Sunday, December 31, 2023

Consumption Diary - September-December 2023

Four months. 

Dog dramas, kid conundrums, my own health hobblements (lingering costochondritis). 

A depressing election result and ever-more-depressing as the coalition of cut-backs moves into delivery (or de-delivery... livery?). 

But I am looking forward to making my best of 2023 lists, which means revisiting good stuff and wielding (imaginary) power. My sense is that it was a very good year for albums and post-prestige TV, but it will be slimmer pickin's on the reading front. 

Check back in early Jan (promises, promises) for the actual, official, lofty-but-also-wholesome-and-grounded, This Fluid Thrill 2023 awards.


Speaking of awards: best gig of the year was Black Belt Eagle Scout w/ Mount Eerie at the end of September. The official billing was BBES was supporting Mount Eerie, but BBES was who I was excited about and they didn't disappoint (despite being limited to a two piece due to the cost of gigging crisis). And then said two-piece formed the backing band for Mount Eerie (normally just Phil Elverum) and they rocked out way more than I expected.

Also, pour one out for Dive, just one more Dunedin venue to fall by the wayside.


Exit Stage Left: The Curious Afterlife of Pop Stars by Nick Duerden (non-fiction, audiobook)

Bodies: Life and Death in Music by Ian Winwood (non-fiction, audiobook)

This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan (novel, audiobook) - been on a bit of a music book kick lately.

The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1 by N. K. Jemisin (novel, audiobook)

Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention by Johann Hari (non-fiction, audiobook)

I put off reading Hari's previous book, Lost Connections, which was about depression, for almost two years, but when I did it caused a minor breakthrough in my own personal life. I noted the changes I made when I put Lost Connections in my top ten reads of 2020.

(Interestingly, I had forgotten Hari's book had any role in the decisions I made in 2020/21 until I went back and re-read the two posts linked to above.)

I did a similar thing with Hari's next book, Stolen Focus. It took be about a year to start listening to it, and then I had to stop after two chapters because it felt too close to the bone listening to this as an audiobook while doing dishes, cycling or some other activity that probably should be an opportunity for meditative reflection. About ten months later I returned to it, mainly because I plan on cancelling my Audible subscription (dirty ol' Amazon) and felt obliged.

Am I going to quit social media now? It's not like I'm massively online. But I do think I'll download Freedom app to cut off the internet for designated periods. 

So Late in the Day by Claire Keegan
(standalone short story, audiobook) - I loved Foster. I liked Small Things Like These. But So Late in the Day wasn't for me. It's a short story. Why is it a standalone book? It's not enough. It's too on the nose. It needs to be surrounded by sibling stories that complement and contrast and round off some of the nosey edges.

The Bell by Iris Murdock (novel, audiobook) - Loved it.

Jewish Space Lasers by Mike Rothschild (non-fiction, audiobook)

The Rachel Incident by Caroline O'Donoghue (novel, audiobook)

  • The Hard Way (10th Reacher novel) by Lee Child (novel, audiobook)

  • High Heat by Lee Child (standalone short story, audiobook) - After reading another Reacher novel, and falling out with Claire Keegan, I checked out a standalone Reacher short for comparison. Funnily enough, I have more vivid recollection of this story than The Hard Way.

  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (umm, audiobook) - sorry, I just can't get into the work of someone who signs off as Neil Gaiman, visionary.

  • Āria by Jessica Hinerangi (poetry, e-book)

  • Classic American Poetry by various authors (poetry, audiobook)

  • Dear Girls by Ali Wong (non-fiction, audiobook)

  • The Dawnhounds by Sascha Stronach (novel, audiobook)

  • Fungi of Aotearoa: A Curious Forager's Field Guide by Liv Sisson (non-fiction, physical book) 

  • My Christmas present to myself. The first few chapters felt repetitive, perhaps worsened by the fact I'd previously read many of the books Sisson uses for reference (Robin Wall Kimmerer, Melvyn Sheldrake, Michael Pollen, plus work on Hua Parakore). 

  • And when I got home after my trip to Queenstown, it had clearly been a wet week in Dunedin and my lawn was sprouting 'shrooms... though I couldn't find them using this field guide :( 

  • Might have to go back to those early chapters!!

  • Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut (novel, physical book)

  • My final read of the year was my first re-read (and one of only a couple of physical books). It was on the shelf at the house we rented in Queenstown between Xmas and New Years. I'd recently rediscovered the mini-essay I wrote for the Iowa City Writers Festival in 2013: The Vonnegut Effect: Entering the Potato Barn, when wanted to add it to my profile (LOL). So of course I dived back into the world of Rabo Karabekian.

  • The thing that stood out to me this time around was the pacing, specifically the way new characters are introduced throughout the novel. It's so measured. And there's no wasted characters (Sam Wu, Celeste, Fred Jones). It'd be cool to graph all of the character mentions, like Ngrams, and visualise way the supporting cast are rolled out...

  • FILM & TV

  • A Murder at the End of the World - I loved the OA, for all it's rough edges and over-reaches. A Murder at the End of the World was not it. Bad dialogue. Obvious big bad. 

  • Squid Game: The Challenge - Season 1

  • Bodies - Limited Series

  • Last Stop Larrimah

  • Taskmaster UK Season 16

  • Taskmaster Australia Season 1

  • Welcome to Wrexham Season 2

  • Alone Seasons 7-9

  • Stavros Halkias: Fat Rascal

  • T2 Trainspotting

  • Rudy

  • Music and Lyrics

  • The Lost City

  • Sport (basketball, rugby and cricket world cups, start of another NBA season: GO KINGS, and some NFL)


  • I'll be taking up a 3-week mini-residency at the Michael King Writers Centre in Auckland at the start of winter next year.

  • My review of Pip Adam's Audition was published in November. (Minor disappointment: they didn't use my suggested title: "Grow, Don't Tell").

  • In December, I took part in a Creative Impact Lab on Climate Change, hosted by the Otago Museum and funded by the Leonardo Institute/US Embassy. It runs through to February, so we'll see where it goes...

  • Oh, and the story the opens my debut (and thus far only) short story collection, 'Seeds', was included in the Penguin New Zealand Anthology: 50 stories for 50 years in Aotearoa. Must be time to corral a second story collection and give the anthologists some new options!


  • Thursday, August 31, 2023

    June, July, August 2023 consumption diary


    Maybe it's more appropriate to call this three-month update an emissions diary, as my family of four flew to Europe and back in June and July - perfectly timing our stay with family in Italy to coincide with the heatwave (what were we thinking?), then got a puppy (what the fuck were we thinking?).

    As I said in my last post, I rationalised the trip as it stacked business travel for my wife to the UK and Portugal with downtime in the the Algarve with our friends, then said family time in Northern Italy. My daughter (10) hadn't been overseas since she was 11 months old (coming back from our semester in Iowa) and my son (8) had never left the country. And we aren't planning on going anywhere else anytime soon, financial and environmental limitations being aligned in this respect.

    But I still felt fuckin' bad about it.

    And then we're over there and people are fainting in the heat and getting burns from the footpath and the next day it's hailing and ice floes are careening through Milan and people are spouting conspriacy talking points about the 15 minute city and not believing cows contribute to climate change until they see the research (fuckin' LOOK) and the there's fuckin' Dubai, where we spent a couple nights on the way back to break up the trip home, which is like Total Recall-style, massive infrastructure spend to support life and luxury in an inhospitable place, built on the back of the fossil fuels that (ruminant animals aside) have fucked the rest of us... And so I get back to my desk at the University of Otago as the Net Carbon Zero Programme Manager, trying to get our 30,000 tonnes of CO2-equivalent in 2022 (down from 49k pre-pandemic), down below 20,000 by the end of the decade, and keep these gross tracking down and down beyond 2030, while connecting with others so that what we're doing can have a ripple effect and maybe 10x our impact, or 100x, but whatever-x we do, others are probably going to take advantage and choose growth over justice, profit over planet, now over next. 

    And then I'm supposed to pick up by doctorate, looking at sustainability cultures within government organisations and how they response to the dictates of the Carbon Neutral Government Programme...

    And I think maybe writing a pissant short story isn't such a daft thing to do while Rome approaches melting point.

