Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The End of 2016 Wrap Up

So, here we are at the end of 2016. Finally. Jesus.
I’m about 20k words on the new book. It was stalled for a bit but a character from Tygers showed back up unexpectedly and the book took on a whole new life.  I’m excited for you guys to see it, but it’s going to be a while before it’s done, and even longer than that before it can be published. I’ve played with the idea of maybe serializing something in the future, though, via Amazon Createspace, maybe. Who knows.
So, being that we’re at the end of this year, that means it’s time to do the usual look back. The fact that I’m doing this big look back over the year on my birthday makes some of it even more maudlin. But, here we go:

We lost so many amazing artists. There’ll be plenty of people giving eulogies about them, so I won’t go into it here. Just know that the loss of Scott Weiland, Prince, and George Michael affected me deeply.
But nowhere near as deeply as the loss of Bowie. I did a whole entry on that subject but even that pales in comparison to what I actually feel. Of all the artists that have affected me in my life, Bowie is the single most important. The only other singer who has touched me as deeply is Jon Anderson from Yes. I’m almost afraid to even say that because it seems like death is listening.

And then there's the loss of Carrie Fisher, and I'm not even close to fucking ready to talk about what that means to me. 

I got through about 44 books this year. That seems to be about my pace these days.

Of those books, the ones that I gave 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads to were:

What we might call “classics”:
My Name is Asher Lev  Chaim Potok
The Quiet American  Graham Greene

Contemporary literary:
Here I Am Jonathan Safran Foer

Science Fiction
Illium  Dan Simmons

Trasngressive small-press works:
Down for Whatever Kris Kidd
Homo Superiors  L A Fields

Novi Sad  Jeff Jackson
Mira Corpa  Jeff Jackson
In Their Arms  Thomas Moore

Young Adult:
All American Boys  Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Gemina  Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Of them all, I would have to say that the biggest surprises came from the category of the small press transgressive LGBTQ works. I had already read Thomas Moore’s first novel, A Certain Kind of Light, and loved it. I was unprepared for the gut punch that was his second book. By the way, I would say all of this even if we weren’t on the same publishing imprint. He’s an extremely good writer. This year I also discovered Jeff Jackson’s work for the first time and fell in love with that, too.
But the biggest surprise out of all of them was Kris Kidd’s collection of poems. As I said in my review, I don’t read much poetry anymore…for a lot of reasons. I connected with Kris Kidd on Instagram when I first joined and decided to try out his collection because I liked his feed—his sense of humor and raw sexuality combined into an aesthetic that I really liked. I wasn’t ready for his poems, though. His precise control of tone and his brutal line edits left me speechless. If more poetry was like that, I’d start reading it, again.
I had picked up All-American Boys to cover the “multicultural/racial issues” portion of the YA Lit course I taught without really reading it ahead of time. It had high praise from sources I trust and that was enough for me. I quickly came to see how masterfully it was written, though. My students felt the same. Powerful work that seemed almost precisely timed to the way our world has devolved. I can’t recommend it enough.
Then there’s Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book. Something told me it was going to be a game changer when I pre-ordered it on Amazon, and that instinct was correct. I left a review on Goodreads so I won’t rehash it here, but this is a novel that I feel I’ll revisit in the future. I can’t say that for all of the ones I read, even the ones I like.

I bought quite a lot of music during 2016, as I tend to. Of all the albums that came out in 2016, here are the ones I purchased (and a quick rating):

Shape Shift with Me   Against Me!     4/5 stars
Invention of Knowledge  Anderson/Stolt   3/5 stars
The Madness of Many  Animals as Leaders    3.5/5 stars
PUSSY’S DEAD   Autolux    3/5 stars
Temper EP   Badflower   4/5 stars
Blackstar   David Bowie  5/5 stars (can one even rate a Bowie album, though?)
The Astonishing  Dream Theater  2.5/5 stars
Information   Eliot Sumner  5/5 stars
Beautiful Broken  Heart  3.5/5 stars
Post Pop Depression   Iggy Pop (and QotSA)  5/5 stars
Delirium   Lacuna Coil  3/5 stars
Not the Actual Events EP   Nine Inch Nails  4.5/5 stars
Sorceress   Opeth  4/5 stars
Sattelites in the Sky   Over the Effect 4/5 stars
Stranger to Stranger   Neil Simon  4.5/5 stars
Pure in the Plastic   Polyenso 2/5 stars
Renaissance   Polyphia  3/5 stars
Hollow Bones   Rival Sons  5/5 stars
Blue and Lonesome   The Rolling Stones  4.5/5 stars
RR7349  S U R V I V E  3/5 stars
Transmission   Starset  3/5 stars
Modern Primitive   Steve Vai  4/5 stars
57th and 9th    Sting  3/5 stars
Apricity   Syd Arthur    4/5 stars
Straight Outta Oz   Todrick Hall  5/5 stars
Outlier   Twelve Foot Ninja  4.5/5 stars
Rosetta   Vangelis 3.5/5 stars
Stay Away   Young and Heartless  4/5 stars
I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful,
yet so unaware of it                                                       The 1975  4/5 stars

