Monday, January 02, 2006

The year in review

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love lists—both making them and reading them. So some of my favourite reading comes this time of year as the incessant best- and worst-of lists emerge in the newspapers starting in the week or so before Christmas. Not that New Year’s tends to mean much to me—as I’ve stated here before, for me the new year starts the day after Labour Day. Also, I dislike New Year’s Eve as a holiday, and generally do my best to stay away from the greatest excesses of its revelry.


What’s funny this year is how little I am familiar with most of what’s being listed, especially in terms of best and worst films. If 2005 has resonance for me with regards to movies, it is probably the year in which I saw the fewest theatrical releases ever. Much of that has to do with the general lack of decent films that made it to London and St. John’s (often what I did go see was quite dreadful), but in the last few years I have found myself less and less inclined to go to the cinema anyway.

Also, a quick review of the G&M’s best books of the year drove home the cruel paradox of being an English professor—namely, that for someone whose job is largely to do with reading, I am utterly unfamiliar (for the most part) with this year’s publications. Ask me about anything between 1947-1963 and I can help you … but not so much anything that is still sitting on the shelves in hardcover.

So here is my highly subjective review of the year … a banner one for me, for obvious reasons, but which was so rife with disasters and tragedies that it makes me feel mildly guilty to feel good about it. Still, here were some of the highlights and lowlights from my limited perspective:

Best Book: Collapse, by Jared Diamond. Having picked up Guns, Germs and Steel and been entranced, I didn’t hesitate to buy Collapse while it was still in hardcover. Diamond is a brilliant thinker and writer, and presents his arguments in an admirably lucid fashion: asking the question of why some societies fail and others do not, he examines such examples as Easter Island, the Viking settlements in Greenland, and the Anasazi in the American southwest, and holds them up in comparison to our own current global political and environmental messes. He’s not pedantic, and he’s also not a doom and gloomer, offering possible fixes that are both pragmatic and doable. A highly recommended read.

Greatest Guilty Pleasure: Finally, after two years of deferring its publication, fantasy writer George R. R. Martin released A Feast for Crows, the fourth book of his Ice and Fire series … a series I have been following since 1996. For those who have also been reading it, you know what I’m talking about. For those curious to read it, I’d consider waiting until the series is done. The books are like crack, and the wait between installments is excruciating.

Most Addictive Television Show: Hands down, Lost. With my old stand-by The West Wing long past its best-before date and many shows I used to follow now on too late (you’d think they could do something about that hour-and-a-half time-shift out in NL, but no … with all the 10pm shows on at 11:30 out there, I just no longer have the stamina to follow the likes of Law & Order any more—thank god The Daily Show gets replayed every day at 5:00), Wednesday nights became the TV staple. Loving that Sayid. And how can you go wrong with a former hobbit as an erstwhile rock star and heroin addict?

Music Highlight(s): Again, not really a contest—unsurprisingly, the boys from Dublin are in the forefront. Seeing the Vertigo tour twice, first in Toronto and then in Montreal, and both times from the floors. Montreal was doubly good because of the opening act: The Arcade Fire, that endearing bunch of geeks who make some pretty great music and who got extensive kudos from Bono. Plus, Daniel Lanois playing along to “Bad” in the encore didn’t suck.

Most Aggravating Conservative Pundit: Wow, what a field to choose from this year. Pat Robertson’s double whammy of advocating Chavez’s assassination and then condemning Dover PA for turfing intelligent design (OK, he’s not exactly a pundit, but has earned a place on the list) was bad enough; Tucker Carlson’s characterization of Canada as the “retarded cousin” made his bow tie seem intelligent by comparison; but the winner this year has to go to Bill O’Reilly for his sustained campaign against the supposed “war on Christmas” in which he managed single-handedly to supplant “liberals” as the conservative boogeymen with “secular progressives.” He constructed an elaborate conspiracy theory in which the combined forces of secular progressives, the ACLU and corporate America were working in concert to destroy Christian America by replacing “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.” Now … I’m no expert on conspiracy theories—hardly having given the topic any thought at all, really—but that’s even weak compared to the idea that Martin Luther King and Elvis faked their deaths and are using U2 as a front to perpetrate their pernicious ideas of racial equality and political progressiveness (seriously, that exists).

Best Response to Stupid Conservative Punditry: Jon Stewart, who ridiculed O’Reilly’s paranoia by declaring that he hated Christmas and would not rest until families celebrated December 25 at “Osama’s homo-abortion pot-commie jizzporium.” Oh, Jon.

Best Film: Of the few I saw in the theatre, I think Jarhead is in the forefront—really not what the trailers would lead you to think, it is a very intense, well-written and –shot film that challenges our conceptions of war generally and Gulf War the First in particular. Coming a close second? March of the Penguins—how can animals manage to be that dignified and that absurd at the same time?

So much for the lists—happy 2006, everyone.


jd said...

I agree. Jared Diamond's Collapse is excellent. In terms of non fiction, I'd rank Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat up there as well for best book of 2005.

I enjoy your blog.

Lesley said...

Is it wrong that I am eagerly anticipating your "Holy Crap!" post when you return to Newfoundland and see the mountains of snow they received over the holidays? No? Ok. The only thing I can comment on in this post is the March of the Penguins statement. It really was a great movie.

mr. tomas ubik said...

terminal city took my top tv show, if you get a chance watch all 10 episodes. i guess it could also be movie since as technically its a mini series.

ill check out both Diamonds and Friedman's books.

thanks gentleman