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My Favorite Books and Films from 2018 by Todd Henson

Some of my favorite books from 2018.

My passion is photography. I find inspiration in viewing and studying images created by great photographers. But inspiration can be found in many places outside of photography, and we can become better photographers by exposing ourselves to a wide range of inspirations.

I find great inspiration in books, movies and music. And you’ll find a little of each below. Today I take a look back at some of the books and movies I consumed in 2018. Something about each of these stuck with me, making them my favorites of the year. Maybe some of them will interest you, as well.

Some of the links below are affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. This is at no extra cost to you.


Favorite Photography Books

The Life of a Photograph by Sam Abell

Sam Abell was a National Geographic photographer who captured life in photographs. This book is about his photographic life and the creation of some of his favorite photographs. It contains a beautiful collection of his photography, along with descriptions for some of the photographs. There aren’t a lot of words in the book, but the ones used have meaning. As do his photographs. See my full review of The Life of a Photograph by Sam Abell.

Irving Penn: Platinum Prints

In 2002-2003 Irving Penn donated a large collection of platinum and palladium prints to the National Gallery of Art. This book brings together the entire collection, and what a fantastic collection it is. I would love to see these prints in person, but until then this book is the next best thing. See my full review of Irving Penn: Platinum Prints.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs

This just might be the best collection of Steve McCurry photographs in book form. Steve McCurry is a National Geographic photographer known for some of his many iconic photographs that have graced the covers of the magazine. This book brings together in stunning form the most iconic of his photographs. See my full review of Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs.

Sanctuary: Temples of Angkor by Steve McCurry

Another book by Steve McCurry, this one is much smaller and focuses specifically on photographs of the Angkor region of Cambodia, most especially the many temples in the area. It is a beautiful collection of architecture, portraits, landscapes and detail shots. See my full review of Sanctuary: Temples of Angkor by Steve McCurry.

Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography

Dorothea Lange should be well known to most photographers, but if you’re not familiar with her this would be a nice introduction. It is a short book, and fairly small in format, but it contains many of her most well know photographs. See my full review of Dorothea Lange: Aperture Masters of Photography.


Favorite Non-fiction Books

Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Mike Massimino

Mike Massimino was an American astronaut and this book is his story. He writes about how his passion for space came about, and about his struggles trying to join NASA. He was rejected multiple times, but where many people might have given up and moved on to other careers, he pushed harder. Not only was he accepted by NASA but he eventually flew onboard the space shuttle and performed work on the Hubble telescope. This is an inspiring story, one about what can happen when your skills and passions come together.

Never Quit: From Alaskan Wilderness Rescues to Afghanistan Firefights as an Elite Special Ops PJ by Jimmy Settle

Never Quit is another inspiring story about someone who had both passion and skills and brought the two together, never quitting. It’s the story of Jimmy Settle who goes on to become a PJ, a parajumper, or pararescueman, Special Ops personnel who are called in to aid and rescue people in need, from humanitarian efforts to rescuing troops in combat zones. It is inspiring to read how far some people will go, how far they can push themselves, both to accomplish their dreams and to help others.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely

We, as humans, are not the rational creatures we sometimes think we are. But interestingly, this irrational behavior is fairly predictable. Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist, explores these ideas, running experiments to show just how strangely our brains work when we try to make what we consider rational decisions. This was a fascinating read.

Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus

This is less a book about how to live a minimalist lifestyle and more a book about how Joshua and Ryan found that by living a minimalist lifestyle they were able to find more meaning in life. It tells their stories, how each of them discovered the minimalist lifestyle and how they came together to help others discover it. I certainly can’t claim to be a minimalist, but I do find its concepts very appealing, and have slowly begun trying to scale back, to find the things that bring me the most joy and let go of things that don’t.

Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki

Goodbye, Things continued my explorations into the minimalist lifestyle, but this time from a Japanese perspective. It was interesting seeing how far Fumio Sasaki took things, something I doubt I would ever do. The Japanese culture does seem more amenable to minimalism than some of our western cultures do. Much of the Japanese art I find myself drawn to is very minimalist in nature. I’ve been slowly exploring this with some of my photography, as well, working to simplify images down to their raw essence, eliminating anything distracting, and focusing on something simple and pure.


