The Books, Music and Films that made 2016 slightly less sucky

Inspiration

Books

Keith Buckley’s Scale was the first novel I finished in 2016; The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride was the last. I loved them both. In between, I read—and loved—an entire novel (finally!) by Nabokov—namely, Bend Sinister—having previously failed to appreciate the man’s genius—as well as The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll; The Sick-Bag Song by Nick Cave; Albina and the Dog-Men by Alejandro Jodorowsky; Reel, by Tobias Carroll; and Monica Drake’s short story collection, The Folly of Loving Life. I also dipped into a couple of collections of poetry, by Carol Ann Duffy and Leonard Cohen, and non-fiction by Jon Ronson (The Psychopath Test) and Dan Fox (Pretentiousness: Why It Matters).

However, for one reason or another, and on some level at least, the best books I read this year all seemed to concern love, sex, and violence. Eimear McBride’s second novel, The Lesser Bohemians, for example, is about an Irish girl who moves to London in the mid-1990s to study drama and falls for an older man with a couple of skeletons in his bedsit closet. I love McBride’s prose; she writes in a sensuous language entirely of her own, and though it takes a few pages to get into the rhythm of her syntax, the story quickly becomes so engrossing that you forget about trying to understand every little idiosyncrasy.

Talking of language, Gabino Iglesias’ Zero Saints is a brutal slice of what the author describes as ‘barrio noir’. It’s narrated in a unique amalgamation of English and Spanish, and while containing elements of horror and magical realism, it remains very much rooted in the mean streets of its creator’s adopted home of Austin, TX. Again, I loved it. Check out the Los Angeles Review of Books’ piece on it, here.

One thing, as they say, leads to another, and reading Zero Saints led to my discovery of Benjamin Whitmer and his debut novel, Pike, which was originally published in 2010, but is now available in digital format. You can read my review of this superb (and very violent) little book, here.

After Patricide and Scale, the best book I read in 2016 was Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs To You, which is the story of a gay man’s affair with a dangerous but irresistible young hustler named Mitko, set in Sofia, Bulgaria. I reviewed that, too, and after tweeting the link, received a very nice response from the author. Little things…

Garth Greenwell Tweet

Music

2016 was a strange, and at times profoundly sad year for music, book-ended by the final releases from two of its greatest casualties—namely, of course, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen. Personally, I was most affected by the death of Prince, partly because it was so unexpected, but mainly because of what I wrote about here.

2016 was also the year I finally gave up trying to keep my finger on the pulse as far as new music is concerned. It’s just impossible to keep up with the number of quality records released these days, let alone find the time to listen to them. That said, I still bought a butt-load of CDs this year, and my favourites included those by artists both old and new: I’ve still got mad love for Black Mountain, Deftones, Radiohead, Iggy Pop, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Every Time I Die and The Dillinger Escape Plan (farewell, you legends); among my fantastic finds, meanwhile, were Blood Orange, Oathbreaker, Giraffe Tongue Orchestra and Car Seat Headrest. (Yes, Dad, those last two are actual bands.) I was also gifted some great albums by my friends, which although weren’t released in 2016, did make my daily commute a lot more enjoyable. These included Ryan Adams’ 1989, Get To Heaven by Everything Everything, and King Creosote & Jon Hopkins’ 2011 classic, Diamond Mine.

I didn’t get to too many gigs this year, but I managed to maintain an annual tradition of seeing the always incredible Clutch, live in concert, and this year I did so in my beloved Barcelona, where I also took lots and lots and lots of photos. I got pretty lucky with the light, and people seemed to like the ones I posted up on Instagram and Facebook… although the most popular picture I took this year turned out to be one of my breakfast. As they say in America, “go figure.”

Films

Talking of fantastic things, getting to do a day’s work as a lock-off PA on the set of Fantastic Beasts back in July, was a blast. Yes, there were long periods of standing around doing absolutely nothin’, but it was a delight to watch my friend Ben do his thing, and the main thing I took away was how bloody nice everyone is to each other—even when stress levels are running visibly high. Plus, I got to see Colin Farrell wearing a custom-made beard mask…

Anyway, here are some other films I watched and enjoyed this year (again, not all released in 2016):

  • The Revenant
  • The Jungle Book
  • Maggie’s Plan
  • The BFG
  • La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty)
  • The Big Short
  • Spotlight
  • The Nice Guys
  • Deadpool
  • Blue Is The Warmest Color
  • The Magnificent Seven
  • Nocturnal Animals
  • Manchester By the Sea*

*Coming soon to the UK.