When I conjure the pop culture of my childhood, I am sitting in the back seat of my father’s car. He’s driving, his arm stretched long across the top of the leather bench seat, his hand tapping along with “The Long Run,” by the Eagles, which is playing on the cassette deck. I’m watching the scenery through the rear windshield, highway signs passing in almost perfect time with the downbeat.
I’ve described this scene to friends my age, and, while their memories aren’t identical, we all share that experience of being happily captive in the back seat, nodding along to whatever music our parents were into at the time. Inevitably, the soundtrack derives from a limited hit parade: the songs in heavy rotation in the 1970s and ’80s.
Technology has made it so that all of the passengers in a car in 2022 can listen to whatever music they like, or talk on the phone or watch their own movies with their own headphones and their own screens. We could all listen to “The Long Run” on the stereo, but we could just as easily retreat to the bespoke specificity of our Spotify Wrapped playlists.
The best of 2022
We’re in the heart of best-of season right now, the time of year when critics release their lists of their favorite films and songs and podcasts and books from the past 12 months. The atomization of mainstream culture means that it’s possible that my pop cultural peregrinations won’t intersect with a particular critic’s, that I might not have read any of the books or heard any of the songs on a particular list.
This is why I love this time of year.
It’s queue-building season. It’s a playlist-creating, Libby-reserving, recipe-box-stuffing cultural potluck, a time to depart from your peculiar media diet and sample others’ dishes. Jon Pareles’s favorite albums. Eric Asimov’s most memorable wines. The performances that made an impression on Maya Phillips. I’ve been off on my own cultural frolic for the past year, so it’s probable many of these critics’ choices will be new to me.
Better best-of lists
I wrote last year about how I wish that I could get annual best-of lists from everyone I know, and that those lists would not be limited to the usual genres of things that can be listened to or watched or read. I want people’s highly subjective and specific lists: the best advice they received and the best ideas they had. The best seltzers they tried or walks they took, the best changes they made to their morning routines. I want ideas for better living across the spectrum of existence; no category is too idiosyncratic.
I asked some people close to me what extremely specific things or experiences or notions would make their best-of lists. My editor Amy Fiscus’s best vacation moment was seeing the sunset over Lake Michigan. “Americans don’t have to travel to the West Coast to see the sun slip over the horizon of endless water,” she said.
My friend Ali’s best-of-everything list includes changing her grocery shopping routine, picking up just what she needs from the market instead of loading up the pantry as she did during the height of the pandemic. And she listed the video game Perfect Tides, a coming-of-age story set in 2000. “The story is so sweet — I cried, I loved it,” she said.
The best thing I baked was these crispy chocolate-chip cookies; they’re like Tate’s, but even better. The best piece of advice I got this year came from a story a friend told me about what she would say to herself when her three kids were very young and she felt overwhelmed, as if there weren’t enough hours in the day: “You’re doing great,” she would say. “Keep going.” I’ve found these simple words deeply inspiring at tough moments. The best seltzer I tried was Wegman’s ginger flavor — it’s like an unsweetened ginger ale. The best gardening tip I received was to water my plants less. The best change I made to my routine is wearing my dentist-issued night guard at least 75 percent of the time. I sleep better and worry less that I’m grinding my teeth to dust. And, because I can’t stop thinking about it, the best movie I saw was the documentary “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.”
What are your highly specific and personal bests of 2022? Best advice? Best decision? Best new dance move? Heck, best toothpaste? Tell me. Skip the usual categories and create your own. Include your full name and city, and I may include your response in next week’s newsletter.
THE WEEK IN CULTURE
🍿 “Babylon” (Friday): In 2016, the director Damien Chazelle became the youngest person to win the best director Oscar for “La La Land,” his lush musical ode to love and ambition in Los Angeles. He followed that up with the arguably superior “First Man,” a radically restrained account of Neil Armstrong’s journey to the moon. Now, he’s pivoting back again with this maximalist tale of dissolute Hollywood players in the early days of the film industry. It features Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie and, well, just their presence alone would be enough for me.
📺 “1923” (Sunday): TV — it gets everyone eventually. Even Harrison Ford, the great laconic star of many a movie franchise. In this second prequel to the hit series “Yellowstone,” premiering on Paramount+, he stars alongside Helen Mirren as the great-great-great-uncle of the Montana ranch mogul played by Kevin Costner.
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
Classic Potato Latkes
Hanukkah begins at sundown on Sunday. Are you ready to fry? If so, my go-to latke recipe is as classic as they come. The trick here is to put the shredded potato mixture in a dish towel (or colander) and squeeze as hard as you can. This removes a lot of the moisture, a step that helps it get extra crisp in the hot oil. I like to use a combination of duck fat and oil for frying, but if you have vegetarians at the table, stick to all oil. You can serve latkes with the traditional applesauce and sour cream, or with smoked fish and caviar. Or mix and match as you please. Chances are you’re going to eat more than one, so there’ll be plenty of opportunity for experimenting.
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What you get for $880,000: An 1886 rowhouse in Savannah, Ga.; a 19th-century home in Rockport, Mass.; or a Victorian in Lake Oswego, Ore.
The hunt: A single mother wanted a place in the Bronx for $350,000. Which home did she choose? Play our game.
Supportive development: One hotel was converted into housing for formerly homeless people.
Connecting with nature: “Slow birding” is designed to avoid the sometimes competitive feeling of bird-watching.
Forget the puffer: A sleek ankle-length coat is eternally stylish.
ADVICE FROM WIRECUTTER
Stocking stuffers for kids
Kids are counting down: Christmas morning is eight days away. And we know that the collection of delightful little surprises that fill up a stocking are often the last piece of the gift-giving puzzle. If you’re looking for ideas, head over to Wirecutter’s list of the best stocking stuffers for kids. Whether your family’s approach to stuffing a sock leans traditional (candy, cards and lip balm), whimsical (sweet-smelling puzzles and temporary tattoos) or practical (undies and toothbrushes), Wirecutter has plenty of suggestions made with kids of all ages in mind. — Kalee Thompson
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Argentina vs. France, World Cup final: The soccer great Lionel Messi has never won a World Cup for Argentina. Now, at 35 years old, he is trying one last time. Thus far he has not looked like a man on the verge of retirement: He leads the tournament in both goals and assists, playing with an apparent drive to win the one big prize that has eluded him. “Messi is not here because he needs a World Cup to be remembered as a great,” Rory Smith wrote in The Times. “He is here because he sees it as somewhere between his duty and his destiny.” Sunday at 10 a.m. Eastern on Fox.