Thursday, June 11, 2020

April & May Consumption Diary

It was a lockdown of two parts, with the first being a long, maddening struggle on almost every front (balancing parenting and work at home) and the second being only a few short weeks when the schools opened again and things got a little easier, if still affected by the shellshock of sucking at everything. 

There were good bits of course -- the time me and the kids spent together, them getting so good on their bikes, the dance parties in the garage -- but I probably won't be able to write any fiction or serious non-fiction for another two or three months. Even reading was, and still is, a struggle.

And if one more person asks me if I got a lot of writing done during the lockdown I will fucking scream.




Image with no descriptionunnamed.jpg37901507Weather - Jenny Offill - 9781783784769 - Allen & Unwin - AustraliaA Short History of Nearly Everything - Wikipedia

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
(short stories, audiobook)

Very good. Does aging so well. The stories without Olive do a pretty good job of holding their own.

The Problem with Everything by Meghan Daum (non-fiction, audiobook)

As everything started going wrong (or the wrongness got wilder), it was refreshing to read Daum's book that isn't contrarian for the sake of it. 

Bad Behaviour by Mary Gaitskill (short stories, audiobook)

It's so naughty, so nineties, so good.

The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (novel, audiobook)

I struggled to get into the Great-City-as-a-sentient-thing thing. As someone who has lived most of his life in small cities or towns pretending to be cities or medium cities that punch above or below their weight, and fantasizes about log cabins and rearing highland cattle, I guess I don't want those existences to be placed on a lower rung of importance.

Middlemarch by George Elliot (novel, audiobook)

I may have learnt the lesson not to stop reading Middlemarch (I had to return it to the library in March). Listened to another two chapters but lockdown malaise made it real hard.

Weather by Jenny Offill (novel, audiobook)

Loved it. Leaves all the guff of novels on the cutting room floor (explaining who folks are and how they fit together) and just gives us the fluff of daily life.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (non-fiction, audiobook)

You mean, a short history of what white men have done? Fucking hell. I'd love to read something with a similarly broad premise, that covers the great scientists of the Arab world & Asia, the agricultural and social innovations of the Nile Valley and China, and all the stuff I'm too ignorant about to even list here. There must be a book (or books) like this, right? Recommendations please. 


Paddington 2
Train to Busan
Star Wars Episode VIII
Star Wars Episode IX
The Avengers: Infinity War
Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics (so terrible)
Curb Your Enthusiasm - Season 10 (perfect lockdown TV)
After Life - Season 2 (we cried)
The Affair Season 1
Sex Education - Season 1&2
The Last Dance - Season 1
Eraser* (candidate for the best line in a bad movie: Arnie pulls his emergency parachute just in time but slams into a car in a junkyard. He lifts his head and sees two young kids looking at him. "Where am I?" he asks (he needs to get to Manhattan to rescue Jessica Williams from the Central Park Zoo) and the little girl says, "Earth. Welcome." *Chef kiss*)



Sunday, April 12, 2020

March Consumption Diary

Erm, hello. Time is a construct. Every day has a sameness to it. What was March? I consume media, therefore I am. Carole Baskin killed her husband. 5G framed Joe Exotic. It's my turn to pick the feijoas off the lawn! Daddy, when are you finished in the shower? I'm hungry. I've never seen so much cheese consumed.That putting feijoa skins in a bottle with a bit of sugar, filling with water and leaving a couple of days actually does make a refreshing and delicious beverage. Why are there so many weeds when I'm always at home? Is Kim Wexler going to die or just be a stay-at-home mom / backroom legal mastermind in Breaking Bad? Why is Devs so bad when it shares so much of the good in common with Season 2 of The OA (and doesn't seem to be falling in the same traps - ie going way way way way overboard)? I haven't been more than 2kms from my house in three weeks. I haven't driven a car except to move it out of the garage so the kids can ride their bikes on a rainy day. Who knows if we'll ever start shaking hands again. Why do we now have more meetings rather than less? My wife is an essential worker, but that could me a lot of things. What the hell are we going to eat for lunch? Cheese? The time for making quarantine playlists has come and gone. The time for gatherings of 500 hundred people is a long long long long way off. Some days I forget to drink tea. Carole Baskin killed her husband. A tiger killed Kim Wexler. Inappropriate Quarantine Playlist. Hold On, I'm Comin'.Come Around. Touch Me. Harder To Breathe. Breathless. Waiting for the end of the World. Semi-appropriate Quarantine Playlist. Don't Stand So Close To Me. U Can't Touch This. Hands to Myself. Dancing On My Own. The Boy in the Bubble. Don't Come Around Here No More. Love Lockdown. Solitude Is...Bliss?


