First, the reading. As before, anything with text is eligible, but the list is still pretty traditional--more novels than I would have guessed. The list is presented alphabetically.
- 1968. A captivating cultural history of the year change coalesced in cities across the world: New York, Mexico City, Prague, London. The most remarkable passage in it is a RKF's quote on the GDP: "Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans." The world, obviously, has changed again since then.
- Anna Karenina. The big book with which I started this year. A expanse of vision in the best tradition of the novel. The only comparable novel I read this year was Adam Bede.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8. The serial comic of the year in a year that was not great for comics (at least for me). I enjoyed JSA (not for the non-initiated) and the current New Krypton storyline too. In more ambitious comics, DMZ intrigued me, though it's nowhere near as fully realized as Y: The Last Man, which wrapped up this year.
- The Dew Breaker. Much better than I would expected. The fractured narrative reflects the trauma and instability of the characters' stories.
- fivethirtyeight.com. The best political horserace blog. It's stats-savvy analysis (the guy has a background in sabermatrics) got me through to election day.
- For Your Eyes Only. I read books by most of the stable of suspense writers I go back to: Graham Greene (Our Man in Havana and the excellent Tenth Man), Allan Furst (Red Gold), Simenon (the one Monsieur Hire is based on) Peter Abrahams (the one where the douchey pool guy goes "A million sounds right") among them. This real surprise was Fleming, a precise and even sensitive writer. There's a unexpectedly moving bit where Bond, a killer of man, meditates on his trigger finger.
- I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets Transmissions from the semiosphere that had been racing into outerspace since 1941. This book pulled the visionary art back to the present.
- The New American Poetry 1945-1960. An ongoing project.
- Of Human Bondage. While Adam Bede should take this spot, I have a nostalgic yearning for the days when a long book like this could just unspool--one day in the life of Philip Carey after another. A sequence of first sentences of chapters gives you the idea: "The day broke gray and dull. It was a week later. When they reached the house Mrs. Carey had died in--it was in a dreary,respectable street between Notting Hill Gate and High Street, Kensington--Emma led Philip into the drawing-room. Philip parted from Emma with tears, but the journey to Blackstable amused him, and, when they arrived, he was resigned and cheerful.Philip came gradually to know the people he was to live with, and byfragments of conversation, some of it not meant for his ears, learned a good deal both about himself and about his dead parents."
- "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" I single out this short story because it brief and compelling. Quite unexpectedly, Ursula K. LeGuin was the author of the year. I read six of her sf & fantasy books this year, and I discussed her work briefly in STL #76. So many sf writers of the 70s are fascinating--I realized after reading 1968 that they turned their speculative skills to contemplate the culture rupture of the time. Le Guin fascinates me because the framework of her speculation is the social sciences. "Omelas," for instance, is an extrapolation of the practice of tribal practice scape-goating, while her Earthsea books build a folkways of magic and just as Left Hand of Darkness invents an alternative sociology of sex.
Honorable Mention: Persistence of Vision by John Varley (another compelling 70s sf artifact); Poem of a Life (wish this had been published when I was working on my dissertation); Master and Margarita; (So unlike Tolstoy of the preceding generation); Writing is an aid to memory (I posted on this in STL #64). Elizabeth Willis's Turneresque (maybe I'll expand on this sooner.
The work of the Planet Money podcast, starting with its genesis on the This American Life "Giant Pool of Money" episode, should get special mention for making the economy not only comprehensible but fascinating.
On to music, but briefly. Like last year, I used play counts of music acquire in the last 400 days to determine what should be on here, then used my judgment to finalize it. I mix single tracks with albums and present them in no order whatsoever.
- "Bar Woman Blues" Jenny Lewis
- "Aly Walk With Me" Raveonettes
- "Bye Bye Bye" Plants and Animals
- "Dr. Carter" Lil Wayne
- Stay Positive The Hold Steady
- "Tiger Phone Card" and "Seeing Hands" Dengue Fever
- Jukebox Cat Power
- "Becky" Be Your Own Pet
- "I Know UR Girlfriend Hates Me" Annie
- "Swimming Pools" Thao
- She & Him Volume 1
- "Time to Pretend" MGMT
- For Emma, Forever Ago Bon Iver
- "Murder in the City" Avett Brothers
- The Stage Names Okkerville River