2016 was a curious year. Politics ate itself and the internet took over all discourse. But personally, it was pretty good. I published two books, one a collection of short stories and one playscript. I wrote this blog every week, made a website and got in the habit of producing things regularly. I went to Skye for a long week and went to loads of gigs. It’s odd having this dichotomy between the terrible news of politics and the quite good personal life.
The year end is a natural time to reflect, so following the lead of everyone else with a blog, I thought I’d take the opportunity to reflect on some of my personal cultural highlights.
I read 46 books this year, which is pretty good for me. Many were graphic novels and short texts, so the list looks bigger than it is. I use Goodreads to track what I have read and sometimes write short reviews- why not follow me? These are the best things I have I read this year:
This was a tough choice. Whilst The Shock Doctrine is still relevant to the modern world today as well as being elegantly written and packed with detail, I’m going to have to go with So You’ve been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. This is an investigation into the after effects of being shamed on the internet and how witch hunts can lead to the devastation of lives. It’s also a spectacular plea for empathy, which the internet consistently removes. More than any other book I have read this year, this book has informed my thinking on politics and on day to day life.
Also recommended: Animal by Sara Pascoe
This was a little harder. I tend to read fiction for escape, reading a lot of science fiction. The book that had the greatest impact on me was The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis de Bernières. It’s funny and tragic in equal measures, telling the story of a fictional South American country and the civil war that erupts. It does not flinch from showing the horrors of living under a military dictatorship. It’s brutal and unfair in parts, witty in others, with various unique characters and different narrative strands that weave in and out of each other. It’s an incredibly powerful read and highly recommended. I have the other parts of the trilogy and intend to read them soon.
Also recommended: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell and Tenth of December by George Saunders
Best graphic novel
It’s got to be The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. I almost put this in the best fiction category. It’s that good. A struggling sculptor named David Smith gets powers from death to create whatever he likes with any material. The art is fantastic, the story is gripping and incredibly moving. I picked it up on a whim from the library but would recommend it to anyone, even if you don’t usually like graphic novels.
Also recommended: The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil By Stephen Collins and Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean.
Something about the world collapsing in on itself like a house of cards made me want to retreat to the solace and comfort of music. There was so much good stuff around this year. It has been a spectacular year for albums and music.There was Savages with Adore Life, starting off the year with fury and beauty. Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, was a genre confounding dark jazz masterpiece. Radiohead, one of my favourite bands, released A Moon Shaped Pool, an excellent album filled with strange noises and wonderful instrumentation.
My favourite albums of the year are about as far apart in tone and music style as it’s possible to be. They are Nick Cave And the Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree, and the Avalanches’ Wildflower. Skeleton Tree is a dark brooding masterpiece that takes you to the depths of Nick Cave’s grief. The instrumentation is sparse, but beautifully deployed. Distant Skies is devastatingly sad. The more I listen to this album, the more intense I find it. I wrote about it at the end of October, saying:
This is not background music. If someone is pouring their heart out to you, it feels rude not to give it your full attention
It’s an intense culmination of recent Bad Seeds albums, drawing on the stripped down approach that made Push the Sky Away so fantastic, but with a broken, dangerous undercurrent. It’s music to listen to when the world is all going wrong
Wildflower, on the other hand, is a ridiculously fun party album. No one expected another Avalanches album, especially as their previous LP, Since I Left You, was released in 2000. It was well worth the wait. Mostly made up of samples from other records, it’s an album that flows together to create a blissful state, where nothing is wrong. I’ve listened to it more than any other album this year. It’s so fun, perfect for escape. It’s tied with Skeleton Tree as my album of the year, as they both offer such a different emotional state.
I didn’t see too many films this year. I find it hard to pick a favourite, mostly because I haven’t kept track of what I’ve seen. Captain Fantastic was a charming film with excellent directing and performances. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story completely bypassed all my critical faculties and left me with a huge smile on my face. Next year I will try to keep better records.
Probably the best thing I experienced this year was Counting Sheep by The Lemon Bucket Orkestra and Aurora Nova at the Edinburgh Fringe. A stunning immersive experience that put you on the front line of the revolution, this was theatre at it’s finest. It was intensely political but fun and full of music and dancing. Afterwards, Mel and I wandered out into the streets in a daze, amazed at what we had just witnessed and been a part of. One of my highlights of 2016 for certain.
I’m excited at what I’ve done so far this year. I feel I have a solid platform to build and hopefully do more creative stuff. I’m planning to read a few longer books this year, probably starting with Alan Moore’s Jerusalem. I want to take my time over books this year, not rush through to get the numbers up. I am currently working on a book of short stories, which are going to be more science fiction inspired. One of the stories has got a bit long, so might be a novella or (gulp) a novel. We shall see. Whatever happens, I’m enjoying writing regularly and producing new work.
I’d be interested to hear your highlights of 2016 and plans for next year. May it be a peaceful and prosperous one.
Top image was shot on the Isle of Skye. You can see it without filters here