… you’re kidding, right? It was only a couple of months ago, surely, that I lamentingly put together a post on my activity in 2017.
It’s almost painful reading some bits of that, given how little I’ve accomplished in the subsequent year (and without any great excuses from ‘real life’, either). In particular, it’s been a real fight to get any fiction writing done at all, which is probably a reflection of a broader apathy/procrastination that similarly explains my dearth of blog posts this year. I’d really like to get more active again – not for your sake exactly, O best beloved Hypothetical Reader*, but because I find productive writing activity is a virtuous circle that spurs further activity.
The biggest culprit I think has been TV – not just time spent watching TV, but my increasing tendency to, instead of writing something, or reading something, or listening to something, just throw on a TV show for a few hours and avoid thinking. Only reason I’m posting this now is that I’ve finished binge-watching Runaways… I don’t regret, per se, most of what I’ve watched, but I do regret the ‘TV mentality’ I’ve slipped into at times.
I won’t go through each programme one-by-one. I began writing a post doing that months ago, but got distracted, and now it’s very out of date. The low-light might be having given up on iZombie, which just steered harder and harder into the ‘who gives a shit, the cast is having fun’ mentality with each season, and after a troubled third season I found the fourth just unwatchable. The highlight, however, was an all-time-great final season for The Americans – although I might not have shown it, I was worried after the fifth season about whether it was going off the rails, and whether it could stick the landing. It could. A great season, and such a powerful final episode. The downside, however, is that with the astonishing final season of Halt and Catch Fire in 2017, and the astonishing final season of The Americans in 2018, next year’s going to find it hard to keep up…
In terms of reading, though, I should confess a minor success: although I didn’t read anywhere near as much as I’d like, I did finally halt three years of decline in books read – I read more books than in 2017 OR 2016, and while I didn’t get back to 2015 levels (or 2014, where I’d like to be, with about a novel a fortnight on average), that is something, particularly when I consider that I started the year with the tailend of 2017’s hangover. In the first four months of the year, I only read one novel (for young readers) and a collection of parliamentary sketches, so I did pretty well to catch up in the last two thirds of the year. [although, to be honest about the facts – in page counts I read only slightly more than last year, thanks to having read two behemoths last year but only one this year.]
Along the way, I managed another All Time Classic that I’d never read (this time, Pride and Prejudice), and while it wasn’t as good as some people say it was a thoroughly entertaining read. I also managed two of the classics of the SF canon that were new to me, and that I’d been meaning to read for years (The Dispossessed and The Fifth Head of Cerberus), both of which turned out to be brilliant.
Oh, and this will matter to virtually nobody, I know, but Sluggy Freelance concluded a long-running plot this year. Like I say, most people won’t understand why that’s worth mentioning – but I’ve been reading Sluggy Freelance most days for the last 15 years or so, and this resolved a plotline that’s been ongoing since 1999, so… kind of a landmark if you’re into that kind of thing.
Also of interest: I’ve recently finished reading an edition of (the first half of) the memoirs of Philippe de Commynes, the 15th century diplomat/bureaucrat. I mention this because it’s a genre – historical primary sources – that I’ve read very little of, and none at all of in recent years. But it was one of my books of the year – dense and slow-going, but clear, entertaining, at times shockingly modern (at others, bafflingly antique), and remarkably eye-opening. Anyone who wants to write fauxdiaeval European fantasy should probably be compelled to read Commynes…
The best part of the year, culture-wise for me, however (aside from managing to get to a few more concerts and plays), is that I indulged myself re-experiencing two of my all-time favourite things – Mary Gentle’s thrilling and immersive, impossible-to-categorise genre novel, Ash: A Secret History, and Rob Thomas (et al.)’s funny, smart and moving TV series (and film), Veronica Mars. Best of all, both of them were actually better than I remembered them being. And an exciting year ahead, marshmallows, because, a decade after the interesting but troubled third season, the fourth season of VM is due sometime (presumably late) in 2019, and this time we’re promised more than the comfortable nostalgia of the (really delightful) film.
I think I’d also highlight my own aborted attempt to explain a bit of the history of classical music to some people on a forum. In one respect, tens of thousands of words wasted, shouted into a void to very few interested listeners, and ultimately abandoned. On the other hand, it helped reconnect me to my musical identity, and spurred me to look more closely at, in particular, mediaeval and rennaissance music. So that’s good.
