Tuesday, January 11, 2022

This Fluid Thrill Music Awards - Best Song of 2021

I did albums yesterday. Anyone who got in the top 10 for that list can't make this one.

Before I get to my fave songs released in the year of false hope, here are two songs from 2020 that would have made the list if not for chronology:

  • 'Glenfern' by Kathleen Edwards 
  • 'Big Wheel' by Samia 
And here's a sprinkling of progressively older songs I didn't discover or properly fall for until 2021:
  • 'Edge of Town' by Middle Kids (2018)
  • 'As the Earth Caves In' by Matt Maltese (2018) - even better slowed down for use in memes
  • 'Ballad of Big Nothing' by Julia Baker (2016 - from an album of Elliot Smith cover songs, Say Yes!)
  • 'Be Forewarned' by Pentagram (1994) - thanks to Monster Magnet
  • 'A Penny More' by Skydiggers (1992)
  • 'I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight' by Richard and Linda Thompson (1974)
Best songs of 2021: Highly commended

Cluster 1: Great artists with great new songs... waiting for that next great album
  • Time Escaping by Big Thief
  • Old Peel by Aldous Harding
Is Big Thief morphing into tUnE-yArDs? Will Aldous actually release an album in 2022 or just tour (will she even get to tour?)?

All this and more will be revealed in the year of hope's faults.

Cluster 2: Songs that I can see all the arguments for NOT listing, and yet...
  • 'See the World' by Brett Dennen
  • 'That Funny Feeling' by Bo Burnham
Dennen sounds like Tom Petty, which is a good thing but doesn't make him original or current or whatever. Also, a retiring ESPN journalist quoted the line 'Now I'm planting trees I'll never climb' as she bid adieu. I should hate this song. But I'm not hip enough, I guess. I love it. 

I tried watching Burnham's Netflix special but quickly got bored, so I'd never heard his version of 'That Funny Feeling' until Phoebe Bridgers covered it. Burnham's supposed to be funny, while Bridgers is walking a knife-edge between po-faced and wry... but Burnham's version is the only one that hits. It's like James Taylor doing 'We Didn't Start the Fire', with lyrics rewritten by Patricia Lockwood. It's the Don't Look Up of popular music. And it's singable as all hell.

Top three

Every time I come back to this list I change my favourite, so for the first time ever I'm not naming one song of the year and copping out with a top three. Maybe it's because none of them rely on nonsense syllables - more's the pity.

  • 'Andy Sells Coke' by Declan O'Rourke
There's something incredibly earnest about this song, from the jangly Cat Stevensy guitar intro, to way the first line echoes the title and the general big brother looking down on younger fuckup tone ("What kind of life has he got? Maybe none soon if he doesn't stop being something he's not"). 

But then fissures start to open in the 2nd verse. Who is the singer in all this? Might he be Andy singing in the third person? "He'll be dead in five years if he doesn't change something" hits different in that context.

But then Andy disappears from the third verse and it's all about the "I"

How did I end up at the party?
I'm the fool who passed out in the chair
Just came up to the smoke for the weekend
Got a wife and a baby down there

And I wake up to these three fucking ghosts
Fumbling round for a five in my coat
More fool I to be thinking that I could still drink
Like I did twenty years ago
Flirting with my ego
The only thing I need is a one way express out of here

I'm too old in the tooth to be around this shit

(some outro strumming and end song)

Typed out like that, it looks as if the "I" of the song is back where he started, holier than thouing despite a minor slip. But the more you listen to the song, the murkier it gets. Both versions of aging are fucked: the guy who never got it together and the guy who did but the veneer is so thin it cracks within hours of hitting the big smoke.

  • 'Heroes' by Natalie Hemby
Natalie Hembry is a Nashville singer songwriter who has written for lots of big names, including a song on A Star is Born. She was also part of the Highwomen in 2019 with Brandi Carlile & others. So when she sings:

I don't wanna meet my heroes
I just wanna be a face in the crowd
If I ever meet my heroes
They might let me down

There's a lot going on. I think the first is a sense of irony. SHe's not going for Carlile and probably not Lady Gaga or Sheryl Crow. It's probably about dudes (the versus refer to male superheroes like Superman and Spiderman). Which starts to sound very #MeToo, as in lots of the big stars are creeps or worse. Maybe it's a 2021 version of Liz Phair's 'Soap Star Joe'? And there's something BIG about the song sharing a title with one of Bowie's biggest singles.

But she doesn't want to cancel her heroes, just not meet them and thus avoid being let down and facing the conundrum. Is this the Schrodinger's Cat of pop culture consumption? If I don't get proof he's a creep, I can still enjoy his music / films / comedy?

There's too much irony at play here, all of it couched in the catchiest, slicked production you'll find (for starters: if you want to remain a face in the crowd, stop sounding so amazing! I catch my six year old son singing the chorus sometimes!), for any one reading to win out over another. 

