29 Lists of Recommended Books Created by Well-Known Authors, Artists & Thinkers: Jorge Luis Borges, Patti Smith, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, David Bowie & More


Creative Commons image of Austrian National Library by Matl

At any given moment many of us can recommend a list of books to read. Books that have imprinted on us, named emotions we didn’t know we had, carved trails through our brains. Books that stand as a testament to a life lived as a reader. We may construct lists to pass on to a curious niece, nephew, son, daughter, student, or apprentice. “Life is perplexing,” we might say, “complex, wondrous, curious, painful, open to unimaginable possibilities. Read these, then go out and find the books that inspire, soothe, guide, challenge, and enlighten you.”

Of course, as you know from reading this site, we frequently bring you many such lists, from famous writers, artists, musicians, scientists, and other titans of their respective fields who have inspired millions of young students and apprentices. Today, we have compiled a master list of recommended reading lists, from writers like Jorge Luis Borges, musician-poets like Patti Smith, scientists like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, futurists like Stewart Brand, and many, many more.

In fact, we have two lists from Borges, both predictably lengthy and eccentric. The first contains 33 books that could start a fictional Library of Babel, among which we find Jack London and Herman Melville alongside occult English writer Arthur Machen and Qing Dynasty Chinese writer Pu Songling. Borges’ second list spans 74 titles, and was intended, before his death, to expand to 100. Patti Smith also recommends Melville in her list, as well as Mikhail Bulgakov, Louisa May Alcott, and her hero, Arthur Rimbaud. Tyson’s list is short, only 8 titles, and he suggests these books not only for the avid reader but—in answer to a Redditor’s question—for “every single intelligent person on the planet.”

And Stewart Brand? Well, his list of 76 books is one of many such lists (including another one from Brian Eno) for his Long Now Foundation’s “Manual for Civilization,” a library meant to inspire and inform the few intelligent people left on Earth in the event of catastrophic collapse.

Find the complete list of lists above. 28 in total. In some cases, the titles in each post link to online text or audio books freely available online. And, separately, you should not miss our list of 74 essential books recommended by “a group of international women writers, artists and curators.”  Please let us know in the comments if there are any especially good lists not mentioned here–ones you think our readers would do well to consult.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Man Ray Designs a Supremely Elegant, Geometric Chess Set in 1920 (and It’s Now Re-Issued for the Rest of Us)

Yesterday, Colin Marshall featured Man Ray’s “Surrealist Chessboard” from 1934, which paid homage to the leaders of the Surrealist movement. Though artistically significant, the chessboard had some practical limitations. Made up of only 20 squares (as compared to the traditional 64), the “Surrealist Chessboard” wouldn’t let you play an actual game of chess.

For that, we need to turn to Man Ray’s chess set fashioned in 1924. Made of abstract geometric forms, this set (on display above, jump to the 3:30 mark to really see it) featured some unconventional chess pieces: the king is a pyramid; the queen, a cone; the castle, a cube; the bishop, a bottle; the knight, the head scroll of a violin; and the pawn, an elegant sphere.

We said you could actually play chess on this board. And indeed you can. In 2012, the Man Ray Trust authorized a new edition of this set, making it available to chess enthusiasts looking for a handsome set. Crafted in Germany, it’s made of solid beech wood.

This chessboard you can obtain.

As for the other modern chessboard Man Ray designed in 1945, it may be out of your league. David Bowie owned one of the few existing copies of that 1945 board, and, earlier this month, it sold for $1.3 million at a Sotheby’s auction in London.

For more information on Man Ray’s chessboards, read this short article from Chess Collectors International (see page 18). Or see The Imagery of Chess Revisited, which covers Man Ray’s boards and beyond.

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Man Ray Creates a “Surrealist Chessboard,” Featuring Portraits of Surrealist Icons: Dalí, Breton, Picasso, Magritte, Miró & Others (1934)

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Marcel Duchamp, Chess Enthusiast, Created an Art Deco Chess Set That’s Now Available via 3D Printer

Blade Runner Gets Re-Created, Shot for Shot, Using Only Microsoft Paint


Blade Runner came out in June 1982. Microsoft’s Paint came out in November 1985. Little could the designers of that rebranded version of ZSoft’s PC Paintbrush packaged in with Windows 1.0 know that the paths of their humble graphics application and that elaborate sci-fi cinematic vision would cross just over 30 years later. Surely nobody involved in either project could have imagined the form the intersection would take: MSP Blade Runner, a fan’s shot-by-shot Tumblr “remake” (and gentle parody) of the film using only Microsoft Paint, starting with the Ladd Company tree logo.


