A blog of acquiescent temper, miscellaneous opinions, and uncertain vote
Sunday, 31 January 2021
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve fallen deep into a Warhammer-shaped rabbit hole.
As a pre-teen and young teenager, I was obsessed with the Warhammer franchise. Although it started with D&D—I think I picked up the classic red box around the age of 11 or so—I eventually discovered Games Workshop’s grimmer, darker, and altogether more coherent take on a roleplaying universe. My hardback copy of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fell apart, it was so well-thumbed, and together with my younger brother I branched out into almost all of the games GW was churning out during that period: Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Blood Bowl, Dark Future, Warhammer 40K and probably a handful of others that I’ve forgotten about.
Alongside the growing collection of games and related paraphernalia was, of course, a plethora of lead and plastic miniatures. We would spend most weekends hunched over the dining table (carefully covered in a protective layer of newspaper), surrounded by pots of paint with evocative names like Goblin Green and Mithril Silver, squinting as we tried to apply the drybrushing or ink-wash techniques we had read about in the pages of White Dwarf magazine to the inch-high knight, orc or Space Marine held in our paint-stained fingers.
Eventually, as tends to happen, I moved on from the hobby, distracted by heavy metal music and girls among other things. The boxed games and collections of partly-painted figures made their way to who-knows-where, probably sold to slightly younger and still-enthusiastic schoolmates; I bought an electric guitar and a leather jacket. Time passed.
Then, earlier this year, I found myself reading about the Warhammer universe once more. I bought Total War Warhammer last year after reading positive reviews, and I had added the r/warhammer subreddit to my subscriptions as part of my New Year attempt to spend more time reading about ‘stuff that interests me’ instead of news and politics. Those led me to YouTube videos on army choice and painting techniques, which in turn led down research rabbit holes to discover more about what had happened in the last thirty years to the world I used to love. (tl;dr: it got blown up. All of it. GW seem to have gone scorched earth on the Old World that was home to my favourite games and stories; now the fantasy side of their universe takes place in eight “interconnected realms” powered by magic. Unsurprisingly this change, referred to in lore as the “End Times”, wasn’t hugely popular at the time, particularly as it retired several entire army types, rendering players’ existing collections irrelevant. Things have settled down a bit now though.)
During all of this reading and watching, I also added a couple of Warhammer-related games to my Steam wishlist, and coincidentally they both went on sale shortly after. Both Vermintide 2 (a 4-player co-op first-person-hack-and-slasher) and Blood Bowl 2 (a faithful recreation of the tabletop game, complete with dice rolls) turned out to be pretty enjoyable games. I also have Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine sitting in my library, courtesy of a free giveaway at some point in the past, which I plan to return to at some point.
Finally, still riding the nostalgia-driven high, I picked up a couple of “Warhammer Omnibus” books from eBay, namely Gotrek and Felix (which gathers together the first three books in the popular series) and The Rise of Nagash, which deals with vampires and the lord of the undead. The place names and references are comforting, transporting me back to a time when my imagination was full of plans for armies I would build or roleplaying scenarios I might create.
So, do I want to return to the hobby? Many of the people still active in wargaming are of my generation, and I’m certainly in a much better situation financially than I was as a twelve-year-old with a paper route. But I don’t think I want to take that step, at least not right now. For a start, it would be a massive investment to make—paints, inks, brushes, craft tools, miniatures, rulebooks, and all the rest—and while I enjoy learning how to play new games, I’m not sure I want to join the local gaming club to get beaten by pre-teens.
No, I think for now I’ll stick to the vicarious enjoyment of watching experts painting their collections or discussing the game, or even resurrecting poorly-painted models they find on eBay. Nowadays you can even watch people painting live on Twitch. It’s interesting how there seem to be a higher proportion of British YouTubers involved in the hobby than most other subjects I dip into on YouTube; it’s nice to watch videos narrated in a soft Midlands accent rather than a Californian drawl for a change.
Friday, 1 January 2021
As well as the round-up of the music, literature and films I consumed last year, this annual tradition—a January 1st post looking back at the previous year and asserting that I might actually achieve a handful of New Year’s resolutions—is now so ingrained into my yearly schedule that to skip it would be unthinkable, no matter how painful I may find the writing of it. But it’s been such a weird year that I also feel like I should make more of an effort to write down how I felt about it, just so that future me can remember what it was like to live through 2020.
