So here I am. I’ve written a year’s worth of words about every single book, film and video game I’ve read, watched or played over the past year (well, since November 2014).
I started this blog to record my impressions on this trifecta of entertainment options in an attempt to become more mindful of the things I consumed for entertainment. And this quantified consumption, so to speak, has helped me to understand and relate to those products better, by forcing me to articulate in words the things I thought or felt about them.
The process can make me feel like I’m being squeezed through a strainer at times, but it feels rewarding to look back and know that you have, through studious effort, maintained a robust chronicle of your thoughts and impressions. And every time someone tells me that they read a book or watched a film because I wrote about it on my blog, I feel a sense of gratification and achievement that I’ve helped someone discover something new to read, watch or play.
2015: A Retrospective
I’m indulging in a little accounting of my consumptive habits in the past year, just so that I can gain some additional self-awareness.
For various and sundry reasons, I wasn’t able to read or watch as many books and films as I would have liked in 2015, although I do think I might’ve played too many video games. But here are some of the numbers:
Fiction books read: 40
TV shows watched: 3
Non-fiction books read: 13
Films watched: 26
Video games played: 14
That’s 53 books, 26 films, 14 video games and 3 TV shows. Which is about one book every 8 days, one film every two weeks, and one video game a month, if we count from when I started 14 months ago.
I can do better. I need to diversify my reading, of course; more authors, more genres, more non-fiction. I’ve also been meaning to watch more classic films, rather than just recent releases in the cinema. I am quite well-covered for high quality narrative video games, however – it is in that single category that I feel like I’ve truly been able to appreciate the best the medium has to offer. As for TV shows – they’re incidental and I don’t make a habit out of watching them, although I have to say, I used to.
I’ve also been meaning to collate some more meaningful summary statistics in an excel sheet, but that’ll be a task for another day. I’ll update this space when I get around to it.
Here’s some top picks from the past 14 months, in no particular order:
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (4.5/5 stars): I came late to this classic that expounds on themes of nostalgia, loss and mortality, amidst the disquieting setting of an alternate history dystopia where clones are reared as potential organ donors. Spare, naturalistic and melancholy.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (4.5/5 stars): An unsettling, acerbically-written psychological thriller that cleverly plays games with our expectations, and contains one of the best twists in the genre. A book about the artifice and artificiality of human relationships.
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay (4.5/5 stars) A fantasy novel set in an alternate but parallel fantasy version of China. Epic but intimate, beautifully written, and lush with allusions to history and myth, this is a book that reminds me just how much Chinese history has to offer to the realm of storytelling.
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew (4.5/5 stars) A graphic novel of uncommon range and boundless creativity, it tells a cleverly intertwined parallel narrative – one of Singapore, and one of an aspiring comic book writer named Charlie Chan. Wistful and slightly sly in its subversiveness, this is a must-read for any Singaporean interested in viewing our history through a unique, non-academic lens.
Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (5/5 stars): A polemic, irreverent and ultimately thought-provoking work that tries to provide a unified framework for thinking about risk management. Enthralled me on an intellectual level even (because) I had so many points of agreement and disagreement with Taleb’s arguments.
Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking by Daniel Dennett (5/5 stars): One of the most lucid and entertaining philosophy books I’ve ever read. A bit misleadingly titled because it serves as a vehicle for Dennett’s ideas more than anything else, but excellent reading nevertheless, and a great introduction to theory of mind, phenomenology, cognitive science and complexity, among others.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (5/5 stars): An excellent and engaging book about how the mind works, by one of the most estimable and revered scholars in that field of research. Kahneman’s affability engages the reader and guides them through the theory and the evidence, and draws surprising conclusions and insights from his theoretical models. Full of wisdom and self-help potential.
Inside Out (5/5 stars): The best film Pixar has ever made. This film has everything that makes Pixar great: creative premise, wonderful characters, moments of genuine joy and pathos, great music, and a profound wisdom about the workings of the human heart. A must-watch.
Mad Max: Fury Road (4.5/5 stars): Violently kinetic, brimming with atmosphere, and surprisingly progressive despite its simple plot and relatively flat characters. I was surprised at how good this film turned out, despite its present status as a rich source of quotable one-liners.
Birdman (4.5/5 stars): Unabashedly artsy and inward-looking, this film is nevertheless a joy to watch. Technically, it’s a marvel: an entire film shot and edited to seem like it’s one long, continuous take. It’s one of those films that gets people talking, speculating and arguing; an experience that lingers with you long after you’ve left the theater.
Song of the Sea (4.5/5 stars): Simply one of the most beautiful 2D animated films I’ve ever seen. While made for kids, it has definite appeal for adults as well, in the lush art, the wonderful music, and the pure simplicity of the story as it wends its way through the heart of Gaelic mythology.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (5/5 stars): The open-world game to end all open-world games (until Cyberpunk 2077, maybe). The Witcher 3 is gigantic, gorgeous and varied. While the gameplay can get one-note after some time, the narrative more than makes up for it. It’s variegated, fresh, full of fully-formed and sympathetic characters and moral quandaries. The narrative elevates the game into a masterpiece.
Life is Strange (4.5/5 stars): A meditative, emotionally impactful game about growing up, set amidst a lush soundtrack and appealing, sun-dappled visuals. The game is simply a narrative experience unlike any other, managing to get you to care about the lives of its characters like few can.
Undertale (4.5/5 stars): For all its brevity, Undertale packs a complex and affecting storyline that has a powerfully disconcerting message about player morality. No other game except Life is Strange has gotten me to care so deeply for its wacky but compelling characters.
The Talos Principle (4.5/5 stars): A wonderful puzzle game in more ways than one. Beyond the (excellent) puzzles, the game offers an additional layer of narrative puzzles that dares the player to explore, question, and doubt the reality set before them, and reflect on the the themes of existence and faith.