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...
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:
I hear many say “2019 was the year when the public woke up to the climate crisis”.— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) December 23, 2019
This is a misconception.
A small but rapidly growing number of people have started to wake up to the climate crisis.
This has only just begun. We’re still only scratching the surface.
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.
I hope they're right. I doubt it.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
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?
FILM & TV
Watchmen – Season 1
The Leftovers – Season 1
The Movies that Made Us - Season 1
The Mandalorian – Season 1
Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse
The Hitman's Bodyguard