Middlemarch Audiobook by George Eliot - 9780241422540 | Rakuten KoboBOOKS

Middlemarch by George Eliot (novel, audiobook) - first third

I listened to, like, 11 hours of the audiobook and it was soooo good, but then my three week loan on Libby ran out and I only just got it back (12 April) so maybe it's a May Consumption Diary write-up deal.

Tell Me Lies by J.P. Pomare (novel, audiobook)

Tell Me Lies by J.P. PomareAnother thriller from the scarily prolific Kiwi-in-Oz Pomare -- this one a straight to Audible exclusive. Suffers a little from being on the short side (but not as much as Dervla McTiernan's The Sisters), which limits the twists, turns and red herrings that the author can throw our way, but this isn't just throwaway pulp. Pomare is a sharp writer and has a long career ahead of him.

Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq (novel, audiobook)

Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq - Penguin Books New ZealandWow. I felt physically sick a couple times within the first half a dozen chapters. Knowing this was what Houellebecq was trying to do - stretching my tolerance to extremes to make a point - didn't really help. I can handle a vile male narrator-protagonist. The last thing fiction should do is shrink away from representing reprehensible behaviour. (Let me just pour one out for the homie-professors who ever try teach one of these books in a university rn.) But it was hard for me to locate where the character's reprehensibleness ended and the author's own blind-spots began. Flaurent-Claude's erstwhile girlfriend, Yuzu, is a receptacle for genuine misogyny and casual racism but at the plot level, what does it say about Houellebecq that she's named after a citrus fruit and her fatal flaw is (being caught at) bestiality?

The posture of Yep, the author is a flawed piece of shit too, because you're a piece of shit dear reader, is all well and good, but it quickly feels claustrophobic and solipsistic.

But somehow I stuck it out, and felt less of a snowflake. The novel becomes genuinely interesting and (almost) affecting when discussing the plight of the French farmer and it predicted much of the Yellow Jacket movement that emerged shortly after the book's publication in France.

But is it something I'd recommend you read? Will I rush back into Houellebecq's back catalogue?


An American Sunrise | Joy Harjo Book | Pre-Order Now | at Mighty ...An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo (poetry, audiobook)

History and biography merge. Poetry emerges.


The Leftovers Season 3
Devs Season 1 (up to date)
Better Call Saul Season 5 (up to date)
The Stranger - Season 1
Tiger King - Season 1
McMillions - Season 1
Kiki's Delvery Service
The Quiet Ones
The Hateful Eight
Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

February Consumption Diary



Image result for lanny coverLanny by Max Porter (novel, audiobook)

I started listening to this while camping last month, when I couldn't sleep because of the logging trucks, but I started from scratch again this month and yeah, I'm glad I did.

Porter has a subversive streak, evident both in how he puts a page together and use of narrative... For the longest time, the 'disappeared boy' arc felt fresh and new. That it doesn't hold that line to the very end is a bit disappointing, but it's still fantastic overall.

Image result for teleportation incidentThe Teleportation Incident by Ned Beauman (novel, audiobook)

A colleague said my latest novel reminded him of Beauman's work, so of course I checked him out.

On reflection, this is not the way to attack a new author. It's like being shown a photo of a celebrity and being told you look like them. You'll only see how old they look, or how far short of them your own appearance falls.

For me, The Teleportation Incident held up a mirror to my own hangup about soggy middle sections...

Image result for madame bovary audiobookMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (novel, audiobook)

One of the gazillion 'great' novels I've never read but knew enough about not to skip the Introduction for fear of spoilers.

