Tuesday, May 2, 2023

March and April Consumption Diary


It's the first of May as I start this. I have COVID for the second time. Last year it went through my house at the start of the Easter school holidays. This year it was at the end of the holidays. Like last year, I was the last in my family to succumb, so my isolation period will be longer. Unlike last time, I'm not putting the finishing touches on the first draft of a novel. That first draft remains unimproved. Instead, I'm preparing for a presentation on my doctoral research proposal. I started my doctorate in July last year and the first twelve months involve upskilling each cohort to be able to go off and complete their research and thesis in 2-howevermanyittakes years.

Oh, and the Sacramento Kings lost in Game 7 to the Golden State Warriors this morning. Stephen Curry scored 50 points and the Kings imploded in the third quarter when they couldn't grab a defensive rebound. It was a fun season and Kings fans haven't felt this feeling in 17 years... actually longer. It's more like 1999-2000 when the last great Kings team was on the come-up, but needed to experience adversity to toughen them up for period like today's third quarter. 

So now I have more time to think about non-basketball things... maybe, even with my doctorate, I'll have time to return to last year's novel...

Oh, I'm going to Europe with the family at the end of June (health and geopolitical stability willing). So maybe not?


Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (novel, audiobook, US, 2019)

I grew up with a father who loved rock documentaries so I enjoyed this. Spent a lot of time wondering why others who might be less of an anorak when it comes to music would enjoy it - the love triangle never quite joins up, which means it skirts around the worst cliches of these kinds of tails but it doesn't really have a huge amount of tension to drive the narrative forward. 

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (novel, audiobook, US, 2022)

From rock stars to sport stars, in this case tennis. More of a straightforward first person narration with occasional "implags", the interest here was whether the story was going to use Carrie's position on the Autism spectrum as a "twist"/big reveal. It didn't. I was glad. Again, I'm a bit puzzled by how this worked, when the outcome of every tennis match described was easy to forecast and the description of said matches was often something like: "I served, she returned, I returned, she returned, I returned, she missed... Then it was match point and I won with a forehand slam."

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson (novel, audiobook, US, 2020)

Another kind of novel that doesn't care much for things like character development or careful observation at the micro-level. This is all about the macro: what if poor performance against the Paris Agreement meant there was a Ministry for the Future to try and drive intergenerational justice (and what if that needed to be complemented by a dark-wing to get stuff done without bureaucracy). I got very depressed to begin with (I deal with this shit every day, so nothing was a surprise, it was more like: why I am listening to this while I work in my garden?!) but it kind of justified this depression through the journey it goes from this launching point. 

Quit by Annie Duke (non-fiction, audiobook, US, 2022)

I didn't know about Mohammed Ali's late career exploits. Great way to start a book about why gritting it out isn't always the best approach. 

Better the Blood by Michael Bennett (novel, audiobook, NZ, 2022) 

My brain enjoyed this, but I didn't really feel it elsewhere in my body, if that makes any sense.

Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy (novel, audiobook, US, 2022)

All talk. Madness... Genius.... Where's the line? I think McCarthy is possessed of both, so maybe there is no line.

Foster by Claire Keegan (novella, audibook, Ireland, 2010)

It's probably only a short story, but it's packaged as a standalone book, much like Small Things Like These. Loved this one. Every books should be this short.

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett (non-fiction, audiobook, US, 2021)

Essays penned during the pandemic. Manages to avoid being intolerable. Patchett is smart and kind. I've enjoyed her novels in the passed. Convinced me to go back and read Bel Canto.

The Story of Art without Men by Katy Hessel (non-fiction, audiobook, UK, 2022)

Listening to an audiobook about art isn't the best experience, but it helps to know what you don't know much about (so long as you keep asking questions).

Remote Sympathy by Catherine Chidgey (novel, audiobook, NZ, 2020)

There's always a hump to get over when a novel is set in Nazi Germany, especially when it's a NZ author's second book set there (though it's a standalone tale), but I got sucked in and bowled over. Good stuff.

The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan (non-fiction, audiobook, US, 2022)

I enjoyed the playlist I found on Spotify of the songs mentioned in this book more than Dylan's parsing of the lyrics or hepcat word associations (and don't get me started on his version of making America great again).

Nonzero by Robert Wright (non-fiction, audiobook, US, 1999)

Culture and Sustainability by Janet Stephenson (non-fiction, PDF, NZ, 2023)


Down in the Valley (40 for 40) - great watch on the eve of the NBA playoffs

The Matrix Resurrections

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel

Men - I vow never to watch another Alex Garland thingamee

Emily the Criminal


Lewis Capaldi: How I'm Feeling Now


Beef - Season 1 - I mean, how could I not fall for dialogue like, "I thought I was Webber, but I might be Stojaković, right?" 

The Last of Us - Season 1 - gave up after 10 mins of the pilot (zombie is my least favourite flavour of apocalypse) but was lured back in by raves. The Ron Swanson-Armond romance episode was sweet. I liked the way the season dealt with time (...three months later...). So yeah, worth watching.