Why make such a thing? “I like the idea of having a blog but basically feel as if I have very little to say about things, at least things that are original or interesting,” creator David MacGowan told Motherboard’s Rachel Pick. “I gravitated to Tumblr with some idea of just posting pictures, but still felt I needed to be posting something I’d actually made myself… [Y]ears ago I used to draw really crappy basic MS Paint pics for a favourite pop group’s fan site, and they always seemed to raise a smile. The idea of doing something else with MS Paint, a kind of celebration of my not being deterred by lack of artistic talent, never really went away.”


The mixture of technological and aesthetic sensibilities inherent in using a severely outdated but ever-present digital tool to re-create the enduringly compelling analog visuals of a movie from that same era goes well with the original Blade Runner‘s project of updating the conventions of film noir to depict a then-newly imagined future. Even more fittingly, a work like MSP Blade Runner could only make sense in the 2010s, the very decade the movie tried to envision. Will it go all the way to the shot of Deckard and Rachel’s final exit into the elevator? “I don’t really think about giving up,” McGowan told Pick. “The idea of actually completing something I start out to do (for once in my life) is very appealing.” Spoken like a 21st-century man indeed.


You can find every frame painted so far, and every new one to come, here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A Whiskey-Fueled Lin-Manuel Miranda Reimagines Hamilton as a Girl on Drunk History

Back in July of 1804, when Vice President Aaron Burr fired a fatal round into the abdomen of former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, I wonder which scenario would have seemed more implausible: that these political rivals would one day be resurrected in the form of a black guy and a Nuyorican, or as two young women in revealingly snug breeches, above.

Time moves on. These days, your average Hamilton-obsessed pre-teen may have trouble accepting that there was a time—January 2015, to be exact—when most Americans couldn’t say what the guy on the ten dollar bill was famous for.

I confess, until quite recently, I was far more confident in Arrested Developments fictional Bluth family’s exploits than any involving Hamilton and Burr. This explains, in part, why I’m so drawn to the casting instincts of Derek Waters’, creator of Drunk History

The most recent episode features Alia Shawkat, one of my favorite Arrested Development players as a sardonic, potty mouthed Hamilton.

No worries that Drunk History, which bills itself as a “liquored-up narration of our nation’s history,” is the latest in a long line of Johnny-Come-Latelys, eagerly bellying up to the Hamilton trough.

Before Shawkat imbued him with her trademark edge, Drunk History’s Hamilton exuded the befuddled sweetness of Shawkat’s besotted Arrested Development cousinMichael Cera, who originated the part in a video that gave rise to the series, below.

That one’s far sloppier, and not just in terms of production values. The inaugural narrator, Mark Gagliardi, was rendered a good deal more than three sheets to the wind by the bottle of scotch he downed on a sagging brown velour couch.

America would not want to see its current sweetheart, Hamilton’s playwright and original leading man, Lin-Manuel Miranda in such a condition.

Whereas Gagliardi seemed dangerously close to needing the bucket Waters thoughtfully positioned nearby, a whiskey-fuelled Miranda seems merely the tiniest bit buzzed, sitting cross legged in his parent’s living room, fleshing out Hamilton’s story with bits he didn’t manage to cram into his Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, such as a bewigged Tony Hale (aka Buster Bluth) as James Monroe.

On the other hand, he does describe the Reynolds Pamphlet as “Dick 101” (and failed to recall FaceTiming various friends post-recording) so…

You’ll need a Comedy Central subscription to view the complete episode online, but Shawkat’s earlier Drunk History turn as Grover Cleveland’s “It Girl” wife, Frances, is free for all, here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How Stanley Kubrick Made His Masterpieces: An Introduction to His Obsessive Approach to Filmmaking

As each semester in my film course rolls around, it’s more and more apparent how time depletes the pop culture currency of those directors who did not make it into the 21st Century. A knowledge of Stanley Kubrick used to be a given, as was the understanding of what “A Stanley Kubrick Film” meant to film fans. Now he is a solution to a weird join-the-dots, as I watch students who know The Shining as a classic horror film grok suddenly that the same director made the headtrip 2001: A Space Odyssey. And what’s this Barry Lyndon film? And this Spartacus that looks like it’s from a completely different time? It can baffle a young cineaste, and it baffles them in a different way, I suppose, than how Kubrick baffled his contemporaries from film to film. Yes, there’s more of my students who have seen Dr. Strange than Dr. Strangelove, but the joy of discovery is still there, as is the thrill of being in a special fan club when you do discover Kubrick.

