This year, I made an effort to read more books, after last year’s dismal showing. And I did. But not that many more. Though, for some reason, I also watched far fewer movies than I used to (and missed a couple I’d been intending to watch in cinemas). My video gaming was also curtailed by a long game-less drought that lasted from September of 2017 to this month.
Oh, and the advent of Netflix meant I started watching a lot of TV.
Here are the numbers:
Fiction books read: 31
TV shows watched: 13
Non-fiction books read: 9
Films watched: 11
Video games played: 5
That amounts to 1 book every 9 days, 1 film every 33 days, 1 TV show every 28 days, and 1 video game every 73 days.
Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe (4.5/5 stars): This is not Singaporean fiction. It’s fiction written by a Singaporean writer. There’s a subtle but definite difference. While not perfect, it’s daring, vital and raw, and represents a giant step in the right direction for the local scene.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (4.5/5 stars): An autobiographical account of a childhood and early adulthood spent in an increasingly repressive Iran, Persepolis is precocious, brilliantly funny, yet sobering. A brilliant humanisation of a country and its peoples through the author’s acerbic lens.
Naoko by Keigo Higashino (5/5 stars): A strange and riveting tale of a man whose wife wakes up in their daughter’s body after a bus accident. But Naoko really shines as an intimate portrait of Japanese family life, with a spellbinding, utterly heart-piercing ending that lingers with you for days.
The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin (4.5/5 stars): Of the three books in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, The Dark Forest is the best by a country mile, an Asimovian tome brimming with mind-expanding ideas and sf concepts, and chronicling the grand march of time on a civilisational, even cosmic, scale.
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin (4.5/5 stars): Also probably the best single book in Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, The Fifth Season is an elegantly told narrative triptych that introduces an utterly spellbinding fantasy world while dealing with themes of abuse, exploitation and societal imbalances of power.
The Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford (4.5/5 stars): A persuasive treatise on why we should care about automation and think boldly about alternative economic and social systems to cope with the oncoming technological onslaught. Apropos reading for the current crop of thinkers and leaders, although the path dependencies of late stage capitalism will probably make these messages unheeded until it’s too late.
Cooked by Michael Pollan (5/5 stars): One of the most inspiring books I read in the year, Cooked describes the myriad forms and processes of cooking through the lens of the four classical elements, and is a clarion call for us to embrace this most human of activities as a means of making our lives fuller, richer, and more fulfilled.
Spring Chicken by Bill Gifford (4.5/5 stars): A light-hearted romp through the many ways and forms of people striving to extend their lives and health. Gifford’s wry and accessible style guides us through science and pseudoscience and in the end tells us that while genes play a large part in determining our lifespans, we can do much to ensure that we maximise the health potential of our own lives.
La La Land (4.5/5 stars): Shamelessly self-involved Oscar-bait, but no less of a joy (and heartache) to watch. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone can do no wrong in this snazzy Hollywood romance, and the musical numbers are pure gold.
Blade Runner 2049 (5/5 stars): Magisterial, emotive, philosophical, and outright brilliant, Blade Runner 2049 is a more than worthy sequel to the original, and an utter masterpiece in its own right. Also, over the past two years, 4 of the 8 films highlighted on this blog have had one thing in common – Ryan Gosling. The man excels at comedy and drama both.
Thor Ragnarok (4/5 stars): The funniest Marvel movie ever made (except maybe the original Iron Man), and one that utterly transforms the somewhat underperforming Thor franchise into one of the best in the MCU. While straining at the edge of in-universe coherence at some points, the comedic dividends more than make up for that. Makes me excited for Infinity War too. One of the few MCU movies that doesn’t give me that familiar feeling of having seen that many times before.
Obduction (4.5/5 stars): A rarity of a puzzler that combines Myst-like environmental puzzling with one of the most intriguing and inspired narratives I’ve encountered in games of this type. Obduction will enthrall you with its layers of overlapping mysteries as they slowly unfurl to reveal the truth of things. Above all, the game demands that you pay attention, and not just coast along being prodded by overly-intrusive UI stimuli.
2064: Read Only Memories (4/5 stars): Old-school cyberpunk fare with a progressive, LGBT-friendly flavour. It’s a mishmash of hardboiled detective story with anime sensibilities in a neo-futuristic San Francisco with all the familiar sf tropes that come with the territory. While a little unsubtle in its themes, ROM excels in its storytelling and worldbuilding.
Dishonored 2 (4/5 stars): While the plot is nothing to write home about, Dishonored 2 is a masterclass in making urban exploration fun, and a well-tuned power fantasy that allows you to deploy any number of tricks to fell your enemies. Its lurid, decayed steampunk atmosphere is also unique in gaming.