  • 'I Wanna Make Promises (That I Can't Keep)' by Whitehorse
I love song titles with parentheses. 

I love couplets like: "Let's argue in Ikea, make a scene, go home and fuck / On unassembled furniture fresh off a moving truck"

(This song comes from an album called, Modern Love*). 

*What is it with these possibly inadvertent Bowie references?

I love how dark and 2021 this love song is. We're done pretending the rules apply. The parenthesis drop away. We'll say it to each other's face, "knowing that we slowly die / with each and every breath". 

But let's still promise to love each other forever, especially if it sounds like this.


And with that, I give you... A PLAYLIST:

Monday, January 10, 2022

This Fluid Thrill Music Awards - Best Albums of 2021

This annual tradition has lasted long enough [2020201920182017, (...), 2014201320122011, & 2010it deserves a nickname... 

The Fluidies? Ack! 

The Thrillies? Better, but still no.

Maybe a statute? I'd be tempted just to print this image of the fluid thrill test on some perspex and mount it on a stand:

I mean, it IS musical. From the percussive nature of the test itself (the doctor taps part of the abdomen and listens for the sound of the fluid rippling elsewhere) to the soundwaves (or perhaps the patient has been marked up ahead of an elaborate sawing-in-two) to the cock-ward point of the patient's hand (rock'n'roll, baby!).

Okay, yeah, let's just do another blogpost like it's forever 2008.


Last year I floated the idea of doing a rolling two-year list so that I could consider 2020 music I'd missed, reconsider 2020 albums I may have over- or under-rated, and pit them against new music from 2021...

But it's actually quite tricky. Looking back at my 2020 list, I haven't really listened to many of these albums again (except Dua Lipa on family roadtrips). I feel like cueing up Lo Tom's LP2, which is a good sign, and I don't have any 'Really?' reactions to the others. It was a solid list. 

Along side of this, I'd add short list of 2020 albums I didn't get into until 2021, but really rated:

  • Will Butler - Generations
  • Blake Scott - Niscitam
  • Uffe Lorenzen - Magisk Realisme
  • Kathleen Edwards - Total Freedom
  • Big Wheel - The Baby
  • Ghost Woman - Anne, If (which appears to have disappered from Spotify)
  • Liza Anne - Bummer Days
As for 2021, here's my top 10 albums released in the calendar year, presented in an order I've picked more for the sake of the flow of the resulting playlist rather than the comparative virtues of the albums...

  • Monster Magnet - A Better Dystopia
2020 and 2021 were a golden age for covers as artists were locked down, short of audiences and inspiration but big on time to jam. So it's only fitting that I kick this list off with an album of covers.

MM's covers have always been one of my favourite things about them. Dave Wyndorf has this incredible, off-kilter taste which means every cover song sends me off discovering a new original. There are 13 tracks if you count the bonus (I do!) and they all felt new to me. That is, I must've heard the original version of 'Death' because I had The Pretty Thing's S.F. Sorrow on my iPod back in the day, but I didn't recognise it. And, maybe I'd heard the Hawkwind song (Born to Go), but it didn't ring any bells beyond sounding like it could have been a Hawkwind song.

Not only this this album send me down Pentagram and Poobah and Scientists wormholes, but the covers themselves are good and the album hangs together as a twisted, grungy pysch affair that was perfect for its time and place.

  • Like a Stone - Remember Sports
I like to think I have a reasonably wide-ranging musical tastes. But I have my weaknesses. For example, if you take muscular guitar-driven indie rock, add an idiosyncratic female vocalist and produce songs that get you dancing while you vacuum, I will have A LOT of time for that band.

Remember Sports follows this formula. Sometimes there's a strong Hopalong vibe. Other times, it's Cayetana or Bully or Camp Cope. 

I've enjoyed RS's previous albums All of Something and Sunchokes without them ever quite sticking out as TOP TEN MATERIAL (whatever that is). 

But Like A Stone finally cracked it. Or cracked me. Or I cracked. One of those. 

And now I listen to older songs like 'Clean Jeans' and I'm like, 'How was this not my favourite song of 2016?'

  • Slothrust - Parallel Timeline
I loved Slothrust's last album (The Pact, 2018), but came to their new album (released in Sept '21) late and it almost missed this list... but now I've corrected my omission and can't stop listening to it. 

Harkening back to "the formula" above, Slothrust is rockier than Remember Sports, and the singing more tuneful, the lyrics less angular and look at me, and I am here for it!

  • Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg
Speaking of angular, look at me lyrics... This band sounds a bit like Life Without Buildings (who only released one album, but 2001's Any Other City is *chef's kiss*) or Arab Strap. So not great for housework dance sessions, but unbeatable when walking to work.

I can never decide if they sound retro (as old-making it is to consider music that came out when I was at university retro), or very now. Either way, here's hoping they aren't another one-and-done outfit.

