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The Year in Review

I could write that in January I did this, February that, March this, and so on until the twelve months pass by. I could measure it by professional activities or personal achievements, or some other arbitrary yardstick and set of categories. As the year nears its end I reflect instead on me and popular culture.

The Year in Not-Dones

I still have not written about meth-mouth. I did not finish my dissertation. I did not keep in contact with enough Berlin or other Fulbrighters. My teaching did not receive as much attention or energy as it deserved. I did not write enough either for work or for myself.

I did not find lasting love, a perfect job, or the path to true happiness.

The Year in Movies

I went to the cinema infrequently but often than I rented DVDs, for I did not rent a DVD all year.

With the Berlin branch of the Fulbright Alumni Association I saw Match Point (“A Woody Allen movie for people who don't like Woody Allen movies” and a “return to form,“ it was tight and had a fascinating way of de-centering every scene, with curious points of focus as well as points of entering the scene, generally in the middle of things). Other movies with the group included Sommer vorm Balkon (a solid winter diversion but really a made-for-TV-affair masquerading as a piece for the cinema) and Mission: Impossible 3, a narratively stronger effort than Woo's but not as tight, perhaps, as de Palma's contribution to the franchise. Abram's vision and version was basically a giant Alias episode with (mostly) different actors.

With a group of Fulbrighters I saw Walk the Line and found Reese Witherspoon's performance particularly uncanny. The Battle of the Sexes, a relatively early and obscure Peter Sellers movie that was shown in February at the Berlinale, I saw with Kim. When Tamon came to town the second time to watch a hockey game in February, which we missed due to poor timing and scheduling, we instead headed to the Sony Center and watched Crash.

I caught two comic-book movies this year. X-Men 3 was, due to Ratner's merely competent direction and the teen soap-opera script, the weakest of the X-Men movies. V for Vendetta was overhyped but not overrated. It was, perhaps, the least butchered of the Alan Moore interpretations, though when one reads things like V or even From Hell one realizes that tight faithfulness to the source is difficult if not impossible, and perhaps undesirable. I liked the performances, the theatricality of much of it, and its energy.

Das Leben der Anderen was amazing in terms of craft, performances, and emotional impact. I saw it at Alexander Platz in a theater full of east Berliners ... I do mean full ... and this was toward the end of the movie's theater run.

I also saw Snakes on a Plane (bad 70s era disaster film lovin'), The Grudge 2 (pointlessly stupid with few shocks, thrills, or original moments; I hoped for so much more from the milk-chugging scene), Borat (faux-Soviet-Era subtitles, Bob Barr, Romania as Kazakhstan, and wrestling worth the price of admission), Babel (tight, moving, why I like going to moviess), and Casino Royale (the train ride banter between Craig and Green was seductive).

Perhaps it's my recent semiotics kick (which is curious, seeing as I'm taking a somewhat anti-semiotics stance in my dissertation), but I approached Babel (viewed this last Friday night) as an interesting exercise in signs. I does not help that I'm reading House of Leaves or was at the time in the middle of the season 4 Buffy episode “The Gentlemen” (the silent one). In any case, beautifully crafted and well-performed—as the credits were rolling we could hear others around us beginning to discuss it.

The Year in Books

When in Berlin my goal, when it came to fiction, was to buy things only when I was ready to read them so that I did not build up a shelf of unread volumes.

It didn't quite work out like that, and Kafka on the Shore, Middlesex, and Oryx and Crake are but a few of my Berlin-bought books that remain unread at the end of 2006. A few of the better works of fiction that I finished in 2006 ...

