Friday, January 14, 2011

2010, The Year That Was

Wup -- meant to post some ruminations before the old year came to a close, but life kinda got in the way. So it goes. Here's the briefer "get it done" version:

Music: I'm a sucker for the concept album, and 2010 offered skids of them. On the far end of the spectrum was Plastic Beach by The Gorillaz, which enlisted every major artist with "street cred" and managed to win over every critic and their dog. I couldn't get into it, but I'm happy for the kids. Trombone Shorty's Backatown was much more my speed, and received considerable play. The stand-out concept album of the year, though, was Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, which nudged me into one of those lovely, always unexpected "a-ha moments" for which I'm grateful. The most-played album this year was Elizabeth Cook's Welder Honorable mention goes to the mid-90s album, Signify by Porcupine Tree.

Movies: I took my younger daughter to see the latest Iron Man installment, and even though I smiled through most of it I had to wonder if the powers that be in Hollywood really had to spend that much frickin' money to generate such fair-to-middlin' thrills. A week or two later my wife and I saw Inception, and the thought never crossed my mind. This movie-goer's modest request to movie-makers in these challenging times: please don't spend that kind of money if you're not going to change the game.

Books: Two months ago, as I prepared to quickly complete my reading of Mr. Darwin's Shooter by Roger McDonald, I wrote: Even if the final third of the novel were to fall flat, Mr. Darwin's Shooter would be a candidate for the most memorable novel read this year. Well ... the conclusion didn't exactly fall flat, but it did disappoint. Specifically, it resolved, which, given the subject matter, struck me as incongruous. My reaction is probably tainted by the bitter dregs of the so-called "culture wars" being waged chiefly (but by no means exclusively) to the south of us: a country that remains, for the moment, the wealthiest in the world, taking the lead in so many of the sciences, but where the predominant religious inclination is to re-fight the Scopes "Monkey Trial" in school classrooms. If the national character can ever, uh, "mature" to a nuanced, respectful, even humble acceptance of the limits of articulations both theological and scientific, perhaps the true worth of McDonald's book can be better appreciated.

To that end, I found Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind quite helpful. I think she's acquired the reputation of an American Chesterton (minus the sense of humor), giving those pesky "New Atheists" their proper comeuppance. Just for the record, I don't much care for the argument itself, which hasn't developed any new parameters since Epicurus (or Job). Robinson does at times come across as a bit of scold, which I find less than charming. And while I do take issue with some of her arguments I am sympathetic with her larger purpose: challenging the human (and particularly Western, and most particularly American) imagination toward its truest capacity.

Related: this essay, the most resonant I've read this year.

But my favorite book of 2010 was Nikolski, by Nicholas Dickner, which still strikes me as a delightful and uniquely Canadian confection.

As ever, feel free to comment if I've missed out on something. Hopefully it will be addressed and enjoyed in Eleven (one louder than Ten!).


DarkoV said...

I waited and waited and waited, hoping someone else would post the question to follow. Since no one has, I must be the only foll in the villgae without a clue.

What is it about Nikolski that you find so delightful? I tried, even plowing through to the end in hopes of reaching what may not have been there to reach. It could not have been the translation; didn't Lazer Lederhendler receive some wards last year specifically because of his skill at translating?

Was there a plethora of inside (read that as "Canadian") jokes that I simply missed? Were there not quite a few loose threads left hanging upon flipping the last page?

Was I dumb in thinking there has to be a plot somewhere? Or was the plot trap set and I tripped the wire catching myself in its plotlessness?

Inform and elucidate.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Marilynne Robinson.


I am not feeling at all come-upped.

I'd rather listen to Lorena McKennitt for better imagination ignition.

Whisky Prajer said...

Uh-oh: sounds like I might be alienating my two most stalwart commentators!

DV - when I originally gave Nikolski a rave, several people let me know they'd gone and bought the book on my recommendation. If any of them loved it, I've yet to hear of it, so I'm guessing you are not alone in your bewilderment. I've got a few thoughts re: why I fell in love, which I'll try to post before too long. As for the loose-endedness, I think that was one cause for endearment.

CP - point taken, although in my case the act would be Steely Dan.

Cowtown Pattie said...

DV and I just love to mess with yew.