Favorite Fiction Books

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One was such a fun book, one perfectly suited to me, as I grew up immersed in all the popular culture referenced throughout the book, from Dungeons & Dragons to video games and movies. If this hadn’t been the case I might not have enjoyed it nearly so much. It’s a story set in the future in a world where many people immerse themselves in a virtual reality game called the OASIS. The creator of the OASIS has just died, but before he did he designed a competition for all the players of the OASIS to compete for the chance to take over his company. If you’re interested in this story I would highly recommend the book over the movie. So much was left out of the movie I felt slightly disappointed in it. But the book was great fun.

The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky

I won a pre-release version of this book through a goodreads giveaway. The Wolf in the Whale is the first book I’ve read by Brodsky, but it has me interested in trying some of her other works. It’s the story of Omat, an Inuit shaman torn between different worlds and roles. Her people are some of the first Inuit to travel east, where they eventually encounter some of the Vikings who’ve crossed the oceans in search of new lands. This is a harsh and violent story in some respects, but it’s also full of magic and beauty as we see the world of man and of the gods, both Inuit and Norse, through Omat’s eyes. Brodsky includes material at the end of the book about the historical research she created this story from.

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Winterglass is a shorter work of novella length. It is a science fictional retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. In it Nuawa is a warrior who enters a tournament to win a place in the Winter Queen’s army, hoping to use this position to save her home, Sirapirat. But Nuawa is special, she has within her heart a shard of glass, part of a broken mirror sought by the Winter Queen. Nuawa seeks the Winter Queen, hoping to defeat her and rid the land of her presence. But the Winter Queen also seeks her, hoping to reunite the fragments of the mirror. This story was very different from most I’ve read, and I enjoyed it for this reason. I first learned about Winterglass over at Books, Bones & Buffy.

Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom

I first became aware of Brom through his amazing artwork. Then I began to read of books he had written. I wondered, could he write as well as he draws and paints? If Krampus is any indication the answer is a resounding yes. I thoroughly enjoyed Krampus. It has a bit of horror to it (and some strong violence, so be warned), which is befitting of Brom’s style of artwork. It has a bit of humor. It has a bit of Christmas and Santa Claus. But most of all it has plenty of Yuletide and Krampus, and a lot of heart. As he explains in the Afterword, Brom studied the many stories of Krampus, Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Christmas and Yuletide, and weaved together a modern day tale of them all. It’s not your typical Christmas read.

The Trials & Going Dark by Linda Nagata

These are the second and third books in a military science fiction trilogy, started in The Red, which I have previously reviewed. I don’t want to give away too many details in case you’re interested in reading the series. The story centers around topics of artificial intelligence, military technology, shifting power struggles in the country between different government factions and the larger corporations that supply the military. The main protagonist is James Shelley, who has been equipped with high tech artificial limbs to replace ones he lost, as well as cranial implants allowing him to interface with the limbs and other remote equipment and networks. These are the first books by Linda Nagata I’ve read, but they won’t be the last. I’ve already purchased a number of her other works.


Favorite Movies

Our Shining Days

Our Shining Days is a Chinese film about a group of students attending a music school with a wing devoted to classical music and instruments, and a wing devoted to traditional Chinese music and instruments. There is constant competition and conflict between the wings. I loved seeing and hearing all the different instruments and really enjoyed some of the musical pieces in the film. The movie was full of humor, music, and lots of references to otaku culture, such as anime, manga, garage kits, and games. This is a fun film for those who enjoy these sorts of themes and stories. If, as I am, you’re a fan of traditional and classical instruments used in more contemporary music, check out the bands: 2 Cellos, Brother, Wagakki Band, Yoshida Brothers, Hanggai, The HU Band and Apocalyptica. WARNING: The DVD sold on Amazon may not play in most US DVD players, check your player before purchasing.

Blade Runner 2049

I really enjoyed Blade Runner when it first came out and felt Blade Runner 2049 was a very good followup. It didn’t quite match up to my memory of the first, but it had a very similar feel as it continued the storyline and I quickly found myself fully immersed back in that world. I thought they did a great job casting the film and the special effects are, of course, far better than the first film.

It

It is one of my favorite Stephen King books. He has a real talent for bringing characters to life, especially younger characters. Reading the book I could easily place myself within it. I very rarely enjoy movies based on books anywhere near as much as the books, and this movie is no different. But I felt the movie, which is part one of the story, was a very good adaptation of the book, perhaps better than the previous one. They did a fantastic job casting, picking a great group of kids to play the younger roles. I’m curious to see how well they do with part two.