The biggest surprise was Eliot Sumner. I knew on some vague level that Sting had kids, but I didn’t know any had gone into the business. Turns out 2 have, and Eliot is the better of the two. Information is a superb album, full of bleak soundscapes but also wonderful warmth at times. Sumner’s voice is…well, there’s no way to describe it. You just have to hear it. And I hope you will. This is a little album crafted to perfection and I wish more people would hear it. Second biggest surprise was Todrick Hall’s Straight Outta Oz. I don’t know why, but the mythology and stories of Oz never really meant a lot to me. The film I find actually rather boring, if I’m honest. But I know it crept into a lot of people’s lives as their narrative compass, so I try not to shit on it too much. Such is the case with Todrick Hall, who had been on my radar some, but for the most part I never connected to his work. Then I heard “Wrong Bitch” from Straight Outta Oz and became obsessed with the album. It is perfectly crafted, wonderfully performed, and has several layers of interpretation should you choose to go there. Do yourself a favor and pick it up. You won’t be sorry.
Rival Sons was a new discovery for me this year. They’ve been around for a long time, but I only just found them and I wish I had heard them earlier. This is what contemporary hard rock should sound like, and their latest album continues a trend of growth that they exhibit on each album (I immediately went back and purchased their entire back catalog). They are still growing, stretching, trying new types of arrangements without compromising the power of their music. Mike Miley is hands down one of the best rock drummers I have ever heard.
The biggest let down this year is a tie between Sting himself’s new one and Dream Theater’s new one. The idea for Sting, as he’s stated, is to always do what is unexpected. As he said, he hasn’t worked in the genre of straight ahead rock and roll in a long time, so the thinking behind the record was sound. The problem is the songs just aren’t…we’ll, they aren’t good. The few that I did like were the slower pieces that would have been more comfortable on Sacred Love than here. With Dream Theater’s newest concept album the problem is that they chose to work closer to the musical theater traditions of rock opera than the rock traditions and so there are so many songs which are simply characters talking to each other and advancing the plot. I prefer my rock operas more like Operation: Mindcrime, where the album consists of the major singing numbers. I’m sure this album is right up someone’s alley, but it just wasn’t what I was hoping for at all.

I saw quite a number of movies in 2016, as I tend to do. Here’s a list of the ones that came out this year that I saw in the theater and what I thought of them:

Ghostbusters   3/5 stars

Suicide Squad  2.5/5 stars
The Secret Life of Pets  1/5 stars
Star Trek Beyond  5/5 stars
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 4.5/5 stars
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice  3.5/5 stars
Central Intelligence  3/5 stars
Jason Bourne  2/5 stars
Now You See Me 2  2/5 stars
Deadpool  5/5 stars
X-Men: Apocalypse  3.5/5 stars
Captain America: Civil War  4.5/5 stars
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot  5/5 stars
Doctor Strange  4.5/5 stars
Keanu 4/5 stars
Hail, Caesar! 3/5 stars
War Dogs 3/5 stars
The Boss 3/5 stars
Midnight Special 3.5/5 stars
The 5th Wave 1/5 stars
Zoolander No. 2  2.5/5 stars
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 3/5 stars
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children  3/5 stars
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 3/5 stars
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping 3/5 stars
Hello, My Name is Doris 4/5 stars
Passengers  4.5/5 stars
Arrival 5/5 stars

