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Nick Crocker
Letter sent on Jan 1, 2016

Excellent Things: 01

If you were trying to live an excellent life, you’d limit the content you consumed to only the best.

You wouldn’t read the stuff you can’t help reading.

You’d read Homer, and listen to Bob Dylan, and watch Ken Burns documentaries about national parks and the Roosevelts.

In your quiet moments, you’d watch Khan Academy videos and Kurosawa films and read poetry by Robert Frost.

For some reason, it’s difficult to keep that up.

You keep clicking on things you shouldn’t.

One of the best things about the internet is that it gives you unlimited chances for content redemption.

Every time you sink into the morass, the internet gives you a new day, a new chance to get back to the excellent.

The new Netflix series Making a Murderer is excellent.

Zoomed out, it’s a look at how fragile society’s grip on justice really is. How thin the line is between freedom and incarceration. And how manipulable the system can be.

You should watch it.

One of the standout characters in the series is defense lawyer Dean Strang. Interviewed just a few days after the show was released, he said:

“During the Avery trial — the run-up and the seven weeks of the trial — we got all kinds of hate mail, threats. If you read the comments posted on newspaper websites, it was all vitriol, overwhelmingly directed at us, our client and his family.
Now, for the last six days, it’s been exactly the opposite, sort of an onslaught of encomiums, warm wishes. A lot of it is literate and thoughtful and all that, but both of those experiences are artificial and distorting. Neither of them represent any particular reality other than what’s going on in fevered social media at the moment among a self selected portion of the population. You really can’t set your bearings to that at any time.”

Nils Frahm’s music taste is excellent.

Interviewed by Quietus Magazine, he talks about his favourite under-the-radar music:

“I would like to talk about musicians dead or alive who I think deserve a little afterglow.”

The article is worth reading, but three recommendations in particular standout.

The solo piano recordings of Ethiopian nun Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou are stunning. In particular, Ethiopiques, Vol. 21: Ethiopia Song.

Jenny Lin’s Nostalghia: Piano Works by Valentin Silvestro reveals the genius of the Ukrainian pianist and composer.

Gerry Mulligan’s gorgeous ‘Prelude In E-Minor’ sounds timeless.

None of these are easy to discover.

You don’t bump into records by Ethiopian nun pianists born in 1923 every day. But they’re there.

Adrian Chen is an excellent writer.

Unfollow is the story of how interacting with people online forced a Westboro Baptist Church member to question her beliefs.

It’s deftly written — Chen acknowledges people’s religious freedom with the most rational, respectful touch — and one of the best things the New Yorker published all year.

Read some more excellent things the New Yorker published here.

Welcome to 2016.