    And maybe as we approach melting point it's time to finally let the walls between booky-me and worky-me dissolve and coalesce and just do what feels right at the time.



    Cousins - Patricia Grace (novel, audiobook, NZ)

    Flux - Jinwoo Chong (novel, audiobook)

    A Thousand Ships - Natalie Haynes (novel, audiobook)

    Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You - Lucinda Williams (memoir, audiobook)

    Getting Lost - Annie Ernaux (memoir, audiobook)

    Everything is Beautiful & Everything Hurts - Josie Shapiro (novel, audiobook, NZ)

    Golden Days - Caroline Barron (novel, audiobook, NZ)

    Lioness - Emily Perkins (novel, audiobook, NZ)

    Nothing to See - Pip Adam (novel, ebook, NZ)

    Audition - Pip Adam (novel, physical book, NZ)

    Poor People with Money - Dominic Hoey (novel, audiobook, NZ)

    Sellout: The major-label feeding frenzy that swept punk, emo, and hardcore 1994-2007 - Dan Ozzi non-fiction, audiobook) - the rightful heir to Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, which was a foundational book for the failed novel I wrote during my MA in Creative Writing about an indie band that all individually want/need to become famous but can't admit it to each other and thus must connive their way to infamy behind each others backs... This book slots in between the pre-Grunge alternative scene of Azerrad's book and the late-90s/early00's slacker indie (think Pavement) of my manuscript (written in 2006). I can't say Ozzi's scene is my favourite musically speaking (At the Drive-in, Jimmy Eat World and Green Day were the only bands that get full chapters I've ever had much time for), but it's a great book.


    Film & TV

    The Bear - Season 2 - sometimes who and how you watch a show has a big influence over how you react to it. Season 1 I watched with my wife who really dislikes shouty shows. Season 1 was A VERY SHOUTY SHOW. (She also dislikes ranty books, an example she'd give is Phillip Roth). So I watched Season 2 myself (sometimes on the TV while she was doing a puzzle, sometimes on my phone in bed while we took turns sleeping downstairs in the first fortnight of having the puppy and needing to be handy if it needed to pee in the night). I was swept up in the feast of the seven fishes (ep.6). I cried at the end of Richie's episode (#7). I listened to The Watch podcast's 3-part breakdown of the series as I made it through each chunk, then their interview with co-showrunner Christopher Storer, who spoke about how Season 2 needed to be lighter (incl. visually) and less shouty than Season 1. I communed with the content. I loved it. I might go back and rewatch Season 1 then get my wife to join me next time through Season 2 (maybe closer to Season 3, whenever that may drop).

    Colin from Accounts - Season 1

    Black Mirror - Season 6

    Alone - Seasons 7,8, 9 (all those available on TVNZ+, though I just noticed Season 5 is on Netflix...) - the TV version of whale song or ambient rainfall while I make the kids' lunches in the mornings

    Quarterback - Season 1

    Muscles & Mayhem: American Gladiators - Season 1

    The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin Keystone Collection and Chaplin (biopic starring Robert Downey Jr) - there was a Chaplin collection on Emirates in-flight entertainment

    Inside Man

    John Wick 4


    Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

    David Brent: Life on the Road

    The Brothers Grimsby (abandoned midway)

    Champions (Woody Harrelson bball coach flick)

    Taskmaster NZ - Season 4 (eps 1-4 so far)

    The History of the Minnestota Vikings (Dorktown) - eps 1-5


    Monday, June 5, 2023

    May consumption diary


    So I heard 'Give Me Back My Man' for the first time in May 2023. The B-52's had always seemed a novelty act to me. 'Love Shack' being trashed in the Fat Ladies Arms when I was 18 probably didn't help. But holy hecka, this song. It's like the sort of thing I'd go crazy over if you said it was the Bush Tetras or something similarly obscure. But the B-52's?

    Blink 182 was wrong. I guess finding out bands you'd dismissed your whole life are actually amazing is growing up.


    Boxer by Ryan Pinkard (non-fiction, physical book, 2022)

    I love Bloomsbury's 33 1/3 series. I pitched to write the book on Monster Magnet's Powertrip back in 2018, but didn't make the cut. Hard to know whether it was their view about the potential audience for any book about Monster Magnet, or their view about the version of the book I pitched (with two sample chapters), or both. 