Succession - Season 4 (first half) - sometimes you just want to hang with characters from the bottom right corner of the D&D moral alignment chart

Chad and JT go deep - Season 1

Cunk on Earth - Season 1

Taskmaster UK - Season 15 

The Night Agent - Season 1 - I kinda hated this  for being so fucking basic, but I devoured it like a stupid idiot anyway

Barry - Season 4 (1st half) - feels like a real drag... Like the writers got sick of the characters, or gummed up by what happened in Season 3...


Monday, February 27, 2023

January & February 2023 consumption diary



Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (novel, physical book,  NZ, 2023)

Potentially the best book I'll read this year and it's only Feb. If you loved The Luminaries you'll love this. Don't let the thriller billing lead you astray (though it does get thrilling) - this is a novel that revels in moving fully rendered, psychologically complex characters around the stage and getting them together at opportune/inopportune times (or, excitingly, for me at least, alone: a couple of these lonely, quiet moments seem to act as tent poles for the three act structure). 

If you are one of the people who talk openly about never finishing The Luminaries, when in the last 10 years did you start admitting this like it was a badge of honour? Go take a hard look at yourself in the mirror, then read Birnam Wood, though you might find it too slow as well. In which case, I've got nothing for you. I guess you don't need to be devastated as deeply as I do. 

The Mirror Book by Charlotte Grimshaw (non-fiction, audiobook, NZ, 2021)

A different kind of devastation. Bold, sure. No one comes out looking good. The way certain phrases (mostly one's her father used in his work or interviews) keep coming back, unrelentingly... I couldn't decide if it was artful or unhinged (like Coach Mosley's church deacon-esque tirades in Last Chance U: Basketball).

Radical Uncertainty by John Kay & Mervyn King (non-fiction, audiobook, UK, 2020)

I don't put everything I read for my doctorate up here, but this felt general fiction-y enough to qualify as a book "consumed". 

Haven by Emma Donoghue (novel, audiobook, Ireland, 2022)

I enjoy bleak survival tales, especially when they're largely self-imposed. Monks, eh?

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub (novel, audiobook, US, 2022)

I enjoy family dramas told via time travel, especially when they get the level of meta-ness right. This did.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (novel, audiobook, UK, 2009)

Yeah, okay, I get it now.

Brightness Reef by David Brin (novel, audiobook, US, 1995)

My first sci-fi for the year, if you don't count Straub's time travel lit-fic. 

1979 by Val McDermid (novel, audiobook, UK, 2021)

1989 by Val McDermid (novel, audiobook, UK, 2022)

I saw McDermid speak at an event in the tail end of last year and she mentioned how her Allie Burns series was her way out of writing her autobiography. I enjoyed 1979. 1989 felt more of a pastiche, with perhaps too many big events from that year being brought into the narrative. Or maybe I'd just read it too soon after its predecessor??


Tracking stats: 78% female, 100% white, 100% anglophone, 78% fiction

On pace for: 54 books read in 2023 (if you don't count the three other books I'm partway through, 2 physical and one audiobook).


Andor Season 1 - I haven't watched any of the Star Wars shows since season 1 of The Mandalorian (snoozefest) but kept seeing people rave about Andor... And gosh, this was right up my street. I loved the stretch where Andor was in prison. The closed world, the arcane routine. And it came after a heist that felt like it might be the climax of a normal season, and before another big showdown. All with minimal faffing around with The Force or reliance on Skywalker family ties.  

Star Wars: Rogue One (rewatch)

The Banshees of Inisherin

Poker Face Season 1

Top Gun: Maverick

Last Chance U: Basketball, Season 2

The Menu

White Noise - one of my favourite novels... didn't like this film. Too faithful to DeLillo's dialogue. It seemed to be about the dialogue, as if that's what made it great. It was like someone adapting Roald Dahl and depicting every cruelty as it is described (or dashed-off) in the book. (I guess adapters will have issues with that now that Dahl's been watered down... This is not a statement for or against the literary sanitation dept... Whatever I say can and will be used against me in my public shaming).


The Sacramento Kings keep lighting the beam, baby! On Saturday my time they won a double OT thriller against the stacked Clippers in the 2nd highest scoring game of all time, which isn't a knock on the defence: both teams were trying, but the Clippers in particular were locked on, and the refs were very suss... Incredible that heart and superior chemistry got the Kings over the line and they're closer to 2nd place in the West than 4th. They've been the healthiest team in the league this year, though, and they're young and inexperienced. They can't keep this up for another 24 games and win a first round playoff series, can they?


Thursday, January 12, 2023

This Fluid Thrill Awards: Best Music of 2022

You can find a playlist at the bottom of this post if you want to listen while you read.

You can also find previous editions of my yearly music lists here: 2021 albums and songs, 2020, 2019, 2018 albums and songs, 2017 albums and songs, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.

