10, 9, 8...

After the past few months of complete noneventness hereabouts, I have no right to expect anyone to care what I liked reading/viewing/hearing in 2005, but I do have the right to shout loudly in this empty hall of a blog and admire the echoes. Unfortunately, I can’t repeat last year’s list extravaganza, but you might still find something new here.

The Soundtrack of 2005

  1. Kate Bush, Aerial
  2. The Arcade Fire, Funeral
  3. Nouvelle Vague, Nouvelle Vague
  4. Elbow, Leaders of the Free World
  5. The Chemical Brothers, Push the Button
  6. Lemon Jelly, ’64-’95
  7. Röyksopp, The Understanding
  8. The Delgados, Universal Audio
  9. Bloc Party, Silent Alarm
  10. Mint Royale, See You in the Morning

No surprises here; I’ve actually kept up with my music coverage. I don’t know if these were the best releases of 2005 (some were releases of 2004), but they’re the ones that looped through my speakers and headphones all year. Aerial only dropped off my mp3 player last week, and only because I’ve memorized it. Electronic music continued to infiltrate my previously rockist listening habits, but Bloc Party and the Arcade Fire held up the guitar end. Grower of the year was the latest by the Chemical Bros, I’d say, while bringing up the rear were: Kaiser Chiefs, Employment; The New Pornographers, Twin Cinema; Beck, Guero; and Ben Folds, Songs for Silverman.

The Reading List of 2005

Given the number of books I’ve discussed or reviewed here over the years, it would have made sense for me to follow Ed into litblogging; but given the amount of lit I’ve read this year, it’s a good thing I didn’t. In the second half of the year I read hardly anything, until my long-haul flights to Oz; I stalled on The Confusion a couple of hundred pages in, and spent most of my time over the summer and autumn reading dissertation drafts.

There were a few exceptions. One was Pandora’s Handbag: Adventures in the Book World by Elizabeth Young, a British book reviewer and journalist who wasn’t particularly well-known even when she was alive, and now sadly isn’t. I picked it up for a pound on the strength of the intro, which has wise things to say to aspiring authors, and was intrigued by the way her character and tastes emerged from dozens of unconnected reviews. Evidence that criticism can transcend its subjects.

Vikram Seth’s 1986 epic poem about the Bay Area, The Golden Gate, sat on my bedside table for months; it’s a hard form to read quickly, but repays close attention. Often very funny, too.

Once again, my list features a Jonathan Coe novel; something about his writing really clicks with me. I read two of his early novels this year, both good (especially his first, The Accidental Woman), but the one I most enjoyed was his recreation of the not-so-rosy ’70s in The Rotters’ Club. I’m looking forward to reading the new sequel.

Neil Gaiman give a reading in Edinburgh a couple of months ago, and was so entertaining that I bought the book concerned to read on the plane. Anansi Boys has the right light touch for a tale of trickster gods and their anorakish brothers. Look out for the movie he scripted, too (Mirrormask, directed by Dave McKean); a big hit at the Edinburgh Film Festival, even if the studio can’t decide whether to distribute it properly.

My favourite holiday reading was Tony Martin’s Lolly Scramble, a collection of anecdotal reminiscences that’s like the best blog by a lanky New Zealand comedian you’ve never read. The chapter on lodgers is as good as John Birmingham at his best, and the one where Tony gets every pint of blood systematically drained from his body is a cast-iron classic.

Everything else on the list below I covered in the year’s single (single!) other books entry. Quicksilver had to rank highly, given how long I spent reading it, and it does have a great finish (which may be why I’ve taken a break on The Confusion). But my book of the year is one that many readers and critics will write off as gimmicky, but which is really much more.