I guess I also feel good about my language work this year – imaginary languages, at any rate (learning Irish I was distracted from again this year, and I was then thoroughly disheartened by the big changes to Duolingo). On the one hand, very little concretely happened – I did basically nothing with Rawàng Ata, and not only did I not progress with Wenthish (not at all using the blog I created for it last year), but I actually regressed. On the other hand, what I did manage to create was a really solid (by my standards) little foundation with ‘Old Wenthish**’, for which I somehow managed to accrue the largest lexicon I’ve ever put together for a language (a posteriori lexicogenesis is so much more straightforward…). While this has pretty much burned me out on that language for now, when I do come back to it hopefully I’ve find I have a more stable foundation on which to build than usual.
Overall, I’d say, it’s not been a bad year, culturally. I even managed to see most of the big films this year (though none of the ones in Oscar contention). I guess we could say: I didn’t manage to really substantially turn things around, but things didn’t get worse. I think I’ve now dumped a number of TV shows, as well, which should bode well for next year, even if it’s a shame in the short-term. Given that things are pretty OK in other respects (for example, currently nobody I know has cancer at the moment, so far as I’m aware, which is a nice change and something I really hope continues for a while), I guess I’m OK with that. But next year, I need to do better.
[hello, me re-reading this at the end of December in 2019, wondering where the year went! Never mind, better luck in 2020!]
I guess it would make sense to wrap this up with some lists, because who doesn’t like lists. In no particular order, lists of three things:
Best Books I Read This Year:
Ash: A Secret History
The Fifth Head of Cerberus
Pride and Prejudice
Best Films I Saw This Year:
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Avengers: Infinity War
The Incredibles (yes, 14 years late, but…)
(hmm… the whole ‘watch classic films’ thing got forgotten this year…)
Best TV Shows I Saw This Year:
You Me Her
The Good Place
Music I Discovered or Remembered or Got Into:
Josquin (and a bunch of other pre-Common Practice composers. But while I at least knew that, say, Machaut was an epochal genius, Josquin took me unawares)
The madrigals of Monteverdi
The Lieder of Schubert
The string quintets of Onslow
*bizarrely, my near-total standstill in blog post writing has, in keeping with past observations, only aided my readership. I mean sure, I published only 15 posts (this will make it 16) in 12 months, which is objectively pathetic, fewer than half my posts last year, and only a fifth of my most productive year (2014). But in 2018, I got more page-views, and more unique visitors, than last year. More, in fact, under both metrics, than any year apart from that one when io9 linked me and then Terry Pratchett died. I have no clue why this is, except that apparently my actually posting things has historically been actively driving readers away… which has a certain grim plausibility to it, I must admit. Let’s hope, then, that I alienate more readers next year!
**Huat! Gāsa-Denhō theoisō hāsāth aba glōirō uī,
aba theod-cuinningem in dagem ieorō, hū framtēn ēht
atheleng; Sceald oft Scābinga fram slōgō scathin
fram manegēm theodom, miod-setlen abatāh,
agesōid thā Irelēn, bisioith āirstē hī foand
gahista uarth; dīnedo fāth hī fuilgedē
ta thamm; uagsdi hī binitherē uuilcn, thāh
hī eosom ūder; allesg thamm tha thorftēn
sa ōegilca ūbsittend bioberē thes huala-pathas hes
hluisniena, cāin-gealda himm ōgebena – that
uas āinna gōda cuinninga!
ta himm after ēna aferō galāmnōd uarth, ēna iuinglinga
in hes gardem, sādda aba Dēahtfīr liad ta socrehtōna; tha arbēidō
theoisō trōgāsō stōth sīunn uith Him, tha biforē
thā than cēsōdēn, cendlōsa ta langē tīdō.
ta thasemm fragab sa Libn-Ab īath thāim
ualdāria uulthō: Bōe uas brōimm, allod brāid
gasprāidōd – sa aferō Scealdō in Scaithenlādē. sua efniōn
stāith ana mann iunga, gōden uuirhtom, balthen
hordagiftom, bi leppin fador, ana bāgē commhaldēn
in aild fast gasiothin, folca folgon an ōrē
comthogbāilō bicwēmmongō; dēidom formoledbāirēm sui
man ūder liodō thīna huarohther scal.