  • Allie Crow Buckley - Moonlit and Devious
Same vibe as ACB's amazing EP So Romantic, with more songs. Who's complaining!?

  • Middle Kids - Today We're the Greatest
I heard 'Edge of Town' from their 2019 album at the end of an episode of the UK show, Defending the Guilty and not long after Middle Kids dropped their new album and they were periodically the greatest in my books.

  • James McMurtry - The Horses and the Hounds
Son of Larry 'Lonesome Dove' McMurtry has been releasing albums for three decades but I only started listening to him in 2021. His song, 'Just Us Kids' from the 2008 album of the same name is one of those Straight to the pool room tracks that you keep finding excuses to crowbar into playlists.

As for 2021's The Horses and the Hounds, it's classic McMurtry country-fried story telling with politics that subverts the red-state twang. Think Drive By Truckers. Think Alejandro Escovedo, Chuck Prophet, Joe Ely. And he often put me in mind of a certain era of Warren Zevon.

So yeah, goddam fantastic.

  • Foxing - Draw Down the Moon
I had a big Foxing phase this year. 2014's The Albatross is crazy good. Like Local Natives go Emo. There are two more albums between that and 2021's Draw Down the Moon, in which time Foxing morph into... Manchester Orchestra? Unknown Mortal Orchestra? MGMT? The National? Vendetta Red (remember them?)?

They are all over the shop and I can't decide if it's their taste or mine that's dubious*, but all of it is glorious.

* Who am I kidding: it's definitely mine. Vendetta Red? 

  • Mdou Moctar - Afrique Victime
The Tuareg guitar god and his band "rip a new hole in the sky" with this album, according to the blurb they posted on Spotify. I love that. It's so cool that Saharan Africa is transmuting rock and taking the mantle of prog, glam and metal blowhards along the way. 

I can listen to Moctar's music for hours. The only thing that can convince me to stop is when I picture a white guy with dreads who busks in Noosa with a strat and an effects pedal and probably loves this shit as much as I do.

  • The Weather Station - Ignorance
I have issues with the boring quotient of band name + album name + song titles, but I am working through them.

'Atlantic' was the only song I put on two different monthly playlists in 2021. It's a hell of a song, only disqualified from song of the year consideration because the rest of the album is almost as good and artists can be on both lists.

Rules is rules.


Two other albums deserve special mention:
  • Assertion - Intermission - sorry lads, there was only one boring band name + album name slot available this year, but that's for the year's best straight-ahead rock album.
  • Taylor Swift - Red (Taylor's Version) - I am now a bigger fan and Taylor than my 9 year old daughter. I stan what she's doing with the rerecording. I concede there's a bit less pep in her new versions of 'I knew you were trouble' and 'We are never ever getting back together' but this is more than made up for in the chutzpah of 'All Too Well (10 minute version)(Taylor's version)' [greatest song title with parenthesis ever?] and more unlost gems than we mortals deserve.

Friday, December 31, 2021

November & December 2021 Consumption Diary


The space bar on my laptop went on the fritz as I was battling a deadline earlier this month. Met the deadline (short story submission) but my space bar is still unresponsive for the 2/3rds of its length, as if it had a stroke. The working side sometimes adds two spaces for one touch as if that'll make up for it. FML.


Now I am in Christchurch typing this on my phone in the week between Xmas and New Year's to finish this post. I miss my shitty laptop.


Don't Cry by Mary Gaitskill (short stories, audiobook)

Mary, Mary, quite contrary. Reading Gaitskill is always a good reminder of how much you might be self-censoring yourself and how much braver you can be.

Billy Summers by Stephen King (novel, audiobook)

Retiring hitman must pretend to be a writer to pull off one last job... I enjoyed this quite a lot. It was perhaps overlong and there was less of a final payoff than a winding down, but King still delivers plenty from this half-familiar premise.

Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta (non-fiction, audiobook)

Wow. Read this immediately after reading this piece by Angela Meyer. Thank you Angela and thank you Tyson (and thank you Audible and I guess, grudgingly, Amazon, for making this book free to all members so hopefully many more will read/listen to this and extend the yarning).

Books like this raise interesting questions about form. As an audiobook narrated by the author it more closely resembles the kind of yarning and sand talk at the heart of the culture Yunkaporta shares, but the listener misses out on the sand talk symbols as visual things (my brain, at least, cannot follow extended descriptions of unique symbols). In the end, all books are imperfect and incomplete in whatever form they take, and it's the work of the reader to complete the circle.

I'll be reading a lot more on this topic from a Te Ao Māori perspective next year and keen for recommendations... Knowing full well there won't be any audiobook versions anytime soon.

Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer (non-fiction, audiobook)

More singular in focus than RWK's Braiding Sweetgrass (which will be in my top 10 for the year), but still wider ranging than any tretise on moss has any right to be. More please!