I enjoyed it, but the fact I moved onto Middlemarch next, in which the characters seem much fuller and there's a sense of humour and brio, means Bovary has already slumped in my estimations. Sorry Gus!


And then these books, which for different reasons (some of it is laziness!), I won't comment on here:

Drongo by Ian Richards (novel)
This is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill (novella)
Mother Nut by John Jeremiah Sullivan (novella)
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (poetry)
The Book of Traps and Lessons by Kate Tempest (poetry)


My Neighbour Totoro
Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back
Logan Lucky
Uncut Gems
Succession - 2nd half of season 1 and all of season 2
Rick and Morty - Season 4
Brooklyn 99 - Season 1
Better Call Saul - first 2 eps of Season 5 (i.e. as soon as new eps drop, we're on em in the Cliff household)

Monday, February 3, 2020

January Consumption Diary



Image result for medallion status john hodgmanMedallion Status by John Hodgman (non-fiction, audiobook)

I really enjoyed Hodgman's previous book, Vacationland, when I read it in January 2018, and his follow up didn't disappoint. This was the first book this year that I found myself making time for, rather than it just being the thing that played when I had time to listen.

It's all about voice and tone. Hodgman is self-effacing, funny and just honest enough not to stiffle that humour.

Death Is Hard WorkDeath is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa (novel, audiobook)

Tonally, this comes across as a comedy in a tragic setting (contemporary Syria). It lets you slip into this world, and follow Bolbol and his siblings as they try and transport their father's corpse across the war zone, bear its frustrations and absurdities, and experience something of what it is like the have civil war take root in your country.

Image result for On Earth We're Briefly GorgeousOn Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (novel, audiobook)

It's very interesting to hear Vuong talk about the use of biographical fact for this novel and the power derived from this.

As a standalone work, it is powerful. It doesn't have a traditional narrative drive, which is probably what I was looking for at this time of year / in my mental state.

Doggerland by Ben Smith (novel, audiobook)

Image result for doggerland bookSmith tells his tale of the near future (probably a couple of decades hence) in simple prose. The protagonist is referred to as the boy. The business that he and his grandfather work for, maintaining an offshore windfarm, is The Corporation. But at a certain point this simplicity becomes vagueness - the social / economic / environmental breakdown that has occurred isn't ever really explained. And so the lasting memory of this book is one of vagueness.


The Leftovers Season 2 - so gooood. The best description I've read about season 2 is that it's Damon Lindelof doing fan fiction based on Tom Perrota's novel (which season 1 was based on), just as he used the Watchmen graphic novel as a base to riff away and come up with the single season of goodness that was "his" Watchmen.

Silicon Valley Season 6
The Favourite
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ghostbusters (original)*
Toy Story 3*
And a bunch of other forgettable movies watched at other people's homes during the summer break :)

Friday, January 3, 2020

Best Albums (& Song) of 2019

Previous editions: 2018 albums and songs,  2017 albums and songs, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.

As for 2019, here goes...

Best albums #20-#11

20. Julia Jacklin - Crushing
19. Matthew Logan Vasquez - Light'n Up
18. Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains
17. Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell!
16. Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind - CollectiV
15. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
14. Jim James, Teddy Abrams & the Louisville Orchestra - The Order of Nature
13. Jenny Lewis - On The Line
12. Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center
11. FONTAINES D.C. - Dogrel

And a little slower for the top ten...

10. Death Machine - Orbit
Image result for death machine orbit"

This album came out in November and I only seriously listened to it in December. When I was playing with the order of my top 20, it cropped up and I had to drop something off, then it kept climbing when I compared it with albums higher up the list.

Maybe it's recency bias, but I just couldn't keep this Danish downbeat gem out of my top 10.

Perfect music for writing, or the arrival of a climate apocalypse.

9. The Murder Capital - When I Have Fears
Image result for murder capital when i have fears"

Ireland produced the two great rock debuts of 2019. Where FONTAINES D.C. is more straight-ahead punk, The Murder Capital is post-punk - less angry, more articulate, but prone to the odd art-school-dropout overreach.

