Work, independent research and life has made writing here tricky and, I fear with the new year nearing, my posting will only get more sporadic. January-February time is doctoral funding season and work has already begun with my supervisor on my own applications; accordingly I figured that it was worthwhile doing a pre-emptive round up in case I don't have time for it come hectic December. Perhaps I could have pushed this back another month or so but then again this may make for a good ear-marking of the 2000 view milestone that I just hit: I have no idea whether 2000 views in the first 8 months is good or bad in terms of blogs but it feels sufficiently significant.
Procedurally, the process for this post will involve picking one fiction and one non-fiction book alongside one album to stage as particular highlights of the year. None of these works came out in 2015 but they are nonetheless the highlight of my own personal exploration in culture this year. So, moving beyond the fanfare...
Fiction Pick of the Year
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Welsh, for a long time, has sat on the shelf in my mind labelled "must get round to him someday" and it was a pleasure to finally read him. Trainspotting is a landmark of contemporary Scottish culture which is one of the reasons I wanted to read it: when I lived in Sweden there were a surprising number of people with a strange interest in it; though generally they had seen the film rather than waded through the Scottish accent that characterises the prose. I get the feeling that their fascination was spawned by a morbid curiosity as to how a culture could produce and love a work so notoriously self-loathing.
However, the reputation that Welsh has garnered makes the actual content of the book all the more surprising. In places it is strikingly human and demonstrates a sympathy and keen eye for the foibles, roots and pathologies of its characters. Renton, the narrator focused on in the film but who is one of many in the book, has a clear rebellious streak that occasionally bleeds over into a churlish teenage nihilism but even at his worst has interesting things to say. It's a rather trite cliche but the film really isn't as good as the book; or at least it isn't as in depth. There are startlingly jarring moments such as the feminist-esque parable "The Elusive Mr Hunt" which show a more careful eye for social interaction than that which was allowed onto the silver-screen. I enjoyed it thoroughly and it has thrown my previous perceptions of the author.
Non-Fiction Pick of the Year
The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth
For the past couple of months I have been experimenting more and more with writing guides; this one is far more of a style book than it is a grammar guide. As Forsyth points out, good grammar isn't necessarily always good writing. Academically, Steven Pinker's "The Sense of Style" - itself a brilliant use of descriptive linguistics to create a field manual in good, readable grammar - has probably been more helpful but The Elements of Eloquence is just so much more fun.
The emphasis is very much on having fun with the English language, its rhythms, sounds and various effects. It may not have clued me in on how to perfect my past and present tenses or navigate the various pratfalls of plurals but it certainly re-ignited the fire in my belly for constructing some good memorable prose.
Album Pick of the Year
Knowledge is Power by Akala
I have remarked on this blog a number of times about my quest to search out and enjoy new music this year. In light of such talk I think it's only fair to include an album of the year in my round up. One particular genre, which has lead me to reconsider poetry, is hip-hop. I started watching battle rap about a year and a half ago and was blown away at, sexism and homophobia aside, just how witty a lot the rappers were.
Akala however, I found through the Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle: Boyle invited Akala on to a programme of his in order to talk about racism in the U.K. As you might have guessed Akala is a "conscientious rapper" with a lot his themes and lyrics drawing from the speeches and writings of Malcom X. In particular he has a desire to speak truth to the powerless rather than wasting his breath on the powerful. In this album his focus seems to be on inspiring working class youth, particularly non-white working class youth, to engage in political, social and personal activities that benefit themselves and their communities rather than the owners of capital. Interestingly Akala interprets the role of the modern conscious MC through the tradition of the African Griot, a curator of cultural knowledge, and this no doubt feeds into his role as part of the hip-hop Shakespeare company. I could go on and on, but both the depth of his subject matter and his lyricism when discussing it has made this album a real stand out.
As remarked in the title and introduction this is a pre-emptive list. It is only as definitive in so far as I don't update it later in the year, though much of my work will be focused on political philosophy for the next few months and I don't anticipate reading much fiction anytime soon.