Monday, December 26, 2011

2011 In Review

Personally, 2011 was an good year. I had all sorts of new experiences. Most of them were fun and those that weren't I at least found interesting and educational.

Top of my 2011 list had to be my trip to Ireland, with Jayne and our friends the Lizottes. It wasn't a relaxing trip but we saw a lot.  Since I'm picking superlatives, I would have to pick getting off the paved roads and exploring the Burren as my favorite activity. 
It felt like being on a different planet.  The fact that the rock were formed from the limestone sediment of the ocean floor 350 million years ago just made it that much cooler. I also learned a couple of new words: "grikes" and "clints". The "grikes" are the cracks between the rocks while the "clints" are the sections of rock.

I don't know what it says about me that on a green island, with all it's wonderful coastline and it's population of music loving, stout drinkers, I'd pick a lonely, gray terrain of rocks and scrub grass as my favorite place.   But I bet if you could stand there and feel the rough, sharp rock beneath your feet and see the expanse of clints and grikes you'd be smitten too.



In terms of the topics I most often write about in the blog: beer, movies and books, 2011 was a real mixed bag.

I didn't like a lot of movies in 2011.  I don't know if it's the movies or me but I've just not been as into movies lately.  More than ever it seems like movies today are all style and no substance.   They are just too pretty and slick.  When I watch a modern block-buster I feel like I'm sitting down to a meal prepared by a food photographer.  Everything looks delicious but when you actually start to eat you find the golden brown turkey was varnished in shellack and what looks like a balsamic drizzle over the veggies is actually motor oil.  I can't recall the last movie I watched where I was more impressed by the story than the visuals.

The indie movies I watched weren't that great either.  They've gotten so small  - no doubt from budgetary constraints.  But, the experience of watching them is almost claustrophobic.  Just a few nights ago,  I watched "The Trip" staring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.  It was a nice movie: very funny, great dialog and beautiful scenery too, but it still left me wanting from lack of a story.  There's got to be a middle ground between movies of people sitting around a table talking and giant robot-ninjas with lasers. 

In retrospect the best stories I saw this year were told on TV not on film: Justified, Community and Game of Thrones.  I'd include Son's of Anarchy too if I could just forget the Dues ex machina ending.


My purchase of an account for the Spotify music service had the biggest impact on my media consumption habits in 2011.   In case you don't know about Spotify,  it is a subscription service that provides access to nearly all the music in the world.  For about ten bucks a month you can listen to anything as much as you want.   I went from buying two to four CDs a month to buying only a single one since I opened my account.   Spotify could be the most disruptive service the industry has ever seen.  I'd love to be a fly on the wall in a meeting with the Apple iTune's folks.  They can't be happy.

Beyond the spending impact, it's also influenced the music I listen to.  Consider the following list of my favorite new artists that I've discovered since I joined Spotify:  Port O'Brien, Unbunny, Hala Strana, Phospoherescent, and Calexico.  Ever heard of any of them?  I hadn't before I joined Spotify either.  Because you can listen to anything the whole machine of popular music can be totally avoided.  It takes a little work sifting through music you don't like before you discover your personal gems, but the end results are certainly rewarding.  Even as I write this I'm listening to a band I've never listened to before: Megafaun.  They're pretty good too.


On the book front, I've been reading a lot but not very widely.  It's been almost a diet of pure fantasy.  The summer was dominated by a re-read of George R.R Martin's first four volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire in preparation for book five, A Dance with Dragons.  I don't re-read a lot but this was well worth the time.  The books only got better on a second read.

The novel I enjoyed reading the most in 2011 was "Jonathan Strange &  Mr Norrel" by Susanna Clarke.   It's the story of two English magicians who manage to bring back magic during the Napoleonic era.   Their machinations have a certain amount of success helping Wellington win the war but cause a host of other problems that it takes the novels full 800 pages to resolve.  Many people find it a slow read but I loved it.   It bridged the gap between pure fantasy and mainstream literature and was full of clever footnotes and dry wit.   

So that's my 2011 wrap up.  I'll see you in 2012.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This novel reminds me of the kind of art where a change in perspective reveals a darker more cynical work hidden in plain sight: think a friendly looking sculpture that casts a sinister shadow or a painting that when flipped is the evil opposite of the other orientation. It's more subtle here but there's a real miasma that drifts through this novel's pages. The stink, in this case, isn't coming from the characters or even the rather disturbing secret at the heart of the plot but rather from the lingering realization that this story isn't that far fetched and that there's a good chance everyone would just let it happen. This is the sort of book that makes me dislike people. Haunting.



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