I'm excited to see where both these bands go next.

8. Big Thief - Two Hands
Image result for big thief two hands album cover"

Big Thief put out their third album, UFOF, in May 2019, and it has some good songs and one great track ('Cattails'). But the band wasn't quite done after recording UFOF and went back into the studio to record its "Earth twin", Two Hands, which is the stronger, more cohesive, more urgent album.

Looking forward to seeing them in Wellington in May 2020!!

7. Orville Peck - Pony
Image result for orville peck pony"

Roy Orbison eat your heart out, cover your face in leather fringe and confess your love for a fellow cowboy!

I'm not averse to gimmicks and alter-egos in music (see the way Lana Del Rey always seems to squeak onto my best of the year lists), but the music has to stand on its own feet - and Pony certainly does that.

6. Angie McMahon - Salt
Image result for angie mcmahon album cover"

There are a lot of female singer-songwriters on this list. McMahon's sounds is probably the most rock-adjacent. There's echoes of fellow Australian Courtney Barnett in the self-deprecating humour (see 'Pasta'), but McMahon is a more traditional singer, which means she's good company in most any situation.

5. The Rails - Cancel the Sun
Image result for the rails cancel the sun"

On first listen I thought, "This sounds like an updated version of Richard and Linda Thompson", and then I found out that the lead female vocalist, Kami Thompson, is their daughter. This is another husband and wife duo (the dude is James Walbourne) but it's not just a carbon copy of the previous generation.

It sounds fresh and timeless. Great stuff.

4. Marika Hackman - Any Human Friend
Image result for marika hackman any human friend"

If Angie McMahon is rock-adjacent, Hackman is the pop-adjacent singer-songwriter on this list, with more electronic blips and beats and the kind of melodies you find yourself humming when hanging out the washing.

But it's when you focus on the lyrics, which are dark and mordantly funny, that these songs take on their full power.

I loved her debut in 2017, and she's taken it to another level here.

3. Allie Crow Buckley - So Romantic
Image result for allie crow buckley so romantic"

'So Romatic' only has six songs, so it's better described as an EP than a full album. And the final track, a cover of Black Sabbath's 'Changes' I can take or leave. But the other five songs are so great, each a world unto themselves, that this feels like a major event.

I've listened to these songs so much over the last 11 months, and have no reservation putting So Romantic this high.

2. Pedro the Lion - Phoenix
Image result for pedro the lion phoenix"

I've praised Dave Bazan before on this blog (see: 2018's song of the year). I was excited about his return to the Pedro the Lion moniker, if only that it meant new material in early 2019. But Phoenix exceeded my expectations.

'Yellow Bike' is the greatest song about childhood and the melancholy of nostalgia. (Bonus points for my son, who got his first pedal-bike this year, liking the song, too.)

'Quietest Friend' might be the best song Bazan has ever written. 'Model Homes' is surely in his top 10.

Just a great fucking album from a new hero of mine.

1. Aldous Harding - Designer
Image result for aldous harding designer"

I appreciated Harding's previous album, 2017's Party, without properly loving it. But in Designer, it felt like the weirdness and idiosyncrasy fully fused with the music and I couldn't help fall madly for this album.

My kids love 'The Barrel' (though the blue alien mask in the video freaks them out) and 'Fixture Picture' - a sure barometer of Harding's pop-hit chops. 'Zoo Eyes', 'Designer', and 'Pilot' compete for the best song on the album from an 'adult contemporary' perspective, if that category was applied to grown ups who enjoy being challenged (rather than the opposite).

These songs are great live - or maybe it's better to say that Harding is great live: no song is ever sung quite the same way. It's so powerful to see someone sit inside their oddness, to be their oddness, and make art you know will hold its power as the years pass.

There's no artist, from NZ or otherwise, I'm more excited about seeing where they go next than Aldous Harding.

Song of the Year

As with previous years, if an artist has an album on the list above they're automatically disqualified from this category.

In researching this year's winner, I grew to love the album on which this one song appears, but I figure it's better to have the number 1 song than an album somewhere in the 8-16 range. 

