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.

Image result for jos charles feeld"Image result for under glass gregory kan"Image result for are friends electric heath"

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

Sunday, December 1, 2019

November consumption diary

My only public outing in November was for LitCrawl's "Lie Down and Listen" session at the Design Library. It was cool to take part in LitCrawl for the first time, after attending many events over the last six years.

I read the pornography section from near the start of Nailing Down the Saint and only found out there was a kid (maybe 11) in the audience afterwards.

Parents these days! :)

Lawrence Patchett reading from The Burning River
 to a very comfortable and relaxed audience at the Design Library


I saw Gang of Four live at San Fran. It took me a long time to decide if I was watching a good cover band that just happened to have the original guitarist or if this incarnation of Gang of Four was simply good. 

Like, the smashing up a microwave bit was something I'd read about the original lineup doing. And to see the new frontman doing that bit, when he wasn't born first time around... it was weird.

All the fifty-something white dudes in the crowd seemed to be into it. Songs like 'Damaged Goods' were stadium-level singalongs. Maybe it was the older crowd's energy that finally won me over.

One thing's for sure: forty years on, Entertainment is a great album.


November was a weird month. I felt like I didn't get much reading time, what with all the reading I had to do (like judging the Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition and being the external assessor for a creative writing student's manuscript).

But then I started listing books and it wasn't as meagre as I'd supposed. (Some I'm only partway through and will include in December's tally.)

Image result for how to be both cover"How to be Both by Ali Smith (novel, audiobook)

Loved it. I'm slowly working my way through Smith's books in a random way, and each one makes me think: why am I being so haphazard? Why don't I just devote myself to reading Ali Smith and only Ali Smith until there's nothing left?

The Coddling of the American Mind cover artHow to be both - I liked 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!

The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff (non-fiction, audiobook)

I had to hit pause on this book about halfway through in May. I finally returned in late October and made it to the end in November.

It was interesting to recognise its language (like "anti-fragile") being used in tweets by Jordan Petersen wannabes on Twitter. One of the overarching points of the book is that an "us versus them" mentality is a cognitive distortion... but it seems so far past its tipping point, can we ever "undistort" this way of thinking?

Image result for sisters mctiernan"The Sisters by Dervla McTiernan (novel, audiobook)

A crime novel in four hours? How might this work? 

Well, turns out you do everything you'd do in a book two or three times the length, but when you get to the first suspect who looks dead-to-rights like they're guilty you don't provide a twist, you just make them... guilty. 

Case closed. 

Book done. 

Image result for mary macpherson social media"

Social Media by Mary MacPherson (poetry, NZ)

Arch Kiwi poet of modern minutae.

No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani (non-fiction, audiobook)

I finished this book just before it was announced Boochani had been allowed to travel to NZ thanks to the mahi of folks like Amnesty International and Word Christchurch. Then it was announced Boochani would also do an event in Wellington -- and I was like, "I gotta be there," only I had parenting commitments that night.

NFBtM is the kinda book that enrages and frustrates by virtue of its written intent and lived experience (though I did find the translator's long sections before and after the main text tiresome) and makes you wanna write fifth form essays about Man's Inhumanity to Man.

It demonstrates the power of literature to pierce through the veneer of "I know about that from the news" to actually confronting what has happened, and is happening, in Australia's offshore detention centres (and other Western border enforcement industrial complexes) and inside the rotten heart of "The Lucky Country" itself.


The Irishman
I am not an Easy Man
Living with Yourself - Season 1