2020 in review
I started the year off thinking that I had the shape of my days pretty much nailed down. Two days in Cambridge. Two days in Amsterdam. One day at home. A predictable routine—I knew the routes I would take every day, where I would eat, who I would see. But then, since mid-March, I’ve spent every day in the same room, at the same desk, during work hours and weekends. And, quite honestly, it’s been pretty great.
I’ve always been just as comfortable maintaining social bonds online as I am in-person, so switching to an entirely virtual relationship with my colleagues, friends and family sat perfectly fine with me. If anything it improved my work setup; rather than being the only one in the meeting that had to dial-in, we were all in the same boat for once. Plus the coffee machine is much closer to my desk now.
After thirteen years as a loyal Apple fanboy, 2020 was also the year I finally returned to the Windows fold, building my own gaming PC this summer. Although the releases of Microsoft Flight Simulator and Crusader Kings 3 were the primary impetus behind the switch, if I’m honest I’ve spent most of my time playing Rocket League recently … but it is nice knowing that I can play the latest games if I want to.
Aside from cancelling a long-planned family trip to New York in December, I think the worst thing about the year just gone has been a problem of my own making. Doomscrolling has mostly cropped up in news stories about funny new words being added to the dictionary, but in practice it’s no fun; I’ve wasted so much time this year checking and rechecking Twitter, Reddit and other news or social media sites, when really my own awareness of every little blip on the news radar means less than nothing in any context apart from to contribute to my own anxiety. Which leads me neatly to…
I’ve said it before—in fact I said it at this precise moment last year—but for 2021, I again plan to:
- Get off Twitter, and greatly cut down on my consumption of politics and news from other sources. In fact, this resolution might be better expressed as, “Be more intentional about what I consume online.” There are many things that make me happy to do, to watch, or to read about—I plan to deliberately spend more time with those hobbies, interests, and things I want to learn, and a lot less time on the stuff that just makes me anxious and stressed. News that matters will filter through. After the initial withdrawal, I don’t think I’ll miss Twitter.
Then, in addition to trying to curate an improvement to my mental health, I also want to address the physical and:
- Get back to regular exercising. I used to run 2-3 times a week, but this year I’ve been nursing a persistent heel pain that just doesn’t seem to want to go away. I tried cycling during the summer, with variable success (and some knee issues), but have done nothing since early November. It’s about time I figured out what I can do without incurring further injury.
Thursday, 31 December 2020
So, 2020, the longest year in history, is finally almost over, and it is once again time to put together my annual traditional blog post - now in its 14th year! - and look back over the books I read, the music I listened to, and the films I watched during the last twelve months.
One might have assumed that a year of enforced solitude would increase the amount of time spent reading, but since a large portion of my pre-pandemic downtime was spent in airports and hotels, I actually read a lot less than usual. If this home-based, travel-free existence is going to carry on into 2021, I should really make more of an effort to read at other times of the day than the half-hour before bed.
Anyway, here’s this year’s list, broken down as always into fiction, non-fiction, and comic books:
- A Little Hatred (Joe Abercrombie)
- Half of a Yellow Sun (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
- The Great and Secret Show (Clive Barker)
- Record of a Spaceborn Few (Becky Chambers)
- Die Trying (Lee Child)
- Lord Foul’s Bane (Stephen R. Donaldson)
- The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
- Axiom’s End (Lindsay Ellis)
- The Man Who Folded Himself (David Gerrold)
- Replay (Ken Grimwood)
- The Puppet Masters (Robert A. Heinlein)
- Double Star (Robert A. Heinlein)
- The Fifth Season (N.K. Jemisin)
- The Eye of the World (Robert Jordan)
- Dubliners (James Joyce)
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Rachel Joyce)
- A Brightness Long Ago (Guy Gavriel Kay)
- Perdido Street Station (China Miéville)
- Altered Carbon (Richard K. Morgan)
- The Starless Sea (Erin Morgenstern)
- Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng)
- Under a Glass Bell (Anaïs Nin)
- Swallowdale (Arthur Ransome)
- We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea (Arthur Ransome)
- The Picts and the Martyrs (Arthur Ransome)
- Under Milk Wood (Dylan Thomas)
- Dragons of Autumn Twilight (Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman)
- Beasts in Velvet (Jack Yeovil)
I think that the presence of so many old favourites, including many from my childhood, speaks to a greater-than-usual need for escapism in 2020. In between tales of time-travel and larking about on the river, though, I also managed to fit in some sci-fi and fantasy classics (the first Wheel of Time book disappointingly ripped off large chunks of Lord of the Rings, and I had to abandon Lord Foul’s Bane it was that bad) as well as some modern and not-so-modern literary fiction. Becky Chambers is reliably warm and comforting; Umberto Eco was boring; Lee Child was surprisingly readable for something I had dismissed as a mere airport thriller.
