Saturday, December 29, 2007

This year's model

I've discussed before the fact that those retrospective reviews that pepper the media throughout December bear little or no relation to how we actually consume cultural product. The vast majority of them deal only with things that have been released in the past year: this benefits the culture industry (which packs its marketing resources behind the most recent releases) and the reviewers themselves, who get to prove how terribly Zeitgeisty they are.

Of course ordinary consumers are interested in new stuff. But they mix up recent releases with old favourites, as well as books and films and music that have only just come into view, or have been tottering on a to-do pile for several months. Add to this the fact that most general punters are by definition at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping up with the latest developments (little access to review copies, advance screenings, the chance to read something in proof or even manuscript) and it's easy to work out that for many of us, "the best thing I've read/seen/heard all year" will come from a much broader pool than you might infer by scanning the Sunday broadsheets.

So, the best new book I've read this year was After Dark by Haruki Murakami, although it's only the English translation that was "new", the Japanese original having appeared three years ago. With music I'm on surer ground: The Reminder by Feist, which was definitely released this year, and will doubtless be cropping up in those damned lists, even if Betty hates it. Films? To be honest, nothing with a release date of 2007 has made me sit up and clap my hands. Of course if I'd had the job of identifying the year's best films for and end-of-'07 round-up, I wouldn't be able to write that; at best, I'd have to write a bitter, backward-looking sidebar about how modern film is rubbish. Or, if I'd had that job, I would have got my arse into gear and seen Lust, Caution and No Country for Old Men in time for the end of the year.

But recent releases make up only a small part of what I've consumed. Some of my happiest experiences have come from things I thought I knew, or things I've meant to watch: The Great Gatsby left me gasping with melancholy joy, a quarter-century after I should have read it; and Les Triplettes de Belleville is as weird and funny as everyone said it was when it first came out (in 2003), so I don't know why I left it that long. As for music, the album I've listened to most assiduously this year is a sampler of old Chicago blues and soul stuff that came attached to the front of Mojo magazine a couple of years back. Were I writing a "proper" review, that would be discounted on two counts: too late; and cobbled-together freebie samplers aren't "real" product (in the sense that you can't use them as leverage for selling ad space).

And in any case, by the time you get to my age, categorical "favourites" tend to become fossilised. The best things I've read or heard or seen were my best things last year, and for the decade before that. So that's why the best book of 2007, as far as I'm concerned, is Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies; the best album is White Light/White Heat by the Velvet Underground; and the best film is Casablanca. And, unless something very peculiar happens in the coming months, these will be the best things of 2008 as well, and of 2009, and on and on until I can't read or hear or watch or blog anything.


Geoff said...

I'm jealous you didn't read/watch Gatsby/Belleville 'til this year.

I loved South Of The Border, West Of The Sun then I couldn't get into any others, then lost all interest in reading fiction. I'm sure that'll change.

New discoveries for me this year include The Wire and bands Josef K and Moby Grape.

Not forgetting Carlos Tevez, before he lost his soul.

red said...

This is an absolutely lovely personal end of year summary- precisely what blogs are made for. I guess I really should check out Belleville at this stage.

Dick Headley said...

I was very impressed with No Country for Old Men. Just the thing if you're into social breakdown.

Molly Bloom said...

I'd agree with you on the old 'round ups' Tim. It's the same with 'summer reads' - celebrity vox pops on my 'favourite book' blah, blah, blah. Still, it does mean that they pull out J G Ballard for his views (yay to J G). Oldies, but goldies. I'm afraid I have to agree with you on Feist. Sorry Betty. I think it's the blue sequin top that does it for me though. Smashing. 1,2,3,4....

Have a Feistian Christmas and New Year. Have a Proustian tasting of Mince Pies and a Faustian...errrm....yeah.

Tim F said...

South of the Border is my favourite HM, Geoff. The real fanboys are a bit sniffy about it because it's not weird enough.

Thank you, Red. Your own end-of-year round-up is certainly thought-provoking. Several of those go on my to-buy list.

Everyone's saying it's a return to form for the Coens, Dick, and God knows they need one of those.

Molly, so good to hear your voice. Been gone too long. Yes, I like it when they ask the old farts like JGB, because they always claom not to have read any new stuff, and they're rediscovering somebody elderly like Trollope or Borges. Anthony Burgess was the best for that - usually said that his own book was the best, and he hadn't read anything else because he was learning Estonian or some such bollocks.

Uncle E said...



Mapeel said...

Ah, Our Man in Thailand brings the lyrical in the last days of 2007. Very nice.

Tim F said...

Your blog is good, uncle e, as is your avatar (Harry Earles, I believe). Only problem is, your blog is not at that address, which is No Rock & Roll Fun, which is already on my blogroll.

And thank you, Mrs Peel.