So we're all back to work. 2016 looms ahead like a big loom. This first post of the New Year (if you don't count the subscriber-only newsletter that I send out on the first of each month) is a short look back at the books and films I enjoyed in 2015, as well as a look forwards to what I'm hopeful for in 2016.
First up, the books. 2015 was a mixed bag for me, reading-wise, and I didn't get quite as much read as I'd have hoped to have. That said, there were a few standouts and one series that I've become engrossed in. I don't really do reviews on my blogs any more, but some deserve a mention.
Book of the year? For me, that was Post-capitalism, by Paul Mason. You really need to read this.
Thriller of the year/historical fiction of the year? Into The Fire by Manda Scott. A parallel-timelines novel of present-day and medieval France, and a great revisioning of the legends associated with Joan of Arc.
Series of the year? Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder novels. I'd introduced myself to Block after seeing a movie based on one of the series - A Walk Among The Tombstones (a fine thriller, and one with a neat sense of 70s-style downbeatness) plus a chance encounter with a charity shop paperback of another of his series entries. There's eighteen books in the sequence, and I'm on book 15 at present, having read them in sequence through the autumn. They're great: Scudder is an unlicensed New York PI, battling with guilt over the accidental shooting that made him leave his detective job, the fallout that made him leave his family and hole up in a down-at-heel hotel, and his alcoholism. Over the series, as well as the cases Scudder gets involved in, we meet and are intrigued by a rotating supporting cast of loves, lowlifes, scumbags and street-people. Scudder evolves through the series; it's fine character-centic writing, the plotting's solid and engaging, and the dialogue-focused stories rattle by. I'll miss Scudder when I'm finished.
As an aside, a shout-out to Amazon Kindle. One of the things that ebooks make easier is the accessing of back-catalogue material; I wouldn't have been able to get hold of many of these books without that facility. So, thanks for that.
Bookshop of the year? Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham; a new discovery for me. A little gem of a place tucked down an alley in the city centre, and well worth your time if you're local or if you're visiting.
Movie of the year? A tie between Sicario and Mad Max: Fury Road. Oh, films seen on TV/DVD etc don't count. I'm just going by cinema screenings here.
Honorable mentions go to:
The Martian. Proof that Ridley Scott can make a great movie still without having to resort to re-editing a Blu/DVD director's cut, and proof also in the power of a good script - Drew Goddard's distillation of Andy Weir's source novel is note-perfect and a shoo-in for an Academy award; it's that good.
And also to Star Wars: The Force Awakens (for not messing it up), Wild Card (a rock-solid bit of Stathamism, with a decent William Goldman script), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (machine-tooled entertainment, money on the screen, and a breakout performance from Rebecca Ferguson) and John Wick (action choreography of the year).
Most ill-advised movie ticket purchases of the year? A tie between the Poltergeist remake and American Ultra.
TV of the year? I very much enjoyed the BBC's drama output this year: River was great, Luther was fun, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell got pretty much everything right, Doctor Who had perhaps its strongest season since coming back to telly a decade ago. The Last Kingdom made the most of its source material and some limited resources, and Wolf Hall was sublime.
I know I'm late to the party here, but my personal telly event was The Wire. I finally got to sit down and watch the entirety of David Simon's sprawling Baltimore saga in one month-long go. I'll be going back again...
No point asking me about 2015 in music, because I didn't buy any. It's been old blues, Radio 3's Late Junction, some ambient electronica and Half Man Half Biscuit here. I've got my head around podcasts though, which probably means I'm in 2007.
As for 2016, the thing I'm looking forwards to most of all is Hap and Leonard, a TV show starring James Purefoy and Michael K Williams based on Joe R Lansdale's series of novels and stories featuring his titular heroes. Also, there's a new Hap and Leonard novel - Honky Tonk Samurai - out in February. I'm also looking forwards to End of Watch, the final book in Stephen King's Bill Hodges trilogy.
I'm sure there's other stuff I'm anticipating, but that's what's foremost on my mind right now. So, onwards into the New Year!