• Some of my favourite things… in 2011

    08 January 2012

    Although I included a quick round-up of work-related highlights from 2011 in the January issue of the Shanville Monthly, I didn't talk about any of my cultural highlights of the year. So here they are!

    First up, naturally, must be books! I read over 20 books last year (at my peak, many years ago, I used to read 100 a year, but these days, with all the writing and editing I do, I'm happy enough if I break the 20 mark). I enjoyed the last coupld od Steig Larsson books a lot, as well as Stephen King's time-travelleing 11.22.63. But my favourite book of the year was actually a really old one -- Crime And Punishment. I read Notes from the Underground a long time ago and didn't like it, so I'd steered clear of the Russian classics over the years. But I read War And Peace a while back and loved it, so I thought I'd give C&P a try as well, and I thought this one was great too. Yes, it's a long, demanding read, but it's far more accessible than I thought it would be, and a real page-turning -- I'd often plan to stop at the end of a chapter, then have to read on to find out what happened next! You can see every book that I've read since my teens, along with my mark for it, over on Goodreads by clicking here.

    I didn't read as many comics and graphic novels in 2011 as I meant to. One which I did, and which impressed me far more than I thought it would, was Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot. I didn't think a book about the history of Sunderland would appeal to me much. I was wrong!

    I saw lots of really good films in 2011, such as The Fighter, How Much Does Your Building Weight Mr Foster? (a fascinating insight into the world of one of our leading architects), We Need To Talk About Kevin (one of the most chilling films I've ever seen), Garage and The Secret of Kells (two strangely sweet, idiosyncractic Irish movies), Midnight In Paris (a delightful return to top form by Woody Allen), Gates of Heaven (an old documentary about pet cemeteries), Waste Land (another doc, this time about a Brazilian landfill site and the people who work there), Black Swan and Up (it actually might have been 2010 when I saw those -- I'm not sure!).  But the standout film for me was The Secret In Their Eyes, a twisting, fascinating thriller that excited and stimulated me like no film has in a long time. You can find my marks for all the films I watch over on IMDB by clicking here.

    On the TV front, I've been catching up with several shows over the last twelve months (I'm usually quite far behind when it comes to TV shows). I'm loving House and The Wire. Dr Who is still loads of fun. I thought the short-lived and deliciously demented Psychoville series was criminally under-appreciated. The Frozen Planet was stunning, while Downton Abbey was enjoyably high-class tosh (really enjoyed the first season, but felt it's got overly melodramatic since then,) The new episode of Sherlock was great, stylish fun. But the show I most enjoyed was the second series of The Kingdom, a crazy show about a hospital made by Lars Von Trier in Denmark in the 1990s. I saw the first season a long time ago, but the second was really hard to track down. Worth the effort though -- TV at its weirdest, darkest best!

    Musically, I listened to a lot of good albums in 2011, including the new one by Kasabian, the debut albums by Grinderman and Martha Wainwright, Fred's new album, a couple of Tunng albums, and David Byrne's double CD about Imelda Marcos. But my favourite was probably The Suburbs by Arcade Fire.

    Art-wise, I loved the Van Gogh exhibition in Rome that I went to last January. I visited the fabulous Yorkshire Sculpture Park for the first time. I saw the astonishing (in terms of managing to get so many of his key pieces) Leonardo DaVinci exhibition at the National in London. But the show that most tickled my fancy - if only because I had no idea who the artist was, and because I absolutely expected to be dismissive of it - was Pipilotti Rist's at the Hayward. I only went because I wanted to see the exhibition by George Condo (and that was fab too!). I almost didn't even both to look around the Rist rooms, but I was so glad when I did. Playful and perplexing in equal measures. I wasn't sure what to make of it all, except that I liked it -- a LOT!!!

    Travel-wise, as I said above, Bas and I went back to Rome at the start of the year, and it was as wonderful as always. Rome is one of my favourite cities in the world (along with London and New York), and it's always a treat to go back, to re-visit some favourite places and discover a few new gems -- this time we stumbled across an incredible ossuary. We also went to Australia for my cousin Kevin's wedding, and had a great few weeks driving around. And to the Maldives and Sharm El Sheikh for relaxing sun-breaks. Not to forget a lovely few days in Edinburgh when the Festival was on -- my 12th year in a row that I've gone to it! But Rome... Rome is always hard to top.

    On the footballing front, I got to enjoy the tail-end of Spurs' first adventuresome run in the Euopean Championship, and then the incredible experience in the latter half of the season of challenging for the premiership title. We're only at the halfway mark as I write this, and chances are we won't be able to keep up with Man City and Man Utd over the second half of the season, as they've got bigger squads and way more money to spend than us, but at the moment we're one of the best three teams in the UK, right up there at the top of the league, and it's head-spinning stuff -- the first time in a quarter of a century that we've been in this position at this stage of a season! I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for a repeat showing in the second half of the season, though I won't be holding my breath!!!

    So, all in all, it was a rather splendid 2011 on the cultural front! Sure, I saw plenty of bad films too, listened to lots of albums that I can barely remember now, read a few books that were decidedly average. But, for the most part, it was a year full of interesting stuff, which, really, I suppose, is what life is all about -- trying to find interesting things to keep us intrigued while we're knocking around and waiting to die!!!! I'm hoping 2012 will be just as fascinating and thought-provoking a year -- if not more so!!!!!!!

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