Before I get to the winner, some highly commended ribbons:
  • 'Scare Easy' - T Hardy Morris
  • 'Exit Stations' - NE-HI
  • 'Monster Moon' - Sun June

But the champ this year is 'I Get No Joy' by Jade Bird

Image result for jade bird"
Catchy, angry, ironically joy-inducing, in and out in two and a half minutes... what a single!

Jade Bird has such a great voice. Despite the song hurtling forward at 90 miles an hour, her phrasing is immaculate. The fast-twitch version of Phoebe Bridgers. 

Check out her self-titled debut album, too, please and thank you. I certainly will be listening to it a lot in January.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The best books I read in 2019

Yesterday I crunched the numbers for the 61 books I read in 2019 and how I did with my reading targets.

Today, it's time to look at the books I enjoyed the most.

You can find similar lists for previous years here: 2018, 2017, (let's not speak of 2015 or 2016), 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010.

Boom - there's your best of the decade list right there.

In scanning through those best reads posts just now, some books have stuck with me more than others and I'd rejig there orders, but there's a lot of books I love on there.

Here's to another decade of great books!

Okay, here's my list for 2019:

#1 How to be Both by Ali Smith

What I said about it in November:
Loved it... even more than I liked Autumn, which was in my top ten a couple of years back. It pushed a lot of buttons for me: it's about (partly) art and artists; narrative invention; a sense of whimsy without being flippant... Stuff it in my veins!

#2 The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

What I said about it in December:
The combination of David Attenborough's narration, Baker's en pointe nature writing and the avian subject matter... och!

#3 Feeld by Jos Charles

This was my favourite poetry collection I read in 2019. I stick to 6-word reviews for poetry collections, coz I'm a bastard, and this is what I wrote in December:
Brain re-wiring, trans Chaucer nature writing.

#4 There There by Tommy Orange

What I said about it in May:
Wow. I loved this.
...I was still like: How's he gonna land this plane?
And he fucking does!
There's so much heart in here it's easy to overlook the head required to corral so many moving parts.

#5 A Death in the Family (My Struggle Book 1) by Karl Ove Knausgaard

This is my annual multi-book fudge, as I read Books 1 and 2 this year and loved them both. Book 1 edges Book 2 because it felt more radical. I enjoyed Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet in 2017, but My Struggle is just extra. 

Here's what I said about Book 1 in February:
So I've finally got around to reading Knausgaard. I resisted because did I really need to read the inner workings of another white male writer? But golly, is it good. It had me thinking about life (and Life) and writing almost constantly.

And here's what I said about Book 2 in April:
Book 1 hooked me with its obsession with death, particularly the death of a father, and the brutal honesty (or the convincing facsimile of brutal honesty) of being a writer.
Book 2, as the title suggests, is more concerned with romance and what comes on its heels (in Knausgaard's eyes: the emasculating labour of the modern father), and the challenges of balancing family and writing, doled out with equal depth and brutality. So, again, it spoke to me...

#6 Normal People by Sally Rooney

What I said about it in February:

Yeah, so, this deserves the hype. And the fact Will Self can't see it? Even better.
...despite the fact Rooney's characters are a decade younger, there was a lot that cut close to the bone.

#7 The Angel's Cut by Elizabeth Knox

What I said about it in June:
It only took me ten years to get around to reading the sequel to The Vintner's Luck but boy howdee this was good.
It sent me scrambling for reasons for how a sequel could be this good. Like, it helps when the main character doesn't age, so the sequel can take place at any time or place that takes your fancy up until the present day... but it still takes a massive amount of  skill to pull off!

#8 Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter

What I said about it in December:
I was partway through this book when I did a wee "fave books" thing for the NZ Women's Weekly. I said: "I’m also loving my current read: Shayne Carter’s Dead People I Have Known, which struts and sneers and sulks like a great rock memoir should."
I meted out the remaining chapters, in part because it was such good fun, but also because there's a lot of darkness and loss in the book.

#9 An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira

What I said about it in May:
There's a particular kind of story that suits the level of compression and focus required to make it feel bigger than a short story but not leave you wanting more. The title of Aira's 2000 novel, translated by Chris Andrews and published by New Directions in 2006, tells you a lot about how this one works.