Fortunately, we are also having a renaissance in film critique in the medium of video, as followers of this site know. Along with Tony Zhou and Evan Puschak, Lewis Bond (aka Channel Criswell) has created some of the most in depth video essays on YouTube. Having authored overviews of the work of Hayao Miyazaki, Yasujiro Ozu, Andrei Tarkovsky, Lars von Trier, and David Lynch, Bond offers an excellent introduction above to Kubrick’s oeuvre.

Not content to use his knowledge of Kubrick’s films, Bond visited the Kubrick archives in London, learning firsthand the meticulous way the director created a film.

“His work ethic bordered on the obsessed,” he says. “This experience was how I imagined it is to see a great painter’s brushes. It was a way to gain a brief glimpse into the mind of a master at work.”

Bond makes the case that Kubrick’s attention to detail through all stages of production, including editing, distribution, and even attending screenings and checking the quality of the prints, is exactly what makes him one of the best directors. Every choice seen in the films, all the way down to the smallest prop, has Kubrick’s DNA on it. It’s no wonder that people pore over every frame of The Shining, reading into it all sorts of meaning.

“He changed the way visual stories were told,” says Bond, where Kubrick’s mise en scene and composition both deliver the essential narrative and the symbolism underneath.

Kubrick could only have reached these heights with the complete creative control his fame afforded him from the 1960s onward. There was time to plan, time and money to shoot, and time to edit, something directors–before or since–rarely get. And not all directors have the discipline to deliver when they get such freedom.

There’s much more in Bond’s essay so check it out. Side note: Lewis Bond’s girlfriend Luiza Lopes (aka Art Regard) also creates video essays on directors like David Cronenberg, Roman Polanski, and Ingmar Bergman. Could this be the first ‘celebrity couple’ of the video essay era?

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

When Ursula K. Le Guin & Philip K. Dick Went to High School Together


Creative commons images are by Rasmus Lerdorf and Gorthian , via Wikimedia Commons

When you run a site like this, you learn all kinds of unexpected things–most of it rich and rewarding, some of it strange, trivial and still nonetheless intriguing. Discovering that Adolf Hitler and Ludwig Wittgenstein went to the same Austrian middle school, likely at the same time, fits into the latter category. And so too does this:


On Twitter, jazz critic Ted Gioia recently highlighted a curious passage from Ursula K. Le Guin’s new book, where she mentions attending high school with another seminal figure in sci-fi literature, Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly etc.).

As she separately told The Paris Review, Berkeley High had 5,300 kids during the 1940s. It was a big high school. And yet “Nobody knew Phil Dick. I have not found one person from Berkeley High who knew him. He was the invisible classmate.” Years later, the two authors talked. But never met. PKD always remained something of a ghost.

via @TedGioia

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Hear 20 Hours of Romantic & Victorian Poetry Read by Ralph Fiennes, Dylan Thomas, James Mason & Many More


By the time William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published their Lyrical Ballads in 1798, poets in England had long been celebrities and arbiters of taste in matters political and literary. The seventeenth century, for example, became known as the “Age of Dryden,” for poet and literary critic John Dryden’s tremendous influence. John Milton, Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson… these were literary men whose writing vied with the era’s philosophers and advised its nobility and heads of state. By the Romantic period of Wordsworth and Coleridge, no poet held such a position of authority and influence as had those of the previous two centuries.

And yet, we might argue that poetry—and the exalted figure of the poet—became even more sacrosanct and indispensable to British culture throughout the nineteenth century; that poets became, as Percy Shelley wrote in 1821, the “unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Such a hyperbolic statement may seem to conflict with the aims Wordsworth stated for Romantic poetry in the Lyrical Ballads’ preface: “fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation.” Yet when we think of Romantic poetry, we rarely think of the “real language of men.”

The nineteenth century saw the ascendency of the British Empire to its height during Victoria’s reign. Whether effect or cause of the hubris of the times, both Romantic and Victorian poetry—all the way to the end of Alfred Tennyson’s 12-cycle series Idylls of the King in 1885—gave us mythical epics filled with grandeur of expression and image, and no small amount of bombast. Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (from the Lyrical Ballads) and strange “Kubla Khan” showed the way. Keats tells an outsized tale of the Titans’ fall from Olympus in Hyperion. Shelley gave us the bleak imperial relics of “Ozymandias.”

There were also, of course, the quiet love and nature poems of Wordsworth, Keats, John Clare, and Walter De La Mare, all wonderfully representative of a Romantic pastoral tradition reflecting a nostalgia for a rapidly transforming English countryside. There were the Orientalist poems of exotic wonder, and heroic poems of military valor and revolution. The later nineteenth century revealed even more variety as these strains yielded to greater specialization, and to expanded roles for women poets.