I think my favourite book of the year would have to be Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, a love story set during the Nigerian Civil War of the late ’60s. I loved her novel Americanah when I read it a few years ago; this one was just as beautifully written and compelling.
- I Read the News Today, Oh Boy (Paul Howard)
- Heavy: An American Memoir (Kiese Laymon)
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life (Mark Manson)
- Story (Robert McKee)
- Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics (Alan Moore)
- North Korea Journal (Michael Palin)
- Will (Will Self)
I re-read a couple of books on writing earlier in the year, but the remainder of the non-fiction I read had no particular theme. Biography, autobiography, travelogue, and self-help book, all were relatively forgettable; the best book I read in this category was easily Heavy, a memoir by American creative writing teacher Kiese Laymon about growing up fat and black in America’s deep south.
- Hate, Vol. 1: Hey, Buddy! (Peter Bagge)
- Hate, Vol. 2: Buddy the Dreamer (Peter Bagge)
- Hate, Vol. 3: Fun With Buddy + Lisa (Peter Bagge)
- Hate, Vol. 4: Buddy Go Home! (Peter Bagge)
- Hate, Vol. 5: Buddy’s Got Three Moms (Peter Bagge)
- Hate, Vol. 6: Buddy Bites the Bullet (Peter Bagge)
- Sweatshop (Peter Bagge)
- Promethea, Vol. 1 (Alan Moore)
- Promethea, Vol. 2 (Alan Moore)
- Promethea, Vol. 3 (Alan Moore)
As a lifelong Alan Moore fan, it was about time I finally got around to reading his Promethea series, but I found it uninspiring enough to give up after the first three books. Instead I returned to yet another favourite from my youth, and re-read every issue of Peter Bagge’s seminal underground comic, Hate.
It’s also been a weird year for music. Aside from the disruption to album release schedules, I find that my listening habits have been affected by spending 100% of my time at home. I’ve listened to a lot less newly released music, instead filling my days with old favourites from the 80s or 90s. More safety in nostalgia.
Top 10 artists in 2020
- Pearl Jam
- Phoebe Bridgers
- The Wildhearts
- Baby Chaos
- Andrew Lloyd Webber
- Jealous of the Birds
- The Beatles
- Bon Iver
- Soccer Mommy
Only five of my top ten most-listened-to artists released new albums this year; the rest are old favourites, which is almost certainly why Pearl Jam are at the top spot since they are the only band to straddle both of those categories in 2020. The rest of the top 20 were almost all early 90s rock and metal bands.
Top 10 albums in 2020
- Punisher - Phoebe Bridgers
- Ape Confronts Cosmos - Baby Chaos
- Peninsula - Jealous of the Birds
- color theory - Soccer Mommy
- The Main Thing - Real Estate
- Chess - Various Artists
- Making A Door Less Open - Car Seat Headrest
- Devotion - Margaret Glaspy
- The New Abnormal - The Strokes
- SAWAYAMA - Rina Sawayama
Apart from Chess (which only takes a couple of listens to make this list, with its 21 tracks), these albums were all released in 2020. I think Soccer Mommy’s latest was actually my favourite of the year, but I also loved the Pheobe Bridgers, Jealous of the Birds and Margaret Glaspy albums.
- Knives Out
- Guava Island
- Toy Story 4
- I’m Thinking of Ending Things
- Solo: A Star Wars Story
- Rambo: Last Blood
- How to Build a Girl
- Da 5 Bloods
- Lorena, Light-footed Woman
- I, Tonya
- Hail, Caesar!
- Sense and Sensibility
- Justice League
- A Quiet Place
- Punk Revolution NYC
- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
- The Last Black Man in San Francisco
- Dolemite Is My Name
- Marriage Story
- 2036 Origin Unknown
- The Irishman
- Jojo Rabbit
These are just the films that were new to me in 2020. Besides the ones in this list, my wife and I also started rewatching every James Bond film in order (and discovered they’re almost universally terrible in the 60s and 70s), and also held ourselves a brief Billy Wilder season back in March when we watched Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard back-to-back.
