My two 2015 bests, and a not-quite-the-end-of-the-year not-really-a-list thing

I’m not sure why there is always this flurry of best-of lists for the end of each year, and usually not even at the end of the actual year, thus simply being wrong, in all senses. Overall, my year wasn’t a good year, but that's another story. Suffice to say, I realised confirmed a few too many things about a few too many things. Nonetheless, the year, on a broad rather than exact scale, began and ended with two best things, for me. My last but one book, The Beautiful Anxiety, won a prize in late January. Well, I prize it anyway, plus they gave me money. It was the work of a number of years. And my most recent work, Breaking the Days, was published in late November. It was work of a different sort, a shorter term project, but it was a good thing. So me, myself and I raise my/our glass to these two, my little 2015 bests. And recognise it’s more betterer than what a lot of folks got this year. So, to myself I say, stop yr sobbing.

As for other things, specific things of interest/worth noting (as opposed to this weird ‘best’ thing), here’s a little round-up of some things I’ve read, seen or heard. Mind you, these aren’t specifically 2015 productions, mostly not in fact (I don’t think 2015 was a stellar year for a lot, but time may prove my judgment erroneous, and that’s perfectly fine).

It certainly wasn’t a good year for films. It happens like that. I used to review films for a living (a very modest living) so I recall other dire film years. These days I rarely go to cinemas. They seem to be full of people playing with their phones or chatting by phone or to their companions rather than looking at films, which is too distracting. But I did see a rash of movies in real cinemas recently and two of those stood out. Youth (La giovinezza) by Paolo Sorrentino (full of ideas so most people would call that pretentious – but I enjoyed it, even though it was a bit old blokey, though in an Italian way), and Sherpa by Jennifer Peedom, a very well-made doco. Other fillums I saw by my own (dimmed) homelight and enjoyed include a rash of Roy Andersson films – Songs From the Second Floor, You, the Living, and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, all worth your time – Interstellar, The Master, Starman (an old, old fave, re-watched). I’m know there are a few other good uns I’ve missed remembering (in that, did I see them this year, or last year?). I don’t watch TV but we watch a lot of box set dvds of TV series. One of many that we thoroughly enjoyed, and didn’t expect to, was Elementary. Jonny Lee Miller is a much better modern Sherlock than that Benedict Cumberbloke, though no-one surpasses Jeremy Brett as Holmes.

I don’t think it was a great music year also. Maybe because I don’t feel terribly in tune (haha) with most current popular, in any sense, music. Music I found or focused on this year (rather than the constant re-listen from the ever-cycling collection), included The Blue Notebooks, Max Richter; Elaenia, Floating Points; Sibelius’s 5th (how had I not taken real notice of that before now?); The Half Finished Heaven, Sinikka Langland (music and some songs based on Tranströmer’s poetry); In C, Adrian Utley’s Guitar Orchestra (yes, a terrif newish version of the old Terry Riley classic); Morning/Evening, Four Tet; Roman Roads IV-XI, Land Observations; Beneath Swooping Talons, Laura Cannell; Solo, Nils Frahm (a free and legal download, thanks to Mr Frahm); Hinterland, Lonelady; The Epic, Kamasi Washington. In 2015 in music, there were many passings but one I missed hearing about until recently was of Susumu Yokota, whose music I have a lot of in the collection. He was only 54 and apparently died after a long illness.

I stopped reading novels, any novels in any genre, late last year. Full stop. I threw one away before I finished it (which I’ve never done till now), and decided that so many of ‘em seemed forced, boring or overly hectic, self-important, desperate to be popular, by-the-numbers (and not just Creative Writing 101 by-the-numbers, though there’s a lot of that), etc, etc. Mostly, just plain annoying. This is despite pwizes, rave reviews, best-of lists for any year, ‘classic’ status, cult status or big sellingness. But, all that said, I am currently reading, belatedly (I bought it in hardback some years ago), 2666 by Bolaño. I’ve just finished, last night, the first part/book, and this could well be a best-of kinda deal, given I have a reasonable hope of finishing it before year’s end. Put it this way, I read this first 160 pages at a cracking pace, and that has to mean something. Also happily re-read Joyce’s ‘The Dead’, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear even to me, but there you go, I just did.

I’ve read a lot of non-fiction, of various kinds. The best of all that I read this year, in no specific order, included Just Kids by Patti Smith, Let’s Talk About Love by Carl Wilson (the expanded version), Live At the Apollo by Douglas Wolk, On Elizabeth Bishop by Colm Tóibín, most of Madness, Rack and Honey by Mary Ruefle (most of, as I’m still slowly working my way through it), Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America by Jonathon Gould, and A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor, plus various essays out of various books (I got a few online cheaply) by the great Carlo Ginzberg including my old go-to re-read, ‘Clues: Roots of an Evidential Paradigm’ from his book Myths, Emblems and Clues. There’s probably a bit of a theme in some of the above. I don’t think any of these books, apart from the Tóibín, were published this year. One mag published this year which I did thoroughly enjoy was Issue 60.1 of Westerly which included, among many good things, a terrific illustrated essay on Randolph Stow. By the way, and apropos Patti Smith, it was in reading her latest, the M Train memoir, (not yet finished, so not yet sure if it's on the 'list') that she reminded/prodded me about 2666, hence I dug it out ...

Of course, I read a lot of poetry, a lot of it being single poems or bunches of poems in books, anthologies and periodicals in print and online and, thus, too much to document, even the really terrific stuff (there was plenty non-terrific stuff as well, unsurprisingly). As for poetry books, a lot of my reading is re-reading, or catching up. But here’s a short list of poetry books that struck me, surprised me, worried at me, or interested and influenced me this year, again in no particular order at all, and some of them re-reads: Rain, Jon Woodward (from which I stole an idea/procedure which I further embellished); Awe, Dorothea Lasky; The Darling North, Anne Kennedy (who I met in March); The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Basho (newly purchased but old translation to read alongside another translation I’ve had for some years); New Collected Poems, WS Graham; The Night’s Live Changes, Tim Wright; Howling at the Moon, Hagiwara Sakutarō. And, even though it was more important as constant reading for me last year, Pasolini’s poems are sticking with me, and being re-read, this year as well, from two separate selections. This poetry list doesn’t take account of the poems and poets that always travel with me, nor the books I bought or acquired this year that are still unread (there are most likely significant works in that pile), nor any books published this year anywhere in the world that I may happily acquire and even read in my own good time, in a future year.


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