Review of the Year 2011

It’s been a funny year. I spent most of it pregnant, which is a lot like being really hung over for nine months. Not really conducive to productivity. Now my tiny bundle of trouble is here, blog posts are hastily composed in the few minutes she is able to sleep without being cuddled up on my lap. It’s been a funny year generally, though. There were terrifying natural disasters, tumultuous political events, and a slew of zeitgeisty buzzwords. There were the riots in the the UK, which was the logical result of our filesharing culture: if you tell people that they can take music, films and games without permission, payment or consequence, then of course they’ll just start smashing shop windows and stealing televisions and consoles to play them on – because, really, what’s the difference?

Steve Jobs died, to worldwide mourning, and John McCarthy – who coined the term “artificial intelligence” – died the same month, to little fanfare. Amy Winehouse succumbed to her addictions, and Charlie Sheen miraculously survived his own. A royal couple who actually seemed to like each other got married. Lady Gaga got boring. An American preacher predicted the Rapture – twice – and was a little embarrassed when the dates passed without incident.

And a number of things were released that I rather liked.

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John Carpenter’s 1983 adaptation of a Stephen King novel has aged well. “Christine” is a ’58 Plymouth Fury – a classic car in bad shape – but nerdy teen Arnie (Keith Gordon) thinks he can fix her right up. He just underestimates just how much it will cost him.

The plot is pretty standard fare for King, and events unfold predictably enough. The satisfyingly evil villains meet satisfyingly gruesome ends, and the film is a fairly fun slasher movie when all is said and done.

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The Dark Tower: The Waste Lands

I like to set myself quests. The most recent – “find the real Jim Thirlwell” – had a mixed, Lost-style ending full of furrowed brows and head-scratching. Still, it means that at least since the poor chap was kind enough to answer my extremely-bloody-nosy questions, I can move along and follow where next my Pinball Stream of Consciousness takes me. I think that will be Chapter 34: “Find the Next Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”, since I’m currently experiencing the same level of exasperation with the state of modern music that Henry Rollins did in the early 90s: “Most of these bands can’t even get their hair off the floor!” he growled, shaking his thick-necked head at the limp indie boys that surrounded him. The world has moved on, as Roland of Gilead would say.

So. Quests. Gives you something to do. Roland the Gunslinger. F***ing stupid name for a hero.

I’ve just finished The Waste Lands, the third in the Dark Tower saga by Stephen King. I have to confess: I’m in love. As always with me, it’s a mixture of fierce, unexpected intelligence and huge puppy dog eyes that does it. Gets me every time.

But, no, it’s not Roland of Gilead that has stolen my heart. It’s Oy the billy-bumbler – a fictitious blend of badger, raccoon and dog – whose voice (bark) lingers in my consciousness, and who I absolutely, desperately want to survive.

I love Stephen King’s style of writing – it’s simple, elegant and unobtrusive. He knows how to write without showing off, and manages to bring scenes vividly and pungently to life. He writes far too much about pus, but I won’t hold that against him.

I’m now halfway through this saga, and increasingly gripped by what is regarded as King’s magnum opus – a blend of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and fantasy, taking in an otherworldly Wild West, the New York of the 70s and 80s, and all manner of strange interdimensional beings. It’s The Road with characters, punctuation and a plot. It’s Lord of the Rings if only Tolkein didn’t f***ing waffle so much. It’s The Magnificent Seven without the stilted acting.

And it has a cute badger thing that parrot-talks. What more could you want?

Trending Topics: #booksthatchangedmyworld

I’m not really a book person. I rarely finish novels – most of them are simply too boring to make me want to find out how they end. When I do enjoy a book, I tend to read it over and over. I’ve read each Harry Potter book at least three times (except the last), and have read Pride and Prejudice (197 years old and still f***ing hilarious) about six times.

I can’t, even now, think of a (fiction) book that has profoundly changed my life in the way my favourite music has. The closest to a life-changer would be Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart, which taught me the habit of flipping a coin over important decisions – not, in my case, to act so impulsively, but to reveal my subconscious desires: if I’m disappointed by a result, it means I didn’t really want to do it in the first place.

Mostly as a child I grew up reading standard fare – Lewis Carroll was a particular favourite, as were Grimm’s Fairy Tales and other fantasy fiction: The Wind in the Willows, Narnia; the usual. When I was eight, I used to read a comic written by Pat ‘Judge Dredd’ Mills called Misty – a fabulously morbid slab of gothic horror – specially for little girls.

The first book I remember finding profoundly affecting was A Rag, a Bone and a Hank of Hair by Nicholas Fisk. I was about ten, and I’d read a couple of his other stories – Trillions, for one – and the thing I loved about it was that he didn’t patronise his audience. He wrote grown up, solidly-written science fiction in which the protagonist happened to be a child. What was most arresting, other than the vivid detail of the worlds he described, was the shock twist ending. I bought the book from Amazon a couple of years back and, finding it just as good now as it was back then, sent it on to my nephew. I hope he read it. When I first stayed over with one of my closest friends, I was pleased to see Nicholas Fisk’s children’s stories nestling comfortably between Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene on her bookshelf.

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