Of these new ones, though, some were terrible (Cats, Rambo: Last Blood, 2036 Origin Unknown), some were just disappointing (Guava Island, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Annihilation), but quite a few were great (Knives Out, Da 5 Bloods, A Quiet Place, Into the Spider-Verse, Dolemite Is My Name, Marriage Story, Booksmart, Chef, Jojo Rabbit). I’ve certainly watched fewer films this year than in previous years due to spending almost no time in hotels; however I have instead ended up watching more films with my wife and kids, which has been nice.
Favourite book: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Favourite album: color theory by Soccer Mommy
Favourite film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
If you’re at all interested in following along next year, you can find me on GoodReads, Last.fm, and Letterboxd.
Wednesday, 25 November 2020
Lately I’ve noticed that I seem to have less patience—or perhaps demand more frequent reward—when it comes to gaming experiences. Given the choice between a long, drawn-out session of a game like Crusader Kings 3 or Elite Dangerous, versus the much faster turnaround time of individual games of Rocket League and Apex Legends, I almost always find that I’m now going for that quick hit, even if I end up playing multiple five-minute-long games for an hour or two.
I also think I’m far less patient nowadays when it comes to the onboarding experience I expect from new games. If something hasn’t grabbed me within the first few minutes, I find that I’m often not willing to invest the time necessary to learn the complexities of gameplay, or progress beyond the tutorial or starter zone. Especially with a genre like MMOs, where vast amounts of gameplay are unavailable to new players, I know I’m making decisions on what I want to play based on very limited data.
I’m not sure what the root cause of this shift in what I want from gaming might be. I spent years playing EVE Online—the very definition of delayed reward when it comes to computer games—and prior to that invested years into World of Warcraft, so it’s not as if I’m unused to spending a long time working towards in-game goals.
Perhaps it’s the sheer volume of possibilities open to me now. What with the Epic Store and Amazon’s Twitch providing an endless stream of free games, subscription services like Xbox Game Pass, not to mention all of the regular freebies from Steam, GOG, Uplay, Origin, or whatever other launchers you might have installed, gamers are currently at the business end of a firehose of content. With a library of hundreds of unplayed titles, maybe it’s not surprising that my subconscious is unwilling to waste time on anything less than the most immediately rewarding experience?
Of course, it’s also possible that this is all simply a reaction to the current situation in which we find ourselves. It’s maybe not surprising that the anxiety and stress of living through a global pandemic (plus everything else going on in 2020) might manifest itself in all sorts of ways, including one’s gaming preferences … no matter how inconsequential that might seem in the broader scheme of things.
Tuesday, 25 August 2020
I’m starting to realise that quite a lot of the things that I thought I wanted to create are, in fact, rooted in nostalgia and not passion. Subjects that I was interested in years (if not decades) ago stubbornly remain on my bucket list, even though it should be clear to even the most casual observer that I have very little genuine interest in those subjects any more. Z80 assembler programming? D&D sourcebooks? Podcasts? They wouldn’t make any lists of my favourite things, if I’m being honest.
So when I look over my list of potential side-projects and consider which of them correlate with the actual areas I am still motivated to explore—the topics I actually demonstrate passion for—it’s the same old set of interests. Literary fiction. Film. Music. These are the artforms I seek out and enjoy the most, the ones I want to understand more deeply, embracing both theory and practice. And therefore, if I do truly want to dedicate spare time to “making stuff” instead of simple mindless consumption, it is those activities where I should invest my time and energy.
All of which is to say, in a roundabout way, that I think I’m going to start writing again.
Thursday, 9 April 2020
Over the last few weeks and months, I’ve been escaping off-world and getting back to my sci-fi television roots … thanks, in large part, to streaming giants Netflix and Amazon Prime.
It started with Battlestar Galactica.
I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. Movies like Star Wars, Blade Runner, and the Alien franchise are among my favourites, and I’ve been reading authors like Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein since I was a teenager. But I was never really fanatical about the genre’s many TV shows. Sure, I’ll watch an episode of Star Trek if it pops up while channel surfing, but I can’t say that I’ve ever watched an entire season; I couldn’t tell you the first thing about shows like Stargate or the other Star Trek spin-offs like Voyager or Deep Space Nine; and Doctor Who leaves me cold with its wobbly sets and staid plots.