Bleach

Bleach is a Japanese live action movie based on stories previously told in manga and anime. I’ve never read the manga, but have watched some of the anime. Being a fan of anime, these sorts of movies are right up my alley. The story centers around a young student who’s able to see ghosts, which ends up getting him involved with a Soul Reaper, someone who’s job it is to guide the deceased from this world to the next. It’s full of action, special effects, and some interesting characters.

The Shape of Water

I’ve been a fan of most of Guillermo del Toro’s work, and have previously reviewed some great books about his works. The Shape of Water continues this trend. It is a fanciful tale set in the 1960’s in a government lab in Maryland. The government has captured a humanoid water creature and has it locked up in the lab. The story centers around the interactions between this creature and a mute female janitor who is fascinated by the creature. It is certainly a corny story in some respects, but I still found myself enjoying it.


Favorite Anime & Animated Movies

Your Name

I didn’t watch as much anime this year as I would have liked, but one anime movie that stood out for me was Your Name, by Makoto Shinkai. Last year I mentioned how much I enjoy Shinkai’s work, and this movie continues that trend. It’s the story of two people, some distance apart from one another, who find they share an interesting link. I don’t want to give too much away. The story appeared to be moving in one direction and of a certain typical sort of story, but I was pleased with how it all turned out. As with his other stories, this one is centered around themes of loneliness, beauty, and hope.

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo is a young boy in feudal Japan living with and taking care of his mother just outside of town. But as the story progresses we learn they are more than they appear. Other relatives force their way back into his life and he must head out on a quest to find his father’s old armor to protect himself. The tale is full of music and magic told using stop-motion animation. I thought it was a cute and touching story.


Bonus: Music Videos

As a bonus, here are videos from some of the musicians mentioned in the description of Our Shining Days. These are artists from all over the globe who mix contemporary and traditional instruments and styles of music. I find these sorts of music inspiring for seeing what is possible if you just think differently. This lesson can easily be applied to our photography, as well (or any art form you practice).

2Cellos (Croatia) - Unfortunately, I just missed the opportunity to see 2Cellos live at Wolftrap.

Brother (Australia) - I was very pleased to stumble upon Brother playing live at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. I wasn’t familiar with them at the time, but heard them from across the festival and was completely taken in by their sound. I made a beeline straight to their performance.

Yoshida Brothers (Japan)

Wagakki Band (Japan)

Hanggai (Mongolia)

The HU Band (Mongolia)

Apocalyptica (Finland)

 

And finally, here are a couple clips from the movie, Our Shining Days, showing some of the musical pieces in the film. If you enjoy these, or if you’d rather skip them and go straight to the movie, then head over to Netflix, or any other service where you can find it, and give it a go.


Well, those were my favorites of 2018 (and a little something extra). What were some of your favorites from the year?

My Favorite Books and Films from 2017 by Todd Henson

Some of my favorite books from 2017.

This week I take a look back at some of my favorite books, movies, and documentaries from 2017. These are not necessarily things that were released in 2017, though some of them may have been, but instead are works that I read or watched in 2017. Some may not be recent at all. But the one thing they all have in common is that I really enjoyed them. Perhaps something in this list will catch your interest.

Some of the links below are affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links. This is at no extra cost to you.


Favorite Photography Books

Earth Is My Witness: The Photography of Art Wolfe

This is the greatest collection of Art Wolfe’s photographs I’ve seen. The photographs stretch across his entire career, with examples of wildlife, landscapes, indigenous peoples, and more. Head over to my review to see samples from Earth Is My Witness. It has been published in 2 formats, a larger one which I own and a smaller more affordable version. Highly recommended!

Photographs From the Edge by Art Wolfe and Rob Sheppard

Photographs From the Edge is a great companion to Earth Is My Witness. Where the other book focuses more strongly on the photographs, this book focuses on the stories behind the photographs. It is organized chronologically. Each photograph includes a short story about the creation of the photograph, along with a short photo tip and information about the nature of the photo.

Travels to the Edge: A Photo Odyssey by Art Wolfe

Travels to the Edge is the companion to the television series, containing many of the photographs created on the show. Having watched the series I love going back through this book and viewing the photographs they describe creating. See my review of Travels to the Edge for more details.

Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs

This is a great book for any fan of Ansel Adams work. It contains 400 photographs chosen by Andrea G. Stillman, Adams’ longtime assistant, that she feels best represent his work. The book covers his entire career, and includes a notes section in the back with lots of great info on the photos and Ansel Adams. Head on over to my review of Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs for samples from the book.