    Boxer is one of my favourite albums. I trashed it during my year of a million words (2008), when I wrote most of my first book, A Man Melting, and book and album have become entwined since then. Pinkard's book is a pretty straight-forward account. There's one intrusion of the "I" voice in a footnote during the book, and an I-forward epilogue... I guess I still prefer these pocket-sized books to be more than biographies of an album thanks to the challenge of having less words to play with.

    As another aside, it did make me feel bad for falling out of live with The National after High Violet. The reason Boxer was so important to me in 2008 was because it was such good writing music, and I was writing a lot. The album was a grower. While I'm probably still right that The National haven't gone far enough into new territory in the last 15 years, I haven't listened to new albums 5, 6, 7, 8 times in close succession. It doesn't help they got super popular and it kinda feels too true-to-label, normcore, beardy dad to like The National... I always think of the kid in the Seattle grunge doco, Hype, who has cotton buds (or cigarettes?) stuck up his nose and bemoans everyone is starting to like the bands he liked so now he needs to find something else.

    Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (novel, audiobook, US, 2001)

    Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace (short fiction, audiobook, US, 1999)

    Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility - Edited by Rebecca Solnit & Thelma Young Lutunatabua (non-fiction, audiobook and ebook, 2023)

    I'm a Fan by Sheena Patel (novel, audiobook, UK, 2022) - I was not a fan.

    M Train by Patti Smith (non-fiction, audiobook, US, 2015)

    Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser (novel, audiobook, US, 1997)

    To read Millhauser is to flirt with fables and the fantastic, but never quite cross over. It's fascinating. I think I prefer his shorter works, where you spend more time - proportionately - on the knife's edge.


    The nuclear family is going to Europe in three weeks. We're trip-stacking (wife is going for a conference in UK and site visit for work in Portugal; we're meeting friends from Germany in the Algarve who we haven't seen in person since our co-honeymoon in NZ; then taking the kids to meet their cousins in Italy and connect with that part of their whakapapa)... but it still feels WRONG. Like, our household carbon will be about 4x higher this year than last year because of this trip. And it's insanely expensive. Like, double what it might have been five years ago.

    The cognitive dissonance is worse than normal since I just audited an Australiasian version of the Carbon Literacy Trust's carbon literacy training, AND had to do an exercise on household carbon footprints for my DBA.

    But it does provide a nice break between finishing up the last of my papers for my DBA and going full thesis (or pulling the pin if I can't face my own research project when I get back).

    The challenge is the opportunity cost of doing another 2 years on my doctorate is writing any more fiction.

    I've toyed with ways to combine the two (sci-fi futuring workshops... deconstructing the lone hero narrative... using cathedral thinking to drive a story...) but it feels like taking a baby elephant to calf club day.

    I have three novella (or long short story or short novel) projects I want to finish (the short novel I wrote last year that centres around the COVID mandate protests at parliament, but continues forward in time multiple years), a story about climate refugees reshaping life in Māori Hill for the better (a kind of reverse prepper manifesto), and something that I might publish under a pseudonym so better not say much more about it (coded message for future sleuths: books read this month and last month are part of the inspo, but it's an idea I've had for years).

    FILM & TV

    Woman at War

    Bo Burnham: Inside and Inside Outtakes - couldn't get past 10 mins when it first came out, perhaps because it was "too soon", but genuinely very good. 

    Succession - Season 4

    Avatar - rewatched, this time with kids. Best parts: all the things that made sense on big screen 3D but not so much streaming on Disney+

    I think you should leave - Season 3 - I gobble up each new season in 90 mins then wait 18 months of more, tided over only by the NBA x ITYSL memes on Twitter

    The Pez Outlaw

    Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

    Ugly Delicious - Season 1

    The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker

    White Men Can't Jump (2022) - turrrible. 

    The Gone - Season 1 - turrrible title, decent Kiwi-Irish crime noir

    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)

    FILM & TV

    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).

    FILM & TV

    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 2022, down from 90 in 2021, but the same total as what I read in 2020. 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.