Kipling’s colonialist verses reassured British subjects of their superior status in the scheme of things, and entertained them with fables and morality plays. Oscar Wilde refined the aestheticism of Keats with a decadent eroticism. Brother and sister Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti took the Romantics’ antiquarianism into the territory of medieval and Gothic revival. Husband and wife Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning looked also to the Middle Ages, and to Italy. Swinburne and Tennyson upheld the tradition of the epic, imbuing it with their own strange preoccupations. Gerard Manley Hopkins did things with language never attempted before.

All of these poets appear in the Spotify playlists here, titled “The Romantics” and “The Victorians,” though you’ll notice that these aren’t mutually exclusive categories. Elizabeth Barrett Browning appears in both lists. Tennyson, perhaps the longest-lived and most famous poet of the age, spans almost the entire century.  Keats, whose early tragic death contributed to his rock star status with later readers, died most assuredly a Romantic. But the terms hardly tell us very much by themselves, marking conventional ways of dividing up the literature of the nineteenth century.

What we might notice about the English verse of these two periods on the whole is its tendency toward exaggerated, often florid and overly formal diction and syntax, and its sentimentalism, high seriousness, and decorum. These are qualities we often learn to associate with all poetry, or learn to think of as insincere and pretentious.  In the nearly 20 hours of skilled readings here—including some by famous names like James Mason, Dylan Thomas, John Gielgud, Sir Ralph Richardson, Boris Karloff, and Ralph Fiennes—we hear a great deal of nuance, subtlety, irony, and beauty. Learning to appreciate the poetic voices of over a century past not only requires familiarity with unusual idioms and ideas; it also requires tuning our ears to very different kinds of English than our own.

Both playlists will be added to our collection, 700 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Man Ray Creates a “Surrealist Chessboard,” Featuring Portraits of Surrealist Icons: Dalí, Breton, Picasso, Magritte, Miró & Others (1934)


Like most artists, Emmanuel Radnitzky had more than one major interest in his life. We who know him as Man Ray usually first encounter him through his photography, such as the artist and writer portraits featured here at Open Culture last year. But Man Ray himself ultimately considered painting his main creative field. And, apart from his work, he had chess–or at least his friend and fellow conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp had chess. Duchamp seems to have turned Man Ray on to it as well, and they even appear playing together in Rene Clair’s 1924 film Entr’acte.

Duchamp’s passion for chess ran deep enough that, for a time, he all but abandoned art to devote himself to the game. Later he came to the realization that “chess was art; art was chess,” having pursued both of those interests at once in the creation of an art deco chessboard. Man Ray, for his part, brought art and chess together in 1934’s Surrealist Chessboard, a mosaic of his portraits of artists associated with the Surrealist movement, including Salvador Dalí, Andre Breton, Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, Joan Miró, and of course himself — but with the chess-loving Duchamp nowhere to be seen.

“Surrealist exhibition group photographs include the frequent participation of Man Ray but rarely Duchamp,” writes Lewis Kachur in aka Marcel Duchamp: Meditations on the Identities of an Artist, his non-appearance on the Surrealist Chessboard being the “most astonishing” example. “The structure is the democratic grid format of the chessboard, with each of twenty surrealists or fellow travelers as a head shot against a black or light-colored background, alternating to suggest the black and white squares of the board. Man Ray had a negative of an appropriate profile bust of Duchamp (1930), striking for its absence here.”

Kachur imagines that Duchamp “chose not to take part,” in keeping with his “somewhat shadowy” position in relation to the Surrealists, “on the margins of the movement group’s identity.” Or he may simply have wanted to save his friend the trouble of figuring out a shape in which to arrange 21 portraits instead of 20. Whatever Duchamp thought of this project that used the chessboard only as visual structure, he probably preferred the chess set Man Ray designed a decade earlier using historically inspired pure geometric forms — and one that he could actually play chess with. You can still purchase own copy of that chess set today.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Psychology That Leads People to Vote for Extremists & Autocrats: The Theory of Cognitive Closure

There’s a political disconnect in the United States. We have two political parties, each now living in its own reality and working with its own set of facts. The common ground between them? Next to none.

How to explain this disconnect? Maybe the answer lies in the theory of “cognitive closure”–a theory first worked out by social psychologist Arie Kruglanski back in 1989.

“People’s politics are driven by their psychological needs,” Kruglanski explains in the short documentary above. “People who are anxious because of the uncertainty that surrounds them are going to be attracted to messages that offer certainty.”

He sips a soda, then continues, “The need for closure is the need for certainty, to have clear cut knowledge. You feel that you need to stop processing too much information, to stop listening to a variety of viewpoints, and zero in on what appears to be, to you, the truth.” “The need for closure tricks your mind to believe you have the truth, even though you haven’t examined the evidence very carefully.” And that, unfortunately, can be very dangerous.