A Camera, Two Kids, and a Camel: My Journey in Photographs by Annie Griffiths Belt

Annie Griffiths Belt is a National Geographic photographer,  and reading this book is very much like reading an issue of the magazine dedicated to one photographer and her story. It is an autobiography of sorts, telling her story through her words and her photographs.


Favorite Non-fiction Books

Mozart's Starling by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

I received Mozart’s Starling through a goodreads giveaway. I really enjoyed this book. The author had heard the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s pet starling and in a flash of inspiration decided to adopt her own starling. The book weaves in her experiences with facts about starlings and the story of Mozart’s starling. A very entertaining and charming book. Read my longer review of Mozart's Starling.

The Final Frontiersman: Heimo Korth and His Family, Alone in Alaska's Arctic Wilderness by James Campbell

I listened to the Audible version of The Final Frontiersman, which tells the story of how Heimo Korth moved to Alaska and started a family while living in some of the more remote regions of the state. This book came before Braving It, which I had already read. I immensely enjoyed both books.

Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth: Inside the Creation of a Modern Fairy Tale

I received this book through a Tor.com giveaway. Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my favorite movies, and this book does a fantastic job of documenting the creation of the film. It is full of visuals, from photographs to storyboards to concept art. Highly recommended for any fan of the film or of Guillermo del Toro’s work. Check out my review of Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth to see more.

Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

This was a fascinating look at how large a role randomness can play in the world. The author primarily comes from the world of investing/trading so much of the book centers on examples in this area, but he does add other examples, as well. This can be a challenge to read. The author is very well read and educated and the tone and style he uses in the book expects you to be able to follow along. I often had to lookup some of the words or concepts he brought up, but I still enjoyed the book and look forward to reading his other works.

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Freakonomics has been around a while, but I just got around to reading it this year. And I found it fascinating. It’s written by an economist who uses his skills to address questions that are far outside what most of us would think of as economic topics. Things like finding cheating teachers in schools, or what effect Roe vs Wade might have had on violent crime. Each chapter is a new topic, and there are some interesting ones. Check it out if you’ve never read it.


Favorite Fiction Books

Waypoint Kangaroo by Curtis C. Chen

I received Waypoint Kangaroo through a Tor.com giveaway. Kangaroo is the code name for a spy with a special ability making him an important asset to the government. The story is set in the future with the majority taking place aboard a huge interstellar cruise ship. The book has a great sense of humor and sometimes reminded me of Inspector Gadget. Fun read. There is now a sequel called Kangaroo Too.

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope

I received Collecting the Dead through a CriminalElement.com giveaway. This book follows Magnus Craig, nicknamed Steps, who is a Special Agent with the FBI. He is known as The Human Bloodhound, as he is sent in to track down criminals and victims no one else can. But there is more to Steps than meets the eye. See my review of Collecting the Dead.

After Atlas by Emma Newman

I received After Atlas through a Tor.com giveaway. It is a police procedural set in the future following Carlos Moreno as he attempts to solve the mystery surrounding the death of a well known individual. There is a cyberpunk aspect to it with some interesting tech. I really enjoyed the character development. This is the second book in this world (Planetfall was the first), but reading the first book is not necessary to enjoy this one. Check out my longer review of After Atlas.

The Malice by Peter Newman

I received The Malice through a goodreads giveaway. This is the second book in a series that began with The Vagrant (which I received through another goodreads giveaway). These are dark tales of a post apocalyptic land where a breach has opened, spewing out a whole range of terrible creatures. The first book followed the Vagrant as he found and carried the great sword, Malice, back to the Shining City. The Malice follows the Vagrant’s adopted daughter, Vesper, as she hears and follows the call of the sword, carrying it back to the breach. There is a third book in the series, The Seven, which I have not yet read.

Lazarus: The Second Collection by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark

Lazarus is a comic book series written by Greg Rucka. I’ve read several of his other series and also a couple of his books. Needless to say, I really enjoy his work. This is the 2nd volume of collected works from the series packaged together in a nice hardcover edition. Pick up the first collection before getting into this one. The story is set in the future and follows Forever Carlyle, who is the Lazarus of the Carlyle family, defending her family from harm but also learning her family may not have always been honest with her. Can’t wait to read the third collection, whenever it comes out.


Favorite Movies

Ashby

Ashby, played by Mickey Rourke, is a retired CIA assassin with only months to live who unexpectedly befriends a new kid in town who wants to interview him for a school project. Things get a little out of hand.

