So here we are at the end of 2015. I wish I could say that it had been a better year, but at least it hasn't been disastrous. I hope that yours, dear reader, has been better. I gave a fairly successful writing workshop (my first ever, if you can believe that), I got a novel from first all the way through third draft, and I spread out into some fairly scary territory: social media *grin*.
Now that I'm on winter break, I'm working on getting the novel from 3rd to 4th draft and ready to start shopping around. There'll be news about that in the next blog update at the end of January, in the new year.
Being the end of this year, though, that means it's time to take a pause and look back by doing that thing everyone does even though we all say we hate it: lists!
All in, I read 71 books this year. Let me give you my top 5 list of books culled from all those that I gave 5 star ratings to on Goodreads...
Top 5 Books I Read This Year:
5. In The Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick
Even this long after finishing the book, I'm still thinking about what a genius move it was to use the one surviving cabin boy as a link to all the facts and figures. I know other books have done similar things, but Philbrick just nails it. The included material is what really knocks this book out of the park, though; charts, figures, and a healthy reminder that this kind of thing (and I won't spoil it for you if you haven't read the book or seen the film) went on a lot more than anyone likes to admit.
4. The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
I'm not trying to brag, but it isn't too often that someone can come up with a fact about or an approach to something comic book related that I'm not aware of. Lepore's way of thinking about the visual rhetoric of Wonder Woman, especially during the comic's early run, blew me away. Even though there are other books about Wonder Woman out there that are more complete in terms of their examination of the history of the writers since the comic's inception, none of them are as engaging or entertaining. There's a reason this book winds up on the NYTimes bestseller list when none of the others do. If you're interested in the history of the period between First and Second Wave feminism, or the history of early comics, this is the book you want. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
3. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State
by Glenn Greenwald
Not just a scary look into what has happened in the culture (and Intelligence culture) of the United States, but also a well-paced true-fact political thriller. Greenwald is a helluva writer, and this book is not just an assembly of facts and figures, but a page turner. More importantly, just seeing the documentary "Citizen4" (even as mindblowingly good as it is) does not give you the whole picture. Even if you normally don't like nonfic books, get this one--it's a damn good read.
2. Redshirts by John Scalzi
Look, I'm not kidding--This book is a masterwork, and you need to be reading it right now. Stop reading my blog and go get this book immediately. I've never seen meta-level-postmodernism handled this deftly or with this much charm. The Lt. Kerensky subplot alone is worth its own book, and that's just one of the intertwined stories.
1. Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey
If you've been around me for the last few months, then this is no surprise. At number one is the novel that I have actually had to stop myself from talking about with people because it makes me babble. That's how F*cking good it is. If I develop half the ability that SL has to write about sexuality and gender with respect and appreciation of difference while at the same time maintaining its mystery and eroticism (in other words, respect does not have to equal boring), then I will be a very good writer indeed. Get this book immediately.
But what about music? You may not know this, but I live in the playlists on my phone. I'm constantly buying new music or filling in holes in my collections of older artists. So, what would I say were the best 5 albums I bought in 2015?..
Top 5 Albums I Bought in 2015 (That Came Out In '15):
5. Adventure by Madeon
To me, pound for pound, you are not going to find a better EDM record on the market right now. Probably not until Daft Punk comes out with something new, in fact. Major keys, uplifting, powerful hooks, this record is a monster. Put it on at any party and I defy anyone there to turn their nose up at it. Mark my words, if this is what this kid can do on just his first full length, then we are in for quite a ride. "Zephyr" isn't just a stand out track for this album, it's a stand out track for the whole year.
4. Pretend by Seinabo Sey
I have no idea how "Pistols at Dawn" or "Hard Time" were not optioned for Bond films. When they announced that Ed Sheeran would be doing the "Spectre" theme rather than Seinabo, I won't lie, I lost a lot of interest in the film (and with good reason--his theme was terrible). It's been a long time since I have heard a singer this able to create tension with her voice. Get this record immediately.
