are the stars out tonight?

life and stuff

six from '06

part the fourth: books

yet again, i utterly failed to complete the 52 book challenge. i didn't even manage to document my readings in the account i set up entirely for that purpose. i'm placing the blame squarely on david mitchell, whose cloud atlas pretty much left me cold - or at least what little of it i did manage to read left me cold. but on the plus side, i read an awful lot of really good fiction last year.

  • american gods by neil gaiman - was astonishingly (considering his status among sf/fantasy geeks and bloggers) the first solo work by Gaiman that i'd read. and it is awesome. mixing ancient and modern myths with a modern but nostalgic view of America, it's simply a fantastic novel. i really didn't want it to end.

  • freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner is probably the only book on economics most people will read, and certainly the only one they will enjoy. it really is fascinating, and full of fantastic tit-bits (which are often expanded on in their terrific blog), such that as on an hourly rate, selling crack pays less well than flipping burgers.

  • blankets by craig thompson was recommended to me by tom and also, less directly, by seth cohen. ooh, it's good. just beautiful. you should read it.

  • the lost art of keeping secrets by eva rice (who is website-less), is a lovely bit of fifties-style froth, in the manner of nancy mitford. it's a nice easy read, and fun for all the family (i have literally passed it round every female relative i have).

  • frost in may by antonia white is a really astonishingly good novel about a little girl who is sent to a convent boarding school. of course, it is in fact a barely fictionalised account of the author's own experiences, and is all the more brilliant for it.

  • the big over easy and the fourth bear by jasper fforde are the first two books in his nursery crimes series, and they are great. fforde's sense of humour matches mine perfectly, and i'm quite often laughing over his puns several pages later. he's also an hilarious public speaker, so if you get the chance to see him at a book signing, i highly recommend it.
and then there's lemony snicket's the end and the beatrice letters, which i enjoyed, but i'm so sad to see the end of the series that i can't bear to include them in my list; wrong about japan which was interesting but ultimately a bit weird; bee season which i flat out loved and which should have been in this list if i hadn't already filled all the slots; er, the da vinci code, which is really terrible; and labyrinth which is like the da vinci code with a degree (and better than i just made it sound).

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six from '06

part the third: telly

i doubt that i have ever watched as much television as i did last year. and not just for work, either, there was an awful lot of irrelevant american drama in there. but when i'm after escapism, i fear strictly come dancing just doesn't cut it.

  • heroes is really the ultimate in escapist television - a group of surprisingly attractive people who suddenly discover they have superpowers. including a pair of brothers so hot and touchy-feely that it's impossible to believe that they're not somehow actually lovers (no really, look at these pics for proof. sexy, sexy proof). The fact that one of the brothers is the freakishly gorgeous milo ventimiglia of whom i've been a fan since his days on gilmore girls certainly helps my enjoyment of the show, but the show is also awesomely fun and incredibly suspenseful - it knocks lost into a cocked hat!

  • the oc's third season was a huge disappointment to me. but the tragically truncated season four has been just perfect so far, and has honestly made up for anything that went before. they've just announced that the last episode will air in the States on February 22nd, which really does break my heart. but at least we got to see the, uh, cage fighting , which was worth everything if you ask me!

  • doctor who and its spin-off series torchwood were both excellent, i was slightly worried about david tennant as the new doctor, but from the moment he put on his specs i was totally sold. and as for captain jack... i'm just completely head over heels for him, and, of course, he was also in...
  • how do you solve a problem like maria might not be the coolest show i watched last year, but it's certainly among the ones i enjoyed the most. the best reality tv has that capacity to involve you emotionally, and maria completely absorbed me. i was completely thrilled that connie won. she totally deserved it.

  • veronica mars veronica mars had a really solid second season finale last year, and the first half of the third season looked good too, i'm optimistic about the rest of the season, although i have to admit that the thought of weekly mysteries as opposed to an over-arching storyline is a bit of a turn-off, but it works well enough for house, so maybe i'll be wrong!
  • life on mars, meanwhile, proved that a show doesn't have to have 22 episodes to have an impact. in just eight episodes, they told the fantastic story of sam tyler, who appears to have travelled back to 1973 after a car accident. in fact, i liked it so much, i blogged about it last year. i'm so very excited about the second series, which is due to go out at some point this year, but sad that there won't be another one after that (the creators have decided they need some closure).
(and six shows i've enjoyed on dvd: house, gilmore girls, smallville (oh, so much), supernatural, curb your enthusiasm, eerie indiana.)

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six from '06

part the second: gigs

about half-way through the year i had a strange and unpleasant feeling that i had gone off gig-going. this, i thought, was the beginning of my decline. pretty soon i'd stop buying records and start thinking about dull things. but fortunately it was a blip, and it didn't take long to realise that i'd actually just been to a couple of duff shows (death cab at the astoria and the wireless festival). that said, i didn't make it to a lot of great gigs this year, here are the ones i enjoyed the most. and weirdly, several of these were at venues i'd never been to before, and venues that were slightly unusual. i suppose that's what keeps it fresh.

