There’s now only a few days left until 2016, so it’s time to look back on 2015 and think about the kind of year it’s been.
The low moments, when they came, were pretty low – not the least of them was the loss of our much-loved family dog Harvey. And there are some things that I wish I had made more progress on. At the beginning of the year, I made a total of 15 New Year’s resolutions (only some of which were shared on this blog), aiming to give myself measurable targets which would hopefully increase my chances of success. I’ve kept a total of 10 of these resolutions. The ones that fell through included writing a short story every month (I ended up doing four-and-a-half) and giving a novel draft a proper edit (I gave it a once-over for Camp NaNoWriMo but the process is by no means finished).
Still, 10 out of 15 isn’t bad, and I’ve definitely packed a lot of exciting things into this year. I’ve produced an audiobook, gone on a second expedition to Guatemala, been a keeper for a day at London Zoo, and met a number of interesting people both at Comic Cons and elsewhere. As well as that, I exceeded my reading target of 40 books (47, seven of which were audiobooks), and expanded my experience of new films and classic Doctor Who.
Oh, and Preston North End are back in the Championship, where they will hopefully remain at the end of this season.
Now, a few top tens!
First, my favourite books that I read this year (not new releases, needless to say):
10. The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard
If you want a comprehensive and readable account of Captain Scott’s Terra Nova expedition, which details the characters of the men involved and all the work that took place, this is the book for you.
09. Cold Blood by Richard Kerridge
The natural history descriptions of Britain’s different species of reptile and amphibian are interesting enough, but Kerridge framing them within the story of his childhood makes the whole thing more cohesive and compelling, particularly with his lovely prose.
08. The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
This is technically two stories in one: Greg Sestero’s early history with the mysterious Tommy Wiseau, and his experience of working on the famously so-bad-it’s-good movie The Room – for which Wiseau was the director, writer and lead actor, despite clearly having no idea how to do any of those things. We already have a book called How Not To Write A Novel; this could be called How Not To Make A Movie – while also providing fascinating and sometimes unsettling insights into the strange, undefinable Wiseau.
07. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
I usually have to be in a certain mood for classics, but I really liked this one, which I listened to in audiobook format. It paints a detailed picture of both the nineteenth-century northern town in which most of the story takes place, and the characters who live there. The story is driven by a number of different elements, not least a will-they-won’t-they romance in which I got invested enough to be infuriated with the couple, and wishing they would just work things out already.
06. NOS4R2 by Joe Hill
A story done very much in the style of Joe Hill’s father Stephen King, it’s intensely horrifying when it wants to be, and definitely succeeds in making you root for the protagonist and hope for the villain to get his comeuppance.
05. The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
I connected quite strongly with this story thanks to how well-constructed its protagonist is. It details an unconventional friendship, tugs at the heartstrings, and makes you think about how life should be lived.
04. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larsson
Another non-fiction book – this one on the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 – which gives you pretty much everything you’d expect from such a book: lots of fascinating detail, including some snippets you might not expect, presented in readable prose and placed in the right amount of context.
03. Catch-22 by Joseph Keller
A really unique book that takes the theme of the insanity within war to a whole new level. I may not have liked most of the characters therein, but I was certainly transfixed by them. This book is famous for a reason: everybody should try to read it at some point.
02. The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
A very enjoyable, humourous account of one man’s quest to read the ‘important’ books he hasn’t got round to yet, which will hopefully make you think about your own approach to reading, and just why it is so important to us.
01. The Martian by Andy Weir
We all have books that manage to tick all the boxes of everything we like as individuals – and this is pretty much the perfect book for me. Another one I initially experienced in audiobook format, it has a thrilling story where I was desperate to find out what would happen, an extremely likeable protagonist, more humour than you might expect, and plenty of science which is mostly grounded in the real world.
2015 has been a great year for films, definitely better than 2014. I’ve been to the cinema even more often this year than I usually do – and while there are still plenty of great films from this year that I haven’t seen yet, here’s my top 10 of the 2015 releases that I have seen:
10. Kingsman: The Secret Service
A solid, exciting action movie with its own special and somewhat quirky style.
09. Big Hero 6
Another great animated film from Disney, with cool action, animation and characters, as we follow the story of a group of amateur superheroes, and the heartwarming relationship between a boy and his squishy medical robot.
08. Avengers: Age of Ultron
If you liked the first Avengers movie, the sequel gives you everything that made it work, plus a few extra sprinklings.
A strong, compelling documentary on the late singer Amy Winehouse which definitely succeeded in making me feel for its talented but troubled subject.
06. Jurassic World
The Jurassic Park franchise returned to the big screen in suitably entertaining style, with generally well-handled human characters, excellent use of its dinosaurs, and just the right amount of fan indulgence for its climactic action sequence.
05. The Martian
This film adaptation stays faithful to the source material and does a great job presenting it in the visual medium, aided by a brilliant performance from Matt Damon as he brings the character of Mark Watney to life perfectly and acts alone for most of his time onscreen.
04. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
While perhaps not reaching the heights of the original trilogy, this new installment in the franchise comes close, giving us bold new adventures for likeable and interesting characters, both old and new.
03. Mad Max: Fury Road
I didn’t actually see this one in the cinema; I got it on DVD after hearing such good things about it. Anyone who enjoys action movies should definitely check it out if they haven’t already, as it’s certainly not your average action flick. Breathless and thrilling, with brutal, crazy cinematography and plenty of tension between its main characters, it does nothing by halves, going full throttle but without becoming cartoonish.
With films like Maleficent trying to bring a new, ‘darker’ take on old fairy-tale material and usually just botching it, along came a gleaming ray of sunshine in the form of Cinderella. Director Kenneth Branagh creates a magnificent spectacle which features wonderful acting from everyone involved and maintains an aura of hope and positivity, while adjusting and expanding the original story just enough to maximise appeal to modern audiences.
01. Inside Out
Easily the best film that Pixar have produced in some time. It takes the premise of little people living in our heads and controlling our feelings, and uses it in inventive, intelligent and funny ways. It creates a compelling, meaningful journey both for the ’emotion people’ Joy and Sadness, and for the young girl in whose head they exist. And it strikes an excellent balance in appealing to both children and adults. There’s not much out there quite like it.
Finally, I’ve kept my New Year’s resolution of watching one new film every week – not counting ones seen in the cinema – so here are my favourites of the older films that I’ve watched for the first time this year:
10. Wings (1927)
09. A Christmas Story (1983)
08. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966)
07. The Haunting (1963)
06. Lost in Translation (2003)
05. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
04. Memento (2000)
03. Scrooge (1951)
02. Hamlet (1996)
01. Apocalypse Now (1979)
2015 has been similar to 2014 in many ways – plenty of new experiences, but also some difficult times, and I don’t think I’ve changed very much in myself. I don’t have many expectations of what 2016 will bring yet: there’s going to be some new challenges at work, and I got a ticket to a presentation by Professor Brian Cox as a Christmas present. I’m still working on what my latest resolutions will be, but one thing I’m certain of right now is that 2016 will need to be a year for increased discipline and direction.
And, of course, I’ll still be blogging.