Best albums released in 2022

Spanish Villager No.3 by Ondara

The Kenyan Bob Dylan. Kind of a reverse Paul Simon's Graceland. My discovery of the year. So good.

Ghost Woman by Ghost Woman

New-psych at its finest. I honestly need to listen to this again now.

Teeth Marks by S.G. Goodman

Gutsy, country-fied rock from this female singer-songwriter. I added two songs from this album to my monthly playlists twice, and then, when listening closely just wanted to keep adding new track to the list. So good.

Leave the Light On by Pillow Queens

Best Irish rock album of 2022 (sorry Fontaines DC). Go Queens!

Gemini Rights by Steve Lacy

'Bad Habit' could have been the song of the year, but the rest of the album continues the zany, lo-fi indie rock-with-hip-hop-vibes deal, and propels Gemini Rights into my top ten.

Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You by Big Thief

Longer blurb for a longer album...

I had tickets to Big Thief in Wellington in March 2020, but COVID nixed that. They finally came down to NZ in 2022 (with the size of the venue increasing twice to reflect the growth in their popularity) and despite having moved to Dunedin and being a reluctant flyer for climate reasons, I had to make an exception. It was totally worth it. Big Thief have to be the most dynamic, vital, hard working band on the planet right now.

I listened to DNWMIBIY a lot in 2022, but I also listened to Big Thief's preceding four albums (and Adrienne and Buck's solo albums and pre-Big Thief collabs) as I'd picked them as the soundtrack to the short novel I was writing in the first half of the year, and was swotting up for the concert in December.

I think Dragon Long-title has too many songs on it. Classic double album failings. Reminiscent of 2019 when they released two great albums (UFOF and Two hands): so much content, with many of the songs as slow burners, that it's hard to see the whole picture at once. Let alone the fact that these albums followed albums in 2017 and 2016, plus Buck Meek's solo debut and Adrienee Lenker's Abysskiss, both released in 2018. 

Case and point, 2022 was the year that I finally paid attention to, and fell in love with, their song 'Mary' from their 2017 album Capacity. Some things take time.

Dragon has plenty of songs with instant appeal, like 'Capacity' and 'Time Escaping' and 'Spud Infinity' and 'Simulation Swarm' and I'm confident there are other favourites that will emerge over the years. 

Laurel Hell by Mitski

I was cooling on Mitski. There just didn't seem to be much in the way of evolution with each album. But I heard the single 
'The Only Heartbreaker', which hinted at a more up-tempo/raucous sound so I queued up her new album and went outside to mow the lawn. 

Unfortunately, on this first listen, the first five tracks didn't really stand out. Track 6 was the song I'd already heard, followed by 'Love Me More', which was even jauntier, though still pissed off and angular in the way that most Mitski songs are, 'There's Nothing Left for You' and 'Should've Been Me'. After this stretch of four songs I'd completely changed my mind. It's such a killer run and lends a glow to what comes before and after. 

The whole album rocks... you might just need to wait a while to find the key that unlocks its rockingness for you.

Boat Songs by MJ Lenderman

"Jason Molina with a subscription to The Athletic". I can't trace the original provenance of this description of MJ Lenderman, but it's so apt. Not just the way that Lenderman is clearly inspired by Molina's sound and references a lot of sports, but the exclusiveness of those two signifiers (I'm not sure many of my friend group would know who Jason Molina or Songs: Ohia are/were -- if that's you, go listen to 'Farewell Transmission'!; or the Athletic, let alone what kind of sports fan they cater too).

The album opener, 'Hangover Game', is a clear standout and the best example of the Molina+Athletic vibe (it's about Michael Jordan's infamous flu game).

I've since been back through the MJ Lenderman back catalogue - his EP Knockin' is vvvvv good - and it's now time to return to 'Boat Songs' for another thrashing.

If I never know you like this again by SOAK

Another Irish album! Oh, I mean, a Northern Irish album. I guess you could call it rock... it has guitars. It's more atmospheric indie pop? Whatever it is, it's gold.

The Overload by Yard Act

I feel like this album came out 5 years ago (though it was Jan 2022). And it's on Yard Act's debut. This year's Dry Cleaning - though I rate The Overload over Dry Cleaning's sophomore album which dropped in '22. More please.

Dishonorable mention

  • Chris by Ryan Adams - Mr Adams is a dick, at best. He withdrew from the public eye for a while, then released a bajillion albums (okay 4) in 2022. I was curious what all those songs, presumably written and recorded while nursing his narcissitic, self-inflicted wounds, would sound like. Just the sheer volume of them! And dammit, there's a lot of songs that are right up my street. Chris has the highest strike rate of the lot. But, there's still, the fact he's a dick, at best.

Honorable mentions

  • Warm Chris by Aldous Harding
  • Pray for me I don't fit in by Melt Yourself Down
  • Lucifer on the Sofa by Spoon
  • Weather Alive by Beth Orton
  • Barn by The Long Lost Somethins
  • Havasu by Pedro the Lion - an important piece in David Bazan's ongoing autobiographical suite, but the songs are a little... boring at times. 