The Meaning of Trees by Robert Vennell (non-fiction, NZ)

My bedside reading. So nice to dip in and read about a tree or two before bed. Makes me want to start and edible natives garden, but being in Dunedin isn't the best climate for a lot of the more intriguing species.

Double Bind by Edward St Aubyn (novel, audiobook)

Find this thrilling to begin with (contemporary, unafraid to be intellectual) but the story never truly coalesced and the characters never rounded out.

Soundtracks by John Acuff (non-fiction, audiobook)

Acuff makes his living as a speaker (and selling books) that leans heavily on comedy. I found his humour worked well in what is essentially a self-help book about overthinking. Reminded me of John Hodgman, which is a compliment. There's something in the tone and tenor of these dudes I'm trying to unlock...

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull (novel, audiobook)

There's a sub-genre of literary fiction I'm slowly diagnosing that just doesn't do it for me. Seems to all come from the US. Reads like carefully crafted MFA-workshopped text. Has a supernatural aspect but it's withheld and suppressed and generally never allowed to have a payoff, so that one is left wondering if the writer lost faith in their ability to hold a reader's attention with the realism they actually care about...

Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan (novel, audiobook)

The perfect palate-cleansing sorbet after reading something that feels overcalculated and dead on arrival.

I think I'm going to extend the short story I mentioned above into a short novel that is a bit Brautigan, a bit Jenny Offill & Patricia Lockwood & Ali Smith, and a bit Kurt Vonnegut... We shall see.

The Storyteller by Dave Grohl (non-fiction, audiobook)

I think this book has a bad title. Dave Grohl isn't a good storyteller. Stories in the 2nd half of the book revolve around meeting other famous people and good versions of these stories would have some reversal of fortune (Paul McCartney is rude to Dave's daughter rather than the lovely bonus uncle who teaches here piano) but everything keeps coming up Dave. 

The early life and career bits were engaging, but the caginess post- Nirvana leaves a lot of drama unspoken. 

The Luminous Solution by Charlotte Wood (fiction, audiobook)

Written as a series of prices on craft and pulled together during the pandemic, I found this really great, but a little disjointed (there's a lot of references to Wood's The Natural Way of Things, and every mention feels a like a circling back rather than a new path). Would still recommend other writers seek this out.

The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald (novel, e-book)

Broke my run of audiobooks because I knew the photographs would be a big part of this one. Another antidote to the Caldwell Turnbull's of the world of books.

Was interesting reading this after Proust a couple months earlier. 

Still processing tbh.

The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell (non-fiction, audiobook)

Finishing off the year with yet another apocalyptic book. This one is presented as a how to manual of sorts for a rebuilding society after a massive event that leaves fewer thank 10k people to repopulate the earth.

In fact, it you often forget this and it's just a really well-told basic primer on industrial chemistry and mechanics. I feel smarter having read it but no more prepared for, or excited about, being one of the survivors...


Get Back (parts 1-3)

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Seasons 1 & 11

Succession - Season 3

Sex Education - Season 3

Home Sweet Home Alone

No Time To Die


Enlightened - Season 1


Die Hard

Happy Gilmore

Don't Look Up

Arthur Christmas



Sunday, October 31, 2021

September & October 2021 Consumption Diary



Swann's Way by Marcel Proust (novel, audiobook)

So I've now read Proust. Not all of À la recherche du temps perdu, but the first volume feels like enough. I enjoyed the first, second and fourth parts, but found the longest section focussed on Swann and Odette's romance tedious and uneventful. Which could probably be levelled at the other sections, but the humour was different (yes, Proust is funny, who knew?). There's a kind of peril involved in the narrator's subtle digs at members of his family and their circle, but that thrill evaporates in Swann's tale.

Mayflies by Andrew O'Hagan (novel, audiobook)

So good. A top ten book of my reading year for sure. Friendship, youth, music and loss all intertwine. 1980's Glasgow and Edinburgh shine through, as does this novel's winning heart.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit (essays, audiobook)

I read this after reading Solnit's amazing 2019 essay, 'When the Hero is the Problem', which describes something I've been mulling for the better part of three years (I wish I'd found the essay sooner!!). Nothing in Field Guide showed out in quite the same way, but it was good all told.

The Quiet People by Paul Cleave (novel, NZ, audiobook)

A Christchurch husband and wife crime-writing duo are embroiled in a true life crime that could have sprung from their imaginations... or did it? Lots of twists and the depiction of Christchurch and the dubious morality of writing kept me engaged.

Lockdown by Peter May (novel, audiobook)

Written in response to Avian Bird Flu but rejected by May's publisher as too outlandish... then released during the COVID-19 pandemic... Thing is, the bits he got right weren't really things I wanted to relive and the bits he got wrong hit like bum notes. In the end, just a middling detective tale with a prescient premise.

