My year in Culture - 2020.

This year I have read several books, watched some movies, and listened to a lot of songs; here is a roundup of my favorite ones.

As Maria Popova has put aptly in her roundup:

I am not and have never been a reviewer of books — a person who surveys the landscape of literature with the goal of evaluating its features. I am and have always been a solitary sojourner who relishes curious excursions hither and thither, guided by a thoroughly subjective inner compass, wandering the wilderness of words by pleasant deviations from the common trail.

These are my footsteps.

I am not a reviewer either, each item presented here is content that I have enjoyed. That doesn't imply that you will like it too. Moreover, nothing in this article is objective. I will try not to write long terse reviews as there are better, more experienced, and specialized people writing reviews for a living that can be found with a quick search.

All that this article contains are recommendations and my comments on them.

Books

I have read a lot of books this year. Goodreads shows 30, but it's 29, due to a bug Goodreads counted one book twice. I am not going to cover all the books I read, they are too many, and I am a lame reviewer. Here are 5 of the good ones and one book to stay away from, because, it is also important to isolate yourself from harmful substances, as we have aptly learned this year.

1. Moon is a Harsh Mistress

This book is about a coup and revolution, it is more philosophical and political than you might expect, given it falls in the sci-fi genre. There are insights every now and then. The plot is tight enough to keep you on your toes and yet give you the time to consider the ideas discussed in the book yourself.

Read it slow and steady and you will find the treasure buried within these pages.

2. Inspector Matadeen on the Moon

Too many moony books? I promise this is the last one. And the moon story is one of a dozen selected pieces of satire by the legendary Harishankar Parsai. This is a rare book, mostly because it is an English translation of satires written 50-60 years ago. But it being so old makes it even more surprising, after decades of supposed development we are still stuck with the same corrupted politics, law, and justice system that we created when we gained independence. We have transformed from a meek populace consuming a movie in theaters to creating takataks on our smartphones, with no real change in our mentality and outlook towards how our nation works.

It's not all dark though. A few satires do indeed give a good laugh and end on a high note. But the grimness is what makes this book more relevant than ever.

3. The Fitz and the Fool trilogy

This is a recommendation for the dedicated and free. I started reading the works of Robin Hobb set in the Elderling realm when I started college and now, this year I finished the masterpiece saga with this trilogy. And it was worth it.

Robin Hobb is by far one of my favorite authors, with spectacular character development, intricate world-building, crisscrossed and overlapping plot, and a decent amount of philosophy tossed in. I have been with Fitz, the protagonist, since he was a child, till the end of the saga, which I won't ruin here for you.

When I finally finished the epic, I contracted the emptiness that often comes after finishing a great book. As if you have lost an old friend. But credit given where it is due, the way the entire saga pans out and finally ends is extremely satisfying.

Perhaps they should have hired Robin Hobbs for writing the last season of Game of Thrones; Oh what miracles we might have witnessed!

4. A Man called Ove

Ove is the kind of man that you can relate to in a busy boring world. What should you do when you think that the world is over? That there isn't anything left in it worth living and you dying won't change anything anyway.

This book can be considered the answer to the inquiry by Albert Camus: “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” So is living worth it? Read and find out. All I can say for sure is that reading this masterpiece is surely worth the time.

5. The Book Thief

This book will make you cry. This book will make your chest hurt. And it will do it while you are gripped in the story, thinking that everything will be finally all right. It will leave you battered and glad you are alive.

It will paint you a picture of what war was like inside Nazi Germany. How simple lives were tossed in a thunderstorm and how a small book thief tries to find safe harbor when there are none. Surprise! The narrator is the evergreen Death itself.

The one to avoid: The Alchemist

I know different people prefer different books. Just like music, where there are different tastes and various genres. And then there are books that will give you more worth out of your money if you tossed them in a fireplace, and enjoyed the warmth of the flames as they purified the pages, turning everything to black charcoal, unreadable, and for the better. This is one of those books.

I wrote a rant on twitter for it, go read it if you need a more detailed thrashing of the book: PSA: Don't read The Alchemist (A rant thread).

TV Series / Movies

Due to the lack of a popular service such as Goodreads for movies and TV series, and my lack of interest in maintaining a record of what I have watched, I will just put some of the content that I can recall from the top of my head. Assuming of course that whatever that was left was either ancient or not worth remembering.

And since movies are much more consumable than books, I won't go into detailed reviews.

  1. The Office - Best sitcom ever
  2. JoJo Rabbit - Fricking amazing. If you haven't seen this, what are you doing?
  3. The Social Dilemma - A great look into our ever consuming behavior with social media apps.
  4. The Grand Budapest Hotel - A visual masterpiece
  5. Loving Vincent - A movie created entirely with oil paintings. Each frame is a painting.
  6. Tenet - You already know it. In the future I mean.
  7. Avatar: The Last Airbender (TV series) - THE BEST THING EVER.
  8. Blackadder - A series of comedic sketches of important intervals in the History of England. Wonderful.
  9. The Queen's Gambit - The chess tv series
  10. Daniel Sloss's X - An amazing standup routine, probably the best I watched this year.
  11. Before Sunrise - A classic.
  12. Borat pt 2. - Ah one of the hottest movies this year.
  13. The Handmaiden - I never watched a subbed film, and then this Korean flick sold me.
  14. The perks of being a Wallflower - Another beautiful film.

Songs?

Here, have a playlist: Best finds of 2020

Given the size of the playlist: 180+ songs, I can't discuss them here. I don't recommend listening to every song, just use it as a 2020 radio mix.

How I consume stuff.

Apart from books, I have stopped searching for good things to watch. There are too many movies, too many TV series, each with a distinct taste and story to tell. Too many. I have therefore restricted myself to content recommended to me.

And then I watch what has been recommended. I don't do any research. If the content is worth it, it should have enough world-building and character development to stand on itself. If at any point it turns out to be boring or worthless, I stop. Not every book is meant to be finished, you can leave them in between. You can stop.

Also, I avoid myself from the great tides of one-hit wonder normie content waves. The hyped cool thing consumed by everyone is rarely ever cool.

And then there is always the question of the best thing ever. Have you seen the best movie? Have I? No. The best movie hasn't been made yet, and probably wouldn't be made till centuries pass by. So, you are already missing out on the best thing ever, why not miss out on just a few more and put that time into consuming something more eccentric, rare, and specialized?


Let's hope we don't blame the next year for our own mistakes and disasters like we did to the poor 2020.