I thought about making this a long, detailed list with categories and subcategories but then realized it would be far too tedious to read as well as artificial. I don’t think in terms of best YA novel, best Drama TV series, or best nonfiction history. I tend to think in ways like what story is most engaging, what essays and arguments are the most thought provoking, what arc went to new places in characterization, and as always, what piece of writing, in whatever medium, impressed me with its invention.
To make this simpler I'm going to focus on the top three things of this year: 3 in text, 3 not in text. 3 things I read, and 3 things I watched or played.
So though it is a bit late in the year for lists of this sort here goes:
Top 3 Books:
#3 The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. For several reasons: 1) Crime has never been so much fun. 2) A fantasy novel that isn't trying to save the world is a relief. 3) The book sucker punch's you with its astute and contemporary social commentary. Locke is, as I've written before, a twisty little bastard, but the ingeniousness of the plot, the effective characterizations, and the structure of the novel all combine to make it not only a page turner but thought provoking. If fantasy is escapism this is escapism that leads you right back to real world problems. And the dialogue cracks with great, endlessly quotable lines: "And that's why I paid for you my boy, though you lack the good sense the gods gave a carrot. You lie like a floor tapestry. You're more crooked than an acrobat's spine."
#2 Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution, by Derrick Jensen. A book on the teaching of writing by one of the most radical writers ever. Derrick Jensen states flatly "Some days I wake up and don't know whether to write or blow up a dam." His cardinal rule is don't bore the reader and after I read the above sentence you definitely had my attention sir. A long meditation on the collective social programming that we call education, but also a true searching for what constitutes freeing the inner writer, without all the new age bullshit. He describes his experiences as an instructor both on college campuses and in state prisons, as well as his formative experiences in school where he learned to hate formal education.
Despite sometimes disagreeing with his eco-political stance I was often moved and challenged by the book. And most importantly his advice on writing ranks among the best I've ever read. "There are a hundred people inside each of us who can write. There's the bitter old man, and the lonely old woman. The happy old woman or man tired but satisfied with life. The ecstatic young man, the gleeful little girl, the angry woman. They all have strong opinions…Unfortunately, the only who can't write is the one we wear on our faces all the time. The polite one. The bland one. The one who wants approval. The on who wants a grade. The one who hedges every strong opinion, every strong impulse. That one can't write worth a damn."
#1 Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain. Everything that is wrong with American Culture, everything you suspect is true about the people who decide who belongs in America and who doesn't, it is all terribly and hilariously revealed in this spiritual successor to Catch 22. The novel details and lists all the flaws and foibles of American politics, but also becomes a moving vision of one soldier's trajectory of loss. Probably the closest thing to a true American Tragedy we have as a culture. Lines like this are meant to echo "No matter their age or station in life, Billy can't help but regard his fellow Americans as children. They are bold and proud and certain in the way of clever children blessed with too much self-esteem, and no amount of lecturing will enlighten them as to the state of pure sin toward which war inclines."
Top 3 Non Books:
#3 Hell on Wheels, Season 2. If you think America is in trouble now, wait til you see how bad life was back in the day. Racism, corruption, labor exploitation, all the things that made America great. Brilliantly acted. Beautifully shot.
#2 The Walking Dead, Season 2. Reasserted it horror roots. I still cannot get my mind around how this stuff is all allowed on TV. The arcs of each individual character were meticulously explored, and painfully delineated. Every time I turned the show on the presence of death and menace and danger was palpable. Yeah I know it’s a TV show but it feels like our national pastime. It reflects something deep about us, but that's a blog post for another day.
#1 The Corporation, directed by Mark Achbar, featuring Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Howard Zinn, Michael Moore, and many others. It was released in 2004 from a book of the same title. This film made me angrier, and more outraged, than anything I have seen in the past 5 years. It step by step takes as its starting premise the idea that a corporation is a person in the eyes of the law, due to a famous supreme court case in the 1890s where a corporation was legally ruled to be a person. The film then takes what traits best describe the multi national corporation as a person. It lists each and explores through interviews and back ground footage with voice over narration why the personality trait fits the corporation in a way that shows its sociopathic personality. For example, lack of concern for the well being of others. The film then shows through insider and outsider interviews as well as court cases and matters of public record some examples of the way corporations routinely place profit over human interests. It continues to do this for an impressive list. Watch this. It will change the way you think about the real powers in Washington.