You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry (novel, audiobook)

I really liked Henry's previous book, Beach Read, and thought I was becoming an undiscriminating fan of the romance genre... but this one didn't do it for me.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (novel, audiobook)

Um... this book felt like it was produced by an AI trained on Ishiguro's oeuvre. The artificial friend seems like a premise rejected before he settled on clones in Never Let Me Go. The slow reveal of genetic modified children and [spoiler] is Klara's version of the fascistic elements in Remains of the Day. But mostly, the clouded, fuggy feel of the The Unconsoled hangs over this one - less of an intentional artistic choice and more a sign this isn't the writer operating at the height of his powers.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (novel, audiobook)

Rather than dive into Rooney's new book with the terrible title, I went against the grain and read her first novel. It was aight. I felt her short story 'Mr Salary' had more in it in less space. 

Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump (novel, NZ, audiobook)

The book that the film Hunt for the Wilderpeople was based on. I read this one to a) see how closely the film followed the book (I'd say the resemblance is two-thirds, with the new third being the injection of Waititi's zany humour), b) to see what a Barry Crump novel was like (a lot of hunting and bush-bashing hung over the wire-frame of a plot) and c) to see what the quality of the audiobook was like from newish local producer Audiobooks NZ (it was good... maybe even flawless).

Ice Station by Matthew Reilly (novel, audiobook)

I read this book because a) it was the free book from Audible for October, b) someone's dad once raved about it and I really didn't rate their opinion but I'm all about testing my prejudices (see my journey with the romance genre this year)... Turns out this was exactly what I thought it would be, which is NOT MY CUP OF TEA.

Heart of Darkness by Josef Conrad* (novella, audiobook & ebook)

I re-read this because I wanted to write a novella and thought maybe I could use a frame narration similar to what Conrad used in Heart of Darkness, which I studied in high school. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Kenneth Brannagh and read along to the ebook on my phone... it was interesting to come across all the phrases I'd highlighted or been spoonfed by my English teacher and then regurgitated in essays and exams. In the end, I abandoned the frame narration idea and started writing the novella (though I might still come back to frame narration, it's early days, but there's no reason to deliberately echo Heart of Darkness).

But man, could Conrad write!?


Ted Lasso - Season 2 - like many, I missed the unremitting niceness of Season 1

Only Connect - about 5 seasons' worth (my go-to YouTube content while washing dishes & making school lunches)

Squid Game - Season 1

Free Guy


Point Break (remake)

Quite a bit of NFL (for the first time in a decade I seem to be interested) and NBA (the Kings are 1 game above .500 baby!)


Sunday, August 29, 2021

July & August 2021 consumption diary

The two biggies since the last diary:

  • we moved house
  • we went back into nationwide lockdown.
It feels like more has happened, or at least I've had even less mental capacity than normal. I finished a business case and my kids have been sick for the last two weeks (right now, my wife has taken them both to the doctors for testing, which is hopefully just a big mid-lockdown adventure for them and nothing more), and I'm sure if I sat here I'd come up with more.

But who cares.

I can feel the creative dam nearing bursting point. With thanks to George Saunders (see below), I'm going to write short stories. And maybe some short non-fiction things. Before Christmas. This Christmas.



The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida (non-fiction, audiobook)

Translated by David Mitchell... feels a little over-translated, making Higashida sound like the narrator of Black Swan Green or the start of The Bone Clocks... 

But really useful/interesting/enriching to get a window into the workings of at least one mind on the autistic spectrum. 

We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer (non-fiction, audiobook)

JSF buries the lede (this is another stop eating animals book), but is upfront about this tactic when he finally removes the veil. 

And it kinda works. 

I like the idea of no animal products before dinner time, and how just that could make major inroads into our overshooting planetary boundaries. But like JSF, who tries to be fully vegan but admits to scoffing hamburgers in moments of weakness, it's not as easy as waving a magic wand. And being in lockdown with sick, fussy kids doesn't help.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub (novel, audiobook)

Strong Elizabeth Strout vibes (beyond the shared initials). I enjoyed the novel but it never quite achieved escape velocity from its peers and influences to become it's own, truly memorable thing.

The Luckiest Guy Alive by John Cooper Clarke (poetry, audiobook)

The kind of poetry the excels in the ear rather than on the page. Really enjoyed spending a hour with JCC and his relentless, wry, rhythmic rhyming.

Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler (novel, audiobook)

Part one of: sequels that are hard to get into after loving the first book(s) in the series.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson (novel, audiobook)

Part one of: sequels that are hard to get into after loving the first book(s) in the series.

Is This Anything by Jerry Seinfeld (non-fiction I guess?, audiobook)

After being subjected to the Bee Movie at least 15 times, Jerry's work has wormed its way into my heart in an unexpected fashion.

