My 2019 media consumption roundup
OK so one element of this “media roundup” tradition I’ve started for myself seems to be that I don’t actually write most of the notes til the end of the year, which inevitably spill over into the next year, and the recollections I have are sketchy to the point of irrelevance. So, I’m going to *try* to take notes as I go in 2020. Got it?
26 movies (&/or standup specials). 35 TV series. 13 books. Smell that? That’s achievement.
DEFINITE improvement on the reading-front in 2019. I think I just decided to make time to do some reading. Nothing heavy or too worthwhile, I don’t think… but at least it makes me feel a bit like an adult.
Since hearing Blessed on Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (RHLSTP!) I became somewhat obsessed with the man, and went & saw him live one evening in Bath, where I bought this book. A really unique character with a powerful grip on living life to the fullest. It’s impossible to read without hearing it narrated in his voice – moreso because the style of the book is him recounting anecdotes – and you come away from it thinking “Well, if even half of that were true, it’s still pretty amazing stuff!”. Too many wonderful moments to recap… although I was particularly fascinated by his relationships with other actors of the period.
I mistakenly bought this for Liz, and when I handed it over very quickly realised that *I’M* the one of us that likes serially uninformed but doggedly informative broadcaster Philomena Cunk. A tough read from end-to-end, because it’s literally a series of short pieces in alphabetically organised topics… but word-perfect for the character, and you could picture her delivering every line in her TV-authentic way. I had to stop grabbing random people that were near me so I could read stuff out, but it was a real hoot, and I was almost sad when I finished it. And now I don’t think I’ll ever look at a tiger with out thinking “Tigers are the ones that look sort of like big orange barcodes, but with teeth”.
Michael Lewis – mainstay of gripping Financial Services pieces like The Big Short, Liars Poker, Flash Boys et al – zeroes in on the story of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and how their theories on decision came to influence western society. Great story, great author.
The story of the rise & disappearance of inane & vulgar lo-fi singer of such minor internet classics as “Have a Wank”, “Gentleman’s Wash”, “I Shit My Pants”, “A Lonely Wank In A Travelodge”, and the anthem “Fucksticks” – penned by the author himself. A refreshingly honest story from someone who doesn’t feel like they have a reputation to protect, though not one for people put off by fruity prose. I couldn’t put it down.
Jem Roberts dives into the story & circumstances of the genesis and development of one of the finest British sitcoms ever produced, and one which taught me most of what I know about British history (I won a game of Trivial Pursuit once on the strength of the answer “a groat”). Being such a core piece of my adolescent comedy pantheon, my friends & I had always held fairly strong opinions about the various series – so this book is a treat in that it exposes the feelings and points of view of those who created it.
The trouble with trying to be objective about Geoffrey Robertson is that I can’t do it. The man’s an absolute legend and hero. This autobiography covers his entire life to date, from growing up in suburban Sydney – to the move to England via his Rhodes Scholarship – through to his burgeoning legal career and subsequent founding of the renowned human rights law chambers on Doughty Street. Whilst fairly dry in its humour, the book shows a selection of situations where the barrister must reconcile their client’s situation with respect to the law – although also highlights that a judge’s circumstantial understanding or predilections may influence a case as much as its legal technicalities. And I’m just starstruck at anyone who can casually use words like “propinquity” in a sentence. This took me no time to read, cos I couldn’t put it down.
John Birmingham’s latest dramatic fiction, told in a similar style to his Axis of Time trilogy but this time the setting is a future space colonial civilisation, where aristocratic family corporations run planetary systems, and they come under attack from a deep space movement of insurrectionists thought previously banished from the galaxy. Birmingham’s writing is incredibly detailed in terms of the specifics of the world but approachable, and the action sequences are painted out very evocatively. I can’t wait for the next instalment to find out what lies in store for incorrigible war-hero Admiral Frazer McLennan.
Bit of a baffling one this – it takes the chronological run of Star Wars (or, if you’re hung up on such things, “Episode IV: A New Hope”) and then each chapter of this book is a short story written from the point of view of a bit-part character. A sort of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” type arrangement, perhaps. The incongruousness is that because each story is by a different author there’s a wild variance in the execution… so some stories cover the few moments before that character’s involvement in the story. Some cover the aftermath. Some are about the weeks and years leading up to that moment. Examples from memory are:
- the Imperial functionary who saw what they thought was an empty escape pod taking off towards Tatooine, and their subsequent manipulation of Empire red tape to try to avoid having their arse handed to them for missing such a key piece of intelligence
- a Jawa’s story of the things they collected and stashed away in a hidden compartment in the sandcrawler
- back story on the Bith musicians in the Mos Eisley Cantina
- a life-perspective on the tentacled creature living in the Death Star’s trash compactor
Such a mixed bag. Mildly interesting.
Pete Brown goes into a detailed dive into the ingredients of beer in this piece following his wanderings around the world, where he tries to understand different global interpretations of beer and the disparate endpoints that will take you, from what’s nominally a simple list of the same ingredients.
I love the way Brown writes: knowledgeable and ever-keen on his topic, yet coming across as a somewhat shambolic amateur – yet still delivers a neat balance of the science, philosophy, and anecdote of each of the adventures, all underpinned by an obvious love of enjoying a nice beer.
Following his Blackadder biography, Jem Roberts dips into detail on obvious heroes of his – Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie – in this examination of their comic partnership leading up to and focusing on “A Bit of Fry & Laurie”.
It’s apparent that there was a great deal more to this story than I’d have anticipated, but then as someone who declared themselves as a huge fan of the pair I was surprised earlier this year to learn that there were in fact 4 series of “ABoF&L” rather than the 2 that I’d been confident I knew about.
The author is visibly a huge fan, which sometimes gets a little in the way of the telling, and on the whole I left with the impression that this book was written because the author wanted to be the one to write the definitive book on the subject, rather than that there was anything particularly remarkable to talk about. Still worth a read though.
Proper ludicrous fantasy/fiction here from JB – a deep-drilling oil rig somehow taps through to a banished demon horde civilisation, and a seemingly un-redemptionworthy everyman (Dave Hooper) finds himself imbued with superhero powers to combat them.
Plenty of military operations & jargon, a rich fantasy demon-world setting, and all told with JB’s signature approachability & irreverence.
M’colleague Billy went to the launch of this book, which he said was “the most Stewart Lee thing ever” – consisting of the author standing on a riverboat bookshop on a West London canal, reading excerpts from the book through a PA system to the gathered crowd on the shore.
I find Stewart Lee’s columns a bit harder going than his other output, probably because I haven’t quite grasped the character of the character of Stewart Lee the Columnist. When all’s said and done though I think I’m pretty clear on how I feel about Brexit, and about the actions of those who made it happen were directed to the people who were used to make it happen – so seeing Stewart Lee’s take on it (and that’s any of the various Stewart Lees that exist in whatever guise) was equal parts amusing and frustrating.
2nd instalment in the Dave vs. the Monsters trilogy – fresh from saving the world, this instalment sees Dave revelling in his newfound adulation in Vegas, when The Horde make themselves known once again.
You’re not gonna learn anything reading these books – but they are bloody good fun.