Best albums from past years I didn't encounter until 2022

  • Shallow Bed by Dry the River (2012)
  • No Medium by Rosali (2021)
  • Due North by Liam Kazar (2021)
  • People in Cars by Curse of Lono (2021)

Each of the 2021 albums would have made my top ten this year if they'd been released in 2022, or in 2021 if I'd heard them then. Interestingly, there weren't many more 2021 albums nipping at their heels.

As for Dry the River, they appeared in my ears while I was gardening and the album I'd been listening to ended and Spotify autoplayed songs in a similar vein. I think I'd been listening to Local Natives, but I might be wrong. The thing is, DtR don't sound much like Local Natives (besides there's the higher pitched vocals and the emotionally vulnerable lyrics). There's a Fleet Foxes/Animal Collective orchestral/choral vibe, but the Dry the River is more muscular and direct. There's an earlier britpop vibe, or maybe even The Bends-era Radiohead, but when I try to pin down where, it evaporates. It's like someone made a venn diagram of all the music I like and created a band than sat at the area of greatest overlap (well done Spotify!), only to find out they've long since broken up and there isn't much beyond Shallow Bed available. Better to have loved and lost, and all that!

Best song of 2022

After eliminating artists whose albums appeared above, there was a clear winner. It doesn't feature nonsense syllables like many past Songs of the Year winners, but it's very much a singalong in the car kind of tune.

Stick Season by Noah Kahan

This one might've been spoiled slightly for the seven people who looked at my 40 songs for 40 years playlist two days ago... So be it!

I like the songyness of 'Stick Season'. It's like a really good Greek statue. It's got enough detail to place it within an exact time and place ("Doc told me to travel, but there's COVID on the planes"), while being timeless (dude reduced after breakup; sad sack singing over jangly music).

If Die Hard is a Christmas movie (it is!), then 'Stick Season' is a Christmas song!

I concede that this will probably sound like Mumford & Sons when the glow of its newness has faded, but right now I DON'T CARE.

Best songs not from 2022

  • Chemtrails over the Country Club by Hayley Mary (2021) - a rocking cover of Lana Del Rey - would have been a real contender for song of the year if not for chronology... it's have to settle for being THE GREATEST COVER OF ALL TIME (maybe?)
  • Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult (1977) - no, I can't be bothered with the diaresis. Delved into BOC's back catalogue this year and discovered this silly ol' gem, which my kids also love.
  • Hocus Pocus by Focus (1971) - fun to say, fun to listen to. Another one my kids request to hear.
  • The Pills Won't Help You Now by the Chemical Brothers (2007) - featuring Tim Smith from Midlake (original lineup) on vocals, this was the next best thing to a Midlake reunion (NB: Smith-less Midlake is pretty good, but with-Smith Midlake is god tier).
  • My Pal by God (1988) - I'd heard this song before, but it wasn't until I heard Bad//Dreems' cover (2020) in 2022 that I went back and listened to God's stuff and really appreciated what an amazing teen punk treasure 'My Pal' is. 
  • Goodness Pt.1 by The Hotelier (2016)
  • Wasteland of the Free by Iris DeMent (1996)
  • Headlines by Charlotte Cornfield (2021)

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

This Fluid Thrill Book Awards 2022: Best Books

This list is all about the best books I read in 2022, not necessarily those that came out this year.

I do this most years, see: 20212020201920182017, (...), 2014201320122011, & 2010.

And, like most years, I'm going to delve into some stats first.

I read 66 books in 2021, down from 90 in 2020, but the same total as what I read in 2019. A reversion to the mean? Probably. Sure, the additional reading I did for my doctorate and judging another writing competition likely took a dent out of my reading/listening to audiobooks for pleasure time, but there's always something. If I can hit 70 books in 2023 I'll be satisfied.

On that read/listen point, the trend continues: 3 physical books (all NZ authors) and 63 audiobooks (incl. 7 NZ... which is probably a record... hold that thought). Eye-issues plus busy life plus the fact almost 20 years of listening to audiobooks has sufficiently wired my brain to "read" for enjoyment and/or read critically through my ears.

My publisher is bringing out an anthology next year featuring one of my stories and I asked if there'd be an audiobook version (buoyed by the appearance of the likes of Noelle McCarthy's memoir and Coco Solid's novel in audiobook format in 2022). The response was... not encouraging. I wonder if it's because their business model does not adequately capture value from listeners who use library services like Libby? I know the Public Lending Right in NZ has some catching up to do in this respect also. 

My reliance on audiobooks influences my reading across every dimension:

  • Where I'm reading:

So many Americans! Some years the US and UK are neck and neck. Kinda stoked to see NZ beat the UK for once.

  • What I'm reading:

No poetry collections! For the first in a long time. I borrowed some as e-books, but never got around to reading them (there was always an audiobook that was due back in a couple of days). For shame! I might need to do something silly like set aside a month to just read poetry... Poetray? Poetruly? Sepoetry?

