I am not the kind of person who makes year-end best-of lists. For one thing, I’m not good with keeping track of the timelapse of a year - I often don’t remember whether an album or a film or a book was released this year, or last year, or even the year before. (I also don’t comment on other people’s year-end lists; this hilarious NPR article will give you an idea of why.)
But I do value the occasional recommendation, and perhaps you do too, so here’s a small handful of media picks all of which I know for a fact happened within the last year. All of these have been consumed by me and enjoyed greatly.
Nonfiction division: The Table Comes First, Adam Gopnik. For anyone who is interested in food, recipes, restaurants, history of same, etc etc … basically, for all my foodie friends, but I have a whole lot of foodie friends. The writing in this book is so excellent and clever that I want to read large chunks of it aloud to anyone who’ll stand still long enough to listen.
Fiction division: Carte Blanche, Jeffery Deaver. The James Bond novel franchise has had its ups and downs since Ian Fleming. (Some would say it had its ups and downs even when Fleming was writing them.) Carte Blanche is essentially a reboot of the written franchise in the same ways that the recent Daniel Craig films have been a reboot of the visual one. It’s a surprisingly well-researched novel, more grounded in plausibility than you might expect. This is not High Literature, you understand, but it’s very enjoyable reading.
Sky Full of Holes, Fountains of Wayne. Although not as many of these tracks will immediately reach out and grab you by the ears as did on Welcome Interstate Managers, keep listening. You will start by being caught by easy-to-love tracks like “Acela” or “The Summer Place,” but it’s the more thoughtful ones like “I Hate To See You Like This” or “Cold Comfort Flowers” that will keep dragging you back.
Only In Dreams, Dum Dum Girls. This could easily have been the same sort of listenable but one-gimmick album as Best Coast’s Crazy For You, but Kristen Gundred is better than that. The first thing you’ll notice is how much she sounds like early Chrissie Hynde. The second thing you’ll notice is that the album is full of interesting surprises that you don’t usually see in what is basically garage-girl-band material.
Hugo. Just go see it. In fact, make sure that you see it in 3D, and that’s not something I ever thought I would say about any film, ever. This is only a story about a boy who lives in the unseen channels of a train station and keeps the clocks wound at its uppermost levels. Below that, this is a story about Scorsese’s love of movies and his sense of wonder, neither of which seems to have diminished with age. In particular, if you are any kind of film buff and you haven’t already seen this film, you need to fix this immediately. And yes, you can take the kids. In fact, they may give this film their highest tribute: In the theatre where we saw it, the kids were so enthralled that they forgot for a while to be noisy and disruptive.
Multiplayer Division: Star Wars: The Old Republic. I was briefly in the beta for this. It opens officially on 20 December. I don’t know how well it is going to play for people who don’t love the Star Wars universe. But if you do, and you like multiplayer online games, this is one you don’t want to miss.
Solo Division: Portal 2. Best game script in the last five years, perhaps in the last decade. This is the kind of game you want to play just to hear what the characters in it are going to say and do next. It is also a challenging puzzle game which is - despite the many environmental hazards which can kill you - almost completely nonviolent, so if you resist games where you spend your time shooting at everything that moves, this is the game for you. (The one caveat I will add is that you need to at least know a summary of what happened in the first Portal; ideally you will have played it. But it’s good too!)
Handheld Division: If you bought a 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land is the game that finally justifies your purchase price. Really. It’s that good. It’s the game they should have delayed the 3DS release for; it’s the first “killer app” for the system.