With the end of the year a scant three days away, I find myself reading a lot of best-of and worst-of year-end lists.
If I really wanted to, I could probably cobble together a handful of top-ten lists, with best TV shows and favorite movies, but as I sit here typing, I’m realizing that my memory can be painfully short, and things I listened to, watched or read at the start of the year are mostly just blank holes in my memory. (For example, I had already figured out what my favorite TV show of the year was… until I realized it wasn’t).
So here, in no particular order, are my favorite things of the year. Always keeping in mind that I probably have other favorite things my mind has tossed into a dark hole, never to be seen again.
Favorite Book: The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss. After years and years of hype, I finally got around to reading The Name of the Wind, the first book of Rothfuss’ planned trilogy. I quite literally don’t know if the book could have been hyped any more than it was. Sci-fi authors I knew liked it. Cartoonists I knew liked it. People were frothing for a second book, and had to wait four years, and they were going mad with the waiting.
Over the same time frame people were going nuts for the first book, I had read some other series. I chewed through all the Dresden books, which start off okay and get great. (Until book 13, which I felt like 400 pages of prologue with 40 pages of “by the way, this is why this happened.”) I read all the Hunger Games books. (Good, but too much fashion and love triangle, and not enough action.) I read the Twilight books (a highly readable series in which nothing happens) and I got through the first few Percy Jackson books (super-fun, but pitched a little young for me), The Forest of Hands and Teeth (an amazing story world with about 150 pages too much boy talk per book) and the Sookie Stackhouse series (a bunch of really cool super-powered humans… who surround a character who can mostly only observe, because otherwise she’d be dead).
Granted, I enjoyed all of those books to one extent or another. But most of them fell short of the hype.
But not The Name of the Wind. Or, if it did, it managed to make it 99.999% of the way there. I was sad when it was over, but I was very happy that the next volume had a hard and fast release date. I wouldn’t have the painful four year wait my friends had, at least.
Of course, that’s the thing, isn’t it? Rothfuss had said that volume 2 would be done in a year, then two, and then it took four. Which meant there was a good chance he’d fiddled it into badness, or fiddled it into goodness.
And as it turns out – it was goodness.
Was it better or worse than the first book? I’d argue it was about the same. All I know is, even at a bazillion pages, I still managed to read my way through it in a little over two weeks. Even with a million things to distract me, that book flies.
Best TV Show: Spartacus: Gods of the Arena – If there’s an award for most improved show, this one deserves it. The first half of its first season was overburdened by style, but the back half took all the loose threads and turned them into a tapestry that was never less than riveting.
This prequel, originally created to give the lead actor time to recover from cancer, should have been a series of “of course this happened” stories, and yet… they found a way around that. It was awesome to behold, and just as fun and “no WAY did they just do that” as the first season.
Best Musical Discovery: Pentatonix. The winners of The Sing-Off can probably look forward to a life of obscurity. A five-person a-cappella group doesn’t interest anyone outside of music geeks, judging by the low ratings of the show they won. And the show itself was problematic. Given two hours every Monday night, they broadcast about 24 minutes of music, or less than a third of their air time, once commercials were removed.
But man, did they make their two minutes count every week. Creative, smart, and gifted, they made five people sound like a six-instrument band. After avoiding iTunes and Amazon MP3s for as long as they’ve been existence, I went and downloaded everything they did… including songs I kind of hated in their original incarnation.
Now, these guys are smart pop performers, but at the moment their life is covers. And that’s fine if you want to spend your life as a local opening act but… I want more from them. So here’s hoping they hook up with a really excellent producer, and some really great songwriters, and they don’t blow this chance they’ve got.
Best Musical Re-Discovery: Also from The Sing-Off, Ben Folds, who put out a 3 CD retrospective this year. Putting the discs in, one after the other, I found all the old songs I loved, discovered that I loved a few songs I barely remembered, and was reminded of just how many great songs Ben’s created over the course of 15+ years as an artist.
I’ve reached an age now where I don’t buy a lot of music. Much of what I hear on commercial radio doesn’t interest me, and I no longer feel the pull of searching every nook and cranny for the next great thing. But I’ll probably keep buying Ben Folds albums as long as he keeps putting them out.
Best Movie: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs/Tangled It’s odd. I have screenwriting credits, but being a dad and an author has seriously cramped my movie-watching time. Pre-kid, I’d watch a movie almost every night. Now, even getting through an hour of TV can be almost impossible.
So, yeah. Kid movies.
Cloudy is technically from last year, and honestly, it’s brilliant from one end to the other. Watch it, then watch it again, and see all the little ideas that appear in the movie come back. Everything is important.
Tangled, on the other hand, contains the single best action sequence I saw in a movie last year. Namely, a sword fight between a horse and a man. And all the things around it.
And that’s mass media 101 from me, folks. Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments, if you’re so inclined.