#10 Basketball & Other Things by Shea Serrano

What I said about it in July:
Like the slow food revolution for NBA-heads. A wormhole back to the not-too-distant-past when you had to take some of these feats on faith, until the VHS arrived with the proof.
It helped reduce my screen time and open windows into a more creative application of my own NBA addiction.

#11 Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

What I said about it in December:
...Would I have got more out of any of these stories if they were blown up to four-times their length so I could spend more time with the characters? No.
Give me the bare essentials rather than bloat.
Give me four high concepts for the price of one.
Give me the hack to ensure my toaster can brown whatever the fuck I want.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 reading in review

I set myself some reading targets for 2019. I checked my progress at the end of August. And here's how I did overall:

1. Read great books

41% of the books I read this year I rated 85/100 or higher (up from 38% in my August review). My ratings are unscientific - mostly just a way to help me choose my top ten - and I didn't say what percentage would justify a pass... but I reckon it's:


2. Read at least 52 books

Actual: 61 (16 physical; 45 audiobooks)


3. Read at least 10 poetry collections

Actual: 6


The remainder of the 61 were made up of 26 novels, 6 story collections, 1 graphic novel & 22 non-fiction books.

4. Read more than 40% female authors

Actual: 48%


5. Read at least a third non-white authors

Actual: 25%


This was interesting, as I read 27% non-white authors in 2018 without a target, but I only hit at 6% the year before that, so hovering around a quarter isn't that bad, though it's not that great, either.

6. Read less than 40% US authors

Actual: 31%


7. Read from at least 10 different countries

Actual: 14


8. Read at least 5 works in translation



9. Target median age of books read: 2009

Actual: 2018


By decade:
  • 2010s: 55 (25 just from 2019)
  • 2000s: 3
  • 1970s: 1
  • 1960s: 2
The allure of the new and shiny is hard to resist, eh?


6 of 9 targets met. I think the first two are the big ones: quantity and quality. The rest were prompts for me to read diversely. And while I read a number of highly enjoyable books this year, something about these targets made reading feel a bit like box ticking. I'm interested to see how I go without explicit targets or mid-point reviews. So I only have one target for this year:

2020 target: read 70 books

But I will look at how I went against these other metrics at the very end of the year and do some trend analysis over the last 5 or so years.

Up next, my top 11 reads of the year...

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

December Consumption Diary

So we made it. Forget about the end of the decade, I'm grateful for just making it through to the end of 2019. It was a rough one for me. Things need to change, and I'm taking a longish summer break to figure out which things, and how, but here's hoping 2020 is more fulfilling and creative.

I've got a few days before I take the family camping, so I'll knock out my best of lists for books and music this week.

But for now, here's what I listened to, read and watched in December...


Image result for dead people i have known"
Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter (non-fiction, NZ)

I was partway through this book when I did a wee "fave books" thing for the NZ Women's Weekly. I said: "I’m also loving my current read: Shayne Carter’s Dead People I Have Known, which struts and sneers and sulks like a great rock memoir should."

I meted out the remaining chapters, in part because it was such good fun, but also because there's a lot of darkness and loss in the book.

This is not a drill: an Extinction Rebellion handbook (non-fiction, audiobook)

I read this tweet the other day:

Image result for this is not a drill"I was interested in climate change, and long before that, apocalyptic thinking and doomsday preppers, before 2019 (Nailing Down the Saint features a group of eco-terrorists, Second Wave, whose methods are wrong but their message should be harder to dismiss).

I've become more pessimistic the more I've read on this topic. There's no way our political and economic systems can be dismantled and rebuilt fast enough to achieve the emissions turnaround required to meet IPCC recommendations - because the general public are too insulated from the effects. Look at the unchecked consumerism this Christmas. Or talk to your Boomer relatives. Nothing has changed. We only have another protagonist (Thurnberg) to fill our news bulletins with.

Extinction Rebellion talk a good talk about learning from indigenous peoples in "the majority world", but it still feels very Anglo, very middle class.