  • death cab for cutie at brixton academy, 28-6-06 - having not massively enjoyed the astoria show in february, a few of us decided to book for brixton anyway, and i'm so glad we did. it was a much better gig, and completely re-kindled my interest in live music.

  • the hidden cameras at the union chapel, 29-10-06 - hidden cameras are one of the best live bands i've seen, and they were supported by my latest novel, and it was in a church. fantastic stuff.

  • jarvis at koko, 15-11-06 - even though a really tall bloke stood in front of me about half-way through (damn the tall, they should be forced to wait until all the shortarses have got to the front before they're allowed in the venue), this was still a great set. and included, rather spectacularly, a cover of space oddity, prefaced with this: jarvis: "do you want to hear an old song?", crowd: "yessss", jarvis: "alright. i didn't say it would be one of mine though." great.

  • all tomorrow's parties at pontins camber sands, 19 to 21-5-06 - just brilliant. the shins day was the one i was particularly looking forward to and it really didn't disappoint. for me the highlight of the three days was definitely the decemberists, who are amazing, but it was great to see the gossip, joanna newsom (a bit anyway), the shins themselves and sleater-kinney (who were on the verge of breaking up).

  • fort rox at newhaven fort, 12-8-06 - not the greatest gig i've ever been to, but one of the best venues - a former napoleonic fort in sussex that i used to go to as a kid, it hosted its own mini-festival curated by locals british sea power. the duke spirit were great, but as ever, my latest novel were let down by the sound. and it was a bit cold and rainy!

  • tilly and the wall at the buffalo bar, 25-8-06 - i had somehow avoided t&tw, which meant that the tapdancing was a complete surprise. and bloody brilliant too. i mean how awesome is it to have a tapdancer as percussion! and the support act the grave architects were great fun too.
(and some shows i enjoyed at bh: euros childs 11-3, the boy least likely to 28-2, my latest novel 28-3, yo la tengo 5-9, isobel campbell 21-2, and for emo reasons be your own pet 1-2 and panic! at the disco 23-8)

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six from '06

Part the first: records

weirdly, considering that a couple of my all-time favourite bands released albums this year, neither of them make my top six. this is also an unusally female-vocalist heavy list, last year it was all blokes.

  • begin to hope - regina spektor is a record that i honestly didn't think i would enjoy, because i've always found her voice just a tiny bit too strange. but i kept hearing 'on the radio', um, on the radio, and i fell in love with it. and, oh god, it's an amazing record. it's very quickly become a total desert island disk.

  • let's get out of this country - camera obscura. if, last year, you'd said that b&s and camera obscura were both releasing albums in the same year and that i'd prefer camera obscura's, i would have been pretty damn surprised, but you'd have been right. because bloody hell let's get out of this country is terrific. i mean i've been sort of a fan of theirs for a while (in fact this blog was named for one of their lyrics), but i never thought they'd actually release a song better than eighties fan. and they did.

  • rabbit fur coat - jenny lewis and the watson twins. jenny lewis' voice is gorgeous - low and sweet, which just enough of a country twang. gospel-tinged country-blues plus a fantastic cover of the travelling wilburys' 'handle with care', featuring conor, ben and m ward

  • jarvis - jarvis cocker, was really a no-brainer for this list - i mean it's jarvis, who has been my hero for the last ten or so years. he could have put out a record of him reading the phone book and i'd have loved it (actually he has been putting out podcasts on his myspace page of him reading short stories, and they're fantastic, i do so love his voice). fortunately jarvis is also a great album, it's nice to see that time and settling haven't mellowed him at all.

  • wolves - my latest novel. this album absolutely soundtracked the beginning of the year for me. they're one of those bands for whom the live sound can never quite capture how great they are on record, but i did find the glockenspiel playing quite inspiring! i'm listening to 'the job mr kurtz done', and it's just reminded me of pulp's 'david's last summer', so definitely a good thing!

  • omnibus - tarkio, was really a compilation of old stuff by colin "the decemberists" meloy, but it had some great tracks on it, and i do love colin's voice.
(and the also rans - belle and sebastian's life pursuit just didn't grab me though there were some good tunes on it, the decemberists' crane wife hasn't really been listened to enough for me to pass judgement on it - i feel like i need to put some time into it, and the same goes for joanna newsom's ys, the pipettes record didn't really capture how much fun they are live and sounded strangely thin to me, i did enjoy the tragic treasury, but it's not a 'classic' album, and sufjan stevens' the avalanche which is fantastic but i think sufjan gets enough adulation from bloggers without us also praising his cast-offs!)

edited 20:55 to fix links because amazon is annoying

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