I was intrigued by how basically cutting and pasting old comedy routines into a book would work. Even odder as an audiobook read by Seinfeld, so it's just amputated stand-up. Kinda served to show how thin & time-bound his schtick is.

Agency by William Gibson (novel, audiobook)

AI, intrigue, future-present. It had all the makings of classic Gibson but to me it just lacked... verve.

Unsheltered by Clare Moleta (novel, audiobook)

Climate refugees within Australia's borders. A separated family. Harrowing, in part because it's so plausible.

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders (non-fiction, audiobook)

Based on year when a blogger gave up spending on non-essential items, but teased that something would happen during the year that was so life-altering that she didn't share it on the blog...

If parents split up.

And it was amicable.

Only kept listening because I thought maybe one day I'd write a romance under a nom de plume about two bloggers on conflicting quests...

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord (novel, audiobook)

Speaking of romances & quests, this YA novel did the job. Maybe there wasn't enough development of the alternative male love interest (Landon), so it all felt quite inevitable. But it was sweet. Like, series 1 of Ted Lasso sweet.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders (non-fiction with bonus Russian short stories, audiobook & e-book)


Maybe I'm starved of down-to-earth literary criticism, but this book was probably the biggest encouragement to start writing again of anything I've read, done, seen or heard this year.

A lot of Saunders' aphorisms I've heard before, though I can't recall exactly whether through podcasts or non-fiction pieces he's written on craft. But it's so good to have it all together here and have him apply these ways of thinking about writing to close reading of some really interesting stories -- and not all of them are totally obvious choices (I'd only read 'The Darling', 'Gooseberries' and 'The Nose' before).


The Olympics (!)
Untold: Malice at the Palace
Fantastic Fungi
Inventing David Geffen
I, Tonya
The Big Year
Baby Done
Ted Lasso - Season 1
I Think You Should Leave - Season 2
The Movies that Made Us - Season 2
Taskmaster NZ - Season 2
AP Bio - Season 1


Saturday, July 3, 2021

June Consumption Diary



So midway through the year and I've read 53 books... On track for 100 in a year for the first time since I started counting. Probably ever. Not all of them have been stellar. Some have been mercifully short. Others I'm not sure how I finished. While others have been such a joy. I am richer for having entered their worlds. So... reading.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (non-fiction, audiobook)

Right book, right time. One test of a book is how often you bring it up in conversation and I've been able to refer to, and evangelise about, Braiding Sweetgrass often in the weeks since reading it.

It ranges widely - and does drift in parts, being rather long - but the topic is so broad (see that subtitle) and the process of decolonising the thinking of a reader such as me when it comes to plants takes time.

Embodies the gift economy. Kia ora, RWK!

No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood (novel, audiobook)

Gonna call it now: this is the funniest book I will read all year. 

Is it a novel? Is it another autobiography, veiled this time by the third person pronouns? Is it longform poetry?

Answer: it is the natural end result when language and attention and logic come out the other side of being "extremely online".

Buy a ticket, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals by Patricia Lockwood (poetry, ebook)

Okay, so this actually is poetry :)

Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O'Connell (non-fiction, audiobook)

This is the book I thought I was going to read when I picked up End Times by Bryan Walsh in May. I wasn't sure if I was ready for more apocalypsia so soon, but O'Connell's book lived up to my (deferred) expectations. Maybe it's homerism, but I enjoyed the section set in NZ the most. Often, that would be the part where the hollowness of the European correspondent rang through, but not here. 

Kia ora MO'C!

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary (novel, audiobook)

Okay, so, hear me out. I enjoy reading romance, at least this kind (blame Emma Lord). It would be stretching things to call this a rom-com as it's not super funny. It's tone is breezy, but then the main female character is recovering from a toxic relationship (and gets stalked by the gaslighting ex) and the male lead's brother is in prison for a crime he didn't commit. 

The set-up (a male hospice nurse who works nights rents out his flat 7pm to 7am to a junior book editor so he can pay legal fees for his brother, and the two flatmates only converse through post-it notes...) is super hooky. 

Sometimes the beats felt like they came with signposts: THIS IS A BEAT.

But I devoured it. I like romance. It only took me 38 years. 

Their Lost Daughters by Joy Ellis (novel, audiobook)

Speaking of genres, one I've not had as many hangups about is crime. No doubt because it's coded as more masculine. But this one was only meh.

My Year Abroad by Change-Rae Lee (novel, audiobook)

Speaking of genres, this was NORTH AMERICAN LITERARY FICTION. How can you tell? It's at least twice as long as it needs to be. Fixates on a particular bucket of imagery (food & gustation). Is told over two time periods (with one being more interesting that the other). It became a game of diagnosing its cliches and flaws - and that got me through to the ridiculous climax.

This review from the NYT does a pretty good job of capturing how I felt: "this long and draggy book is a 'controlled fllight into terrain'."