But for some reason I decided to give the rebooted Battlestar Galactica a try. I remember as a child enjoying the original show in the late 70s, featuring the A-Team’s Dirk Benedict as the wise-cracking Starbuck, and the new version kept cropping up in online recommendations and best-of lists so much that I thought I should see what all the fuss was about. As it turns out, the fuss was justified; I really enjoyed the philosophy-and-religion-tinged plot as Apollo, Starbuck, Adama and the rest of the crew battled and then allied with the humanlike Cylons as they searched for their legendary homeworld of Earth. (I was even so impressed by Katee Sackhoff as a female Starbuck that I eagerly watched her new Netflix sci-fi show, Another Life, the day it launched. Unfortunately, it is decidedly not good. At all.)
After BSG, I sought out more. Star Trek Discovery came along at just the right time to reignite my love for that franchise (the fact that it features my favourite man-in-a-monster-suit, Doug Jones, didn’t hurt either), and then with Star Trek Picard on the horizon I finally went back and watched all of the pivotal episodes of both The Next Generation and Voyager, ready for the return of Picard, Seven-of-Nine, and the rest of the aging bridge crew in Amazon Prime’s new series.
Another rebooted series, Lost In Space, is the most recent that I’ve enjoyed on Netflix, but there are plenty more sitting in my queue. The Expanse and Altered Carbon both have excellent write-ups, so it’s a toss-up between the two which I’ll watch next - and then there’s season three of Discovery coming soon. And soon it will be 2021 - more Picard, more Lost In Space, plus who knows what is coming down the pipe next? It’s a great time to be a TV sci-fi fan … I’m glad I figured out I am one.
Saturday, 11 January 2020
So far in 2020, I’m happy to say, I’ve managed to stay away from Twitter, and I feel much less stressed as a result. But without that reliable time-suck I now find I need something else to fill those moments when you don’t feel like doing anything that’s actually productive, and so I’ve been spending a lot more time on both YouTube and Twitch in the last couple of weeks.
My YouTube subscriptions are becoming a pretty accurate cross-section of my interests. I’ve always watched channels on film or script analysis, like Every Frame a Painting or the excellent Notes from the Screenplay, but I’ve added more to that list recently such as the SFX-focused Corridor Crew, and Thomas Flight, who makes detailed analysis videos looking at various aspects of movie-making. I’m also kind of addicted to Screen Junkies’ Honest Trailers series.
On the gaming side, I follow a few experts on particular games that I’m playing (or have played in the past); right now that means PartyElite for his Total War videos, TheLazyPeon for general MMO news, and a couple of random World of Warcraft and Age of Empires II channels.
Then there’s TwoSetViolin (a couple of dorky violin pros making funny violin-themed reaction videos), theneedledrop (music reviews), Seth James DeMoor (running) and David Bennet Piano (more music analysis) among others. I spent years just browsing YouTube at random, and it’s really only in the last year or two that I’ve started actually subscribing to channels; I kind of wish I started doing it sooner, as their recommendation algorithm is pretty good at surfacing new things that I’m genuinely interested in watching.
While I have no real desire to ever be a streamer, I’ve finally started to actually watch other people stream on Twitch occasionally. While I find the big streamers like Asmongold to be abrasive and juvenile simply for the sake of growing an audience of teenaged boys (and a chatroom with fifty thousand people in it is so far beyond usable that it’s simply not funny), it’s actually quite relaxing to dig into the tail-end of the streamer lists and find someone streaming to just a handful of viewers. Genuine conversations with strangers over the internet seems so much more normal when you bond over a shared love for a game, rather than in the artificial social interaction of a site like Chat Roulette.
Wednesday, 1 January 2020
I wasn’t sure whether I’d even put up a New Year’s Resolutions post this year, after I nuked my old blog some time towards the beginning of 2019. That, plus the disavowing of all of my old ambitious creative projects (when I finally realised they weren’t actually what I wanted to do with my life) had me thinking I’d have nothing to say on January 1st.
But, since starting to blog again on this reworked site in November, I find that I do actually have a couple of things that you could consider to be resolutions for 2020, so I might as well post them in order to keep myself honest and continue the tradition (albeit a tradition that you can now only find via archive.org).