  1. Tom Hodgkinson, How to be Idle
  2. Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver
  3. Ted L. Nancy, Letters from a Nut and its two sequels
  4. Tony Martin, Lolly Scramble
  5. Jeff Smith, Bone
  6. Elizabeth Young, Pandora’s Handbag
  7. Vikram Seth, The Golden Gate
  8. Jonathan Coe, The Rotters’ Club
  9. Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys
  10. Francis Spufford, Backroom Boys

Not quite top ten: Michael Frayn, Spies; Richard Preston, The Demon in the Freezer; Jonathan Coe, The Dwarves of Death and The Accidental Woman; Oliver James, They F*** You Up: How to Survive Family Life; James Woodford, The Wollemi Pine: The Incredible Discovery of a Living Fossil from the Age of the Dinosaurs.

The Viewing Schedule of 2005

As slack as I was with book reviewing, it’s nothing compared to the movies. Just when I’d caught up on the year to date, our viewing hit a quiet patch for a couple of months... and then we joined Lovefilm (the European equivalent of Netflix, not, as one friend wondered, a porn site). After that we went into movie-watching overdrive, and catching up on the reviewing became way too daunting.

It’s been good for catching up on viewing, though. Lots of foreign films, for a start. Hero wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, and Battle Royale was pretty silly, but the blind samurai Zatoichi was great. From the other side of the world, I enjoyed a couple of Dogme films: the recent Italian for Beginners, and especially the earlier (1998) Festen, which makes well-lit, over-scored “normal” dramas look cloying and false.

It’s also provided a chance to catch up on the blockbusters. Batman Begins was surprisingly good; so was The Bourne Identity (although it was hard not to think of Team America’s Mattt Daaaaamon). The Bourne Supremacy wasn’t as supreme, but its Moscow car chase was worth a watch. Best thriller of the year was The Constant Gardener—and no wonder, with the director of one of the best movies of the decade at the helm.

Back in the cinemas, I loved the Wallace & Gromit movie, which didn’t drop the ball passed to it (in slow motion, one frame every three days) by its half-hour predecessors. I also enjoyed Josh Whedon’s Serenity, after watching the Firefly DVDs earlier in the year when the glowing Amazon reviews piqued my curiosity. Even if it did feel like TV writ large, it was more fun than the year’s other SF blockbusters.

One underrated movie this year was Thumbsucker, an excellent portrait of the end of childhood. Better received was Broken Flowers, with Bill Murray’s second fine performance of the year. But I’ve left that off the list to make room for his other, which was one of my favourites of 2005. As for the favourite, there’s lebensraum for only one.

  1. Downfall
  2. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
  3. War of the Worlds
  4. Festen
  5. Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit
  6. The Constant Gardener
  7. Serenity
  8. House of Flying Daggers
  9. Sideways
  10. Thumbsucker

Also noteworthy: the documentaries The Fog of War and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room; Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; and others already mentioned. And it was a good year for TV on DVD: Family Guy, Father Ted, The New Statesman, Seinfeld, Northern Exposure, Firefly, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Doctor Who, The Mighty Boosh, We Can Be Heroes, and season three of The Micallef Pogram.

The Itinerary of 2005

Cities I visited this year:

  1. London, England
  2. Dunfermline, Scotland
  3. Glasgow, Scotland
  4. Prague, Czech Republic
  5. Nice, France
  6. Monaco
  7. Cannes, France
  8. Avignon, France
  9. Orange, France
  10. Aix-en-Provence, France
  11. Sydney, Australia
  12. Melbourne, Australia
  13. Canberra, Australia
  14. Gold Coast, Australia
  15. Brisbane, Australia
  16. Hobart, Australia

And will by the end of the year: New York, USA; Boston, USA. One last dash before the onslaught of 2006.

19 December 2005 · Music

I've read The Closed Circle now, which not only is as good as The Rotter's Club, it lifts the whole to a higher level; maybe 4 or 5 on the list. It really does close all the circles of the earlier book in a satisfying way.

Added by Rory on 23 December 2005.

And an addition to the movie list: finally saw King Kong (on Christmas Day in New York itself), and although it's half an hour too long and crams in too much, some of the scenes were so much fun (the dinosaurs tumbling downhill, for example) that it deserves a place in the top ten... somewhere.

Added by Rory on 30 December 2005.