At the September 2005 Fulbright orientation in Göttingen a young Fulbrighter, upon hearing perhaps too many language-oriented witticisms by yours truly, recommended Portuguese Irregular Verbs (and the other books in the trilogy: The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs and At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, all collected in an omnibus edition, The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom), but it took me a while once in Berlin to find it in a bookstore because McCall Smith's more recent mystery novels, not this series of academically oriented comedies, had space on the shelves.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was beautiful. Short, stylized but convincing, and a tad uncanny in a disturbing way. Anne lent me Double Vision by Pat Barker and recommended Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. The shopping trip that landed me the Willis novel introduced me to The MEQ by Steve Cash, which is and reads like a first novel. I really liked the concept (especially since the Basque so rarely show up in fiction, fantasy or other), but I'm not so certain about the execution. The writing was sloppy at points, beautiful and lyrical at others.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is subtle, slow, and it has prose passages that are to be digested with deliberation. It should appeal most to those who like both Gaiman and Dickens, for while it is decidedly pre-Victorian it also resembles The Pickwick Papers in style.

This Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is D. Brown + U. Eco + T. Chevalier. It's a page-turner with certain intellectual pretentions and elements of historical, document-attached fiction. This was my post-Strange-and-Norrell light reading, whereas Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl was my post-Historian read, and far too much fun.

The Year in Other Entertainment

Toward the end of 2005 I was introduced to The Transsylvanians, which I mention here from time to time. In 2006 I identified a favorite song among the many things they've recorded. It was not a big year for live music for me, with just one concert, not counting the Berlin Seminar concert in March.

“Sukar” by The Transsylvanians and “Blue Caravan” by Vienna Teng are my songs of the year. Gogol Bordello and Vienna Teng are artists of the year, and Lordi's “Hard Rock Hallelujah” is video of the year, with retro rediscovery Apache a distant second.

When it comes to comics I'll recommend anything by Brian K. Vaughan, who just tells good stories with skill and personality. Y: The Last Man (Vertigo) is one option, as is Runaways, which he wrote for Marvel. Alan Moore got around to finishing and publishing his rather naughty Lost Girls this year; I don't have a copy, but some friends do and enjoyed it.

My year in TV is limited to the end of Alias, getting behind on Bleach, finishing half of Ghost in the Shell: SAC (haven't watched 2nd Gig), continuing with BSG, two SG franchises, and Lost, enjoying Heroes, and buying Buffy the Vampire Slayer at $2.50/DVD.

I'll leave out:

When it comes to The Year in Writing I posted on this site off-and-on, with stretches of productivity and vast periods of desolation. In terms of creative writing I got together with some friends for Sunday prompts, but missed NaNoWriMo due to personal business. As for the dissertation, significant progress was made, but personal life distractions, procrastination, and laziness all took their toll.

The Year in Travel was limited to Berlin and its environs along with a trip to Hamburg. Back in Idaho I drove north and then back south, taking far too many photos along the way, most from behind the wheel. I stayed on the road. Back in Madison I managed an excursion to an apple orchard with Leena followed a few days later by a Chicago trip (conference and friends). The extension of this was The Year in Guests (Kim, Tamon, Kjerstin, Mike, Jyoti, Corina, and Leena).

The Year in Spam

Spam or spam or SPAM (insert tm as you will) ... I had plenty. I wish in a way that I had kept my first spam, which I received at my old Hungarian university account in the mid-late 90s, or my first Nigerian 419 scam, which I received while working at Mona.

Aside: a great Leibniz journal should be called Monadsheft. You heard it here first.

But Jen came up with it.

I got a goodly amount of spam via my friendster and myspace accounts, and I've saved most of these in the form of screenshots (see upcoming entries for more). But there is no reason to keep any of it unless it is to be transformed aesthetically. It simply is and it serves no (good) purpose, but through form, play and transfiguration it could be interesting. Not that my collections are or will be.

The Year to Come

2007 is the year in which I'll defend my dissertation (you heard it here first ...) and a time perhaps to return to California for a reunion (if I have the time and money). Perhaps I'll get a job elsewhere. I might be creative (writing and drawing), I might eat better, and I might take better care of myself, but I won't make resolutions, which exist, like rules, only to be broken.

—December 31 2006