Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Twelfth Annual Ralphies

It’s time for the Twelfth Annual Ralphies.  Once again, I can’t believe I’ve been blogging this long.  When I started, blogging was a cutting-edge thing to do, now it seems kind of passé. Nevertheless, I still enjoy doing it when I have time.

BOOKS, Fiction:  Even in the midst of the academic year, I have to have a novel to read; it’s a lifelong habit that I’m not likely to break now.  I have to have a fictional world to escape to.  This year I re-read some old favorites, and finally finished the last book of the Aubrey-Maturin sea novels by Patrick O’Brian, Blue at the Mizzen.  There are no bad books in this series, but the last few (including this one) are notably weak.  I’m glad to see Aubrey get his admiralship, though.  As I write this, I’m reading the last book in Ian MacDonald’s Everness trilogy, Empressof the Sun (2014).  Great science-fiction of the YA variety.  But this year’s Ralphie goes to Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995).  This is a long, strange book in the tradition of magic realism, originally written in Japanese; not my regular cup of tea.  But for some reason I couldn’t put it down.

BOOKS, Non-fiction: Most of the year I was on sabbatical, and read quite a few things of considerable interest.  One book I picked up in Moe’s Bookshop in Berkeley galvanized my thinking in new directions: Sarah Thomason’s LanguageContact: An Introduction (2001), for which I shall be forever grateful.  But it was John McWhorter’s LanguageInterrupted: Signs of Non-native Acquisition in Standard Language Grammars (2007) that provided key insights that I can use in my next research project.

MOVIES:  I only saw three first-run movies this year: The End of the Tour, Ex Machina, and The Force AwakensTour was an odd little movie, based on the sort-of memoir Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, by David Lipsky (2010), which I read after seeing the movie.  I love the writing of DFW, but I don’t know if this movie (or book) would make the uninitiated want to read him.  The performances were good.  The Ralphie goes, of course, to The Force Awakens, just for not letting us all down. 

TV:  TV is no longer about “appointment viewing,” except for sports.  My only non-sports appointment in front of the TV this year was for PBS’s magnificent Wolf Hall.  Someone should really try once again to film the Aubrey-Maturin books, because Mark Rylance (who played Cromwell) would be the perfect Stephen Maturin.

COMIX:  I’ve let reading comics slide lately; too much else to do, and they are too expensive.  But I have kept up with Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga series, which continues to be awesome.  I gather the series will be on hiatus for a while, unfortunately. 

MUSIC:  Good music is where you find it, but sometimes you have to look pretty hard.  This was one of those years.  My favorite album of the year was Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell, a nice return to form with an emotionally draining record.  My drive-time commute was immeasurably improved with the addition of Tom Petty Radio to the Sirius XM lineup.  TP just hasn’t ever put out any lousy music.  My sabbatical theme song (and default Song of the Year) was an older song of Sufjan’s.

SPORTS: My motley collection of allegiances provided mixed results this year.  The Nationals were my favorite, despite an underachieving year.  The Lakers and Longhorns have had to be content with fading memories of glory in the course of horrible seasons.  The Bengals? The jury is still out.  The Spuds have had an overachieving, and satisfying, year; yay! for Kirk Cousins.

OK, kids, see you on the flip side! Happy New Year to all.