Real Life by Brandon Taylor (novel, audiobook)

Speaking of NORTH AMERICAN LIT FIC. This was so: I spent time at the Iowa Writers Workshop. Yawn.

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (v. short novel, audiobook)

Nope. I am still to find the fantasy that converts me to the genre.

The Garden Jungle by Dave Goulson (non-fiction, audiobook)

The bumblbee guy tries to branch out, but doesn't bring anything new to the conversation.


Line of Duty - Seasons 4-6

Mare of Easttown - finished season 1

We are the Champions - Season 1

The Masked Singer NZ - Season 1 - the kids really got into it, for some reason

Feel Good - Seasons 1 & 2

Sweet Tooth - Season 1

Long Time Running

Breaking Boundaries: the science of our planet

Framing John DeLorean

This Town

Love Birds

Sunday, May 30, 2021

May Consumption Diary (with extras)



I got a bit of media coverage after a session I ran for the Otago Energy Research Centre, which was followed by this piece by Uni comms about me and my writing background and how it links in with being their Net Carbon Zero Programme Manager.

Work is equal parts fun and daunting at the moment. Every week brings new connections, which bring new opportunities and obligations. Right now it feels like things might start to settle down about 2024 or 2025...


Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan (essays, audiobook)

Published in 2011, collecting magazine pieces from even earlier, but it didn't feel dated. Sullivan was tapping into the racial, religious and economic discontent that would propel Trump into the White House - that's part of it. But his voice is so clear, distinct. I really want to read a collection of his essays from the last 10 years...

You Have a Match by Emma Lord (novel, audiobook)

YA high school drama and romance... A couple of years ago I would have turned my nose up at such a thing. But I really enjoyed it and Lord is excellent at pushing a plot forward with the right amount of challenge and comfort. Highly rated.

The Heap by Sean Adams (novel, audiobook)

A bloated Crying of Lot 49. A very white writer dude novel. Bold. Nuts. Shoddy. But bold!

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (novel, audiobook)

A different kind of bloated. I couldn't help comparing this unfavourably with Neal Stephenson's Seveneves. Like, kudos for the melding of imagination and scholarship, but then again: that's all you managed to say in so many pages?

Maybe I was grumpy because it seemed to accept so blithely 100 years of piss-poor climate action from our present to the present of the novel. 

Maybe it was because the characters all seemed to be experts in (American) history 1970-2020, which would be like me or you knowing all about the gunfight at the OK Corral, the economics of the dustbowl or the early days of photography (without Wikipedia!).

Aimless Love by Billy Collins (poetry, audiobook)

Listening to Collins read these selected poems made me wish I was listening to Hera Lindsay Bird instead. Or Mark Leidner. Or anyone with a pulse and a sense of humour (dad jokes don't count).

Ghost Species by James Bradley (novel, audiobook)

Maybe I was still grumpy from like, three books ago, but this seemed undercooked.

American Blood by Ben Sanders (novel, audiobook)

Strong Reacher vibes. Attempts at Elmore Leonard-y dialogue. Just lacking 900 volts of originality to really stick out. 

End Times by Bryan Walsh (non-fiction, audiobook)

I thought this was going to be Notes from an Apocalypse, but it wasn't. It read like a run of Time Magazine cover articles, the annoying uncle of dinosaur media that delights in telling you about the Drake equation, Moore's Law and R values as if you didn't know about that shit already. 

And yeah, I was super pissed off by Mr Walsh's chapter on climate change, which a) is downplayed as an existential risk and b) he reckons the only answer is geo-engineering... without sufficiently considering the risks (when it made messing with nature ever go wrong??) and the inequitable distribution of those risks.

But his chapter on pandemics, written before COVID-19, is pretty fucking prescient, down to the risk Trump would pose if something like H5N1 or H1N1 ever kicked off while he was in the White House.

No one is too small to make a difference by Greta Thurnberg (non-fiction, audiobook)

The Liver Cleansing Diet to Walsh's three cheese lasagna. Basically Ms Thurnberg reading a bunch of her speeches, with a bunch of repetition. But rather than grate, her taglines hit like sitcom catch phrases. Oh no she didn't!

Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World by Fareed Zakaria (non-fiction, audiobook)

Hey, this was quite good. Except for the fact it could probably have been written pre-COVID. And can I remember any specifics from it? Hold on, I'm sure I can... I mean, beyond the fact it didn't make me want to shove a Phillips head in my ear, and I felt kind of worthy listening to it... 

Hold on... 

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (non-fiction, audiobook)

For a more successful way to use the constantly restarting/reframing technique, see:

250 Ways to Start an Essay About Captain Cook by Alice Te Punga Sommerville (non-fiction, physical book)

Funny. Scathing. Frank. Smart. But really funny. 