I think back to Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now, which I read at the start of the year, and struggle to square these two perspectives:

  • the world, as a whole, is a better place to live that its ever been
  • the world is fucked.
The Boomer view is people have been preaching the end of the world since day dot. They've lived through the nuclear crisis. They've seen the hole in the ozone shrink after we stopped putting CFCs in our air fresheners. Surely this latest bout of catastrophic thinking will all come to naught as well.

I hope they're right. I doubt it.

Image result for the widow fiona barton"The Widow by Fiona Barton (novel, audiobook)

A pretty decent thriller, centering on the wife of the accused, though Barton includes other narrative perspectives (a journalist, a cop, and, briefly, the husband). I felt the first quarter was different, structurally and tonally to what followed, and wonder what it would have been like if we stuck with the first person narration of the widow throughout...?

Movies & Other Things by Shea Serrano (illustrated non-fiction)
Image result for movies and other things shea serrano"
I loved Basketball & Other Things earlier this year. The movie-based follow-up falls short of its predecessor because it's one thing to ask and answer oddball questions about sport, it's another to take that approach with the entirety of film (or even films from the 80's onwards to stick within Serrano's cultural wheelhouse). Where BAOT expanded the universe of basketball, MAOT contracts it, not just by limiting itself to essentially Hollywood films of the last 40 years, but by taking elements of those films and leaving the rest on the cutting room floor. It felt reductive rather than expansive.

That said, I still enjoyed it. I laughed. It's a beautiful object.

I'm just a curmudgeon.

Image result for 10 minutes 38 seconds in this strange world"10 minutes 38 seconds in this strange world by Elif Shafak (novel, audiobook)

How to describe this book? It's as if Rushdie took a Faulkner premise and a Pamuk setting... It's telling these three touchstones are male... but is a female-centred version of this kind of narrative (which we've seen over and over) enough?

Radicalised by Corey Doctorow (fiction, audiobook)

Firstly, is this a collection of four long short stories or four short novellas? I dunno. Some felt longer and more capacious than others, but all of them felt urgent and timely.

Image result for radicalized"
What sets these narratives apart from a handful of Black Mirror episodes? Well, firstly, until the most recent season, being compared to Black Mirror would be a compliment. But it's the depth you can provide in text.

I take issue with what Annette Lapointe said in the New York Journal of Books: "The stories themselves are simple, and the characters thinly fleshed: no relief there. When we tear ourselves free, we find that we’ve found nothing substantial. Doctorow would have been better served to render his ideas as essays, so that he could give them the complexity they deserve, and release his barely realized characters from their political pantomime."

Um, yeah, there's a big difference between an essay about the creep of Intellectual Property into everyday freedoms, like which bread you can put in your toaster, and how this unduly impinges upon the most vulnerable in society, and actually depicting this in narrative form.

Would I have got more out of any of these stories if they were blown up to four-times their length so I could spend more time with the characters? No.

Give me the bare essentials rather than bloat.

Give me four high concepts for the price of one.

Give me the hack to ensure my toaster can brown whatever the fuck I want.

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Feeld by Jos Charles (poetry)

Brain re-wiring, trans Chaucer nature writing.

Are Friends Electric by Helen Heath (poetry, NZ)

Source scrambling, story-telling, science-y goodness.

Under Glass by Gregory Kan (poetry, NZ)

Jeff VanderMeer's teen angst lyrical diary.

The Peregrine by JA Baker (non-fiction, audiobook)
The Peregrine cover art
Okay, so it took 61 books, but I finally found my favourite read of the year. The combination of David Attenborough's narration, Baker's en pointe nature writing and the avian subject matter... och!

When I was researching Nailing Down the Saint I did Werner Herzog's Masterclass(TM) on filmmaking and he says at one point if you want to become a filmmaker, all you need to do is read The Peregrine (maybe he says read it once a year).

So maybe now I am finally ready to jump media?


Watchmen – Season 1
The Leftovers – Season 1
The Movies that Made Us - Season 1
The Mandalorian – Season 1
Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse
Knives Out
Frozen II
The Hitman's Bodyguard
6 Underground