Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 | Yearly Favourites: Books & TV

Last year I put all of my favourites into one post, but with the sheer number of music-related things I loved this year I thought it better to separate books and television into one post and music into another (coming later this week). To make it easier on myself I narrowed everything down to pieces released this calendar year (except for All the Light We Cannot See).

Literature



All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I included Anthony Doerr's most recent novel even though it wasn't published this year because it was not only the best book I read this year, but one of my favourite books I have ever read. Set in World War II, All the Light We Cannot See follows two characters - a blind French girl and a curious German boy - and two timelines - their childhoods and their lives' convergence and subsequent consequences in 1944. Doerr won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for this novel, and there's no question that he absolutely deserved it.



The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
In the midst of my complete Neil Gaiman re-read season this last spring, I coincidentally picked this book up at random having no idea that Amanda Palmer was his wife. The Art of Asking chronicles Palmer's early career life as a living statue up through her present musical career, focusing on her interactions with the people around her. She details both the good and the bad of the people she's met, devoting most of the book to the generosity and the kindness she's encountered through friends and fans and other artists in her community. The Art of Asking is a funny, engaging read, and I enjoyed it even without knowing who the main subject was.



It's What I Do by Lynsey Addario
After reading an interview with Addario in the New York Times I was instantly intrigued by her work. It's What I Do - a memoir of her life so far - briefly covers her childhood before exploring her beginnings as a photographer and the burden her career places on her personal life. Equal parts exhilarating and heartbreaking, Addario's firsthand account of her experiences as a conflict photojournalist is a must read for anyone interested in photography, journalism, or modern wars.



Modern Love by Aziz Ansari
Aziz Ansari - most known for his role as Tom Haverford on Parks and Rec - teams up with Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist, to tackle how the dating game has changed in the next fifty years, looking into things like online dating profiles, texting, Tinder, and cultural differences while backing up their findings with data from real life experiences. While the material itself can be a little thick at times and the subject matter largely unexpected from Ansari, his comedic insight makes Modern Romance a hilarious, fun read.



The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
One of my favourite books last year was Marra's debut A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, so when I heard that he published a collection of interwoven short stories I immediately jumped at the chance to read it. The Tsar of Love and Techno is set in Russia, beginning with the tale of a propaganda correction artist in the 1930s and weaving its way back and forth across history, each story building on the last. Marra's writing is, as in his last work, swimming in small, beautiful details, and even the irrelevant pieces of information tucked into each story become important later.

Television



Parks and Recreation
The most fantastic sitcom to ever grace American television came to an end this past spring, and the final season hit me right in the feels. The season was the perfect, bittersweet gift to fans of the last six seasons; each episode was a sendoff of some aspect of the show and was stuffed full of jokes and memories from previous episodes. Parks and Rec played an influential role in my college self, and seeing it end was an emotional experience. The final episode had me bawling my eyes out, and months later I still sorely miss the antics of Pawnee's city government.



Better Call Saul
I was a huge Breaking Bad fan, so naturally I also loved the prequel spin-off. Better Call Saul functions as an origins story for Saul Goodman, the shady lawyer from Breaking Bad, known in his past as Jimmy McGill. Set six years before his appearance on Breaking Bad, the show explores his family life, start and career of his stint as an elder law lawyer, and the beginning of his eventual downfall into the shady lawyer we all know and love/hate. Though it's clearly part of the same story as Breaking Bad, the creators did an excellent job of making Better Call Saul its own thing, and I am impatiently waiting for the second season to release next year.



Daredevil
Unlike Marvel's first live-action television creation Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.Daredevil is a gritty, realistic piece that feels more like an 11 hour film than a TV show. The premise follows Matt Murdock, a lawyer who has been blind since age 9, his best friend and lawyer partner Foggy, and their assistant Karen as they attempt to bring down Wilson Fisk, the man at the top of organised crime in Hell's Kitchen. Murdock fights via the law during the day and as a vigilante known as Daredevil at night. My favourite part is the fight choreography - unlike the stylised fight work that is typical of more family-friendly superhero stories, Daredevil is a brutal, exhausting production, where the fatigue and blood is shown.


Jessica Jones
Daredevil was fantastic, but Jessica Jones was was my favourite of Marvel's television productions. Krysten Ritter plays the title character, a "superhero" who becomes a private investigator after a horrific tragedy. When a dark figure from Jessica's past reemerges - played by the always excellent David Tennant - Jessica must choose whether she will leave her past behind her or face her demons. Jessica Jones is especially commendable for giving a voice to victims of sexual assault, a topic rarely touched in television. Filled with a shadow of noir and a constant sense of urgency, Jessica Jones wins my vote for top show of 2015.



Quantico
Usually it's hard for me to get into thrillers that function as dramas, but Quantico quickly captured my full attention and I impatiently waited every Sunday night for the next episode. The show follows the lead, Alex Parrish, on two timelines: the first when Alex goes through the FBI Academy and meets her fellow agents, and the second after a bomb is set off in Grand Central and Alex is blamed for it. The dual settings make each episode even more tense; as more is revealed about the agents in the past, the more exciting the future feels. Only eleven episodes have been released so far and the three month hiatus is driving me crazy.


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