausible and scientifically sound. Project Hail Mary may not be for everyone (math and science can be heavy), but I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the genre or looking for a bit of adventure.

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

Quietly Hostile by Samantha Irby.

Her 2020 book of essays, Wow, No Thank You was a surprise hit for me. I’m not typically one to gravitate towards memoirs or essays, but through some divine intervention, I came across Wow, No Thank You and LOL’ed the whole way through. Her sense of humor speaks to my soul, and I’m looking forward to another unhinged, yet relatable memoir. 

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

A humorous book that features the lives of fictional millennial college students in the early days of Facebook, told primarily through Facebook status updates and wall posts.

Courtney Thorsson

Courtney Thorsson is an associate professor in the English Department at the University of Oregon, where she teaches, studies, and writes about African American literature from beginnings to present using Black feminist methods. Her first book Women’s Work: Nationalism and Contemporary African American Women’s Novels (University of Virginia Press, 2013) argues that Toni Cade Bambara, Paule Marshall, Gloria Naylor, Ntozake Shange, and Toni Morrison reclaim and revise cultural nationalism in their novels of the 1980s and 90s. Her writing has appeared in the volume Foodscapes: Food, Space, and Place in a Global Society and publications including CallalooAfrican American Review; MELUS; Gastronomica; Contemporary LiteratureLegacy; and Public Books. Her second book, The Sisterhood: Black Women’s Literary Organizing tells the story of how Black women writers and intellectuals transformed political, literary, and academic cultures from the 1970s on and is forthcoming in 2023 from Columbia University Press.

What was the book you loved this year?

This year, I loved reading and teaching Danielle Evans‘ second book, The Office of Historical Corrections. It’s a collection of short stories and a novella, each melancholic, funny, and insightful works that vividly capture characters navigating grief, racism, social media, and the meanings of history in the present. Evans is stunningly good at depicting the brief and specific moments that define a life.

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

One my favorite poets, Evie Shockley, has a new book titled suddenly we coming out in March 2023. Shockley often writes poetry inspired by Black visual art and this book includes poems inspired by important Black women artists, such as painter Alma Thomas, so I’m excited to read these.

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

Scholar Howard Rambsy II created a podcast this year called “Remarkable Receptions” about the popular and critical responses to African American fiction. I got to write an episode about reception of Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved and the series includes episodes on works by writers from Colson Whitehead and Ta-Nehisi Coates to Alice Walker and Angie Thomas. I’d love to see this series, which now has over 40 episodes turned into a book. I think lots of readers, including my undergrads, would find this kind of reception history about African American literature fascinating and useful.

Salamishah Tillet

A scholar, writer, and activist, Salamishah Tillet was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2022 for her work as a contributing critic at large for The New York Times where she has been writing since 2015.

The author of In Search of the Color Purple: The Story of an American Masterpiece, and Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination, Dr. Tillet was the co-host and co-producer of the “Because of Anita” podcast with Cindi Leive of The Meteor, which won a Webby Award and a Gracie Award in 2022.

In 2020, she was awarded a Whiting Foundation Creative Nonfiction fellowship for her cultural memoir All The Rage: Mississippi Goddam and the World Nina Simone Made, and in 2021 she was named an Andrew Carnegie Fellow by the Carnegie Corporation of New York for In Lieu of the Law: “Me Too” and The Politics of Justice – a cultural history of the world’s largest social media movement.

Currently Dr. Tillet is the Henry Rutgers Professor of Creative Writing and African American and African Studies and Director of Express Newark, a center for socially engaged art and design –  at Rutgers University-Newark. Upon arriving at Rutgers, she founded New Arts Justice, an initiative for feminist approaches to public art in the City of Newark. With her sister Scheherazade Tillet, she founded A Long Walk Home, an arts organization that empowers young people to end violence against girls and women.

Dr. Tillet received her B.A. in English and African American Studies from the University of Pennsylvania (where she graduated Phi Betta Kappa and magna cum laude), her M.A in Teaching in English from Brown University, and her M.A. in English and American Literature and her Ph.D. in American Studies from Harvard University.

What was the book you loved this year?

I’ve known Hua Hsu since graduate school and enjoyed watching his writing career blossom at the New Yorker. His second book, Stay True: A Memoiris a treasure – a true meditation on friendship, grief, coming-of-age, and Asian-American identity. I know he has waited his whole life to write this book, and that preciousness shows in his profoundly poetic prose and the care with which he shares Ken, who was tragically killed by carjacking three years into their college friendship, with us.     

What is the book you’re looking forward to reading next year?

I’m looking forward to reading Farah Jasmine Griffin’s In Search of a Beautiful Freedom: New and Selected Essays – in lots of ways, I’ve been studying her ideas since college. But, to have her brilliant criticism on race, gender, culture, and Black feminism all in one place is an amazing gift to those of us who have grown up reading her and to the next generations of scholars for whom she has blazed a path.  

What is the book you wish someone would write because you would read it in a heartbeat?

I just finished writing an extended essay on Gordon Parks and read several memoirs of his, including, most famously, A Choice of Weapons. I really would like to read a cultural biography of him. He was one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century, and I’m fascinated (and inspired!) by his experimentation, vision, and activism. 

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Header illustration by the exceptionally artful Jason Roeder. See more of his fine work here.

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