As you can see, what gets me motivated to actually go and sit with other people is not exactly what you’d call high-brown material. Still, the fact that someone is willing to go out to a theater at all in this day and age is a sign of something, I think.
The two best films, the ones that stuck with me, were Deadpool and Arrival. Deadpool for many of the obvious reasons that people are talking about, but also because of this: I have never cared about the character at all. I read a lot of comic books (or, I should say, ‘have read’—this year I decided to stop collecting—that’s an entry all to itself) but there are lots of characters I just don’t care about. Wolverine is the number one most overrated character in my book, but Deadpool is a close second. This film gets 5/5 for me because it actually made me care about that character, and not just in a passing way. This portrayal actually captured my imagination in ways that the Marvel mainstream heroes just don’t. Arrival captured my attention for the same reason it captured everyone else’s—mood, beautiful cinematography, a powerful performance by the lead, and a twist that actually lands and doesn’t seem superficial (VERY hard to do these days).
The biggest disappointment, as you can see from the rating, was Secret Life of Pets. I know it was just intended to be a little kid’s film, but I’ve seen those kinds of films still have some substance to them. This one works out to be one long Kevin Hart routine (and thank god he’s in it, because nothing in the rest of the film is at all watchable).
The biggest surprise to me was Central Intelligence. Look, it’s not going to win any Oscars, but it could have been just some silly throwaway buddy comedy. Instead, there was an actual bit of character building when the subject of school bullying is very honestly addressed in the framework of a big action comedy. I appreciated the effort that must have taken in today’s market-driven movie business.

When it came to TV, I was just like everyone else—addicted to Stranger Things. It’s worth all the praise people heap on it.
But a few shows snuck up on me, and the biggest surprises were The Real O’Neals and Speechless. Though I love comedy (or, some might say, because I love comedy) the standard primetime sitcom doesn’t really appeal to me. I wasn’t a huge fan, but when I saw through the veil to the fact that The Big Bang Theory actually makes fun of those of us in the “nerd” community and isn’t actually a show about us, I really checked out. But then ABC did this interesting thing (especially interesting seeing as how they belong to Disney): family-oriented sitcoms about families that are dealing with the unique issues of 21st century America. Not just warmed-over All In The Family rehashes, but truly engaged with the world we actually live in. Black-ish, Fresh off the Boat, The Real O’Neals and Speechless are trying to do something very bold. Of those four, TROs and Speechless are the ones that speak to me, and they are killing it. I suggest giving them a watch.
And then there’s this little show called People of Earth on TBS. It’s about a reporter who goes to do a puff piece on a support group for UFO Experiencers and discovers that he has been abducted. I already love that premise, but then you see the genius performances of Ana Gasteyer and Wyatt Cenac. Go to your On Demand and watch this little gem—you won’t be sorry.
And then there’s Lady Dynamite. What can I possibly say about this Netflix original show that won’t sound like hyperbole? Nothing. It is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. First off, there is Maria Bamford, who is already a stunningly genius stand up comedy performer, but then you put her in a show which both is and isn’t about her life and both takes place as a tv show but is also a behind the scenes show and simultaneously a metaphor for her own journey through therapy? That doesn’t come close to doing it justice. Take some time and go see this show.
One last mention for TV and that’s this: I watch a TON of stand up comedy. It’s my favorite thing in the world. That means watching a lot of specials, and so far in 2016 there have been some truly amazing pieces released. Here are the 3 best of 2016:

Faces and Sounds   Pete Holmes
Make Happy    Bo Burnham
Talking for Clapping    Patton Oswalt

Of them the best is Bo Burnham’s. He simultaneously entertains but also skewers the audience for being entertained by the material he is presenting. It is meta and laugh out loud funny and gorgeous.

I’m not going to take any time to talk about the election other than to say this: The biggest disappointment was coming to understand that people just didn’t bother to see beyond the bullshit. They bought his lies and now we all have to pay for it. I had gotten comfortable for 8 years thinking of our country as relatively safe, and this election has proven that it isn’t. That’s a hard slap in the face.

So, with that, I close out the year saying, as always, thank you for your support. I hope you’re following me on the social media listed over there on the right. If not, stop by, hit subscribe. It’ll be a hoot and a half. If you picked up a copy of any of my novels this year, let me say thank you. I appreciate the support. If you wouldn’t mind, please take some time to do a review of it (even bad reviews are good for sales in a way) over on Amazon or Goodreads. I’d appreciate it.

See you in the New Year!

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