Sunday, 30 December 2007

what i read and what i saw

unlike the old site i don't keep the book diary here any more but i do write it down so, as it's that time of year here's the highs and lows.

reading wise i'm finishing on a bit of a high with Geert Mak's In Europe. It is not, as it has received some criticism for, a history book, more a travel journal based around the idea of a history of the twentieth century. it's at its best when it's him getting to talk to very old people about their experiences and reflecting on it but does lag a bit when it gets too historical - people should know the broad scope of this stuff. that said there are great wee details - the wspu had a bombing campaign pre-WWI. Don't quite know how that passed me by! but anyway

top three non fiction

Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett. yes, there's probably better histories of spain but i haven't read them this year and most of what i have read centres around catalunya or andalucia so i don't know super much about the subject. this reminded me of why i wanted to know more and why i really should go back and travel more

Persian Fire by Tom Holland There's many reasons why i didn't go to see 300 - too big, too stupid, too homoerotic - but mainly because i read this in the early part of the year and that was quite enough. prior to this you could've balanced my knowledge of things persian on the head of a pin but that's been well sorted out now. great topic, great narrative, every page was interesting. for some it might be surprising, yes there were empires and colonialism that didn't originate in europe. funny that.

You Must Like Cricket? by Saimya Bhattacharya. rightly this should be under sports books but that's just a category too many. basically this is about cricket, india, why people assume that all indians like cricket and what it is to be an indian who really does. up until recently, when the government did the dirty on non-european doctors in training, i worked with a lot of indian doctors. so much so that when i had to go back and work with the uk version i found it all rather odd. so reading this was like hanging out with those old workmates, male and female, something about the way he writes, a manner of expression that seems so familiar (and one of the reasons i read churumuri) and these days so absent. i liked this so much i nearly emailed him to tell him. a great, funny book even if you don't like cricket. and a sight more informative about india and pakistan than anything the bbc's provided recently

Honourable mentions to
Duende by Jason Webster which really should be up there but then it'd be a top five. spain again, this time about flamenco, guitar playing, gypsies, drugs and all manner of nonsense. even if it isn't all true it should be. brilliant
Down and out in Paris and London by George Orwell who was writing about crap jobs before douglas coupland had even been dreamt about. a must read for anyone who's ever worked in a proper kitchen.
Stone Voices by Neil Ascherson. mainly because i spend a lot of time in argyll around a lot of the sites his mum's friends discovered.

top three fiction

it has to be said i was toiling a bit for this as it's been a bit of a thin year for me for fiction but here they are

book of the year - The Rider by Tim Krabbe. yes, it's about cycling but, in the sense that literature should take you somewhere, if there's another book that gets you into the head of a cyclist i've yet to read it. nothing happens, there's just a guy on his bike, racing, very little intro and almost no ending. there's no end to the critical bollocks you could spout off about this book but i shan't. it doesn't need it.

The Goodbye Kiss by Massimo Carlotto. bored by fat american books (more to come later, oh yes) i happened upon this. a bad man does bad things and gets away with it. i don't normally like crime fiction but this did alright by me. like watching a black and white movie from the fifties. pity i can't read italian though as i think it's all that's in translation

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak which i got in a sale and never read for ages but when i did i was really into it. but not in the way i was into the the rider. it didn't make me think but what it did do was absorb me and credit to it for that

honourable mentions. there are none. the year has been characterised by being bored with fiction and i've read far too much at the expense of non-fiction in an effort, i think, to find something that's actually good that's been written in maybe the last fifty years. good effort then by steven milhauser but why bother reading more than one short story collection, there's ideas, a bit of language and then it's the same old same old. as for the rest. pardon me while i hit myself in the face with a kitchen tap rather than yet another piece of uk fiction written by guardian readers for guardian readers about either relationships and/or finding oneself. please god, never again

and while i'm at it. boys books from america. yes i'm sure your very big book does have a very direct relationship to your very small penis. but it does keep the draughts out. or i could hit myself in the head with it out of utter useless boredom. and no, you are not a university professor worried about tenure, a sports writer or someone who works in advertising, just someone who is boring me. is your name DON DELILLO? if so, please go away. thank god, i say, for susan sontag, who i read very, very slowly in order to counter the effects of all the testosterone. hope, in america, your name must be woman on this year's form. honestly, by september i started looking at books in terms of author gender and country of origin just so that i could avoid them

top films (that are actually good)

Joint Security Area. i'm not even going to attempt to write it in korean. anyway it's a film about borders, about their stupidity etc etc (insert your particular critical hobby horse here). it is brilliant. very different from the vengeance trilogy but with the same eye for the moral within the story. naturally it's getting remade in america. about the border between mexico and the us. i would rather gouge out my own eyes.....

lovers of the arctic circle. i think this is probably my favourite spanish language film. maybe it's the scandinavian connection. i'm not even going to tell you what it's about. just go and buy it.

la jetee. yes, it's old and yes, some might even argue it's not a film as such. but it's my blog and i say it is. splendid. and yet, despite all the internet what we get is the likes of this. which is funny (top stupid lyrics of the year) but not la jetee. marker is like a wake up call. get busy!

special mentions. gwyneth paltrow might be blander than a bland thing in real life but Proof, her and anthony hopkins in a film about maths, it's all good. and then her again with a pre-007 daniel craig in sylvia. about poetry. and she dies. cheery. hopkins is an autopilot in The World's Fastest Indian but i don't care. Similarly The New World survives the Colin Farrell effect but then i go to see a film called terence malick paints a fence. which some naysayers state is pretty much the same thing. slander, i say.

top films (that aren't good)

a category in which america, more or less, is without equal

blades of glory. funniest and most watched film of the year and, i think, one i've only watched sober once. has to be film of the year really. i make no apologies. and it does make a good double bill with talledaga nights. save me oprah winfrey

transformers. giant killer robots. what's not to like? sure it would've been cooler had it been all gundam and japanese but this makes up for it with its howling stupidity. and the ending is so toe curling it'll make you cry.

banlieue 13. just for the parkour if nothing else. and the plot. the banlieue is sealed off and in the grip of drug lords. corrupt politicians want to keep it that way. only our free jumping heroes can save the day. all muscle. zero brain. laugh out loud funny

special mentions (which are actually good so can't be categorised with the above)

little miss sunshine. 2nd funniest film of the year. and ample argument for why pageants are evil
stranger than fiction. will ferrell does metafiction!! well, yes he does and his blankness works well. good performances too by emma thompson and dustin hoffman. not as good as it could've been but still pretty good

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