There are two things I want to accomplish this year (well, technically one to accomplish and one to avoid):
Get better at graphic design. As I wrote about recently, I feel like my lack of natural artistic ability is a hindrance in my professional life. While there isn’t actually a lot of graphic design work necessary in my day-to-day, I’d really like to fill that gap in my skillset with a better appreciation for layout, typography, colour choices, and so on, and the ability to execute the same. I’m going to enroll in a Coursera specialisation today. Maybe I’ll even start posting on Dribbble again, who knows.
Stay off Twitter. I spent six months away from Twitter before going back to the site in mid-2019, but since the UK election cycle the site has become simply unbearable once more. It’s no longer a place to keep up with what your friends, acquaintances, and favourite celebrities are up to; instead, the Twitter algorithm seems hell-bent on putting the most frustrating or upsetting content in front of you. However, I’ve realised that being aware of the anti-left, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-whatever offensive moron of the day really brings me nothing but anxiety. I can do nothing about it besides be annoyed at how many stupid people there are in the world, and so I’d really be better off without it. Truly newsworthy stories will filter up to the real world; from now on, the Twitter outrage generator can feed itself without my help.
Tuesday, 31 December 2019
Every year I like to post a summary of the various media I have consumed over the last twelve months, whether that be books, music, television or film. It’s a nice opportunity to remember what I liked or disliked, and to see which things stayed with me … or were instantly forgettable.
This is the first year that I started using Letterboxd for every film I watched; I think I only really started from the middle of the year, so there are probably some missing entries in early 2019. Next year will definitely be more complete.
I like to split up my reading list into fiction, non-fiction, and comics, mainly because it almost always surprises me how much non-fiction I read each year.
- Drunken Baker (Barney Farmer)
- Doomsday Book (Connie Willis)
- Tales of Ordinary Madness (Charles Bukowski)
- Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
- Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)
- Sailing to Sarantium (Guy Gavriel Kay)
- Lord Of Emperors (Guy Gavriel Kay)
- A Little Life (Hanya Yanagihara)
- The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (H.P. Lovecraft)
- Un Lun Dun (China Miéville)
- The Traitor (Seth Dickinson)
- The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (David Mitchell)
- Ellery Queen’s Awards: Tenth Series (Various)
- Postcards from the Edge (Carrie Fisher)
- The Paris Wife (Paula McLain)
- Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood)
- The Magus (John Fowles)
- The Girl in the Spider’s Web (David Lagercrantz)
- I, Partridge (Rob Gibbons)
- How to Stop Time (Matt Haig)
- Methuselah’s Children (Robert A. Heinlein)
- Genevieve Undead (Jack Yeovil)
- Drachenfels (Jack Yeovil)
I feel like I re-read more old favourites this year than I have in recent years, including some stories that I hadn’t read since I was a teenager (Drachenfels and The Magus, which were both as good as my memory said they would be). There were also some completely forgettable books—I don’t even remember reading the fourth Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book, it was that memorable—and some classics that were decidedly underwhelming (Blood Meridian in particular, although Mrs Dalloway was also more than a little pedestrian).
At the more positive end of the scale, Doomsday Book was excellent, if a little long; The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was well-constructed and meticulously researched, although I found the ending predictable; and A Little Life was heartbreaking and kept me up late at night, turning the pages in the hope of some relief for the tortured protagonist (hint: there wasn’t any).
- Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History (Kyle Newman et al)
- Once a Runner (John L. Parker Jr.)
- The Making of Swallows and Amazons (Sophie Neville)
- Leaves of Grass (Walt Whitman)
- How To Be Right in a World Gone Wrong (James O’Brien)
- Homicide: a Year on the Killing Streets (David Simon)
- Creativity, Inc. (Ed Catmull)
- The Basketball Diaries (Jim Carroll)
- Travels With Fortune: An African Adventure (Christina Dodwell)
- React Design Patterns and Best Practices (Michele Bertoli)
- A Walk In The Woods (Bill Bryson)
On the non-fiction side, I revisited another very old favourite, Christina Dodwell, whose travel and survival books I devoured as a teenager. Travels With Fortune, her first book, details the experiences that laid the groundwork for all those later works. I also finally got around to reading Leaves of Grass (which was totally different to what I was expecting) and David “The Wire” Simon’s riveting book detailing his time with Baltimore’s murder police.
- From Hell (Alan Moore)
- Buddy Buys A Dump (Peter Bagge)
Nothing of note here, just a couple of re-reads. I always seem to have the same problem with re-reading Alan Moore—it’s so mind-blowing the first time you read it that, by the time you return for a second time, your expectations are so high that it’s inevitably a let-down.