Oh, and we managed to buy a house in Dunedin this month. We put unsuccessful offers on three houses and attended an auction for another where the bidding went mad early so I never technically got to bid/offer, but still had to go through the rigmarole of having finance and insurance sorted just to sit in a room and watch a woman burst into tears when a property investor kept out-bidding her and her husband...

So when you win a tender, you're like: Oops. Should I have offered that much? Did I just leave someone else in tears? 

At least we're going to use it as our family home. We'll make memories and compost and cider there. There's a park across the road with the biggest pear tree I've ever seen, so I guess that'll be pear cider. I might even write a book or two. One of them will probably be about how problematic golf is. All that private land parading as public utility green space. All that water. The selfishness of the sport itself. But, o, the glory of it. The simplicity... 

Which may just be a self-deceiving scheme to let me play a round or three at the local courses here...


Mare of Easttown (Season 1 - up to episode 6) - so good

Starstruck - Season 1

Line of Duty - Seasons 1, 2 & 3

The Masked Singer NZ - the kids are weirdly obsessed, even though they don't know who the celebs are

A Fish Called Wanda

The Trip to Greece

Saturday, May 1, 2021

April Consumption Diary



I started writing a short story yesterday. I took my laptop to a different building at lunchtime and wrote for 30 minutes surrounded by studying students. It felt good.

Now I woke up at 6am on a Saturday to continue working on it, but instead I'm doing this consumption diary.

Baby steps.


A Short History of the World According to Sheep by Sally Coulthard (non-fiction, audiobook)

I view these topic-specific history books are as a kind of palatte cleanser between books. A way to reset and may learn a thing or two in the process, or see things in a different way. This was okay in that respect. The second half is very Anglocentric. Oh well.

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (non-fiction, audiobook)

Written during the first half of Trump's first term, when the spectre of a second was very real (as was impeachment or implosion before the election). Pretty spot on in it's diagnosis of the authoritarian traits of Trump and a reminder, as Biden pushes through some pretty good policies on things like climate change, that we are no longer on the darkest timeline.

Two Stories by Sally Rooney (short stories, audiobook)

Should I count this as a while book? Probably not. But I have a 20+ hour Kim Stanley Robinson novel queued up for next month so I will, so there.

The first story was so good. The second less arresting. Hard to judge without another six or so stories to bounce off.

A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet (novel, audiobook)

I will always love Millet for the jolt her novel Oh! Pure and Radiant Heart gave me when I was letting my dream of writing seriously slip away as a twenty-something living in soulless Brisbane.

A Children's Bible takes just as bold risks, but is completely different. It'd be interesting to read this after Parable of the Sower, rather than before. I think I would have enjoyed this take on climate-induced partial apocalypse even more.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion (essays, audiobook)

A collection of previously uncollected essays, reviews and columns from across 5 decades of Didion's writing. Didn't feel bitsy. I enjoyed it.

Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (short stories, audiobook)

Wow. This book is exciting. It starts out with short stories in a recognisable, North American mold. It felt a little like a first nation's Jesus' Son - and then the stories lean more into Nishnaabeg modes and language. Another bad comparison: it felt like the bait and switch in David Vann's Legend of a Suicide where the death (the dyer?) in the second half is unexpected and makes you re-evaluate everything. This time, it's like: where those first stories good on their own terms or were they bait to lure me in.

Lots to mull over. Lots to learn from.

A Complicated Love Story Set in Space by Shaun David Hutchinson (novel, audiobook)

YA romance notable for two things:

1. How absolutely unremarkable  it is within the world of the novel that the romance is between two male sixteen year olds. Literally unremarkable: no one bats an eyelid that person A is gay, or person B is gay, or that A and B would be a couple. It's cheering that there's these representations out there and that LGBT youths might experience total acceptance from the get go - in some spheres / at some point in the future.

2. How badly this thing falls apart in the second half. It felt a bit like taking the set up from an early season of the Simpsons and resolving it with in the many of recent seasons (or Rick and Morty). 

Oh well.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (novel, audiobook)

If this is Science Fiction or Fantasy, then they need to build a bigger church, because a bunch of stuff written by dudes that manages to avoid the SFF label definitely deserves it. From the The Road to anything by Michael Crichton, and even Lawrence Wright's The End of October.

But who cares for labels, anyway?

I really enjoyed Parable of the Sower and am looking forward to reading the follow-up, Parable of the Talents. I did feel frequently wrong-footed by where I thought the novel would go and where it went. Again, approaching this from an SFF perspective is partly to blame.

And it's hella prophetic. See: How Democracies Die, et al.


The Gulf - Season 1

Cremerie - Season 1

Last Chance U: Basketball - Season 1

Defending the Guilty - Season 1

Shtisel - Season 1

Juliet, Naked

Instant Family

Bad Neighbours (yes, that's 3 Rose Byrne movies in a month)

The Merger

Love and Monsters


The Blue Max

Bill & Ted Face the Music