  • When I'm reading:

The limited (but expanding) pool for audiobooks means I'm always lurking in the deep end for new additions, which tend to be recent releases. The long tail indicates I do go into the back catalogue for authors/books that take my fancy if I can find them, but I wouldn't say I put a lot of effort into reading outside of my era in 2022.

  • Who I'm reading:

These are rough measures of diversity. I haven't researched the family tree of every author or the intricacies of their gender identities, but it gives a fair representation of the audiobook marketplace (if you factor in that I'm conscious of the biases in said marketplace and try to read diversely... which is even more depressing).

Interestingly, the splits for both the above graphs were the same in 2021. Spooky. 

The percentage of books in translation dropped from 8% in 2022 to 6% in 2022. Rounding error.

Okay, so that was my reading landscape... Now for:

My favourite books of 2022 (in a semi-thematic order rather than a merit ranking)

Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson

A big, raucous, uneven slab of speculative fiction. Powerful people with vested interests in low-lying locales not being swallowed by the sea (see: real estate values) get embroiled in a plot to re-engineer the climate. Not usually the sort of people I'd want to spend 15 hours / 720 pages with, but Stephenson has a way of telling stories populated by adequate vessels for the plot, and plots that don't deal in moral absolutes or media black and whites.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

As with Termination Shock, the geek quotient is high here, as you'd expect from the author of The Martian. Project Hail Mary starts with the less-than-promising trope of the amnesic astronaut, and there's a fair amount of hard sci 'watch me do calculations', but this one goes somewhere new and unexpected (for this occasional tourist in outer space, at least). 

Liberation Day by George Saunders

Has it really been 9 years since Tenth of December? In that time, Saunders won the Booker with an over-hyped, under-whelming novel and wrote an amazeballs non-fiction book about Russian masters of the short story. 

I approached Liberation Day with trepidation. It sounded like a George Saunders title, but also a Fox News chryon. The title story opens the collection and is an amalgam of 'Escape from Spiderhead', 'Pastoralia' and 'The Semplica Girl Diaries'... and it's not the only story you can reformulate using 2 or 3 stories from Saunders preceding collections...

BUT each of them works. More than works: each is better than the best of its antecedents.

Maybe I'm still under the spell of A Swim in a Pond in the Rain... 'Liberation Day' seems to be directly in conversation with what Saunders-speaking-as-Saunders has said about fiction. The story is about the act of writing, yet avoids all the pitfalls that come with being meta. How? How!?

I was prepared not to love this collection. But it left me undone in the best way.

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

In what is becoming an almost annual occurrence, Strout strides into the top ten with another book that's probably better than the last. Oh William! is the third in the Lucy Barton series, and has already been followed up with a fourth (Lucy by the Sea... which bookmakers have given short odds to appear in the 2023 This Fluid Thrill book awards!).

It's interesting to compare Strout and Saunders, two writers at the height of their powers. My fear with Saunders is always that the fireworks will explode while still in his hands. With Strout, it's that she decides to leave the matches at home and enjoy the dusk in peace. But she's too canny for that. One mustn't mistake New England restraint for a lack of narrative drive. 

I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jeanette McCurdy

I was prepared to actively dislike this memoir. The title was a little reminiscent of the novel How to Kill Your Family, which stands out as one of my reading lowlights in recent years. I didn't really know who McCurdy was, and don't think I'd ever stumbled across an episode of iCarly, the Nickelodeon kids show that made her famous as a teen. But I didn't need to.

The magic here is in the voice of McCurdy, which manages to be both frank and entertaining (see the tightrope-walk title). There's enough raw material for a full-on misery memoir here, but McCurdy doesn't belabour individual instances of her mother's narcissism and child-abuse-in-hindsight. She incriminates herself in every step down the staircase of an eating disorder, and even when absolving her childhood self of these actions, it's still not black and white.

Grand by Noelle McCarthy

Another memoir that revolves around a media personality and her less-than-stellar mother. This time, it's Irish ex-pat / NZ radio personality McCarthy and her alcoholic mother. While this relationship centres much of the telling, this book is about so much more: childhood in Ireland, emigrating to NZ, the author's own boozy past and near-misses, and becoming a mother herself. 

Grand feels finely crafted, as if each chapter is expertly placed and counterbalanced, each chapter in turn comprises of its own set of smaller, complimentary pieces, like the felt-lined compartments of an apothecary's cabinet. 

I'm excited to read what Noelle McCarthy publishes next.

Loop Tracks by Sue Orr

When the audiobook of this dropped in 2022 I leaped at the chance to re-enter this world. So much of the coverage when Loop Tracks was released in New Zealand in 2021 focussed on the extended opening scene where a pregnant teen is due to fly to Sydney for an abortion (illegal in NZ at the time). 

But this is also a lockdown novel, a neurodiversity novel, even a hooking-up-with-the-guy-next-door novel. It's the kind of book that reflects different lights from different angles.

Fantastic stuff!