Train to Busan

Train to Busan is Korea’s answer to the zombie apocalypse film. Most of it takes place on a train heading to Busan with a father taking his young daughter to see his mother. It was really well done and appealed to me far more than most zombie films.

 

Offline: Are You Ready for the Next Level?

The original German title for this film is Offline: Das Leben Ist Kein Bonuslevel, which Google translates as Life is Not a Bonus Level. The movie isn’t rated all that highly but I really enjoyed it. It might appeal to some of the gamers out there as it’s about a group who play an online role playing game, flipping back and forth between scenes in the game and scenes from real life. Yes, it was corny and quirky, but I enjoyed it. It reminded me vaguely of Hackers, another corny film I enjoyed.

A Werewolf Boy

This Korean film tells the tale of a sick girl whose family moves to the country to help her heal. But when they arrive they find a wild boy who appears almost more of an animal. This movie was very different than I had expected. It had a lot of heart and a great sense of humor. I enjoyed it far more than I expected to.

The Four

The Four is a fun Chinese movie with a cast of characters with special abilities that help them in their roles as constables. It’s full of special effects and the over the top martial arts action sequences that draw me to this sort of movie.


Favorite Anime Movies

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

This was a beautifully told story based on a Japanese folk tale. It was a sad story in some ways, but also very entertaining. I enjoyed the style of animation, very different from the majority of other anime out there, and different from other Studio Ghibli films you might have seen (such as those by Hayao Miyazaki).

When Marnie Was There

Another beautiful movie from Studio Ghibli about a young girl who doesn’t fit in and is taken to the country to spend time with relatives and hopefully benefit from the cleaner air. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a movie from Studio Ghibli I didn’t enjoy, and this one is no different. The animation is more akin to what you might expect than was that of The Tale of Princess Kaguya. But both are beautiful films.

The Garden of Words

I have enjoyed every Makota Shinkai anime I’ve watched. The Garden of Words was such a beautiful and sad story, as so many of his other works are. It’s the story of a couple of lonely people who meet one rainy day and slowly get to know one another and begin looking forward to the next time they meet. Check out Makota Shinkai’s other works, such as The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Voices of a Distant Star, and 5 Centimeters Per Second. He is one of my favorite anime directors.

Ghost in the Shell 2.0

I have always loved the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is not a sequel, but instead a remastered version of the 1995 Ghost in the Shell. I loved the original version of this film, and loved this new version, as well. You can see how The Matrix trilogy might have been influenced by this anime and the manga that preceded it. Hollywood has now produced their own live action version of Ghost in the Shell, but I have not yet seen that one.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society

Another film in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, which also included several anime series. I never tire of these stories of Section 9, part of the police force in a futuristic Japan who handle cases involving technology, computers, AI, and robotics. These can be violent and heavy hitting stories, so don’t confuse them for children’s movies just because they are animated.


Favorite Documentaries

 

Tales By Light

Tales by Light is a series available (at the time of this writing) on Netflix in the US. Each episode focuses on a photographer, telling some of their story and showing them work in the field. Photographers include: Darren Jew, Richard I’Anson, Krystle Wright, Art Wolfe, Jonathan and Angela Scott, Eric Cheng, and Stephen Dupont. There are 2 seasons of 6 episodes each. The second season spends 2 episodes on each photographer. This is a very well done series. Check it out if you have access to it.

Birders: The Central Park Effect

I really enjoyed this documentary about a group of birders who frequent New York City’s Central Park throughout the seasons. This will likely appeal most to birders or photographers who enjoy capturing images of birds. Check out my review of Birders: The Central Park Effect for more details.

Bill Cunningham New York

Bill Cunningham was a photographer who captured fashion and street life in New York City. I had not been familiar with him prior to this documentary. Even if you aren’t interested in fashion you might enjoy this film. It captures a very humble but interesting man who died not that long after it was released. See my review of Bill Cunningham New York for more details.

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters tells the story of the creation of Gregory Crewdson’s Brief Encounters body of work. It follows him as he plans and creates several of the photographs. Initially I was not interested in Crewdson’s work, I just didn’t get it. But the more I watched, and the more I studied some of his photos, the more I found myself really enjoying them. His images are small self-contained stories. Look him up if you’re not familiar with his work.

Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice documents photographer James Balog’s project to place time-lapse cameras around the world to capture changes in the world’s glaciers over time. It is a fascinating story, and a more immediate way of visualizing some of the effects of climate change.


Well, those were my favorites of 2017. What were some of your favorites from the year?