3. Choose Your Weapon by Hiatus Kaiyote
What might have happened if some of the progressive rockers of the early 70s had listened to more soul music than classical? This record. The tunes are so catchy that you will be surprised when you look at the constructions of these songs and how insanely complex they are. This band should not exist, that's how crazy it is, and yet they do, and this record should be on repeat forever.
2. Pentatonix by Pentatonix
Just like certain novels, I've had to agree to stop talking about this record with people because I tend to just babble about how good it is. I think that, in this ear where all dance music seems to be hip-hop inflected and negative and full of overt sexual overtures (most of them pretty disgusting), it's incredible to find a record that doesn't have to do any of that. The songs are still just as hard hitting, dance-able, but in major keys and uplifting and powerful. I cannot recommend this record to you enough.
1. Hot Streak by The Winery Dogs
Of course at number one is this record. If you take two members of two of the bands that I have loved since I was a teenager (the drummer from Dream Theater and the bass player from "Eat 'Em and Smile"-era David Lee Roth band/bass player from Steve Vai's "Passion and Warfare") and put them in the same band together, I have no choice but to love it. Turns out, I like Richie Kotzen, too--he sounds like Chris Cornell used to in the early 2000s--I was surprised by that because he's been in some bands that I really didn't care much for in the past. Kotzen is a much better singer and guitar player than I ever gave him credit for, turns out. Bonkers level musicianship underpinning some of the most melodic and singable music I've heard in a long time. Is everyone going to like this record? No. But it's like someone went into my head, figured out what I think is the perfect sound, and then made this record. Aspirational as well as invigorating--I hope this band stays together (unlike most supergroups).
I'd list top 5 movies that I saw this year, but honestly you know what would rank number 1, and you know that "Ex Machina" would be on it, too, but everyone is already talking about that movie, so there's no need, and so the list would be mostly boring. I can say, though, that there were some real standout surprises that I can recommend to you:
Recommended movie 1: Jim Jarmusch's 2014 "Last Lovers Left Alive"
This movie caught me totally off guard. I had a bad bought of insomnia one evening and flipping channels I was transfixed by the gorgeous cinematography and the silence of the scene that was on. Turns out I was about halfway through the film, but I couldn't not watch the rest. Of course you know that I will watch anything with Tilda Swinton in it, but here she's better than I've ever seen her before. The chemistry between her and John Hurt in the few scenes they share is electric while at the same time being full of ennui. See this movie.
Recommended movie 2: Bill Concon's 2015 "Mr. Holmes"
A friend of mine caught this one and wanted to see it. To be honest, it had slipped completely under my radar, so I'm glad she found it and made me go. Utterly charming and with a bit of a surprise twist that I simply was not expecting from a film of this kind. McKellan is always masterful, but so much of the movie rests on him convincing us in one scene that he is the very picture of health and then the next that he is utterly broken and frail. Milo Parker turns in a fantastic performance as the housekeeper's son, too (quite a lot of the film rests on his young shoulders). An excellent film that didn't get nearly the attention it deserved from awards committees.
So, there you have it. Of course some are going to say "David Mitchell released a novel in 2015; where is that on your list?" others will say "Prince put out a record in 2015, why isn't that here?" I'll tell you, the decision process wasn't easy, but in the end I can only go with the feelings I was left with on first reading/hearing, and how I found myself talking about these books and records after my first listen (or after the thirtieth listen). Some of my favorites (like Mitchell and Satriani) turned in interesting work this year, but it just wasn't what knocked me for a loop. Nobody would have loved to have put them on this list more than me, trust me, but...
That's why blogs exist, though--if you dislike my list, then please take that as an invitation to go and make your own and put it out there in the world.
Of course, as I said, you can find me on Twitter and now on Instagram
I hope that your holidays brought you everything you hoped as well as some peace of mind.
Thank you, as always, for the support. It means a lot.
See you in the new year!