Kruglanski’s theory could help explain the rise of Nazism in the economically-depressed Weimar Germany. And it’s perhaps why, across much of our economically stagnating world, we’re seeing populations lurch toward extreme ideologies and autocratic personalities. “The divisions, the polarization, it’s all part of the same psychological syndrome,” says Kruglanski.

So what’s the cure? Listen to other points of view. Look at all available information. And, most of all, be suspicious of your own sense of righteous.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

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All of Wes Anderson’s Cinematic Commercials: Watch His Spots for Prada, American Express, H&M & More

They say a filmmaker qualifies as an auteur if you can identify their work from any given shot. That might strike even cinephiles as a difficult task unless the filmmaker in question is Wes Anderson, who for twenty years’ worth of feature films now has defined and refined a cinematic style increasingly unique to him and his host of regular collaborators. What qualities constitute the unmistakably Andersonian? Vibrant colors, especially red and yellow. Old buildings. Uniforms. The sounds of the British InvasionPerfect symmetry. The technology of the mid-twentieth-century as well as vintage American and European design of that era. An eye for the imagined past as well as the past’s imagined future (and its use of Futura). And of course, Bill Murray.

Anderson has used different combinations of these and other aesthetic choices not just in all his full-length films from Bottle Rocket to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but also in his commercials. Given the uncompromising look and feel of his “real” filmography as well as its overall success at the box office, one might not at first imagine Anderson as the kind of auteur with the need, desire, or even ability to make advertisements.

But make them he does, an aspect of his career that actually began with a self-parodying 2004 American Express commercial starring the director himself, hard at work on his latest, albeit fictional, quiet spectacle of meticulousness and anachronism (which also has explosions).

Ever the throwback, Anderson next shot a commercial for Japan, that land where, in the days before Youtube, so many American celebrities used to go to cash in on their image unbeknownst to their Western public. Specifically, he shot it for the Japanese telecommunications giant Softbank, casting Brad Pitt as a Jacques Tati-style vacationer, good-natured if bumbling and possessed of an eye for the ladies, in the French countryside. Two years later, he and frequent writing partner Roman Coppola returned to his beloved early 1960s for Apartomatic, a spot for Stella Artois (a brand that has also employed the likes of Wim Wenders) that brings to life every young man’s fantasy of the ultimate automated bachelor pad.

In 2012, Modern Life and Talk To My Car, a pair of thirty-second commercials for a new Hyundai sedan, brought Anderson back into the present. Naturally, he delivered a present deeply rooted in the dreams of decades past, which, when the idea is to sell a product as saturated with the mythology of the postwar years as an automobile, does the job ideally. “After months of creative development on the new Hyundai Azera we were almost out of time to produce the launch spots,” writes creative director Robert Prins. “At the last minute someone suggested asking Wes Anderson to direct. We all laughed. Then he said yes.” Imagine the resulting jealousy in the conference rooms of ad agencies all over the world, where the talk constantly references Anderson’s work without ever touching the genuine article.

The following year, we featured Castello Cavalcanti, Anderson’s eight-minute short film starring Jason Schwartzman (who became an Anderson regular, and a star in his own right, in Rushmore fifteen years earlier) as a race car driver who crashes into a strangely familiar village somewhere in 1955 Italy. He shot it at Rome’s legendary Cinecittà studio at the behest of a certain Italian brand called Prada (perhaps you’ve heard of them) and in collaboration with Coppola also put together Prada: Candy, a series of three somewhat more straightforward commercials embedded as a playlist just above. Set in France this time, they tell the Jules and Jim-esque story of twin brothers vying for the attention of the same girl, a blonde bon viveuse who happens to have the same name — and if you believe the marketing, the same personality — as Prada’s fragrance.

Just yesterday we featured Come Together, Anderson’s latest commercial directorial effort with Adrien Brody playing the dedicated conductor of a badly delayed passenger train on Christmas Eve. Though it ostensibly comes as nothing more than a promotion for fast-fashion retailer H&M, thousands of fans have already thrilled to this new glimpse into Anderson’s world — a make-believe one, but “we are all make-believe, too, every one of us,” as GQ‘s Chris Heath puts it, “each self-assembled from a hotchpotch of dreams and experiences and wishes and ambitions and setbacks (and, yes, what we buy and what we say and what we wear and the way we choose to wear it, and all the rest of it).” Anderson himself might well agree. But when, we all wonder, will a brand come his way worthy of a commercial starring Bill Murray?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.