While I could easily just list my favourite albums released over the last year, I prefer to look back at my actual consumption, both new and old. Sometimes it reflects a stronger than usual roster of new artists and album releases; more often it just shows how long your favourite music and musicians stay with you.
Top 10 artists in 2019
- The Wildhearts
- Bon Iver
- Neil Diamond
- Led Zeppelin
- Billie Eilish
- Afghan Whigs
- Better Oblivion Community Center
- Tegan and Sara
- James Blake
The Wildhearts reclaim their top spot through a combination of a new album release and, well, being my favourite band of all time. Out of the rest of the list, only five (Bon Iver, Billie Eilish, Better Oblivion Community Center, Tegan and Sara, and James Blake) actually released a new album this year, and of those the latter two weren’t even that good, if I’m being honest. I’m not sure why Led Zep managed to chart so highly, either—probably because when I listen to them, it’s usually the epic twin album Remasters from beginning to end.
Top 10 albums in 2019
- WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? - Billie Eilish
- Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center
- i,i - Bon Iver
- In Search of the Miraculous - Desperate Journalist
- All My Heroes Are Cornballs - JPEGMAFIA
- Any Human Friend - Marika Hackman
- Renaissance Men - The Wildhearts
- HOMECOMING: THE LIVE ALBUM - Beyoncé
- Nowhere Now Here - Mono
- STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS - FEVER 333
Now this is more like it. All these albums came out in 2019; Billie Eilish probably edged it simply by being something that everyone in the family was happy to listen to (which is not something you could say about JPEGMAFIA or FEVER 333). I really liked the Better Oblivion Community Center, Desperate Journalist, Marika Hackman, and Mono albums; the Beyoncé Netflix show was amazing; and FEVER 333 would appear to be a worthy successor to RATM in the political rap-metal genre.
I’m not going to list every film I watched this year, but here are a few notable entries:
- The Favourite
- Alita: Battle Angel
- Bohemian Rhapsody
- Captain Marvel
- The Dirt
- Blade Runner 2049
- Phantom Thread
- Avengers: Endgame
- I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Any More
- Cloud Atlas
- Can You Ever Forgive Me?
- The Wife
- Wet Hot American Summer
- Spider-Man: Far From Home
- A Star Is Born
- Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood
- Midnight Express
- Stan & Ollie
- Brittany Runs a Marathon
- Welcome to Marwen
For all that it feels like we never get to go to the cinema any more, I actually saw quite a few new releases this year. The Favourite was probably the weirdest of those; Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood probably the most enjoyable, although Endgame was pretty good too. The rest are a combination of Netflix, Amazon Prime, or visits to Amsterdam’s CitizenM hotel, which boasts a great selection of free movies. It was there I saw Phantom Thread (disappointing, even as a huge fan of PT Anderson) and Can You Ever Forgive Me? (brilliant, understated black comedy).
Now that I’ve started tracking my filmgoing as well as music and reading habits, I suppose I could actually choose a favourite in each category to see out the year:
Favourite book: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Favourite album: Better Oblivion Community Center by Better Oblivion Community Center
Favourite film: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Monday, 23 December 2019
A couple of things I came across recently—a video about what it’s like to actually run at a 2-hour marathon pace, and the novel Once a Runner by John L Parker Jr—have given me cause to rethink my own attitude towards running.
For the last year or two, since recovering from a long injury that kept me off my feet (at least as far as running goes), I’ve not been running competitively. In the past, I would enter at least a couple of races per year—half-marathons usually, plus the occasional 10k and our local village charity race—but when I returned to regular running I decided that I would stop ‘training’, and instead stick to a simple routine where I didn’t need to care about my pace or mileage. During my new schedule of bi-weekly runs, I would constantly tell myself that “speed doesn’t matter” and “you’re not in a race” whenever my body would try to step up the effort. I tried hard not to fall into a pattern of trying to beat my own previous pace.
Lately, though, I’m starting to think that perhaps that desire, to find out just how fast you can go if you really try, is an unavoidable part of running, and I should just embrace that innate need to go faster and to be better. I know I want to run in the 2021 Amsterdam marathon, and I have a target time, so why not do what I can to help my body go faster? Hell, I’m already faster than I was ten years ago.
I know that I don’t want to go the whole hog, counting calories and obsessing over high-protein recipes, but I think taking some aspects of my chosen form of exercise a little more seriously might pay dividends.