Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year in Arts and Letters: Some Half-Baked Recommendations

The New Year, the New Year. Everywhere the New Year! The Old Year was already looked upon as dead; and its effects were selling cheap like some drowned mariner's aboardship. Its patterns were Last Year's and going at a sacrifice, before its breath was gone. Its treasures were mere dirt, beside the riches of its unborn successor!
Charles Dickens, "The Chimes"

It's the end of 2008 and Fosco has that same urge as every other blogger to write an end-of-the-year list. While Fosco admires the ambition of a project like The Golden Teddies, he just doesn't have the energy to pull it off. Also, as Fosco has admitted several times recently, he just isn't in close enough touch with culture (popular or otherwise) to feel comfortable choosing a whole bunch of definitive bests and worsts. So, instead of a set of lists or rankings, Fosco is just going to do a half-baked post on some things that he liked this year. Obviously, Fosco probably forgot some things; he also probably made some bad choices. But, to quote Don Rumsfeld: "Stuff happens." So let's get to it.

  • Fosco read a ton of books this year--after all, that's kind of his job. However, most of those books were school-related and so he consequently doesn't feel like recommending them here at Fosco Lives! (I mean really, who wants to know how I feel about La Déclosion?) However, Fosco did engage in a few "pleasure-reading" projects this year.

    Early in the summer, Fosco read through a giant pile of 9/11 novels (with an eye to possibly teaching a seminar on that topic at some point in the future). Sadly, the big conclusion here is that most 9/11 novels are pretty bad--even those that are supposedly good. In the category of 9/11 novels was one of the best-reviewed books of the year, Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. Fosco did not love this book.

    Now that it's the end of the year, Fosco is doing his annual pleasure-reading marathon. So far, he's read two clearly great books: Roberto Bolaño's 2666 and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.

    Fosco is only too happy to name 2666 as the best book he read this year, but this is really no surprise. After all, pretty much every media outlet named this book the best of 2008. Not to mention that it's the book that everyone is currently reading, from Ted Gideonse to Christopher Hayes to the Guanabee Book Club. Pretty much the only place that didn't love this novel was The New Yorker, but even so, they've started publishing Bolaño short stories. Fosco has never seen this kind of cultural excitement about a novel this long (or, at least, one that doesn't star pubescent wizards) and it's really kinda neat.

  • When it came to summarizing the year in pop music, Fosco tried for methodological rigor: he ranked his iTunes library by "Play Count" and looked for the 2008 releases in the resulting list. Sadly, what Fosco learned is that his 2008 year in music consisted mainly of songs released in 2006 and 2007. Oh well.

    Of songs released in 2008, it turns out that Fosco listened to these five songs the most:
    1. Bob Mould, "The Silence Between Us"
    2. High School Musical 3 Cast, "Right Here, Right Now"
    3. Mike Doughty, "Fort Hood"
    4. MGMT, "Kids"
    5. Taylor Swift, "Fifteen"
    Fosco is only too happy to recommend any of these singles and is even willing to take responsibility for recommending a country song! (Taylor Swift is just that good.)

    In terms of pop albums, Fosco would like to recommend three: Portishead, Third; Mates of State, Re-Arrange Us; and, wait for it... Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreak. Yes, that's right: Kanye West--a guy that Fosco had never even heard of six months ago and still probably couldn't pick out of a crowded room. Fosco listened to this CD by complete accident, but he just can't stop listening--it's really good. Of course, you have to like electronica. And you have to be able to tolerate the frequent and intentional use of Auto-Tune. But if you can handle that, these songs are incredibly catchy and enjoyable. Seriously. Now Fosco isn't the only one who enjoys this CD. Oz hates Kanye and was so skeptical of this disc, but then he had to admit sheepishly that it's really good. You have to trust me on this.

  • Thanks to the influence of Oz, Fosco saw more movies this year than he has in a long time. What was good? Well, he really liked Wall-E--especially the Hello Dolly! parts. Really, it was about time someone recognized how good some of the "lesser" songs from that musical are.

  • Fosco's favorite CD of the year was classical and so he's putting it in a category by itself. In 2007, Fosco was lucky enough to see the US premiere in San Francisco of the new John Adams opera A Flowering Tree. This fall, the two-disc recording of the opera was released. While Fosco will probably always love the sheer bombastic spledor of Doctor Atomic, A Flowering Tree is a much more beautiful work. It is delicate and assured and the story-telling is stream-lined and emotionally appealing. It contains some of Adams's most gorgeous vocal writing and one of his most transformative orchestral passages (the long final crescendo almost causes Fosco to stand up every time he hears it). If you have the opportunity to see this opera, I cannot recommend it highly enough. And if you can dedicate an hour and half to active listening, this recording should enthrall you.

  • How about something like "Blog of the Year"? While not everyone was as completely obsessed with the presidential election as Fosco was, I think you still have to recognize the extraordinary importance of Nate Silver's In retrospect, it's a brilliant idea: take the well-developed statistical tools that have been used to analyze baseball and use them to analyze politics. Silver's models turned out to be almost perfect in predicting everything from Senate races to the final Electoral College vote tally. In the world of political opinion, it turns out that there is nothing more comforting than strong statistical reasoning. The pre-election anxiety would have been completely unendurable without the existence of this blog/website.
So that's that. Here's to a 2009 filled with great books, great music, and great friends.


Anonymous said...

The BeeMistress (awesome title, btw, does that mean I get some drones soon?) would like to point out the following:

1.) once again, we are starting out a new year with a carpet COVERED in confetti - wish you were here!

2) Book recommendations - instead of such heady fare, let's go commercial - read the Twilight Series. Seriously, everyone needs a boyfriend that sparkles.

3) Music - Some "must hear pop music" from 2008 - So close from the Enchanted soundtrack, Sway by PCD and of course, a little One Step at a Time by Jordin Sparks. Really - there's no need to rush.

And I would argue that "Can I Have This Dance" is the better song from HSM3.

Let's just hope and pray we can get some more hot Jonas Brothers music in 2009,
The Queen BeeMistress

todd said...

9/11 (graphic) novel I recommend: American Widow

FOSCO said...

BeeMistress! Indeed, you need a whole hive of drones--preferably sexless and worshipful. You should put an ad on Craigslist.

I'm sorry to have missed a NYE full of Rock Band and confetti.

Oz is reading Twilight right now. I'm next. And yes, sparkling is pretty high on my list for a perfect boyfriend. That's why I sprinkle glitter on Oz while he sleeps.

There are several good ballads from HSM3. Forgive my ignorance, but what's "PCD"? Prissy Cat Dancers? Purple Candy Dildos?

And can you recommend a Jonas Bros song? (Preferably one in which they do not sing about their virginity...) I just don't know where to start. Oh, and why are two of them so ugly?