2004: Could it Have Been Any More Entertaining? Part Two

There were so many excellent books, movies, and CDs last year that I could talk for days about them. Using the most extreme self control ever displayed by this writer I have chosen five books, two movies and one CD. Just think what fun we will have in 2005 as I won’t have to show any restraint at all and we discuss art as it is unleashed unto a grateful public.

Some books I enjoyed from 2004

Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower, Book 6) by Stephen King – This book is deeply weird. Not deeply weird in the classic King style of there is an alien/monster/vampire trying to take over my brain/body/town sort of way but in a new breaking down the fourth wall sort of way. When I first started this series nearly twenty years ago I had some concerns that the author would not live to finish the books. Apparently King had some of the same fears and he uses them as a plot device in Song of Susannah. But it works and the book is just as compelling and well written as the rest. The book ends in a huge cliffhanger and I can’t wait for the book seven, which will also be book the last.

To the Nines (A Stephanie Plum Novel) by Janet Evanovich – Okay the hardback came out in 2003 but I read the paperback which came out in 2004 so don’t bug me. Do you like your families dysfunctional, your cars exploding and your characters quirky? Then the adventures of Stephanie Plum, the worst bounty hunter in the world, are just the thing for you. In this episode Steph gets to get out of Jersey and go to Vegas as she tries to find her skip before every person who could help her is killed in front of her.

Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby – What a terrific book. Hornby is insightful, funny and just as bizarre as I am. What a relief to discover that other readers get so upset over books that they start arguing with the authors who are nowhere in sight. I was particularly pleased to hear from another writer who reads because we can have a different perspective than readers who don’t write.

A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett – You know how people say they think they will die laughing but they don’t mean it? I think I went through three inhalers reading this book. It’s the sequel to Wee Free Men and it’s got Tiffany Aching the Witch and the Mac Nac Feegle. Tiffany is again an excellent strong, fun, brave, clever role model for girls and the Mac Nac Feegle are terrific role models for 6 inch high thieving drunken fairy men who curse a lot. Be sure to read Wee Free Men before this one because you will be ever so glad that you did.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke – I cannot tell you how much I adore this book. It took me about a week to read because I was enjoying it so much I didn’t want to rush. I was worried because when I have read Clarke’s short stories I found them interesting and witty but not warm and what is wit without warmth? But I needn’t have worried. I cared deeply for her characters and had several conversations with the absent Clarke about why she treated some of them the way she did and if she minded if I just pretended that she hasn’t. I have seen some people complain about the footnotes but I particularly enjoyed them. To me they were like the little stories in Gaiman’s American Gods. Many of the footnotes are stand alone stories of Faerie and are perfect for reading aloud to someone you love. The illustrations are lovely and a splendid addition to the text.

And some movies

Something the Lord Made with Alan Rickman and Mos Def – This made for HBO film tells the story of a surgery that saved the lives of countless infants and children. But the theme of the film is how racial tension and restriction came close to destroying the life and dreams of a brilliant man. It would have been extraordinarily easy for this film to descend into clichés, banalities and sentimentalism but it doesn’t. It’s a beautiful film, lush and well acted. I confess I originally watched it because I did some background work on the film and it sounded pretty hokey but I was quite pleased to discover something moving and passionate.

Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 2 – I know people who hated the violence in Volume 1 so much they didn’t go see Volume 2. That’s a shame because this film is quite different from its predecessor. Oh don’t get me wrong it’s got the trademark Tarantino violence but it’s got more than that. It’s got his style, his quirky music, his camera angles and his love for putting his women characters in terrible situations. This movie kept me guessing all the way through. Like all good scripts the problems got bigger and bigger and I sat on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what I would do if I were the Bride. I distinctly recall reading that the script is based on a comic but I can’t find any reference to the book at imdb.com. If you know what comic please drop me a line and impress me with your knowledge.

And a little bit of music

One Ring Zero: As Smart as We Are – My introduction to One Ring Zero came at the end of a very long hard day. My car broke down on my way to the CD release shindig so I was late and sick and I didn’t realize that the band was going to be performing. I walked into the store expecting to find people talking and instead found two gentlemen, one of them making a theremin sound like a woman in a 70s sci fi movie. It was a surreal moment and the perfect introduction to this groovy, unique, entrancingly fun band.

As Smart as We Are is a brilliant idea. Some frighteningly talented authors wrote the lyrics to the songs and Michael and Joshua wrote the music. On one song (Water lyrics by Jonathan Lethem (Motherless Brooklyn, Fortress of Solitude)) they didn’t coordinate before writing and they each wrote separate melodies. They stuck them together and the result is quite cool. Authors range from Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale) to A. M. Homes (Safety of Objects) to Daniel Handler (author of one of the best series of books for children ever written under a pen name) with intriguing results. It’s fascinating to hear prose that isn’t particularly musical learning to sound lyrical.

The music is all over the map incorporating all sorts of styles and instruments in a pleasing cornucopia. In fact you should go see these guys if for no other reason than to find out what a claviola is. I believe I will leave that as your homework. Check out OneRingZero.com and look at the tour schedule. Then find out exactly what a theremin and a claviola are. You’ll be glad you did.