Halibut on the Moon by David Vann

Another NZ-ish novel I read behind the times due to my audiobook crutch. This is quite literally the third or fourth time Vann has written this book, but hells bells, this is up there with Legend of a Suicide

(It's probably better, but I'm a sucker for the narrative tricks Vann pulled that first time out and was far more impressionable when I read it.)

The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrere

This is Carrere's non-fiction account of a man who killed his family, but that's just the start of it (the subtitle is: a true story of monstrous deception). Carrere is very much part of the telling, including why the case first interested him, his thwarted attempts to make contact with the accused, his decision to write a novel about it instead, then finally striking up a dialogue with the murderer. 

For this kind of writer-in-the-midst tale to work, the author's own circumstances and insights must be as intriguing and rewarding as the retelling of the 'monstrous deception'. Carrere does seems to come from a similar Francophone misandrist mold as Michel Houellebecq, but is somehow less creepy and thus eminently more successful.

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

This was another case of my preconceptions being confounded (I guess my natural disposition is: hater). Turns out I'm a snob about YA authors and YouTubers, despite enjoying many YA novels and many, many hours of YouTube content. But even the smartest, most engaging thinkers can struggle with wide-ranging topics and the 'I'm just picking what interests me' approach (see Chuck Klosterman's The Nineties). 

But Green manages to pull it off. From plagues to the QWERTY keyboard to Diet Dr Pepper, this book is both good company and enlightening.

40 songs at 40

Hiya folks. It's my birthday today. I had some cake with friends over the weekend. None of my male friends in attendance have turned 40 yet, and I was asked if I'd made my 40 songs for 40 years playlist yet? It seems to be a thing, though each had different rules that might apply. 

I'm never one to turn down the invitation to create a playlist, so here's what I whipped up last night.

I've tried to pick one song released from each year from 1983 to 2022, though sometimes year of release can be a bit of a vague concept, especially if you consider when things might have actually been popular in NZ in the days before the internet. Each artist can only appear once. I've tried to pick songs that have some kind of resonance with me in the year of release, while also (obviously) still having appeal to me today. My annual music awards on this blog were useful in jogging my memory for songs over the last decade!

I could probably produce another three 40-strong lists without repeating any songs that might be better listens / better memoirs-in-mostly-rock, but this is my current time capsule.

I'll be back tomorrow with the best books I read in 2022, and the day after that with my 2022 music awards.

Until then, it's the hits of the eighties, nineties and today, here on Fluid Thrill FM:

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

August to December 2022 consumption diary



Well shit, things got away from me, didn't they. I started my Doctor of Business Administration in July and this is probably why nice-to-haves like a monthly consumption diary fell by the wayside.

It's safe to say that the novel I drafted in the first half of 2022 has not been touched since. But it's still there, gestating. As soon as I have the right solution to the mysterious death the second draft will write itself.

I did start a short story in, like, October? Great idea. Impossible to execute... so far. 

May 2023 be the year of insane productivity across all domains (paid work, study, creative endeavours, consumption of books, music and film/TV for joy and cataloguing said consumption).



24 books over (almost) 5 months (I'll add any I read in the days of Dec as we go). No, I'm not going to write in-depth about each one. So sue me.

Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake (non-fiction, audiobook)

Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard (non-fiction, audiobook)

No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (short stories, audiobook)

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas (novel, audiobook)

Less* and Less is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer (novels, audiobooks) - re-read the first in preparation for the sequel, which suffered from sequelitis.

The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen (novel, audiobook) - good, often great, but strange. I think I appreciated the note at the end explaining the origin of the story, but it didn't quite excuse the abrupt end to the narrative which made it feel like half a novel.

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer (novel, audiobook) - I will never read another book by JVM, sorry.

A Brief History of Equality by Thomas Piketty (non-fiction, audiobook) - could have been less brief, perhaps?

The Overstory by Richard Powers (novel, audiobook) - overlong.

Leviathan by Philip Hoare (non-fiction, audiobook)


BOOKS, continued

I'm Glad My Mom Died by Jeanette McCurdy (non-fiction, audiobook) - tremendous. 

Send Nudes by Saba Sams (short stories, audiobook) - if I didn't have the aid of my Libby and Audible histories, this is the book I would have the most trouble remembering to include on this list.

Gabriel's Bay by Catherine Robertson (novel, audiobook)

How to Loiter in a Turf War by Coco Solid (novel, audiobook)

Good Behaviour by Molly Keane (novel, audiobook)

Good Pop, Bad Pop by Jarvis Cocker (non-fiction, audiobook)

Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard (non-fiction, audiobook)

Ngā Kete Mātauranga: Māori Scholarship at the research interface, Jacinta Ruru & Linda Waimarie (Eds)

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka (novel, audiobook) - made me wish I chose to read Chinaman first.

Home Before Night by JP Pomare (novel, audiobook) - not his best work.

