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January 01, 2016

2015: My Year in Books, Films, and Games

Every year I like to look back and muse a bit about how I was feeding my brain, media-wise, and evaluate that against prior years. It's mostly navel-gazing, but I do it anyway.

The big thing about 2015 was that I was going to read more women, and I certainly did that -- everything I read this past year had a woman author (though in a few cases, there was a male illustrator, in some graphic novels). This was quite rewarding for me, though in all I read fewer books than in 2014. I read about 120 books, with a few interesting trends:

  1. I read quite a few ghost stories. I didn't set out to do this, but it kind of just happened -- there were some terrific novels by women that turned out to be ghost stories (and often I didn't even know this going in). Siobhan Abcock, who wrote one of them (The Barter), also wrote a pretty good essay about Why Every First Novel Should be a Ghost Story. I don't know if every one should, but certainly the conceit affords the author a way of examining some kind of trauma or misdeed or lost hope. In addition to Abcock, there was The Orphan Choir, Lake of Dreams, The Telling, The Little Stranger, and one I haven't quite finished yet. That's to say nothing of Sarah Lotz's two horror novels that weren't quite about ghosts.

  2. I read a ton of genre books generally. Way more than I usually do, and this was in part because I was reading or re-reading Rendell (a tad) and Christie (a bunch) but also encountered authors like Jo Walton and Lois McMaster Bujold (whose oeuvre is so large it has been daunting to know where to start) as well as Octavia Butler and James Tiptree Jr/Alice Sheldon. Surprisingly, I didn't actually get around to Ursula K. LeGuin, who I expressly wanted to re-read. No idea why. I finished up reading everything Sharon/SJ Bolton has published, including her newest. I tend to plow through books like these pretty quickly (and Christie's books, in particular, are brief). But in terms of genre, I definitely appreciated and enjoyed the difference in authorial voice of a woman writer, mostly. Whether it was a greater focus on romance (Outlander) or class relationships (Christie) or what-have-you, they felt different and enriching for it.

  3. Elana Ferrante is great as they come. I read the four Neapolitan novels this year and they were probably the most pleasurable sustained reading experiences I had all year. I want to read them all again. There's an honesty and a frankness and an exploration of the complexity at the heart of this friendship that is just so engrossing. The runner-up for a series of non-genre books would probably be the Regeneration trilogy, by Pat Barker -- those are also fantastic books, and it's interesting to read a woman mostly writing about male relationships (though admittedly, under the strain of wartime). Fascinating stuff.

I could go on and on about the books I read this year but those are a few trends. In the end, what's going to last this year is going to be maintaining more of a balance between men and women in my reading; in the short term, particularly, I'll probably still be reading mostly women because I'll be getting to the end of all those Poirot stories and probably reading more Rendell and yes, I do want to get to Morrison. Plus I've got a few still checked out from the library. I'm also champing at the bit to get to a few Stephen King novels that I haven't read yet, so those will probably appear in the next few weeks.

The big reason I read fewer books than the previous year was just how much time I spent on films and games. But looking over the more than 200 films I watched, it's hard to detect any real trends, and that's because I had no real goals for my film viewing this year. Sure, I watched quite a few Asian crime dramas, and a fair amount of horror and action pictures (mostly to watch with my son, particularly all the Fast and Furious franchise but a handful of other stuff). I didn't see much in the theater, really, at just nine -- nine! -- that is not many.

This year, though, I'm planning on spending more time writing for this blog about the films I watch, with a specific goal in mind. I've picked up the Pauline Kael collection For Keeps and I'm going to make my way through it, perhaps one or two films a week, and write up my thoughts both of the films and her writing about them. I love film and I'd like to learn to think more critically about it, both from a narrative perspective but also from the perspective of visual language. I feel like I have a good handle on the former, and not so much on the latter. Whether those thoughts appear here or elsewhere is yet to be decided; I kind of like the idea of making it its own thing. (I'll repost the Star Wars essay there if I do. That kind of kicked it all off.)

I also played more games! I finished what is probably a lifetime high of 42 games in the past year -- substantially more than in previous years. Part of this was down to having a fair period of bed rest in the middle of the year, and part of it was just feeling like playing games, which I take as a good sign considering the career I've been in for 18 years now.

Not only did I play more games, but I invested more in those that I played -- I know it's not interesting to talk about trophies/achievements/what-have-you, but I achieved the platinum trophy in several games this year: Infamous: Second Son, CounterSpy, Valiant Hearts: The Great War, Everyone's Gone to the Rapture, 4 (4!) Ratchet and Clank games, and The Swapper, Volume, and Guacamelee. So there were quite a few games where I was very invested.

If I had to pick a favorite of the past year, it'd probably be Guacamelee, which completely captivated me. I spent a fair amount of time in the world of Far Cry 4, and really enjoyed both Dragon Age: Inquisition and the heart-poundingly frightening Alien: Isolation. I finally finished Wolfenstein: The New Order which I also quite loved, but for me, the balance of player skill acquisition, Metroid-y level exploration, and aesthetic freshness of Guacamelee really won me over. Although I haven't finished it yet, and therefore it doesn't appear here, I have been completely loving Persona 4: Golden, and it would probably edge out Guacamelee had I finished it.

I don't really care whether I'm part of the up-to-the-moment discussion of games, but in the next year I'd like to write more about them. I had thoughts about Beyond: Two Souls and what I felt were some of its biggest missteps in gameplay and narrative structure that I never jotted down. I had things to say about Far Cry 4 that I didn't get to either. I should get in a better habit of publicly sharing my thoughts -- I do write down my critical thoughts, often, but don't polish them up to some sort of publishable form, and I'd like to do more of that.

So, there's my thinking. Going forward, I'd simply like to write more -- about film, about games, and maybe even about books. Check this space for some of that in the future.

Cheers, and a happy 2016 to you.

Posted by Brett Douville at January 1, 2016 11:16 AM