Liberation Day by George Saunders (short stories, audiobook) - might be his best work, though it suffers a bit from Murakamism (feels like the same stories, but retold better and weirder)

Wawata by Hinemoa Elder (non-fiction, audiobook)

Grand by Noelle McCarthy (non-fiction, audiobook) - v v v v good

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh (novel, audiobook)

Either/Or by Elif Batuman (novel, audiobook).


NA - available via HR system 1.2


Hacks, Season 2

The White Lotus Season 2

House of the Dragon Season 1

The Rehearsal Season 1

Industry Seasons 1 & 2

Derry Girls Seasons 1-3

Taskmaster NZ Season 3 and UK Season 14

Mr Harrigan's Phone

I Came By

The Redeem Team

Plus: every piece of Sacramento Kings content I can... LIGHT THE BEAM!!


Sunday, August 7, 2022

Consumption Diary: May, June and July 2022



So last time I was not-so-quietly pleased with myself for having knocked out a first draft of a short novel. I haven't done much with it since then, because life. As in:

  • post-COVID frailty and winter cold and flu season meant my kids missed 3 weeks of school each last term
  • I started my doctorate (DBA), which involves 6 papers in the first 12 months and then 2 years full-time on the thesis after that, which means lectures and assignments for the first time in *checks notes* 18 years!?
  • I needed to let the novel sit anyway. I still haven't quite figured out how to re-up the ending to make the payoff match the set-up AND the twist. 
  • While letting it sit/stew, I did some research for some of the characters, like reading Jordan B Peterson and watching all of Lost.
Some of the above reasons/excuses/humblebrags (Lost is loooong, dude) help explain why I haven't done one of these consumption diaries for 3+ months, too. So I haven't gone to any lengths to write about the books individually. And the film & TV list is incomplete as I don't take notes as I watch things and, unlike Libby, Audible or physical book shelves, streaming apps such at helping you remember what you watched and when... by design?

Anyway, now that I'm studying again, I'm reading a lot of journal articles and using Endnote...  but don't expect any of that consumption to make it into these entries, though some of my fave books from last year (Braiding Sweetgrass and Sand Talk) are definitely part of my research area.


The Adversary by Emmanuel Carrere (non-fiction, audiobook)

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout (novel, audiobook)

Vladmir by Julia May Jonas (novel, audiobook)

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (novella, audiobook)

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder (novel, audiobook)

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden (novel, audiobook)

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen (novel, audiobook)

The Snow Leopard Project and other adventures in warzone conservation by Alex Dehgan (non-fiction, audiobook)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (novel, audiobook)

The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun (novel, audiobook)

Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman (novel, audiobook)

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (novel, audiobook)

Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor (novel, audiobook)

12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson (non-fiction, audiobook)... research for a teenage character, I swear!

Rat King Landlord by Murdoch Stephens (novel, physical book, NZ)

Down from Upland by Murdoch Stephens (novel, physical book, NZ)



Lost, Seasons 1-6

Parks & Rec - Seasons 3-7*

Hacks, Season 1

Better Call Saul, Season 6

Barry, Season 3

The Pentaverate, Season 1

The Peanut Butter Falcon



The Reader

Those Who Wish Me Dead


Space Jam: A New Legacy

Zombieland: Double Tap


The Gray Man


Saturday, April 30, 2022

March & April Consumption Diary (with writing update)



On the 4th of March I started work to expand my short story, 'Ambient Ecstasy', which I wrote late last year and was published in The Listener as part of their summer reading series, into a short novel. By short, I was picturing 40,000 words. The short story was about 1,200 words.

On 25 April, I finished the first draft, which clocked in at 32,180 words.

Disclaimer 1: I was on day three of testing positive for COVID, so the final days of drafting were a little cloudy.

Disclaimer 2: I knew at the time that there were some additional scenes/chapters I'd need to write as part of the 2nd draft, but I'd made it to the end and would need to go back to the start to figure out where these additional bits went. The second half has a different narrative form to the first, with multiple narrators, so there'll be quite a bit of moving chunks around between now and settling on the final form.

Right now, I'm mid-way through a full read-through. This involves noting down things to add in, or sections that need to be sped up, or spruced up, or made consistent with later chapters, and also making some quick tweaks as I go.

The aim is to be done with the 2nd draft by mid-May... and we'll see what's left to do when I get to that point.

16 days into the first draft I released what needed to happen in the second half, and stopped to write a short essay about the realisation and how I'd reconceptualised the book. I'll have to return to that, too, when the book is a little closer to its final form.

It feels good to be writing again, even if it is in 500-700 word chunks every morning before the kids wake up and my days get hectic. And writing through COVID (my daughter caught it first, then my wife, then my son, and I was almost done with my 7 day isolation as a household contact before I tested positive). Day two was the worst: body aches and it felt like I was going to run a big fever, but then day three I felt almost normal, only to get a massive head cold that lasted the next three days. I just have a dry cough now. My brain is slightly muddled, but I figure that's 2 weeks of house arrest with other sickies, while working in between the stat days.


Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson (novel, audiobook, 2021)

Classic Stephenson.

A big, glorious, only-slightly-ludicrous (giant hogs vs meth gators!) examination of what might happen when certain low-lying territories take climate action into their own hands. Goes deep into the science and doesn't do the same for the morality, though this isn't completely shirked. 

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (novel, audiobook, 2021)

Another long, hard-leaning sci-fi that I just lapped up. Similar to The Martian, but also different enough. Which do I prefer? Maybe this one?

Loop Tracks by Sue Orr (novel, phys/audiobook, 2021)

I started reading this as a physical book but anyone whose read one of these consumption diaries knows I struggle with physical books these days. The act of reading sends me to sleep, regardless of the content.

So I restarted this as an audiobook when it appeared on Audible and man, it was so great. 

Lot's of the coverage focussed on the early section of the novel when abortions were illegal in NZ but not Australia, but the later sections, set amid the first nationwide COVID lockdown in 2020, were a triumph in their own right. I think in twenty years, it'll be interesting to see which parts people focus on.

As an aside, man I wish more NZ books were available as audiobooks!

Halibut on the Moon by David Vann (novel, audiobook, 2017)

Oh, what's this? Another NZ book? Well, it qualified for the Ockhams in 2020 and made the fiction short-list, by virtue of a) Vann being an NZ resident and b) the book being crazy good. It didn't win (Aue by Becky Manawatu did), and probably wasn't a great look for our biggest book prize to go to something set in the US by a US national... But as I say, it's very, very good.

David Vann has written this book a few times. From the amazing story collection Legend of a Suicide to Caribou Island and I think a few others (honestly, I got a bit tired of it all for a while there)... but Halibut manages to traverse the same ground (retelling the author's father's suicide, this time sticking only to the father's perspective) in such a sharp, manic way. He feels like Thomas McGuane or Barry Hannah protagonist. And knowing how this story has ended before, and the rug that was pulled in Legend, there's an incredible extra-textual tension.

I still probably rate Legend higher, for the way it plays with the story collection form, but if you prefer novels, you might want to start here.

Clothes clothes clothes music music music boys boys boys by Viv Albertine (memoir, audiobook, 2014)

Really enjoyed this. I remembered The Slits cover of 'Heard it Through the Grapevine' but that's about all I knew of Albertine's career in punk. It was facinating how connected she was with acts like The Clash and the Sex Pistols, and what happened after the Slits broke up, and her return to music after the housewife interregnum.

Great stuff.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (novel, audiobook, 2015)

I wanted to like this more than I did. Maybe I just don't have much love left for the kind of epic, smartypants American novels (think Donna Tartt and Jonathan Franzen)? So much of it just felt false. Sometimes I like false. Even inside the book, the falsest part (Lancelot becoming a famous playwright) was the most interesting. But as a whole... 

Your Ad Could Go Here by Oksana Zabuzhko (short stories, audiobook, translated, 2018)

Yes, I thought I should read a Ukrainian book and landed on this after some research. And maybe it's impossible to be that book people go to for the wrong reasons. Like, say NZ was invaded by Chile (sorry, Chilenos, just an example!), which book should people read? That's the kind of question that can power a decent podcast, but it's not something that actually has an answer. The answer to which book is always the next and then another and then another.

Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen (short stories, audiobook, 2021)

Didn't pick this to read a Chinese novel (someone recommended it to me), and I kind of forgot it was short stories at first. The first story feels like the start of a novel, but not a particularly good one. And then it ends in a non-good way. The next couple of stories are much stronger, but whenever the stories get too journalistic, I lost interest.

The Fell by Sarah Moss (novel, audiobook, 2021)

Really interesting to compare this lockdown-UK-style novel to Loop Tracks. This is the third of Moss's novels I've read after Ghost Wall (2018) and Summerwater (2020), in part because they are short and audiobooks are readily available. I'm in love with the idea of short novels (see "Writing" above) but none of these quite hit the mark for me. The further removed from Ghost Wall, the more I think it'll end up being my favourite of hers.

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler (novel, audiobook, 2021)

Meandering and dull. Felt like the first draft. The get it all out, all the stuff that actually happened and the big thing I invented to make it fiction, so I can then unearth what the true point of it is.  

How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie (novel, audiobook, 2021)

Really disliked this book. And it's not the sort of thing you want to Google. Just keep moving.


Our Flag Means Death - Season 1

Biography: WWE Legends - Season 1

Winning Time - Season 1 (ongoing)

Abbott Elementary - Season 1

Moon Knight - first 3 eps of Season 1 before abandoning

The Bubble

Nightmare Alley


Motherless Brooklyn

Soylent Green

Parks & Rec - started re-watching from Season 2 (ongoing)

Lost - first 2 eps of Season 1 (thinking of rewatching - never watched all the eps first time around...losts of hints of Damon Lindelof's later shows, but also lots of network elements... and 25 eps a season... Season 1 is almost as long as the full run of The Leftovers!)